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

Image licensed from Shutterstock.

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

Which Came First: The Painting or the Artist?

It probably seems pretty obvious that the following evolution occurs:

  • The artist first conceives of the idea, perhaps in the artist’s mind’s eye.
  • The artist selects a suitable medium.
  • The artist creates the masterpiece.

In the previous ordering of events, the artist clearly came before the painting.

How can it possibly be any other way?

Please allow me to present a fascinating alternative. I’m not asking you to change your beliefs. You may consider this to be just for entertainment purposes, if you will. (However, if you want to incorporate this into your own philosophy, feel free.)

Consider this possibility (or impossibility, or whatever you may prefer to call it):

  • The Mona Lisa is transcendental. It always has been and always will be.
  • The Mona Lisa selected Leonardo Da Vinci as a suitable medium.
  • The Mona Lisa channeled itself through Leonardo Da Vinci, bringing the artist to life.

Is it really such a stretch?

Perhaps I worded it the wrong way. Using the word ‘channeled’ probably wasn’t the best idea. Let’s consider something simpler for a moment.

How about a triangle or a dodecahedron? These geometric shapes have always existed, right? They weren’t ‘invented’ by the first human to draw them.

 Shapes

A painting consists of shapes, colors, and textures put together. Can you insist that a triangle existed before geometricians, but that a painting doesn’t exist until the artist paints it? What if the artist paints a cube?

Another point to consider is that every artist has human experience. The ideas and visions that we have are very much shaped by our experience. So a painting is not a totally brand new vision, but a product of the artist’s human experience. Even if we paint something that seems out of this world, it’s inherently affected by our experience in this world. In a sense, the art has been developing within the painter for many years before it ever touches the canvas.

If I could paint, I would try to paint a picture of a Klein bottle in an Escher-like fashion such that it looks like both a chicken and an egg transforming into one another. It would have been the perfect image for this post. Instead, you’ll just have to envision that in your mind. Perhaps someday an artist will paint this picture. If so, remember that I already gave birth to the idea. Or has it always been there?

Chris McMullen, author of The Visual Guide to Extra Dimensions and A Visual Introduction to the Fourth Dimension (ironically, perhaps, these are conceptual geometry books, not philosophy books)

Cover Art Critics

Cover Critics

The self-publishing revolution has brought forth a generation of cover art critics. It seems that there are many more cover art critics than there are art critics.

To be fair, they also criticize traditionally published covers, and a few of the best covers out there are actually on self-published books. However, the reality is that the vast majority of lousy covers are on self-published books.

Anyone can be a cover art critic. No talent for cover design is needed to form an opinion.

But that’s the point. Don’t create a cover to satisfy the critics. Instead, create a cover that will please potential readers. Back to the point: All potential readers are cover art critics! Complaints that are common among the cover art critics tend to deter sales because many readers feel the same way.

Here are some common complaints:

(1) Can’t tell what the book is about!

(2) Text is illegible!

(3) Colors don’t work well together!

(4) People look deformed!

(5) Used crayons or colored pencils!

(6) Photo-bombing image!

(7) Used Comic Sans for font!

(8) Aspect ratio is distorted!

(9) Illustrator’s name appears on a lousy cover!

(10) Image appears blurry or pixelated!

(11) Cover is too busy!

(12) Fonts are boring!

(13) Hard to read fonts!

(14) Wrong words emphasized in title!

(15) Three different fonts used!

(16) Images have nothing in common!

(17) Settled for image that doesn’t quite work!

(18) Doesn’t look good both full-size and as thumbnail!

(19) Red-eye!

(20) Typo in title!

(21) Poor drawing skills!

(22) Poor photography skills!

People do judge books by their covers. As they should! At least to the extent that buying a book where the author or publisher didn’t put much effort into the cover is a risk: If little effort was put into the cover, there isn’t any reason to expect that greater effort was put into writing, editing, and formatting.

The cover is a marketing tool. Customers do browse for books in search results and click on thumbnails that interest them. Trying to avoid common cover design mistakes may pay off. It’s challenging to design a perfect cover, and any cover – no matter how good – can still be criticized. It’s much easier to find fault in a cover than to make a cover without fault. (No wonder there are more cover art critics than there are great covers.) But the cover is very important, so striving to design a great cover is worth the effort.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 now available)

Artists Who Love Marketing – an Oxymoron?

