Marketing a Book when you’re an Artist (not a Businessman)

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READING, WRITING, AND BUSINESS

Talented authors, especially in fiction, naturally excel with the art of writing.

Talented businessman (and women) who publish their writing have a distinct advantage when it comes to generating sales.

If there were only two books in the world, where one was written by a talented writer and the other was written by a talented businessman, if this was all I knew about the books, I would first want to read the book written by the talented writer.

It just seems to be a better fit, doesn’t it?

But when you visit Amazon, there aren’t just two books to choose from. There are tens of millions. And it’s hard to tell which of those may have been written by especially talented authors, and which are appealing more because of the marketing of businesspeople and which are successful mainly because of the merits of the actual writing.

Amazon dazzles you with dozens of brilliant pictures of book covers. You see bestseller lists which make you feel that those books must be selling well for a reason. Indeed, the reason may very well be marketing. You recognize the names of big publishers and popular authors who have succeeded in a very important aspect of marketing: They have branded their names into your brain.

Think for a moment. Can you think of any movies that you feel were so awful they should never have been made in the first place, yet somehow many people you know have actually watched it (and worse, may even talk about it, and not just to complain about it)?

It happens. Too often, it happens.

Of course, it happens with books, too.

The difference is that when you visit a theater, there are about a dozen newly released movies to choose from. When you visit Amazon, there are tens of thousands of books that have been released just in the past 30 days.

There are thousands of talented authors and thousands of wonderful books. Yet there are millions of books to choose from. And those that you would consider the “best” may not be so easy for you to find as a reader.

Such that even if you write a book that may be among the best books that readers in your genre would enjoy…

It’s very challenging for a talented author to get those books to sell.

Unfortunately, it might be better to be a good writer with excellent business skills than to be an amazing writer with absolutely no idea how to market.

But that doesn’t mean that a talented writer who lacks business skills can’t develop marketing skills.

It may grow very slowly. It may take a long time. There may be pitfalls along the way.

But any author can start marketing, and even if you just put a little time into a variety of marketing ideas here and there, you can continually expand your marketing net.

INDIRECT BOOK MARKETING

What is marketing? I like to think of it as “helping people in your target audience discover your book.”

I don’t enjoy business. I don’t like selling. But I do like helping people to discover my books. This definition works for me.

Before I had thought of this, marketing had seemed unappealing to me. Now I think of it in such a way that I enjoy the idea.

I don’t like it when salespeople interrupt what I’m doing to try to sell me something.

As an author, I try not to interrupt what people are doing to tell them about my book.

I prefer an indirect approach. There are a variety of ways that you can market your book indirectly.

  • People could hear about your book from someone else (other than you). If your book is worth recommending, you should consider how to get your book into the hands of people who might recommend it. Recommendations and word-of-mouth sales can be quite valuable.
  • People could first discover you, and then discover that you’re an author. One way to go about this is content marketing. For example, if you write nonfiction articles on a blog relating to your book, you could potentially generate daily search engine traffic to your blog, and then on your blog people will notice that you’re also an author. Simply end your article, Your Name, Author of Your Book.
  • People could interact with you, and then discover that you’re an author. You don’t even need to volunteer this. During most conversations, there are opportunities to answer questions like, “What do you do?” or “What have you done lately?”

The problem with marketing is that it isn’t magic.

You’re hoping that you can put forth a minimum of effort and generate hundreds of sales.

But the reality is that most successful long-term marketing takes time and effort.

Another problem is that you’d like to spend more time writing and less time marketing.

A possible solution is to spend a little time each day with marketing. It will add up.

Even if you market effectively, the results will probably come in far slower than you want.

Plan knowing that it may take much time. Be patient. Keep trying new things. Keep building your platform.

Try to keep the costs low (look for free options) unless you’re fortunate enough to earn enough sales that you can afford it without going in the red.

MARKETING BEGINS WITH THE CONTENT AND WORKS ITS WAY OUTWARD

It’s far easier to sell content that is amazing and that seems amazing than it is to sell content that’s just okay.

Step 1. Write content that is amazing. There are thousands of highly talented authors and there are thousands of amazing books. How amazing is your content? Is there some way that you could improve it?

Step 2. Make your content seem as amazing as it really is.

