There is an old adage that goes, the cream always rises to the top. This ancient bit of agricultural wisdom is widely applied to mean that success comes to those who are worthy of it. I doubt there is a writer alive who does not harbor the fantasy, however deeply, that somewhere, a big-time movie producer or the acquisitions director of some major publishing house is reading his or her book and thinking, “My god! Why have I wasted all my years producing such drivel when this was out there? This person can write! I must sign them immediately, no matter the cost. Estelle, cancel all my appointments and find this author for me.”
That’s the dream. We think success will somehow find our books. Stop rolling your eyes and just admit it. Every writer harbors some version of that fantasy. If you didn’t think your writing was worthy, you wouldn’t put it out there. So you hit the publish button and wait for the calls and offers to start pouring in. They don’t. You find a few minor successes – a few nice reviews, a nice initial bump in the book rankings, maybe your book even won an award. But then everything seems to fizzle and your book languishes.
In the mean time that book, A Half-Hundred Variants of Off-Black has sold a zillion copies even though everyone says they hate it and it is being made into a movie with A-List actors. Probably in 3-D. There’s your cream.
Beneath your stoic exterior, you’re pulling your hair out and yelling, Why, god, why? Whose [BLANK] do I have to [BLANK] to get a [BLANKING] break in this business?
This frustration is caused by an unspoken and unrealistic belief that writing a good book is somehow enough. There is an innate faith that if your book is as deserving as you believe it to be, and you’ve been a good little writer all year long, the success fairy will come and grant your wishes.
Rick Taubold put it well in an excellent article on the subject of book marketing.
“The experts tell us that whether an author is indie or not he/she , [sic} needs to think about marketing from the moment the book is begun. But wait. Didn’t traditional publishers deal with all the marketing, leaving the author free to write? No. That hasn’t happened for several decades. Most books receive minimal marketing (unless the publisher has good reason to believe it’s going to be a bestseller out of the gate). An author who believes that a book will sell itself is sadly mistaken.”
Rick makes the case – and rightly so – that book marketing begins with a good product. Painstaking proofing, editing, beta-reads, tweaks, cover design, book description, etc. The problem is, a lot of folks seem to think once they have put the final polish on their little gem, it will glisten enough to attract readers. It won’t. Sure, as soon as you hit the publish button, your book is available on the biggest online retail site, and maybe even 25,000 other sites all over the world. So is every other book.
To get any real traction, you’re going to have to promote the book. The good news is that there are lots of ways to do this. The bad news is that what works or worked for one person may not work for you.
If you have enough money left over from the expense of editing, cover design, and formatting, you can hire a media relations firm, buy a tour bus and set up a bunch of book signings and speaking engagements. Okay, let’s call that plan B.
The book launch is often used in combination with giveaway goodies. Big Al wrote a great post on Rafflecopter. Laurie Boris wrote about Goodreads giveaways. If done well, a book launch can get you off to a nice start. Just don’t let the book lose too much steam before the next marketing stratagem.
Initially, you will probably try to capitalize on your established social media presence. That was probably why you established it in the first place. Be sure to check out this recent article by Nick Forristal on book marketing with Twitter.
A lot of authors go with the KDP Select program and maximize the use of their free days to ramp up their book rankings. KDP Select doesn’t seem to work as well as it once did, but a number of folks still report some success.
Reviews are important, though not necessarily in the most obvious way. Yes, it is nice if people look at your book page and see a couple dozen four and five star reviews. The problem is that reviews have been tainted by the twin scourges of sock-puppetry and paid-for reviews. But the reviews that are likely to be the most helpful are those by actual book bloggers. Why? Simply put, book bloggers have followers and their reviews carry weight with those followers. Each review you can get from a book blogger is a double-whammy. Unfortunately, most of the bloggers with large followings (like Books and Pals) have long wait times. On the bright side, very few book bloggers will charge you even a thin dime to review your book. The IndieView has an extensive list of book review sites that are indie-friendly.
The final, ugly bit of promotion deals with placing your work with book promo sites. There are many sites that offer free and low-cost promotion. Indies Unlimited is one of those sites where you can get a lot of exposure for no cost at all, and purchase advertising at ridiculously low rates. My advice is not to put all your eggs in one basket, though. Martin Crosbie put together an excellent list of book promo sites that he has shared with IU.
Some of the paid advertising can be a little pricey. The key is return on investment. If an ad cost you $200, you want to be sure it sells enough books to justify that cost. As with anything, it doesn’t always work. Nothing always works.
All of this stuff falls within the general category of book hype. That is, it involves what you say or pay people to say about your book in order to generate interest. What you want is for the book hype to generate book buzz. That is when people start talking, blogging, and enthusing about your book. If you can obtain sufficient book buzz, you’ll have traction.
The thing to remember is that there is no secret formula. What worked for someone else may not work for you. What worked for you once may not work a second time. Something that never worked before might skyrocket you to success on another try. Marketing is a black box. Having so many tools at your disposal can be confusing, but it is better than having too few. Mix and match – try a little of everything. In the case of books, the cream doesn’t rise to the top on its own. It has to be promoted there.