Thursday, October 24, 2013

Gaming the System Goes Bye-Bye

Computers and the way they process metadata is a big topic these days. Not the least of which is the train wreck that is Obamacare and its cursed, half a billion dollar website. Then there's the NSA which it turns out, is spying on everyone from you and me to the Presidents of Germany and France. When those unmanned drones fly to Pakistan and blow people up, it's done via video-game-like computer. When Oliver Stone comes out of the woodwork demanding an end to the President's NSA policy, you know times are changing.

In my own little world of words, it appears that both Amazon and Google are no longer entertaining labels or "tags" that link lesser known authors up to far bigger names in order to game the system and trick potential book buyers into purchasing a book they would otherwise not buy. You with me here?

Let give you an example. Until recently, it was possible to write a novel and publish it with a tag such as James Patterson and/or Stephen King. By utilizing these tags your title could potentially be found listed apart from a vast sea of titles along with the relatively few titles of the more famous author. It was a cool way to get noticed. I certainly used these tags when I could, as have many of my colleagues. At one point, your publisher could even design a cover that resembled a more famous author's book. Some authors have even adopted pen names that resemble a more famous author. You put together the tags, along with the book cover, and the new pen name, and it's fairly easy to fool a customer into buying your book. Thanks metadata.

But do you really want to trick someone into buying your title?

I know I don't.

Not long ago, my friend and former Delacorte colleague Harlan Coben said that to rely on trickery or sketchy social media tactics in order to game the system, is at best, an ill-advised practice. Sure, go ahead and Facebook news of your new book or news of a sale, but to constantly be harassing people to purchase your books, is a big no-no (take it from me, I'm as guilty of this as anyone...) What he advised is this: The best way for a book to get noticed and talked about is for that book to be really something special. Something special means making your book not good or passable, but great.

As recently reported on this blog, I've managed to sell more than 40,000 copies of my novel The Remains over the past six weeks (currently I've sold around 43K). That's a lot of books. Now, in truth, I have the benefits of a major publisher working behind the scenes with a state-of-the-art marketing team. But the team isn't always pushing the book. In fact, no one is pushing the book at present and it's still selling more than one hundred copies per day in several different countries at a fairly high cost.

Why is this title selling so well when other titles aren't?
I really can't say because, well, I just don't know.

What I do know is this: I work really hard on my novels and I think it shows. Writing a really good book is the only thing I truly have control over. Everything else is pretty much a gamble. Talent and hard work are essentials in this business, but luck is the common denominator.

Want to have more luck and increase your chances of nailing a bestseller?
Work harder.

In the end, tags, labels, and metadata that we once relied upon on for selling books will be forgotten. As authors (surviving authors) we can only adapt to the current publishing climate, taking into account both publishing and marketing trends. One thing that is never trendy: writing as well as you can.

Write a great book. The kind of book that will get people talking. The kind of book that will raise up the fine hairs on a reader's neck. Sooner or later you'll have your bestseller. And you won't have earned it through trickery. You'll have earned it the old fashioned way: through sheer talent and hard work.


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