Marketing for the Self Publishing Fiction Author

I’m an engineer, not a marketing guy.  I hate trying to sale merchandise.  However, as an author who intends to self publish early next year, I need to start treating my hobby like a business and figure out how, exactly, one goes about converting writing into fame and fortune.

The more I research the subject, the more confused I become.  The purpose of this post is to organize my thoughts, generate discussion, and provide, hopefully, some benefit to others from all the searching that I’ve done.

Professionalism:

Almost every source agrees on one thing, you need to be professional in everything you do.  You need a cover indistinguishable from those produced by a big 6 publisher.  You need a book that is written and edited to a level better than those produced by a big 6 publisher.  Only by producing a quality product can you ever hope to gain widespread success.

How this jives with products such as 50 Shades of Grey, I’m not sure.  (Disclaimer: I have not read this book, but I’ve heard that the writing is dreadful.)  It just goes to show that you have to take all advice with a grain of salt.

Author Platform:

There seems to be vehement disagreement on what kind of web presence an author needs to maintain, and I’ve read a lot from both sides of the argument.

Author Website – It seems to me that an author’s website is a reasonable expectation, and the lack of one indicates someone who isn’t serious about treating his writing as a business.  I don’t think that a website is necessarily going to create a lot of sales, though, so, from a pure cost to benefit ratio standpoint, I can see the argument to forego doing one.

Blog – I can find a hundred sources that tell you that you must blog and a hundred more that tell you it’s a waste of time.  Personally, it’s hard for me to imagine my blog moving ten books that I wouldn’t have sold via other sources.  From a time cost vs. benefit analysis standpoint, it seems like a poor business decision.  I can definitely see it for the non fiction writer.  For the purveyor of lies, however, I don’t think it’s worth it.  I’ll keep doing my blog since I enjoy it, but I wouldn’t tell you that it’s desirable to have one.

Facebook – Having an author’s Facebook pages is another one of those things that is expected.  Again, I don’t know how many sales it will really produce, but it seems easy enough to set up a page.  It may have little benefit, but it also has little cost.  My thinking is that it can’t hurt.

Other Social Media – There are a ton of outlets available.  Personally, I have no desire to learn Twitter or any of the others and don’t see the benefit.

Bottom Line – If someone wants to find you, you need to be able to be found.  A Facebook page and an author website seem to be minimum requirements for a professional author.  If you have the time, energy, and money needed to develop a full social media platform, it will probably help you gain readers.  I’m just not sure that the sales increase will be worth the cost.

Reviews:

You’ll see a lot of advice out there telling you that reviews are your number one tool to market your book.  I’m a bit confused about how this works.

Blog Reviews – There are a ton of book bloggers out there.  The concept is that you send them a free copy of your work, and they read and review it.  I see the benefit of this effort.  The cost is low.  You’ll need to send out a lot of emails and do a lot of interacting with the bloggers.  If, however, you break it up into sending a few emails a day, it’s not that big of a deal.  You also have to “pay” for the review copies.  (I have a lot of questions on this subject.  See below.)  The benefits you receive can be big.  You’re getting the name of your book in front of all the people who read that blog.  Additionally, the post never goes away.  Someone ten years from now may stumble over it and decide to buy your book.  Finally, you’re building relationships with these bloggers and developing a list that you can use to make marketing your next book much more efficient.

Amazon Reviews – I get the value of these to an extent.  If someone comes across your book page on Amazon, their first step is to read the blurb.  If the summary interests them, their next step is to read some reviews to see if others have enjoyed your book.  Having solid reviews that communicate your book’s strengths and weaknesses then becomes a huge factor in whether that potential customer becomes an actual customer.  I do not, however, see how having a bunch of reviews attracts customers to your page.  Everything I’ve read about Amazon’s algorithms seems to indicate that the recommendations are based solely on sales.  Which brings me to:

Shill Reviews – There is a lot of information out there about authors paying people to write glowing reviews of their work.  Three thoughts on this: 1. I don’t understand the benefit.  Yes, if people come to your page, it may help them decide to actually make a purchase.  But, to me, the key to marketing is getting people to see your book in the first place.  Does anyone out there know of a way that more reviews increases the profile of your book?  2. The cost can be huge.  Not the monetary cost, but the backlash.  If you’re discovered using these techniques, good luck rehabilitating your image.  3. This practice is so unethical.  I plan to pester everyone I know to give my first book an honest review.  Yes, this means that my sister will give me a glowing 5 star review because, as one of my beta readers, she thinks it’s the best thing she’s ever read.  Yes, she’s probably a bit biased.  On the other hand, another of my sisters may read it and give it a 1 star review saying it’s crap.  As long as I’m requesting honesty, I don’t have a problem with it.  What do you think?

