Marketing – A novel experience

Valerie Douglas

You see, the thing is, marketing ain’t art. It just isn’t. Writing is art. One is left brain (marketing), the other right brain (writing). For most people anyway… except those lefties. Now, according to some measures, some folks say I’m reasonably successful at this whole writing thing. Am I getting rich at it? No. Could I make a living at it? I am, like any other small business person, for the moment. Will I still be making a living at it in a year? I sure hope so. But make no mistake about it, writing is also a business, and Indie writing even more so. All I can tell you is what has been working for me.

One of the first and best pieces of advice I ever read – and one of the ones most ignored is – don’t stop. When you finish with book one, write book two.  Then book three.  Why? Because the list of one-hit wonders is pitifully small. In the 20th century there were three – Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird,  The Catcher in the Rye – that were successful. Unless your book is that great and/or that memorable, you need to write another book. (Oh, and if you really think it’s that good, I can recommend a good psychiatrist for that ego. Most real writers are massively insecure and periodically convinced their writing is crap. Back to what I was saying… ) People want to know that if they love what you’ve written, they’ve found a new author. It also demonstrates that you’re serious about this writing thing.

Besides, it will keep you busy while you wait, because here’s the hardest thing to learn – it takes time. The list of overnight successes is very small, and most of those weren’t really overnight. (Barring the kid whose parents helped him get published.) If you don’t believe me, just read Stephen King’s On Writing. Even Amanda Hocking took time to build her audience.

It takes time for your book to get known, it takes time to build a reputation. One that people trust. To accomplish that, you need a marketing plan, and far more importantly, reasonable expectations.

Marketing plan

Rule One…Create a marketing plan and not a short one. You need to plan for at least a year. Why? See….

Rule Two…it will take at least three months if not longer to make even a few sales. Each month after that earnings should increase as word of mouth and curiosity drive sales. If there is no book two, sales will plateau and then begin to drop off. You need to be prepared for that. Using the following rules will help. Schedule days to market/promote, days to blog. Just a few days a week. In the meantime, since you have nothing else to do except drive yourself crazy, if you haven’t written book two, now is the time to start. After all, you’re a full-time writer, a part-time marketer. If you don’t have any writing ideas, start with the Indies Unlimited writing exercises or Nanowrimo or a journal.

Rule Three…Set a reasonable release schedule. Once a year is possible if it takes you that long to write but understand that readers have to know another book is coming.  (I began a series with my traditional publisher but for various reasons decided to publish book two independently. A year later I was still receiving requests for a release date from fans.) Anticipation is a good thing. However every two or three months is probably more realistic – and now you see why you really should have those two other novels completed. Don’t worry if you don’t but keep writing. Try not to fret about sales. When book two is released, it will bump sales of book one. In between, you’ll have time to write some more!

Rule Four…Don’t spam, promote. Spamming Facebook, Twitter, etc. doesn’t work nearly as well as most people think it does. So stop it. Instead, be respectful. Join writers and readers groups. Learn the rules and follow them. Don’t irritate people by trying to get around them. Don’t just say “Buy my book” find creative ways to feature it, make it intriguing. ‘Want to warm up your sweetheart for Valentine’s? Try “My Book”‘  will probably work better. Set a schedule so you don’t keep hitting the same sites on the same day. Oh, you know that nifty little ticker on the side of Facebook? You can watch the spammers paste the same promo from site to site to site. Betcha that makes those sites feel special, doesn’t it? It may still work but so many people are doing it, its losing it’s effectiveness and looks a bit desperate. Or careless. And guess what? Everyone can watch as you do it, too. So don’t just promote. Converse. Talk to people on the sites you visit, it only takes a few minutes.

Rule Five…Don’t load up on five star reviews by asking friends and family to write them, most readers will suspect that’s what your doing.  Solicit reviews from legitimate sites. Most writer’s groups have lists. (I used to say that if you see consistent comments to listen to them but it seems lately that almost everyone tacks on the standard ‘there were typos’ comment even on books I know to have been professionally edited.)  Even a lowly one star review isn’t a bad thing, though – not everyone is going to love your book. It adds a certain legitimacy to the good reviews you have. And never, ever, argue with a review.  Which takes me to….

Rule Six…Be professional. It matters. Readers are watching how you act, how you talk to them and others. So are reviewers, editors, etc. They will be MUCH more inclined to work with you if you act professionally. Stand by your word, don’t promise what you can’t do.

Rule Seven…There are sites, blogs and people willing to help with interviews, blog posts and even marketing. Many are free. USE THEM. Indies Unlimited has it’s Freebie Fridays for promoting free books, there’s a wonderful site called eLTC that will promote your book for you, romance writers can find free advertising on The Romance Reviews in exchange for putting their banner on your website.  There are lots more. Ask for help, most will be happy to give it. Which brings me to….

