Not every reader spends a lot of time online

11 Aug

Doubtful smiley - raised eyebrow

I find that we—those of us who blog, blog-hop, participate in message boards, readers/authors loops and groups—tend to forget that we are, in fact, a minuscule percentage of the total of readers.

This is, of course, not an original observation—Super Librarian Wendy has often talked about this—but it seems to be a frequently held belief that online readers are, in fact, the majority of romance readership.

What brings this on, you ask?

Well, when news that author Anne Stuart will have books under a different pen name with her new publisher, Janet W. said (among other things) that “…we always know that Jane Smith is now Sally Jones when she’s not writing as Judy Smart …”

Yes, we—people who are active online or are avid followers of Ms Stuart—may know this from the get go, but there will be many readers who will not have a clue. Readers who shop primarily at brick and mortar stores, and whose method of choosing something to read is check out the covers, then read the back cover blurb. Those are the readers the publisher is hoping to entice to read these books by the same author under a different name.

As Jayne Ann Krentz aka Amanda Quick aka Jayne Castle mentioned during her speech at RWA’s Awards Luncheon, it was the change of pseudonym (which included different marketing by herself and the publisher) that allowed her to keep her career alive whenever the previous one… well, flopped.

Yes, now we know that all three writers are the same person writing contemproraries, historicals or fantasy romances (hell, now she’s making a point of tying all three together through her Arcane Society novels!) but at the time? No one knew1, and that was what saved her bacon.

On top of that, there is the little fact that publishers tend to be old, well established corporations (read: lots of inertia to overcome) who, as far as we can tell, are not keen on change. In their view, if it worked twenty years ago, then of course it’ll work now!

Unfortunately for many a publisher, this doesn’t quite hold true anymore—people are people now as they ever were, but we communicate more and much faster now than we did just a decade ago. It is not only young tweens who spend hours glued to Facebook, and it is not only teens who twitter and text constantly. The likelihood of keeping Ms Stuart’s new pseudonym under wraps for long is much smaller now than it was for Ms Krentz in the eighties or nineties.

Which doesn’t have to be bad news—as a matter of fact, these days many authors are using different pseudonyms as marketing tools, to reach out to different audiences: Ann Aguirre aka Ava Gray; Beth Williamson aka Emma Lang; Jennifer Ashley aka Allyson James; Margaret Rowe aka Maggie Robinson—and many more. Whether or not a reader of Ava Gray (romantic suspense) knows that she also writes as Ann Aguirre (futuristic urban fantasy, contemporary urban fantasy and young adult) is not indispensable to the success of her career, as each subgenre has its own audience. Of course, she won’t cry if there is overlap and readers of romantic suspense find her Skin series by reading her Corine Solomon series.

This means that what Pocket is planning on doing with Anne Stuart (i.e., having her ‘debut’ as Kristina Douglas) may very well work for both author and publisher, but not necessarily for the same reasons it did for Ms Krentz twenty plus years ago.

However, generally speaking, what does work is when the publisher knows its market and it’s willing to follow—or even herd along—its customers in profitable directions. A perfect example of this would be Harlequin: in a troubled publishing world, it has continued to post profits without noticeable hiccups. Harlequin has made their authors’ backlists available digitally and promoted that catalogue to all its readers, traditional or digital. Harlequin has also expanded its horizons with the launch of Carina Press, its digital-first venture.

In contrast, Dorchester’s seemingly impromptu decision to go digital first, POD2 (trade size to boot!) later seems… well, off the wall at best, and doomed at worst. If the company actually knew its market, it would have realized that there are many readers who will simply assume the publisher disappeared once they don’t see the novels and the authors on shelves at their local brick and mortar bookstore.

Yes, of course some readers will head online to a favorite author’s website to find out what happened to that ‘upcoming’ book that was never released, but as I said at the beginning, many more won’t—in my real life experience the percentage of avid readers that actually keep a running list of upcoming releases is still relatively minor. Most simply wait until they see something new by a favorite author at the bookstore.

I guess now it’s basically a wait and see situation—while keeping fingers crossed for the many authors who are caught in the crossfire.

(For a more detailed and articulated piece on what Dorchester decision means for readers, go to Super Librarian Wendy’s blog; also, check out Dorchester’s email to Jane at Dear Author)

Update: via Ann Aguirre’s blog, Jim C Hines on The Death of Print Publishing Part MCCLWTFXVIII

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1 In fact, please raise your hand if you knew Ms Krentz also wrote under Jayne Bennet, Jayne Taylor and Stephanie James all through the 80s, and had one book out in 1989 as Amanda Glass. Yeah, neither did I until I checked her website while writing this piece—go figure, huh?

2 Print on demand

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