The Internet is a painfully crowded place, especially these days. I remember in the late nineties when the Web was starting to take shape. There were some basic websites and, well, that was about it. Communication on-line was pretty much email. Now look at us—everyone’s on-line, we’re all shouting, and social media is the main form of communication.
Unfortunately, there’s just too many people and these days, with every one and their monkey writing a book, there’s too many authors and it’s near impossible to get noticed. Sure, it happens, and some authors build a sizable and—keyword: pragmatic—social following, but for the most part, many struggle in this area.
Newsletters bypass all the number games associated with social media, the whole like-for-like and I-follow-you-you-follow-me tactics, and all the rest. (Which are pretty much useless because those are about quantity not quality.)
Productive numbers are where it’s at and newsletters, by their very opt-in nature, cater to that. Do you want to know who is truly invested in what you do? Start a newsletter.
It’s focused marketing: sending out communication and information to people who have chosen to hear what you have to say. Actually, I don’t even like to use the word “marketing” in this case because that totally devalues the point of a newsletter, which is connecting with readers who genuinely care about you in return.
Look at the word itself: newsletter. It’s a letter, not a brochure.
Sure, your newsletter numbers might be smaller than your Facebook likes, but they’re quality numbers, which have more value than just a high like count. The people who have chosen to receive a newsletter from you are the same people who are more likely to get a copy of your book because a genuine interest in you has already taken place.
There are so many ways to go about doing a newsletter, some of which are:
▪ The Plain Jane promo newsletter.
This is the kind that only goes out when an author has a new release. It’s not about communicating with the reader, but simply selling to them. I find these shallow; see the newsletter work breakdown above.
▪ The monthly update newsletter.
Typically something sent out once a month, this is the newsletter where the author says what’s going on with them, where what project is at in the production process and to promote a book(s) or event or something.
▪ The weekly newsletter.
My personal favorite and the kind I run, which I’ll get to in a moment. The weekly version can be like the monthly one, just sent out weekly. Or it can be about creating a dialogue with the readers and talking points of interest, usually to do with writing or books or entertainment.
My weekly newsletter, The Canister X Transmission—presently in its second year—has four main points: writing/publishing/marketing tip of the week; book/comic spotlight from my catalog; creator spotlight focusing on indie and mainstream creators who’ve impacted my career; rant of the week, which is basically a positive or negative thing depending on what’s been heavily on my mind for the past seven days.
I also offer a free thriller e-novelette download if you sign up.
▪ regular connection with readers who actually want to hear from you
▪ exercise in self-discipline to maintain the newsletter schedule, which then trains you to keep deadlines for other projects like, um, your books
▪ an opportunity to market work to readers without spamming, which can lead to sales options outside of the usual channels
▪ a chance to encourage and inspire others
Ultimately, newsletters make the on-line world a smaller place and, frankly, in today’s obscenely overcrowded rat race society, it’s sorely needed. It’s a chance to quiet down, meet with a reader, and open up about what’s going on on your end. And you’d be surprised. Readers respond to newsletters with their thoughts, questions and more.
Beats an overcrowded social media channel any day.
“Wait . . . what?” you say. “If I don’t sell my book, who’s going to read it? Isn’t selling my book and making money what authors are supposed to do after publication?”
I don’t know. Is it?
If you want to ensure your book won’t sell, sell your book.
Here’s what I mean:
The on-line world is loaded with authors whining and begging people to, “Buy my book!” They form groups on Facebook, which amount to nothing more than broke writers marketing their books to other broke writers. They tweet purchase links all day and hit up social networks with ads . . . then cry at night because it did absolutely nothing for them.
How do you get a following these days with everyone and their dog writing a book, publishing it and calling themselves an author?
Or how does someone who starts from scratch come out of nowhere and move copies of their work without shoving it in people’s faces? (And we’ve all seen them: those authors whom we’ve never heard of move a gazillion copies.)
To build a following, marketing your book will get you nowhere. Sure, you might catch a few sales and feel like a success story all your own—and rightly you should, to be honest—but to keep those sales going and to build a readership, you need to switch up your game plan.
You need to start marketing yourself.
Some people call this branding. What are we? Cattle? I don’t want a brand for my books. I don’t want my books to be what I’m known for. I want me to be what I’m known for. When I’m dead and gone, that’s the thing that matters, not how many books I sold.
Stop chasing the almighty dollar and start chasing the reader.
You don’t want to be known as that distant author behind a desk somewhere. You don’t want to be that high-and-lofty literary guest at some convention. You want to be that down-to-earth extra awesome person who’s a familiar face at shows and signings. You want to be that friendly and approachable on-line personality who’s a class act and is genuinely interested in interacting with their readers.
“But all I want to do is write!”
