On Tuesday I interrupted a three-week introduction to the Kindle publishing phenomenon for a case study near and dear to our hearts: Courtney Cantrell’s Kindle publishing success story.
Now, admittedly she’s no Hocking yet. She’s a success regardless. She has already sold well beyond her immediate circle of friends and family, and even out past one remove. She’s not making enough money to pay the bills yet (not even close), but her book is being read by new people–by strangers–and there are more and more of them with every day that passes.
Konrath’s formula for Kindle publishing overnight success goes
- Write really good books, with good covers, and good product descriptions
- Get lots of books out there
- And wait at least a year.
Courtney’s got one book for sale, and it’s been out for a couple weeks. Considering that, she’s doing fine.
But today I want to talk about Konrath’s rules, and why they work (and, by extension, why I can now call Courtney a success with such confidence). It all has to do with some fundamental changes in society–specifically with the end of The Media and the rise of the Global Information Network.
One of the books I had to review for Readings in Mass Communication was Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility, edited by Andrew J. Flanagin. The book was all about how the new generation of “digital natives” views and interacts with mass media. You’ve seen glimpses of their findings throughout my claims over the last three weeks.
One of the most important (and dramatic) findings in their research is that digital natives equate credibility with the accessibility of useful information. By comparison, credibility used to be evaluated primarily by the quality of the source (in our case, that would be the publishers). But digital natives have grown up with ready to access to vast stores of information, and thanks to aggregators and search engines and user-generated content, it’s often difficult to know the true source for any given piece of information.
So they’ve turned more and more of their focus from centralized legitimizing sources to more personal metrics like the speed and ease of access. If those things sound familiar, those are precisely the things we’ve been talking about throughout our discussion of Kindle publishing.
Specifically, Kindle publishing provides authors with speed and ease of access to the publishing process. That’s the primary appeal of it. A direct result of that, though, is that readers gain all the advantages of in their own access to the books they’re looking for.
According to Konrath, publishers are adamantly uninterested in publishing more than one title per author per year. (Incidentally my professor Deborah Chester, who is much-published and a staunch supporter of legacy publishing has unknowingly backed him up on this in lectures.)
Kindle publishers, on the other hand, can release multiple titles in the same time. Consortium Books, my little indie publishing company, is on track to publish 6 titles in 2011 and we hope to publish 12 in 2012–18 titles total, and nearly all of them from just two authors.
Amanda Hocking addressed the same issue, when she announced her legacy publishing deal. Even as she’s signing a three-book deal with St. Martin’s Press, she announces she’s also going to release multiple titles on her own before the end of the year. She has no intention of abandoning Kindle publishing because she has a massive backlog of (extremely valuable) books–twenty titles of her own–and it would take decades to get those pushed through the legacy publishing process.
Instead, she’s taking advantage of the speed and ease of access that Kindle publishing creates to get more books out there, and have them selling longer–two of Konrath’s core rules for success. As she does that, she’s providing speed and ease of access to her books to her readers–something legacy publishers can’t do–which increases her credibility.
Social Collaborative Endorsement
The other major method digital natives use to evaluate credibility is something called the “bandwagon heuristic” or social collaborative endorsement. That means, for a given reader, the more of his peers who seem to find something credible, the more he finds it credible.
That might seem obvious. But, to be fair, the point of the study wasn’t to find something shocking, but to understand how we interact with this revolutionary new information network we’re all immersed in. And one answer that’s critically significant to our discussion here is that, in the network era, we’ve taken credibility assessment away from centralized legitimizers (again, legacy publishers) and placed it in the hands of the masses. We’ve crowdsourced gatekeeping.
The easiest way to understand this is that, in broad strokes, popularity equals credibility. That’s why we care about a site’s pagerank, or how many hits it’s gotten. That’s why we care about the number of views a YouTube video has, or the number of downloads of Firefox compared with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.
And that’s why Bestseller lists matter. Even as readers reject legacy publishing as a central source of authority, they turn to Amazon’s Bestseller lists to find books worth reading. If a book appears on Amazon’s Bestseller list, that means a lot of a person’s peers have deemed it credible.
Amazon has demonstrated an uncanny grasp of social collaborative endorsement and they’ve done everything they can to build it into their system. They’re constantly refining their recommendation engine to advertise products to their customers based on the preferences of other customers who have exhibited similar tastes (or, in other words, the customers’ peers).
That’s compelling information. Above and beyond sales numbers, studies show that digital natives prefer the reviews or analyses of their peers over the reviews or analyses of professionals or experts.
And there, again, Amazon is ready and willing to facilitate the collapse of the old media. Customer Reviews, one of the most popular features of the Amazon shopping experience, cater to precisely that sort of peer feedback. Amazon even encourages customers to rate the quality of each other’s reviews. At every opportunity Amazon has created a market that caters to social collaborative endorsement.
And as it happens, that market is an incredibly friendly environment for Kindle publishers. Come back tomorrow, and I’ll talk about how an author can get the most out of the global information network.