Saturday, 6 June 2015

Marketing Your Book - Early Thoughts

This article is presumptuous, and you should probably ignore it. It's merely my understanding after studying and thinking about the subject of marketing a book – and I haven't released even a single book myself, yet! I'm still in the study/research/homework phase of learning how to do it. So it's rather ridiculous that I'm writing this item at all. No doubt I'll look back at it in years to come, and blush with embarrassment.

So why am I still writing it?

Well, until I self-publish my book (Wild Thing), I won't have any experience in marketing, nor will I know how well the marketing ideas work until long afterwards. So those are good reasons for not writing this article. Doesn't that mean I should wait a few years before writing on this topic?

On the other hand, I am reading and learning about what to do right now, and will be applying what I learn; and the topic perfectly fits this blog. So although I'm in a chicken-and-egg situation, I think I can resolve the dilemma simply by offering this up on an as-is basis, with no pretensions that it's anything more than my best guess.

So that's why I'm writing it.

I was skimming through Rachel Thompson's twitter feed, discovering article after article of good new information (your website, Indie book stores and word of mouth, your expectations, dark side of selling, authors are A**holes, Twitter spam, importance of keywords, 4 effective marketing strategies, ...), and suddenly decided that, yes, I can start working on this piece. Especially on top of lots of other reading (like Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Hurry Up and Wait, Erica Verrillo's Your Ideal Twitter Audience, stuff about “super fans” – Penny C. Sansevieri, Eric R. Hutchins, Jane Davis), and a recent long chat to @Suw. I think it's all helped me form a possibly-reasonable overall picture of how the “new publishing model” works. But these are my own opinions: please don't think any of the above writers and bloggers have endorsed what I say here.

Here are some background facts which I've read and believe to varying degrees, which have fed into this article:

  • Traditional publishers nowadays don't actually do much marketing for authors: they rely on the authors' to use their own social media to promote their own books.
  • Incomes for writers across the board have been in decline for some years; for publishers, profits have been trending gently up.
  • You must promote and market your book so readers can discover it.
  • The best thing you can do to promote your books is to write more books.
  • The best way to promote your new book is with Twitter.
  • The best way to promote your book is to get (good) reviews for it.
  • In recent decades, traditional publishing companies, headed by People Who Love Books, got bought by larger publishing companies, who understood that publishing was really just a business, a way to make money.
  • The traditional publishing industry isn't really all that tech-savvy. They have methods and practices and processes that have worked just fine for over a hundred years. What is the average traditional publishing company's expenditure on R&D, as a percentage of income? [2] (I mean R&D, not development of eReader products.)
  • Enough authors are difficult and prickly, expecting to be treated with the deference due someone who creates whole worlds from nothingness, that agents and publishers have evolved fast-twitch automatic defense systems and thick armour to protect themselves.

Some of those are contradictory, but I think there's a good amount of truth in each of them.

There's also what I think of as the Twitter paradox for writers. First, I should re-state my metaphor for understanding Twitter: it lets you create a river flowing past your door that's full of fascinating, digitally-inexhaustible flotsam and jetsam – nuggets of gold [3] – which have been sifted from the dross of the entire internet for you by the people you follow.

Now, one thing that authors, agents and publishers seem to agree on regarding Twitter: you need thousands of followers – many thousands – to form the marketing platform for your book. [ I am so screwed. :-) ] Furthermore, unless you're famous, people won't follow you without some reciprocity. Yet the more people you follow, the faster the river flows and the more stuff that gets tossed into it for you to see, and the river is suddenly in flood. Ideally, if you chose exactly the right people, you could follow a really small number, and your gentle river would be full of precious gems, each one especially valuable to you. But that means Twitter is providing you, as a writer, only a tiny market for your book.

On the other hand, there are just as many people saying that the way you should market your book is by writing more good books, and allowing time for your readership to grow. Now, that idea appeals to me, because frankly I'd much rather be writing fiction than working on marketing. I'm a story-teller at heart, not a salesman. And although this blogging is kind of fun – since I'm learning lots, and maybe what I'm writing will help other people (so it's worthwhile) – I'd still rather be writing my books.

Partly for that reason, I'm struggling with the general advice about tweeting about buying my book, and running contests and all that sort of stuff. I have neither skills nor interest in marketing. I also believe I can accept that my book will get whatever success it deserves. I don't think clever marketing will make much difference to that; nor am I expecting overnight success. I'm keen to write, so I don't mind putting in the hard but enjoyable effort to create a good number of books. I don't know how my Wild Thing series will go, but I have ideas for at least five books as Leeth grows and develops and faces bigger challenges. And ideas for at least two unrelated books which I think have a lot of potential, too. Somehow it seems more honest to just let my body of work speak for itself, and do (just?) enough marketing and promotion to give it a chance for word of mouth to have its effect over the years.

I'm also an avid reader, and a fast reader. And I'm comfortable reviewing, and voicing my opinion. On top of that, contributing a review helps other writers, and helps readers, since it spreads knowledge of the existence of good books. And once you've written a review, it doesn't take long to post it on Goodreads, Amazon, or other places. Likewise, I'm kind of enjoying the blogging, and if I stop learning much about self-publishing (and so, stop writing about it), then maybe there are still some related topics which I could write about, either on this site or on a new one.

So I'm starting to get a sense of a marketing strategy that may work for me, by playing to what I think are my strengths. And it even includes a possible solution to the Twitter paradox.

