The Two Conflicting Principles of Book Marketing for Self Published Authors

The most important thing you can do to market your book is come up with a comprehensive plan, and doing so requires consideration of two principles. Before we get to those, however, it’s important to understand two concepts:

Concept 1: The key to social media is that it’s social, not selling.

If your idea of using social media for book marketing is to tweet, “Buy My Book #mybookisawesome,” you’re not going to get many sales. In fact, you’re probably going to gain a bad reputation and, perhaps, see a backlash.

Social media is about building relationships with your potential customer base.

If your sole motivation for blogging is to sell your book, nobody is going to read your blog. If your purpose of being on a forum is to sell your book, no one is going to pay attention to your posts. If your main focus of Facebook updates is telling people about your book, you’re not going to get many likes or reach many people.

If, however, you interact with people, all these places can be great sources of both help and potential customers. Find a purpose for your blog. Contribute meaningful content to the forum. Use Facebook to connect with people.

The problem is that using social media correctly takes time. Not only do you have to learn the technical ins and outs, you have to understand the etiquette for each medium.

Concept 2: Cost means more than just literal dollars spent.

When I spend an hour creating a blog post, that’s an hour I didn’t spend writing or editing or even learning more about my craft. This concept is called opportunity cost, and, when I mention dollar figures in this post, that’s what I’m referring to in lieu of actually opening up a wallet.

So, with those ideas out of the way, let’s consider the creation of your marketing plan. The good news is that, in terms of deciding what resources to spend on marketing, there are only two principles you need to consider. The bad news is that those fundamentals are in direct conflict with each other.

Principle 1: The more products you have available as an author, the more cost effective your marketing efforts become.

Let’s consider the opportunity cost of marketing. I spend an hour creating a blog post or going on a forum or researching effective use of Facebook. At least a portion of that hour, I could have been writing or editing or learning more about storytelling or technique. That time I would have spent doing authorly things would have directly resulted in some portion of a product being created.

Envision me surrounded by charts and graphs. Assume I have projections and hard data. Picture a differential equation that I use a numerical method to solve. (Note that I don’t say I actually did any of this stuff, just that I want you to think of me doing it instead of just choosing random numbers.)

If I have a single book out, it costs $10 to generate one sale. Each sale generates $4 of revenue. Therefore, I’m losing $6 per sale.

I add a second book, and the fundamental math changes. I still only sell one copy of the book I’m advertising, but, now, half my customers go and buy my first novel as well. I’m still spending $10, but, instead of generating only $4 of revenue, I’m getting $6. I’m only losing $4 per sale! Whoohoo!

When I add my third book, some of my customers now buy one previous work and some both. My revenue on the same outlay increases to $7.50.

As you can see, eventually I’ll actually start making a profit. Based on anecdotal evidence, this tipping point comes around the 5th or 6th book.

The implication is clear: It makes no sense to market your book when you only have one out. You’re losing money on each hour you spend. Once you have five or six books, start marketing.

Principle 2: Each additional hour you spend on social media marketing increases your efficiency for future efforts.

There are two factors at work behind this principle.

1. There’s an initial outlay of learning the medium, setting up accounts, becoming proficient with the software, understanding the etiquette, etc. Once that learning is out of the way, creating content takes less time.
2. Your influence grows with time. One follower becomes a hundred becomes a thousand. Given a set conversion rate of followers to sales, sending notices to more people generates more sales for the same amount of effort.

In this manner, the longer you’ve been a user of a particular social medium, the more efficient you are at reaching customers. My first experiences tweeting will cost me $10 to make a sale. By the time I’ve been doing it a year, maybe I’m down to only $7 worth of effort for the same result.

The implication of this principle is also quite clear: You need to market as early as possible. Basically, as soon as you think you might become an author, you should start building a platform.

See the problem?

An author needs to:

1. Wait to market until he has 5 to 6 books out.
2. Begin marketing as soon as possible.

What’s the solution?

As with everything in life, the answer is balance. Either extreme is likely to result in failure.

If you do no marketing at all from the start, your book is not going to sell at all. You run the risk of becoming discouraged and giving up. Also, self publishing involves real cost. Editing and cover art adds up quickly. If you’re not selling anything, where does that money come from?

On the other hand, if you spend all your time blogging and on forums and connecting on Facebook, how are you going to ever produce even that first novel, much less five or six?

