Jun 19, 2013

Marketing Advice for the Writing Newb

Last year I put up a blog post regarding What Not to do When You’re a Writing Newb.  It turned out to be one of my more popular posts and I've gotten several requests for a follow-up...which I fully intended to do months before now, but just never got around to finishing - mostly because I’m a lazy ass.

It’s probably a good thing I never finished it. My perspectives have changed a bit in the ensuing months and I hate to go back to an old blog post and cringe at how stupid younger Rick was. The good thing is that the original advice I had planned to dole out has been greatly simplified. What was to have been a tome of legendary hot air can now be succinctly summarized in just a few short sentences.

To be fair, though, I have included my original (unfinished) post at the bottom, lest you care to slog through it to see if you can scrape any insight from it.  If you find it useful, that’s great.  If not...well I did warn you, didn't I?

That aside, here are my thoughts on successful marketing:

BE ORIGINAL: Here’s the problem with following the advice of those with influence, everyone else is doing it too.  Once upon a time spamming twitter with book ads was genius because it was new.  Now, it’s just a good way to be lost amongst the noise.  Effective marketing is NOT doing what everyone else is.  Effective marketing is finding something that nobody else is doing and making it your own.  Cover your bases (fill out your book details, have a good webpage, make sure your profiles point to the appropriate things), then find something and make it yours.  I can’t tell you what that is, otherwise I’d already be doing it myself.

DON’T PISS PEOPLE OFF: You’d think this would be an obvious one, but it’s not.  My first point above won’t work for you if you find that “your thing” involves making people hate you.  Before you do anything online to market your book, step back and ask yourself “would this piss me off if I was on the other end?”  If the answer is yes, then perhaps you should avoid it like the filthy, disease-ridden dung pile that it is.

BE LUCKY:  And here’s where I lose you all.  Successful marketing is hard work, originality, persistence...and a healthy dollop of luck.  The downside is that you can’t force luck to happen.  The upside is that you can skew the results in your favor by doing the above.  Find your own thing.  Be engaging.  Keep writing and getting better at it.  The longer you do these things, the more you add a chance at the roulette wheel of life falling on your number.  Are there any guarantees? Hell no, but hey that’s what life is all about.  Opportunity does not equal a sure thing, but the more you work at it the better chance you have.

And that's it! Simple, no?  Well, actually NO is the correct answer. Marketing isn't simple. If it was, we'd all be millionaires by now. The road isn't paved with gold, my friend...but if you're willing to dig for it you might just find some.

Now you get working on it!

Just to be fair and make sure you don’t feel gypped by the word count of this post, here’s what were to be my original thoughts. Make of them as you will...


“What do I do now?” That’s a question I see pop up several times a week on the various author discussion forums that I frequent.  Some new up and comer has written the next great thing, a book destined to win over the hearts of millions. Unfortunately, they’re now learning the whole “build it and they will come” paradigm isn't always the best strategy.  Sure they may have really written the next best thing, but the problem is that nobody knows about it. So it is with many of us in this business, even for those who have been doing it for years. 

Alas, writing an instant best seller is possible for a first time writer.  However, the consensus appears to be that this requires a near lottery-winning (or soul-selling if you’re a pessimist) level of luck. 

While some take a curmudgeonly “let them figure out to sell their own damn books” attitude, I tend to be a softie at hear.  So pull up a log and let me tell you a thing or two.

Before I start, I shall give the caveat that this isn't exhaustive.  There are plenty of resources out there, I haven’t tried them all.  I also offer any apologies in advance.  I’m sure there are some brilliant bits of insight that I've gleaned that I've simply forgotten the source.  Hey, I’m only human.  There’s only so much room in my mind.  Occasionally I need to do some housekeeping to make room for a new monster story.  Sure I may not remember when my birthday is anymore, but that’s okay.  It sucks to get older anyway...

Oh yeah, I’m also going to try to avoid doing any trashing here.  I’m just going to mention what I liked, not what I didn't.  If you’re curious if I've ready Book X or checked out blog Y, you can either email me or ask me in the comments.  There’s a good chance the answer is “No.” but if I did, I’ll give you my thoughts on it.

