On Making it as a Writer in Australia

One thing I’ve noticed with my latest book, having had my previous novel come out some years back, is that the landscape for promotion has changed significantly.

The most obvious example is the declining number of bookshops – back in 2007, when ‘Rohypnol’ was published, Borders was still around, there were more independent bookstores, and local booksellers generally saw much more activity.

You can see this reflected in the below chart from Macquarie University’s “Disruption and Innovation in the Australian Book Industry, published back in 2016.

trade books

The evolution of online booksellers changed the game significantly for local bookstores – and consequently for creators – which is arguably more acutely felt by writers of literary fiction. Underlining that point, Macquarie’s report also found that Big W has now become the single biggest book retailer in Australia, a chain which, in fiction terms, clearly focuses on more commercial works.

And that makes sense – publishing is a business like any other, and they go with what’s likely to bring in the most money – but the flow on effect for literature is that it makes it that little bit harder to find avenues for awareness, and for promoting your work.

The other element at play here is the squeezing of editorial departments at major publications – while I’ve been lucky to have had my book reviewed in major papers, the outlets through which you can actually boost awareness of your work is shrinking.

The solution, according to most, is social media – Facebook has more than 15 million users in Australia, or up to 70% of the internet active population, while rising platforms like Instagram (9m Australian users), Snapchat (4m) and even older players like Twitter (3m) offer significant reach.

Through specific audience targeting, you can definitely use social ads to help raise awareness, but the real key to social media lies in being ‘social’, in building an engaging presence through activity, which means remaining constantly active on each platform. And that’s not always viable when you have writing projects to work on.

But it is important – social media, particularly through relevant groups and discussions, plays a key role in raising awareness, and there are thousands of book-related groups on Facebook alone to tap into.

book groups fb

The trick then is to raise awareness of your work amongst these people who are actively discussing books, and seeking book recommendations. But you can’t target groups, specifically, with Facebook ads – you can target people based on interests and behaviours, but focusing ads on groups is not possible. Yet.

Even so, utilizing social media to boost awareness is a key element, but social is an entertainment platform in itself, not a purely promotional vehicle. Which means more work for you.

There’s also the opportunity to boost your exposure through eBooks, enabling you to reach new markets, but figures show that eBook sales have slowed in recent years, with most people preferring physical books.

There are various considerations in this shift, it’s not as straight-forward as saying physical books are winning out, but it does show that eBooks will likely not contribute a significant amount of any book’s overall sales. eBook sales currently account for around 20% of the Australian market.

Basically, raising awareness of literary work in the Australian market is difficult, which is another challenge to consider with your work. And that’s fine – even having the opportunity to have your work published is a privilege, but it is another element to keep in mind, which points to the value of building an audience, through your own blog or other means, even before you reach publication.

That means attending literary events, meeting people in your local scene, getting involved where you can. Writing is obviously a solitary pursuit the majority of the time, and putting yourself out there can be intimidating. But in order to maximize interest in your work, it’s an essential, especially as your outlets for exposure become more limited.

While the initial path to publication is very tough, making an income as an author is, in itself, a significant challenge. According to a report published in 2015, the average Australian author only earns around $12,900 per annum from their writing, nowhere near enough to live on.

In many respects, that’s disheartening, but there are opportunities outside of your work itself to generate income (doing talks, hosting classes, etc.), while it also means authors need to question what it is they’re writing for.

It’s not easy, and the likelihood of you become a full-time fiction author are not high – if you choose to stick with it, you need to love it. And you need to find ways to make it work.

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