How to Track Your Book’s Readability
In a recent blog post we discussed how to improve read-through. While that term is important to the majority of career authors, it is typically used to discuss whole series. However, many writers only ever write one book or a string of standalone novels. If you come under that umbrella then series read-through will be a far less significant measure of success for you than, say, enticing readers to finish your single novel. In that case, your focus should be on your book’s readability.
Yes, the two terms are connected as readability leads to read-through, but the former arguably carries more importance not least because debut authors heavily outnumber prolific veterans. When you also factor in that the majority of readers only finish one book a year, getting that chosen one to be yours could mean hitting the mainstream. That’s why blockbuster standalones like Andy Weir’s The Martian or John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars do so well. They are achievable for casual readers who far outnumber bookworms and would never commit to a long series.
Hitting the big leagues with a standalone novel like Weir or Green involves luck, but it also requires great writing that keeps readers flipping pages. If you want to achieve similar success then looking closely at your readers’ activity can help – enabling you to work out which plot points keep them reading and which cause them to stop. That’s why, in today’s blog post, we will explore a selection of ways you can track your books’ readability.
Sales and Reviews
Sales usually correlate with readability because happy readers recommend books they enjoy to their friends. However, many other variables – including a title’s advertising, keywords, genre and cover – also influence sales. Not every download will happen as a result of a fan finishing the story and shouting about it on social media. Not only that, what counts as “strong” sales is subjective. If a writer’s previous books only sold a copy a day, three daily sales might seem like a runaway hit, despite it performing poorly when compared to bestsellers in its genre. Sales are a good starting point but they don’t show the full picture.
Reviews, meanwhile, can provide a little more clarity. Depending on how you react to reading them, doing so can ruin your productivity or enlighten you to your reader’s preferences. Keep in mind that not all reviews are created equally. In fact, some more accurately reflect the reader’s mood than the book itself. But if you approach them with an aim to learn, reading them can help you to understand which parts they loved and what caused some to stop reading. It’s only by gaging a consensus that you can optimise your writing to make it more readable in the future.
Surveys are another useful tool you can use to track your books’ readability. Conducting them will aid you in understanding your existing readers’ desires and where you might want to focus any future efforts. There are a few high-quality survey platforms that authors find useful, the most popular being Survey Monkey and Google Forms. Both can be included in emails and in social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Though, if you prefer, you can always just ask readers to answer your questions in the comment section of a native social media post itself. Doing so just makes it harder to collect and organise the data.
All survey results will be a little skewed because engaged fans are more likely to follow you and answer your questions than readers who experienced pain-points. But asking intelligent questions, like which of your characters is their favourite or which of your books they liked least, can still bear fruit. Inquiring about books by similar authors they prefer (if you can handle the heartache) will even give you a benchmark for excellence you can use as a reference. In essence, this tactic won’t collect lots of qualitative data but it will help you to cater to your existing fans, which will turn them into superfans who finish every book you write and attract others who share their interests.
The New Publishing Standard has described BookBeat as a “new data-sharing tool” that could provide “a watershed moment for subscription publishing.” How it works is simple. Run by Norway-based subscription service facilitator Beat, BookBeat is a platform for publishers that boasts unparalleled access to reader data. Slated to launch back in June, it allows publishers to add their books to a subscription service then see how many of the customers who download a title actually complete it. As a bonus, it also publishes the average finish rate for books across the genre for comparison purposes.
For the time being, the BookBeat’s Insights feature is only available to Swedish companies but, according to BookBeat’s Director of Business Development, it will roll out to British, German, Finnish and Danish publishers in the future. The platform promises unique candidness concerning title readability data. Using it, publishers will be able to figure out which books are losing readers and which are retaining them better than the industry average. This, in turn, will help their editors to optimise stories across the board. No doubt, as the company allows access in more territories and creators flock to use it, other platforms will share similar data to remain competitive, an innovation that will be immense for entrepreneurial indies.
The closest alternative many indie authors have to BookBeat Insights for the time being is Wattpad. If you’re not familiar, Wattpad is a social media platform for readers and storytellers that has over 65 million users. Writers can publish and readers can read content on it for free. While the site has caused controversy by lacking proper intellectual property policing systems (anyone can upload almost whatever they want), it has kickstarted some major careers in traditional publishing. Just in July, YA romance author Beth Reekles topped the Netflix chart with The Kissing Booth 2, the second instalment in a movie franchise based on her Wattpad fiction.
Wattpad does come with compromises. Mainly, unless you are invited by the site’s content team to become a paid creator, you won’t make any money from it. Users are conditioned to read for free so few bother to buy books on other websites by their favourite creators. On the upside, the jewel in Wattpad’s crown is that it awards each chapter an author uploads a “read” every time someone views it. While understated, this detail permits you to collect data and sharpen your books’ readability because you can see exactly where most booklovers turn away from your stories to read something else. It’s an empowering feature that fixes Wattpad as a good, free tool for writers looking to hone their craft or fix the plot of a novel that has lost historically lost readers.
Your Own App
As mentioned in the recent article on series read-through, creating your own app is an extremely advanced tactic, but it’s the best way to collect reader data in whatever form best suits your career. Many readers will still prefer to use their usual retailer app or website. Plus, it will require a significant financial and time investment. However, the behaviour-monitoring capabilities at your disposal for the readers who do use your app will give you an advantage far beyond that experienced by other authors.
Program it well and you can adapt it to your own specifications, enabling it to track reader behaviour across multiple payment models to determine the perfect formula for writing addictive fiction in your genre. You could begin with a subscription model like Kindle Unlimited but evolve it to include a Whispersync-like feature. That way, you could track read-through per chapter even if readers switch from the ebook to the audiobook half-way through your novel. Or you could gamify the reading experience with micro-transactions to see if that has an effect. The only limit is your own creativity when you manage the platform yourself.
Tracking the readability of a book then optimizing its story, characters and tone depending on what you find won’t be every author’s idea of fun. Nor is it necessary to write a great book or fill a desire you’ve always had to write your passion project. Having said that, if data is your bag, it can help you to test and optimise the ultimate page turner. Of course, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll come up with an original idea as popular as Markus Zusak, Yann Martel or Harper Lee, but it does mean that you can make the most of the ideas you do have to ensure that each book reaches its page-turning potential.
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