Don’t Just Throw Your Book Out There (Why not?)

Cross Your Fingers

The Temptation

Joe’s muse inspired him with a great idea for a book. Thus, Joe sat down at his computer for several months, typing up his story. Now he’s ready to publish it.

Sure, he’d love to have a fantastic cover, excellent editing, and effective marketing. However, Joe is self-publishing, has no budget, doesn’t have artistic or photography skills, and doesn’t know anything about marketing.

Like many authors, Joe doesn’t feel a need to perfect these things. For one, he doesn’t see how he can afford to hire anyone. For another, he has no idea if his book would sell; he’d loathe to waste months more time and money he doesn’t have only to see a trickle of sales.

It occurs to Joe that he could publish the book as it is now and the cover, editing, and marketing can wait until later. If the book sells well, then he can afford these things, and then he won’t even need the marketing; and if the book doesn’t sell, he will be glad he didn’t waste more time and money.

Putting the book out there will give Joe some initial feedback, help him build a fan base, allow him to test the market, and provide some extra income that he can really use.

Everything seems to suggest that Joe should publish as soon as possible. This will also relieve a great deal of stress that had built up while he was writing the book, and which became nearly intolerable when he started to learn the publishing ropes.

The Problem

There are a few important points that Joe hasn’t considered (or perhaps he has considered them, but either ignored them or convinced himself that they don’t matter):

  • Sales rank. It’s really challenging to overcome a slow start. The history of no sales factors strongly into the sales rank (which weighs sales from the past day, week, and month). Sales rank quickly climbs to the millions with no sales, then when the book does sell, it rises quickly. In contrast, when a book sells frequently with its launch, its sales rank climbs much more slowly when it doesn’t sell. It’s much easier to keep sales consistent when they start out well than it is to generate sells after a very slow start.
  • Reviews. If the book needs significant editing, formatting, storyline, character development, or writing help, this may be reflected in critical reviews. You can revise the book later, but any negative reviews are there to stay. With only a few reviews, if any are bad, it can hurt the book’s prospects for sales, which makes it challenging to get new reviews to offset the bad one. Perfecting the book before publishing and marketing it effectively can inspire helpful early reviews.
  • Discovery. There are millions of books out there. People need to discover your book before they can buy it. Early sales, customers also bought lists, reviews, and bestseller lists improve a book’s exposure. Perfecting the content and pre-marketing can greatly help with this.
  • New release. When a book first appears on Amazon, customers are more likely to discover it by using the Last 30 Days or Last 90 Days filters. If your book is in its best condition and effectively marketed prior to publishing, you can take full advantage of this. If instead you wait until you realize that the book isn’t selling, you’ve missed this golden opportunity.
  • Image. You only get one chance to make a first impression. If people check out new releases in your genre and discover your book only to think, “Ugh,” they probably won’t click on it months down the line after it’s been revamped, and they may have already told their friends not to bother with your book. It’s important, yet challenging, to successfully brand the image of the book and author. Strive to brand a positive, professional image from the beginning.
  • Satisfaction. Customers are investing time, and possibly money, to read your book. With this investment comes a set of expectations. Whether your book merits reading, recommendations, or criticism largely depends on how well the experience satisfies customers. A quality book with good packaging improves the chances that the book will be read and that some readers will recommend it to others. A book with problems discourages sales and encourages a disproportionate number of critical reviews.

To make matters worse, Joe is aware of a few famous authors who improved their covers or editing later, and eventually found success. Unfortunately, Joe isn’t thinking of the millions of books that struggled to begin with and never overcame this.

It’s really challenging to succeed as an author when you put your best foot forward in the beginning. Making it even tougher on yourself isn’t the best plan.

Whether you just throw the book out there or fight to get it ready for publication can significantly impact the fate of your book.

The Solution

Authors who don’t have money do have time. We all know that time is money. There is also an abundance of free resources to help authors publish and market their books, along with a community of authors who like to help others.

For those who do have a little money, there are many low-cost services to explore.

It’s not the lack of resources or help that’s the problem, nor the expense. The problem is the choice to get the book out there when it’s not quite ready to succeed.

(I’m not talking about the perfectionist whose book is already extremely well-edited and has a great cover, or who keeps bouncing back and forth between ideas because none of them seem good enough. I’m talking about the majority who know deep down that they really need help with cover design, editing, or marketing, but can’t figure out what to do about it.)

Here are some things you can do to give your book its best chance of success:

  • Get the content publishing-ready. Give customers a quality product that they will enjoy, not something they will have to settle for; some customers won’t settle. You can put extra time into editing and formatting. You can find affordable ways to get many other eyes to read your book.
  • Find a way to get a cover that will attract the target audience. It needs to be visually appealing, but that’s not sufficient. It must signify your precise subgenre and content. This has a significant impact on whether or not people who see your thumbnail will check out your product page or pass. If your target audience favors your thumbnail among others in your subgenre, you have a distinct advantage.
  • Research and master the art of preparing a concise blurb that will inspire interest from your specific target audience. The cover, blurb, and Look Inside are your only salesmen at the point-of-sale. Make these inspire sales, not deter them. Study the product pages of top-selling books in your genre, especially those that are selling well without the benefit of the publisher’s or author’s name.
  • Seek feedback on your cover, blurb, title, Look Inside, and book before you publish. At a minimum, you should recruit friends, family, acquaintances, coworkers, and your online followers and connections. Ideally, you would also get feedback from your specific target audience. This not only helps you perfect your book, it helps you create buzz, too.
  • Setup a blog and social media pages several months before you publish. For one, you’ll have content already there when fans check out the websites listed on your About the Author page. For another, you’ll already have a following when you launch your book. A fraction of your followers will show support with a few reblogs or retweets, some likes, a couple of sales, and maybe even a couple of reviews. You’ll also have valuable connections that may come in handy for author interviews, blog reviews, advice, support, and inspiration (since you’ll see firsthand what others are doing). When readers check out your newly published book, they’ll see that you’ve already established yourself.
  • Generate buzz for your book weeks before its release date. Get people talking about your book online and in person. Feedback and your online following can help with this. Find bloggers and websites with traffic from your specific target audience where you might get reviews, interviews, or publish an article; allow ample time for consideration. Search for Facebook author groups in your genre. Explore free and low-cost advertising options for a short-term promotional sale and learn how to do this effectively. Interact with people in your target audience and let your passion show.
  • Find your target audience, interact online and in person, and make a favorable impression. Let them discover that you’re an author. Seek readings, signings, seminars, conferences, media exposure, websites where they hang out, and other ways to engage your target audience. Personal interactions are an asset to the indie author, who has the time and passion to offer this personal service. Use it.
  • Research effective free and low-cost marketing strategies. Consider which are most likely to help you reach your specific target audience and provide the greatest benefits relative to the costs (which include both time and money). However, also realize that some things that may not lead to many immediate sales may have a significant indirect benefit like helping you look like a complete, professional author.

