Full nerd warning: I’m going full nerd here. It’s still not going to be enough nerd for some people, though.
I’m trying to brainstorm how to market; the context is that a group of writers is trying to get together to teach themselves how to market, and I have to organize the meeting where we do so (it’s my idea), and therefore I have to actually find a way to help me conceive of what’s going on with marketing, so that I have a framework for, “This is a good book marketing idea” or “This is a bad marketing idea” or “Oh man that is so far above my scope right now that I can’t even marketing idea.”
Indie authors are getting a firehose of marketing suggestions, and very few of us have any kind of background or instinct for this kind of thing. So we’re lost. “Should I buy reviews? If I don’t buy reviews, how do I get reviews? Because I pass out all these free review copies and nobody reviews the book. But buying reviews isn’t ethical, is it? Because I’ll get busted and then what?” “How am I supposed to know if my advertising is working?” “At what price point is it a good idea to buy a BookBub ad?” “What the hell is BookBub?” “You can’t talk politics if you want to sell books.” “That’s horseshit…”
And so on.
Additionally, the things that I hear authors bitch about are not the things that editors and publishers are bitching about. Apparently authors are letting a lot of opportunities slip past: that’s marketing, too, and we can’t even grasp that those possibilities are out there, a lot of the time.
I’ve been pondering this for a while, but only recently came up with a conceptual tool to organize what’s going on in the book marketing world. (In the hopes of reducing the “I can’t even” items.) I tested it out on a bunch of writers over food, and they didn’t throw any at me, so I’m gonna release this into the wider world to see what comes of it…
[Warning: Idea in testing.]
How you’re going to market your book depends on how many people you’re going to reach at a time.
Let’s start with one book at a time.
1. One Book
- You are selling one book at a time to one person.
- In the end, all marketing techniques come back to this.
- You have to have a good book.
- And a good cover.
- And a good back cover description.
- And the first thing to do if your sales aren’t what you want is to go, “How can I put out a better book?”
- So you have to keep studying how to write, what good covers are like, what good book descriptions are like. Learning how to write better with every story you create is good marketing. If you’ve stopped getting better as a writer, if you’ve stopped learning and growing as a writer, you’ve stopped marketing, and your career will die. (I added this last sentence because I hear it all the time from long-term pros, not because I know it personally.)
- The first finger to point in blame is at your book and your writing. I know this personally; I can’t stress it enough. You might think you write well, but it’s really that you write better than people who can’t write books. There is no point at which you cannot learn how to write better.
- Marketing technique: hand the book to someone and go, “Hey would you read this?” Or email them the ebook.
- What does success look like: “I stayed up all night to finish this.” “I stayed up too late.” Some sort of proof that they were so lost in the book that they forgot about the real world.
- What does failure look like: “I haven’t gotten around to it yet.” “It’s not my kind of thing.” “I thought it was okay.” Granted that people have lives and often have better things to do than slave over your book–but it does mean that your book isn’t compelling enough to make them break their routines in order to read it. You probably have authors whose books you buy on release day and read ASAP. Aspire to be that. These kinds of responses are also failures because they mean you’re putting your book into the hands of people who may not be your best potential fans.
2. 10 Books
- You are not selling one book at a time to one person so much as influencing one person to recommend your book ten times to other people, or to put you in a position where people are ten times more likely to read your work. Ish.
- I think of this as personal connection and influence.
- As with all levels of marketing, this can eventually take on a wider reach (say if you got on Oprah, that would reach more than ten people), but when you start out, this is where you are.
- Book clubs.
- People who ask you, “Can I forward this ebook to a couple of friends who really love this type of book?”
- Critique groups where you have to read each others’ books and end up going, “Oh, mom, you know whose book you should read? My friend who writes the stuff you like…”
- Writer groups. (Like mine, Tesla, which has more members now, but generally comes down to a table full of food and writers blathering on at each other.)
- Friends of friends who are editors, agents, work at bookstores.
- Community relations managers at bookstores.
- Pretty much any networking opportunity.
- Going to conferences and talking to people you meet on a one-on-one basis.
- Going to classes and talking to people on a one-on-one basis.
- Working on a project with another writer
- You still have to have a good book with a good cover and a good description.
- But now you also have to have people skills, where you build up favors owed and given with other people. “It’s who you know” as a marketing tactic.
- Marketing technique: put yourself near other writers. Help other writers. Get to know interesting people. Do small favors with large positive outcomes.
