Promotion Paradoxes

Unlike advice about how to write, I have no desire to quibble with advice on how to market or promote books. Social media, paid advertising, giveaways, email lists, etc. I have nothing to say about any of them.

BUT: must every indie author even worry about marketing? Consider the following questions:

  • Do you see marketing as part of the same exciting creative process as writing?
  • Do you think of marketing as a tough challenge to whet your mettle?
  • Is marketing a kind of hair shirt you have to wear to expiate your writing habit?
  • Maybe marketing is a form of torture you wouldn’t inflict on your worst enemy?
  • Or perhaps you see marketing as a waste of valuable writing time.

Just about every author who says they love writing, just have to write, will stop writing only when they die, also says they hate marketing, but they have to do it if they want people to buy and read their books. Otherwise, what’s the point of writing and publishing them?

Even authors who have embraced marketing don’t seem to have found the magic bullet. Some report success with a specific form of paid advertising; others say it absolutely didn’t work for them. Solutions that worked a few years ago no longer do. My impression is that it’s pretty much a crap shoot, and can be expensive.

Here are my unvarnished (and unjustified) thoughts:

On the one hand, I hear that prospective purchasers must see a product (i.e., a book) a minimum of 7 times before they decide to buy. On the other hand, you shouldn’t constantly promote your books via social media. For me, the more times I see a book being touted, the less interested I am in buying it. Why? I have no idea. Maybe it relates to my attitude toward TV commercials. The first time: Oh, how funny! Second time: Still funny. Third time: Oh, here’s that again. Fourth time: Man, this is getting old. Fifth time: I’m getting to dislike this intensely. Sixth time: Aargh, not this stupid thing again! Seventh time: Click off. (Full disclosure: I haven’t actually watched TV since 1992.)

I hate advertising. Why should I inflict it on others?

You must promote. But you must do it indirectly, by engaging prospective purchasers with your personal charm (and brand). They’ll be so intrigued by you and your ideas and your way of expressing them, they’ll hasten to buy your books. Well, maybe…

Writers’ blogs (and maybe social media) attract mostly other writers. There are fewer writers out there than readers (although that might be hard to believe), so you really ought to attract readers. The trouble is, readers are too diverse to attract as a block. So you have to target by genre. But what if your books are in multiple genres or mashed up genres, or no identifiable genre?

A blog isn’t enough. You need to publish a newsletter. The point of the newsletter is to build an email list. Then you send your newsletter to the people on the list. Of course, they have to sign up for the newsletter. As bait, you offer one of your books, or at least a short story, for free. But I hear the trick is to retain the signups after they collect the freebie. And anyway, no one reads free books. I have no time to read the newsletters I seem to have signed up for. Why should I expect anyone to read mine (if I published one, which I don’t)?

Besides, I already have a blog. Why should I also produce a newsletter?

Here is my take on an indie book marketing decision path:

  1. Decide if you really want to market your book(s)
  2. But don’t believe you have to
  3. If you want to sell more than a few dozen books a year, you probably do have to market
  4. In that case, figure out what avenues suit you
  5. If none of them suits, you’re not going to achieve those sales
  6. So suck that up, and either quit publishing or live with lower sales
  7. Review your reasons for writing and/or publishing
  8. If writing gives you joy, write
  9. If publishing gives you joy, publish
  10. If marketing gives you joy, market
  11. If any of 8 through 10 give you grief instead of joy, don’t do them.

This is my last word on marketing.

Does anyone have any thoughts about book marketing, or experiences they wish to share?

63 comments

  1. I have not yet written down my dream book, but I find marketing to be quite fun. Just the previous year, my mum started her own bakery. I enjoyed creating digital flyers, short videos, and spreading the word. You just have to master the algorithm on whatever platform you are on, and you shall succeed. Many authors who have sent me review copies, do a mistake. They believe the crowd will start coming to their blogs/websites on its own!
    PS – I too have given up on TV. Not watched it for the past 2 years.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I don’t understand the push for authors to send out newsletters. I like reading authors’ blogs better. Blogs are interactive. I can mouth off or cheer on. Newsletters just . . . are there.