Then get out of the business, frankly. Or, if you must write, then don’t publish. As much as I’m an art-first-money-later guy, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t want to make a few bucks off what I do. The motivation to make cash isn’t to be rich, though. I don’t care about that stuff. I just want to make enough to live on. But I can’t do that selling my book. I have to sell me.
Let me break it down for you in really simple terms:
When you first started writing, you went through a lot of trial and error and a lot of drafts. As you wrote a few books, you noticed your style started changing and at one point you reached that magical book where everything was different and you found your voice. Since then, your voice has been your style. Writing is easier, editing is easier, coming up with stories is easier, too.
This applies to your marketing efforts. You need to find your voice. You can’t just be another author spamming the world. There are ads everywhere for everything. People ignore that stuff. But they don’t tune out unique voices . . . especially if that voice has something of value to say. This is how followings are made and grown. You become known as the author “who’s like that.” Not the author “who’s like so-and-so . . . and a million others.”
I’ve been publishing since 2003, and indie publishing since 2004. I’ve seen it all. People have come and gone. There’s been successes and failures. Ups and downs. Yet there is one thing that has remained consistent throughout all of it: the authors who found their marketing voice are the ones who are still doing well today, who have a following, and have cultivated loyal readers based on who they are and not just their work.
To be clear, I’m not diminishing the importance of putting out good books. Sometimes that can indeed be enough to build a readership (i.e. it initiates word-of-mouth, etc.). But if you’re an author lost to the din of the flooded publishing world, writing a damn good book is probably not going to cut it. You need to get yourself out there and expose yourself to readers by showing them who you are behind the page.
Some writers niche themselves and become known for a certain thing or a certain personality. Others are more broad-brush. Whatever the case, simply blasting ads everywhere isn’t going to do anything for you. But if you meet people, whether on-line or off-, and not just use it as a means to pitch them your book, you’ll be surprised at how many copies you’ll move.
Put the people first, your book/comic/whatever second. This is so important. This about reputation and, at least for me, I never, ever buy books from people who blatantly shove it in my face. I don’t care how good the cover is or what the synopsis is about. As a reader, I want to be cared for. I want to know this isn’t just a money game to the writer.
Art first, book(s) second.
And if you’ve somehow missed the point of everything above, all I’m saying is be yourself, share yourself, then share info about your book after that.
Connect with readers first, then point them to the page.
With so many writers these days focusing all their marketing efforts on-line, they’re putting themselves in a corner and limiting their exposure. Off-line sales are where the bread and butter is at if you play your cards right.
I’m talking conventions, which are basically glorified book signings.
Since 2007, I’ve been tabling at Central Canada Comic Con here in Winnipeg, a giant comic book convention. This show is also a big part of my paycheck, and my books fit right in because I write nerdy stuff like monster stories, superhero fiction and sci-fi.
A lot has been learned about having a successful show over the years. Here are some basics to get you started:
Have an eye-catching display. When competing against so many other booths and tables, you need to stand out. Bring a tablecloth because not all shows provide them. Use signage, big ones, like 11”x17” set up on stands so folks catch sight of your book’s cover or what the deal of the day is. Want to really stand out? Get a big banner printed up, one you can put behind you. This can display your name and what you do. It can feature your book covers, a web address. Lots of options.
By all means, lay your books flat if you want, but if you prop them up on book stands, all the better. It raises them above the table and draws the eye. Simple picture frame stands work fine. I use iPad ones because they compact better for transport.
Have a series? Lay them out in order of reading.
Write in multiple genres? Organize them as such on the table. Makes it easier to direct the customer to what’s what.
Big sales point. Offer convention-only pricing. I do ten dollars a novel, five bucks a novella. I make sure the customer knows the convention is the only place to get the deal. Get my stuff at a store or on-line and you’ll pay more. Everyone likes saving money.
You can also bundle your books. Have a series? Instead of three books at ten beans each, how about three for twenty-five? You can also do a buy-two-get-one-free thing. Whatever works for you provided you come out in the black all things considered.
3. Book Stock
Better to bring more books than necessary. Nothing worse than selling out and having someone want something. With time and experience, you’ll learn your top sellers and will stock up accordingly. For a first-time show, I recommend at least fifteen copies of each title. If you only have one book out, bring at least twenty.
4. Miscellaneous Items
Scatter bookmarks and business cards around your table. If someone doesn’t buy something, at least you can send them off with a card for a potential after sale.
Be courteous, be nice, give the customer the time of day. Don’t be a fake. Answer their questions honestly. Be active. Don’t squirrel yourself away behind your table. Say hi to people as they walk past. Smile. And, please, don’t do the lonely-author thing where you sit there staring at folks, the look in your eyes saying, “Please come talk to me.” Just be cool. Relax. With time and experience, you’ll find what works for you in your personable approach. Ultimately, be yourself. This isn’t a show.
