The people have spoken. Below you’ll find a tear down of of my December 2017 Reader Survey. I’m sharing this back out because:
- Respondents might dig knowing what everyone else said;
- I’ve got a bunch of author friends who will find some of this pure gold; and
- It’s fucking cool.
The usual disclaimers apply. Self-reported results are notoriously iffy, and the sample size is limited. Also, I’ve got a huge amount of unconscious bias which will be evident in how I parse this stuff. Let’s see how sub-par my brain is, hey?
Ruling the World
Why start small? I want to write more books in my latest Tyche story universe, because a) I enjoy it a great deal and b) readers seem to as well. This is what biz people call win-win.
First up? What to call the universe. I rejected about a billion options and polled people on my top five. Your choices were:
- The Ezeroc Cascade (e.g. “An Ezeroc Cascade Novel”)
- The Ezeroc Wars (e.g. “An Ezeroc Wars Novella”)
- The Human Continuum (e.g. “A Human Continuum Adventure”)
- The Esper Enlightenment (e.g. “An Esper Enlightenment Short Story”)
- The Human Enlightenment (e.g. “A Human Enlightenment Book”)
My fave was The Ezeroc Wars because it’s catchy, but I was concerned that it might be too martial. While Tyche has elements of military sci-fi, it’s more space opera. It turns out the rest of you liked that option the most too, but a close second was The Human Continuum, which was also my second choice.
Special credit to the respondent who pointed out that that ‘Ezeroc’ is ‘Coreze’ spelled backwards. Gold star, and I love you guys. Honorable mention to the person who suggested using Cascade by itself. I’ll think about that, because it’s short and simple, and short and simple wins hearts and minds.
Richard’s 2018 Plans: I’m still procrastinating on this one, but it’ll be a Wars or Continuum or Cascade series title. I’m decisive like that.
Giving people something they love is a core principle of not being poor and thus living under a bridge. I asked people what story they most wanted.
- The Tyche’s crew. I don’t care where they go as long as the drives are hot.
- More Espers. Space wizards 4 life.
- Karkoski, Chad, and the Navy.
- Boots on a crust. A groundwar against the bugs with a new team.
- A solo journey. Maybe Grace, onna quest.
The story I most wanted to tell was more about the Tyche’s crew, but I wouldn’t say no to a space wizards story. Responses?
Fuck me. Y’all really like the Tyche’s crew, don’t you? It shall be done.
There were a bunch of people who wanted all of them (which means I’ll need a cream for the friction burns on my fingers). To the person who wanted a story about Grace’s mom, you will get your wish before the rest. Grace’s origin story novella is coming soon (I’ve finished Nate, El, and Hope already).
Richard’s 2018 Plans: I’ll finish off the Tyche prequel novellas (~4 weeks), and then complete the new Tyche series in H1 2018.
I’ve written three story universes so far. Tyche is my latest, but there’s also Night’s Champion, and Future Forfeit (where Upgrade is set). Curiosity hit me: while people love Tyche, do readers want more in the other universes too? I seeded some story ideas out (all of which have been plotted to some level – these exist, people).
- Tyche’s Grace. Punch the hard black, find out what’s up with Grace’s Dad and his connection to the Ezeroc.
- Dawn’s Warden. A new Night’s Champion trilogy.
- C4RTR. Upgrade needs a sequel, and I want to know what happened to Carter, for fuck’s sake.
I figured people would want more Tyche most of all.
It turns out this is marginally true, but people still dig on Val and Danny’s Pack too. Far fewer people want the next Upgrade story, which isn’t surprising. It’s the book of mine that’s performed the worst in terms of readership. This suggests that C4RTR should be written, but prioritized down a little.
Richard’s 2018 Plans: Focus on Tyche first, and then see if we can complete Dawn’s Warden. It’s possible you’ll stop caring about Night’s Champion, so let’s call plans here ‘fluid.’
The Business of Business
Much like an orgy, a writing empire won’t start itself. The big issue facing authors today is one of discoverability. The challenge? Retailers like Amazon promote successful products over less successful ones. This makes sense if you like making money (which I assume is the motivating force behind the Zon’s shareholders). There’s lower purchase friction if people get “the good shit” surfaced before “the plain ol’ shit.”
Retailers do not care about solving for discoverability, which makes sense. If Amazon sell four hundred different brands of razor blade, how would they determine which of those four hundred a Milla Gorilla motherfucker would want to buy? A manufacturer or content producer needs to solve this themselves.