The better your book is, the more seriously you’ll put effort into the book’s launch and success, and the more confidence you’ll show in your work and marketing.

No Guarantees

There is a risk; there are no guarantees that your book will succeed. Not all book ideas have the potential to sell well. There are some books that don’t sell well, where there isn’t much that could change the fate of the book. A very rare book will succeed with so-so packaging and marketing; the vast majority need effective packaging, marketing, and content.

However, there are very many books that are close, but no cigar, where a little help could go a long way. Maybe the cover or blurb are attracting the wrong audience. Maybe something in the Look Inside is deterring sales. Maybe customers are checking the book out, but are reluctant to try a book with a sales rank in the millions.

Can you remember shopping for a product when you were on the verge of making the purchase, where you were having a tough time deciding? Even a small thing could decide it one way or the other.

If the customer is viewing your product page, that customer is interested. He or she is deciding. The content and packaging will make or break the sale. Your cover, blurb, Look Inside, reviews, author photo, biography, and categories are the only marketing you have at the point-of-sale.

Do you believe that you have a marketable book, that there is a significant audience that will truly enjoy it? Do you think it’s good enough that many people will recommend it to others? Then you have to go for it and give your book its best chance.

Research books similar to yours to see what the prospects are. If there are books like yours selling well, and you can honestly see yours competing with those (make lists of things that those books and your book have going for and against them), then some extra tender-loving care before you publish may make a big difference down the road.

By perfecting your book, you will be happiest with it and so will your readers. You will be proud to share it. You will know it’s a worthy product, regardless of its fate. If you give your book its best chance of succeeding, you won’t have any nagging doubts about what you might have done better.


Joe is a purely fictional character invented solely for the purpose of illustration. Any resemblance to any actual author is purely coincidental.

Free resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles, by clicking one of the following links:

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

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Riddle: What Does Every Writer Need to Succeed?


It’s not a pen because you could use a pencil or a computer.

It’s not a medium on which to write because the writing could simply exist in a bard’s mind.

It’s not a brain because that doesn’t distinguish a writer from any other art form.

It’s not lucky underwear because this job is clothing-optional.

It’s not a dictionary or thesaurus; although these come in handy, they aren’t always needed.

It’s not an audience because it is possible to define a new genre and gather a new audience.

It’s not money, as a writer can start out empty-handed and become successful.

It’s not writing instruction; while it does help to be well-versed, it is possible to become fluent through avid reading, for example.

It’s not praise, since although most writers would like it, the road to success is often paved with much criticism.

It’s not criticism because it’s already spurious and not everyone benefits from it.

It’s not an agent or great connection, which may help, as some writers have succeeded without this.

It’s not research, though it can be a big asset, since it can be compensated or trumped by a huge imagination.

It’s not imagination because many writers succeed with small changes to what’s already out there.

It’s not a pet squirrel, yet it’s highly recommended.

It’s simpler than all that, and everyone can have it. It’s passion.

Writing without passion. Is it worth reading? Was it worth writing?

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen

What Are Your Writing Goals?


How you define success, establish expectations, and prepare a marketing plan depend on your objectives.

So as you plan the new year and make writing resolutions, take a moment to consider your objectives as an author.

Here is a sample of writing goals:

  • To master the craft of writing. Spend more time writing, of course. Also, spend time reading classics and the kind of writing you wish to master. Seek feedback from readers. Search for writing tips.
  • To share your writing with others. Post writing on your blog. Publish a book. Publish poetry, short stories, essays, or articles online or in print. Market your written works to your specific target audience.
  • To support your writing hobby financially. Research which kinds of books you are a good fit to write, where there is a significant demand. Perfect your book to improve your prospects for good reviews and recommendations. Seek a traditional publisher or design a highly marketable cover, blurb, and look inside. Learn how to market your book effectively. Look for related jobs that you may excel at, such as editing or cover design.
  • To have fun. Write in your spare time as a hobby. Enjoy it. Be creative. Devote more time to writing and less time to marketing and other related activities. Find fun and creative ways to do those other activities so you can keep the focus on enjoying your writing. Don’t get caught up in stats or reviews.
  • To leave a legacy for your children. Involve your kids with your books. Make up stories for them at bedtime. Write special stories or poems just for them and publish them privately. Encourage your kids to assemble books and publish those privately. Mention your family in the acknowledgments or dedications section of your book. Specify how royalties will be awarded and distributed in your will, and provide information that will help your heirs understand and manage your books and author platform.
  • To gain accolades. Master the craft of writing and storytelling. Focus on perfecting your book idea and the book itself. Enter contests. Learn from your experience and enter more contests. Create a fan page and include a link to it at the end of your books. Interact with your fans. Attend writing conferences. Build connections among writers, agents, and editors. Develop a very thick skin because there is much criticism on the road to praise.
  • To try out a new genre or writing style. Don’t view it as an experiment. Have fun with it, but also take it seriously. Research what you will be writing thoroughly. Motivate yourself to master the new art. Do your best, as if it’s the only way you will ever write.
  • To share your knowledge or help others. Master the material you wish to share. Master the art of explaining ideas clearly. Master the art of teaching effectively. Research your specific target audience’s learning styles and background level. Perfect your article or book. Post relevant free content on your website. Post relevant content on other websites to reach people who aren’t already in your following. This can be an online article or a YouTube video channel, for example.
  • To get published traditionally. Research books that are highly marketable which are a good fit for you to write. Master the craft of writing your book in a way that will please a specific target audience. Make connections with agents, editors, illustrators, cover designers, and publicists. Receive advice from experienced, successful publicists and agents at the outset of your project. Subscribe to magazines and newspapers that are a good fit for your writing. Read and study those articles for several months, then submit your own articles for publication. Research how to write query letters and book proposals. Find a literary agent. Post your rejection letters where you will see them every morning to fuel your motivated self-diligence. Strive to improve. Never give up.
  • To become instantly rich and popular without any effort. Don’t write at all. Get a full-time job. Be frugal. Spend every spare penny on lottery tickets. Hope. Pray. Don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t pan out.

