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Bloggers sell books (and bonus rant)

In a recent Wall Street Journal article (1) it was noted that books by 60 self published authors have been acquired by traditional publishers.  2012 was definitely the year of the self published author from E.L. James to Tammara Weber to Colleen Hoover.  While there are some bloggers who are resistant to reviewing self published books, the rise of the self published author could not have occurred without three things:

  1. Robust digital market made possible by the adoption of the Kindle.
  2. Ability of authors to speak directly to readers through Facebook / Goodreads / Twitter.
  3. The word of mouth facilitated by bloggers.

Colleen Hoover has sold over 1 million Kindle books, sat on top of the NYTimes bestseller list, and has published only three books. She self published her first book “Slammed” on January 4, 2012. According to Goodreads, it spent a few months in relative obscurity. Hoover ran two Goodreads giveaways which are print only. Then Goodreads says:

Then, in late March, a few prominent bloggers in her genre wrote about the book, spreading the word to their many followers on Goodreads through their reviews. A few of them even liked it so much they ended up virtually handselling the book to specific readers: an author’s dream!

I asked Hoover about bloggers’ influence for her books. She said the following:

Not only have bloggers helped elevate the profile of the self published audience, but I believe without bloggers, my books would have never taken off like they did. SP authors don’t have the marketing behind them that trad-pubbed authors do, so bloggers are one of the few marketing resources available. It’s very hard in this flooded market of self-published books to write one that stands out and gets noticed. As a reader myself, I’ve found it has become almost impossible to trust rankings or reviews anymore, so I strictly rely on bloggers I follow for my next read. I think readers are recognizing that there are a lot of quality self-published books out there, it’s just a matter of finding them. And right now, legitimate blog reviews are one of the few reliable resources for readers.

Hugh Howey sent free copies of post apocalyptic thriller “Wool” to bloggers and reviewers at Goodreads. As Wool was released serially, the word of mouth spread exponentially.

In Goodreads most recent data analysis, “trusted friend” was the number one way readers discovered books. What isn’t well identified is that to many readers, like Ms. Hoover herself, the blogger is considered a “trusted” or “reliable” resource for readers.

And the blogging community is massive. Over at YA Book Blog Directory, there are over 1300 book bloggers listed in the directory. Google “Colleen Hoover Review Slammed” and there are 81,600 results. In contrast, one of the seminal literary fiction releases in the last twenty years is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History which results in 75,700 results. Thus a book that was released just last year that reached only 30-40% of the reading market for eight months (the print version was released in August 2012) has more results that a literary fiction novel released in 1992 hailed by the NY Times as a “Forceful, cerebral and impeccably controlled.”

What’s more is that many bloggers have multiple platforms.  They tweet, participate on message boards, have goodreads and Facebook profiles. They will cross post book reviews at goodreads, Amazon and their blogs.  Colleen Hoover’s #1 NYTimes bestselling novel “Hopeless” was released in December 2012 and has 4,664 reviews on Amazon. Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks, a book released on originally in September 2010, and recently saw the movie adaptation, has 4,070 reviews. Safe Haven was number #1 to Hopeless’ #2 position on the January 20, 2013 Times bestseller list.

While word of mouth spreads organically without blogs, blogs amplify the signal and not because of the original blogger but rather because of the community that has gathered at the blog. The best part of any blog isn’t the content (although that must be good) but the blog’s community. Through the comments, discussions between readers, and emails sent to the bloggers, the tendrils of recommendations work outward in ever increasing circles.

Of course, it isn’t just bloggers who helped self published authors. It was readers on message boards who spread the word to their offline communities. It was neighbors and book clubs and mommy play date groups. However, without the massive growth of the blogging community, the velocity of word of mouth for these self published books would like have been much slower to the point where some might not have found an audience at all.

The next time you see “trusted friend” as a data point, I’d bet dollars to donuts many readers consider their favorite blogstops the same way. Rock on bloggers.

****

1.  I have a big bone to pick with the WSJ article and the coverage that is being extended Hugh Howey’s book “Wool”.  I have nothing against Howey whose books Ned loves.  What I find problematic and troubling is the respect that is shown Howey’s work versus that which is afforded to Colleen Hoover, Tammara Weber and the like.

Hoover and Weber were profiled by Nightline about the New Adult genre.  Instead of focusing on how amazing it was that these ladies self published their  books and literally created a new genre overnight that had been forgotten or eschewed by publishers, Nightline choose to focus on the sexual aspect of the stories.  The true irony is the books profiled have almost no sex in them.  Even the Nightline article notes that Hoover’s books are “more sexual tension than actual sex.”  Yet Nightline goes on to call Hoover’s books “Smut Fiction.”

The WSJ article about a self published author making it big could have been written about Hoover instead of Howey.

