Andromeda: The Backlist, Sustained Marketing, and Digital Solutions on the Horizon (a "Rotten Tomatoes" for Books)?

When do you give up on marketing a title and move on?
Recently, I was approached by an enterprising
writer-blogger-reviewer who asked to include me in a lineup of monthly interviews
she is doing with authors of novels that involve art. I said yes—thanks!  
But my first gut response was to feel only a
fraction of the motivation I would have for helping to bring attention to a new
or yet-to-be-released book. I don’t talk much lately about The Detour, which came out what seems like hundreds of years ago –
2012 – because I’m more interested in talking about what I am writing now. And maybe my second novel’s window
of opportunity has already closed? It’s easy to buy into the old-fashioned publishing attitude that a book will hit big right away, or not at all. That’s
short-sighted thinking on my part, as I’ll explain toward the end of this post.
When your book is published, your publisher will give it one
big new-release push—hopefully.  With
luck, there may be another little boost when the paperback is released a year
later. What constitutes a push is debatable. It used to involve book tours,
radio interviews, advertisements, and more. Now, it may involve a reading or
two organized by the author, and not much else that is highly visible to the
author or readers. Of course, the publisher may be plenty busy just getting
books into the hands of reviewers and bookstores, paying for premium shelf
space, and trying to grab attention in a marketplace crowded with over 3,000
books published daily.
It used to be that if the bookstores weren’t ordering and
re-ordering in large quantities, the book’s life might be over in a handful of
months or even weeks. Hopefully, that extremely small window of opportunity is
a thing of the past. One reason I am grateful to Amazon – while keeping my mind
open to the valid criticism regularly lobbed at the behemoth—is because at
least online retailers provide a place where millions of titles can remain available
to anyone willing to search.
A recent study showed that 60 percent of book sales have
migrated online – a comfort to those of us who don’t see our older
titles, or even many newer ones, stocked at Barnes & Noble—the company that
used to be criticized as too powerful, before Amazon became even more imposing.
But the bad news, the Codex Group study tells us, is that online sales still have a “discoverability” problem. Only 17 percent of books are first found online. Internet booksellers like Amazon account for just 6 percent of discoveries. Buyers still use physical bookstores as places to browse, even if they don’t
buy. Brick-and-mortar browsing and recommendations from friends, the most powerful discovery tool – not online
marketing or even book reviews – are the way most people decide what to
read next. 
But is this something to worry about, or is it just another
evolution-to-digital problem that will go away in time? Amazon acquired
Goodreads to address the discoverability problem. Net Galley—providing online
access to advance copies—has expanded. Book-loving realists are dreaming
up other ideas: like how about a really robust critical-and-amateur review aggregator, a.k.a. a Rotten Tomatoes for books? (One site already claims to be
just that, but I’m guessing there will be lots of competition.)
Smart people are working on the problem. Meanwhile, I think
of my own recent buying habits, just from the last week or so, whether or not
they are typical.
From Title Wave, my favorite used bookstore, I bought a pile
of books, including the classic Wide
Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys (1966) and The
Cement Garden
by Ian McEwan (1978). From Amazon, I bought two e-books – get this, books I already own and have
stored in boxes and want to read again, annotate electronically, and carry around more easily. (Many e-readers are like me, eager to own the same books in both digital and physical format.) These titles were Panther in the Basement by Amos Oz (1998) and Specimen Days by Christopher Cunningham (2005). 
Good news on the
e-book front, by the way: people who read e-books read more in all formats, and 42% report their reading has increased since they started using e-readers. For
me this is true, and I’m heartened by the fact that I see an even bigger
increase in my teenage daughter’s reading, now that she can peruse (via Kindle
samples, for example) and acquire books in digital format more easily and
Finding an altogether unknown author is still trickier
online, but finding books by authors we already love, or books similar to ones
we’ve already loved, is getting easier all the time. For that reason, I should
not consider my older titles past the date by which they might still make a
splash, and neither should you. I should remember that anything I can do to
market a work is important as it was two or five or ten years ago. As this worthwhile industry article says, considering the changing nature of the backlist, “Any book is new to sombody who didn’t know about it before.”
Amen to that.

Andromeda Romano-Lax is the author of The Spanish Bow and The Detour. She is a co-founder of 49 Writers and teaches in the UAA MFA low-residency creative writing program. She is also a book coach with a special interest in revision, narrative structure, and the lifelong development of the writer. Contact her at for more info on her book coaching services.

3 thoughts on “Andromeda: The Backlist, Sustained Marketing, and Digital Solutions on the Horizon (a "Rotten Tomatoes" for Books)?”

  1. Great perspective – and as always, well-informed! The times, they are a-changing…

  2. Andromeda — Great post. Love the idea of a Rotten Tomatoes for books. All of this makes me wonder what the publishing industry will look like in ten years.

  3. Andromeda — Great post. Love the idea of a Rotten Tomatoes for books. All of this makes me wonder what the publishing industry will look like in ten years.

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