A Book Marketing Truth Few Experts Will Admit

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:

Unrealistic expectations.

bookstoreIt’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.

(image: Geralt @ pixabay)

Industry and market shifts.

amazonNot 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.

(image: Roadrunner @ pixabay)

 Luck.

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.

social mediaI 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.

(image: Nominalize @ pixabay)

Marketing to the wrong audience, or focusing on only a niche.

AudienceIf 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.

(image: openclips @ Pixabay)

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:

senses 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.

(image: john hain @ pixabay)

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.

caring9) 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?

(image: PublicDomainPictures @ pixabay)

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.

Additional Reading:

How Authors Can Find Their Ideal Reading Audience

How to Find and Reach Influencers to Help Promote Your Book

What Social Media Marketing Really Looks Like

 

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About ANGELA ACKERMAN

Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
This entry was posted in Marketing, Platform, Promotion, Publishing and Self Publishing, Social Networking, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
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Derek Murphy
5 years ago

This is a great post! I agree with most of it, but am a little worried by “Write a book so good it fills you with pride.” This places YOU as the qualifier for “Good” – so a good book is whatever you’re proud of. But it’s possible to write a great book that you’re proud of, that nobody else is interested in reading. And that’s mostly why marketing fails. You can do a lot of fun things to market your book but you can’t make readers interested in a story they just don’t want to read (unless perhaps it’s a literary classic). I think the belief system most authors have, about writing the thing they’re passionate about, is probably the reason so many self-published books fail. If you want to be successful, you need to find your readers and write for them, not for yourself. (Those two can overlap, and that’s what people mean when they say some authors got lucky. They were lucky to write a book readers also enjoyed. It doesn’t have to be that way if you focus on the readers earlier in the process).

Kevin Gross
3 years ago

“If a book is sub par, even the strongest marketing will only work so well.”

I could not agree more. I have a wonderful relationship with a brutal editor, who is sage enough to tell me exactly where my manuscript falls short. I’m still working on getting my first book “publishable,” three versions and hundreds of thousands of words later.

I’ve had to develop a pretty thick skin.

What I can’t seem to gather from an otherwise good article… what is step one? What would an introverted new author with his polished manuscript do to get “out there”?

Kevin Gross
3 years ago

Thank you for the quick reply and interesting links. :-S Obviously, the marketing and social media parts are going to be harder than writing the book. We’ll see where this long, windy road actually goes.

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John Kovacich
5 years ago

I have found some successful strategies, sometimes by luck or as a side benefit of something else I was trying to do, but it seems to me, that every time I find one, some power in charge must view it as a loophole and shuts it down. By far, Amazon has been my greatest success, and my sales were climbing every month, no doubt due to their newsletter and the “you may also like” links on their site. Last December, this growth came to a screeching halt which remained flat through January and February, so I am left to assume that what I discovered was a mistake. Here’s to finding the next mistake.

Flora M Brown
Flora M Brown
5 years ago

Angela,

Wow! You have hit the nail on the head more than once in this rich article. Thank you.

The central theme of all you’ve shared is that we must each find what works for us. For every tip you’ve given, an author somewhere has done the opposite or none of them, and still enjoyed publishing success. (50 Shades of Grey, in spite of being subpar writing, is enjoying unprecedented financial success. This is where that elusive thing we like to call LUCK comes in.)

It’s critical that we discover what success means to us. That’s the only way we’ll know when we’ve arrived.

I aim to live by these tips you shared: be genuine, do what feels right, and give freely. These work not just in publishing, but in all of life’s endeavors.

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Ian Martyn
5 years ago

Thanks. Its good to read something that echoes many of my own feelings on writing, book marketing and using social media (I think the clue to ‘social media’ is in the title i.e. being social). Your blog also reminds me if some things I need to do better, especially when it comes to targeting my marketing effort. As a writer I believe you have to been in it for the long term. I feel my writing improves with each book/short story/blog I write. The hope is eventually that persistence will pay off.