Publishing help

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

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

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

The Transition from Newbie Indie to Complete Author Package


The newbie indie author typically launches with a humble beginning:

  • One book on the market.
  • First attempt at formatting.
  • Just friend and family support.
  • Could use some editing help.
  • Not sure how to promote the book.
  • Very tentative about any marketing.

The professional indie author has a complete package:

  • Multiple books available.
  • Several customer reviews.
  • Substantial fan base and following.
  • Extensive online platform includes blog, website, and social media.
  • Knows many formatting and publishing tips.
  • A variety of connections provide valuable support.
  • Experienced with several marketing strategies.
  • Shows confidence to setup promotional events.

It’s easy for a newbie author to encounter a professional author and feel overwhelmed.

Yet every author starts out new.

(You can do research and start out wiser, and you can start to build a following before you publish… but no matter what, the author you are on your debut doesn’t compare to the author you are when you become wiser, more knowledgeable, and more experienced.)

Here’s the thing: Every newbie has the opportunity to evolve into a professional author with a complete package.

It’s easy, really; much easier than you think:

  • Time is on your side. Improve a little here and a little there, and over the course of time, you’ll have a complete package. Time also gives you experience. Learn what you can.
  • You need initiative. If you’re negative and tend to convince yourself that this won’t pay off, that won’t be worthwhile, and you’ll never be able to do that, then you’re right: It won’t. There are so many opportunities out there for those who are patient, show initiative, and don’t give up.

Most marketing strategies don’t pay quick dividends.

This doesn’t mean that they’re not worthwhile. Many free and low-cost strategies pay long-term dividends that make them worthwhile.

Here’s the difference:

  • When you spend a couple of years diligently branding your image on a variety of online platforms and in person, you can eventually build a name for yourself. When only do this short-term, you aren’t noticed or are quickly forgotten.
  • When you post content relevant to your target audience for several months, eventually you attract a healthy following as word spreads about your gold mine. Early on, there isn’t as much material and you haven’t been around long enough to get discovered.
  • When you only use one online medium, only people who favor that one online platform can find you. When you have a blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, etc., you’re visible to everybody and you also look like a more complete author.
  • When you’ve been posting for a couple of years, you look like an established author who has been around. When your content is relatively new, you’re still struggling to get discovered and build your following.
  • When your blog is new, you have a basic blog with a few posts. Over time, you can have several pages on your website with valuable content geared toward your target audience, and your website evolves as you come across and try out new features.
  • When you’ve interacted with other authors for a couple of years, you learn many useful formatting, publishing, and marketing tips. This helps you improve over time.
  • Researching marketing strategies and trying them out takes time. The more effort you put into this, the more knowledgeable and experienced you become.
  • After a few years, you will have more books out, a larger fan base, a bigger following, more reviews, more connections, more experience, more knowledge, more wisdom… you’re more of an author than you were.

Success doesn’t happen overnight. It takes hard work, motivation, initiative, a thick skin, a good support system, and much patience.

You don’t write a whole novel overnight. (I hope!) You don’t do all of your marketing overnight, either.

It’s a choice you can make. Do you want long-term success and to thrive as an author? Or not?

There are many opportunities out there. Grab them.

  • Have you signed up for free exposure through Read Tuesday? You still can.
  • Did you take up Green Embers’ gracious offer for free indie advertising? It’s not too late.
  • Are you contacting bloggers for possible guest posts, interviews, or book reviews? You can’t do it if you don’t try. Check out the Story Reading Ape, for example.
  • Which local bookstores and libraries have you approached? Put together a press release kit, grab a few copies of your book, and give it a shot.
  • Check out complete authors to see what they’re doing, that you aren’t trying. Take the word “can’t” out of your vocabulary. Figure out how you can. Don’t expect immediate dividends. Strive for a complete package a couple of years from now. Be patient, work hard, and let time be on your side.

The difference between an author who develops a complete, professional package and one who doesn’t is very often as simple as showing initiative. It’s not really a secret, and it’s easy enough for anyone to do it.

Love books? Check out Read Tuesday, a Black Friday event just for books (all authors can sign up for free): website, Facebook page, Twitter

Check out the CNN iReport for Read Tuesday. You can help support Read Tuesday by voting on it, commenting, and sharing the iReport on Facebook or Twitter. Click here to see the iReport. Tell your friends and maybe we can get additional national exposure for Read Tuesday. Any help will be much appreciative. Here is another example where a simple thing like initiative can make a huge difference.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Volume 1 (formatting/publishing) and Volume 2 (packaging/marketing), Facebook page, Twitter

The Multi-Book Strategy


There are several potential benefits to publishing multiple titles, especially if the titles are similar:

