Ben Macintyre, writing in The Times, noted that publishers are using digital feedback they receive, courtesy of Kindle and Kobo, to ‘road-test’ new works. The thing about e-readers is that although they let you read in privacy, they record what you’re reading and can measure your responses: they chart when you slow down or read faster; they know when you get bogged down or give up on a book.
Although it sounds good, I am somewhat doubtful that publishers are actually finding time to analyse the data. But this does raise an interesting point. The publishing industry is almost alone in its tendency to ignore some obvious marketing processes other industries abide by. The film business uses focus groups, as does the music business. SlicethePie is just one company that entices music fans to rate tracks on line, paying them between two and ten cents for a written review. It might strike you as odd that publishers do not use focus groups to pre-test forthcoming books. Instead, a small group of highly educated staff members make decisions on a huge gamut of book genres based on their gut response. Forget market research. Bah! Who needs it?
So that leaves you. If you want to make sure your book is a success why not create your own focus group? Alafair Burke, an American thriller writer, thanks over 500 web fans by name in her book Long Gone for their help in making various decisions, from thinking up a good title to choosing the best author photo. There is nothing to stop your getting feedback from objective people who are keen readers of your particular genre. The web is a brilliant way of gathering like minds, but local book groups might oblige if you ask.
Wanda Whiteley, former Publishing Director at HarperCollins, is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Manuscriptdoctor.co.uk, a literary consultancy