Traci Kenworth
5 years ago

I think you’re right, most of marketing is luck and timing, beyond that, prayers help. A writer still has to put themselves out there as much as they can without spamming or becoming a pest. We just have to hope the characters and story catch on with the fans and soar from there.

Linda Banche
5 years ago

Angela,

I agree with most of what you’ve said, but I find it very wearing to do the right things marketing-wise for years (most of what you say here) and still nothing works. I have 10 books, all sweet Regency romances with comedy. They’re not your run-of-the-mill romances, and maybe that’s the problem. But they’re all good because I make them so, but I can’t get many people to buy them. My first one came out 6 years ago, and I’m still making pennies. I’m very tired of having to put a good face on everything when what I really want to do is scream. And all of this failure has left me disgusted with writing, too, which is the worst part.

I regret that I spent so much time on promotion, especially since none of it has ever worked. I would have been better off writing more books. At least I wouldn’t be so disgusted with writing.

Linda Banche
5 years ago

Angela, my sweet romances aren’t in style now. Now romances are filled with sex, the kinkier the better. I don’t to write sex. I write comedy, but no one wants to buy my funny stories. I have 5 books with a small press, and 5 indie. The indie books do better, but that’s because of the different royalty structure.

I don’t believe this “connection” stuff works because I do this, and it still doesn’t work. And I’m pretty tired of doing it.

Linda Banche
5 years ago

Thanks for your suggestions, Angela. I’ll have to see.

Ruth Kaufman
Ruth Kaufman
5 years ago
Reply to  Linda Banche

Linda, there are at least a few blogs/sites just for sweet romances. Melinda Curtis, for example, writes a sweet romance column such as this for USA Today. http://usat.ly/1uRbKHX Maybe she’d feature your book(s), too.

Linda Banche
5 years ago
Reply to  Ruth Kaufman

Ruth, thanks for the link. I can try her.

Margaret Muir
5 years ago
Reply to  Linda Banche

Linda,
If it’s any consolation, I follow your social media (FB) presence with awe and presume you are very popular and doing very well. You show so much tenacity in the way you stick at promotion. I admire you. I know its not easy.
However, I have a writer friend in the UK who writes in a similar to genre to yourself and she sells exceedingly well numerically, and because of the sales numbers she makes a good income.
She sells her books at a minimal cost but she adds another book ever couple of months. So I think your comment about spending less time on promo and more on writing is valid.
Having a greater number of books for sale IMO is one of the main contributing factors to marketing ‘success’.

Linda Banche
5 years ago
Reply to  Margaret Muir

Thank you, Margaret, but I’m just putting a good face on things on FB. None of this “engaging with people” sells any books, at least not for me. I’m glad your friend is doing well, but other people’s success doesn’t rub off on me.

Certainly, the more books the better. My productivity has slacked off immensely because I’m so depressed. I can’t see any reason to continue with something that hasn’t given me much of a return on my investment. I don’t expect to get rich, or even to make a living with my writing, but the pittance I make isn’t worth the effort. I intend to finish up two more books because they’re partially done, and then I’ll see if I want to continue.

Ruth Kaufman
Ruth Kaufman
5 years ago
Reply to  Linda Banche

Linda,

Are you a member of Romance Writers of America? I’m dedicating my next release to RWA and my local chapter and friends/contacts I made through the support and knowledge I’ve received.
I’m not the only author who feels this way.
If not RWA, maybe there’s another group that’d be helpful.

Linda Banche
5 years ago
Reply to  Ruth Kaufman

Ruth, I don’t belong to the RWA. I used to, but I don’t now. My experiences there were less than happy. I found no support, only a lot of criticism, both because I write sweet romance, and because I’m a poor nobody of an ebook writer. I can’t see any reason to go back.

J. S. Bailey
5 years ago

Great post! One of the hardest things for me is finding my specific audience. I know who they are (fans of supernatural suspense who are probably Christians); it’s just a matter of seeking them out and connecting with them.