  • When customers see that the author has written several different books, it creates the perception that the author is a serious, dedicated writer. When the author only has one book available, the perception is that this is a new author.
  • Customers who enjoy one of your books are likely to try more of your books. There is a big IF involved here—i.e. how likely are customers to enjoy your books? If so, having multiple titles out can earn you repeat business.
  • The books that have been out the longest are likely to have more reviews, which can help lend credibility to your newer books even when they don’t have reviews yet.
  • You can build a fan base among your prior customers and utilize this to help create buzz and initial sales for your new books.
  • When shopping for print books, customers often buy a few books at a time. One reason is that customers may qualify for free shipping this way; but even without this incentive, multi-book shopping is still common for print books. The more books you have available in print, the more customers are likely to buy a few of your books at the same time, especially if you have similar titles. (If you have an omnibus for a series, you can discount it to offer an incentive to buying the entire set up front.)
  • Your own books are likely to show upon on each other’s Customer Also Bought lists. This way, sales of your own books help to inspire same-day or future sales of your other books.
  • If the titles form a series, the further along you are in the series, the less risk readers will see in the time they will invest. When only the first volume is out, there is a greater chance that the series won’t be completed. (If you have two different series out, but neither is finished, this may be a deterrent. Readers may wonder if you don’t tend to finish what you start.)
  • The more books you publish, the more experience you gain, which gives each new book potential for improvement.
  • Working on your next book will keep you from checking your stats too frequently, take your mind off reviews, and give you an incentive not to waste your time.

More and more authors are becoming aware of possible benefits of the multi-book strategy.

This news leads to a few common mistakes:

  • The temptation to hurry. Rushing the writing and rushing to get the books out there, with the hope of multi-book success, may backfire. Delivering quality content is much more likely to earn referrals and good reviews. A lack of quality due to a rushed delivery is much more likely to earn bad reviews and no future business. (You can revise a book to improve it, but you only get one chance to make a good first impression, your reputation is at stake, and bad reviews are there to stay with print books.)
  • The temptation not to market. Authors may hope that the benefits of having multiple books will make up for a lack of marketing. There are two ways to look at this. First, consider that if the books aren’t selling, the lack of reviews and dismal sales ranks will discourage sales even more so. Second, consider that every customer you attract through marketing may buy multiple books in the long run. Therefore, if you plan to write multiple books, you should be more motivated to market because there is more potential gain in the long run.
  • The temptation to create a larger number of shorter works. The problem here is that customers want a good value for their hard-earned money. If customers feel that the content isn’t a good value, they are less likely to provide referrals, repeat business, or good reviews. If they feel that it’s a poor value, bad reviews are more likely. (This is on top of being less likely to buy the book in the first place because it doesn’t seem like a good value, let alone try out a new author.) Just to be clear, I’m not saying you should price your book cheap (most books should avoid the minimum price point—here is another common mistake, but that’s for another day). Rather, I’m saying that providing full-length books may be better than a series of short stories.

The first books you publish help to establish your reputation. You want to start out with a good reputation as a professional author who delivers quality content. You want to give your first books the best possible chance of earning referrals, repeat business, and good reviews.

Satisfying customers is the key to long-term success.

If you have the motivation and diligence to write and publish several books, then you’re obviously interested in long-term success. So take the time now to give your future its best possible chance of success.

If you have the motivation and diligence to write and publish several books, market your books avidly from the beginning in order to derive the greatest possible benefit from your efforts. You have more to gain from marketing in the long run than an author who only writes one book, so you should be more motivated to do this.

On the other hand, there comes a point where the book is excellent, but if you’re too much of a perfectionist, your book may never get finished. The temptation to rush is much more common than to continually delay because there is always something else that could be improved. However, if you’re one of the perfectionists who may take forever to get your book out there, then you have the opposite problem of needing to say that enough is enough, it’s already very, very good. It helps to have pre-readers who can help you judge this (since thinking it’s very good when it’s not good can be a major problem, while thinking it’s not good when it’s already excellent may be an unnecessary delay); however, getting honest feedback is another issue, too.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Book Proposals for Indie Authors . . . WHAT?!


One of the advantages of self-publishing is that you can spend more time writing your book instead of investing much time and effort writing and sending query letters and book proposals.

However, it is still beneficial to indie authors to learn how to write a book proposal and apply it to their own books.

I don’t mean to actually sit down and write a detailed, lengthy proposal.

I do mean to consider the ingredients, think how you would prepare each part of the proposal, and do the research that it would entail.

Why? Because it can help you with your marketability and marketing.

When you write a book proposal, you’re trying to convince a publisher that your book is marketable. Writing a proposal will help you better understand how to improve your book’s marketability and how to market your book.

Here are some examples:

  • A book proposal requires you to identify your specific target audience. You need to pinpoint your audience, justify it, and research numbers. The publisher wants to know that the audience exists and how large it is. Why do this? When you design your cover, write your blurb, and choose categories and keywords, you will know who you are trying to sell your book to.
  • You need to make lists of current competitive and complimentary titles when you write a proposal. The publisher wants to see proof that books similar to yours can succeed, to know if your book fills a need, and to determine if the market is already saturated. Why does it matter to you? First, you should share these same concerns. Second, checking out similar titles will help you see what kinds of covers attract your target audience and show you what kinds of formatting are common in your genre.
  • Your experience and expertise are important when proposing a new book. Not only that, but you must present these in a way that will show that you’re the best person to write your book. Why bother? If your author biography is effective at convincing customers that you’re well-suited to you write your book, this can be significant.
  • A query letter must catch the editor’s or agent’s interest while also briefly describing your book. So what? Well, doesn’t a blurb basically achieve this? Your blurb shouldn’t read like a query letter; they are two different things with different objectives. However, they do both need to catch attention and briefly describe what to expect. A little practice trying to sell your book with a query letter may help you see your blurb from the perspective of marketability.
  • You must research marketing options and prepare a promotional plan as part of a book proposal. Publishers want to know what you will do to help sell your book (not what you’re willing to do, but what you will do—if you ever write a book proposal, this distinction will be important). Why worry about marketing? Because, unfortunately, books generally don’t sell themselves. It’s better to learn about marketing before you publish your book than afterward. You should do pre-marketing, such as building a following and creating buzz before you publish. You’ll want to have a concrete marketing plan in place when you do publish.
  • A proposal also requires you to prepare an outline, sample chapter, and chapter summaries. If the editor becomes interested in your book, this will help the editor see your project in more concrete terms. Why does it matter? The sample chapter of a book proposal should sell the book to an editor. Similarly, the Look Inside sample of a book must sell the book to a buyer. The outline and chapter summaries can help you see the structure of your book, make connections, and keep things in order. It can also be a useful planning tool to authors who like to plan things out before they write. Authors who write by the seat of their pants might still find it helpful afterwards.