There’s so much to expand on regarding the above, but space doesn’t allow it. Why not sound off in the comments below and exchange tips and tricks with your fellow authors? I’ll tune in when I can and do the same.
Been fairly busy since Comic Con, most of my time tied up in odds and ends all pertaining to this business: shipping orders, admin stuff, newsletter work, marketing, networking, freelancing, etc. Wish I could say I’ve been honed in on just a thing or two this past week and a half, but that hasn’t been the case. At the same time, getting these tasks done free up time for more writing and/or provide the monetary means to do so. Being a working writer means sometimes doing things outside of actual writing. But when I say that, I’m referring to the physical act of writing and not the mental act of doing it. I’m busy in my head all the time–pre-writing, if you will–thus making keyboard time easier and faster when I sit down to type things out.
Anyway, this post is just meant as a brief update. More in-depth updates and book/comic/writing talk can be found weekly via my newsletter (see sign up link on the right). Don’t miss it.
1001 Ways to Market Your Books: For Authors and Publishers, 5th Edition
by John Kremer 5 out of 5
This review is for the fifth edition of this book, though I suspect that the fifth and sixth editions are virtually the same save for a bit of info here or there.
Writing a book is easy. Getting it out there is hard. It’s a challenge for both the big, small and self-publisher alike. 10% of your time and energy goes into creating your masterpiece, 90% goes into bringing it to the masses.
In 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, author and publisher John Kremer walks you through step-by-step 1001 effective methods to market your book.
This doesn’t read like a manual or some textbook. Kremer’s professional yet personable writing style keeps you interested and forces you to pay attention to everything he has to say.
This book is so dense that you can’t just read it once then call it good. It’s a resource, which means it’s meant to be visited each time you publish a book so you can pull out some of the 1001 marketing methods offered.
Don’t try doing all 1001 things suggested in this book all for one title. It won’t work. Kremer even says so in the opening pages. The idea is to cater to your particular book’s needs and find the marketing methods that work for that specific title.
Kremer backs up his info with industry stats, gives examples of what’s worked for some publishers and what’s failed for others.
Take notes while you read it. Even jot down in separate columns on a loose sheet of paper what ideas would work for the titles in your company’s catalogue and mark down the page number in Kremer’s book for each.
This is a book every serious publisher needs to have on their shelf. More importantly, it’s a book they need to use.
Running weekly from May 2014 to May 2015, The Canister X Transmission was sent via email to readers worldwide.
Serving as a source of inspiration for writers and artists everywhere, its impact was made known by the replies sent to A.P. Fuchs’s inbox week-to-week.
The newsletter covered four main topics:
The Creative Thought of the Week, in which Fuchs added his two cents on the ups and downs of being a writer, staying motivated, advice and encouragement, and other topics that were part and parcel of making up stories for a living.
Work Updates, in which readers were informed of works-in-progress and where what stood on the publishing schedule.
Fanboy News, in which was relayed something of interest from the world of pop culture.
Marketing/Publishing Tip of the Week, in which ideas and strategies were conveyed to further one’s reach with their books and comics, and were also advised of some of the traps to avoid.
Exclusive to this collection is a special Issue Zero newsletter unavailable anywhere else.
6. Long gone are the days of just writing and nothing else.
Like I said before, unless you catch a break or find yourself in Amazon’s “also bought” loop and bestseller lists, you’ll have to market your work. This goes beyond just having a website and telling your friends on Facebook and Twitter about it (though those items are a good start). Even if you score a traditional deal, you’ll need to put in the time to market your work until you have such a large fan base you know they’ll pick up everything you write regardless of what it is and all that’s needed is an announcement.
A suggestion is to dedicate at least one day a week to marketing or, if you can spare it, do a minimum of two things a day to tell others about your book, two things that involve both the on-line and off-line worlds. Marketing on-line is harder, actually, because you’re competing with so many more voices. Local off-line marketing is much easier—unless there are two hundred thousand authors all shouting about their books in your local bookstore.
Take the time to set up things like:
– newspaper/radio/magazine/blog/website interviews
– book signings
– convention appearances
– social media efforts
– trunk-of-car sales
– magazine ads
It takes time. It takes work. But that’s what it takes. Simply uploading your book to one or two platforms doesn’t cut it anymore.
7. Utilize both the on- and off-line worlds.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing solely on on-line sales. I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it, and I’ve had good times and bad times with it.
Like I said about diversifying, you need to be both on-line and off-line with your book.
My book, Getting Down and Digital: How to Self-publish Your Book, walks you through both processes step-by-step with your average self-publisher’s budget (a few hundred bucks). It gives a well-rounded approach to publishing and emphasizes using both the virtual and real worlds.
