One thing that’s been drilled into my head since I got into writing – long before indie publishing – was that writers are increasingly responsible for their own marketing. The major publishers will do virtually nothing for you unless your name is King, Rowling, or Clancy, and as an indie, it’s all up to me anyway. But while I understand that indie publishing means treating my writing like a business, all this marketing stuff never rang true for me. Why? Because it never seemed to matter to me as a reader.
I think about the last hundred books or so that I bought/read and my reasons for choosing them. The vast majority of these were because I already liked the author’s work, and in many cases the book was the next one in an ongoing series. A few others reached my in-pile because a friend recommended them to me. Some got there because I met the author and became interested in what they had to say. A few got there because one of those authors recommended it. And finally, I grabbed a few simply because the cover caught my eye, and the blurb on the back sounded interesting. Not one book got there because of a Twitter thread, a Facebook page, or a teaser video on YouTube.
I’m not unique in this. I recently read the results of a survey in which they asked people why they purchased their most recent book purchase. Alas, my google skills are not up to the task of finding it again, but I remember the gist of it. The top two answers were 1) because it was the next book in the series, and 2) because they liked the author’s other work. Those two answers accounted for about 70% of the responses for their most recent purchase. The next answer was that the book had been recommended by a friend, and it scored close to 20%. The last 10-15% were a mix of “saw it in the bookstore”, “read a review”, and so on.
One of the lessons to take from that is that the best marketing you can is to get another book out to your existing readers. After all, if 70% of what your readers will buy is going to be from authors they already know, then give them something new of yours to buy.
Of course, that only works once you have readers in the first place. How do you get those readers? That’s what that last 30% of the survey was about. The biggest among them was recommendations by friends, a.k.a. word of mouth. There’s not a lot I can do about that except try to be worthy of a recommendation. The first book is out the door and is as good as it’s ever going to be, so I can’t actively do much more about that. However, I can put out another one. If they didn’t like the first book enough to gush fanatically, maybe the next one will strike the right spot.
As for some of other reasons, “saw it in a bookstore” is a little out of my reach. This is one area where traditional publishers really can flex their marketing muscle. They pay bookstores to place certain titles in prominent locations or arrange them face-out instead of spine-out on the shelves. While you should be able to order my book at a bookstore, it won’t be sitting around in the impulse-buy section.
However, the online stores of Amazon and Barnes & Noble have some programmatic recommendations, i.e. “people who bought this also liked these…” If one of your books pops up there with an eye-catching cover, you can reap same benefit as those bookstore placements. A click-and-scan is about as good as a pick-up-and-gander. But how can I maximize that? How can I have more chances at that kind of thing? Perhaps the most effective way is to have more books out and available, since that puts more covers into the eyeball hunt.
Sensing a pattern?
Yeah, both my gut and my research tells me that the best use of my marketing time and energy is in getting more books out there rather than in trying to promote this first title. Once I have three, five, or even ten titles out, it might make more sense to invest the energy into all those flashy marketing schemes. It would require about the same effort then as it would now, but later on I’ll have a shot at selling them five or ten books instead of just one. Then I can hope to hook them for the long term, while now about all I can hope for is to become that guy who wrote that book… hmmm, I wonder whatever happened to him?
Now, I am going to do some activities that qualify as marketing, but not so much for their supposed marketing power. Instead, I’m going to do them because they’re FUN!
I like to blog, particularly about geeky things like SF/F and even some gaming. That’s going to keep going. In fact, it’s going to be hard to shut me up about it. Ostensibly, it does have a marketing purpose in that it lets readers connect with the author as well as provide a hub for news and sales links. But it also gives me a place to blather on about ray guns and FTL drives. I may do a few “guest blog” spots for other blogs, but that’s about all I’m going to do beyond my original focus.
I like going to SF/F conventions. I have made a lot of friends in those communities, and it’s a great opportunity to geek out with fellow fans face to face. I mean, where else are you going to have a random conversation about who would win the epic Enterprise vs. Galactica showdown? (FWIW, I say it’s the Enterprise for the simple reason that Galactica has no FTL sensors.) But there are valid marketing reasons as well. If I ever end up on a panel, people who’ve never heard of me will get a chance to hear me blather on about Cylon spirituality or the cost of using magic. Plus, there’s also all those people arguing over whether a hockey stick made for a good wizard staff in the TV version of the Dresden files.
I should say, though, that these con folks are not merely my fellow fanatics and… ahem, cult members. They are also what you might call mavens. If you’ve read The Tipping Point, you’ll recognize maven as one of the roles various people play in the viral spread of ideas. In the word of mouth network, mavens are the domain experts. If they like something, their recommendation carries a lot of weight. Getting an idea (or a book) in front of them is worthwhile.
But even without that, I’d still be going. I’ve been attending SF/F cons for twenty years, and with or without my books, I plan on going for twenty more.
And then there’s some stuff that just looks fun. One final bit of fun marketing I might try is something I saw another author talking about this morning. The idea is to take snippets of dialog from the book – the lines that really stick – and turn them into little postcard images. She then posts them to a Tumblr blog.
It reminds me a bit of an old Heinlein collection called “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long”, a beautifully illuminated collection of snappy quotes from the various Lazarus Long books. (Note, the original is long-since out of print, and a newer book of the same title is not at all the same thing, but I did see a copy of the original on Ebay just now for less than $40.) Since I often use fictional quotes as chapter heads, I could see this as a fun exercise. Maybe toss in a few bits from SomeECards as well. If I do this, I’ll be sure to link to it from here.
But other than those three things (blogging, cons, and quotes), I’m just going to keep up with the writing. I have two more books going through the edit process. One is in the same universe as Beneath the Sky, but it’s not a sequel. Instead, it’s book one of what feels like a five-book series. It’s tentatively titled Ships of My Fathers. The other is an urban fantasy about a reporter living in a cross-realm version of our own Pittsburgh, dealing with demons, wizards, and the occasional fae. It’s tentatively titled Hell Bent and is the first in an open-ended series. My goal is to get at least one of those out to readers this year, probably starting with Ships of my Fathers. I also hope to write the sequels to both of those to get out the door next year.
So, I’ll see you around, and I hope you enjoy my un-marketing.