I think the balance point is different for each person. The important point is to consider each principle carefully and make wise decisions.

My Preliminary Marketing Plan for My To-Be Self Published Fiction Book

I’m an engineer, not a marketing guy.  That being said, I understand that, as a future self-published author, I am responsible for my success and that marketing is a huge part of the equation to becoming a professional writer.  I’m treating my first release as an experiment. 

The following is my preliminary marketing plan.  I welcome critiques and comments.

Things to do continuously:

Write – The most important thing I can do to become successful is to continue to roll out new products.  Each release will sell backlist and give me a new revenue stream.

Produce quality product – I think some high profile successes prove that a quality product isn’t necessarily crucial for success.  I do think that an emotionally engaging story is a necessity, but good technique is no surefire path to stardom.  That being said, I can’t stomach the thought of putting complete dreck out there.  I will also hire professional editing services and a graphic artist.

Things to do far in advance of my release date:

Develop my platform – I’m targeting a June 1, 2013 release date.  Sometime near the end of February, I plan to covert my blog ( into a better platform that just links to the blog.  I do not intend to do much else.  I’m just not sure that Twitter is worth the effort.  I’m still on the fence about Facebook.  On one hand, I don’t think it will be that successful in generating new sales.  On the other, I think there’s an expectation that a professional writer has a Facebook page.  I can see someone who buys my book looking to Facebook as a way to follow future releases.

Research categoriesPower of the Mages belongs in epic fantasy.  Epic fantasy is dominated by the big names in fantasy.  Does it make sense, then, for me to put my book in that category if I have no chance of getting a decently high ranking?  I haven’t researched this yet, but my understanding is that fantasy has few subcategories and that all those are somewhat clogged by heavy weights.  Does there exist non-fantasy categories where my book might fit?  I think it’s worth at least investigating.

SEO – I will research phrases readers might use to search for my book.  I’ll then incorporate those phrases into my Amazon book page in the hopes of making my book appear high on the list when that phrase is typed into the Amazon search box.

Publish my novelette – My plan is to make Abuse of Power available for free on my website and encourage anyone downloading it to sign up for my newsletter.  I want to explore the effectiveness of Craigslist ads by using postings in 10 test markets.  If I can’t get people to download a free book, I’ll know it’s not worth the time advertising my real book there.  I also plan to contact book bloggers to try to get them to post a link to it.  If nothing else, it will be a start in building my master blog list for future marketing.

Things to do in the month before release:

Contact 250 bloggers and Amazon reviewers – It’s tough to get reviews nowadays.  Your only shot is a) quantity and b) a professional yet personal approach.

Get 20 commitments from select friends and fellow authors for reviews – I’m going to use the personal connections I’ve made to try to get 20 people to post reviews on my Amazon book page on May 31, 2013.  The hope is that at least half will follow through.

Things to do near the release date:

Send personal emails or Facebook messages to all my friends – Let’s face it, most of the initial surge that a book a first time author releases is due to friends and family buying it.  A Facebook post simply is not guaranteed to reach all of them.  Personal emails will.  In the email, I’ll list all the ways they can help me: buy the book, tell friends, like the Amazon book page, like good reviews of the book on Amazon, and post a review (with guidelines) on Amazon.

Ad Blitz – The more books you sell, the more books Amazon helps you sell.  I want to take advantage of the initial surge from friends and family by using paid advertisements on Adwords and Goodreads, in targeted ezines, etc.

Announce the release on internet forums – There are several forums where I contribute regularly.  It shouldn’t hurt to do a quick announcement on them.

Press releases – I’m not sure of the effectiveness.  It can’t hurt, though, and shouldn’t take a lot of time.

Things to do after release:

Keep contacting book bloggers – A few emails sent a day isn’t going to eat too much into my productivity, and volume is the only way to ensure a lot of exposure.

Experiment with paid advertisements – Once my sales level out, I’ll post an ad with a site and measure the response.  It will be good information for the future.


My Thoughts on the Results of My Marketing Survey

Last week, I sent PMs to published authors on Mythic Scribes and posted a request on my blog.  Today, I’m going over my takeaways from the results.  Check out my blog tomorrow for my preliminary marketing plan. 

On the importance of marketing:

Unless you already are a big name author, it is incumbent upon you, and you alone, to make yourself a success.  Even if you have a publisher, they’re probably not going to do much more that send out review copies.

