A Few Notes on Discoverability

Discoverability is one of those newish buzzwords that tries to describe the process by which a reader finds a book to read. The problem with the generally accepted view of discoverability is that the goal is not to have people discover a book. You can't build a career on a book. As an author you need readers to discover you. That may feel really scary but fight it. If you're an author, it's the reality of your chosen work. You can't be a concert pianist if you never get out of your living room.

Discoverability Only Matters Once

What we tend to lose track of is that most of an author's fanbase is made up of people who discovered him or her just one time. Once a reader knows your name and what you write, you don't need to be discovered by that reader again.

If you're smart and if you write something that that reader likes, you'll keep him or her reading your stuff forever—or at least until you piss them off by charging too much, writing too much stuff they don't like, make them wait too long between works, or toss some other sand into their gears.

How Does A New Author Do That?

Lean on your network.

There’s a difference between network and platform. Your network is a collection of your peers. Writers, artists, editors, and others engaged in the creative endeavor of bring literature to the audience. Your platform is your audience. They're the people who support you by buying your stuff.

Your network doesn't need to discover you. You need to build the network. You've already started by being a member of RMFW. Your network should have members who like and respect your work. It should have at least a few members whose work you like and respect. They don't all have to be in the mutual kumbaya society, but having a half dozen people with whom you share sensibilities is important.

Individually, new authors have very small audiences, perhaps as few as a hundred readers garnered over months of frustration. Ten such authors—with similar sensibilities and writing in related genres—have a thousand.

A thousand true fans represents critical mass. Once you get there, discoverability is a function of how fast your true fans share. It is no longer the author's problem.

The combined audience of ten authors won't give you that thousand true fans, but it's a nice start. Use that group to prime the pump by giving them something positive to talk about.

Give Them A Reason

My friend Evo Terra regularly says something like "If you want people to talk about you, do something remarkable." Having people talk about you means you get discovered by people who hear the talk.

One book is not remarkable. One book a year is not remarkable. One really OMFG book? Not remarkable for more than one news cycle.

What’s remarkable?

  • Regularly recommend somebody from your network.
  • Participate with readers in social media.
  • Build a body of work as fast (and as good) as you can.
  • Earn the reputation you want to have by being willing to build it one reader at a time.

It'll take a couple of years. Maybe three, maybe five.

If you write good stuff, if you build a good network, if you pay attention to the details of your craft, then readers will discover you and--through you--your work.

It's up to you to make sure they only need to discover you once.

Image credit:By Stewart Butterfield (flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Nathan Lowell
Nathan Lowell has been self-publishing his science fiction and fantasy since he started releasing his books in podcast form in 2007. He frequently writes about social media, marketing, and the life of a full-time self-published author.

3 thoughts on “A Few Notes on Discoverability

  1. Great post. I was just thinking about this this morning. How to expand my readership. I have a great fan base, but I’m always trying to think of how to go another step. It’s a matter of brainstorming and then taking the step. Easy, huh? Nope. But it has to be done.

    • The first thing I do when I get the urge to expand my readership is brew a fresh pot of coffee. I take time to let it brew and then I drink a cup.

      While I’m doing that I think about what I’m trying to accomplish. Why do I think I need to expand my readership? What are the various paths I could follow to do it?

      1. Single most effective is finding an ally to recommend me to their audience. It has to be somebody who’s work I like. That work has to be something I can recommend to my audience. There are some prerequisites here. I have to have read them. I need a place where I can make my recommendation known (Blog/Twitter works nicely as does FB if your audience is there TIP: they are.) There are few drawbacks. The social capital spent can often yield rich rewards as long as you’re honest with your fans and can explain why you think they’ll like this book you’re recommending. The truth is, I do this all the time. It’s part of my process so I don’t have people lurking in my pocket I can pull out when I need them.

      2. Next is getting some ads. Depending on your genre ad sites like BookBub, BookGorilla, EbookSoda, GenreCrave and the rest can yield some readership. They cost cash and they require you to have some promo pricing action going on. The usual way is to try to line up a couple of the “little guys” on a specific date and then make sure your price drop is scheduled within those dates. That’s easy if you’re in Kindle Select on Amazon. It’s harder if you’re not. The downside is that you’re going to pollute your pool with people who pick up the promo price and discover that the thing you put in the product description so they’d know about it upfront is the single thing that will throw them into a 1-star frothing rage. Generally I don’t worry about those people, but if you’re a “reviews matter” writer, this might be concerning.

      3. Release a new book. The downside of this is you need to have a finished book to release. This could entail a relatively long lead time but carries few downsides. The upside is that your fanbase starts talking about you, other people hear about you and – especially if you write in a series – every book in that line gets a boost.

      When I’ve finished my coffee, I generally go back to writing the next book.

      But that’s me. I’m lazy and try not to mess about with things that give limited return for the little effort (and money) I’m willing to spend.


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