For starters, (assuming your book is finished, polished, edited etc) before you do anything go and start setting up your social media accounts.  Even if you’re not using them, you’ll be reserving your name and be ready to dive in.  Minimally you should sign up for a twitter account.  I would recommend you either use your real name, your pen name, or pick a catchy nickname, but always identify yourself in some way.  Put in a description and a photograph.  Sorry to say it but this is the internet; anonymity is an illusion.  Might as well not even try to fool yourself into thinking otherwise.  Besides which, nobody wants to follow a “Mr. X” these days.

Others you might want to consider signing up for now: Facebook, Google+, and Goodreads.  There are plenty of others, but these are a good starter set.  Now onto the meat of the marketing...

Books: These are the great equalizers.  They’ll give you far more tips that just one blog post.  While they probably won’t net you millions, they’ll bring you up to speed to get started with the rest. There are tons of “How I made more money than God by selling e-books” books out there for sale.  Some are good, some not so much.  I’ve read a few of them.  Regardless, I would suggest you find one by an actual best selling author.  At least they know what they’re talking about.

My favorite is: How To Really Sell Ebooks by Jon F. Merz.   Why?  Because there is simply no bs in the book.  It’s short.  Very short.  There’s a small part of me that’s convinced that Jon is the superior marketer simply because he got me to plunk down the cash for something that is essentially pamphlet length.  However, this is a good thing.  There is absolutely no fluff in this book. Just steps in the process.  It’s laid out in a way that I almost think Jon should have titled it the Ebook Cheatsheet.  I don’t think there’s been a simpler formula since South Park introduced us to Step 1: Underpants, Step 2: ??, Step 3: Profit!

Runner up: Michael Hick’s The Path to Self Publishing Success.  Also short and to the point, like Merz's book.

Hint: Some of these books occasionally go on sale.  If you have the patience, see if you can snag them when they do.

Blogs: So you’re a cheapskate eh?  Don’t want to plunk down your sheckles to enrich the coffers of authors more experienced than you?  Well first off, lose that attitude, Bucky!  There’s nothing wrong with supporting your fellow writers.  Show them some love and you’ll get some in return.

That being said, whether you go the book route there’s also tons of good information to be found in various writers’ blogs.  There is simply no frakking way I can list all of the wonderful writing blogs out there.  Sorry, can’t be done.  I don’t have nearly the attention span to even try.  Instead I’ll just list a few that I find to be useful. 

Joe Konrath's, A Newbie’s Guide to Self Publishing.  
Chuck Wendig's, Terrible Minds
Michael Hick’s blog

There’re literally books upon books of useful information in these blogs.  Just be forewarned, you can easily lose a month or more in these places.  Don’t be surprised if you start reading and when you finally finish you emerge to find the shattered remains of post-apocalyptic society around you.  If that happens, be careful of the C.H.U.D.s.

As I said before, there’s a shitload of great author blogs out there.  My advice: after your eyeballs have healed from reading the above go and try to find some authors from your own genre (assuming it’s different than the above) and give a look see.  Chances are you’ll find some useful insight.

Social Media: The meat and potatoes of where you’ll be starting out.  This includes twitter, facebook, and any of dozens of online forums where people congregate.  However, in all of these places there are a few simple rules for success:

  • Be a real person. Engage, discuss, and give back. Sorry to say, but it’s not all about you.  You have to give to get, and that will only happen if people think you’re not just some marketing bot.
  • Do not spam!  All that email you got this AM?  Yeah, you hate it don’t you.  Well guess what, people are going to hate you if you suddenly get all in their face with “BUY MY BOOK!”  Every forum has rules.  Respect them and respect the people in them. There is a time and place to market. 
  • Learn to lose with grace. Not everyone will love your book. Some people hate the Harry Potter books. It happens. Learn from it and use it to grow. A beginning author who develops a reputation of attacking their detractors won’t go very far, regardless of your talent.

Start Creating!  Research is great and all, but it’s not going to go out there and market for you.  You need to get out there and make a mark for yourself.  Don’t worry if you’re starting small and the only one reading your updates is your mom because she felt the need to give you a pity follow on Twitter.  We've all been there.  Unless you’re one of those supremely lucky people (in which case, I hate you) you’re not starting out at the top.  People are not going to just drop their coins in your hat just because you put out a blog post entitled “The single greatest accomplishment by mankind, my book, is now out!”  You need to earn it, son! 


Janie Junebug said...

Well said, either version.


Gen Xavier said...

Like the disco style pic, too - FLASHIN'! :)

Rick G said...

Hopefully it came across as a good example of point two.

If not, always fun to play with animated gifs :)