Building awareness is key for literary authors

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One of the biggest key challenges in modern publishing is raising awareness of your book – which basically boils down to simply getting people to know that it even exists.

It seems like this shouldn’t be such a hurdle, but publishing industry stats indicate that awareness is a critical factor in selling your work, and that it’s also an element which is becoming increasingly more challenging over time.

For example, over the past decade, many smaller, independent bookstores have been forced to close due to pressure from online providers, and larger retail chains forcing them out of the market.

Indeed, according to stats from Macquarie University’s Australian book industry study (published in 2016), large chain stores like Big W, Dymocks and QBD dominate the Australian bookselling landscape, with independent booksellers now only making up around 27% of total book sales.

That makes logical sense, given their scale and presence, but larger chains stores are also more driven by market factors – i.e. commercial fiction gets priority, and other literary works lose out.

The summary outcome is that it’s now harder than ever to even build that initial awareness of a book by a new author or a literary fiction work – if it doesn’t fit into the genres preferred by the large chains, you’re already starting on the back foot, as your outlets for potential stockists, and their subsequent influence on word of mouth, is simply less than what it used to be.

That’s likely contributing to the decline in sales of lit fic. The same Macquarie University study mentioned above also found that literary fiction is now the least popular book category in Australia.

As reported by The Australian:

“The most popular genre is crime, mystery and thriller novels, followed by biography and memoir, cookbooks and historical fiction. A minority of readers, 48%, say they are interested in literary fiction, but here’s the knockout number: only 15% actually read it.”

There are various arguments around why this is, exactly, but it may well come down to the exposure, and the lack of available opportunities to get your work in front of potential readers.

That also influences larger reading trends over time. If readers are only being exposed to certain types of work, that will be reflected in the subsequent content they create, which will lead to a new wave of authors coming through being funneled into genre fiction.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – getting people to read at all is good, and rewarding genre writers for their efforts is also a net positive, both for the authors themselves and the wider industry. But it may also be impacting the diversity of our literary landscape over time, leaving us with a lesser reflection of modern Australian society through our art, and fewer great Australian authors being discovered or getting their ‘big break’ because the financials simply don’t add up.

It’s logical, of course, there’s no argument against this, but the declining interest in literary fiction does pose longer-term challenges, which will have impacts stemming into future generations. That doesn’t mean that publishers should be just throwing money at ideas in the hope that some stick either (though, essentially, that’s often what literary publishing boils down to), but it does beg the question of what can be done to preserve our cultural identity through the literary arts, in order to maintain and build upon our broader cultural landscape.

There’s a place for all kinds of fiction, and while commercial realities will dictate the outcomes in every market sector, in the arts, there’s also a need for balance. And that balance, given the reduced opportunities of exposure, is seemingly being shifted too far into one direction.

There are no easy answers on how to fix this, but it remains a salient point – if you want to maximize your opportunities as an author, you need to be thinking about how you can spread the word, how you can raise awareness, and how to build your profile to reach the largest amount of potential readers.

Traditional marketing and outreach programs simply don’t have the same reach and impact they once did – it’s become an obligation for all authors to think about how they, personally, can expand their messaging and build interest in their work. Because fewer people are going to simply come across your work in bookstores, fewer readers are going to hear about your work from a friend – your exposure potential is not what it used to be.

So your outreach planning and strategy also needs to evolve in-step.

Main image via Max Pixel

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