pipe imageLast week we talked about how technology has allowed (really forced) two fundamental shifts book industry landscape:

1) Technology has allowed the content creator (the author) direct access to the content consumer (the reader) and vice versa.

2) Technology has changed the force that moves books through the system.

Let me explain this way:

 Picture a tennis ball – your book is the tennis ball. You can see a reader, your consumer, way off in the distance. Between you and the reader is a long plastic pipe, just a little bit larger in diameter than the tennis ball. The only way to get your tennis ball to the reader is through the plastic pipe. Throwing it, kicking it, or any other way than through the pipe is against the rules. You need to get that tennis ball, your book, to the reader, through the pipe. You insert the tennis ball into the pipe and give it a little push; the ball doesn’t go far before coming to a stop. You enlist a publisher, a distributor and several bookstores to help you push the ball through the pipe to the reader, but it’s not working. The ball comes to a stop long before it reaches the reader. Pushing the ball through the pipe used to work, but something has shifted. In the old days your publisher, distributor, and bookstores were on high ground; the reader was on low ground. Tennis balls, like so many other things in life, roll downhill; in the old days, the consumer took whatever the publisher, distributor, and bookstores pushed down the pipe.

But things have changed. Now, because technology has rearranged the landscape, the consumer is on high ground and the supply and distribution base (your publisher, distributor, and the bookstores) occupies the low ground. Pushing a tennis ball uphill through a long pipe is hard work, very expensive and just doesn’t work most of the time. To make matters worse, competition for your reader’s attention has increased dramatically – a hundred more distribution teams have shown up on the scene with a hundred more tennis balls all intent on pushing their balls through the same pipe to the same consumer. What a mess!

But wait! You remember the first fundamental change this new technology has allowed – you, the author, now have direct access to your reader and vice versa! You don’t have to rely on the old distribution and marketing team pushing your message through the pipe anymore!

So how do you reach your reader? You can rent a billboard advertising your book and hope she’s not too far away to see your message, or you can buy a full-page ad in a magazine and hope she subscribes, but those are pretty expensive ways to get her attention. Besides, those strategies feel too much like pushing the ball through the pipe, and you’ve discovered that pushing doesn’t work.

Remember, your reader occupies the high ground now; you’ve got to join her there. You need to go to the places your reader hangs out, join the conversations she’s already having and become a part of her ‘tribe’.

It’s easier than you think, you both already share a common interest  – you wrote a book for healthy-cooking soccer moms and she’s a healthy cooking soccer mom! How do you join the conversation? You comment on the blog your reader subscribes to (it may even be yours), you set up a healthy-cooking soccer mom Facebook Group, you tweet using the hashtags most healthy-cooking soccer moms follow (if all this is new to you, don’t worry, it’s easier than it sounds). You’re already a potential member of your reader’s tribe, just join in her conversation.

Before long, you’ve reached the reader directly, digitally introduced yourself and your book, and contributed to the conversation. The reader decides she wants to read your book! At this point, how and where she buys your book is her choice; she can buy it directly from you via your website or Facebook page, she can buy it from Amazon or one of the other big online retailers, she can even walk into the local bookstore if that’s where she likes to buy books (I didn’t say not to have your books in bookstores, I said not to rely on bookstores).

Remember the pipe and the tennis ball? Something interesting begins to happen. The pipe is beginning to move; among the hundred distribution and marketing teams at your end, the pipe moves toward you! As the end of the pipe nears you notice something equally amazing – you can feel negative pressure coming from opening! It’s almost like someone has hooked a vacuum to the other end of the pipe. You put your tennis ball into the mouth of the pipe and whoosh! It’s gone! What just happened?

Instead of your distribution and marketing team pushing your book through the system, your consumer has just pulled it through the system. That’s the second fundamental change technology has allowed – the force that moves books through the system has changed from push to pull; now the consumer decides what gets through.

So how, exactly, does this digital conversation between you and your reader begin? Is there some sort of road map the author can follow to reach and engage her readers? Yep! There is. Next week we’ll take our healthy cooking soccer mom author and walk her step by step, through the digital world, to her reader’s front door. You won’t want to miss it!