  • Hoover, like Howey, has sold over a million copies of digital books. She’s one of four.  Bella Andre is the third.
  • Like Howey, Hoover has a print only deal with Simon & Schuster.
  • She, like Howey, has had her books optioned by a major producer.  Howey’s optioner is Ridley Scott.  Hoover’s is Lorenzo di Bonaventura (producer of Salt, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and the Transformers trilogy).
  • Hoover has helped create a new million dollar subgenre.
  • Hoover has done self publishing, sold a big traditional print + ebook deal, and then gone on to self publish her third book which she then sold print rights only to Simon & Schuster.

Despite all these similarities, Howey is a savvy marketer of cool post apoc fiction.  Hoover’s writing stories about poetry, family loss, death and sexual abuse but is a Smut Fiction writer.  The gender bias the press displays toward female writers and female focused sub genres is maddening.  That’s about the nicest adjective I could come up with.

 

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

23 Comments

  1. Merrian
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 07:04:06

    This study ‘Technorati’s 2013 Digital Influence Report’ shows that blogs outrank social media for influence and there is very interesting commentary on the value of online community http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/blogs-outrank-social-networks-for-consumer-influence-new-research/.

    While speaking broadly about all sorts of blogs, the study found that blogs are now the third most influential digital resource (31%) when making overall purchases and count overall when it comes to shaping opinions. The study participants talked about the real value of online communities coming from discussing ideas, sharing information and learning from one another which is pretty much what we do in romancelandia and book blogging world.

    It was International Women’s Day on 8th March. Seeing your analysis of the different ways in which the achievements of male and female genre writers are framed and recognised or denigrated according to gender is a poignant reminder of why it matters that we speak up for ourselves and why change is necessary.

    ReplyReply

  2. Laura Florand
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 07:47:28

    Smut fiction. Wow. Just wow.

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  3. Susanna Kearsley
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 09:06:59

    Rock on bloggers, indeed.

    And it’s not only self-published authors who owe you a debt. Speaking for myself, there’s absolutely no way my own books would have been noticed in the USA—even with the dedicated marketing efforts of my über-supportive publisher, Sourcebooks—had bloggers not started to notice, review, and support them, as well. Just no way. Without bloggers, The Winter Sea might well have died a quiet death forgotten on the shelves, instead of quietly gaining the word-of-mouth momentum that helped put it on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists a full six months after it was published here (and two years after it was first published in the UK).

    And speaking as a reader, I find I buy most of my books these days based on reviews by the bloggers I follow. I work from home, so blogs and Twitter are my water cooler—when someone whose tastes I know are similar to mine (like Jayne, here, for example) starts talking about a book she loved, I take notice. And I’ve got a whole TBR shelf here beside me, to prove it.

    As for the Hoover/Howey thing…it’s more than maddening, but it has always been thus, in this business—at least in my experience. Booksellers, readers and librarians tend to support and respect all writers, but the media shows more respect to those writers who have a Y chromosome. Even in Jane Austen’s day, it was thus, and I don’t see it changing.

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  4. Courtney Milan
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 09:41:10

    For what it’s worth, I’ve seen Howey say the same thing–that he thinks it’s ridiculous that he’s getting all the press coverage, when there are women who are selling more copies than he has who are getting a few short mentions.

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  5. azteclady
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 10:02:25

    It is certainly infuriating that pretty much anything women do–and do well–is dismissed is this manner.

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  6. Jill Sorenson
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 10:27:18

    That is maddening, Jane. Thanks for the coverage.

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  7. jessP
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 11:46:12

    When I was in law school (late 70s, basically), I told someone that I would know we had equality when I could be just as mediocre as any man and succeed as well. We’re just not there, and I sometimes despair that the current young generation of women don’t have much of an idea how far we’ve come, and how fragile those gains are. The fact that the press really has not moved forward in this area is another indication that the problem is deeply rooted in society, and however much we think we’ve gained, it’s not as much, in reality, as we think.

    I love this blog and the people who comment here. My day is not complete until I’ve stopped in. So, thank you all. And thanks for all the recommendations for authors to try that I never would have known of otherwise.

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  8. Ros
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 12:23:08

    Maddening is an extremely kind word to use for this situation.

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  9. MaryK
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 12:23:28

    the blogger is considered a “trusted” or “reliable” resource for readers

    Yes, definitely. I don’t have any book friends in RL. Based on DA rec’s, I’ve even bought self pubbed books, something I never thought I’d do since there’s no way I’d pay money to read slush.

    ReplyReply

  10. Joan Schulhafer
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 15:35:56

    Thanks so much for sharing all this, Jane. Great information, good insights and, oh, do I hear you re: the Nightline coverage. Joan

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  11. Sunny
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 15:41:49

    @jessP:
    I feel exactly the same way, DA and SBTB may be rough on my wallet, but my heart and mind are so much happier for discovering the community. Plus comments that you not only can read, but are often just as excellent as the posts themselves! I think there are maybe three sites I frequent that I can say that about, and none to the same extent as here.

