(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)
My, That’s a Beautiful Backpack
Say the word “marketing” or “sales” and people’s eyes automatically glass over. Or they shudder. Images of robo-calls and snake-oil salesmen in ugly jackets spring forth. At the prospect of having to market their book, many authors cringe, even as they steel themselves because it’s one of those necessary evils. They just loathe the idea of being one of those people.
Well, good grief, who wouldn’t?
This is a cultural stereotype, one that can be difficult to get your brain past.
Rule #1 in marketing: if you hate it, everyone else will too. So, take a deep breath. You may have to try some things you’ve never done before, but if you’re doing something that makes you shudder, I can almost guarantee you’re doing it wrong.
There are a thousand right ways to market. Just like your books, the way you market will (or at least should), be individual to you. I’m constantly surprised how amazingly creative people, ones who can dream up fantastic worlds and create incredibly life-like characters out of thin air, insist on doing what everyone else does when it comes to marketing. You’re a creative person! Bring it to your marketing.
Value Your Product
You have a great book. (If not, why are you publishing it?)
One problem I see with writers is a reflexive apology for their works. As if they feel fundamentally bad about charging people money for their work because they believe it is dross they should have to pay people to endure reading. If you truly believe this about your story, please don’t publish it. (Only because it will be a tortuous experience for you.)
Mostly I think this is a faux humility. Or perhaps a fear that we will be “found out” as writing hacks. Address those fears separately (see How to Be Brave), and shuck off the fake humbleness. You’ve put a lot of hard work into your novel. Value it for what it is: several hours of entertainment that may move hearts or make people think (if you’re lucky and have done good work). There are readers out there who will enjoy what you’ve created! This an amazing and good thing. If you have enough faith to publish, then have enough faith to give it the marketing it deserves, so it can find its audience.
Entertain, Provide Value, Make Connections
Whenever you’re interacting with people (on social media, on your website, even on your Amazon description page), make sure you are either 1) entertaining, 2) providing some kind of value, or 3) making a connection.
Entertaining: whether it’s a quippy FB post, a fun twitter share, or the description of your book, you should be providing entertainment. You’re a storyteller! You should be doing this all the time. (Here’s one of my favorite parts about marketing as a creative person: if you’re doing it right, it builds your creative muscles, because you’re using them in all kinds of situations, not just your stories). Entertainment is always appreciated. Think about the videos and FB posts and silly cat pictures you share – you never think “oh there that person goes again, saying look at me!” You enjoy the content, share it, and appreciate the bright spot of fun that person has brought to your day.
[Ed Note: I actually had a FB friend private message me one day to thank me for having interesting FB posts. She appreciated that I didn’t “overwhelm her feed with clutter.” I thanked her for dropping me such a nice note.]
Providing Value: Entertainment is just one kind of value you can provide. Providing useful content, whether it’s a movie review or a tip on publishing or ways to keep kids occupied during summer, useful stuff is always appreciated. I think you have to be careful here not to make providing useful content into a full-time job. I blog a lot about publishing (this book grew out of that), but I take care to have blogging be a small part of my writing time. I’m a writer first; but when I have useful stuff to share, I like to do that as well.
Make Connections: human connection is something everyone values. Social media is premised almost entirely on this concept. Sometimes people (especially introverts) freak out about the idea of sharing personal stuff on the interwebs. And it’s certainly possible to cross the line into Too Much Information. Everyone has a “mask” they show to the world that’s different from the naked truth of their innermost thoughts. Don’t go naked on the internet! (That I even have to say this is somewhat alarming.) Instead of baring uncomfortable information (for everyone!), offer things from a place of authenticity. Be brave and share thoughts that are a true reflection of your core values. The magic of the internet will bring like-minded people to you. And that kind of connection is beneficial both ways: sender and receiver.
Don’t Keep Your Friends In the Dark
Whenever you’re talking to the world (which is what marketing is), you’re either talking to people who already like your work or people who haven’t yet read your work (the people who have read and hate your work aren’t listening to you anyway; you don’t need to worry about them). If you have a new release, or something cool going on with your work (trailers, audiobooks, sales, etc), make it easy for your friends know. It frustrates me when a friend never posts about their work. Even worse when I have to hunt and search and tear my hair out to find out what books they have for sale. For serious. If I want to know about your books, for heaven’s sake don’t hide them. And have easy click-through links, a quick blurb or tag line, something that makes it simple for me to buy. Don’t make me work too hard to share the awesome book that you have for sale.
Don’t Keep Fishing In Your Backyard
At the same time, once you’ve let your friends (on FB or a mailing list or twitter) know about your book, don’t be a spammer. Don’t constantly remind them that the book is available. People whose twitter feeds consist entirely of promo are not going to be interesting to me. If your twitter feed never has any promo, you’re once again making me work too hard to spread the word about your books. Balance is important, and people will appreciate you for it. Change things up, make your tweets or posts not just promo, but entertaining as well, and you’re half way home.
Marketing can be fun! I can just hear the collective groans rippling across the interwebs. Put it this way: if the marketing isn’t fun for you, it won’t be fun for anyone else either. Be creative! Do themed giveaways. Create photo teasers that are fun to share. Make your book launch a party. Or don’t, if that’s not your thing.
Above all, don’t take it too seriously. Don’t feel like the massive weight of success or failure hinges on every promotion you do. There’s a tendency to think that if you don’t do everything exactly, perfectly right, and OMG you forgot to post on booksforsale.com, that now your book is doomed, doomed, doomed. Or that if you could just figure out the secret marketing ingredients, your book will shoot to the top of the NYTimes Bestseller list. This is the kind of thinking that makes people hyper-focused on trying to sell their book, rather than moving on to write the next one. This is lethal to your writing career. Don’t do this to yourself.
Remember: you have a great book. Either it will find its audience or it won’t. Either you’ll sell well or you won’t. There is no magic marketing gimmick that will make people love your book. Have fun with it – make it beautiful, toss it out there, share it with your friends, do some silly stuff with it, then move on to the next one.
Because you’ve got lots more books to write, yes?
p.s. Another possibility: don’t market at all. I’ve seen enough books do well with a minimal amount of marketing, especially if that author spends that time writing lots of other books and/or the book is spectacular and touches the zeitgeist of the moment. It’s not impossible to succeed without marketing, but smart marketing (in your style and that’s fun) will help spread the word about your book.
Ok, now that we’ve got you in the right frame of mind about this marketing thing, we’ll talk about exactly how to make your book the most beautiful girl at the prom (or the most dashing hero storming the beach), how to fish outside your backyard, and how to think like a businessperson and not just an author.