publishing · writing

Yet another self-publishing guide: marketing

I’m going to go off on a tangent today. Next week, I’ll talk about the tools I use to make my covers. But for today, I’m going to talk about marketing.

It may not make much sense right now to talk about marketing. But there’s a number of myths, and, believe it or not, this stage of the process is the perfect time to talk about it.

When I first got into this writing thing, blogs were just beginning to be pushed as The Best Thing Ever For Writers Oh Good Gosh If You Don’t Have One Get One Now. Forums, bbs, irc, and usenet groups were for meeting up with other professionals and that was it for social media. Now, I see a bunch of different views and theories and nonsense surrounding it, and I’d like to add my two cents, based on the little I’ve been able to accomplish so far.

Near as I can tell, there are a few things that a self-published writer, just starting out, MUST do.

  1. Write a good book, write another good book, keep learning how to write good books, etc. (i.e. keep increasing content)
  2. Be aware of the kind of books/stories you love to write.
  3. Get (or create) the best covers you can, using them to clearly project what you write to others.
  4. Have a central location so people can not only find your books, but find them in all their many forms.
  5. Learn how to write good copy/blurbs.
  6. Eventually get your book out to as many channels as you can.
  7. Use social media, but very, very sparingly, if at all.
  8. Get on Goodreads.

Seriously, my own experience has been that having more than one book will get you more sales than pushing one book and hoping to hit the literary lottery. That’s the biggest one right there. Don’t stop writing. Write every. single. day. (Okay, I take Sundays off, but that’s just because I’ve seen burnout close-up and know what it means.) Look at each story as a fun way to practice. Play. Yes, even when the rent is due and you have no way to pay it, because writing for fun makes a book a lot more enjoyable than reading a book written only for money. There’s a definite difference.

And for those who think sales come to those who play the markets, please read this speech by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Her experience is exactly why a person should write from the heart. Know what you love, and write it.

More on actual cover creation in the next post. I’m also going to talk about blurbs/copy and channels in later posts as well.

As for having a central location for your books, anything that doesn’t try to claim your words as their own should do. I like WordPress. In fact, most blogs can be turned into a website nowadays, so go with a free option that sings to you. Try them out. Have fun. Once you get a readership, you’re going to want to stay in one place as much as possible. Make it one you enjoy.

Don’t use social media to sell your book. Let me repeat and italicize and bold it.

Don’t use social media to sell your book.

I cannot stress this enough. Okay, one announcement of a finished project or promotion is fine. When I finish something, or have a sale, I’ll make an announcement on FB, Twitter, and certain parts of Goodreads, in addition to this blog.

What I’m talking about are the “experts” who claim you have to send out ten tweets, spaced precisely to coincide with your highest traffic, all day long. NO. I’ve unfollowed people on Twitter when they try that stunt and I know more than one person there who feels the same.

Here’s the thing. This analogy isn’t new, but it’s good and I enjoy it. Social media is like a big party. When you consider sending a tweet about your book or a status update, it’s like you’ve just shouted the news to everyone at the party. “HEY. I JUST PUBLISHED A BOOK ON KINDLE. LIKE MY FACEBOOK PAGE. REVIEW MY BOOK. HEY. HEY!” *wave, wave, wave*

Like I said, a single announcement on FB (or wherever you spend your online social time) isn’t that big a deal, especially if you’re active in other ways. I mention my books on FB because I have some friends who enjoyed them. Twitter was built for announcements, and I post so much other stuff there of all kinds (LOKI) that I don’t feel too bad about the occasional announcement. Not only that, but I also link to posts here where I try to offer something back to those who follow me. (This is known as “generating content.” Always a good thing.)

For those who already enjoy your work, social media is an easy way for them to keep up with you, so don’t abandon it. But it’s not going to generate income like writing more will, so keep it in its place. It’s hard (very, very hard) but worth it.

Finally, there’s one place I’ve found that’s helped me as a reader, writer, and self-publisher: Goodreads. Every writer is a reader first, and GR is an enormous help to those who need to know more about whatever it is they want to write. Discussions of what people enjoy and what they don’t are also useful for those who like to analyze what worked in a book and what didn’t (and why), while most groups on GR have a place for authors to self-promote. So, find a group you enjoy and start posting there. When something new comes out, make an announcement if you feel it’s appropriate and make sure it’s in the right spot. Also, make sure your books are listed, and, if you can, upload an excerpt so that people can easily get a taste of your work. (I recommend epub. More on that in a later post.)

Now, I’m saying all this for the benefit of those who are just starting on this journey. I’m not speaking to those who already have a large backlist, or those are already making a decent amount of money. Writers at that level have more options, like paid advertising.

About the only other thing I can throw out there for those who have tried all the above and still aren’t selling is to consider writing short stories for magazines. I’m still trying this, so I can’t say how successful it is. But the theory is sound: get your name out there and get paid for it at the same time. Along the way, all your skills as a writer (and some you didn’t even know existed) will improve.

Obviously, this isn’t my idea. It belongs to Dean Wesley Smith, who inspired me to try it out. Here are the links:

The New World of Publishing: Helping Readers Find Your Work

The New World of Publishing: Making a Living With Your Short Fiction, Updated 2013

Both the posts and the comments are very informative. I highly recommend reading these thoroughly.

Next week, I’ll share my thoughts on tools I’ve used to create covers. If I have the space, I’ll add some things I’ve learned about reaching for that professional look, as well.

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