Saturday, March 7, 2015

Marketing Musings

I'd like to share a few random thoughts about marketing. Making a living as a writer is a goal most authors never realize. Unfortunately for those of us who write, it requires marketing. Most writers resent marketing because it distracts them from writing. When I decided to get serious about writing and turn it into a full-time occupation, I knew nothing at all about marketing. Once the first book (White Jade) was up on Amazon I faced the reality that my book was one choice for readers among what amounted to an infinite number of choices. How was I going to get people to notice it?

The world is awash with books in any given genre. No one could possibly read them all. I write thrillers, which means that at first glance it looked as though I was competing against blockbuster stars like Steve Berry, Clive Cussler, James Rollins and Tom Clancy. Not to mention Vince Flynn and Brad Thor. A little intimidating, no? You get the idea.

Therein lies marketing truth #1 as an independent writer. Competition is an illusion. It's a mistake of perception.

Your Perception is Everything
Change Your Perception and Change Your Reality

There are millions and millions and millions of readers, more than enough for everyone. More than enough to find and enjoy your work. It's not about competition, it's about discovery. Change your perception about competition. Give up the idea that you are competing for market share. That's a waste of time which will drain your energy.

Okay, you say, I'm not competing. So how do I get noticed?

I'm not going to give you advice about social media, book signings, podcasts, etc. There's plenty of that available and you don't need to hear it from me. If those things work for you, that's fine. One of the truths about marketing is that nobody's quite sure what really works. I do know one thing that works. Before you can succeed at marketing, you have to have a product people want. That means you must learn your craft and write a good story people want to read. You need to have a professional presentation. A good cover, clean copy, an edited manuscript and so on. If you don't have those things you're wasting your time trying to sell your book. Marketing truth #2 is:

You Have to Write Something People Want To Read

Let's assume you've done that and have a decent product. Good. Write another book. Write another book. Write another book. Am I getting through? Selling one book is difficult unless you are very lucky. Writing is a business you make out of something that you love to do. At least I hope you love to do it, because otherwise you will not be able to sustain the output required to succeed. Lee Child said that he became an overnight success after he'd written ten books. Think about that.

If I had to pick one single tool that has helped me sell books, it would be free promotion. I've lost count but I know I've given away more than three hundred thousand books in the past few years. I've seen articles and posts from people who hate the whole idea of letting books go for free. They think it cheapens the price for everyone and devalues the quality of the book. They think their work is too precious to give away and that they should always be paid something for it. They get very annoyed at the idea that someone's free book might be chosen over their not-so-free offering.

Most of the people I see complaining aren't selling very many books.

Readers who discovered my work through a freebie and liked it will buy another book in the series or even all of them. I get emails all the time from people who picked up one of the Project books in a free promotion and discovered the rest of the series. They're happy to find a new author they enjoy. They're grateful that I made the book available to them for nothing. Some wouldn't be able to afford the book if it weren't free. So here is marketing truth #3 of Indie marketing as I see it:

Free Works

The marketplace for books is in constant flux and change is a given. Just the same, I find it hard to think that a good product offered for free will not be picked up by someone who knows a deal when they see it. In turn that will stimulate sales.

Remember what I said earlier about perception? If you want to succeed as a writer, you must see yourself as a writer who is successful, a writer who sells books. Picture yourself successful, whatever that means to you. It doesn't necessarily mean you have the number one bestseller in the New York Times. Maybe it means that you make enough money to pay for the groceries. Maybe it means you make enough to quit your day job and write full time. Maybe it means you make so much that you can take that European vacation you've always wanted. It doesn't matter. What matters is your perception. 

Perceiving/Feeling yourself as successful is the most powerful marketing tool you can apply

You still have to chop wood and carry water. You still have to get your book listed wherever you think it needs to be. You still have to pay for ads to get the word out. But the key lies in perception and feeling, seeing yourself as a writer who succeeds.

Reality Follows Perception

The last thing I want to mention in this post is branding. Branding is one of those words straight out of Madison Avenue. See Mad Men, if you don't know about Madison Avenue and how it has shaped our world. It seems to me that the primary place to establish brand is on the cover of your book. There are lots of opinions about covers, about how they should look. About what goes on top, for example. Should it be the title or the author's name? I've been told many times that the title should be the primary information on the cover, with the author's name in smaller type and of less importance than the title.

I disagree with this. What are you branding here? Is it the book? The book is ephemeral. It will be read and then the reader will move on. The author is the brand, not the book. I want people to remember my name as a writer they enjoy. It's not important to me that they remember which book in the series they read.

When I want to buy a book I rarely look for a title. I look for a favorite author. Robert Crais, Alex Berenson, James Lee Burke, Craig Johnson, Daniel Silva, James Rollins, Michael Connelly, to mention a few. These authors are branded. I remember them. I don't know how many books they've written and I don't really care. I just know that I like what they write and when I want to purchase a book for entertainment I automatically think of them.

That's branding. How can you get your brand across? I'll leave you with that question.


  1. In the publishing industry the authors you mention are called "repeaters" as they repeatedly turn out dependable product.

  2. Hi Anon.,

    Interesting, I didn't know that. Thanks for your comment.

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Comments are always welcome. Tell me what you think! I've had some difficulty getting comments to show publicly on this blog, but I'll get back to you, even so...