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

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READING, WRITING, AND BUSINESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It happens. Too often, it happens.

Of course, it happens with books, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INDIRECT BOOK MARKETING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARKETING BEGINS WITH THE CONTENT AND WORKS ITS WAY OUTWARD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A SAMPLE OF MARKETING IDEAS

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

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

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

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

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

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

(In a good way.)

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

GIVE KARMA A CHANCE

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

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

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

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

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

Plus, you get to do a good deed.

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

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

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

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

Authorpreneur vs. Writing Artist

Authorpreneur

Authorpreneur

All authors—indie and traditionally published—are being labeled with this new term, authorpreneur.

This is easier to see for the indie author, who must not only write the book, but must also arrange the editing, formatting, cover design, publishing, and marketing. However, the term also applies to traditionally published authors, who write query letters and book proposals, still need to market their books, and have a better chance of getting published if they tailor the book to the needs of an audience.

There is a growing perception that an author must write and function like a businessperson in order to succeed as a writer. Publishers are in the business of writing: They want ideas that will sell. Even the indie author may perceive writing as a business, feeling that’s what it takes to sell books.

Writing Artist

Let’s look at the other extreme—the author who writes passionately without regard for sales. In the utter extreme, the author doesn’t write for an audience, but for his or her own reasons. This author is driven by passion, not business. Getting the book right, carrying out the author’s vision… this author cares for this more than sales. Yes, this author would like to share his or her passion. This author won’t give the book away for free because he or she wants the work to be valued, yet this author is driven by the art of writing, not the royalties.

Which Are You?

Most authors probably aren’t extreme authorpreneurs—focused solely on business—or extreme writing artists—completely disregarding the business aspect. You might feel like you fall somewhere in between, and presently you’re trying to gauge which way you lean and how far.

Would you like to write as a businessperson or as a writing artist?

Most authors feel that they must do one of the following:

  • Sell out, so to speak, writing for business rather than pleasure.
  • Write as an artist and then publish and market as a businessperson, sort of combining the two aspects.
  • Write purely for pleasure; don’t worry about the business side at all.

However, there is another important option that most authors don’t consider.

The Art of Success

You don’t have to turn your art into a business. Instead, you can turn the business into an art.

Here’s what I mean: View marketing not as a business strategy, but as a means of sharing your passion with others. Put your imagination into it and carry out your marketing as an artist. Just like you write with passion as an artist, find a way to feel like an artist when you market your work and become passionate about marketing as a way to share your writing with readers.

It’s a matter of perspective. Consider the following definitions.

Perspective

book

  • business: a product designed to create profit.
  • art: ideas fueled by passion and crafted by a wordsmith.

cover design

  • business: a tool that helps direct traffic to your book’s product page.
  • art: a reflection of your work that helps readers find what you so passionately wrote.

editing

  • business: reshaping an idea to sell better.
  • art: perfecting the art and craftsmanship to get it right.

formatting

  • business: improving the design of a book to attract more customers.
  • art: visually complementing the beauty of the writing.

marketing

  • business: strategies for delivering the product to the target audience.
  • art: motivating yourself to share your passionate creation with others.

Readers, too

As a reader, would you rather read a book that was written for an audience and designed to sell or would you rather read a book that was fueled by passion and shared passionately?

Of course, the question is never put like this. However, as a reader you do buy books. When you buy books that were written and published under a business model, you support the perception that writing should be a business. When you buy books that were written by artists and craftsmen, you support the perception that writing should be an art or craft.

The choice is yours. Each purchase counts as a vote.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing 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.

Authors, Don’t Write Books; Create a Whole New World

Image of Mars from NASA.

Image of Mars from NASA.

People don’t buy books. People buy the experience that a story provides.

So authors shouldn’t write books, and they shouldn’t market books. Authors should create a whole new world, and they should market the experience of visiting that world.

Don’t think of your book as a book. Think of the story as one part of the world that you created.

Don’t think of how to market your book. Think of how to get people interested in your world.

The world you create is far more than a mere book. It’s the world, not the book, which people want.

How do you do this?

  • Give your world life before your book is published. Spread the word about the world you are creating. Create buzz for it. Reveal the cover, blurb, and sample chapter in advance.
  • Design striking, relevant images for your cover, blog, social media pages, website, bookmarks, business cards, brochures, PR kit, all your online activity, and all your printed materials. These materials come in different sizes, so you need a flexible design. All the products should fit together. They don’t all have to be exactly the same, but it should be immediately obvious that they match. Everything prospective shoppers, readers, and fans see are a visual representation of your book.
  • Supplement your book with additional material. Post free bonus content on your website or an email newsletter to give fans an incentive to stay in touch. This might include maps, character sketches, or short stories or poems, for example. Not everything has to be free. For example, you can sell a short story that relates to your book.
  • The great thing about a series is that the world can last well beyond just one book. It also helps you create anticipation for each book in the series and steadily grow a following. You can make the first e-book permanently free or 99 cents to help lure readers into your world. An omnibus with significant savings can entice readers to buy the whole world all in one shot.
  • Sell, give away, or hold contests for additional products like bookmarks, special editions, t-shirts, buttons, or maps.
  • Create a highly marketable world and it will help attract visitors to your world. Some ideas are more marketable than others. Some writing is more pleasing than others. The packaging—cover, blurb, and Look Inside—are also very important in attracting attention to your world.
  • Find your target audience—especially, people who aren’t already in your following—in person and online, interact with them, and show them the benefits that your world has to offer. You’re not selling a book, but a roundtrip ticket to paradise. Introduce people to your world. Create a video trailer that depicts your world visually.

