Once upon a time, writers wrote, marketers marketed, and readers read.
Alas, I missed out on the days when authors primarily paid attention to their craft and the art of storytelling. Now the line between content producers and content promoters has blurred, if not disappeared. The idea of what it means to be an “author” has morphed. Indie authors in particular find themselves taking on the role of entrepreneur in addition to writer.
An author today is expected to be, as my mother would have put it, chief cook and bottle washer.
In preparing for the release of my book of short stories this summer, I’m spending more than half my time washing bottles. I’d rather be cooking. But so it goes. You can’t have one without the other. A delicious meal consumed amidst filthy dishes is unpleasant for the diners. Writing without marketing languishes unread.
Lessons from the
dark marketing side
Being responsible for the marketing of one’s work is not without its rewards. I wrote last fall about telling the story about the story—a challenge for a fiction writer, but a necessary and valuable one. And I’ve learned other marketing lessons that have helped the business and marketing side of my career.
If you’re an author, maybe some of these lessons will help you. If you’re a reader, here’s a window into what it takes for your favorite authors to bring you the writing you love.
- More is better. The publication of my forthcoming book will mean I’ll have three books available. Between 2011, when Dance of Souls came out, and 2017, when What Remains Unsaid was published, I had only a single book to sell. Yet I kept hearing that more books is better. And it makes sense. More people can discover you. People who read one may decide to read the others. This is especially the case for series, but it works for unrelated titles, too.
- More is more work. Parents often say that going from one child to two isn’t as jarring as going from zero to one. The same could be said about books. Marketing three books requires less than three times the work of marketing one because you have all the infrastructure: a website, an email list, and processes for managing everything. But there’s still a lot to be done for each title, especially in planning a launch that includes obtaining reviews, booking readings, and setting up promotions (see below).
- Organization is key. I approach project management the way I approach fiction writing: I spew out all the micro-level details and then look for patterns. You could say I’m an inductive, as opposed to deductive, planner. However you go about it, though, a plan is essential. I use a single document to track all my daily, weekly, and monthly activities related to writing and marketing. Do I accomplish everything I set out to do every day? Of course not. But coming back to the document regularly helps me remember my priorities.
- Seek out experts—and pay them. So much comes to us for free these days. The expectation that you can get whatever you want online for nothing is pervasive. But there’s always room for services that provide true value. Here are a couple I consider worth paying for.
K-Lytics analyzes Kindle sales data to give authors insights into the optimal Amazon categories to choose for their books. If you’re wondering why this is important, you should know that authors no longer make sales by winning over the friendly book-loving bookshop owner. Instead, our work is made searchable and discoverable by algorithms. Could you analyze the data yourself? Perhaps, if you have hundreds of of hours to spare and a degree in statistics. If not, you’ll want to pay for someone else to do it.
BookFunnel provides landing pages where authors can showcase their books for download and a dashboard to manage the process. I use BookFunnel to offer copies to reviewers and to manage giveaways. I could do both of these things on my own, but BookFunnel makes the process super easy. I don’t have to worry about emailing big files to people or track what kind of file they need. I set up my account and book page in less than an hour. There’s a free basic level and additional paid levels that provide more features.
- Be abundantly patient. I’ve been writing all my life in one form or another. Only in the last five years did I decide to devote myself seriously to fiction writing. I’ve come a long way in that time, but I have much further to go. Building a career and a brand takes years, not weeks or months.
- Do what you love. As I write this, it’s 9:56 p.m. and the night mode filter has come on for my monitor. I’ve been working harder over the last few years to write and promote my work than in all but my craziest days at tech startups. But I feel more energetic and excited than I can remember feeling in a long time because the work matters to me.
I know that it’s time to get off the keyboard and go to bed. I will, I promise! Just as soon as I tick one more item off my to-do list.
Speaking of promotions and appearances
I have one giveaway happening now and one scheduled for early June:
Get What Remains Unsaid for free as part of the Amazing Fiction giveaway (along with lots of other great books) now through May 23. (Another BookFunnel benefit—authors can take part in “book bundle” giveaways like this one.)
Get Dance of Souls free on Amazon on June 1 and 2. Want a reminder? Follow me on Twitter or Facebook for a day-of tweet and post.
Want the scoop on my next book and my upcoming appearances before everyone else? Join my mailing list and you’ll always be the first to know.
(and if you’re new to the list, you’ll get a not-yet-published story to read)
I’ll have to bookmark this page. Thank you for sharing these tips! I’m nowhere near ready to birth a book, but I am trying to pull together as many tips and tricks as I can. My biggest problem with marketing is myself: I’m a introvert and dread the idea of having to promote my writing. So much marketing seems more like building a cult of personality than a bevy of readers. I don’t have the kind of personality that would inspire a cult or even a fandom. By the way, I “met” you through The Disappointed Housewife. And you live in San Francisco! My husband and I lived there from 1986 to 1990 (many years in the East Bay before SF). Pieces of my heart can still be found there 😉
So glad you found this helpful. Believe it or not, I suffer similarly when it comes to marketing myself. I wouldn’t call myself an introvert but the idea of “tooting my own horn” (as my mother might have said) has always seemed distasteful. I finally got over it by realizing that I am not writing solely for myself and that my words deserve an audience. I do think there are ways to market that involve being genuine, not sleazy.
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Indeed, I started blogging because I wanted an audience for my writing. It’s taken some time but now I’m part of a lovely, generous community of writers. When I market to them, I feel more like I’m sharing good news than trying to entice them to purchase, and that helps with my normal aversion to promoting myself. Their support is priceless.
I will check out your blog!
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I’ll have to look at Book Funnel – thanks for the tip. All I know is that with twice as many books on Amazon as there were five years ago, and the expectation that everything should be free, it’s not getting any easier. Good luck’
“…it’s not getting any easier” — that is certainly true. Good luck to you too!
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Good tips – I’ll check out the sites you mention. Marketing is a huge challenge these days. Trying to master the ever-changing algorithms in an environment where everybody has the same tools, and promotional voices are lost in the ‘noise’ is a huge challenge. I think even commercial publishers are still wrestling with it.
I’m not sure if it’s comforting or terrifying to realize that the “big guys” have the same issues as we do regarding understanding the ins and outs of visibility. The landscape certainly has changed!
After three books, I’m trying to focus on what makes most sense for me in terms of promotion. It takes so much time, and some things are probably not worth the time they take. Of course, knowing what those things are and what they are not is the tricky part. I’ve kind of fizzled out with it lately. I’m working on two projects, one I hope to pitch this summer (wishful thinking…), so I’m probably letting the promotional side fall a bit. Just not enough hours.
BookFunnel sounds like a great resource. Thanks for the heads-up and good luck with everything!
Yeah, there’s that old saying related to advertising, which could equally apply to marketing: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” (attributed to department store magnate John Wanamaker). I try to learn as much as I can from other people about what works and what doesn’t before I try it, but inevitably there’s a learning curve and I do things that in retrospect seem to be a waste of time and money.
Good luck with your projects!
Thank you. 😊
Thanks for the tips, Audrey!
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