A documentary series I featured in has re-run on TV this past few weeks, with the result that I’ve ended up fielding cheerful comments from people I know only vaguely. ‘Saw you on TV.’
I didn’t even know it was repeating. I don’t watch TV these days. Will the exposure help sell my books? Probably not. Bringing the audience to the book has always been challenging – all the more today where the arbiter is online profile, even for long-established writers.
It seems to me that this is the biggest challenge facing writers today. Discovery. Getting people to know who you are and what you do.
It’s a bigger issue than learning writing. That comes with hard work and practise. But discovery? The ground rules have changed since the old days when you could build a media platform by freelance feature writing, your publishers got you into the papers, and there was (sometimes) an in-store autographing circuit. Today, the arbiter is social media – and sure, you can pour a lot of hard work and technique into it, and you’ll get results. But the really spectacular results are something else. They’re as much luck as anything.
That’s because everybody on the planet, from me to Taylor Swift to George R R R R Martin and you, all have basically the same toolkit to work with – broadcasting what we do at the same volume. And stuff gets lost in the ‘noise’.
Take this blog. Last year I fielded a ‘Redditlanche’ – a listing on one of the sub-Reddits that suddenly sent my stats skyrocketing. Thousands and thousands of views – all hitting just one post about the KM Bismarck. Yah – one of my geekier naval ventures. Weirdly, although the first ‘Redditlanche’ subsided, it was swiftly replaced by a second one that drew in an associated post. That subsided too, but both posts have fielded a fair number of views every month since.
None of that was intentional on my part. That ‘Bismarck’ post was just another post. Until the ‘Redditlanche’. But that was pure chance.
See what I’m getting at? Hard work gets you so far on the discovery stakes, but to get further you need something else – luck, mostly. That’s true not just for blogs but for the books we’re all pushing up online and trying to sell.
Put another way, for every success story like The Martian, there are probably ten thousand books as good – but which never get found. That’s not due to failure on the part of the writer, but the sheer dumb luck of happening to go viral.
Discovery is everything, and there’s no technique I can think of to much tip the odds of winning the discovery lottery.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016