- (Do not throw yourself on the altar of self-sacrifice, though, because it costs you the time you need to write the next, better book, and can make you feel like all you’re good for is volunteering to help the “real” writers. If you’re doing this more than, say, five hours a week of unpaid labor for someone with very little or nothing in return, tell them to go to hell. Especially if they don’t say “thank you” on a regular basis.)
- What does success look like: Random opportunities drop into your lap.
- What does failure look like: You feel isolated and discouraged about writing. You don’t know who to ask about a given area of writing or marketing. You never have to turn anyone down for a favor; either nobody asks you or you always say yes. You feel drained and used by someone in the industry. You feel like your opinion isn’t respected. You try really hard to handsell books but it never goes anywhere–people just walk away–but if they pick up the books randomly, without you being around to encourage them, they like the book.
- Why does success/failure happen? If people like working with you, or think that you’ll be able to handle challenges in a competent manner, they’ll recommend you. Then again, if people think that you’ll work for them for less than they invest in you, they’ll use you. They might be awesome toward people they think of as real connections–but they don’t actually treat you as if you were, in yourself, a valuable connection. If you treat people like book-buying machines, they won’t connect back with you.
- However, people being who they are, if you put yourself in a position where you are likely to be able to do someone else favors, then “unpleasant” behavior suddenly becomes bearable. [Cough] Sexual harassment cases in professional editors. [Cough.] Recommend not doing that. Treat people as equals; it’s a better long-term strategy (i.e., ethics).
- Again, once you’ve influenced someone who influences others–you still have to have a great book.
- UPDATE: Via author MJ Bell: You need to be able to talk about your book, to be able to describe it better than it’s just about “good versus evil,” but talk about what makes the book different.
3. 100 Books.
- You are being present to groups of 100 people at a time. You are not handselling them books. You are not influencing them to sell books for you. You are present and accessible.
- At this point, you’ve handed over control over whether or not anyone buys your book truly into the hands of the consumer. When you interact with people on this level, they have to seek out your work on some level. Often, they will first read your work and then connect with you on this level.
- The easiest example here is social media. Facebook, Twitter, etc.
- You might have larger friends list, but Facebook tweaks things so you’re not seeing all their posts on every day, for example. Everyone has filters. So don’t be too dramatic if not everyone sees you, all the time.
- The principle here seems to be a “net of connections.” It’s not the stronger but less formal “who you know” network, so you have to be extremely fastidious about making sure that every possible way that people can find out more about you or interact with you is connected to every other possible way. People must be able to contact you, and it must be obvious how they can do so.
- Now, eventually, when you’re at “world-famous” level of authorship, the method of contacting you needs to be more stringent to weed out people who are wasting your time. For example you have an email address that’s openly published, and an assistant who takes care of monitoring it. But the connections that truly belong in the 10-book category (networking opportunities) or the 1-book category (fans) should still have some kind of personal touch. It all comes back to selling one book at a time to one person.
- Also: figure out how to cross that bridge when you get to it. Don’t put “but I need to guard my privacy like I’m a vestal virgin” policies in place when you don’t need them. Take reasonable precautions not to get hacked and spammed, though.
- Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, oh god, all the social media things. Goodreads. LibraryThing.
- Website. Website. Website.
- Mailing list. (This can grow larger, but this is probably the place you’ll be starting from. That means you can add 1000-Book techniques, not that you can stop doing 100-Book techniques.)
- A list of basics to check on every social media/Internet thing you’re involved in: how can people contact you; what do you write (both a general genre description and what books specifically); where can people buy your stuff; what do you promise when you sell a book (the beginning of branding–everything you read of mine is going to be creative, for example); is it worth contacting you about additional opportunities, questions, feedback (the answer should be yes); where else can people find out more?
- How can people contact you: set up an email that’s not your personal email. You’ll probably get spam on it.
- Make a policy of connecting everything back to your website. A) It’s yours and not Facebook’s, so there’s less of a chance of an “oops, all your info is deleted” being out of your locus of control. B) If you connect everything back to your website, then you don’t have to directly connect Facebook to Twitter and Twitter to Snapchat and Facebook to Snapchat and all three of them to Pinterest…
- “I write science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, crime, and suspense.” This will do you a world of good as your 10-Book network tries to rack their brain for who to invite to an anthology.
- A good bio and list of works is your friend.
- I need to do a separate ghostwriting page, I think. I took it down because it seemed overly complex to me, but I’ve gotten fewer random ghosting invites lately.
- What success looks like: people tell you that they like what you say, even when you don’t remember talking to them (lurkers). Random opportunities that come your way via the Internet rather than someone you know personally or as a friend of a friend. Some random sales happen on your books that you have no idea where they came from (you haven’t done any actual promotion of a specific book lately).
- What failure looks like: Crickets–nobody responds to you, ever. Or they respond to your “funny” posts but never to your promo posts. Or you’re completely overwhelmed by social media and are wasting time online instead of writing or doing networking activities.
- Why does success/failure happen? Failure first…on the one hand, you might not be building a network of connections between your social media outlets. I see a lot of writers passing these opportunities by: they have blogs and are on Goodreads, but their blogs don’t feed to Goodreads. Or they’re not on any social media on the Internet, or when they are on social media, it’s so locked down that no random passersby can enter: posts are purely “friends only.” On the other hand, you might be overinvesting in social media (I personally have issues with this) and doing too many favors for people as if they were 10-Books people (a true network, where people do favors back) instead of people who just want to use your platform to be heard or to use you without giving anything back. This includes trolls: I highly recommend finding a way to handle trolls that reflects positively on you without letting them take up any additional brain space, either in your or in the people following you. This does not mean you need to be nice.
- Success happens when you have a net in place that “catches” anyone who’s interested in you. Not everyone who comes across your blog or your Facebook or whatever. Just the people who are likely to enjoy your books. You make it easy and interesting to interact with you. You are present.
4. 1000 Books.
- The 1000-Book level appears to be all about the power of suggestion. “I suggest that you would enjoy reading my book.”
- I’m just starting to touch on this area, in two ways: one, I’ve started advertising, and two, some of my 100-Book techniques have crossed into 1000-Book techniques.
- The crossing over part comes from aggressively adding more people (who might be interested) to my 100-Book social media connections. For example, if I read someone’s comment on a friend’s post and I think it’s witty/insightful, I’ll try to friend that person, or at least follow them. If someone shows any interest in any book of mine on Goodreads, I’ll try to friend/follow them. That kind of thing. If there’s a low-effort way to connect to more people on social media without completely filling my world with spam, I do that. Consistently.
- But only on the social media sites that I actually like. Because if a social media site makes you uncomfortable/miserable to use, or even if it’s just “meh,” then it’s probably going to be more effort than it’s worth, once things really start to scale up.
- Advertising is much, much easier when supported by good 1-Book, 10-Book, and 100-Book marketing techniques. For example, if you have a solid Facebook author page, you can advertise first to the people who have liked your page (and yet who may have turned off their “follow” posts), and their friends. Which gives you far better results than advertising to random bobos, no matter how well you select them to weed out people who won’t buy your books.
- And advertising to thousands of people to sign up for your mailing list is bosh if your newsletter sucks.
- Or if you advertise to thousands to get ten people to buy your book (yes, this is a reasonable number), and then don’t have a way for people who liked that book to find more of your stuff.
- Once you’re into the thousand-book marketing techniques, you’re into crowd behavior. I personally find this level of marketing both fascinating and slightly creepy. Also strangely useful for writing books: you’re starting to see, on average, what makes people tick. A lot of it isn’t “I make rational choices on a regular basis.” A lot of it is, “I made this choice because someone I know made this choice, too,” or “Buying this thing will make me feel special and individual, but not, you know, too special and individual,” or “I like sex and this gives me the feeling that I’m having more of it,” or “I like feeling like X, and this provides that feeling,” where X is power, control, intelligence, sophistication, strength… All kinds of maybe not so noble motivations come bubbling to the top at this level.
- I’m being really vague here because I understand so little of this.
- Branding really seems to come into play: What you sell is what you are. It’s like people can take on part of your essence by buying your books, which means you intentionally or unintentionally acquire some kind of essence which they can take. For example, Neil Gaiman isn’t just selling books; he’s selling the Neil Gaiman Experience. Otherwise, nobody would want their books signed, and first editions wouldn’t be special.
- Test one thing at a time. Something I’ve been doing is putting up ads to places where I don’t sell books often. Like New Zealand. If I get better and better clickthroughs for a New Zealand ad, and eventually sales, then I know I’m getting better at ads.
- However, different groups of people respond differently to ads. I tested the exact same ad in Canada, US, and the UK. It got far fewer results in the UK.