Whether you paint a picture, write a book, or invent a new product, if you did this with the creative passion of an artist, it’s only logical for you to be highly motivated to market your work. Yet most artists express a loathing for marketing.

Why? One reason is that marketing sounds like business and salesmanship. Artists enjoy creating their art, and authors love to write. But business and sales often doesn’t easily arouse their interest.

Let me take a detour and explain that marketing creative products – like paintings and books – isn’t about business and salesmanship. Then I will return to my main point – i.e. why artists should naturally be motivated to market their work.

Marketing a creative product is more about discovery and branding an image, and less about business and salesmanship. Books, for example, aren’t sold by persuasion like used cars. In fact, no salesman is even present – this is obvious for eBooks, but even in the store there is usually just a cashier. What bookstore will thrive with a pushy salesman looking over customers’ shoulders in the middle of the aisle?

Similarly, self-promotion doesn’t tend to attract much interest. “Hey, I just wrote a book and it’s the greatest thing ever so you should check it out,” isn’t the way to sell books.

Instead, when you personally interact with people – in person or online – and people “discover” that you are an artist, author, or inventor, for example, they often want to learn more. People like to buy products that were made by people they know – how often do you get such a chance? – provided that they discover it rather than having it thrust upon them.

“What do you do for a living?” “What have you done recently?” “How’s your new book coming along?” There are so many ways for people to learn more about you and discover your work. They could even click on your online profile.

The more people you personally interact with, the more your work may get discovered. This also helps to create “buzz” when you release a new product, which helps to earn early sales and reviews.

Marketing a single artist’s creative product involves branding. Advertising to say, “This is the best thing since sliced bread,” isn’t going to help, and demanding, “You should go buy this product now,” is a waste.

Commercials don’t work because the majority of people do as they’re told or listen to whatever the television tells them. They work because of branding. When people are standing in the grocery store, deciding which product to buy, they don’t remember what the television said was better and they’re not there because the television told them to go shopping – more often than not, they simply recognize a product that they’ve heard before. That is, they remember the brand. People tend to buy products they’ve heard of, and for which they like what the brand symbolizes.

Fortunately, a single artist doesn’t need to pay advertising fees to brand an image. Branding can be done for free. Getting your product, name, and image in front of your target audience helps to establish your brand as an artist or author. The more they see this, the more they are likely to recognize your product, then one day when they are buying a similar product, they may buy yours.

One way to get your target audience to see your brand is to post valuable content online. Posting advertisements about your product, posting content about yourself, and posting links to your other sites won’t likely attract much interest. But posting valuable content for your target audience may attract new customers. If they appreciate the content that you offer, they might click on your profile to learn more about you – and, lo and behold, “discover” your work.

Every time they visit one of your sites, they see your name, your photo, and an image of your product. Someday, when they are buying a similar product, if they recognize and buy your product, the branding was successful.

Where persuasion fails, discovery often works. Where overt (and even paid) advertising is ineffective, free branding is a great help. So don’t think of marketing as business and salesmanship. Think of it as interacting with others on a personal level so that your work can be discovered, and branding an image so that you and your work may be recognized.

Now for my main point: Artists should naturally be motivated to interact with others personally so that their work can be discovered, and should naturally be motivated to attract the attention of their target audience so that they can brand their image (for which, posting valuable content online is just one of many examples).

So why should artists naturally be motivated to market their work?

It’s simple, really: If you have passion for your artwork or book, you should also have the passion to share this work with others. And how do you share your work with others? Marketing! Use your passion for your work to motivate yourself to work diligently to share your work with others through marketing.

Furthermore, when others see the passion that you have for your work firsthand, they are more likely to get interested in your work. (But be careful to show passion and sound confident, but not to be boastful or overconfident.)

Would you rather buy a painting that was made by an artist that was passionate about his/her work, or just kind of threw something together because he/she was bored?

If you meet two artists, and one sounds kind of bored talking about his sculpture, while the other is clearly passionate about his/her work, which sculpture will interest you more?

If you’re passionate about your work and you strongly believe in it, then you should also be passionate about sharing your work with others (not just “getting it out there” – art doesn’t tend to sell itself). If you’re not passionate about marketing your own work, it suggests that you weren’t all that into it or that you feel like something may be wrong with it.

You don’t have to be a salesman to sell your artwork or book. You just have to be passionate about sharing it with others. Marketing through discovery and branding is a natural fit for the artist. It’s just a matter of perspective.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers