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.

How to Become a Successful Author in Today’s Marketplace

When I first hit upon the idea of writing a novel, I imagined a publisher throwing piles of money at me while weeping for joy over the awesomeness of my book.

If that ever was the way of the world, it’s not anymore. Creating your novel is but the first in a long sequence of steps, and I’ve devoted considerable effort in gaining understanding of those steps.

Before I get to that, though, let’s define “successful.”

1. Megawealth – At some point, a book reaches a level where people buy and read it simple because everyone else is buying and reading it. Did I read Harry Potter, Twilight, or Hunger Games because I said, “Hey, this looks like a book I will enjoy?” No. I bowed to social pressure. How do you get your book to that level? I have no idea. If you happen to know, please clue me in. Truthfully, it’s unlikely that any of us are going to reach those kinds of levels.
2. Quitting my Day Job – As an engineer, I make a pretty good living. Salary-wise, I have no complaints. That success also makes it harder for me to replace my income. Through hard work and by gaining a better understanding of efficient marketing/promoting, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for me eventually to gain this level.
3. Extra Income – While replacing my salary would be difficult, a couple of extra thousand bucks a month would certainly come in handy, and I think it’s probable, with hard work, for me to attain that level of success.

While I’d love to get to (1) and I’m shooting for (2), I think that (3) is the more realistic, relatively-short-term objective.

So, how do I get there?

Step 1: Write a Good Book

One path to selling a lot of books is to devote a lot of money to marketing. If you have enough books out and enough resources, I think this would, eventually, pay off for you. Frankly, though, it’s risky, and I don’t have the necessary (huge!) resources to devote to it.

Since I have a day job, I also don’t have time both to produce new work and spent hours and hours marketing.

Without money or time to promote my work, the only path to success I see is to turn my readers into salespeople. If each person who reads it tells others, that’s the “force multiplier” I need to turn my meager marketing efforts into something that launches a successful career.

The first step in gaining my readers’ help is to write a book worthy of them recommending.

Step 2: Implore

The simple fact is that someone is much more likely to do something for you if you ask them to do it. Expecting a stranger to buy your book, read it, and spontaneously proclaim its virtues to all their friends on their own initiative is unrealistic.

If, however, you write a letter to your readers saying, “Hey, I’m an indie author. The only way I have to get word out about my book is through people like you. If you can do any of these things for me, it would help so much, and I’d really appreciate it.”

Then, list things like:

• Tell your friends – in person, on Facebook, and on Twitter
• Write a review on Amazon, your blog, B&N, Goodreads, and any other place you can think of to put it
• Add it to any “Best Book You’ve Never Heard of” list that you can find
• Like my Facebook page

A more comprehensive list is the subject of a future post, but you get the idea.

Step 3: Promote, but Not too Much

Each hour you spend marketing and promoting is an opportunity to reach new customers who in turn have the potential to tell their friends about you. At the same time, each hour you spend marketing and promoting is an hour you’re not spending writing.

Step 4: Write Another Book

As you create and market new products, you:

• Give your “fans” another chance to purchase from you
• Have the opportunity to reach new customers
• Create marketing efficiencies

If you spend an hour promoting your first book, you only have the potential of selling that one product. For the second book, you now have the possibility of your marketing campaign reaching back and selling both your books. Efficiency, to a point, increases with more books.

One book simply is unlikely to ever net you much of a profit, much less make you extra income. Keep writing.

How to Become a Successful Author

This post is the final part of my Analyzing the Behavior of Book Buyers Series.  See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

There’s a lot of bad news if you’re trying to replace your day-job income with your passion for writing:

  • There are millions of books out there, and people just keep writing more!  Would they just stop already?  It’s hard to stand out from the crowd.
  • If someone does happen to find your book page, you have opportunities to lose them with you description, the reviews, your preview section, and the price.

There is, however, one piece of very good news: Book Buyers actively look for books.

I’ll buy somewhere between 20 and 30 novels this year.  There are a lot of Goodreads members who have goals of reading more than 50 a year.  In order to buy that many books, we’re going to have to search them out.  You don’t have to come to us; we’ll be trying to find you.

If you can make it easy enough for a lot of us to find you, you’ll be a success.  How, then, is the best way to do that:

Step 1 – Write a good book.

Step 2 – Repeat Step 1 over and over again.

Fellow Mythic Scribes members Michael Sullivan and Kevin McLaughlin convinced me of this approach, but logic bears them out.  Let’s look at how Book Buyers find books on a macro scale:

  • If they find a single book they really like, they consider every book by that author.
  • They wait for their favorite authors to publish a new book.
  • They get recommendations from Goodreads, people they know, forums, and lists.  They search out these recommendations.
  • They search within their favorite genres for new books.

Three out of four of those methods involve the book being good.  If the reader doesn’t like your writing, they’re not going to look at your other books and certainly not going to wait for you to publish another one.  If readers in general don’t like your writing, they’re not going to recommend them to anyone.  With so many books in the marketplace, you simply cannot rely on driving customers to your book through advertising or any other method; you must have word of mouth working for you.

I’m planning on releasing Power of the Mages later this year.  Let’s explore two possible scenarios on how that release goes:

Scenario 1Power sells only a few hundred copies in the first year, but I get favorable responses back from the people who did read it.  What do I do?

Write a new book.  If people like Power, it means that I need to give them more time and opportunities to find my writing.

Scenario 2Power sells only a few hundred copies in the first year, and the response is generally bad.  What do I do?

Concentrate on getting better at writing.  I obviously wasn’t as ready as I thought I was to publish a book.

As I do for mine, you probably think your writing is good enough to publish.  Let’s face facts:

  1. Most of the self-published stuff out there isn’t all that great.  The odds aren’t in forever in your favor.
  2. You are not the best person to judge the quality of your work.

Take a long, honest look at the feedback you get.  I know it’s painful, but you’re never going to become a success if you bury your head in the sand.  If you want to get better, you have to try to get better.

I’ve heard many times that the only way to get better at writing is to write.  I think that advice is horse manure.

In the absence of feedback on what you’re doing wrong, it’s unlikely that your writing is going to do much improvement at all.  If you need to get better, get opinions from people who know writing.  Take their suggestions seriously.

Nook Sales Are Falling and That’s not a Good Thing

Check out this article: Amazon is Gutting Barnes and Noble.  And this one: Barnes & Noble sells fewer Nooks, retail revenue falls.

If you don’t feel like clicking the links, they basically say that Nook sales are falling and indications are that B&N is having a hard time holding onto its market share in ebooks.

Not good.

Amazon, as the market leader by far in ebook sales, has already shown a propensity to push people around.  Imagine what will happen if they’re the only game in town.

If I have a choice (and sometimes I don’t because Amazon has a bigger library), I buy from Barnes and Noble.  I own a Nook, not a Kindle.  In fact, I am a fan of B&N in general and think that their stores offer a good shopping experience.

Their online platform, not so much.  I often find myself searching for books and recommendations at Amazon before going to the B&N website to make the purchase.

Amazon has mastered the art and science of selling books.  Their website isn’t just a place to shop but a social network all its own.  I don’t see B&N doing anything to counter, or even match, Amazon’s strategies.  Why aren’t they doing any of the following:

  • Offering incentives for people to leave reviews
  • Offering incentive for authors to publish at B&N exclusively
  • Encouraging social use of the B&N website
  • Incorporating some kind of Goodreads-type functionality to help you find books you might enjoy

Case in point of their “if we offer ebooks people will buy them without any more effort on our part approach” — I used to pay $25 every year to them for “membership.”  In exchange, I received a 10% discount on all my purchases.  That made the math pretty simple for me.  If I spent more than $250 a year there, it was a good deal.  Otherwise, it wasn’t.