- Responses to your ad might have nothing to do with interest in your book; I was posting ads mainly to women, then posted one to men and women–a large number of men clicked through. They were in the 25-35 range. But I saw no increase in sales. I puzzled over that for a bit, then realized it was probably because the image I used for the ad focused on a sexy pair of eyes. It was probably sex appeal: made the guys click on the ad–but not necessarily show any interest in the book. I still had to pay for those clicks, though.
- When in doubt, go for the option that gives you more data and more control over the options.
- Personally, I won’t sign up for a 1000-Book level of marketing if that kind of thing doesn’t make me, personally, buy books. If I can’t get the appeal, then I probably will be a bad judge of whether the marketing technique is done well or not.
- It seems like the general idea at this level is to advertise widely, catch people in your “nets,” and then convert them to loyal followers (the “True Fans”). I can’t say definitely whether this is what success looks like or not, but I suspect this is the case. When you acquire people who are “True Fans” who later followed you on social media, then your 1000-Book stuff has really started to take off.
- What does failure look like here? I have more evidence on this People say they have no idea whether a piece of given advertising works (it’s hard to know this, of course, but these people say this over and over, like a mantra). They scramble for one more advertising technique. They try to “cheat” their way to the top, looking for an easy solution that will catapult them to success. They don’t value the 100-Book, 10-Book, or even sometimes the 1-Book techniques; they spend a lot of money on people who don’t become repeat customers. Or they do nothing at all and get angry that nobody’s loving on their books. What successes they find drop quickly back to a consistent baseline rather than rising between major advertising pushes. I am definitely a fail here, in multiple ways. But I’m working on it.
- What makes the effort a success or a failure? First, the technique itself is lame. “Hey, let me spend advertising on stuff that was never going to work in the first place.” Refining your efforts through testing will probably fix that. Second, the technique is good but it doesn’t lead anywhere, because the lower-level networks are shot full of holes. A potential “True Fan” finds, reads, and possibly loves your book–but never reads another one. AUGH.
5. Even further in scope?
- I can only catch glimpses here.
- Winning major awards.
- Third-party bestseller lists.
- Movie deals.
- Probably a lot more that I’m either not noticing or not identifying as being so much larger in scope than a Facebook ad
There are LOTS of things (both in the sense of minutiae on Facebook and whole categories of things, like contests) that I’m not discussing here. This is a list to argue principles, not specifics, even though some specifics are mentioned. Like I said, I’m testing the idea, not perfecting it.
Ask yourself (please?) where you think any missing techniques that come to mind should go. What type of benefit do you think you can get out of it, and who will doing this impress or give you access to? Should you take out an ad for 1000 librarians first, or should you talk to one librarian and see what they’re looking for? Probably you should treat a librarian as a 10-Book opportunity: build a relationship with one librarian and take their feedback. Later worry about getting into Library Journal, at which point you will be carried on the laudatory words of all your librarian friends. That kind of thing.
There are also things that we do because that’s just what we’re called to do, regardless of whether it’s a good idea or not. Those things, I think, are actually, secretly part of your brand (at the 100-Book and 1000-Book levels), and you should respect that and find ways to include that in what you do on purpose, to market your writing. (For example, I love reviewing the books I finish on Goodreads, which is technically a waste of time as an author; however, I’ve found ways to make my obsession with tracking my own books work for me as a writer, and spend more of my time there on author marketing stuff.)
Just don’t throw yourself into things to the point where you stop writing. That’s usually very bad.
I would say, in general:
- Start with one-book techniques. Write the better book. Learn more. If you’re indie, build better covers. If you don’t have control over your covers, advocate for the best of all possible covers. Write your own back cover description and submit that to your publisher.
- Work your way up the scale.
- If things are working, check lower levels first. It may be that the cover that worked just fine on a 10-Book scale now no longer is the big fish in the small pond and needs an upgrade.
- First blame yourself. Take responsibility for your marketing. There are gonna be obstacles; don’t foist your lack of success off on the latest Hollywood star to use their fanbase to sell a ghostwritten book, for example. They hustled for that fanbase. You didn’t. Why should you expect the same results?
- This is a bootstrap, not a linear process.
- It all gets easier when you have more good books to sell. Keep going back to making good books.
- Good books don’t count if they’re not published.
- “No” is a good word and will not lose you sales as long as the major categories are covered well. If your social media marketing efforts are good, then signing up for the latest and greatest thing is probably a waste of time.
- I don’t know. Probably more stuff that I’ll laugh and think was obvious later.
- My brain is fried. I’ve typed up everything I can think of. More later.
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