When you first publish, it’s natural to make marketing mistakes. It’s also natural for toddlers to prefer to poop where they are instead of wasting valuable play time by going to the potty. Either way, as you get older, it pays to overcome these natural tendencies:
- You only get one chance to make a good first impression, and the first impression is often a lasting one. Try not to make yours with your tongue sticking out.
- Some of your online activity leaves a permanent record; not all of your mistakes can be undone. If only life came with an Undo button… “I’m so sorry!” doesn’t always work.
- An important part of marketing is branding a professional image of yourself. Mistakes aren’t easy to overcome. Think before you act. And do a little research.
(1) Me Me Me Me Me Me Me
Try this. (Not really.) Walk around the block. Stop at every neighbor’s house. If they’re home, spend a few minutes telling them about your book. A few hours later, walk around the block and do this again. Repeat every few hours for a week.
You wouldn’t really do this, would you? (I hope not.)
Some newbie authors repeatedly tell the same audience over and over repeating over and over repeating over and over (in case you don’t get the idea, I could go on…) about their books.
You do need to help people discover your book. But you don’t need to transform into a human-size mosquito to do it:
- Chances are that people will be more interested in you than in your book. Let people get to know you and get interested in you, then when they learn that you’ve written a book, that interest may translate into your book.
- Most people don’t like advertisements. Let people discover your book. You can mention it briefly at the bottom of posts on your website, for example. When talking to people, wait for them to ask you what you’ve done lately. Then they discover that you’re an author. That’s better than shoving your book down their throats.
- Focus on what is likely to interest your target audience, then let your book become visible once they are drawn in. For example, a content-rich website helps to get your target audience to come to you (instead of you hunting them down like a hound dog). If your book is on sale, that’s worth announcing up front occasionally, but otherwise you want valuable content to draw your readers in, then mention your book at the end or off to the side.
(2) Another Place to Mention ME
Have you ever seen a list of hundreds or thousands of books at a discussion forum with a title like, “Self-Promote Your Book Here”?
Who is reading these lists? Other authors who are hoping to promote their books! Why would readers go there? The books aren’t even sorted by genre.
Strive to find ways to reach your specific target audience. And see point (1).
You know what these “Promote Your Book Here” threads are really for? They are detour signs designed to keep mosquitoes out of the park. 🙂
But some mosquitoes venture into the park anyway and blatantly self-promote where it’s strictly forbidden (or strongly discouraged). Get ready to dodge those flyswatters!
(3) Money Go Bye Bye
Don’t understand the marketing beast? That’s okay. Just throw money at it. Money will solve all your problems, right? Not! If it were that easy, everybody would be making big $$$ selling books. (It is possible to become a successful author, but it takes quality content, perseverance, hard work, and a long-term perspective.)
Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and many other websites will be happy to take your money to advertise your book. Even Amazon will take your money to advertise (but there is a $10,000 minimum, which is a lot more money than most newbie authors want to watch burn in a bonfire).
I’m not saying that advertising can’t be effective. Just that advertising isn’t going to solve your problem of why your book isn’t selling. If your book’s not selling, figure out how to get it to sell on its own before you start playing the advertising game. When you do advertise, start small and work your way up, and have the sense to quit when it doesn’t seem to be working. Advertising a special promotion may be more effective than advertising one book. And waiting until you have a dozen similar books before you spend good $$$ to advertise makes more sense than advertising just a few books.
There are a lot of people and businesses who will be happy to take your money, and some will promise things you really want to hear.
Much of the most effective marketing is FREE (yeah, baby!) and it’s work that you have to do yourself. Even if a publicist arranges engagements for you, you’re still the one who has to show up, do the work, make a fantastic impression, and not manage to stick three feet in your mouth while doing it. Personal interactions with your target audience can be highly effective because it’s easier to draw interest in a person than an inanimate book, and this is something you can do for free all by your lonesome self.
Paid advertising for books doesn’t work the same way as it does for most other products, and it’s even worse for newbie authors:
- People need toilet paper. People can live without books. (Honestly, I don’t understand how it’s possible, but evidently it is.)