JL Oakley
5 years ago

Enjoyed your post. So truthful. I write historical fiction so it takes a while to get things right, I focus on the quality of my writing. I’ve been very fortunate to have my first novel –indie published — to get national awards and then picked as a community read over in eastern WA and western ID. 7 libraries in 3 days. So much fun. My latest just went on a 4 library tour. I try to reach out to book clubs, invested my time at my wonderful indie book store and make it fun, in person, with readers. At each of these 4 very rural libraries, I gave talks on the novel’s historic background, with the librarian’s help did audiobook giveaways of my first novel . The librarians had sooo much fun. I sold all my books but I also made good friends. My novels are not on best seller lists, but they are steady sellers and I’m having a great time as a writer. A new novel should be out in late summer.

Lisanne Cooper
Lisanne Cooper
5 years ago

Angela, once again you have made my head spin. There is so much valuable info here I hardly know where to start. But you make it seem a little less daunting, and I hope you don’t mind if I bug you periodically for marketing advice once my books are published.

Your point about connecting on a personal basis with readers is well-taken. It’s made me consider merging my two Facebook accounts (personal and author) and taking my author page to a more personal level.

Thanks for all you do. Because you are so genuine, I look forward to buying your books as soon as they come out, and because they are a wealth of information, I use them all the time.

:Donna
5 years ago

Angela, are talking about a facebook profile instead of a facebook page? I’m on facebook, but don’t do much on there. I also still find it a very confusing place to be which is why I’m asking. If there’s such a thing as an interactive profile instead of a page, maybe I wouldn’t be so reluctant about adding yet another thing to the too-many things I already do lol

:Donna
5 years ago

Thanks, Angela! I was just looking around on both to note the differences ’cause I never really examined them before. Now I understand the “like” thing. I didn’t know it “opened a door” in some way. I’ll be saving this info!

Sonia Marsh/Gutsy Living

You offer so much wisdom here, but I have to say that your books target and help writers, so therefore your target audience is the one that most of us in genres like memoirs, seem to appeal to. I find that many authors either coach other authors, or speak at conferences to help and sell their books to authors and that to break into actual readers, the younger YA authors, and fantasy, vampire, etc. authors do better. What’s your opinion?

:Donna Marie
5 years ago

Angela, this is true, I think, even if you’re not self-published. I’m not published either way, but do know how important this aspect of the journey is. I resent the time-suck, but not everything about it. I am so glad I’ve found kindred spirits online who I’ve come to really like and are basically attached to in this way lol One thing that helped me less resent having to do this was this wonderful blog post by author Marion Dane Bauer:

http://www.mariondanebauer.com/blog/page/4/

She’s been around a long time, and though she’s a kidlit author, what she says about authors and the internet/platform pertains to all of us, I think.

Julie Musil
5 years ago

Such great points! Putting out quality books should always remain our objective, no matter what. I’m proud of the books I’ve put out, and that’s what matters most to me.

Louise Lyndon
5 years ago

Brilliant post! I particularly liked this…

Or they think quantity wins out over quality, and seek to get out as much product as possible to have a larger revenue funnel.

I have lost count of the number of authors who keep saying you have to have a new release every 2 to 3 months. How is that possible without the quality of work suffering? I’ve also been told that readers won’t wait a year between books. But surely it’s best to wait until you have your story shining as bright as it can?

Thanks for another great post!

Angie Dixon
Angie Dixon
5 years ago

Angela, thanks for this thoughtful post. I wrote and marketed my first book in 1995. Things have changed an awful lot since then, especially (in my opinion) for self-publishers like myself. But the basics haven’t changed, and you nailed them. Write an absolutely outstanding book, don’t do anything you’re not comfortable doing (social media or otherwise), write for your audience, market to the write people, connect with your audience….

Yeah. Book marketing is hard. But I had a discussion with my dental hygienist recently. She asked if making it as a writer isn’t hard. I answered, “It is hard. But isn’t everything worth doing hard? Didn’t you work hard to learn to do your job? Don’t you work hard as a dental hygienist? Didn’t Dr. P work hard, and doesn’t he still work hard? My husband is a computer programmer. That’s hard. I couldn’t do it.” Our conversation went on, but this paragraph doesn’t have to 🙂

The problem is not that book marketing is hard. The problem is when we think it should be easy and try to take shortcuts to make it easy.