If you go through the trouble of trying to get published and get rejected or change your mind, use the experience of writing the query letter and book proposal to help you with marketability and marketing.

Note that Candace Johnson at Change It Up Editing has a 10-step article in progress on how to write a compelling nonfiction book proposal.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

What Motivates Me to Market My Books?

Market Pic

This is what you need to find for yourself—an idea that will motivate you to market your books. You’re unique. I can’t tell you what will motivate you. Consider a variety of alternatives. Try to understand marketing in different terms. Search for a reason that will make you—that’s right, you—market your books.

I’ll offer a few ideas at the end of this post to help get you thinking. In the meantime, I’ll share my story of what motivates me to market my books. Maybe this will help you with your search for a motivational tool.

My story unfolds by showing what is commonly done (that’s what I did, too), instead of what should have been done. After this, I’ll show how I found my motivation to market my books.

We all struggle with this. I did. When I published my first book in 2008, fortunately, I had a few things going for me starting out:

  • A Ph.D. in physics. This expertise was invaluable for my math and science books.
  • Experience formatting lengthy, technical articles for professional publication. I had also been making and formatting worksheets for several years before I ever published my first workbook.
  • Several years of teaching experience. This is helpful for many of my books which aim to provide instruction of some sort.
  • Much passion for writing and teaching.
  • Ten years of sales experience working my way through school; mostly at a department store, but I had even sold second-hand books for a few years. This helped me understand marketing and marketability, but I was initially focused only on the latter.
  • CreateSpace was relatively new in 2008; many authors hadn’t even heard about it yet. There was much less competition. (Note that my books weren’t on Kindle back then, and even now I sell about 8 paperbacks for every e-book, largely because of the nonfiction content I write—many of the books, such as workbooks, aren’t even suitable for Kindle.)

However, at the time, I lacked one very important ingredient: the motivation to market my books.

Most new authors similarly have a few things going for them—probably different things, but your strengths, whatever they may be, can help you succeed. Most new authors also lack the key marketing ingredient. Both marketing and marketability are highly important (noting that you can include having a great idea, good storytelling skills, editing, cover design, effective blurb, and such in marketability).

Many new authors feel the way that I did back in 2008:

  • If a book has merit, it should eventually sell on its own. (Problems: getting discovered; difficult to overcome slow sales rank; hard to get reviews until it sells—and if you have reviews, but no sales rank to support it compared to the publication date, that will make buyers leery.)
  • I didn’t feel comfortable asking people to buy my own books; I didn’t want to toot my own horn. Except for my mom, I didn’t even ask family or friends to buy my books—instead, I sent them free copies. (Problems: initial sales help your sales rank; you need to promote your book to help it get discovered; if you don’t feel strongly enough about your writing to tell others about it, why should they read it?)
  • I didn’t do any pre-marketing. I had no website, no blog, and wasn’t even building buzz for my books. (Problems: pre-marketing helps stimulate early sales and reviews; early sales help to build early customers-also-bought relations; exceptional pre-marketing can land a book on various bestseller lists, which can greatly improve exposure.)

As too many authors do, I just had my books out there, hoping they would survive on their own. I was very fortunate. Some of my books had enough marketability to get discovered and sell on their own (keep in mind, there are many, many more books on the market now in 2013 than there were in 2008—so if I were starting out today, maybe I wouldn’t have had the same good fortune).

Even so, sales were very slow for the first seven months. I published several books starting in July, 2008. One was a “real book,” while the others were stat and log books. I had had the foresight to publish the stat and log books, which related to my hobbies, golf and chess, using worksheets that I had previously made for my own personal use, knowing that this would give me some needed experience in formatting and publishing before I published my main book, which at the time was The Visual Guide to Extra Dimensions, Volume 1. I managed to get these stat and log books and my extra dimensions book ready for publication at the end of the summer of 2008, and that’s when I self-published them.

Sales were dismal from July, 2008 thru February, 2009. That was a long stretch where my conviction to self-publish was strongly tested. Like many other new authors, I got through that by working on my next book, The Visual Guide to Extra Dimensions, Volume 2.

When I released Volume 2 in March, 2009, sales exploded. My two extra dimensions books were ranked around 5,000 for a couple of weeks. Sales slowly dropped, but then I began publishing math workbooks for my Improve Your Math Fluency series that summer, and my overall sales have improved tremendously every year without exception. (My extra dimensions books are no longer among my top-selling books.)

A big factor in my improved sales is that I finally found my motivation to market my books. The three keys to success are:

  • Develop a good book, including the idea and writing—both the big picture and the details.
  • Have marketability that will sell your book when it gets discovered (cover and blurb that attract the right audience, content from cover to cover that will satisfy that audience).
  • Market your book effectively to help it get discovered and branded. This step requires motivation and patience.

Motivation for this third step eluded me for quite some time.

The first part of my marketing motivation came from the big boost in sales that I had in March, 2009. Also, a couple of strangers had contacted me to thank me for writing my books (even more amazing is that I hadn’t provided my contact info, and didn’t have a website or blog—they searched online, found where I taught, and discovered my email address the hard way).

This gave me confidence. Prior to this, I had felt tentative. Afterwards, I felt confident that I could write content that would please a significant audience and create marketability that was good enough to attract that audience.

Think about this. My books hadn’t changed. From July, 2008 thru March, 2009, the first volume of my extra dimensions book was exactly the same. What changed was my confidence. Confidence is something that you can change internally. You don’t need to wait for external factors to build your confidence.

When you’re tentative, you’re much less likely to get the sales that you want to gain the confidence you’re looking for. When you’re tentative, you’re also less likely to put the effort into the book’s marketability to give your book its best chance for success.

