Sunday, February 22, 2015

Adventures in Self Publishing - Marketing

It's easy to get carried away with marketing your self published book, and there are plenty of folk waiting to take your money.  From buying twitter followers to buying reviews to paying "street teams" - with the possible exception of Bookbub (which won't accept you), I haven't heard any good things about any of it.  Luckily, there are plenty of free alternatives.

I'll do the conclusion first in case you want to skip this section - the best way to sell more books is to write more books.  Not only are there more books to sell, readers are more likely to buy books from someone with a larger catalog.  So focus on writing more, not marketing more.  If your first book doesn't sell, write another one, don't sink money into trying to buy Facebook likes.

Let me get some stuff out of the way.  You can hustle around to get interviewed by bloggers or for podcasts, or even a local morning news show.  I've heard that writing traditional press releases has had some benefit - you'll get clueless editors looking to fill human interest space and think "Local author self-publishes Amazon Top 10 Bestseller" actually means something.  All that's fine, but it requires interacting with human beings, something a lot of writers, including myself, have no interest in.

There are also blog hops, blog tours, release parties, and other things that I can't figure out what they are, but they also require basic human interaction, so I'm out.

All the stats I've seen say that the way readers find new authors is by browsing Amazon or word of mouth.  For the Amazon browsers, you'll need a good cover, a good product description, and at least have the sample portion of the actual text be in good shape.  Then job done.

Word of mouth involves actual people talking to each other, either in real life or through social media.  You can't flat out create it, and it's questionable how much you can influence it.  But for a beginning author, it doesn't hurt to at least get your product out there in the internet ether one way or another.

First, some generic best practices.  Stuff with pictures sells more than text only.  Have a link in the top third of the message, and for heaven's sake, have a link period.  I'm flummoxed to see a post on Facebook or elsewhere that reads: "I just finished my book, it is the most awesome book ever, please buy it," and there is maybe a picture of the cover, and no link.  I've actually wanted to buy the book, or at least look at the Amazon page, and so I open up my browser on my phone, only I forgot how the author's name is spelled, so I go back to Facebook, then re-open a browser, and by then I've been distracted by something shiny and can't be bothered anymore.

I'd recommend against using URL shorteners.  Facebook and Twitter already shorten URLs, some work computers will filter it out, and I myself won't click on a link if I don't know where it goes.

Some authors think it's crass to self promote and want to keep it to a minimum, and that's fine, but make it easy for your readers to at least find where to buy your stuff.  I'll pick on someone again: Don Pendleton.  This is a perfectly fine author website, with a biography, bibliography, etc.  This is particularly useful here, as Don Pendleton is a house name as well as an actual person, and it can be difficult to sort through the hundreds of books he didn't write.

What this website does not have are links to buy anything.  Now, it might not be the intention of the site to push product, but it stands to reason if someone is interested in the books of Don Pendleton, they are interesting in reading said books, and are going to likely need to buy them. Doesn't mean there needs to be a zillion pop-up ads, or even a separate "Store" page, but just some hyperlinks to Amazon or wherever would help without being too intrusive.

There are three broad categories a marketing approach can take.  All have their place, and you can carry out all three at once (though you may need multiple social media accounts).  These three modes I'm calling: Announce, Interact, Spam.

Announce: With this mode, you only post when there is something new.  A new title, a new cover, a sale, something like that.  Forget about establishing brand awareness and audience engagement bladdy blah - just bug people when there's something to tell them.  This works well in conjunction with...

Interact: Have genuine interactions with other other human beings in the realm of publishing.  This could be having clever or insightful things to say on twitter, having discussions in Facebook groups or message boards, things like that.  In doing this, do no (or next to no) promotion at all, aside from maybe a link to your blog or author page in the signature.  The idea here is that people will be interested in you, and therefore might later be interested in your work.  But, this won't work if you're also flinging...

Spam: Now, technically it's not spam if it's in the appropriate place, and there are places for it, mainly specific Facebook groups and Twitter.  This is just flat out posting: "Buy my book", over and over again.  There is a right way of doing this that doesn't turn people off.

We'll go over some of the specific social media platforms, but always keep in mind that at this level, you'll maybe get at most an extra buy or two after hours of spamming.  Do it if you like doing it, but you'll be better served by spending that time working on your next book.

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