    Perhaps it matters more for other newsletter readers because it’s an email notification that they can’t ignore, but since I get all my newsletter AND blog notifications through my email, it’s all the same to me.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. There are about 4 newsletters that I care about and that I do notice when they hit my inbox. I even flag them for later reading. Most of the time I rarely get around to reading them. I enjoy them when I do. However. Comma. 😆
        So whenever I read advice about doing newsletters I think of my own non-reading of newsletters and figure more people are like me than not and so far I have refrained from adding to the newsletter glut.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Createspace published my cartoon book. An attempt at marketing was notification to Facebook and WordPress , Linkedin and Twitter followers in the hope they would repost and begin a network of notifications. Nobody interested in merely doing that. Another problem is that full-color cartoon paperbacks cost almost $15 to set up and produce, give createspace and amazon their cut of sales and wanted a mere 80 cents royalty above that (print on demand) but that price doesn’t interest anyone either.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I refuse to waste money on paid advertising, but I do use free social media. There is quite a writers’ community on Twitter, and I’ve been using the Twitter writers’ hashtags for years. Lately I’ve been having a blitz of specials. Every since June, I’ve been reducing the price of one or two of my books to 99c for a week, and then I promote it on the hashtags and on Twitter in general (and also on the writers’ promo groups on Facebook). I try to be funny and use my “personal charm” (as you said). I’ve certainly made myself more widely known and attracted a increasing group of quite loyal followers. And I have actually sold a few books over the last months that I’m sure I wouldn’t have sold otherwise. It’s a drop in the bucket of what I would like to sell, but it’s something, and it’s actually kind of fun and doesn’t take too much time or effort.
    As for newsletters, I don’t publish any, and I never subscribe to them. I get enough junk mail in my inbox without working at it.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. When I published my first book in 2015 I decided that I didn’t want to A) spend money, and B) self-promote my work, since I’m cheap and shy. I also figured that since I was writing books I liked but were not being published these days, the market for them would be small, meaning that spending money promoting them would be like tossing coins down a wishing well. But I did sort of want them read, so I made them virtual library books by offering them for free where I could. The odd Amazon sales pays my very minor expenses so, I’m not spending money, and I don’t have to tell everyone how great they are. Readers can easily sample them and find that out by themselves. I will say this, I don’t think giving books away translates into paid sales, so free isn’t a good way to promote sales. Just readership.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. LOL I just realized that if you click on the link that takes you to my blog, you’ll see that I entered one of my books in the Self Published Science Fiction Contest as a way of promoting my work, so I guess I am willing to do a little self-promoting… If it costs me nothing.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I’m that way too, but there is a kind of inertia that has to be overcome. If I see entering a contest or some other effort as an exciting challenge rather than a daunting slog, I’ll go for it, but it doesn’t happen very often. The other side of this is not to whine at the somewhat predictable results.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. If I ever write something worth promoting, I’ll promote it. Maybe.
    Frankly, I’d probably just publish it and hope someone with station and power discovers it and quotes it on Rick & Morty.

