As an introduction to this series of posts on marketing, you should read the following article for a good laugh and reinforcement that self-published authors are just as legitimate as traditionally published ones.
Then read the article by Kris Rusch wherein she refers to Tom Simon’s article, expands on it, and gives some excellent insights about book marketing and sales.
So, where does one begin with learning how to market one’s books? We’ve said it before, and those of you who do your research on the Internet have seen it repeated ad nauseam in one form or another. Good marketing begins with a good product.
A good product in this case means having at least: a good story written and edited to some reasonable standard of writing, a good cover to show off the work, and a good summary (cover blurb) to accompany it. It’s really hard to sell crap. Sometimes you can (and I’m sure you know of some traditionally published books that were crap). You might manage some sales, but word of mouth can quickly outpace your best efforts. Don’t count on your initial success to last for long if the product itself falls short.
Let’s assume that you so have at least the minimal requirements for a good product. The next part, the hardest, is to let potential readers know the book exists. In the old days (five or so years ago), the primary way this happened was in bookstores, hopefully accompanied by some advertising to get the ball rolling.
Contrary to what most new authors at the time believed, having their book in stores was only a very small part of the battle. With hundreds or thousands of books in a given store, the chance of their masterpiece being found by readers was miniscule. They had to hope that enough found it, loved it, and talked about it before the bookstores decided it was a lost cause and sent back the unsold copies–and the book died a slow, painful death.
We’ve heard many indie authors say that they can’t afford an editor or cover designer. Of the authors who actually know to write a good book in the first place, only a fraction have the skill to design a professional-looking cover. Simply because indie authors have the ability to self-publish on a next-to-zero budget doesn’t mean that they should.
Traditional publishers start with a good (in their opinion) book they hope will make money. They then invest their money into giving it the proper polish (editing and cover). So, if a traditional publisher has to spend money on skilled people to get the job done, why should an indie author believe that he or she doesn’t need to do the same? Or if not money, then investing time and effort into doing the job right?
The experts tell us that whether an author is indie or not he/she , needs to think about marketing from the moment the book is begun. But wait. Didn’t traditional publishers deal with all the marketing, leaving the author free to write? No. That hasn’t happened for several decades. Most books receive minimal marketing (unless the publisher has good reason to believe it’s going to be a bestseller out of the gate). An author who believes that a book will sell itself is sadly mistaken.
No matter HOW your book is published, you need to think about marketing as early as possible! To do or believe otherwise will seriously handicap your efforts. Do not for one minute believe that “if you write it, they will buy.” That rarely happens. Those sensational indie success stories you hear about occur one in several tens of thousands. At best. The handful of huge successes, not the thousands of failures, are the ones we hear about.
Here’s a nice little bit of trivia.
“950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan [in 2004] sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies.”
Remember that this was pre-ebook era, so most of these books were print books. Granted, times have changed, but I suspect that those relative proportions are at least a fair indicator of the situation today. Now, here’s the kicker. How many of those 1.2 million books sold over a million copies? Ten of them.
I honestly believe that the odds today are a little better because indie authors have more outlets and time to wait for their books to catch on (instead of being in and out of bookstores within 2-3 months after release). Even so, you need to search out your audience, have a marketing plan, and be ready to adapt to change.
Here’s a good example of how things have changed recently: IS FREE OVER?
The article also reinforces some of the things I mentioned about Kindle Select in my September 16 post.
As you develop your marketing strategy, remember two good pieces of advice–
(1) Strategies that work for one author may not work for another, and not every strategy is applicable to every book. Be sure it makes sense for your book.
(2) The world of publishing is currently in a rapid state of flux. What works now may not work a year or even months from now. Be prepared to make changes, but don’t forget the first piece of advice. At the same time, what didn’t work a year ago might work now. Don’t make changes blindly, and don’t rely on marketing games and tricks. Think carefully, and don’t act on impulse as I’ve seen too many indie authors do.
Next time, we’ll start looking at some specific strategies.