The challenge? It’s a tricky problem. For a while, “free books” was the answer for authors. Having done some fairly extensive testing on this over the 2017 calendar year, I had my doubts. Free books see a lot of downloads, but not a lot of reads. Conversion (getting humans to read that book, let alone next-in-series) is generally fucking horrible. Authors have a lot of opinions on discoverability which I didn’t see reflected in the data (and I suspect at least part of this is an incumbency effect, where established brands are successful because they’re established, ref: promoting success, above).
Rant over, let’s see how my readers find new authors. I gave them a few options and a free-text field.
- I’ll take a risk on any fool at 99c.
- I have trustworthy friends who tell me what doesn’t suck.
- I use also-boughts from my retailer e.g. Amazon
My hunch was that fewer than ten percent of people find new authors these days through freebies, but the free-text field was designed to tease this out. I also thought that anthologies were the winning discoverability method, due to the value & smorgasbord on offer.
The short version is that 99c books are the winner, followed a close second by anthologies, which shows my magic eight ball was misfiring a little on this one. Looking at some of the free-text answers, my hunch is that anthologies are on the wane because it’s becoming an overused system (much like freebies); readers are getting a little exhausted. But there’s still a little gold in them there hills!
Retailer also-boughts are a significant driver too. Finally, most of you lack trustworthy friends. C’est la vie.
In the free-text fields, 8% of people reported getting reads through Instafreebie or similar services. A couple of people noted Goodreads and BookBub as useful discovery platforms, but less than 5% for both. Slightly higher were recommendations by other authors at a shade over 5%.
To the respondent who noted ‘wild-ass guess,’ I hear you. I hear you.
Richard’s 2018 plans: I’ll see if I can get a few more sales and deals out for you on first-in-series, and see if I can get jiggy with some anthology masters. ICYMI, I’m in Pew! Pew! 4: Bad versus Worse, which kicks ass.
One of my theories behind why Upgrade didn’t sell well was that it was too long.
The people who loved it really loved it (I get more email asking for a sequel for this than anything else I’ve written, although this could also be because everything else already has a sequel). The sad truth is the readership numbers from retailers don’t correlate with the interest. My theories behind this are legion, but I suspect it’s because there’s already one Brandon Sanderson. Let’s see what the data says. The choices:
- I read novellas. 20k words | 70+ pages.
- Short novels. 60k words | 200+ pages.
- Novels. 90k words | 300+ pages.
- Novel-ass novels. 120k words | 400+ pages
- Brandon Sanderson 4 life. 4,000,000 words.
FWIW, according to the above scale my Night’s books were ‘novel-ass novels,’ and the Tyche books are ‘novels.’ Tyche has about a gazillion more readers than Night’s, which has about a gazillion more readers than Upgrade.
Who woulda thunk.
The free-text on this one was pretty amusing. Applying some editorial to the comments: one hero professed a love for GRRM, but about 10% of people professed a love for any length, with a few noting story/character as being the motivators rather than pure length. The mere 17% of respondents who like novellas makes me nervous for the upcoming Tyche Origins shorts, but at least I’ll be able to test the numbers.
Richard’s 2018 Plans: focus on sparsely-detailed character-based stories about 90,000 words in length. Go slightly higher than this, rather than slightly lower, if it fits the story.
Having bought a couple of books from the Zon and found they were expensive novellas, I wondered if other readers felt the same post-purchase dissonance as I did. Do they consider the length vs. price of a book?
- Sometimes. I live on the edge.
My prediction? Yes, it’s a factor.
Turns out, it’s maybe a factor. Digging into some of the other responses, I think that the quality of the work (not necessarily editing but rather strength of story/characters) is more of a consideration. My Spider Sense™ suggests that it’s also brand-based (readers knowing and liking that author).
Richard’s 2018 Plans: Continue delivering good stories. Price first-in-series a little more favorably, and use specials to support the folks who need to make their dollars go further.
It’s difficult to know whether this is wanted or appreciated. Have we escalated the war for human attention so high that we’re about to get launch codes for the nukes? Facebook is aware of this. For a while they’ve been threatening to de-rank Pages (business sites), and are sharpening up on the real relevance of organic reach.
Why they’re doing this isn’t hard to guess. They want people to be captivated by their platform and never leave. Every time you click a link to Buzzfeed, that’s an opportunity for Facebook to lose your eyeballs on their advertisers’ placements. They also want businesses to pay for those advertisements, rather than gain them ‘organically’ (whatever the fuck that means these days). For a while, people were talking about Groups as being the answer, but I’ve remained skeptical (Facebook aren’t stupid, and if Groups dilute revenue and drive people away from Facebook, they’ll fuck with those too). To give you an idea of how weird their algorithms are, this is my most successful Facebook post ever:
As of writing, almost 7,000 views, with a huge number of comments and likes, but zero traction in terms of my brand or books. Other posts (in my biased view, far more amusing/entertaining but with some product placement) get de-ranked savagely by Facebook’s robots.