    AI is gonna start remaking much of this literary machine here soon. We’ll have AI writing and AI buying and humans can just order doordash and eat Cheetos flavored doughnuts.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In America there’s been an attitude of “go big or quit” – i.e. hit the top ten of the NYT Bestsellers list or else you fail. I think that’s a very harmful attitude and most marketing advice columns promote that attitude. For me I have different
    approach: What if writing, publishing and marketing-just-enough-so-people-you-care-about-can-find-you is simply a way to connect and share with people – not a marketing/money/status numbers game? What if writing and publishing were viewed more like a friendly potluck party rather than a winner-take-all competition? What if writing and publishing -particularly selfpublishing- is a way to stay in contact with friends and family in far-flung places, ways to give love and support in Covid19 safe ways?
    These questions and this attitude of mine comes from a fine-art place – where paintings are one of a kind, and typically seen only by a few people. I approach writing and publishing as fine art and that informs my attitude towards marketing in general. Quality not quantity.
    My opinions and a ceramic mug may hold the coffee – I suspect the mug matters more. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love your description of what writing and publishing could be, Sue. I think something like that is emerging among the writers whose blogs I read; we are each others’ readers. No one is getting rich monetarily, but there’s definitely an atmosphere of sharing and appreciation. As someone else said, it’s being read that’s important, not the pennies we earn.
      Thanks for your thoughts!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. And thank you for sharing your thoughts!! I appreciate you! Yes, I too see the writing/publishing world changing…I may be just wishing but I *think* I see a more pluralistic egalitarian community-mindset emerging. 🤞 Though we’re all spread all over this globe the writing community has the “chautauqua” feeling that I learned occurred within groups of artists/writers in the 19th century. Anyway, 3 cheers for mutal encouragement!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I got to the stage where I decided to learn how to advertise and market so I don’t get ripped off or have to pay someone else to do it (expensive!).
    I learned how to make the blurbs/descriptions zing to a reader’s attention (works best on the people who look out for new releases, but they’re big readers!).
    Having a tag-line for a book (an exercise to find four words to describe your book!) so it leads the way like a good headline.
    I’m learning, but I love how it’s opened up a creative avenue for marketing when I’ve got the number of books I want as a backlist (that I’m also happy to market, ie good enough).

    Liked by 4 people

  10. I think I’m like most writers—marketing is the thing that intrigues me the least. I understand the need to publicize one’s books, but I quickly lose interest in those who do it so frequently. The blogs I like the most have plenty of other interesting, funny, or thought-provoking material. There’s nothing wrong with promoting oneself and our books as long as it comes with some substance and occurs in moderation.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. unvarnished (and unjustified)

    Funny Audrey. Don’t sell yourself short. These are totally varnished thoughts. I mean, you inserted a bulleted list. Can’t get more varnished than that. And no thoughts are ever unjustified. Maybe calling someone a rat-faced-snake-in-the-grass is unjustified. but you can think it all you want.

    Thus ends my sanity break for the night……………

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Firstly:
    So many wise words of advice and opinions Audrey, this has to be reblogged.
    Secondly as possibly one of the worst marketers*- ever, but happily and hopelessly infatuated with writing I will keep on keeping on, and y’never know, my work might be uncovered by later generations.

    *Actually I was rather pleased with my last campaigns or maybe I should say I enjoyed my last campaigns.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Audrey, a VERY wise and engaging post about marketing — the benefits of being somewhat subtle, the “I guess I have to do it but I don’t like it” feelings, etc. Few writers (at least the ones I know) enjoy marketing. I guess there are a few left brain-right brain types who do. Last but not least, I’ve also barely watched TV since the 1990s! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is (or was) one good thing about being traditionally published–publishers had marketing departments. Authors just had to show up at book signings and behave themselves. Or that’s the story, anyway. Now, indie authors and even trad pubbed ones have to do most of the marketing themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks, Audrey, much of this chimes with me. As I don’t sell my books, I baulk at the idea of paying to give them away – i.e. by paying for marketing. I started the blog, as a means of self-promotion, but you’re quite right, writers blogs tend to attract other writers, who tend not to be as interested in reading other writers books. Now I just blog for the different angle it gives on my need to write.

    I even started an Instagram, account thinking to attract people to the blog, and from there to the books, but Instagram junkies aren’t interested in blogs, so that was another duff idea.

    I guess the lesson is you need a marketing guru, but it’s only worth the candle, if you want to make a living at it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Writers don’t all have the same reasons for writing and publishing their works. How we promote them depends on our goals and individual circumstances, so there’s no one right way to promote, or not.
      Thanks for your thoughts on this, Michael.

      Liked by 1 person

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