Some time ago (July 2015) I wrote about my experiences of marketing after I became an independent author-publisher. Since then, things have moved on, so I thought it was time to look at this aspect of our complex profession again.
Marketing is, without doubt, authors’ least favourite activity, but – short of hiring someone else to do it for you – it is an inescapable part of the job. The irony is that even traditionally published authors aren’t much better off these days, unless they happen to be famous in some other field (preferably widely featured on the media) or else long-established popular authors with an assured following of readers. Even the latter are not safe. I know several well known and successful crime writers who have been inexplicably dropped by their publishers.
A new and unknown writer taken on nowadays by a commercial publisher is likely to discover, with something of a shock, that he or she is meant to do most of the publicity. You will be expected to be very active on social media (where you will probably already be well established before you are even offered a contract). You will need to blog regularly. You will, if you are one of the lucky ones, attend literary festivals, but that is likely to involve at least three days away from your real work of writing, and may well not be paid (even travel expenses). The one real advantage is the chance to meet your readers face-to-face.
Even when I was published by Random House, some time ago now, I discovered that very little was done for me in the way of publicity and marketing. I did have some reviews in magazines and newspapers, attended some festivals and a couple of publisher’s roadshows, but that was it, and it was very, very short term. The mindset then (and, it seems, still) is that a book is more or less ‘dead’ after about six weeks, unless it is well up the bestseller list. It is unlikely to been reprinted, and will be remaindered as soon as the contract permits. These are uncomfortable lessons.
The entire publishing world is different these days for the independent author who publishes in the two popular current formats of ebook and print-on-demand (POD). The twin advantages of these, quite apart from ease of publication, are, first, very little up-front cost and, second, remaining permanently in print. That’s looking at it from the aspect of the publishing business model. From the author’s point of view it means vastly higher royalties, the assurance that the books remain available, and of course control over the whole publishing process.
The publicity and marketing still have to be undertaken, however.
Looking back at those three forms of marketing I experienced in my commercially published days, we can see that little remains the same. The literary review sections in magazines and newspapers have been savagely cut. If you self-publish fiction, you can forget about them. If you write non-fiction with a specialist appeal, you have the chance of review in specialist magazines and should certainly try for it.
Literary festivals? I appeared twice at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as a commercially published author, but if I received an invitation now I would probably faint with the shock! However, small local festivals are a definite possibility. Several of my indie friends have had good success with these, and even if you don’t sell many books it will help to spread the word. Local book clubs or library events are also an excellent way to meet readers, though in all these cases you will need to go armed with physical copies of your books, which will mean a certain amount of financial outlay.
Publishers’ roadshows – do they even exist any more?
Such face-to-face appearances, however, are the tip of the iceberg. Along with ebooks and POD, it is the global reach of the internet which is the indie author’s greatest aid in marketing.
Every indie author needs a website, and it needs to be kept fresh. Certainly every new book needs to appear on your website, with as much information as possible. Like many authors I also have a New Release Mailing List, which readers can sign up to (here), so that they receive immediate notice when I publish a new book. Your website can be kept up-to-date with news or a regular blog. Readers of this one will know that I write one a month.
In social media, I just use Facebook and Twitter. I know there are a number of others, and some authors use far more, but it is very time-consuming, so I limit myself to these two. On Facebook, as well as a ‘personal’ page for general chat to friends, family, and readers, an author needs a separate Author Page, which is confined to posts about books and matters relating to books, such as interesting bits of research, or links to articles about writing and publishing. Inevitably there is some overlap between personal page and Author Page, but that is no bad thing.
One of the great joys of this new way of communicating is the way you get to know your readers. I never had that when I was commercially published. I got some fan mail, but nowadays there is nothing that sets me up more for a good day’s writing than to receive an enthusiastic and appreciative message from a reader. It’s so encouraging, and has entirely dispelled the rather lonely business of being a writer.
Previously, as I mentioned in my earlier blog on marketing, I was a bit baffled by Twitter – the very limited characters allowed, the way everything flew past almost before you could read it! However, I now belong to a group of writers of historical fiction who have banded together to help spread the word of each other’s books. This kind of collaboration is happening all over the world of indie authors, and proves both useful and supportive. I’ve found that it has raised my profile on Twitter and brought in more followers, although I actually don’t go out there and actively pursue a huge follower list. I’d prefer just to have those who are really interested.
The interaction with Amazon which I mentioned in my previous piece continues in much the same way. By and large I have found the people at Amazon very helpful. There is one new development. At the time of writing last year, Amazon had just brought in Kindle Unlimited, with payment to authors according to the number of pages read by book borrowers. It was so new then that no one was sure how it would work out. Now, after about 16 months, I can say that I am favourably impressed. In both August and September of this year, I had over a million pages read. This month, October, it has been over a million and a half. This is a kind of ‘invisible’ marketing, helping to spread word of mouth, and – if you have a series – encouraging readers to go on from one book to the next.
Now, if you have read my earlier blog about marketing, you will remember that I mentioned two promotion sites: Readers in the Know and Self Publishers’ Showcase. One of the functions of Readers in Know is to notify members as readers (even if they are there primarily as authors) of books on the site they would enjoy. Well, I have to say that not one single book which has been recommended to me over the last year would I dream of reading. I have come to feel that my books are not a comfortable fit here, so I have decided not to renew my membership, which expires today. I wish the site well, but it’s not for me.
Self Publishers’ Showcase is active in regularly tweeting information about members’ books. It’s impossible to tell, of course, whether this is effective marketing or not, but it does regularly put the word out. I’ve been a bit slack and haven’t kept the site up-to-date with my last five books, only sending them information about The Bookseller’s Tale and The Novice’s Tale within this last week (and not yet of the most recent Kit Alvarez books). It is too soon to see any change in their tweets for me, but for the time being I’ll remain with them.
The other major change since my first post here on marketing is that I have had a go at Facebook ads. I took Mark Dawson’s course on using Facebook advertising, which is very comprehensive, although I confined myself to simple basic ads, without all of the refinements he suggests. For about three months I ran an ad for the Kit Alvarez series, with a picture, a bit of text, and a link to the Amazon page for the whole series.
It certainly produced results. I had a huge number of comments, which in some cases developed into whole conversations, and some great endorsements from readers who enjoyed the books. However, the cost does add up – usually a minimum of £5 or $5 a day. (Some people who have followed Mark’s course spend vast amounts, but I haven’t the nerve!) I think it is well worth doing, and would recommend giving it a go, so long as you don’t spend too much. I stopped because I felt I had spent enough money and my books seemed to have started producing their own momentum, though I might give it another go, perhaps with the Oxford Medieval Mysteries series.
So that is where I am at present. I suppose part of the lesson is to keep an eye on what you are doing. Cut away things that don’t work. Try out new opportunities to see whether they do. The most effective marketing of all is word of mouth, and I suspect that is what is working best for me at the moment.
I have had one bit of publicity which I did not generate myself. My books have been on sale at the Maryland Renaissance Festival from August to October this year. I have yet to hear how well they did, but that might account for a massive increase in paperback sales lately – or at least part of it. Who knows? If anyone – commercial publisher or indie author – really knew how to market books, how much simpler it would be for all of us, authors, publishers, and readers alike!
Till next time,