Monday, October 1, 2012

Marketing 101 or How to Kill an Author Without Trying

With my dear Novel Matters friends as witnesses, I would like to formally apologize to the marketers of books, one and all. Bless their little pea-pickin' hearts.

I'm not proud to admit this, but I was pretty sure they spent too much time at the water cooler, if you know what I mean.

I was wrong.

I wanted them to do more, to try harder, to find my unique set of elusive readers. Instead, they asked me to write books (historical romance would be nice) to make their jobs easier and certainly more profitable.

Now that I'm officially my very own marketer and publisher (Authors are and always have been their own marketers, but Indie publishing forces me to give up my delusional dream that someone is sweating over my sales numbers and calling important people to garner endorsements, interviews, and movie deals. This is my job and my job only.)

Marketing a newly released book is a tough job. I recognize that now. If I can make my book stand out among the 1.5 million books released each year, I'll be successful. Piece of cake.

But I live in the middle of nowhere. How am I suppose to reach the world with my masterpiece?

Simple, become a marketing genius by reading books written by marketing geniuses. Easy.

Not so easy. The marketing geniuses (MG) don't agree on much. Some want you to build a tribe. Others encourage building loyalty by giving things away. (Nothing like a little guilt inducing to sell a few books. I should be brilliant at this. After all, I'm a mother.) Another promises making a killing on Amazon without blogging, tweeting, or updating my status on Facebook. Frankly, that's appealing.

Since marketing is the job of the author, whether we publish with legacy publishers or go independent, won't you join me? I'm consulting the MGs and cherry-picking what makes sense for my sanity and my book's audience. I'll be doing this the next few times I post.

Let's start with James Scott Bell's ebook on marketing, Self Publishing Attack! The 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws for Creating Steady Income Publishing Your Own Books. I was attracted to Bell's book because I've met him, he's making a living at writing, and because he says there are only 5 unbreakable laws.

I have the attention span of a gnat. This sounded doable.

I love Bell's writing style. I felt like I was sitting across from him in a coffee shop. He's on my side. He wants me to succeed. And he's a great cheerleader. I was dipping my quill in ink before the end of Part One.

Here's a rundown of his laws and my reaction:

Law #1: You Must Think Like a Publisher

This, in large part, means writing a book that people will want to buy, preferably in a genre that's popular. My genre--women's fiction--doesn't make Bell's list of popular genres. So far, I'm not off to a promising start.

But Bell presents a side to ebooks that I'd not thought of before. Say I decide to write a mystery. And since this is my fantasy, it sells pretty well, and my readers look forward to my next caper. But true to form, I get a literary bee in my bonnet and write a molasses-paced Mid-Atlantic plaster restoration romance. My readers are disappointed and barely glance at my next blood-and-guts murder mystery. Silent scream. End of fantasy.

This kind of genre jumping doesn't have to mean publishing suicide with ebooks. All that's required is a nom de plume for each genre I try. This could be a fun way to try on different genres to see which one--and this could be surprising--makes my heart beat faster and actually sells. In fact, Bell is big on self-determination in his book, which really appeals to my artist self, but he's also practical: "Spend your time developing the books you want to write most, but which also have the potential to sell to a large audience." It's all about balance.

Law #2: You Must Write the Best Books You Can

No argument here. Bell quotes another ebook author, Mark Coker, The Secrets of Ebook Publishing Success: "Eighty percent of your books' success will be determined by the quality of your book. The other 20 percent is distribution, marketing and luck." Bell gives pointers to beginners, intermediate, and advanced writers about how they can sharpen their storytelling skills to increase their chances of success.

My goal is to write a better story each time out. Publishing as an independent doesn't change that goal. If anything, I'm working harder than ever to make my story stand out by investing cold hard cash on a highly qualified editor. The very good news is that I control 80 percent of my book's success. I like having that much control. Note: This doesn't bleed into other parts of my life.

Also in this section, Bell gives the clearest instructions on how to develop a heart-grabbing pitch I've ever heard or read. It's worth buying the book just for his pitch pointers.

Law #3: You Must Prepare Your Book With Quality Controls

Bell caught me off guard in this section, in a good way. I'd completely forgotten about the back of the book, and that the copy--after the cover--is what really sells the book. In fact, he gets into the nitty-gritty of the front and back copy, all the boring stuff like copyrights, formatting, and an author bio. He also touches on the all-important art of categorizing your book on Amazon to get paying customers to your book page. (Next time I post I'll be talking about another book that does a more scientific and thorough job of assigning categories to your book.)

