Publishing

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?

Seeing More Stars: Rating and Ranking

Recently I published a post about an apparent disconnect between quality of writing and the ratings and reviews of books on Goodreads. There were a lot of comments, including one that linked to this article on “review bombing” on the Goodreads site.

Ratings and reviews are important for authors, especially indies. But given the inconsistencies and manipulations they’re subject to, maybe they shouldn’t be.

open books, grass

The standard rating scheme found on Amazon, Goodreads, and many other sites, is the five star system, in which five stars means “excellent” and one star means “abysmal.” It’s neat and simple, and because it involves numbers, may be considered quantitative. Never mind that it’s purely subjective and may be gamed.

Calvin and Hobbes comic strip about books
Image source unknown

Ways to rate or label a book’s quality

  • Five star system.
  • Ten star system.
  • Binary system: Yes or No? Good or Bad?
  • Would you read this book again?
  • Would you recommend this book to a friend?
  • Would you recommend it to an enemy?
  • Emotional effect checklist: the book made me feel: happy, excited, scared, angry, disgusted, bored, etc.
  • No rating at all; read the reviews and make up your own mind.

The whole point of rating is to establish a value marker for a book. If you look up a title on Goodreads, you see the book’s collective star ranking below the title and author, expressed as both an image and a number, such as 4.39, 3.67, or whatever. Next to that is a “Rating details” link that shows how many readers have assigned each rating, both as a graph and numerically. It may look scientific and unarguable, but that’s deceptive when you think about where the data comes from.

open book against blue sky with white clouds

Is rating necessary or realistic for books? Is a book a “product,” like a vacuum cleaner or a t-shirt?

Maybe it depends on how readers use the information. To me, the numbers and rating profile are only a preliminary indication. I often look up reviews and ratings only after I’ve started reading a book and have formed an idea about it. At that point, I want to see what other readers think. I usually read reviews with ratings other than five stars because they go into into more detail than “I love, love, LOVE this book!” So ratings don’t have a direct bearing on whether I buy a book.

This is not true for other readers, I’m sure, and I know that ratings and reviews do have a great deal of influence on outcomes such as BookBub promotions and purchases by libraries.

Something to think about: Amazon’s ranking system is based on sales, not ratings. The star ratings are a separate thing. In theory, if enough people buy a book through Amazon it could be a Number 1 Bestseller, even if no one rates (or even reads) it.

Finally, what about those lazy (or malicious) people who give low ratings but don’t review? I notice this a lot on Goodreads. Okay, it’s way easier just to click on a star than to marshal your thoughts and put them into words, but it’s not terribly helpful for readers or authors. This is especially true of one and two star ratings. I think it’s important to specify why you think a book deserves a low rating. Are some of those reviewless 1-star ratings mean-spirited efforts to drag down the number attached to a particular book?

What about you, fellow writers and readers? What do you think of book ratings? Do you pay attention to them when selecting books to read? Would you prefer something other than the 5 stars?

Featured image from Pexels; other images from Pixabay, except as noted.

submission of manuscript

Feeling Submissive?

I’ve already written a post about my problems with the words “submit” and “submission” as used in the world of publishing. Even I think this is a bit of a bee in my bonnet, but there it is… Everyone has a bee or two. Before leaving this point, however, I’ll just note I had a really hard time finding an appropriate image for this post. Try a search on the word “submission” in Pixabay. Interesting, eh? No hopeful writers there, but quite a few handcuffs.

When I started writing seriously, I assumed I would offer my novel to agents or publishers, and do it well enough that a publisher would take it on and turn it into a real book. One day I would be on the bus and the person next to me would be reading my book. Or I would be invited to have a serious discussion with a literary journalist on national media about how I came to write it. Yes, that stuff.

Well, I bought one of those fat directories of agents and publishers printed on pulp paper in tiny print. (This was in the early 2000s.) I pored over it and selected targets. I beavered up query letters and synopses and put together packages of paper.

In 2010 I published my book myself.

