Seth Harwood and Scott Siglar both captivated the crowd at the Writer’s Digest conference as they explained the magic of their marketing model. If you listened carefully then amongst all the descriptions of podcasts, oops, sorry Seth, I mean ‘Serialised Audio Books’, were some very profound words.
One word that they used repeatedly was “audience”. It was used time and time again, “build your audience”, “serve your audience”, “put out, to your audience” and and every time they stressed “your audience”. When they talked about audience they mean more than just ‘your readers’, they mean ‘people who would enjoy reading your work’. I’ll say it again because the difference is profound.
Audience means, ‘People who would enjoy reading your work’.
Do you see why there is a difference and why it is important? Read on and I’ll do my best to explain.
Humans are a diverse race, with diverse tastes and amongst each branching diverse taste there are more branches leading to yet more diversity. Previously, such unique tastes were unsupportable by the publishing industry. Publishers could not place a book in a book shop and expect that a diverse individual might wander into the shop and then by chance, find it amongst hundreds of others in dusty racks.
So they went for a scatter gun marketing model, let us call it ‘Bulk print/Distribution/Brick stores/Hope’ (BDBH) and if the hope bit failed, a shop could rip off the front cover and return the cover for credit. This however only serves the general audience and completely ignores the more diverse individuals amongst us. To make matters worse if your generic reader is not in the store when book two comes out or has their attention diverted by a price war on the latest big name release, then you miss the sale and potential ongoing fan.
Back to Seth and Scott.
Now the internet can find the audience of specialised interests and specialised tastes. If you take your time and go looking, it is possible to find the blogs, forums, communities and groups that are interested in what you have to say. However those readers are not prepared to pay for your words. After all, why should they trust you? How do they know that you can deliver?
It is well documented that an average consumer has a reluctance to try anything new. They will pick new things up and look at them and then put them back down. It is not until a product is validated by a friend or popular opinion that they will pick up an unknown work and seriously consider purchasing it.
The key word in the previous sentence is “unknown”, The barrier to making the purchasing decision is the unknown aspect of the book.
Seth and Scott put out complete books as audio files (podcasts), immediately bypassing the purchasing barrier and dealing directly with THEIR AUDIENCE. They also bypassed the traditional gatekeepers of publishers, agents and editors, who aren’t bad guys, they just serve a different marketing model (BDBH). This is where we go back to the subject of human diversity. Suppose that, of the first hundred people reading one of their books, most didn’t like it, some felt it was maybe OK and very few liked it enough to tell a friend.
It was that diversity of tastes that gained them their audience. It may have been a small percentage but it was their audience and a loyal audience. Many people in the first two groups were prepared to read their second books and in so doing created a fabulous tale, which is related here in Scott’s words;
“By the time the fourth book had come out, I had people e-mail me, people come up to me and say, ‘Man your first three books sucked,’ and then they said ‘but that fourth book just crushed it. I loved it.’ Where else in the world, as a fiction writer, can you get people to listen to three of your books, think you are horrible and then continue to listen to you? ”
By putting it out there and allowing people to get to know you and your style, you are playing the numbers game. There will be a percentage, probably a very small percentage that like your work and become fans. Importantly, if you open a dialogue with these fans you can obtain valuable feedback as to what they do and don’t like, allowing you to grow as an author and find your audience. The more your work gets out there, the more people will try it and the more your audience will grow. The numbers may be small at first but there are a huge number of people out there, in fact there are so many people that a very small percentage makes for a large audience.
During their talk, Seth and Scot cited the number of subscribers to iTunes and Podio books as “millions” and “60,000” respectively, and these are not the only two sites available, more spring up every day.
Now it is time to repeat that line from the start of this post.
Audience means, ‘People who would enjoy reading your work’.
Hopefully I have explained why “audience” as used by Seth and Scot is so profound; by finding people who enjoy reading their work they have found their fan-base.
Consider also what values non-literary people will be judging your work on. We have all seen the massively popular authors being repeatedly slated for their; poor writing, weak plots, thin characters or an abundance of adverbs, etc. These simply are not points the ordinary reader considers. Your work will be judged on how much it is enjoyed, on how well they identify with characters and if there is suspense that grips them. Is the story easy to understand or do they have to work too hard to comprehend it? Basically how well you can spin a good yarn.
A popular book does not have to be a well written book, the sales numbers and the slatings prove it.
This absolutely DOES NOT remove the need to learn all the aspects of good writing. In order to grow as a writer and feed your expanding audience, good craft skills are still and always will be, a must.
To conclude, if we put all the above thoughts together then they outline a major opportunity for individual authors, one that has never existed before.
Podcasting a free serialised audio book gives
Passage past the agent/editor barrier to public readers
Diminishing of the grammar/style hurdle
Free distribution to millions of listeners
Removal of the barrier to ‘try’ a new author
Ability to find your ‘personal’ audience
Develops curiosity for future (hopefully better) work
Maintains an audience whilst your writing develops
Direct contact and feedback with audience
Meet fans of your work
Podcasting your novel as a serialised audio book is no guarantee of easy success. The numbers game providing the potential of a dedicated and loyal fan-base also conceals that same fan-base inside a gigantic haystack of an internet. Your personal audience can be found, it will take time, it will take a sustained effort, it is possible and the method is open to all.
If you wish to listen to the podcast that was the muse of this post then click on Scott Siglar and Seth Harwood
Photo; Food Court in Takashimaya Department Store, Kyoto, One man’s perspective