“If you want to write and publish, join the publishing industry and consume.”
MANY writers struggle alone with the task of marketing. Writing an entire book is enough of a challenge for even the most experienced wordsmiths, so when we’re expected to run the marathon of multiple drafts, then turn around and create a publicity campaign for our work, we tend to stick our heads in the sand and hope like hell that something about our work will render all marketing efforts unnecessary. Here’s a refresher on how you should already have started marketing if you’re writing a book, and the good news is it involves interacting with other people.
Marketing from day one
Write, Regardless! has one fundamental message on marketing: to sell your book, you need to be actively promoting while you’re writing and packaging it. This process takes a degree of multi-skilling which is akin to juggling, but adopting it removes the terrible feelings of exhaustion that result from completing a manuscript only to find you’ve run less than half the marathon. Marketing starts on day one of writing a book, and, for as long as you want others to buy and read your work, it never ends. Break through this mental obstacle and you’re halfway to an effective marketing campaign.
Accessing word of mouth
The simple act of one person reading your book and recommending it to their friends is the oldest form of marketing in the world, and it’s still (relatively) free. Entire advertising industries are built on convincing people they need to part with their money in order to generate word of mouth, but the good news for independent publishers is that the social media is built to facilitate infinite word-of-mouth experiences. If you’ve come this far in Write, Regardless! and somehow decided not to build your social media web of fabulousness, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
It’s time to take your social media up several levels and find your tribe. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter offer sophisticated search engines. Take some time to seek out others who think like you. This could be political groups, social networks, or book clubs… anyone gathering for a common cause which relates in some way to the subject and/or genre of your writing. Sometimes these are closed groups, and you simply apply to join. Sometimes, these groups allow participants to post without permission, following a set of group rules and guidelines. Other groups are managed by an ‘admin’ person or persons, who you can send messages to, requesting they ‘share’ one of your posts. Admins have replicated the role that editors fulfill for news sources, aggregating content for group followers, and they are often hungry for relevant contributions. This is where you come in, providing articles that relate to, mention, provide extracts of and links to, your books. Never do the hard sell in these forums. The soft sell is generally more persuasive. Don’t tell me you can’t do this because you’re not a journalist: you are, and here’s how.
Tasting the spam
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter can be used autonomously by writers marketing books – you simply post material about your titles whenever and however you like. A small warning: many social media participants are wary of spamming; and you don’t have to do much for people to think you’re a spambot. Endless sales tweets or filling your Facebook timeline with posts about your books is a big turn-off for many social media consumers. It’s the social media, remember? The emphasis is on being sociable. You can market like those who hand out business cards at birthday parties, sure, but you’ll start to notice your number of followers dropping. Selling all the time is very one-note. Mix it up with content that is not about your latest book.
Branding like an expert
Independent writers can tend to overlook tried and true marketing tools, such as brand management. It sounds a bit cold and corporate, but writers who publish our own work need to keep half an eye on how it sits in the marketplace. Ever since independent publishing began, centuries ago, writers have published work in serialised form. Think of the success of Mills and Boon and Penguin Books as a publishing brands: readers know exactly what they’re buying (and they buy it often) plus they know how much they’re paying; there is a consistent look, length and format, and there will be more of the product to purchase in the future. Think about what you want to achieve with your writing. Do you have a series in mind? Could you visually link different titles with a similar design palette? Can you position yourself as an expert in the field you’re writing about?
Reading the marketplace
It’s easy for writers to forget about reading and consuming in the same marketplace we plan to sell product within. If we avoid bookshops and book reviews, we can quickly lose touch with publishing basics, such as the current price of eBooks and paperbacks, or the evolution of publishing genres and writing styles. Keep your book-lover’s antennae attuned for shifts in the book trade, and check the date of online articles you stumble across – years have passed since it was claimed eBooks would knock printed titles into oblivion, a prediction that turned out to be incorrect. The publishing industry, like all industries, moves the goalposts annually. What worked three years ago may not work now. If you want to write and publish, join the publishing industry and consume.
“Decide what will make you feel successful, and share that with your readers.”
For some writers, running a marketing campaign is too much of an ask. They decide they have neither the time or the energy to promote their own work, and they seek to hire a publicist to generate sales. There is no standard fee for publicists, and the scope of their role varies, but expect to pay thousands of dollars. Some believe this scale of fees is justifiable since publicists are effectively selling access to a network of publicity that they’ve built over many years; but, as always, the onus is on you to be upfront about the cost, the terms and the outcomes. Do your homework and ask for references and testimonials before paying for a publicist’s services: you may well be hiring someone who is an independent author like you making a sideline income. Always create a contract with a publicist, laying out the parameters of the agreement, and hold them to account.
Deciding what ‘success’ means
It’s been my experience that independent publishing success means different things to different readers and writers. There are few benchmarks outside the usual ‘bestseller’ lists, so it’s helpful for independent publishers to set the bar for ourselves by deciding what we view as successful outcomes. For me, gaining independent reviews and mainstream media coverage for my titles means I have succeeded in doing all that I can to promote them in the marketplace. When I have placed my paperbacks with major city bookshops, I feel I have succeeded in putting them in the pathway of readers. Anything less, for me, does not feel like success. Work out what success will mean for you, and keep it realistic and measurable. This will help when you’re feeling challenged by what you have started, and I assure you there will be many such moments.
Many aspiring authors get onboard the book trade with a literary side hustle that can generate word of mouth about their publications. Some create a podcast, platforming authors and their books. Others (like me) start a writer’s festival. Many writers are the brains and heart behind a local independent bookshop. Why limit your involvement in literature to merely writing? Dive into another facet of the industry. It will lead to business and personal connections with other authors, publishers, distributors, festivals and publicists.
Independent publishers do not operate in isolation, we are part of an international network creating product for a hungry audience that is increasingly diversifying the ways it accesses books. Replicate what has already worked for that industry through branding and word of mouth. Join the club by ensuring you buy, read and review books. Participate in social media groups and networks, not just by promoting your work, but by promoting the work of others too; and develop a literary side hustle. Decide what will make you feel successful, and share that with your readers – they love knowing when the risk they took on you pays off!
An extract from Write, Regardless!
© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.