A Few Notes On Discoverability

Author's Note: This essay originally appeared on Google+ as part of an on-going series called “Notes From the Underground.”

Discoverability is one of those newish buzzwords that tries to describe the process by which a reader finds a book to read.

It's Not The Book

The problem with the generally accepted view of discoverability is that the goal is not to have people discover a book. You can't build a career on a book. As an author you need readers to discover you.

That may feel really scary but fight it. If you're an author, it's the reality of your chosen work. You can't be a concert pianist if you never get out of your living room.

Discoverability Only Matters Once

What we tend to lose track of is that most of an author's fanbase is made up of people who discovered him or her just one time. Once a reader knows your name and what you write, you don't need to be discovered by that reader again. 

If you're smart and if you write something that that reader likes, you'll keep him or her reading your stuff forever — or at least until you piss them off by charging too much, writing too much stuff they don't like, make them wait too long between works, or toss some other sand into their gears.

How Does A New Author Do That?

Lean on your network.

I keep harping on the difference between network and platform.  Your network is a collection of your peers. Writers, artists, editors, and others engaged in the creative endeavor of bring literature to the audience. Your platform is your audience. They're the people who support you by buying your stuff. 

Your network doesn't need to discover you. You need to build the network. You've already started by being a member of one or more writing communities. Your network should have members who like and respect your work. It should have at least a few members whose work you like and respect. 

Like all writing communities, they don't all have to be in the mutual kumbaya society, but having a half dozen people with whom you share sensibilities is important. 

Individually, new authors have very small audiences...perhaps as few as a hundred readers garnered over months of frustration. Ten such authors — with similar sensibilities and writing in related genres — have a thousand. 

A thousand fans represents critical mass. Once you get there, discoverability is a function of how fast your fans share. It is no longer the author's problem.

The combined audience of ten authors may not give you that thousand fans, but it's a nice start. Use that group to prime the pump by giving them something positive to talk about. 

Give Them A Reason 

Evo Terra  regularly says something like “If you want people to talk about you, do something remarkable. Do something that's worthy of remark.” Having people talk about you means you get discovered by people who hear the talk. 

Here's a few clues: – One book? Not remarkable.  – One book a year? Not remarkable.  – One really OMFG book? Not remarkable for more than one news cycle.

So do something remarkable:  – Regularly recommend somebody from your network.  – Participate with readers in social media often.  – Build a body of work as fast (and as good) as you can. – Earn the reputation you want to have by being willing to build it one brick – or reader – at a time. 

Here's The Thing 

It'll take a couple of years. Maybe three, maybe five.

If you write good stuff, if you build a good network, if you pay attention to the details of your craft, then readers will discover you and – through you – your work. 

It's up to you to make sure they only need to discover you once.

Up Next: Mango At the Hardware Store