I will admit, however, there is an on-line bias and that’s because of the off-line world’s system of book returns. You can be in every bookstore in every country, but unless your book sells and stays sold—bookstores allow customers to return books after all—you face the potential nightmare of having a ton of books returned to you at your expense.
At the same time, off-line sales pose the chance to make a good buck per book. Like I mentioned about my convention experience—and I’ve been doing conventions steadily for seven years—I net $8-10 a book. Can’t do that on-line because even books sold through on-line retailers require the retailers get a cut.
The following should be part of a self-publisher’s arsenal on top of on-line sales through the usual suspects, whether those on-line sales are for eBooks or paperbacks:
– book signings
– convention signings
– book events
– public readings
– direct sales to family, friends, co-workers, strangers
8. Publishing costs money.
A lot of writers struggle with cash. I totally get that. I was once homeless because of me chasing this dream and have lived close to the breadline a few times as I pursued it. It’s hard when you look in your cupboard and there’s not much there and you have a family to feed. It’s hard when part of your income is walking back alleys looking for beer cans to cash in. I fully sympathize with any writer struggling right now and those who have struggled. However, the one thing that has always been consistent is it costs money to publish whether one is struggling or not. You need to either save up, work a few extra hours at the day job, get a second job, sell some stuff, do pre-orders or something else to raise capital.
Some people you’ll need to pay:
– an editor
– book cover artist and/or book cover designer
– printer set up
– office supplies
– paper and ink to print out your manuscripts
– marketing expenses
It costs money, too, if you want to get in books for events, signings and other things. However, you can quickly make it back if you get in small quantities like, say, twenty books a pop. (i.e. print books at $4 a book, sell them at $15. I’ve made back my $100 printer bill and then some after the tenth copy sells. Copies eleven through twenty are all gravy.)
9. Stick to your own thing.
Like I mentioned earlier, trends come and go. Recently, there was a huge zombie boom in literature and doing zombie books was like printing money. Now that bubble’s burst and the sales aren’t there like before. I know this from personal experience and from talking to those in my publishing circles.
Vampires were huge for a while and those books were moving like crazy. Now, not as much on the whole. Urban fantasy is the new thing. Those are moving like hotcakes at the moment. But you know what? That’ll change, too, so unless you’re willing to write whatever is hot at the moment, you’re better off just writing what you enjoy. While it’s true some genres sell better than others (i.e. romance has always been a solid seller), you’re better off just doing your own thing. Your joy in writing whatever your genre is will come through on the page and make a better book. You’ll build your brand as “that guy/girl who writes thriller/mystery/superhero/weird” fiction and will develop your following of readers who love that stuff as a result. That’s the trick: finding that niche market of readers who’ll support you for each release. The goal after finding them is to grow that group and sticking to one or two genres goes a long way in making that happen.
If your genre isn’t hot right now, odds are it will be at some point. I never thought I’d see the day when superheroes were all over popular culture. Thanks to Marvel’s efforts at the box office—and if DC gets their act together, them too, and Man of Steel was a sign their new shared universe is off to a good start—they’re everywhere, more than at any other point in history, and it’s put a spotlight into my main genre: superhero fiction (The Axiom-man Saga). Good deal for me. I stuck to my thing and now it’s poised to pay off.
10. Have fun.
Nothing kills creativity like discouragement. When we first start out writing, we’re all gung ho and looking to make a career. We’re hungry for it and sacrifice anything to get it—I was homeless trying to make this happen, remember? Sometimes success comes right away, other times you got to toil away for years and years. Look at J.A. Konrath. He put in around twenty years before things really came together. I’m sure there were times the fun stopped and, dare I say, he even considered quitting. But he didn’t. He made it work, made it fun and kept on going. Now it’s paid off.
Writing is an art form above all else and there are many writers who never catch a break and just toil away at it their whole lives. They’ll say it’s because “they can’t help themselves but write,” but what does that mean? It means they’re having fun regardless of payoff. Writing is a source of joy for them and completes them in some way. Whether you publish or not, there needs to be a fun element. Very, very few writers write solely for money.
Publishing should be fun, too, even if success doesn’t happen right away. Transforming a book from a manuscript into an actual book with two covers is also an art form, a fun art form, and should be part of the joy of creating something from nothing just like writing the story is. In fact, it’s becomes highly addictive after a while.
Writing should be about honesty and good times. If it’s not, why bother?
Anyway, thanks for reading my Top Ten List of Truths for Self-publishers. There are more, but these are the big ones. Others can be found in my book, Getting Down and Digital: How to Self-publish Your Book, which walks you step-by-step through the publishing process for print and eBooks, formatting, cover design, marketing and more. It’s an entire self-publisher’s education between two covers, one that covers multiple eBook and paperback markets, and is meant to be the ultimate go-to guide for the career indie author.