  • A book with an amazing cover seems amazing. A book with an okay cover doesn’t have nearly as much appeal. This is your chance to attract the attention of readers. Send the message that your content was worth putting a nice cover on it.
  • A book description that generates interest in your story helps the book seem amazing. (But don’t give the story away or readers won’t need to read the book.)
  • A book that quickly grabs the reader’s interest and holds onto it seems amazing. A book that loses the customer’s interest while the customer is just reading the Look Inside doesn’t sell.
  • A book that readers want to continue reading through the end, and then want to recommend to others really is an amazing book.
  • Typos, writing mistakes, formatting mistakes, etc. make your book seem far less amazing than it might really be. There are too many books on the market for customers to take a chance on mistakes.

Step 3. Get neutral opinions to help you assess the appeal of your cover, description, early chapters, and entire story.

The more appealing your book is from cover to cover, the more dividends marketing can pay.

From the business side of things, for too many books, 1 out of 1000 strangers who see the book’s cover will check it out, and 1 out 100 strangers who check the book out will buy it. For a book like this, you need 100,000 strangers to discover your book every day to sell an average of one copy to a stranger per day. Put another way, if your book is selling about one copy per day to strangers, there is a good chance that 100,000 see your book each day and that your product page is squandering a great deal of potential sales.

For a rare book that really has strong appeal from cover to cover, 1 out 10 strangers who check the book out will buy it, more people who see the book will click on it, and it benefits in other important ways, too:

  • It’s far more likely to generate many more sales from recommendations.
  • It’s far more likely to generate positive reviews from strangers.
  • It’s far more likely to generate sales from customers-also-bought lists.
  • It’s far more likely to generate good visibility on Amazon.

But first it needs to get discovered and get initial sales.

You still need good marketing. But the marketing is more likely to bring long-term rewards.