Rule Eight…You have to do the work. If you can’t afford an editor, pick up the Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, got to author/editor sites for their pet peeves or to ask for help. Many will at least take a look at your first chapter and give you hints on how to improve.  (See Rule Six for this, too.) Even marketing is a learning process. At each site you’ll learn something else, then something else. Remember, you have a year. There’s time and you can’t rush it. Believe me, that was the hardest one for me to learn. Ask my husband.  There’s also no short cuts unless you have parents in the publishing biz. Then it still has to be a good book. Which takes us to…

Rule Nine…Be realistic. This one hurts. If your book isn’t in a standard genre, if its quirky or really different, it’s going to be difficult to find an audience. it may take months longer. One of my books is like that. It doesn’t generate a lot of sales but I started working on a sequel anyway because I really like the book and the characters. So do the folks who have read it. Whether it finds its legs or not, I loved writing it… even the painful parts.  The same is true of the sequel. Which brings us to…

Rule Ten…Write because you love it. Write because you have to, because you can’t stand not putting the words on the page. If you write from the heart, create wonderful characters in unique worlds from your special perspective, nothing else matters.  See Rule Nine. Yes, I’m making money… but every sale of each book warms my heart. It was the thought that no one would see those stories that broke my heart and made me determined to keep trying. Only that passion will get you through. Not the money. The joy.

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Valerie Douglas is a contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and the writer of the epic fantasy series The Coming Storm and the contemporary romance series The Millersburg Quartet. For more information please see the IU Bio page, her blog or visit her web page .

33 thoughts on “Marketing – A novel experience”

  1. "This one hurts. If your book isn’t in a standard genre, if its quirky or really different, it’s going to be difficult to find an audience. it may take months longer."

    Ah yes, I know this quirky point all too well. 🙂 All good points, too.

    I was talking to a marketing friend the other day who said that face-to-face conversation is the most effective place to get your word out, it's exponentially better than the internet. Has that been your experience at all? How about for more risque/off-the-wall material?

    1. I haven't done much face to face, as few of my books are in print version, they're all e-books. That's a harder sell in a face-to-face transaction. One of the reasons that fantasy/romance/erotic/quirky do so well on e-books is largely BECAUSE of their anonymity. No one has to face disparaging looks or awkward questions because of the covers on their choice of reading material for example.

      Face to face works really well with a more defined product. A fellow author was recently faced with a comment about how her picture really didn't fit the material she writes and might be putting people off. *laughing* No one should go to a romance/erotica writers convention, Nora Roberts is the exception, not the rule! I do think to some extent face-to-face only works well for writers once they've become established. Until then – and the better haircut, contacts and clothes – the mystery serves writers better. But that's may be just me.

      1. Yes. The comfort zone… I had been visualizing some awkward/ creepy encounters with strangers after I steered the budding conversation into delicate waters! And now that you mention it, the anonymity of online sales could prove a comforting shelter for timid readers as well, those who don't wish to be identified or 'outed', as it were… I was astonished to discover that my biggest fan – a chap who had read all of my work on – was a conservative Catholic and tech institute school principal from Brazil! How could that meeting of minds ever have happened face-to-face? Not likely.

        Still, I see my friend's point about getting a buzz going in the right circles. If one can identify those circles…

  2. Wonderful post, Valerie. I so agree about writing from the heart. I have just finished another edit on one of my manuscripts (how many is that now – 8-10?) and hope to submit it by the end of the week. Now I can work on another "finished" manuscript that needs another edit and some revision. I also need to do something about getting my novel on CreateSpace or SmashWords or something. I just need to do whatever formatting is necessary and do a cover. I keep going though I have nothing published yet. Like you said, I do it because I have to. Whether or not I ever sell one book. Though I sincerely hope I sell a lot more than one once they are available.

    Thanks for sharing your pointers. They are very encouraging.

    1. Good luck! As for the edits – I did 21 on one of my epic fantasies! Do Smashwords first, there's no investment, let word of mouth build, then do CreateSpace or something like it!

      1. I think I probably edited my novel that many times. I got tired of reading it and had to lay it aside for a few months before starting again. I'm currently reading it again and hopefully won't find too many errors. Thanks for the advice, Valerie. I'll remember that. Hopefully by the end of this year I will have several books available in one format or another.

  3. This is a winner list, but #9 and #10 particularly struck home for me. I think if you are doing this just as a "get rich on the ebook train" kind of exercise, then you are going to do a lot of other pieces of this poorly and make the whole of indie community look bad when the majority of us are plugging away at something we can't NOT do- which is write and try to share our passion with readers. Plus, that philosophy isn't realistic and will to disappointment.