- There are a dozen brands of toilet paper to choose from. Amazon has 30,000,000 different books to choose from.
Last time you drove down the freeway and saw a Victoria’s Secret billboard, did you weave over to the exit from the fast lane and head straight to the mall? That’s not how advertising works. It doesn’t hypnotize the audience to buy the product immediately. Advertising strives to achieve branding. You see or hear a brand today, next month, a few times this year, and hopefully many consumers will recognize the brand several months from now when they’re in the market for that product or service. When you’re buying a new product, if you prefer a brand name you’ve heard of before, advertising has worked its magic on you.
(4) Hop on the Band Wagon
I’ve got a busload full of newbie authors here. We’re driving off a cliff because that worked for one other lucky author who managed to survive the fall and the publicity did wonders for his books. Hop in!
If it worked well for others, shouldn’t it work well for you, too?
- One size doesn’t fit all. Each book has a unique audience. Each author has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. Tailor your marketing plan to your specific book, audience, and to your strengths.
- Marketing is dynamic. What was hot last year might be a dud this year.
Focus on how to reach your specific target audience, especially people who don’t already know about your book.
Consider what fraction of your marketing may actually reach your specific target audience. For example, much of a social media following may be inactive, whereas visitors who discover a content-rich website through a search engine are more apt to be in your specific target audience. This doesn’t mean that social media can’t be effective, just that you need to find a way to use it effectively to reach your audience in order to make it worthwhile.
(5) Please, please, please review my book. P L E A S E.
Oh, no, your book isn’t selling? Maybe some reviews will do the trick. (More likely, they won’t solve your problem.)
- Don’t beg for reviews. Don’t ask for reviews. Don’t pay for reviews (this violates review guidelines). Do you want to brand a professional author image? Or would you rather look needy? (Maybe you are needy. You need sales. That’s fine. Be needy. But don’t look needy.)
- If you “recruit” reviews, your reviews will probably look like they were recruited. Recruited reviews are likely to arouse buyer suspicion. Just glowing remarks, a lot of praise without explanation, a lot of reviews for a newly published book with a high sales rank… these kinds of things are like putting a neon sign on your product page: What’s funny about this picture?
- The unpredictable assortment of balanced reviews that comes about naturally through sales may be the best reviews you can get. (Now getting a blog review posted on a blog is different. That helps to promote your book without affecting your product page.) It’s tough. Buyers want to see reviews, but they really want to see natural comments from strangers. But you don’t have to stimulate reviews to stimulate sales; you can stimulate sales to get natural reviews. (Psst. It’s called marketing and it’s a big secret. If you have memorable fiction content or helpful nonfiction content and you market effectively, sales and reviews will come naturally.)
- Another no-no: Don’t thank all your reviewers, and don’t defend your book against bad reviews through comments. At first, thanking reviewers seems to provide a personal touch, but many customers feel strongly that authors should try to avoid this customer space. It’s a risk to leave a comment as that may deter sales. Do thank people on your blog—that’s your turf. Your customer review section is the customers’ turf. Don’t get into a turf war. The reviewer will win the battle every time. How? You leave a comment on the review. You know what will happen next? The reviewer will respond to your comment, asking you a question. Now, you have to answer that question, right? Pretty soon what you intended to be one comment turns into a lengthy discussion. You lose; game over.
Of course, you could also do the logical thing and find beta readers from your target audience, join a writing forum, and get your book edited before publishing. You do need feedback. Get as much as you can before your book goes live.
The newbie authors is praying for reviews. Then a bad review criticizes the book and the newbie author is cursing the whole review system.
Newbie authors really don’t know what they want…
Me Me Me Me Me Me Me (Again, but this time it’s really ME)
Chris McMullen, an author who didn’t mention his books at all until the very end of this post (but if you wanted me to shove a book down your throat earlier, all you had to do was ask—it was highly inconsiderate of me not to offer a snack—well, I did sneak one of my covers into the image for this post…). 🙂
A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers