What’s the Key to Solving the Book Discoverability Problem?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

Laura Fredericks, founder, Describli

Laura Fredericks, founder, Describli

Editorial by Laura Fredericks, Founder and CEO, Describli

If you’ve been paying attention to publishing news, chances are you’ve heard the term “book discovery” thrown about a great deal. Unfortunately that’s not because it’s the latest trend, but because it’s broken. The number of books available on the market has skyrocketed, and for readers it’s getting harder every day to sift through the “noise” and find the books that they’re interested in reading. We need a new solution for book discovery, one that takes into account the way that we used to find books in bookstores.

The main factor contributing to the problem of book discovery is the sheer volume of books out there. Anyone with a computer can now self-publish a book. But because the number of books published every year is growing dramatically, especially in the digital space, authors have more competition than ever before. This ultimately leads to a book discovery problem for readers, and an audience discovery problem for authors.

Now, I don’t for one second believe that I’m the only one to have noticed this problem, or tried to solve it. Industry leaders have recognized that the problem of discovery is begging for a solution. Attempted solutions have mostly focused on the idea of recommendations. The main avenues for this are trusted friend recommendations, stranger recommendations, and software algorithms. But each of these avenues has its own special problems to accompany it.

I have some really great friends. I trust all of them, and I value what they have to say. But if we all liked the exact same books, I would have a pretty disappointing group of friends. Trusted friend recommendation sites assume that if all my friends jump off the proverbial book-buying bridge, that I will choose to do the same. I value my friends because of the diversity of their opinions, and the idea of buying a book because one of my friends liked it is a still a bit strange to me.

describlismallSo, if I don’t trust my friends to recommend a book, I should just trust the crowd, right? Maybe not. The problems with sites like Amazon for book recommendations is that authors can pay for reviews, readers can gang up on an author, and it’s been shown that up to a third of reviews are fake. Like also tends to beget like in the book review space. If there a lot of five star reviews, then the five star reviews keep rolling in. Insert a few one star reviews, and the ball rolls in the other direction. Mob mentality is no way to choose a book.

Ok, so friends and mobs are out, but what about computers? Computer recommendations are largely based on keywords; the name of the author, the subject or genre of the book, or the demographic that it sells to. If I read one vampire book (like Dracula) and loved it, that doesn’t mean I’ll enjoy another vampire book (like Twilight). Until algorithms are smart enough to recognize writing style and wit, they won’t be able to make really great book recommendations.

Instead of mining vast amounts of data or listening to a chorus of friends, we need to return to the way people found books in bookstores – read a little bit of what the author has to say.

If you open up a good book and start reading, chances are you’ll know if you like what you’re reading within the first few paragraphs. Great authors hook us, draw us into their worlds, and never let us go. That ability to connect with a reader, to show off their style and abilities in just a few words, sets truly great writers apart from the masses. Across genre, subject matter, characters, and styles, the great writers are those who can make a connection with a reader. They form relationships with their audience through every page. If we could create relationships directly between authors and readers, then suddenly this book discovery problem might not seem so bad.

Social media allows for direct, individual connections among people who normally would never get the chance to meet or speak. This direct channel to others has caused huge changes in the publishing industry, but as a book discovery tool it has a long way to go. Authors can reach out to a very small, very targeted niche of readers, but often struggle to know what to say and fail to create lasting relationships. Few authors have mastered the technique of creating relationships online, and many end up yelling their book titles into the ether, hoping for some book sales. Relationships, rather than veiled book pitches, create trust.

We need an easy way for authors to connect directly with their readers, forming relationships with their audience and understanding the people who are reading their work. This means providing small samples of writing to readers on a continuing basis, allowing them over time to fall in love with an author’s style. It’s like dating for books, and it’s the next big step in discoverability.

Laura Fredericks is a two-time entrepreneur, an advocate for self published and indie published authors, and is passionate about getting great books in front of their perfect audiences. She is the founder of Describli (www.describli.com), a new site that lets readers and writers connect directly through great writing. Describli is currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo – head to the campaign to support the site and get great prizes. You can find Describli on twitter @describli and at facebook.com/describli.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.