For Writers: The sum total of my marketing knowledge (which is not much)

picture by Sverre avnskog

From the very sharp Passive Guy this morning:

A couple of recent posts about Amazon sales, Watching the Numbers and KDP Select – Worth the Exclusivity?, generated lots of comments, some of them a bit heated. In PG’s experience watching the world of indie authors, this is typical.

The reason is that nobody knows anything.

Thank you, PG. Sometimes, the truth is uncomfortable, but it’s still the truth. And ignoring it will just make you itchy.

I don’t talk a lot about marketing on this blog, because I’m of the opinion that you should write about things you know. I know nothing about marketing. Some people can sell ice to polar bears. I am not one of them, though I admire their abilities with the kind of detached awe I have while watching magicians and contortionists.

So what can I possibly tell you about marketing your book? I should be able to tell you something, right? After all, I have three books in the top ten on the Amazon Fantasy list. (I’m not bragging, I’m as amazed by this as anyone.) That’s not small potatoes. But… I can’t. Not really. I can only tell you a few things that I’ve gleaned. None of them taken together amount to a “marketing plan” or anything like that. These are just things that happened to me. Small pictures of my own elephant, as Passive Guy would put it. Ignore or glean what you will.

Advice: Write good books and keep writing.

Most people know about the first part of that. A lot forget about the second. Which is a shame, because I think there’s something magical about a third book. I can’t tell you what it is, but I can tell you that, sometime a couple weeks after my third book came out, I started to see a serious uptick in sales. I think there are a couple reasons for this.

  1. It’s confidence building. Readers see a few books on your author page and realize, “Oh, this person is serious about this writing thing.” Three books look substantial, at least for a beginner.
  2. Avid readers read a lot. This is mostly my own experience, but if I know that an author is writing a series, I’ll often wait until 2-3 books are out to start. I hate getting to the end of one book, loving it, then having nothing else to buy. So, write more books.

Advice: Stick with one genre, but not forever.

I know there’s a lot of wisdom out there about writing across genres, and I think it’s very good advice. In the long term.

In the short term, readers are trying to figure out who you are! Don’t make it so confusing they give up. If they like a Mary McAuthor book about ghosts and witches, they may rush out to buy the rest of your work. But if they find a smattering of regency romance, spy novels, and writing manuals, they may get discouraged and look elsewhere.

But you’ve been dying to do the steampunk adaptation of The Illiad in rhyming verse! Well, who isn’t? Just wait for a bit. Stick with one genre until readers get a good sense for who you are. THEN, Achilles in a top hat isn’t going to be such a hard sell.

 Advice: Forget about other writers, you want to connect with readers.

For me, this took the form of reading and contacting book blogs, but I didn’t just randomly pick from a hat. I actually read what kind of books they liked, how much reader interaction they got on the site, what readers were reading, then I contacted the ones that I thought my book would appeal to. And I contacted a lot of them. I think I wrote 2-3 e-mails every day for a while (making sure to read submission guidelines) and waited patiently to hear back. I probably got one in five to respond. And I was happy with that! I went on Goodreads and Facebook, but not a ton. I am active on twitter, but I don’t follow back every writer who follows me. The point of being on twitter is to connect with people, so I connect with a few writers, a lot of friends, and readers. That’s the point. READERS. Writers can be a bit of an echo chamber at times. Also, we give too much advice. (So feel free to ignore all of this.)

Advice: Seek to be read, but don’t work for free.

There are eight million debates about the exclusivity issue. I’ll probably never enroll any of my novels in anything that requires exclusivity on principle (short story or novella, maybe), but that’s partly because my fan base is pretty international. For me, it’s not worth it to piss off established readers by not making my work available, so my long term plan is to make my work as widely available to as many people as possible, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

Likewise, I’ll make work free, but not all of it. Right now, the first book in the Elemental Mysteries series, A Hidden Fire, is free, but books 2-4 sure aren’t. And that’s fine by me. I really don’t mind giving away that first book to new readers. The point of that books is to get my work read, and readers don’t know me from Adam. But once you’ve had the free taste? Yep, you can pay a fair price for my work. (My best friend calls this drug-dealer economics. She’s not wrong.) My books are what pay the bills. I don’t expect my mechanic to work for free, and you shouldn’t either.

Advice: Write a good book, because readers are the best advertising.

This is a funny business. Really, it’s weird. Some people say Facebook ads work. Some say you should hire a marketer. Others say it’s all a bunch of hooey. I didn’t do any of that, but I know that one thing you can’t go wrong on is happy readers. Happy readers buy more books. They review books. They tell their friends about books.

Make happy readers.

How? Readers generally don’t care whether you’re traditional or indie. They don’t care how much you spent on advertising or how many blog hits your site gets. Don’t. Care. What do they care about? Buying a good book (free of distracting grammatical errors) for a fair price. If you’re an indie author, you have ultimate control over both of these. Write a good book. Sell it at a fair price. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.


And that is the sum of everything I don’t know about marketing, but I’ll leave you with another bit from Passive Guy:

Realize that indieworld has been changing rapidly and will continue to do so for at least several more years. Rules will change. What worked last year might not work this year. Don’t stop watching the market.

In some businesses, you have to fit in, but in indieworld, you don’t have to stay with the herd to find success. You can become your own kind of outlier, not the lottery winner, but someone who discovers your own rules to reach your own readers. And you don’t need ten million readers to be a successful author.

Despite all the digital regalia, the writer’s business still comes down to the fact that people will always like good stories. Whether presented on a stone tablet or an electronic screen, stories never happen without a story teller.

Have a great week and tell good stories,


Posted in A Hidden Fire, Fiction, Indie Authors, Pricing, Publishing, Self-publishing, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged , , , , , .


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