If you can start out with confidence (but not overconfidence), this can make a huge difference when you’re getting your book ready to publish and when you release your book.

Confidence was just the beginning, though.

As I gained confidence in my books, I became curious about the marketing aspect. The more I thought about it and researched it, the more I realized that marketing wasn’t quite what I had made it out to be. Over time, I gained a new perspective:

  • Marketing doesn’t have to be done through advertising, and may even be more effective if it’s indirect. People get interested in your book when they discover that you’re an author; you don’t have to volunteer it. In person, you can wait for people to ask what you’ve been up to; online, you can simply mention your book in your profile.
  • One of the most important parts of marketing is branding. It’s about getting the title, name, or cover seen and remembered by the target audience. I don’t buy a certain brand of toilet paper because the television told me which brand to buy. Oh, but I do buy a brand of toilet paper that I recognize through branding. You want people to think, “I’ve seen this before,” when they see your book, weeks or months from now when they’re shopping for books.
  • People are more likely to develop a strong interest in your book when they interact with you personally and see your passion for your book. Interacting with your target audience is a valuable personal experience that we small-time authors can provide. Reading a book by an author you’ve actually met: Isn’t that a wonderful thing?
  • If you don’t feel strongly enough about your own book to market it, why should anyone want to read it? Are you saying that it isn’t good enough to share? If you don’t know if it’s good, is it because you didn’t put enough effort into it? If you feel that it’s good enough to publish, then you have to feel comfortable sharing it. You have to work on your perspective.
  • Publishers spend months creating buzz for books. They send out several advance review copies. Other authors, including many indie authors, put a lot of effort into marketing their books. There are millions of books to choose from. The books that are marketed effectively are much more likely to be discovered.

I approached this scientifically (after all, I am a physicist). I did research on marketing. I did some marketing experiments. My curiosity about marketing helped motivate me somewhat. I gained some needed marketing experience this way.

But neither confidence nor curiosity were my chief marketing motivators. They helped me along, but they weren’t enough.

My main motivator came when I realized how many other indie authors there are, and how challenging it is to self-publish. On top of coming up with a great idea and writing your book, which seems like it should be the hard part, you also need to:

  • Be good at writing and storytelling.
  • Serve as your own editor.
  • Format your own book.
  • Design your own cover.
  • Illustrate your book.
  • Market your book.

It’s a challenge just to be a good author. It’s more than just a challenge to be a good author, editor, formatter, cover designer, illustrator, promoter, publicist, and public relations specialist. You shouldn’t have to be a pro-of-all-trades (not just a jack-of-all-trades) to self-publish a book successfully. But you either need to be, or invest money where you aren’t (with the risk that you may not recover it).

I strongly support the indie publishing concept. Self-publishing offers so much:

  • Freedom in writing (not unlimited, but now you aren’t forced to give into an editor’s demands).
  • Greater per-book royalties (and you deserve it since you’re much more than just an author).
  • Instant acceptance (no need for query letters, book proposals, rejection letters, or contractual negotiations).
  • Quick to market (skip several months of contacting an agent, writing letters and proposals instead of more books, and a lengthy delay waiting for the publisher to get your book ready).
  • No exclusivity (anyone can publish; no gatekeepers are deciding what is worthy).
  • Access to Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, and more (the door is wide open). I strongly support the big companies who’ve provided such amazing opportunities to indies.

The more marketable and more effectively marketed books tend to rise to the top, and the less marketable and more poorly marketed books tend to fall to the bottom.

My big motivator came when I realized that I could have a significant, positive impact on many other indie authors and the image of indie publishing. This is something bigger and far worthier than my own books.

It’s not just me, of course. I see many other authors and even small publishers helping indie authors and supporting a positive image for indie publishing. (This helps to provide balance against those who speak negatively, those who fear indie publishing, and bullies and snobs and such.)

One indie author is tiny and vulnerable. Together we can thrive.

By the way, this is the spirit behind Read Tuesday—a Black Friday type of even just for books. It’s a great opportunity for indie authors and readers.

My WordPress blog is geared toward helping indie authors in various ways, especially marketing. It’s not about selling my books. I put ample information up here to provide free help to anyone willing to seek it, and I have organized my posts in an index to make it easy to find. There is a ton of free information here (feel free to recommend the free content). My hope is that it will help others.

It’s not just the how-to part. I also try to help with motivation and putting things in a perspective that may be useful to humble writing artists who are passionate about their books, but who may not yet have the mindset they need to effectively market their books.

This is my marketing motivator:

  • I’m motivated to market my books to show by example things that other authors can be doing and to share my experience with others. I’m not searching for secrets that I can keep to myself; I’m looking for ideas that may help other authors.

As I said, I see many other authors sharing tips that they have learned. I see many other authors helping new authors out. Indie authors are coming together, and we have much strength through this.

Recall what it’s like to be a kid. There are bullies, there are good influences, and there are bad influences. Just think what a positive difference it makes when an older kid takes a genuine interest in a younger kid and serves as a positive influence, like a big brother or sister. Or even when a group of kids the same age band together and support one another in positive ways, keeping one another on track, and helping to motivate one another. Great things can come of this. Indie publishing isn’t so different.

What motivates you to market your books? That’s the million-dollar question. Most likely, money isn’t the answer. The best motivator for you is something you’ll have to work out for yourself. There are many possibilities. Following are a few examples:

  • Are you sharing something valuable to others? This could be how to lead a healthy lifestyle, help learning a foreign language, or a novel that will help preteens deal with peer pressures.
  • Will your book improve people’s lives through entertainment? It may be a fantasy world that people will fall in love with, an adventure that people want to experience but couldn’t in real life, or a travel guide that will help tourists make the most of their vacations.
  • Do you have a story that needs to be told? Maybe it will draw out emotions from readers, give people hope, illustrate the strength of the human spirit, or help others in similar situations.
  • Does your book support a noble cause? Perhaps the royalties are donated to charity, the book promotes a worthy cause, or spreads awareness about how to prevent one of life’s problems.
  • Have others told you that you couldn’t succeed as an author? If you’ve ever been told that you’ll never be a successful author, that your writing isn’t suitable to publish, that self-published books don’t stand a chance, or if you’ve received several letters of rejection from publishers, you may be able to use this to help motivate you. Where there is a strong resolve, there is a way to overcome the naysayers.