As for covers, Bell highly recommends working with a professional to avoid a cheesy cover. I have to say that I worried most about my covers. When the reader first sees the cover, it's about the size of a postage stamp. The cover shoulders the job of attracting a reader by setting the tone of the story and clarifying the genre in a tiny space. The cover is my foot in the door, so I hired a photographer and graphic artist to help. 

Law #4: You Must Develop and Work a Marketing Plan

Bell contends that every marketing plan, at the very least, consists of a pricing strategy, social media presence, newsletter/email program, and reviews, interviews and guest blogging. This section  made me tired. For instance, besides writing your own blog, Bell encourages authors to make thoughtful comments on other author's blogs, all for the purpose of building a relationship that becomes mutually beneficial. When my release date looms, that author will be more inclined to have me as a guest blogger, and I can invite him/her to do the same. I like this sort of partnership.

But have you noticed how many author blogs there are? The trick is to find author blogs that appeal to your audience, read them faithfully, and yes, make thoughtful comments. This will be my dead-of-winter January project.

In short, Bell takes a mainstream approach to marketing (social media, newsletters, email lists). There's nothing in this section I hadn't heard before, but he does refine and give first-rate advice for success. I'm thinking I need a mini me to get all of this done.

Law #5: You Must Repeat Over and Over For the Rest of Your Life.

Holy cow, Bell! Over and over? Now, I'm really tired.

Not only over and over but more and more. "...the more books you have available, the better you'll do."

Bell suggests short fiction and writing, writing, writing. Actually, I like the idea of writing short stories. They're an especially fun way to experiment with other genres, but would that mean 23 different nom de plumes?

I appreciate all that Bell includes in his book, so much more than five laws, and I highly recommend this ebook for all authors. Thanks to Bell, the important stuff will get done (he has a great section on priority setting) and I may dabble in other genres. Let's see, a nom de plume? How about Brenda Paris? Zaleena Hopstetter? Buck Tumbleweed? Jetta Stargazer?

Silliness aside, what's your marketing plan? Who are you listening to? What works? What doesn't? Help!


Susie Finkbeiner said...

With my January release coming in...oh...106 days, the word "marketing" gives me heart palpitations. Thank you for this post, Patti!

I guess what I'm doing most is relying on my friends. I've got a small army of supporters (one of my good friends is going to clothe her 6 kids in "Paint Chips" t-shirts. How cool is that?). And I'm setting up as many personal appearances as possible at churches, book clubs, etc.

Who do I listen to?! One of the coolest things you all did on marketing was with Sharon's book. All of the quotes posted on Facebook made me antsy to read the actual book.

And, Patti, I would LOVE to interview you on my blog. I'm not a famous blogger, but my readers are loyal. I'd love to share them with you. :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Oh my goodness Bell's snippet advice videos are too funny! Good reality check though.

No matter how this plays out for me I intend to take the marketing part by the horns. I love writing that much and I believe in my work that much.

My favorite thing you wrote in this post is how your goal is to write a better story each time out. Love this and I'm 100% with you.
~ Wendy

Dina Sleiman said...

Marketing makes me tired too. I tried a lot of this with my first book, but between the small press, it being my first book, and the medieval time period, sales were still low.

For my second I decided I would target specific blogs that my readers would like, as you mentioned. And I've decided writing good books is my best strategy.

I think the most important thing is always to let the Holy Spirit be your guide and not to take on pressure or worry. I felt like He gave me a word early on that my career would build slowly like a snowball, and I'm okay with that.

Finally, I might have to explore the nom de plume soon. My more issue driven, contemporary women's fiction is actually being looked at again by a publisher. It has some crossover elements with my historical romance, but if a reader picks it up expecting the romance formula, they will be very disappointed.

Lynn Dean said...

Oh, dear. In amongst the good advice, you dropped an inconvenient truth:

"Authors are and always have been their own marketers, but Indie publishing forces me to give up my delusional dream that someone is sweating over my sales numbers and calling important people to garner endorsements, interviews, and movie deals. This is my job and my job only."

I agree, but if that's correct, then "full service publishing" (as I recently heard it called) has helped foster the delusional dream, because that's part of what authors have been paying traditional publishers to do by forking over a rather substantial percentage of our profits.

