This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Selling Your Book Is Like Fishing

            The publication of my second mystery novel, Wash Her Guilt Away, has set me, once again, to thinking about the business of bookselling. I think I learned some things from the publication of the first book, The McHenry Inheritance; now let’s see if that turns out to be the case.
            One analogy that occurred to me in the first turn was that selling books is a lot like fishing, a simile that rings particularly true for the self-published author. With due respect to my readers, especially those who paid for the book, I’d like to pursue the comparison a bit farther.
            To begin with, one has to think of Amazon, the undisputed big boy in the self-publishing world, as a large, nutrient-rich lake teeming with readers, who are symbolized by fish. You know the fish are out there, and in enormous numbers, but for the most part you can’t see them, and figuring out where they are and what they’re biting on, i.e. buying, is an immense challenge.

Into the Boat and Onto the Water

            An author who puts a book up on Amazon is rather like an angler who takes a boat out on the lake, drops anchor and casts his bait into the lake. Assuming the book is good (in other words, that the bait isn’t rancid), the author can fish from one side of the boat, sit tight, and sooner or later catch a fish or two. But the reality is that nearly every other fish in the lake won’t even see the bait.
            In point of fact, not even every fish within catchable distance of the boat is going to see that bait. If the area fishable from the boat can be described as a circle surrounding the vessel, the author with one book is like an angler fishing with one rod and one hook from one side of the boat. That angler is putting the bait in front of only a quarter of the fish within shouting distance, at best.
            Furthermore, even if the bait is perfectly good, it might not be what the fish are in the mood for that day. You could be fishing with a plump, savory salmon egg, but if the fish are in the mood for cheese that day, they will swim right past your egg without so much as a second thought.

Two Rods and Two Hooks

            As a fisherman, I like to say that when you’re catching fish, you know you’re doing something right, but when you’re not catching fish, you often have no idea what the problem is. You could be using the wrong bait or the wrong technique, in which case the failure is on you. But it could also be that the fish ate their fill earlier in the day and simply aren’t interested, or that they have temporarily left the area you’re fishing, or that the weather is temporarily affecting the food supply and the environment. You just don’t know.
            Now let’s say our author/angler puts a second book up on Amazon. That changes the equation. Instead of fishing off one side of the boat, our intrepid angler now has a rod off two sides and is covering twice as much area and, theoretically, reaching twice as many fish with the bait. Also, each rod now has two hooks on it — one for each book. The fish can choose between cheese and salmon egg, and that increases the author’s chances. You have to figure you’ll do better overall.
            Those were the lines along which I was thinking when I put the second book up at the end of April. Next week I’ll discuss the early results.