Now I sometimes read advice to writers about submitting, and realize I would have a really hard time getting back into submission mode. The process of scrutinizing agent and publisher websites, making lists of likely ones, following each one’s requirements precisely, putting together the query letter, synopsis, and first few pages or chapters–that takes a lot of time and mental energy. And that’s before the rejections come rolling in.

Then there’s the skewed mentality of the submitter. You have to be confident but humble, hopeful but pragmatic. You have to believe in the piece of writing you have created, while at the same time realizing it’s nothing special (except to you). And you have to think of the fellow human beings to whom you’re appealing as powerful divinities, eternally busy, always overworked, too preoccupied with important matters to give your flawed offering more than a few minutes seconds of attention.

(Uh-oh, this is turning into yet another foot-stomping, pouty, watch-me-hold-my-breath-until-I-turn-blue rant. ‘Nuff said.)

What I meant to say before that happened is the writer has to psych themselves into the correct state of mind before undertaking a round of submissions. Some say it gets easier the more one does it. That wasn’t my experience in the ten years I spent querying and waiting, processing rejections, querying and waiting, processing more rejections. When I decided I would probably be dead before I got published, I was delighted to discover that self-publishing was a viable option.

At least now that most queries can be emailed, one is spared the tedious and expensive business of preparing SASEs (self-addressed stamped envelopes).

For those intending to submit, here are some (slightly jaundiced) tips:

  1. Prepare by cultivating the correct attitude. Instead of posts like this one, read some of the many with serious and helpful advice for hopeful writers on how to submit
  2. Ponder the fact that publishing is a business. Big business, in the case of the Big Four (formerly the Big Five, and before that, the Big Six). Starry-eyed romanticism won’t help you at all
  3. Don’t think of your novel as an extension of yourself, but as a potential product for a competitive market
  4. Try to convince yourself that the busy businesspeople who will look at your submission are evaluating your writing, not your worth as a human being. (Yeah, I know…)
  5. If you don’t already know your novel’s genre, figure it out and bone up on the salient points of that genre, such as reader demographic and key words, to give your submission the correct tone
  6. Study agent/publisher listings assiduously so you don’t waste your time directing your efforts to the wrong ones
  7. Once you have compiled your list of likely prospects, follow each one’s submission guidelines precisely. Don’t assume they’re all the same
  8. Consider dividing your list into two or three groups. After sending your first lot of submissions, distract yourself from fretting about them by preparing another batch
  9. If an agent or publisher requests a “full,” i.e., your full manuscript, rejoice. But don’t assume imminent success
  10. You will notice that most agents/publishers do not tell you exactly why they “pass” on your submission (i.e., reject it). Assume it’s because whoever read it thought it would not sell enough copies to make it worth their while
  11. But do not try to guess the reasons for rejection and fiddle with your manuscript before sending further submissions. The next person will evaluate it by their own criteria, which are likely different from the previous ones’
  12. Remember that once an agent or publisher has rejected your submission, you cannot re-submit it to that person unless they ask you to (which in my experience rarely happens)
  13. Prepare for rejections by invoking whatever activities, thoughts, or people make you feel good about yourself and your writing
  14. Persevere. If you have the energy and desire, write short stories, submit them to journals, enter them in contests. Building a track record of such publications may be helpful in finding an agent or publisher for that novel.

“Good luck with your writing journey.” Indeed.

And remember also that publishing your own novel is no longer a mark of failure, but a viable option.

So fellow writers, which of you have followed the submissions route? Have any of you succeeded? What are your thoughts about the process?

Featured image designed by Audrey Driscoll using Canva, incorporating an image by Peggy_Marco from Pixabay

Words related to writing

Visualizing Your Characters and Reviewing Other Authors: Two More from WSW

Two more posts on the Writers Supporting Writers blog: Chuck Litka’s thoughts on how we picture the characters we create can be found HERE

And HERE, another video chat, this time on the benefits and pitfalls of reviewing and being reviewed by other authors.

Image by prettysleepy1 on Pixabay