Publishing & Marketing Blog
The kind people at Science-Fiction Romance Brigade asked if I’d do a blog series on self-publishing and marketing, and I was happy to oblige. This is a five part series, and feel free to add your insights and experiences in the comment sections.
Part One -Evaluate, Strategize, Execute, Re-evaluate.
In this series we’re going to discuss a lot of things: hiring publicists, branding, product design and creation, pricing and social media. We’ll also discuss working with publishers and how that fits in with your marketing efforts.
But I have loftier goals than simply walking you through some cookie-cutter process and listing off a bunch of marketing dos and don’ts. I don’t know about you, but if I hear one more publishing professional telling me about the importance of social media I may put a bullet in my head.
That’s why I’m making it my job to make sure you to come away from this with a change in your mindset.
First, I want you to stop thinking like a writer. I want you to start thinking like an entrepreneur. Second, I want you to set your goals higher. In fact, I want you to set your goals a lot higher—much higher, for the simple reason that you can and should be selling more books!
Lastly, I want you to leave feeling empowered. I want you to know that whether you’re with a publisher or going it on your own, you have the means to take charge of your career and have a real impact on your own success.
Sell Books. Make Money. Why The Expletive-Deleted-By-Editorial-Staff Not?
Most artists I meet don’t know how to make money off their work. They don’t have any clear-cut sales goals, and they don’t see how they can get anywhere unless they’re discovered by a traditional publisher.
This isn’t their fault. Let’s face it, we all grow up in a very familiar environment—one where “success” is for other people, genius people, but not us. Never us. Basically, we’re programmed to think we can’t possibly succeed, at least, not on our own, and definitely not unless we’re “discovered.”
This is immensely frustrating for me, because the simple reality is that you can, and should, be making money off your hard work. Writing might be creative, but it’s also a business, and your book is a product, one that can be bought, sold, licensed, branded monetized and commodified. The same goes for your author-brand (but I’ll go more into turning your book sales into writing/speaking/teaching gigs in a later installment).
But whenever I talk business with artists (writers, musicians, photographers, etc.), I can’t tell you how often I see them yawn, shrug their shoulders and say, “Meh, I just want to write.”
Well, if that’s you—if you’re someone who “just wants to write,” if you’re waiting around for someone to do the heavy lifting for you, then this series isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you’re tired of waiting for someone to publish you and market you in the way you deserve, if you’re tired of not growing your readership, if you’re determined to take charge of your career and finally see your books find the readers that you know are out there, then by all means—read on!
If what I’m doing isn’t working, I make changes, I move on.
You’ll never hear me say the familiar, “oh, if only I had a manager.” “Oh, if only I had a publisher, or an agent, etc.”
It’s not because I’m some kind of hero-genius. I’m not. It’s because I’ve worked with enough industry insiders to know that there’s not much they’re willing to do for me that I can’t do myself, especially in this age of global digital distribution.
SIDE NOTE: Notice I said “there’s not much they’re willing to do…” rather than, there’s not much they can do. This is an important distinction, and one we’ll talk more about in a later instalment.
First off, there is no ‘trick’ to marketing. There is no secret button, and despite what John Locke (the first indy-published million seller on Amazon) says, there is no such thing as a golden blog-post, so don’t bother flipping ahead to the section where I reveal all. That section doesn’t exist.
Just like learning to write requires constant study, practice and evaluation, so does developing good marketing skills. And if what you’re doing isn’t working, then (just like good editing) you’re going to have to develop a backbone strong enough to subject yourself to the same level of merciless and ruthless criticism that you do your writing.
We’re all guilty of showing our work to people who pat us on the back and tell us what a good job we’re doing. I understand this. We need that validation to keep going—because this is bloody hard work and it’s extremely stressful. But if we don’t learn to actually seek out hard, honest criticism, if we don’t learn to embrace that criticism, learn to process it and use it, we’re sunk. Because the reality is if we’re not selling books we’re going to have to make some changes.
If something we’re doing isn’t working, if our book isn’t selling the way we’d like, then it’s up to us to address those problems and fix them. I see the same fixable issues all the time. Sometimes our book needs more work. It’s tough to hear, it hurts, but it’s true. But almost always, it’s our branding that needs serious tweaking, if not a complete overhaul.
Cover changes, title changes, re-edits, better websites—even changing your author name to make you stand out from all the other Joan Smith-Collingsworths out there—absolutely nothing should be considered “off the table” when evaluating your efforts.
Going generic is not the way to stand out from the crowd.
Ninety-eight percent of the books on Amazon look amateurish. They are completely generic and, worst of all, they look identical! I’ve even caught a couple of writer-friends of mine using the same stock photos for covers that have already been used several times by other writers. But, maddeningly, when I told them they did nothing to change their covers.
Fitting in sounds great when we’re in high school, but when it comes to marketing our books we want to stand out like the biggest sore thumb there ever was. We want to turn heads, not bury ourselves in generic packaging. This is marketing at its most basic.
Another common problem is trying to sell our books to the wrong audience, in the wrong place and at the wrong time. We’ll address all of these issues in the coming installments.
The good news is that none of these issues are a big deal. The sooner we realize this the sooner we’ll start making changes, and the sooner we’ll start selling books.
And, yes, you can sell books. We write SFR! SFR is a growing mass-market category, and that means you can sell a lot of books. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I lied. There is a trick to marketing
Oh, and remember when I said there was no trick to marketing? I lied. There is a trick and it is quite simple, and it’s called “hard work.” We work hard–harder than anyone else–and we do whatever it takes to make our customers–our readers–excited! Let our enthusiasm for our book become their enthusiasm.
There. Now you know everything there is to know about marketing.
HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT #1:
Next week we’ll take a more in depth look at your marketing efforts—everything from what it takes to build a solid foundation, your strategy and your sales goals. Until then, I have a homework assignment for you. I want you to consider the following, and I need you to be brutally honest:
- How does my book and my (or my publisher’s) marketing efforts stack up to the competition?
- Do I stand out from the crowd or blend in?
- Have my marketing efforts achieved the goals I set?
- Do I have any goals?
- If I have fallen short of my goals, what changes have I (or my publisher) made to rectify the situation?
Cheers, and thanks for reading.
Next up, Part Two: Sales goals, target markets and building solid foundations.