    ReplyReply

  12. Hmm. | Colleen Hoover
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 20:34:12

  13. Selma
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 21:06:39

    Extremely well put. When a man does something well, it’s because he’s smart. When a woman does something well, we have to figure out what gimmick she used (aka smut).

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  14. Angie @ Smut Book Club
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 21:08:04

    THANK YOU for bringing attention to the hard (but fun) work we book bloggers do for authors. So many authors know and appreciate what we can do for them as bloggers and community builders. We work hard and get paid only through our hard work in promoting our favorite authors and books. We don’t have corporations backing us or publishers paying us for what we do. It’s all through our own independent networking that we can be successful.

    I, too, saw the Nightline piece and was shocked at the negative and disjointed reporting done on Hoover and Weber. I expected to see more of an information story on the authors and the dramatic growth in sales of independent authors. I did NOT expect to see them being railed on for publishing “inappropriate-for-teens” books. It was a mess of a story.

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  15. trgraves
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 22:35:42

    This is a GREAT post, and one that I could ramble on for days about. It touches on several topics that are important to me.

    1) I’m an indie author, and for that, I’m EXTREMELY proud and fortunate.

    2) The success of my books is dependent on amazingly supportive bloggers, and thankfully, they have embraced my book, Grave Bound, and me. I’ve been blown away by the sheer magnitude of posts, tweets, LIKES, and shares that I’ve gotten from their efforts, and the new fan base I’ve experienced because of them.

    3) After writing three young adult paranormal novels, I switched to the adult genre. To hear this genre being labeled as smut fiction without regard for the complex issues addressed and the powerful story lines created is discouraging (and small-minded).

    4) Finally, I live and breathe in a world (author and business world) where men accomplish the same as – more often less than – me… yet they get MORE recognition.

    As with every challenge that I’ve ever faced, I’m committed to working harder and doing more in order to achieve my goals. I’m confident I can do just that with a little help from my ‘blogging’ friends.

    Thanks again for a topic that initiates passion.

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  16. Cynthia
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 23:04:10

    Smut fiction? Really? I doubt anyone at Nightline even bothered to read Hoover’s books before doing the feature. Smh

    On the other side of this article, I am glad to see bloggers getting some well deserved recognition in the book world :)

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  17. Christin Berger
    Mar 13, 2013 @ 00:11:39

    How is it that we are still seeing news organizations spread this kind of bias? OY!

    Good news for great bloggers though! :)

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  18. LoverKaren@Literati Literature Lovers
    Mar 13, 2013 @ 08:31:24

    Brilliant Post The vilification of female authors because of sexual situation in books needs to stop. Nightline should be ashamed of it self for sensationalistic reporting. We are all proof that people have sex, i.e., we’re all the result of sexual congress. Why not explore it in fiction. Maybe the puritanical views of the media need to change as both Ms. Hoover and Ms. Weber write stellar stories.

    It is the stories that are written that matter, and Indie Self Published authors are writing GREAT stories. Would readers have enjoyed the phenomenal works of Indie authors without the advent of the EReader, more than likely not. Technology opened up a way for these talented authors to bring us the readers and bloggers of the world something to talk about, and talk and blog we do. Word of mouth is the most powerful tool we have as consumers, and the readers have spoken, and publishing is changing; because of Indie authors.

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  19. Anne Tenino
    Mar 13, 2013 @ 12:54:13

    I’m late with comments, but I completely agree with your rant—I’m especially impressed by the creation of the NA genre by these women (one I’m looking into, but I’d have to completely tone down my sex scenes, which IDK if I’m capable of…). Kudos to them, and boo-hiss to WSJ.

    My second comment is that I feel that I owe a huge, huge debt to bloggers for any success I’ve achieved, and this blog is high on that list. Thank you for existing.

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  20. Kenny Dill
    Mar 15, 2013 @ 12:41:05

    Great perspective!

    p.s. As far as smut fiction is concerned, I think they were talking about Colleen’s first book.

    ReplyReply

  21. Katherine Owen - Novelist
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 07:09:56

    Amen! ~ to all you’ve written here. It is stunning to me in 2013 that gender bias is alive and well; and this fodder is willingly fed to the masses. “Look the girl done good; but guys still rules the world.”

    From the Nightline taping it was pretty obvious they hadn’t read Hoover’s book.

    ReplyReply

  22. Jane Porter
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 19:40:25

    Coming to this late, but so glad I’m here and have read it.

    You’re absolutely right. I need book bloggers. I straddle romance and women’s fiction and don’t fit neatly into the market, so its really up to readers and book lovers to help other readers find me and book bloggers are everything right now.

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  23. “Bloggers Sell Books”: Useful in Light of Catholic-Fiction Discussion
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 13:40:45

    […] this is another (now start a band) […]

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