by Raelene Gorlinsky
Authors keep hearing about "branding", about publicizing themselves, about engaging with readers to make their name known. Why? Because readers buy the books of authors they know, far more than they try books by authors they don't recognize. This has become even more critical with the explosion of ebooks and of self-publishing. There are so many more books to choose from now, and unfortunately some of them are not up to par. Therefore, many readers are even more inclined to stick with authors they already know or that are recommended to them by people they trust.
Several surveys have shown that one of the most critical elements a reader uses in electing to buy a book is author name recognition.
From 2010-2011 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics & Buying Behaviors Annual Review (Bowker): The author "is the key factor in both driving consumers to buy a book as well as making consumers aware of a particular book."
From the RWA's 2010 ROMstat Report, quoted in the November 2011 RWR: "50 percent of romance buyers stated the author was the reason for the book purchase."
From a survey of over 9000 people by the American Booksellers Association, 2009/2010, on how people choose books to buy:
1. Author reputation 52%
2. Personal recommendation 49%
Reported in Publishers Weekly in February 2007, a survey by the advertising firm Spier NY on American book-buying habits:
1. Friend’s recommendation 49%
2. Familiarity with author 45%
Any bookstore employee can tell you that it's quite common for a customer to ask for "the new book by...". The customer doesn't know the book title, may not know anything about the story, but they love this author and buy every new release, based solely on the author's name.
How about an illustration of this? An author in my local RWA chapter told us about an experiment she conducted. She's a well-established author, a New York Times bestseller, has a backlist of about three dozen books. She's not into self- or digital publishing, preferring the traditional print path, although her books now are of course also released in digital by her NY publishers. But she decided to try self-publishing to see how it works. She released a new story under her established pen name. She then released a book under a brand new pen name, with no connection to her other, well-known name. The first ebook sold 4000 in the first month; the second sold 8 copies. I'm sure her "voice" and style were the same in both stories. Readers found and bought the first one because they were looking for books by her and knew they'd like what they bought. Almost no one took a chance on an unknown name in the massive sea of unknown new authors available in digital. Name recognition at work.
So build your name as a "brand" people will recognize--website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, attendance at reader conventions. Establish a persona readers will like and identify with, and get out there and interact!