The New Book Age: Readers are Driving the Market
Caught off guard!
In the last couple of years, indie publishing and the e-book market have taken the publishing world by surprise. Though traditional publishers were certainly aware of digital books and of authors who were self-publishing, many were not prepared for the mega success of books written my virtually unknown authors or—worse yet—authors the traditional publishing houses rejected. Although publishing executives might turn up their nose at self-published works, readers are clearly of another opinion.
What drove this success?
It was readers’ word of mouth that drove the enormous success of the Fifty Shades trilogy, to name the most successful self-published venture of late, and its readers propelling other virtually unknown authors to the top of the bestseller charts. Take a look at the bestselling books on Amazon’s Kindle charts. You’ll certainly see Dan Brown and James Patterson, but you’ll see authors you’ve never heard of as well—authors catapulted to the top not by marketing execs or the publishing machines of the traditional publishers, but simply because readers buy their books. In droves.
Readers are driving the market in other, more subtle, ways. The rise of social media has meant that readers have unprecedented access to their favorite authors. Readers are “friends” with their favorite authors on Facebook and “follow” them on twitter. And readers are letting authors know what they want.
One author’s perspective:
Historical romance author Shana Galen has seen this phenomenon first-hand. The author of the upcoming True Spies, the latest book in her Lord and Lady Spy series, says, “Readers message me or post to my wall all the time with suggestions for my next book. They want to read a book about a certain minor character or they’d like to see more of their favorite couple from my last book.”
Romance is the most popular genre in the market today. The latest statistics from Romance Writers of America show that in 2012 romance fiction generated $1.438 billion in sales. Romance is outperforming every other category in the US book market. Perhaps one reason for the success of romance fiction is its authors’ willingness to listen to readers. “One of my most successful books so far is Lord and Lady Spy, a nod to the popular Pitt-Jolie movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” says Shana Galen. “My publisher intended the book to be a stand-alone, but readers wanted more. They were so vocal that I was quickly contracted to write True Spies—and yes, that’s a play on the Schwarzenegger-Curtis film True Lies.”
Did readers stop there?
“I didn’t ever intend to write a book about the character of Blue in Lord and Lady Spy,” Galen admits. “He was a foil for the main characters, but readers kept saying they wanted his book. Finally, my editor, who was also receiving requests for Blue’s book, asked if I’d consider writing a novella with Blue. I’d already been thinking of doing just that, and earlier this month The Spy Wore Blue, Blue’s novella, came out in digital form, much to my readers’ delight.”
Publishers are listening to readers as well, and it’s changing the way they di business. “When I first published in 2005,” Galen says, “my editor would talk to me about what kinds of stories the publishing house was looking for. Now it’s not at all unusual for me to pitch a project by saying, ‘Readers have told me they want to see more of this.’ And my editor listens.”
Like authors, publishers are using social media to keep their fingers on the pulse of readers’ wants and desires. “A few years ago my publisher and I disagreed on the title of my upcoming book,” Shana Galen recounts. “My publicist created a poll on twitter so readers could vote for their choice. And I ask readers all the time to give me title suggestions or for their opinions on story ideas I have. Recently I wondered if they’d like to see a love story between an older—late forties—heroine. The answer was a resounding yes.”
And as long as readers say yes with their pocketbooks, publishers will listen.