  4. All good, Valerie … I couldn't/wouldn't take issue with any of your points … just add 'persistence' … the good marketers are relentless in the execution of those things … which is why I lag so far behind … I tend to relent.

  5. Since I've been in this game for a while, I realized all Valerie says here for myself in the first 12 years or so, so confirmation of this sort is excellent.

    When the internet came on the scene, it only drove home to writers like me that there are really two worlds, and being successful in both of them requires knowledge of reader behavior in both those worlds. Yes, F2F works really well for me with paperbacks, and clever online publicity and promotions (which are not the same as marketing) really does work well for eBooks.

    There's no denying that online accessibility and purchasing of all kinds of books makes marketing a slice of my business that's double-edged and time-consuming, and "persistence" does not mean what it used to. Neither does "business plan" mean what it used to in 1985, when I started. An author owes it to themselves to really understand the markets in which they operate – it's rarely just one sphere. And they rarely stay the same for longer than 5 years.

    And yes – trying to succeed outside an acknowledged genre or category is doubly hard for the new author. Edgy or 'out there' work needs its own market confirmation, which is very hard to come by.

    All beginnings are tough.

    1. "And yes – trying to succeed outside an acknowledged genre or category is doubly hard for the new author. Edgy or ‘out there’ work needs its own market confirmation, which is very hard to come by."

      If those edgy books are outside the genre box, seems a good reason to try to think as far outside the marketing box as possible. No?

  6. Excellent, Valerie.

    Is this why my book is selling so poorly? I mean, almost everyone who reads it loves it (and I don't just mean my mom), and yet that number is so vanishingly small that it's embarrassing when I look at how others like Valerie are making an actual *living* from writing! I'd simply like my writing to buy me coffee and a donut at this point.

    Is it because it is such a niche book? It's short, it's nonfiction, at first glance it probably looks scary and bleak. I am in a quandary as I do have to finish the sequel (which *is* a lot more scary and bleak, ironically), but my heart has moved on to fiction and it's difficult to see this one out.

    Ha, that's me feeling despair, folks. It will pass, it always does.

    In fact, knowing that others can do it is actually encouraging.

  7. I really enjoyed reading that, I'm a writer with a Marketing Communications background and give a thumbs up to everything you've said. It's stuff every writer can do. Chivalry and courtesy count for a lot in life and in the writing world I think set you apart from folks who are only interested in pushing their message – regardless of thought or feeling for the audience. That kind of behaviour just makes me switch off from the outset. You need to think of the audience and what's relevant and interesting to them first before you think about yourself.

  8. Excellent post Ms. Douglas. These are many of the lessons I have learned since entering the independent writer/publisher world. Some hard lessons to be learned and more to come, always a learning process. 'Tis the price we pay to "go forth confidently in the direction of your dreams".

  9. Thank you for this post. Love rules nine and ten. My current main project is a trilogy that's definitely been hard to fit into a single category/genre, as all three books are sort of world building around the lead character… and it's a slow lead into what this world's becoming. I'm definitely not deluding myself thinking I could just let Book One sit and it's a masterpiece; I fit much more into the role of the writer who thinks his work is crap! (lol) But, I love Marsha's story, and I hope one day to have told enough of it that someone else loves it, too. Thanks again!

  10. Great advice. I am still a bit confused about how to market my book on social network sites. My blog seems to go unread even if I spent hours on posts. If I twitter about my novel, it seems to be like spam and a waste of time. If I get interviewed or my novel gets reviewed, it also seems to only be read by a few people. Is it just me, or does everyone share this disappointment in book promotion. I think everyone is just too busy to read all of these efforts at self promotion. So your advice to just keep writing is fantastic and helpful. Word of mouth advertising, good reviews on Amazon etc. are like gold. I also liked your links to sites that will get your novel out there. Thanks.

    1. The best way is to not market – strangely enough. Celebrate milestones instead. Did you just get a good review? Post that. Did you make it into the top 100 of a category. Only certain blogs get a lot of attention. *laughing* Mine doesn't – but my blogs here do. Make sure your book(s) are as good as you can make them, get a reputation for quality work, put more books out there, get your name known… and the rest will follow.

  11. I loved this Valerie!! It really helps ease my mind and make challenging the big ugly monster(promoting) much easier!! Is there a subscribe button here?–I hate the spamming thing it is such a pet peeve of mine!!

  12. Thank you for sharing this, I so needed to read this. The time factor and letting it happen was the thing I needed to know others worried about too.

    It's nice to know I have a year to work and plan. there is so much in there I found relevant. Thanks again.

  13. Great article, thanks very much. It is so true what you say. Been a year nearly since I started marketing and I've learned PATIENCE is beyond a virtue, it's a necessity. I've also learned all those hours that I spent allowing myself to worry about whether my writing was crap or not should have been put to better use in actually writing book three, and four and five… 😉

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