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gargoyle grumpy

The Irascible Indie. Part 5, Confessions of a Non-Marketer

The Irascible Indie is back! She’s emerged from her dark and dusty corner (coughing and sneezing), insisting she must opine on that perpetual bugbear: MARKETING

I’ve just reread four blog posts from 2015, written by my grumpy alter ego, the Irascible Indie. They are mild rants about various aspects of being a self-published (aka “indie”) author. I was actually quite impressed with how well-written readable they are. Anyone who’s interested can find them here:

And now, here are the Irascible One’s views on marketing…

Not a day passes without at least one blog post popping into my reader about marketing — lists of tips and tricks, how-to articles, and stern warnings that failure to market means failure as an author. Marketing is the bitter pill you must swallow after the thrill of pressing the “publish” button.

Okay, I admit it. I have a skeptical attitude toward marketing. As soon as I see certain words — SEO, clickthroughs, keywords, analytics — I get that uh-oh feeling. After reading multiple posts about picking the right keywords and other magic formulas to romance “the algorithms,” I’m left with the feeling that the authors of those posts live in a different universe. Their screenshots (which are hard on my eyeballs) do not resemble anything I see when I try to follow their instructions.

Reading about marketing makes me feel like a kid forced to wear a scratchy woollen sweater — you know, the kind that drives you crazy and makes you want to scream and stomp your feet. It’s itchy! I hate it!

Not good enough? Okay, let’s take a look at my reasons and figure out if there’s anything to them besides a contrarian attitude.

Reason #1 I hate advertising. I’ve perfected techniques to ignore ads, both in real life and online. I don’t want to inflict ads on anyone but enemies. Besides, ads cost money. Why should I pay someone to say “Buy my book!” for me?

Reason #2 I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s personal info, especially now. Look how Google and Facebook messed up with that. I’m not going there. And I don’t want to send emails that are disguised “Buy my book!” pleas to people who trusted me with their addresses.

Reason #3 What could I possibly say in a newsletter that I’m not saying right here in my blog? I’d rather spend my time writing stories, novels, and blog posts than trying to manufacture stuff for which someone would be happy to exchange their email address. And too many newsletters are offered via annoying popups. (A popup, by the way, pretty much guarantees that I’ll never sign up for a newsletter.)

Popups are about as desirable as junk mail.

Reason #4 Advertising is expensive, and not always effective. We authors (wannabees, aspiring, self-published, and indie) are a huge market for legitimate and bogus services alike. Even with a budget and plan for advertising, you need to sift through all the options, recognize the scams as such, and figure out how to leverage use the legitimate ones optimally. Unless you get it right, your ROI is likely to be poor. (See, I can throw jargon around too!) Don’t get sucked into believing that liberal applications of cash will do the trick.

Reason #5 Getting reviews to improve sales is a tricky business.  For one thing, it’s too easy to offend the Mighty ‘Zon. You can’t buy reviews (not that I would), you can’t exchange books for reviews, you can’t do review swaps with other authors, reviews have to include disclaimers, etc. Even an honest mistake can result in reviews being pulled, reviewers losing their privileges, authors losing their Amazon accounts — forever. And then there’s the torturous process of finding reviewers. In my random visits to book bloggers’ Review Policy pages, I inevitably see variations on the “No longer accepting books for review” theme. Natural, organic reviews from real readers are the best, but they can be few and far between, and an author has no direct control over that process.

Reason #6 Marketing isn’t simple. That’s why trad publishers used to have staff for it. For this indie author, there are too many options, too much advice, too many services with cutesy names and acronyms. It’s all a blur, and the prospect of figuring out what might work is dizzying. I’d rather be writing, or reading. (Hell, I’d rather be cleaning the bathroom.) The answer, of course, is to select one or two of the least daunting strategies, take small steps, and refuse to be overwhelmed by the flood of advice. And keep an eye on your expectations.

