Book marketing is tough, especially when it comes to self-publishing. The good news is there is no shortage of experts, books and websites out there to advise authors on how to market. The bad news is that while some offer content brimming with strong, helpful advice, others impart ‘wisdom’ that belongs in a primer on what NOT to do. It takes time and the willingness to work hard to sort good ideas from bad and come up with a plan that is best for you.
But here’s a cold, unpopular truth about book marketing: you can do everything experts say to do, and still feel you are not getting a good ROI (Return on Investment).
There are a number of reasons for this. Here are some of the biggies:
It’s human nature to look around and compare one’s book to that of a similar one and weigh the success of each, but the reality is this is an unfair comparison. Every book is different, so how readers connect with the characters and story of each will also vary. And readers aside, each author will have a unique platform and marketing focus. So while outwardly two books rest in the same apple cart, they might not belong together, and authors should not expect them to perform the same.
Industry and market shifts.
Not only do readers’ tastes change as trends reach a saturation point (people grow tired of reading about X so change to Y), so does the online retail market. Going exclusive with Amazon used to be a golden ticket, but now? Not so much. Same thing with the power of free. In the early days, free was the fast track to downloads, exposure and shooting up Amazon lists. But technology is fickle. Algorithms shift. Subscription services enter the picture. And BAM, just like that, the playing field changes…what used to work no longer does, or the value of marketing a certain way lessens. So depending on when you release a book and what is happening in the online marketplace at that time can affect your ability to reach those big sale goals.
Anyone who says luck has had nothing to do with their success is either lying or naive. Luck is ALWAYS a factor – the right book, the right time, the author connecting with the right influencers to help boost their reach, and finally, being discovered by readers who will become super fans…this all requires an element of luck. Sometimes, people just can’t catch a break. But, that said, authors make their own luck by putting themselves out there. If you want to hear a knock at the door, you have to be close by.
Playing the game, but not getting why.
I know many writers who “do everything right” by pricing appropriately, paying for a professional cover, designing a website, blogging, getting on social media, running visibility events, book signings, speaking engagements…and they still don’t feel it’s working. A person can do every strategic thing right and still fail if they don’t understand and respect that their number one goal should be to connect genuinely with readers. Readers aren’t dollar signs, or Facebook likes, or book reviews…they’re people. It means treating them like people, caring about them like people, and enjoying that relationship without strings. It is about providing them with value when we can, and entertainment, a listening ear or whatever else is within our ability to give.
Being on social media is not the same as “getting” social media. Tweeting and blogging and posting to Facebook in ways that are only strategic, not social, means one is not using the platform as it is meant to be used. And if you don’t come across as genuine and interested, if it feels like a job to tweet and share…people sense it. They will (maybe) friend you and (maybe) retweet because it is the polite thing to do, but the depth of the relationship will only ever go so far. They won’t really care about what’s happening with you. That level of connection won’t be there.
Marketing to the wrong audience, or focusing on only a niche.
If you are marketing your heart out trying to connect with people who love and need hammers by hanging out with golf enthusiasts, your efforts won’t yield much. Understanding who your exact audience is and what they need and want is key to improving your chances for success when it comes to finding readers. Think beyond genre. And in the same wheelhouse, if you are targeting the right audience, don’t focus on too small a group. A typical way authors do this is by concentrating marketing on other authors who write in the same genre. Yes, writers are readers, but at best, this is settling for a tiny slice of pie when the whole pie is available. At worst, you are damaging relationships with your fellow writers who may feel put off when you promote at them.
A sub par book.
Simply stated, a lot of books are published that aren’t at the caliber they need to be to do well. Learning strong writing craft takes a lot of time and dedication. Some writers understand this and by applying savvy marketing to their quality book, they knock it out of the park. But with the ease of self-publishing comes a subset of writers who are hoping a quick upload to Amazon is their shortcut to success. Or they think quantity wins out over quality, and seek to get out as much product as possible to have a larger revenue funnel. But, if one is more focused on quantity than making each book better than the last, the saturated market offers a sobering reality: unless there is something special about a book, it generally doesn’t gain a foothold that lasts. There are just too many other good books to read.
So, does this mean we should all give up? That the cards are stacked against us? Not at all!
I’m no expert and have plenty to still learn. But I’ve picked up a thing or two, so here’s a few sound bites:
1) Write a book so good it fills you with pride. Never stop learning your craft. Always strive to do better with each new book.
2) Be genuine. Talk to people, start conversations. Build relationships and be present. This takes time and energy, but it’s worth it.
3) Only do what feels right via social networks. If you hate twitter, don’t use it. Remember to be social. Provide value in some way and be part of the community.
4) Figure out who your audience is, and find them online. Don’t just focus on other writers…unless that is your exact audience.
5) Learn to love what you do…not just the writing part, but the connecting with people part. Yes, even you introverts! The more you do it, the easier it gets, I promise. And when you connect with people, you find friends, supporters, and influencers, making your own luck!
6) Understand your personal strengths and what you have to offer, then offer it the best you can. Are you funny? Let it out. Have a knack for finding interesting content your audience will like? Share it! Be yourself, and be awesome.
7) Talk to other people about marketing. Ask for help. Offer help in return. Collaborate. We’re all in this together.
8) Try new things, take risks. Look at other industries and how they connect with their audiences. Don’t fear mistakes because they are simply opportunities to learn. Not everything will work and that’s okay.
9) Make it about your audience, not you. Put yourself in their shoes…shoes that are probably overworked, stressed, underpaid and over-promoted to. Do they need more spaghetti promotion thrown at them? Probably not. So how can you use social media to make a positive difference in their day to day lives? How can you provide content that entertains, supports or adds value? How can you make them feel valued?
10) When you give freely, it comes back to you. As self-publishers we have many hats to wear, and only so much time, which is why some authors struggle with the idea of doing something so labor intensive as “building relationships.” But taking the time is well spent, because when you form real connections with people and care about then, they care about you in return, and about your books and your success. Many end up helping in little ways, including telling others about your books. Word of Mouth is the most valuable marketing currency there is.