The Owen Problem

I was signing the paperback of my second book.  A man came up to me, introduced himself as Owen, and said,

‘I love Our Child of the Stars! I didn’t know you had written a sequel.’

He bought another copy for a friend, and a copy of Our Child of Two Worlds for himself. So, lovely, but also, I felt like banging my head on the table.

I’ve named this the Owen Problem.   Everything I did to promote the book for six months hadn’t reached an enthusiastic reader. In fact, sales suggest a great many Owens are out there.

186,000 books are published in the UK each year. Traditional publishers rely on the retailers to sell to individuals. Some small presses and some online retailers retain contacts for the purchasers – so Amazon can tell you a sequel is out.

Marketing and publicity is expected to reach the millions of Owens. But I believe 95% of marketing goes on 5% of titles. Not everyone reads book bloggers, and no one reads all of them. Not everyone reads the reviews in papers.

Furthermore, the traditional model relies on publishing the paperback six months later than the main publicity drive. (Some publishers now do eBook and paperback first, and then do a hardback if demand justifies it!)

Every commercial social media platform becomes progressively less effective, demanding more payment to make your content widely visible, or at all. TikTok (which only works for some books) is starting to go down that route.

The traditional publisher arguing the author on social can sell the books has never been brilliant and now looks very out of date.

Self-publishers of course have a similar problem.

Mastodon is a federated, non-commercial social media platform.  I quite like it, it has potential, but it’s really not the main solution.

If I sold handbags on Etsy and the like, I would have emails from my buyers.  I could warm them up for new products, within reason, and they’d at least know when the new one was out.

It’s why I run a newsletter and why I want to expand it. But still, I cannot expect people to follow me and 99 different authors. Our email inboxes are already very full.

If you like my content, sign up to the newsletter anyway! Free, special offers, not too frequent.

It’s one reason why I am moving into training authors in media skills, useful across a range of publicity activity.

Author: Stephen Cox

London PR consultant and interim, with 30 years experience across not for profit sector. Former Great Ormond Street Hospital/Chelsea and Westminster. Critically acclaimed novels Our Child of the Stars (2019), praised by Guardian, FT, Daily Mail and Grazia, and Our Child of Two Worlds (2022)

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