While we’re anxiously awaiting Scott’s report on his latest marketing efforts, I’d like to add some of my thoughts and advice.
The biggest reason I hear now for why one should go with a traditional publisher is marketing. This breaks down into two sub-reasons:
(1) Publishers will market your books and get them into bookstores—and they can do it better.
(2) Authors want to write, not spend time promoting and marketing.
If you didn’t read my recent post on getting published, go read it:
As for getting your books into bookstores, let’s face the reality, folks. VERY FEW published books end up in the stores. Unless you’re one of the “big” authors, or your novel has been made into a movie (or promises to be), your chances of getting your book noticed by or in a bookstore are so slim as not to be worth considering. And in case you haven’t noticed, physical bookstores aren’t as plentiful as they used to be.
I’ve said in the past that even those authors I know who have landed a publisher end up doing most of the promotion anyway. Worse, of all that work they do in promoting, most of the resulting income ends up in the publisher’s pocket! In most cases, at least 75% of the work you do in promoting is reaped by the publisher, who I’m sure isn’t feeling the least bit guilty about it.
But you don’t have to believe me. Find out for yourself the hard way.
All right, enough of that soapbox.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: YOUR FRIENDS ARE NOT THE ONES YOU SHOULD BE TRYING TO SELL YOUR BOOKS TO.
Why? Because they’re a very small market. Too many authors seem to believe that using social media is the way to do. Wrong! Unless you already have many followers of your books among your Facebook and Twitter friends, then the only people you’re selling to are your friends, and if you keep trying to sell to them on your social media sites, then you’re going to start pissing them off. At best, they’ll just ignore you; at worst, they’ll un-friend you. By the way, with Facebook’s latest drive to stop free marketing (unless you pay to promote), then many of your followers won’t see your posts anyway. I’ve heard that even if you pay to boost posts, you may not be getting what you expect.
So, where do you start? Well, you can begin with your friends, but don’t keep spamming them, and remember that at best you’ll get a handful of sales from them.
What you need to do is figure out intelligent, time-efficient ways to generate a buzz for your books. Even then, don’t expect that to happen quickly. Scott is trying to make more outsiders aware of his books. If he’s lucky, some will buy, some of those will spread the word (if they like the books), and a few of those will write positive reviews that will help his books get noticed. One of the best ways with regard to reviews is to get a LOT of them, and this also may take time. Try offering free copies of your book on Goodreads in exchange for honest reviews.
I won’t kid you, folks. It’s a slow process, and it always has been—unless you are VERY lucky and happen write the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games, but never forget that those books are one in million almost literally. I’m not saying you won’t get that lucky, just don’t count on it.
Forget the myth that having your books in bookstores is the answer to your marketing efforts.
Avoid is hiring a publicist (unless you have money to burn and don’t care about the results). In nearly every case I’ve heard of, the author has paid out far more to the publicist than ever came back in sales. And publicists make no guarantees, so if you spend thousands of dollars and don’t get that back in sales, that’s your tough luck.
When promoting, be careful that you don’t annoy your potential readers. I recently ran across something from an author that my first reaction to was “That’s a very bad idea.”
Here’s the site link.
The article does say that once you click out of it you won’t see it again and that you won’t see it on subsequent visits for at least 180 days. I found that to be true on Internet Explorer, but not on Firefox. Close Firefox, go back to the website, and guess what…
I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on this idea, but I’ll add a couple of my thoughts. If I want to be a follower of a particular writer, then I’m smart enough to find the subscribe link so that I can—I don’t need to be prodded to subscribe. If I want to check in occasionally but don’t want reminders or emails, I’m smart enough to bookmark the page for easy access later. But if you think it’s a good idea, go check out MailMunch.com for their pricing. One thing I don’t see about them is if or how they prevent spam registrations because I know that here on Write Well, if they can register, they can spam us—which is why I turned off registration and manually add subscribers if they request it.
Enough of that soapbox as well. Next topic.
No matter what anyone tells you, there are no surefire ways to market that work for all cases. What may work well for one book may not work for another. Let’s not forget that when we self-publish, we have time on our side, unlike traditional publishing where, after a few months, the publisher has moved on and you’re left to do things on your own. The publisher is thinking “We tried, and your book (it’s never the publisher’s fault, either) failed to produce results. We no longer care about you (but you’re free to promote and market on your own, and we’ll gladly take our percentage anyway).
With indie publishing, you control your destiny. You can change prices, run sales, create a new cover if you find your current one is not working, and even rewrite the book if you find the reviews less than spectacular.
And this brings us to our next topic: “Why isn’t my book selling?” I recently saw an indie author ask what he could do for marketing. He’d tried all the social media and Goodreads, and he was getting no results. He’d published several books (good because it makes him more visible), so this wasn’t a one-off deal with a book.
I looked at this author’s books on Amazon, looked at the sales rank (yep, definitely not selling), the number of reviews (low to none), and the review ratings (oops!). I also read part of the samples of some books. What do you think I found?
On the sample, I found bad formatting with no first-line indents, which made it hard to read, and a text in serious need of punctuation (in serious need of commas, and the ones that were there were improperly placed). I didn’t read enough to go after the grammar because I’d already seen enough. Add in that the book covers were weak, they conveyed nothing about the book, and the title and author’s name were almost invisible in the thumbnails, which were about an inch tall, while the text was about 1-2 millimeters tall—as I said, invisible. It’s not the size so much as the fact that it makes for a weak cover presentation. After all, should the title at least be prominent?
Of the six books, only three had reviews (all but one book having been written 2-3 years ago). Of the ones with reviews, they had 2 (average of 3.5 stars, none a 5), 6 (average of 3 stars, none a 5), 2 (average of 5 stars) respectively. What’s interesting is that the two reviewers of the 5-star book (this was the second in a series) said it was as good as the first. Yet there were no corresponding reviews from either of these reviewers, 5-star or otherwise. Need I go on?
Marketing is not the problem in this case, at least not the primary problem. The problem is that these books scream amateur writing. The lesson here is the one we’ve been preaching constantly for the past five years on this blog and which is embodied in the blog’s title: Write WELL, Write to Sell.
The inverse statement is just as true: Write poorly (or produce a bad product), don’t expect to sell.
As far as Scott and I are concerned, the BEST piece of marketing advice we can give you is to produce a book worth reading in the first place. Do that, and while we can’t guarantee it will sell well, at least you’re giving yourself a fighting chance with a book worth promoting.
After that, take baby steps. Work on your marketing a little at a time. Seek out readers, but don’t spam. Try new avenues, as Scott is doing. Don’t let it always be about you and your books. Become friends with other writers, work with them, and try to find some willing to exchange reviews with you. Go after word of mouth, which is still shown to be the very best marketing technique—but it only works if you have a good book to begin with.