All of this is down to the war for human attention I mentioned earlier. Human attention is not just a finite but a scarce resource. I’m sure as hell sick of every device in my house marketing shit to me, and I’m sure you are too. But I also want to get my books read by other children of Eden, and I want to be respectful of their time when I do that. Which brings me to my first question.
How often should I spam you?
- When you’ve got a new release
- When you’ve got something to say. Like, about the universe.
- I don’t ever want to hear from you again. Also, you’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny.
I didn’t expect many people to choose the bottom one, but a guy’s gotta ask.
My current comms strategy is: weekly emails, sporadic site posts, and many cat videos on Facebook.
It’s a trap. Light blue (die in a fire) is not blue (weekly)! Seeing those color choices by Google Forms kind of set my heart into panic mode at first, but I’ve since stepped back from the ledge.
We can see the responses are all over the dial here. This isn’t surprising, as everyone’s got a preference for how they consume content. Let’s dig a little deeper with another question.
What content do you want?
When I asked this question in my last reader survey, there was a monster tidal wave of people wanting free books and promos. Over the past year the number of people clicking on those promos has dropped significantly. My thesis? Readers are exhausted by generic promos, and want more unique content. Promos by themselves don’t hurt, but if everyone’s sharing the same promos, the value for a reader is far lower. Choices (as well as free-text) were:
- Book reviews
- Deals (e.g. books for 99c)
- Promos (e.g. Win a Kindle!)
- Books you might like (i.e. authors in my lane, yo)
- Stuff about writing (e.g. characters, story structure, how to avoid spirals of self-disgust and misery)
- Stuff about me (i.e. an insight into The Man, The Legend)
- I never read your emails
No one picked the last one. Winning. Here’s what people said:
Free-text answers were delightful and heartening. One respondent just wanted moar because my emails are, “friggin hilarious.” Someone noted they liked the book excerpts I provide. This starts to give us some insights into how to best exchange value for a reader’s time and attention, but we’re not done yet.
The Grim Dark
I refer, of course, to Facebook.
Above ^^ you’ll note I made mention of Groups, but I’m also interested in people’s views on original content (like Live videos, Q&As, other shit like that). I’m not the most photogenic person in the universe, but I’ll give anything a shot if it’s something people will dig.
Do Readers Want Groups?
A good third of people don’t like Groups, but two thirds are interested or willing to give ’em a shot.
Very few people want a separate Group for each story universe (and thank fuck for that).
What About Live Content?
About a quarter of people would prefer to be bathed in acid than participate in live content. About three quarters of people are interested or interested enough to give it a shot.
I think we’re ready for what we should do in 2018.
Richard’s 2018 Plans: This is a bit of a process of experimentation, but my current pre-eggnog thoughts are as follows.
- Reduce the frequency of emails from once per week to once per three weeks (prime numbers rock). Ensure this includes unique content (I’m going to serialize out my Sampson and Delilah cyberpunk story Delilah the week starting 8 January 2018). Provide readers recommendations, reviews, and promos as there’s a big desire for that.
- Ensure that JIT emails are sent for new releases or other important announcements.
- For people who want more content, use this site on the “off” weeks for the emails. Reference this content in the three-weekly email so people can catch themselves up. Without wanting to think too hard about it, I can see this being content that’s less intimate than what I’d put in an email.
- Experiment with live content, Facebook or otherwise. I’ve got some ideas here (including something with other authors to help with that discoverability challenge readers face).
- Experiment with Facebook groups, but don’t make it mandatory to get the good oil. I suspect this means posting in the group and sharing to the Page or vice-versa, but I’m a bit of a scrub at this so I’ll need to experiment. Whatever happens, continue to use Facebook for cat videos.
The tide is turning. Readers still love to read, but how they engage with authors is changing. This change feels positive, more intimate and inclusive, and pretty easy to respond to. New content types are emerging that provide ways for fans to get a more enduring relationship with their favorite authors. There’s a strong desire for better recommendations from authors to fans. People want us to form superhero groups and deliver great stories together.
On a more personal note, I included a section at the end where I asked what respondents would want from me if they ruled the universe for a day. There were some tremendously heart-warming responses in there. There was some great insight in there too. The top things readers told me:
- They want me to write faster. Many, many requests for more books. Apparently 5-7,000 words per day is insufficient.
- People like the strong female characters in my stories.
- They want more space opera.
One person asked if I was going to read all the responses (yes). One person wanted to know if I was fishing for Group name ideas (yes, and there were some great ones there). And for the person who wanted a smile? Here you go. On the house.
If you want to comment, check out the Facebook post (oh, the irony):
Keep being excellent to each other. You deserve it.