We hire people to do things we either cannot do or do not want to do ourselves. We hope that, for a price, they will care about our project as much as we do, but that rarely happens.

Most writers I know tend to be creative, detail-oriented, self-starters willing to invest time and talent in a message they believe in. With those traits, one can become proficient at almost anything. At the very least, we can learn to direct the efforts of a team of our own choosing.

Patti Hill said...

Susie: You're in a good place. With your involvement in your writers conference with the wonderful writers of Michigan and beyond, your army is growing. Good for you! Those quotes were done by Katy. She did a lovely job for Sharon. Such a talented lady! And that's one--count it, one--blog interview booked. Thanks, Susie!

Wendy: I love your attitude! Love and grit is exactly what it takes to launch a book. One of my posts in this series will definitely be what not to do.

Dina: Thank you for bringing up our Power, Guide, and Comforter, the Holy Spirit. All marketing should begin with prayer and a whole lot of listening. You'll let us know what your nom de plume is, won't you?

Lynn: I've been in publishing for 8 years. Some of my writing friends, determined to give their work its best shot, hired publicists. The experience proved disappointing. I'm sure there are great publicists out there who do a bang-up job, but I haven't heard of them yet. I would read up on marketing--become a MG--before investing money in anyone else. Then you'll have a better idea of what does work and direct your team.

Ariel Lawhon said...

Just reading this makes me want to crawl in a cave and sleep for a year, Patti. I don't even know how to wrap my brain around an undertaking like this. Brings to mind an earlier analogy of yours..."it's like wrestling an octopus into a mayonnaise jar."

Bonnie Grove said...

My brain hurts.

I need a nap.

My entire marketing plan was write books, try not to look like a goof in public.

That's about all I can handle.

Oh dear.

Patti Hill said...

Ariel and Bonnie: No hiding out in caves, unless you invite me along and there are three masseuses inside.

Bonnie, I want to assure you that you've more than accomplished your marketing plan thus far. You don't have to do all of the things Bell suggests. Next time I post, I promise to muddle things a bit more but in a most intriguing and hopeful way. Stay with me!

Megan Sayer said...

Funny that you're writing on marketing today Patti! Well, funny for me. If I didn't write books that were so personal to me, so much a part of who I am, I'd have brilliant ideas for marketing them, and some maybe quite out-of-the-box strategies. But they're SO personal! I'm kind of happy NOT to have my name attached to them, or NOT let my friends and family read them...which doesn't really work that well. Local bookshops here promote the whole "local authors" thing really well, and even the local newspaper gets behind local authors and local stories. I'm just not willing to go there...yet.
But, I also don't have a published book to market...yet. You never know. In 5-10 years, or however long it takes, I'll be a different person. Right now I'll just keep writing and worry about that bit when I get to it.

Patti Hill said...

Megan: Taking one step at a time is the wise thing to do, always but especially with writing. It's important to stay present with your writing. When publication comes, that's a taller order. You'll have to compartmentalize your life into writing time, marketing time, pulling hair out time, and so on.

Cherry Odelberg said...

To all of you who are fatigued and overwhelmed; I share your pain.

Patti Hill said...

Cherry et al: What I'm getting from my study in the area of marketing is to pick and choose what's in your comfort area but only after you've written a best-ever story. And we can do that. We'll help each other. Share. We want you to succeed.

Samantha Bennett said...

Patti, this post was crazy helpful! I am also doing the Indie publishing route, and oh-my it can seem overwhelming. I like how Bell breaks it down into five points. His book sounds like a must-read indeed!

Patti Hill said...

Samantha, I'm glad you found the information helpful. Bell's book is a bargain at 2.99.

Amelia said...

Patti - I have a book coming out in January, through a traditional publisher and I'm terrified about marketing because I know a lot of it still depends on me. Bell's book sounds like a great read. I will have to check it out. I'm currently making a plan and it includes many pieces of what you mentioned, but it does make me tired just thinking about it (I have small children to feed and clothe too). I just keep reminding myself to be responsible and do what I can, but that how well this book does or doesn't do doesn't define me. I love what Dina said too about remembering to trust God and the Holy Spirit's leading.

Steve G said...

Do you find that there are mostly readers on authors' blogs, or other authors? How often do you check how many blog followers there are on a blog - how significant is that number?