You must first sell your book to yourself and convince yourself that marketing your book effectively is beneficial to others before you will be properly motivated to help your book get discovered.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing); but you can find an abundance of free material on my WordPress blog. 🙂

Online Marketing: Feel like a Dog Chasing its Tail?

Marketing Net Pic

Joe published a book. Sales are slow. He learns that he needs to market the book.

He develops a blog. It starts out small and grows slowly. Even the blog needs to be promoted.

Joe joins Facebook and Twitter. His experience there is much like his blog.

He makes a website for his book. That entails SEO optimization.

Joe includes links to his social media sites, author website, and book from his blog.

He links to his social media sites, book, and blog from his author website.

He adds a fan page to his book to help drive traffic to his blog, social media sites, and author website.

Wait a minute. Joe wants his online marketing to drive traffic to his book, but he’s using his readers to promote his websites. Huh?

Here’s what it looks like to Joe:

  • A drives traffic to B, C, D, and E.
  • B drives traffic to A, C, D, and E.
  • C drives traffic to A, B, D, and E.
  • D drives traffic to A, B, C, and E.
  • E drives traffic to A, B, C, and D.

That’s great except for one little detail: There wasn’t a source of traffic anywhere to begin with!

Are we just driving around in circles? Where does the traffic come from? Are all of Joe’s followers other authors trying to market their own books?

These are natural things to wonder when you first explore online marketing.

The author who is wondering such things might wish to be aware of the following points:

  • It would have been helpful for Joe to do some effective premarketing.1
  • Joe wants a simple, easy, magical source of traffic. In reality, marketing requires work, patience, and wisdom.
  • A ton of instant sales would be really nice, but this is really difficult to come by for a new author on the first book. A gradual increase in sales is more realistic and can become significant over a long period of time.
  • Marketability2 is as important as the marketing. Any problems with the content, cover, blurb, writing, editing, or formatting can render the marketing ineffective.
  • Local offline marketing can be quite effective for many new authors, and this can help stimulate the online marketing.

Think of your combined marketing efforts as an ever-expanding marketing net.

If your online content is designed well, someone in your target audience who wanders into your marketing net is likely to check out one or more other components of your online platform: your blog, your social media sites, your author website, your book website, your fan page, your book’s product page, your author page, etc.

The larger your net, the more opportunities there are for potential people in your target audience to wander into it. Having content that attracts your target audience helps greatly.

It takes time to build your marketing net. It takes time for your target audience to discover your net. It takes time for your following to grow. It takes motivation, diligence, and patience.

It’s not about money. It’s about helping your target audience find a product that they’re likely to be interested in. It’s about blogging because you have ideas to share. It’s about writing because you have a strong passion for it. It’s about marketing because you have a passion to share your work.

It’s about gaining exposure for your work.

Following are some specific things that you can do to help stimulate traffic.

For example, a temporary, infrequent reduction in price or freebie can help with exposure. For this to be most effective, you must build a modest following first (one benefit of premarketing). This greatly helps you spread the word through your marketing net. Price doesn’t generate interest. Creating the perception of value and spreading the word generates interest. You have to promote a sale for the discount to draw readers in.

An advertisement that reaches a large percentage of your target audience can help promote short-term interest and increase your exposure. Don’t focus solely on the initial return. Consider what the potential exposure, if promoted effectively, may do in the long run. It’s very important for an advertisement to reach your specific target audience3 and for your book to be highly marketable for it to pay off. Keep the investment low because there is no guarantee that it will pay quick dividends. Do a cost-benefit analysis.4

Having multiple books or a series also widens your net. This offers previous readers an opportunity to get more (provided that your previous content was good enough to warrant it).

Local offline marketing can be a valuable resource. Meeting people in person allows you to show your personality and charm them. Being able to meet an author in person is a treat. See if small, local, indie bookstores or other stores that sell books have any interest in your book. Perhaps a school or library would be interested in a reading. Find out where your target audience is likely to be and make an effort to meet and interact with them. A small, local paper may have column inches to fill with a local story about you or your book.

Effective premarketing can lend early sales to start out with a strong sales rank and may also earn early reviews. It also enables you to build your following prior to the launch of your book.

Getting a blog review, interview, and especially publishing an article relevant for your target audience in a high-traffic area can help draw in readers.

Related Posts:

1. Premarketing Ideas:

2. Marketability:

3. Target audience:

4. Cost-benefit analysis:

Want More? To find more posts about marketing and publishing, click on one of the links in the Index on the sidebar to the right. Choose Cover Design, Blurb, Formatting/Editing, Marketing, Writing, or Publishing.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Book Marketing: The Power of Perception

Perception is a very powerful marketing tool. Are you using it to your advantage?

Think about a moment where you’ve just heard about a new product. Perhaps a friend told you about it. Maybe you heard about it on the radio. You might have seen it in a store.

You probably didn’t use the product first and then form an opinion of it. Nope. Most likely, you developed an immediate perception about the product. You might investigate the product further before making the purchase, but that first impression is very important. If you had a poor impression, you may not even consider the product again. If it made an excellent impression, you tend to look for things that reinforce this – i.e. you see it in a better light.

Don’t just try to brand the book’s title or your name. Strive to brand a perception about your book.

The first step is to think about how you want your book to be perceived. It must be something that most readers will agree with once they read the book; otherwise, marketing the perception will be ineffective in the long run. In what way is your book distinguished, which will appeal to readers?

Here are some dos:

  • Keep it simple. People can remember a few words; a long sentence will likely be forgotten. One to three words that paint the perception can be branded effectively.
  • The perception should be highly relevant to the target audience. This way, the branding helps to attract the readers who are most likely to want the book.
  • Think about the selling points of your book, but just pick one. What distinguishing feature might appeal to customers?
  • If a popular book helps to paint the perception efficiently, you may be able to do this in a positive, tactful way – e.g. “like Harry Potter in space” (notice that it doesn’t say anything negative about the other book). Only try this if there is another book that’s a great fit to help you quickly paint the proper perception, and if the book is also well-known.