Review Copies – As an author, I cringe at the thought of unprotected pdfs (or other formats) of my hard work escaping containment.  I know that I can distribute “gifts” of my books to reviewers, but I still have to pay Amazon’s commission for each copy.  I also know that I can distribute copies for free if I sign up for a program where I agree to give Amazon some degree of exclusivity.  None of these options sounds palatable to me.  Are there other ways to get free copies of my book to reviewers?

Other Marketing Ideas:

Release More Books – Most of the sources I’ve read have said that releasing another book is a great marketing tool.  I can definitely see this and plan to work hard to make this happen.  There’s only so much time in a day, though.

Fictionwise – I found a blog entry with a link to this site, and a couple of comments below the post purporting to be from writers who use it.  According to the comments and the post, having your book listed here as a new release gives a significant increase in sales.  I haven’t followed up on the research for this, though.  If anyone has used it, please let me know your experience.

Books on Marketing ebooks – There are tons of these out there.  I dug through a bunch of them looking for one to read.  The one that caught my attention was: Make A Killing On Kindle (Without Blogging, Facebook Or Twitter). The Guerilla Marketer’s Guide To Selling Ebooks On Amazon.  As soon as I finish reading Queen of Mages, I plan to buy it, read it, and review it on my blog. 

Blog Tours – The concept seems to be to prearrange with a bunch of blogs to do guest posts and/or reviews of your book at around the same time, preferably on consecutive days in order to create “buzz.”  I think that there is a benefit in getting on as many blogs as possible, but I’m not sure it’s possible to establish an overwhelming internet presence by talking to ten or so bloggers. 

Guest Blogging – I’ve read authors say that their books get big boosts when they do guest posts for other bloggers.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  Blogs are a great way to get your book before a new audience, and a blog post is a way to introduce yourself to them in a positive, personal way.  The important thing to remember about this marketing method is that you need to write posts that fit in with the context of the blog, not just write “buy my book because…”  In fact, it seems that the soft sale, not mentioning the book at all in your article and having the blogger mention it in the introduction, is a better idea.

Contests – There are contests out there for every known genre, length, and publishing method.  The upside – if you win, or even get an honorable mention, the exposure can be quite beneficial.  The downside – almost all of these contests require an entry fee and some a physical copy of the book, and there is no guarantee that you’re going to win.  I’ll probably try to find a couple to enter, but I’m not going to devote too much time or money to it.

Short Stories – A lot of authors base short stories in the world that they have created and distribute these stories as an advertisement for their novel.  I’m planning on doing this.  I’ll do my best to quantify the interest it generates and report back.  EDIT: To be clear, my plan is essentially to give away my short stories in an attempt to build an email list of individuals who are likely to want to buy my book.

Endorsement Sites – The concept is that you pay a fee and submit your work to one of these sites.  They review it, and, if it meets their criteria, they endorse it.  This means that you’re allowed to claim your book as being acceptable to them and use their logo on your website.  They’ll also link to your book from your website.  I like the thought behind this, but I’m not sure that the value is worth the cost.   I plan to contact some of the authors of the featured books and ask if they noticed a bump in sales after they got the endorsement.  If they did and that bump covers the cost, I’ll consider doing it.

If you have anything to add, please comment below.

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2 thoughts on “Marketing for the Self Publishing Fiction Author

  1. Great post! I’m like you, its quite hard sometimes to take it all in. There is just so bloody much around trying to get your book out there and noticed. I went to an Independent Publishing Seminar last weekend, and the panel of 4 all agreed that the hardest part was not writing the book itself, but what comes after.

    Good luck mate!

    • Missy,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I’m a minimum of six months from publishing, and I’ve already been researching for two months. I want to have a plan in place for the moment I hit “publish.”

      Good luck to you as well.

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