At TheDigitalReader.com, Nate Hoffelder summarizes the challenge that self-publishers (and even traditional publishers) are facing:
"As 2014 draws to a close indie publishing finds itself at a crossroad. There's a growing consensus that the supply of indie e-books is beginning to exceed demand, leading to the textbook micro-economics result [falling revenues]."
WHAT WORKED ISN'T WORKING
He lists three conclusions:
"One, the days of releasing the first title in a series as permafree have passed. All that accomplishes now is to flood the market and make it harder to sell e-books.
Two, the idea of writing and publishing your next book as the best marketing strategy is also going to have to be reconsidered.
Three, getting into or out of Kindle Unlimited isn't nearly as important as some thought it was a few weeks ago. As I noted when I first reported on this story, this problem is affecting authors both in and out of KU."[Kindle Unlimited is a plan in which, for a monthly fee, readers get free access to many of the e-books available on Kindle. Authors have reported that joining this plan has resulted in lower sales and that the revenue they get from KU has not been enough to make up the difference.]
To this I would add that, for most authors, using social media to promote their fiction doesn't work unless they put an enormous amount of time and effort into it. Yes, you can do blog tours, take part in forums, have a blog about your book, etc. but all those face exactly the same problem as the books themselves: too many people doing the same thing.
Also, just as giving away your book in hopes that this will attract readers to other books you have written or will write doesn't work now, neither will lowering the prices--that will just result in a race to the bottom.
I don't have a magic plan, but I think based on what's happening now we can safely say to get attention in this ever more crowded marketplace you have to do something different. A few examples:
* Some authors have used crowdfunding as a way to create an audience for their book before they finish writing it. They set the financial bar low to help ensure that their target will be met. However, getting attention for your funding effort also requires a lot of effort, and works best for high-concept books. Two important elments are how creative you can be with the pitch video that you put on the crowdfunding site and the kinds of rewards you come up with for the people who pledge funds. (I'll be doing a series of posts on crowdfunding at some point.)
* When everybody is trying to use new media, it may be the right time to go back to using old media. Local newspapers, local radio, magazines, and other old media are still alive and get a sizable audience. The hook for getting their attention usually is something extreme about the work or about you. Think of oldest, youngest, longest, shortest, cheapest, most expensive, an unusual origin, an unusual experience, etc.
* There may be piggybacking opportunities, but usually you have to create them yourself. For instance, if you have written a romance in which one of the protagonists suffers from an illness or medical condition, is there a charity or support group that might help you promote the book if you donate 10% of your profits? Obviously this would work only if they felt your portrayal was accurate and might help promote understanding.
* There may be unusual sponsorship opportunities. For instance, hotels, restaurants and even train lines have had writers in residence. The main value isn't that residence, but the opportunity to leverage it for publicity. Again, you need to be proactive--why not suggest such a scheme to a business that's not doing it now, rather than waiting to hear about one and then having to compete for it?
DON'T LOSE HEART!
In any crisis, there is opportunity. I'm convinced that authors who are as creative about their marketing as they are about their plots and characters will find a way to cut through all the noise.
(To find some great techniques for coming up with creative ideas, see my book, Creativity Now, published by Pearson. For 100 case studies of unusual and inexpensive market techniques, see my book Do Something Different, published by Virgin Business Books. Both are available from your favorite bookseller.)