There’s an idea floating around that authors who don’t embrace marketing aren’t as hard-working and “savvy” as they should be. They don’t treat their writing as a business, so they deserve to fail. I resist these labels. I’ve happily put my energy into writing, editing, book descriptions, formatting, cover design, and presenting information about my books on my blog and elsewhere. Patience is my middle name (well, not really, but you know what I mean). I’ve whittled my expectations into elegantly slender shapes. If that’s not enough, so be it.

And yes, having said all this, I know enough not to whine about my sales!

Thank you, Irascible Indie, for your views on marketing. Now, back to your dusty niche, leaving me with a nice target to wear on my blog. I’ll relay any comments to you, including those that try to change your mind (such as it is). Bring ’em on!

Target-like image. I love those colours!

Gargoyle and “target” images courtesy of Pixabay

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Views on Book Reviewing

Yesterday I attended a panel discussion on book reviewing organized by a literary journal published in the city where I live.  At another recent event , a successful novelist said that one reason for his success was that before submitting his first novel to agents and publishers, he had done a lot of book reviewing, thereby gaining a measure of credibility with those folks. So what is it about reviewing, I wondered, and when I saw a notice of this panel discussion, I decided to go.

There was a distinctly academic flavour to the presenters, the organizers and even the audience, not surprising, perhaps, given that the literary journal organizing the event is situated at the local university. The first speaker, a professor of English literature, emphasized that a good reviewer takes in a writer’s entire oeuvre, not merely the book that is the focus of the review. He also noted that (given sufficient space in whatever publication the review would appear), a review could function as a critical evaluation of the author, or explore a larger literary topic as exemplified by the work being reviewed. Finally, he said, a review must be as crafted a piece of writing as any literary work.

He was followed by a freelance writer and editor who succinctly described the responsibilities of a reviewer to the publication for which they are writing, to the readers of that publication and to the author of the work being reviewed. Self-interest is not absent from these considerations — the author whose work you trash may appear on a committee evaluating your grant application.

Another panel member, speaking strictly from the perspective of reviewing poetry, noted that critics are failing poets these days, not the other way around. Reviews are full of received phrases that sound intelligent but are empty of meaning. Certain words, such as “meditative” are overused.

Finally, a publisher stated that the dearth of reviews is worse than badly written or “unhelpful” ones. The biggest problem today is the decline of book pages in newspapers and magazines, due largely to the undervaluing of the arts in today’s commercially-minded society. There are fewer reviews because there are few reviewers willing to write for peanuts. Reviewers should focus their energies on lesser-known authors, rather than reviewing books already on the best-seller lists. The internet should be used to start conversations among writers and readers.

It was interesting that not one of these folks said the word “Amazon” until a question from the audience prompted it. Everyone acknowledged that for many readers, Amazon is a primary source of reviews. They are not always used in order to make a purchasing decision, either (although someone pointed out that you need to have spent $25 with Amazon before you can post a review — the opposite of reviewing for pay). Some readers (myself included) go to Amazon after having read a book, to seek the opinions of other readers. Does anyone else out there think that this book is an overrated piece of trash? Or — does anyone else love this book as much as I do?

By the end of the session, a consensus emerged that the literary conversation should include both amateur and professional reviewers, perhaps juxtaposed as in the Rotten Tomatoes movie review site.  The truth is, there is no shortage of book reviews, ratings and rankings on the internet — sites such as Goodreads and LibraryThing and individual blogs abound. Anyone can review a book any way they like, even without a degree in English Literature. A trend is emerging here, similar to the rise of the “indie author,” as Smashwords founder Mark Coker calls the folks who publish ebooks on his site. Incidentally, readers of Smashwords ebooks can post reviews to the site. Anyone can publish on the internet and anyone can review too. Maybe we’ve gone from a relatively polite conversation to a buzzing cacophony.  Is this good? It’s probably too early to tell, and maybe it doesn’t matter.

Write, publish, read, review!  What’s holding you back?

Find out more here http://www.slideshare.net/Smashwords/introduction-to-smashwords-ebook-publishing-and-distribution-made-easy