See, if I'm careful about who I follow, and pick people who are interested in stuff that really interests me (and who tweet about the cool stuff they find), and if I do the same thing: tweet interesting stuff I find, or insights I feel are worth sharing (or even silly jokes), then I'll be doing my share, and also letting people see what sort of person I am. They'll come to know what kind of stuff I care about. So they'll get an idea of what I might put into a book I'd write. Sure, I'll only be following a small number of people, so I'll have only a very cosy and intimate circle of people who might like my book. And of those, probably only a few will buy it and like it. But if I'm lucky, each of those may recommend it to their friends, and it could in principle snowball. So I can at least see that there's a possibility of the network effect kicking in, and many of my potential readers actually hearing about it. The Twitter 'curation' of the internet might work for me: I picture Wild Thing bobbing along in other people's Twitter-rivers, and possibly being seen as 'gold' that can be plucked from the river and enjoyed.

I'm dreaming, aren't I? :-) Maybe it's just my laziness at work; just me rationalising why I shouldn't put in a big marketing effort. But hey, this plan will certainly give me more time to write! And social media now really does allow anyone to have a reach or influence on hundreds of people; and they can sometimes all multiply together in a ripple effect. That's what going viral is. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

And it means I can continue simply being authentic on Twitter, just tweeting about stuff which I genuinely find interesting or useful or touching; and that means I'm being a constructive member of the massive crowd-source who use Twitter to curate the internet to find good stuff for other people, for an arbitrarily-varying and individual definition of 'good'.

My marketing strategy has been evolving as I learn. I only joined Twitter four weeks ago (8th of May), and really knew nothing about it before then. But I've taken to heart the idea that if I self-publish, then I need to do everything a traditional publisher would have done – and that definitely includes marketing. Lots of people are writing books, and the self-publishing industry is growing enormously, without the traditional gatekeepers/guardians (or curators) sorting the gold from the dross. So the problem of finding good stuff to read is getting harder because of that. But lots of people seem very sure that Twitter was the key – and as I come to understand it, I'm coming to agree with that more and more. It's not the whole answer, but it may be the most important single piece of the puzzle.

Luck has always played a part in getting published. Different kind of luck is needed now: anyone can publish themselves. So it's more democratic, but luck is still involved, just a different kind. Now, luck is needed just to be noticed in the ocean of books.

The publishing environment is changing. It's still changing a lot. My guess is that we're less than half way through a seismic shift. Frankly, I'll be surprised if the large traditional publishers still hold the major share of the 'market' when the change is over.

One of the pieces of advice I've seen is to try to interest people in your book by talking about what went into it: how I wrote it, what inspired me, what I learned. So I'm wondering whether I should talk about Wild Thing in a future post. Would anyone be interested?

I think a sensible thing to do is assume no one would be, unless enough people somehow find this blog and then contact me somehow saying, “Yes, I'd be interested.” I'll simply say the book is sci-fi/fantasy, set in 2060, after magic has returned; and the main character is a 17-year old girl. It's basically the story of how she becomes an assassin, and about the anti-human magic stalking her. Personally I think that although it's a little dark, the main character shines like a small but fiery star. And I think it's moving, dramatic, and uplifting – but hey, I'm the author. Hmm, they say people like images. Since I was lucky enough to find a suitable model/situation that I thought very nicely matched Leeth and the mood of the 1st book, I may as well finish this shameless attempt to pique people's interest by including the cover here. (Maybe one day I'll even reveal the true story behind how the whole thing came about.)

So what is my marketing plan?

  • Be myself.
  • Use my blog to write stuff which is hopefully worthwhile.
  • Open up about myself a little so potential readers can get to know me.
  • Read, and review what I read.
  • Use Twitter to share stuff I think is important and useful, and to follow a few dozen people who tweet stuff I find interesting.
  • Publish Wild Thing at the end of June.
  • Continue participating in writing forums (like SIA at Goodreads).
  • But mainly, continue writing the next book, work-shopping it and improving my writing skills. Right now, that's Lost Girl, and I'm eager to discover what's going to happen.

That plan doesn't sound too onerous. So I'll see how it goes.

Some late breaking news: Just Publishing tweeted this article - 10 Book Marketing Mistakes New Authors Make - by Derek Haines in 2014. IMHO, it's full of gems!

[2] I don't know. My “Google-fu” powers aren't strong enough. Have you ever heard of any R&D lab associated with any traditional publisher? Or read any famous research paper issued by one? If you have any evidence it's something they even think of doing, please let me know.

[3] Floating gold, yes – thanks to the weird science of the digital world!


Hayden Linder said...

The funny part is, the publishing world is in such a flux that even though you haven;t published yet, I suspect that years from now you will look back on this post and say "Dang! I was dead on the money!":)

Luke Kendall said...

:-) May be! As I immersed myself in the topic, I found little or no evidence which didn't fit the picture developing before me; so that does give me some confidence I just might be right.

You're spot-on about the publishing world being in flux. Thanks for taking the time to comment, too!

Anonymous said...

I had only the slightest inkling of the changes occurring in publishing - and the opportunities! Thank you so much Luke Kendall for being so altruistic in sharing your research and ideas. Having been fortunate in reading Wild Thing - I am a HUGE fan, and sci-fi is not usually my genre. I think this is your best blog yet. So informative, and I like the way you write. Blogging suits you well. Perhaps there is a future in this for you too? Karen Tisdell

Luke Kendall said...

Thanks for the kind words, Karen, and for taking the time to comment.