A SAMPLE OF MARKETING IDEAS

  • In the book itself. At the end, encourage readers to follow you on social media, visit your website, or sign up for a newsletter. List your other current and coming books. Offer a free sample (like a short chapter) of another book if it is similar to the current book.
  • Premarketing. For example, do a cover reveal to try to generate interest in your book before you publish it. Get beta readers involved in your book as you develop it.
  • Advance review copies. The idea is to give a free copy of your book, with the hope of obtaining an honest review in return. (Amazon doesn’t allow you to offer any other incentives other than a free copy of your book.) You can run an Amazon Giveaway or a Goodreads giveaway from your product page. An Amazon Giveaway is fairly inexpensive, especially with a small number of prizes. For ebooks, a Goodreads Giveaway is actually cost-effective if you give away 100 books (you don’t have to pay for the cost of the books, too; but for paperbacks you have to also buy author copies and pay to ship them yourself). Aside from giveaways, you can recruit people to send advance review copies to.
  • Start a blog. If you love to write, this is only natural. If you can write about nonfiction topics that relate to your book (even in fiction), short articles can eventually turn into a content-rich website that attracts daily visitors through search engines. Some authors write poetry on their blogs. Some make great photo blogs. There are many ways to engage an audience with a blog. If you interact with both readers and other bloggers, you can build a fairly popular blog.
  • Social media. You should have it (Facebook and Twitter at least). You should do something with it. At the very least, for those readers who enjoy Facebook and Twitter, you should have something for them. If you put the time into the social interaction aspect of it, you can make social media work better, but at least you should have something there.
  • The personal touch. Some authors are reluctant to try it, but the personal interaction (especially, in person, but online is better than nothing) can make a difference for an author who hasn’t yet built a following. Most people haven’t interacted with many authors in person. Even though the number of authors is rapidly going, many aren’t interacting in person. If a person interacts with an author and has a positive experience, the person is more likely to buy the book and also more likely to review the book or recommend it to others (but, of course, only if the content is that good). How can you setup local and regional opportunities to meet people in your target audience? It doesn’t have to be a signing (which may be hard to populate when you’re starting out). Groups of people in your target audience probably already exist: book clubs, senior centers, schools (for children’s books), and countless others. You just need to figure out how to get involved and take the initiative.
  • Bookmarks. I like these better than business cards. If the bookmark looks nice and doesn’t seem like an advertisement, it might actually get used, and then it will be a constant reminder about your book.
  • Promotions. Discounted (and even free) prices used to work more effectively with less effort. There are so many books discounted (or free) these days, it’s not easy to stand above the crowd. It makes it a challenge (like most marketing), but there is still potential. The big question is how to spread the word about your sale price. There are sites that can help, free or low cost, but not all are very helpful. Explore and hope you find a helpful one.
  • Advertising. This is tricky. Too many new authors spend too much and don’t target their advertisements as effectively as they could. When you’re starting out or when you’re not earning much in monthly royalties, you really can’t afford to overspend on advertising. Your ads compete with authors and publishers who sell many copies per month and so can afford to invest significant money on an advertising budget. So you have to be smart about it. Refrain from the temptation to bid high. If your ad isn’t performing well, it’s tempting to raise the bid. But effective ad campaigns often make effective use of keywords or other targeting criteria, plus have a great cover and highly appealing product page (including the Look Inside). Relevance is your best friend when it comes to advertising. With Amazon’s AMS (via KDP), for example, once an ad is deemed to rate high in terms of relevance (by getting a high click-through rate and a high sales frequency), it tends to perform better than other ads. In fact, such an ad can perform better at a lower bid (counterintuitively). If an ad rates low in relevance, it tends to perform poorly, even if the bid is raised high. When you set your keywords or other targeting criteria, you don’t just want popularity; you want strong relevance. It also helps to spend time brainstorming keywords (also worth doing before you publish).
  • Keep writing. Each time you publish a new book, you get renewed visibility with the last 30 days and last 90 days filters at Amazon. Many authors have asked, “What happened to my sales?” both 30 days and 90 days after publishing. Well, if these filters had been helping you (without your knowledge; how would you possibly know?), that could be the answer. Plus, you attract new readers, and slowly build a fan base. Few indie authors publish a single book and have great long-term success. Most effective indie authors have established a platform with several related books. If you can keep writing and publishing, as long as you’re getting some sales with each book, you should keep doing it. Most of us do it because we love writing so much that we just couldn’t stop, sales or not. If you’re not getting the sales, you need to rethink what types of books you should write, how to make the cover, how to write the description, etc. When things aren’t going well, you have to try making changes.
  • What are other indie authors who are having some measure of success doing with their marketing? It’s easy enough to find authors who are selling some books, and it’s really easy to find their blogs and social media. So it’s not hard to see some of the things that work for them.
  • Do you feel creative with your writing? If so, spend some time thinking how you might be creative with your marketing. Maybe a little creativity will attract some readers. Maybe you will think of a marketing strategy that isn’t overused (yet! it will be if it works for you and other authors find out) and be the first to adopt it. You shouldn’t be a one-strategy marketing machine (unless, of course, the first thing you try is a great success, then you should do it until it dries up). You should be exploring a variety of options that can help you widen your marketing net.

Even when marketing works, it often develops very slowly. Just because you don’t get any early results doesn’t mean you should give up.

Another important word is “branding.” You’re creating a brand. When people see marketing, they rarely stop what they’re doing and run to the store.

Rather, months later when they happen to be shopping for a product, people tend to buy a product that they’ve heard of.

You want your author name, or your book title, or your character’s name, or your series name to be something that people have heard of.

You want your cover to be something that people have seen before.

(In a good way.)

When that happens, you’ve succeeded in branding readers.

GIVE KARMA A CHANCE

I know, you’re eager to go market your book.

But first, spread the word about someone else’s book.

Maybe it will give you some good karma. Or maybe you just feel like being a good person.

You’d like a stranger to recommend your book to others.

So take a moment to recommend a stranger’s book to others. This will help you visualize what you want to happen to your own book.

Plus, you get to do a good deed.

I’m recommending The Legends of Windemere series by Charles E. Yallowitz (who has absolutely no idea that I’m mentioning his series today, although I have mentioned him in years past).

I finished the Legends of Windemere series and enjoyed it for the storyline and several of the characters which appealed to me.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

20 comments on “Marketing a Book when you’re an Artist (not a Businessman)

  1. Good tips, Chris, thanks! But whoa.. it certainly does feel overwhelming these days (after my release). I feel like I’m being pulled (pushed?) in so many different social-media-and-marketing directions, it’s pretty exhausting with an ever-growing To-Do list ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Great post, Chris. I am not very good at marketing, but like you, I believe there is a kind of critical mass of reader awareness that we can reach…if we try long enough. I figure I’ve got till I’m 90. After that I may give up. ๐Ÿ˜€

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