Self-publishing world

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.

Turning Pro: Taking Indie Authorship to the Next Level

Pro

You would like to start out looking like a pro.

Many wise authors strive for this:

  • Searching for similar titles to see what may be highly marketable.
  • Asking experienced authors, editors, publicists, and small publishers for advice.
  • Doing research on writing, formatting, publishing, and marketing.
  • Trying to build a following before publishing.
  • Joining a writing group to improve as a writer.
  • Receiving ample feedback from the target audience.
  • Hiring a cover designer and editor.
  • Building buzz prior to a book’s release.
  • Writing a press release and distributing it to the media.

These are great things to do, and they can help immensely.

Yet, no matter how hard you try to nail your first book, you always improve and grow as an author:

  • After establishing yourself as an author, you have a fan base to work with and toward.
  • You find yourself reading a book, wondering why you didn’t think of that, or something you see triggers a design idea for your book.
  • A reader provides a helpful suggestion that you hadn’t considered.
  • You come across publishing tips you wish you’d known previously.
  • Once you have enough books out, you may start thinking more and more about becoming a small publisher.
  • New connections may open new possibilities for your books.

Unless your book is free or you donate 100% of the proceeds to charity, then technically you’re a professional author. But that’s not what I mean by professional. Rather, there comes a point in every writer’s career where you feel that you’ve made the transition from amateurish to professional. When you’re more experienced, wiser, and your writing has matured, you realize you’ve made some transition. This probably doesn’t happen just once, but several times over the course of writing.

Another thing I don’t mean is any distinction between indie and traditional authors. More and more traditional authors are also indie publishing, often with a pen name, which really blurs any line you might want to draw between them. It’s not how you publish that matters most to a reader, but how professional the book is. There are different degrees of professionalism even within traditionally published books.

As you grow as an author and strive to become more professional, here are some of the things you might consider:

  • ISBN options. When you start out, it’s hard to invest more than about $10 in an ISBN option. As your sales grow, you start to consider buying a block of ISBN’s. For example, in the US Bowker offers 10 for $250 or 100 for $575. As you start to think of developing a serious imprint and expanding your distribution options, this might fit your needs.
  • Professional websites. You may want something that looks more like a website and less like a blog. You might want your own domain name. You may add a site for your book and another for your imprint. At Facebook, you may add an author page or book page. If you create a Facebook page (i.e. more than just a Facebook account), it will have a Like option, and if you feed your WordPress blog into Facebook (but beware of this issue), those Facebook page Likes add to your follower tally (so do Twitter Follows if you feed your blog into Twitter). From your Facebook home, find the Create a Page option on the bottom-left. For an author page, click Artist, Band, or Public Figure; one of the options is author. (You can also make a page for your book by selecting Entertainment.)
  • Professional help. As your sales grow, you might consider investing more on cover design or editing, or even interior design. Although I’ve enjoyed designing my books, I’ve found a cover designer and had covers made for my most recent books and works in progress. I like the new covers much better, so I’m very pleased with this decision. I’ve also purchased illustrations and designs for book interiors.
  • Advertising. It’s difficult to invest in advertising when you’re starting out. There is a huge risk that you won’t recover your investment. You wish you could throw a little money out there to relieve you of the need to market your books, but it doesn’t work out that way. But once you’ve achieved some degree of success, you can better gauge your book’s marketability, you know you will have some initial support, and your current royalties can help cover your investment. You may be looking for ways that an advertisement can complement your marketing, such as a paid advertisement for a one-day book promotion.
  • Giving back. When you start out, you need a lot of help. As you gain experience, you have more knowledge to share and need less help. You might pay it forward, helping new authors through blog posts or who approach you with questions (whereas most people don’t like unsolicited advice). As you become more efficient with your own marketing, you might help a little to promote up-and-coming new authors whose work you like.

I’m presently collaborating on a publishing project with other authors to create a new series of math and writing workbooks. There is a creative element that will hopefully help engage children in learning fundamental skills. We’re getting professional covers for the series and professional illustrations for the interiors. We have a logo. We’ll use an imprint and purchase ISBN’s. We’ll be setting up a website. Our goal is to create a professional series of math and writing workbooks that meet the needs of students, parents, homeschoolers, and teachers.

Maybe a traditional publisher would like to have this series. But we’re indie all the way. 🙂

We’re hoping to launch the series in the spring or summer of 2014.

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