Indie-Author Marketing: Why I Write and Don’t Sell
Anybody who’s been an independent author has probably heard the catch phrase “content is king.” And just to be clear, by independent author I mean one who has chosen to write, publish, and market their own books. Some of those among that tribe might also be traditionally published, published via a coop, or all of the above. I count myself in the lattermost group. So after having written something like 40-plus published novels, I believe I’m approaching this subject with just a wee bit of informed experience. And in thinking recently about writing a post on book marketing, I decided to give others my approach.
Why I Write
I write because I’m a writer. My writing is my “product.” Look, I know I’m not going to sell a bunch of books just because I have a kick-ass cover. There are a lot of books that have kick-ass covers. I’m also not going to sell a book because it’s in a particularly hot market. There are lots of books in hot markets—that’s why they’re hot. And by the way, in six months they probably won’t be hot anymore and that’s how long it typically takes me to write a book. Why write to a market and especially if it’s not one to which I’m particularly suited? Unless it’s a work-made-for-hire, in which case at least there’s a potential profit motive. In those cases, I write the book. The publisher pays me a flat fee. We’re done and I’m happy with some cash in my pocket. So basically, I got paid to learn my craft.
Why I’m not Selling
What I’m trying to market is my writing and my storytelling. I’m trying to sell a good story. Period. So I aim for writing the best damn book I can, and then it’s up to readers to judge. And the only one who can decide the kind of story I’m going to tell is me. If I aim at “popular” fiction just in an attempt to get readers to buy my books, then I risk them buying it and either a) never finishing it; b) never telling anyone else about it. If that happens, I’m frakked as far as book sales go. It doesn’t mean I’m finished as a writer. My skin is thick enough that I keep trying. It’s happened to me before and it will probably happen again.
So why I’m not “selling” and instead choose to write is simple: I don’t have time to engage in conventional book marketing techinques that don’t work. Look, most of us have full-time jobs. Even those who have someone who can support them so they can write full time have other responsibilities. Even if it’s just sitting on the couch all day watching Netflix or doing housework, feeding the kids, and grocery shopping. We all have lives, yo? So why the %$#!~ would I want to spend my time working hard on a novel, only to turn around and then have to spend months wasting time and money marketing the thing? And if you are an indie-author and your books aren’t moving, I’d be willing to bet you’ve already tried one or more of the below:
- Social Media “campaigns” (pay-to-play on Twitter, FB, etc)
- Mailing review copies
- Flyers, mailers, and ad campaigns
- Radio and television (yeah, right)
- “Lead” generators through e-mail (MailChimp, etc.)
- Professional marketing companies
- Book tours
That’s only the short list of available trade tools. They are used by traditional book publishers, too. And guess what? THEY DON’T WORK! And no amount of arguing with me is going to change my mind. Because if they worked, we wouldn’t have statistics like: “95% of traditionally published authors don’t even sell enough books to earn out their advance.” And there it is. So if it isn’t working for publishers, why should we waste our time doing it?
What’s My Job?
My job as a storyteller is to write entertaining fiction. That’s my paramount duty, regardless if I’m an indie author or traditionally published. Unfortunately, there are many who take a contrary view. In recent years, traditional publishers have significantly lowered if not eliminated advances for “newer” and midlist authors with the expectation the authors spend whatever advance money they might receive on marketing their own books. Here’s the trouble: most avenues of book marketing are simply a time and money suck for authors, as I pointed out above.
I compare modern book-marketing methods to class-action lawsuits. Those of us with a good head on our shoulders have figured out by now the only people who make any money in class-action lawsuits are the lawyers and the courts. Nice system, huh? The same is true with many types of conventional marketing, and particularly in the world of book publishing.
Suggestions for Effective Marketing
Aim at Small or Independent Bookstores
I won’t even get into the brick-and-mortar chain bookstore model in detail, since its painfully obvious those dinosaurs are dying a slow and painful death. Is there a place for retail chain bookstores in today’s climate? Possibly, although I have exponentially higher hopes for independent book retailers than the chains like Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, etc. And since as an independent author the only places I’ve ever been selected to do a signing (save for one time at a Border’s in New Mexico) were in small, independent bookstores it’s my contention indie authors should aim at those places. Talk to the store owners and managers. Make friends.
Work the Library System
Visit your local libraries and even your school libraries. Buy lunch for your local librarians. They love books! They will be HAPPY to tell you how get your book into their library without buying some expensive “system” devised by some other author to supplement their own writing habit.
Publish in All the Retailers and/or Target Small Publishers
It’s a little more work but I won’t use a third-party aggregator like Smashwords. Cuts too much into my profit-margin. Instead, I publish e-books at the three major online retailers separately: Amazon KDP, NOOK Press, and Kobo Books. I also still look for small presses interested in publishing my kind of work. For example, I just recently discovered Wolfpack Publishing. I found out about them through a writing connection, by the way, a good friend whose books were being republished by them. They recently invited me to submit and even said they were anxious to see my work. Nice! Music to any writer’s ears!
Take Virtual Book Tours
Another method I recommend is the “virtual book tour.” This is where you seek out people to interview you, and you then get a chance to not only sell yourself—since book lovers think writers are all this mysterious and glamorous breed, and always love to learn more about us personally—you also typically get to hand out free books or at least post a sample chapter or two. And you can link to your books at online retailers, etc. You see, in this case you’re taking your work straight to readers who would be most interested. Just make sure these book tours don’t have a readership of like 10 or 100. That’s a waste of time. I’ve also seen writers who will join up with each other and sponsor their own virtual book tour through a website. These systems typically share the cost of the site (which these days is pennies or even free). Sometimes they each share posting a blog entry each day, either on their own work or on the topic of writing.
Start a Blog and Publish to Social Media
I’ve noticed something about many authors who ended up becoming successful, landing book deals, and even who made enough to go full-time “pro” as writers. They started with a blog. A blog is a simple and easy way to showcase your writing. Remember, the objective should be to sell people on your craft. I know an awesome gal on Twitter, Pansylee VanMeteren. She publishes her spiritual and inspirational prose, poetry, and other writings accompanied by beautiful artwork. She has a growing business in this. And you know what? She’s good. She’s really, really good. She has over 12k Twitter followers! I fully believe she did this by focusing on her craft. And she’s a gentle soul who used to wear combat boots. A veteran. That makes her tough-minded and singularly determined. Obviously qualities you’ll want to acquire if you plan to make it as a writer. Listen, friends, leave selling concepts or ideas or information to the useless marketing tactics that we all know don’t work. If you’re publishing any sort of creative writing, then a blog that you can tie into Pinterest and Twitter and Facebook, etc. is the way to go! You’re then making content king and you’re engaging social media the most proven and effective ways possible.
Personalize your writing. All of it! Offer people short stories or free entertainment or information. If you’re a starving artiste, get honest and tell others of your struggles. Give them pointers on how you overcame obstacles. The advice isn’t going to work for everybody, but the caveat is you’re getting people to READ your work. If they like it, they tell others who come and read it, too. Word-of-mouth about good writing is what’s going to sell your stuff. If you try the above suggestions and it’s not working, take a hard look at what you’re doing and your writing. Maybe you need more practice. Whatever you do, don’t give up. That’s a surefire career-ender. But don’t kill yourself on this marketing stuff either. Your writing either has what it takes or it doesn’t, and that’s where you should put 99% of your focus. If you do, the audience will find you. Trust me.