Monday, November 21, 2011

The Myth of Book Marketing: Be Unconventional

By Scott Nicholson

I've decided to use this blog for my "writing babble" stuff to keep it separate from my regular blog , since very few humans on the planet care about write babble except for writers.

I've been known for my uncoventional views on writing and publishing, which I hold and follow for one reason only: convention is failure. Convention in writing is frustration, rejection, and invisibility. So who needs that?

My own small success is directly attributable to abandoning all the conventional wisdom I'd absorbed over the years. The most veteran writers usually gave the most awful advice (get an agent, write to market, never self-publish). Heck, I even dished out some of that crap myself.

So, with the premise that I am insane and you won't hear this kind of advice anywhere else, proceed at your own risk here. Today's lesson is: book marketing is not book marketing.

The first thing a new indie writer hears is "You have to be on Facebook, you have to Tweet 20 times a day, you need an established platform." Sure, it's helpful if you already have an audience of some sort. But dumping one book out there and pushing and pushing does nothing, because as the brilliant Robin Sullivan points out, "Once you roll the stone up the hill, it's just going to roll back over you."

As an example, let's examine the three biggest indie success stories, the ones conventional wisdom says you should imitate: J.A. Konrath, Amanda Hocking, John Locke. What do they have in common, besides luck? (Luck should never be discounted, because it is the biggest factor in any type of success--yes, that's unconventional, but it's true, and a topic for another post). They all came out swinging with multiple titles. Once they got hot, and the Amazon algorithms flooded your shopping window with their titles, it looked like they were successful and the books were selling well, so you better buy one or you're missing out.

Yes, it's that simple. Lots of books and some luck.

(Yes, I know John Locke talks about how he blogged his way to stardom and is happy to sell you a book on how to sell a million copies--even though Amazon algorithms did 99 percent of the selling for him. Yes, I know everyone EXCEPT Joe credits his prior New York paper career for his ebook success, even though he outsold New York this year on his own. Yes, I know people credit book blogs with Amanda Hocking's success, even though 10 blogs with 300 followers does not instantly convert into a million dollars.)

Okay, so we're not those guys. What do we have that we can use, since we're now smart enough and unconventional enough to not try to imitate them?

Go ahead and use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets, but not to sell your book. And don't take the other bit of conventional wisdom that "You don't sell your book, you sell yourself and your brand." I take that one step further. Don't sell yourself. Give yourself away.

That means occasional book giveaways, of course, and freebies and bonus features and advice and cool links to things you find interesting. It means engaging in topical issues. (I know some writers who are deathly afraid of politics, religion, and romance--you know, the real stuff running all up and down the core of their books, the stuff people care about the most deeply, but those writers are afraid of offending that one potential customer). Sure, you don't want to be a jerk, but if you have a strong belief, better to lose the one and gain the 100 that agree or at least sympathize. And you'll be giving yourself away. Those who like the taste will eat more and the rest will just drive on down the virtual street.

Be yourself, the person who wrote your books. Write lots of books. Write blog posts and give them away. Answer every email. Respect your critics--even someone who doesn't like your work should be treasured if they take the time to share an opinion. Don't stalk them on the Internet and try to change their minds, or seek some sort of weird Internet revenge (Yes, I've seen this done).

Aside from being yourself, do what the million other indie writers AREN'T ads! Yes, just like a real business. While your constant self-promotion gets annoying, we all know what ads are, and we never blame the advertiser for ads the way we blame people for constant self-promotion. Yes, it doesn't make any sense, but we're unconventional, see? I hate to give specific sites for ads because the best places are overbooked, and prices are increasing, but keep smart and keep your target audience in mind. You're on Facebook, but you don't really want to buy an ad on Facebook. Sure, there are 200 million people there, but they aren't there looking for your book to buy. But Goodreads? Readers. Book blogs? Readers. Newspapers? Don't even think about it. Radio? Stop it.

Here are some crazy things I tried, all of which worked to some degree, although not always in direct proportion to effort or cost: Goodreads giveaways, Librarything giveaways, freebie downloads, Facebook "sharing" contests, "follow me" contests, a 90-day book blog tour, a 10-blog tour on the same day, gift card giveaways, Be My Agent in which I paid book bloggers a percentage of that month's sales, purchased ads, book excerpt swaps, Twitter blitzes, and probably a dozen things that have already slipped my mind, because I use them and move on to the next. I am terribly disorganized. I keep track of things in a little pocket notebook with a pencil.

All of that sounds like more fun to me than tweeting "Buy My Book" 12 times a day to the same tired audience. If it feels like work, it's wrong. And there's another twist--the people that blast nothing but "Buy my book" are people I either unfollow or try to avoid. I don't trust their message. I am not even sure they have a message. Because they're not giving anything away. If that's all they have to say, why in the world would I want to spend an entire book with them?

Of course, the best advertising is already inside your book. Not just the story, but telling the reader about your other books. Trade around. Links will get more and more valuable as the tablet era evolves (we all agree the dedicated ereader only has a few more years of shelf life, right?) And here's the biggest unconventional marketing tip of the day: Instead of reading or following my marketing tips, invent one. Do something that has never been done before.

What do you have that you so desperately need to keep to yourself? Give it away today. Each gift is a building block to your own success and happiness.

(You can buy The Indie Journey--although a lot of it you can read on the Internet for free if you look--and you can download Write Good or Die for free in every market and format. If you'd like to contribute an unconventional writing advice, please email it to graveconditions AT with links embedded and an image or two).


  1. I agree with most of what you've said here. I try to avoid Tweeting and Facebooking "Buy my book" except for launches and special promotions. Most of my Social Media presence is about my life, my kids, sports, politics. I don't shy away from voicing my opinions, and while that has cost me a few readers, it's gained me many more.

    Good article, as always.

  2. Thanks, D.A.--book launches are certainly messages you should share, because it's a part of your life!

  3. Great article, Scott. Seems to be exactly what I need to hear at exactly the right time. As I was building my Twitter following up, I started noticing two things that would clearly be problematic for me as I moved forward.

    1) All the people I was following and receiving follow-backs from were authors. These were not people, who would likely buy my book. They were people trying to sell me theirs. And that buy my book mentality was strong in them. While I wish them the best, marketing to that group is extremely counterproductive.

    2) 2,000 followers do you little good when they're all salespeople, zero buyers. Yet somehow, only a handful of the indies I was following, and who were following me back, actually "got" it.

    I read Konrath and you and Blake not because I want to enjoy the same level of success--though I do. No, I read you guys because I'm a fan. I love the genre, the characters, and the pacing. That's what made me a customer, nothing else.

    Authors need to spend more time connecting with readers for the genre they're in. Not the people, who want to do what they do. Even though the sense of community in the indie world is great, it can cloud your judgment if you allow yourself to get too far into it.

  4. Thanks, Aric. The other problem with everyone hanging out in the same crowd is a herd mentality. If you are in the herd, chances are pretty good you end up as hamburger! As Weird Al says, "Dare to be stupid."