Now for a few don’ts:

  • The perception must be accurate, otherwise it will backfire. You don’t want readers expecting one thing, when in fact they will get another.
  • It can’t be “the best book ever.” This doesn’t say anything specific about the book, so it won’t attract the target audience. It also tends to generate the negative reaction, “Yeah, right!”
  • Don’t try to top popular books or movies, like “better than Star Wars,” or “the best mystery ever.” If the expectations don’t seem reasonable, buyers won’t invest in the book. Definitely, don’t put anyone’s favorite books or movies down. If you try to advertise that your book is better, it will create a mindset among some readers to try to prove you wrong.
  • Limit yourself to one quick phrase. Don’t try to market two or more perceptions. It’s much easier to brand one simple perception.

There are many possibilities: audience specific (a clean romance), a distinguished character (Gollum or Darth Vader), an attractive idea (a children’s series that teaches decision-making skills), a unique feature (like the twist-a-plot idea), a cool concept (imagine what it would be like to…), an improvement (a workbook and textbook integrated into one), or even exceptional preparation (“Judy spent three years doing the research for this book,” or “Bob had three different editors work on the manuscript” – but note that these two examples don’t attract a specific audience)… and the list goes on.

How do you paint the perception?

  • It helps if a glance at the cover reinforces the perception that you’re trying to paint.
  • Similarly, the title, blurb, and Look Inside need to reinforce this perception.
  • Mention it with your title on all of your online and offline marketing materials: end of posts, just after your book link, social media, bookmarks, advertising, press release kit, etc.
  • Use your phrase (it’s a strapline) in your personal marketing endeavors – mention it at readings, signings, interviews, blog tours, conversations, presentations, and whenever you have the opportunity to discuss your book.
  • Strive to paint this perception when trying to generate buzz for an upcoming book.
  • When you enlist others to help with your marketing – e.g. to create buzz or to help spread the word for a promotion – see if this perception can be included.

Perception is a difficult thing for a lone author to judge. External input is valuable for trying to make such predictions. Ask people what they perceive about your book? Run the perception that you’d like to paint by them and see how they react to it.

Some things are beyond your control. This includes reviews, recommendations, and referrals – which can be good or bad. You can get lucky and a complete stranger who enjoys your book may spread the word to many others, and you can get unlucky and someone can strive to paint a negative perception. You can’t control this. But there are a couple of things that you can do:

  • The better your book and the more effective your marketing, the more reviews, referrals, and recommendations you will get. The more you receive, the less effect the negatives will have and the more likely you are to have some helpful advocates among your fans.
  • Be wise, courteous, respectful, and professional in your interactions with readers, blog reviewers, sending out advance review copies, and all of your public relations.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

What Writers Can Learn from Reading

Reading is a valuable hobby for the writer, as it provides numerous benefits:

  • Periodic reading of classics can help improve writing skills. Grammar, proper word choice, structure, and word flow tend to come a little more naturally. The current read may unconsciously influence the writer’s style a little, but the pros probably outweigh the cons. My dad (with a literature degree) knew someone who couldn’t pass an English test. After my dad recommended that he read some classics, instead of study guides, he actually passed the test next time. This may be an exceptional case, but there are many who advocate the benefits that reading classics has to offer.
  • Reading top sellers in the genre can be a valuable form of research. Think about how the book became popular – especially, if the author didn’t have a big name when the book was first published. Study the storyline, characterization, writing style, organization, and anything that might attract readers. Strive to find out what made the book successful. Don’t copy the same ideas; readers may not respond well to this. Rather, try to find general ideas that can be applied to your own writing, without doing exactly the same thing. For example, don’t create similar characters; instead, discover how the author made those characters so memorable, and learn how to apply it to make your own unique characters just as memorable. Consider what the book doesn’t do. This is important because some of the things that top sellers don’t do may have a tendency to deter sales. Each genre has some unspoken rules that can significantly affect sales and reviews.
  • A writer can see what the latest trends are, especially in the author’s genre. Following the trends may or may not be the best thing, but it’s important to be aware of what’s going on. The expectations of the target audience always merit consideration. If a new release is significantly different than most other new releases, for example, it might be desirable to make this clear in the blurb; maybe it will be a good thing, and maybe not, but readers are more likely not to be upset this way. If for no other reason, a fan might ask an author why he or she didn’t follow a popular trend. The author will look a little foolish if he or she is unaware of the trend.
  • Practice thinking from the reader’s perspective. An author writes a book from his or her own perspective. However, the reader’s perspective (more precisely, the general reaction from the target audience) is ultimately much more valuable to the book’s marketability than the writer’s perspective. Think about what’s important to you when you’re buying and reading books. Try to wear your reading shoes when you analyze your story, writing, characterization, style, formatting, cover, blurb, and even your marketing. The more you read, the more you can relate to this perspective, and the better your chances of looking at your own book critically. It’s no substitute for the valuable resource of external opinions, but it will prove valuable, since ultimately you have to make decisions about your book even if you do receive input or help.
  • See first-hand that even the most popular authors receive criticism. No book pleases every reader. Books with hundreds of reviews have some awful ones, even if the average star rating is very high. Seeing this for yourself may help you better learn to deal with criticism.
  • Become more familiar with the buying process. This can help you with your own marketing. How do you buy books? What keywords do you use in online searches? Do you browse thumbnails? Do covers play an important role when you shop? What effect does the blurb have on you? What kinds of covers appeal to you? Study the blurbs that sell books to you to learn what they did successfully. Do you check out the Look Inside? If so, what do you look for? What price range do you look for? Which reviews tend to influence you? Do you review books? What kinds of marketing tend to influence you? Explore the author’s marketing pages and try to learn some tricks of the trade. There is much that can be learned from the buying process.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)