When we follow the principles you laid out here, book marketing is still hard, but it can work. And that’s what we need to strive for–not easy, but effective. Because “easy” is a waste of time, often money and sometimes reputation.

And sometimes even I need to be reminded of that after 20 years.

Thank you.

Angie Dixon
Angie Dixon
5 years ago

Yeah. I’ve tried some shortcuts, and I’ve made some decisions I would make differently now, and I’ve learned that the difficulty is part of what I love about it.

I just started a new book called 10 Impossible Ideas Before Breakfast. I sat down with a bunch of blank pages, one for each chapter I expect to write, and just tried to think about what the chapters should be. I immediately freaked out and decided I had no idea and I couldn’t do this. But then I realized I always have no idea what I’m going to write, and I always find it. And yeah, it’s hard, but it’s so, so worth it.

Melissa Pearl
5 years ago

Great post 😀
Stuffed full of excellent advice.
Thanks so much, Angela 🙂

Nat Russo
5 years ago

A wonderful post, Angela! This definitely seconds everything I’ve learned about book marketing throughout the last year.

Now I have to figure out how to target readers as opposed to other writers. This is something that has eluded me for some reason.

Nat Russo
5 years ago

Fantastic insight, Angela! As I was reading your reply, several ideas started forming for how to approach this.

Many thanks!

Donna Galanti
5 years ago

Angela, this is such a fabulous, well organized post chock full of goodies! As one gearing up for a book release I have struggled with much of this. I just wanna have fun…on social media that is! I love Twitter and FB and while my son encourages me to get into Instagram (as my tween readers are there) I am struggling with it. I agree with letting your personality shine through and also shout out other folks – this goes far in how they can shout you back too.

If we are supportive to one another via social media and ENGAGE – it snowballs. I struggled with Twitter until I organized folks into Lists and now LOVE to engage there! I can visit my lists and keep track of folks and its great. It makes Twitter manageable and fun and personal. Thanks for the great advice!

Jewel Sample
Jewel Sample
5 years ago

Your post is particularly relevant to me because it affirms my marketing experiences, which were well learned by the seat of my pants to bring awarness to my children’s grief and loss picture book.

l found numbers six and nine to be of vital importance. I use my training in the field of Family Relationships and Child Development to connect with others. I would also add to your list speaking to target audiences in untypical places. I speak at university level classes to not only bring awareness, but to connect and show students resources available to them as professionals. I think connecting with university classes benefits both writer and budding professionals.

My picture book, “Flying Hugs and Kisses” has been read and discussed in Sociology, English, Infancy, and Child Development classes. To name a few more, I have also discussed my book with grieving parents and their children, funeral directors, in churches, hospital parking lots, nail salons, restaurants, and alternative learning schools. I have come away from each encounter feeling rewarded. Many expressed gratitude for getting their needs met during a difficult time.

Thinking out of the box is hard to do, until I learned that this practice brings some unexpected opportunities. For example, when I hung a picture of my book cover in my car window, it drew attention while being parked at a local restaurant and another time at a hospital. In leaving these places, people came up to me to discuss my book and asked where they could get it. Making your own mobile billboard works for getting the word out. Thank you for your post today. It confirms I have done many things right. I now wonder when is marketing done?

Shelley Sackier
5 years ago

An enormous amount of good common sense is revealed in this article, Angela, along with the important idea of adaptability. I cling to the quote from Hericlitus that states: The only thing that is constant is change.
Putting ourselves out there in the most genuine fashion will provide a sense of connectivity and fulfillment, and that in turn may just equate to a few more interested parties hungering to hear what you have to say.
Cheers

Judy Baker
5 years ago

Thanks for sharing. I need to reread you blog and make notes to continue in that direction.