Being a professional writer in today’s environment means you need to know as much about marketing as you do about writing.

Unfortunately, I am not a marketing guy, and there do not seem to exist any easy strategies that are guaranteed to lead to success.  All I can do is experiment.  When I publish Power of the Mages, I intend to chronicle my results, with actual numbers, here on this blog. 

Regarding specific marketing techniques:

Blog Tour – I can certainly see how getting on blogs help, but I don’t know that trying to shoehorn blogs into a certain day to build momentum is worth the effort.  My theory is: get on as many blogs as you can, however you can, whenever you can.

Book Signing – I have a lot of questions about book signings as a self published author with POD books.  Does this work?  Do you buy a bunch of books in advance in the hopes of selling them?

Truthfully, until recently, my strategies didn’t consider hard copies of books except for the most minimal extent possible.  I’ve had a couple of people tell me, however, that paper copies sale better than I would have expected. 

If you’ve had experiences with this, please share.  These same comments go for book fairs.

Advertising (where and how much?) – I think that most of us aren’t prepared to sink the kind of capital into our book as would be required for a truly national campaign.  However, it seems reasonable to experiment with the small quantities of money that it takes to run on Adwords and Facebook.

From the results of the survey, it certainly sounds like most people do not even make their money back on the deal.  My question then is: is it possible to do a big enough blitz to raise your book’s profile to the top ten in its category?  If so, the extra momentum might make it worth it.

Adwords seemed to have come across as the best bet based on these authors.  I’ve read elsewhere that advertising on Goodreads is cost effective.  I’d also like to hear about it if anyone had any success or tried Craigslist.

Blogging – I feel more strongly every day that blogging is not worth the effort as far as time cost vs. benefit goes.  It does make you feel that you’re doing something, though.

Twitter – I was gratified to find that the surveyed authors had so low an opinion of Twitter because I have no desire to try to learn how to use it.

Facebook – I think that the results of the survey indicate that Facebook was useful in communicating to your friends and family that you have a book out but that it wasn’t great at attracting new readers. 

Search Engine Optimization – I have some hope of using SEO techniques on Amazon to draw readers to my book page.  I don’t think this will result in my selling millions of books or anything, but I think that the time cost vs. benefit is probably okay.

Getting your book reviewed by book bloggers – The responses tell me two things: 1. This is a good thing to do. 2. This is a difficult thing to do.  I’ve heard rates of 20-25% success in getting reviews.  I think this data is old and that the success rate is now much lower.

Getting your book reviewed by Amazon top reviewers – I think an important source of potential reviewers are people who reviewed similar books.  The top reviewers are inundated by requests.  Someone who happened to post a review about a friend’s book may be flattered that you want them to do yours.

Short stories as promotional materials – I’ve heard it said that an email list is the most important marketing tool that you can develop.  I have some plans to use a novelette to help develop that list.  I’ll keep you posted in the coming months.

Regarding expectations:

I read that a handful of self published authors make 75% of the money.  From browsing forums, this certainly seems to be the case.  Most people are barely going to make their money back and will never recoup a tiny portion of their time cost.

That being said, some people do make it.  It’s not out of the question to sell 10,000 books in a year.  The market is there.  The readers are there.  You just have to reach them.

I tend to oscillate between thinking that it’s hopeless and that it’s possible.  We’ll see.  I’ll post my actual sales numbers on this blog to give you a better idea.

On what you can do to increase your sales:

I think there are methods to improve your sales.  Advertising and getting reviews on the right blogs seem to be the most surefire methods.  Whether either succeeds on a cost to benefit basis is up for debate.

It seems true that sales feed sales.  The more books you move, the more Amazon will help you move more books by making it more visible.

Is making a huge gamble and putting thousands of dollars into advertising the way to go?  I don’t know, and I’m not willing to risk it until I have more books out than just the one.

Regarding self publishing versus traditional:

The traditionally published respondents gave me a lot to think about.  I’m committed to going it alone for my first book, but I do like some of the advantages that publishers give.  For my next series, I’m seriously considering at least making a couple of submissions.

A few closing thoughts:

The number one takeaway I got from the respondents was to not let marketing eat too much into production of your next book.  Writing goals come first.

Have realistic expectations.  Do not get discouraged as your books languish with next to no sales.  Rarely does someone break out with a single book.  Keep writing.

Have a marketing plan ready at your launch.  Devote some money to advertising up front.