What’s the best way to promote your writing?
As far as I know, it’s still word of mouth. In fact, that pretty much applies to promoting and marketing anything. Beyond that, I don’t pretend to have any answers because if there was a best way to sell books—which is what we’re talking about here—then everyone would be doing it.
I’m not a marketing expert and I never took any marketing courses in college, but you don’t need that. All you need is logic and common sense and experimentation. I’m going to give you what I think is good advice.
Let’s step back a moment and consider advertising in general. The whole goal of advertising is to make the public aware of whatever product or service you’re selling. More specifically, you want to target that portion of the public that might most want what you’re offering. When large sections of the population might want your product or service (such as cars and car insurance), then you want to advertise widely. Of course, that takes more advertising dollars, but the expectation is that the wider reach is worth it.
The simple logic here is that the larger your anticipated market and the more competition you face, the more aggressive your advertising needs to be. Car dealers and car insurance companies are all vying for the same consumer population.
But there are some businesses that simply do not advertise on radio and TV. Think about what sorts of businesses don’t do that. How about barbers and hair stylists? Many restaurants don’t. I’m not saying these businesses don’t advertise, but the nature of their business is that their profit margins are such that spending a lot of money on advertising isn’t likely to yield a comparable increase in sales. A restaurant or a hair stylist that already has a reliable clientele and that has all the business it can handle doesn’t need to advertise.
On the other hand, businesses like home roofing and building contractors are not going to have a lot of repeat customers in the short term, so they need to advertise to ensure a steady flow of new customers. Large commercial construction companies generally don’t advertise in the media because the general public is not their market, and such advertising dollars would be wasted.
Where is this going with regard to sales of your books? Well, which of the above categories do you fall into: short-term repeat sales (like restaurants and hair stylists), medium-term repeat sales (cars and insurance), or long-term and infrequent repeat sales (roofing and building contractors).
I think you’ll agree that writers fall into all three categories but for different reasons. People who like to read are always looking for new books to read, and once they find their favorite authors, they are likely to stick with those, although they’re surely looking for new ones as well.
The only way you’ll see repeat sales of a given book from the same reader is if it’s given as a gift. But this is where word of mouth is important. Readers who enjoyed your book enough will recommend it to like-minded friends. However, word of mouth goes the other way as well. If a book is bad, those readers might warn their friends against it.
The biggest problem writers face is a LOT of competition. There’s good news and bad news here. Unlike buying cars, which involve a lot of careful decisions, given the expense, books are cheap to purchase, and that means readers are more likely to take chances. But this is heavily outweighed by the sheer number of choices available. It’s easy to narrow down your automobile choices by deciding what make or makes you want to look at. There is not an overwhelming number of selections, not even when you get down to specific models. But books… there’s a shitload of books out there (pardon the vulgarity).
This boils down to the marketing odds being stacked seriously against you, and once a writer realizes this, he or she will often panic, which may result either in seeing a hopeless cause or in overreacting and spending far more money to promote and advertise than that writer will ever recoup through sales.
And some writers who realize this before the book is done will think that finding a publisher will solve the problem because publishers know how to market and sell books. Right? Nope, not the case at all. And if you believe otherwise, then don’t say I didn’t warn you. Among my writer friends who went the “publisher” route, NONE of them did anywhere what they expected or hoped for, and they have either republished the books themselves or plan on doing so.
With all that long introduction, I’ve going to give you what I believe are the simple and best tips for your marketing approach. These are not so much tips on what to try but more about having realistic expectations and what to avoid.
(1) There are no sure-fire, work-for-everyone methods.
(2) Many have advice on promotion, but what works for some people may not work for others. Be suspicious of anyone who guarantees success with a particular method.
(3) Before spending any money on promotion, do careful research to determine if the money will be wisely spent, and be sure you have a plan in place to track the success of your investment—unless you don’t care and have money to burn. (Refer back to points 1 & 2)
(4) Marketing and promotion tend to be genre dependent. What works in one genre may not work in another. When listening to advice from others, be skeptical of any advice from someone working in a genre other than yours.
(5) Go slowly, try one or two ideas at a time, and check your results before adding other methods. Trying many approaches at once won’t let you see which ones work and which ones are a waste of time.
(6) The landscape is constantly changing. Just because a method worked well for you or for people in the past, or is working now, doesn’t mean it will continue to work in the future. For any advice you find on the internet regarding self-publishing, check the DATE of the advice and be wary of anything more than two or three years old.
(7) Monitor your sales periodically, but don’t obsess over them. You want to know if your marketing is working in the long term. Short-term sales mean little if they don’t turn over into long-term ones. Your goal is to keep steady or increasing sales going. An initial burst of sales (unless it’s really huge) isn’t helpful if it quickly fizzles out. You should always think in the long term.
(8) If you’re a new author, your best move is to put out your book and keep writing more. The more books you have out, the better your chances of being discovered. At the same time, rushing bad books to market will hurt you and could stop future sales of that book and others. Your books should be good both in appearance and in the writing. That doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on editing and covers, but poor editing and a poor cover will turn off prospective buyers.
(9) Book reviews from outside reviewers may seem like a good idea, but unless the reviewer has a good-sized audience, don’t expect even the most glowing of reviews to help much. And NEVER pay for a review.
(10) Be conservative in your expectations and don’t get discouraged if your book isn’t selling as well as expected. You have a lot of competition out there. Your chances of being a one-hit wonder these days are practically zero, regardless of how your book is published. Write and publish because you want to share your work with others, not because you expect to become rich from your writing. If that happens, fine, but don’t count on it.