My wife and I easily spend that in total, so why do we no longer pony up for the membership?  The discount didn’t apply to Nook books.


Self Publishers need someone to step up to offer competition to Amazon, but I’m not sure B&N is ever going to be that company.

Analyzing the Behavior of Book Buyers Pt 5 – Price

See Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this series.

If a browser reads your sample and likes it, he’s going to buy it, right?  Nope.  You still have one big hurdle to clear — price.  A few thoughts on the subject:

  • Price isn’t necessarily the last thing the browser considers.  It’s a factor that can lose you the sale at any point during the process.  It might even be the first thing the potential buyer examines.
  • Sometimes, setting price is about maximizing profit.  Selling fewer books at a higher margin may bring you more money than selling a lot at a smaller margin.
  • Sometimes, setting price is about exposure.  In the long run, getting a sample of your work into the hands of as many people as possible may outweigh short term profit.
  • A price point that is too low may indicate to the potential customer that your work is substandard.
  • A price point that is too high may provide the potential customer with too little value.
  • It used to be that setting a price of $.99 drove lots of sales.  Changes in the way that Amazon calculates category rankings and a certain stigma attached to low-priced ebooks may have eliminated the advantages of this price point.

Since I discovered indie authors, my behavior towards book buying has changed:

  • Unless the book is part of a series that I absolutely love, like the upcoming A Memory of Light or the latest in John Ringo’s Troy Rising series, I’m going to wait for the price to fall.  I’m not going to pay $12.99 even for Brent Weeks’ latest book.  I simply do not think I’ll enjoy it four times more than a recommended indie authors’ work.
  • I can live with $7.99 for an established author or the continuation of a series that I’m reading.  Even with a strong recommendation, I’m not going to pay that much to try someone new.  Case in point – Terry Ervin recommended Angie Lofthouse’s Defenders of the Covenant, but it’s priced at $7.99.  If the price drops, I’ll buy it, but I’m simply not willing to pay that much at the moment for someone I’ve never read.
  • If a book even halfway sounds interesting, I won’t blink at paying $2.99.

My main takeaway from analyzing pricing is that an author should experiment.  It’s so easy to change your price and see what happens.  If you’re doing well at $2.99, does $3.99 hurt your bottom line?  If not, increase it another dollar.  If so, drop it back down.

Please feel free to share your experiences as either a buyer or a seller in the comments section.  Look for the final part of this series summarizing my analysis next Monday.

Analyzing the Behavior of Book Buyers Part 3 – Reviews

In Part 1 of this series, I examined how book buyers find your page.  In Part 2, I wrote about the first thing they look at on your page.

At this point, the potential customer has found your book and, after reading the description, is intrigued.  You’re home free, right?  Wrong.

Next comes the dreaded reading of the reviews.  Some browsers will read a bunch of comments; other only a few.  You can be sure, though, that they’ll all look at the top rated one for the “Most Helpful Customer Reviews” and that they’re all looking for the following:

  • Assurance that someone out there has actually bought and read your book.
  • Assurance that the book isn’t total crap.
  • Highly individual criteria.

We can’t control that a potential buyer might read something innocuous in a review that makes him click away.  There’s no accounting for taste, and you have to write the book you want.  The fact is that you’re not going to convert every browser into a buyer.   There are, however, some things that you can do:

  • Make sure you have reviews for the potential buyer to read
  • Make sure that these reviews say positive things
  • Make sure that the top Most Helpful Customer Review is awesome

I can hear you shouting at the computer: “I will not write fake reviews!  I have no control over the reviews!  I can’t even get reviews!”  Calm down.  First of all, I can’t really hear you, so screaming doesn’t really accomplish anything other than making your coworkers look at you funny.  Second, give me a chance to explain:

  • You can get reviews.  It takes a lot of time and work, but it can be done.  Pick a goal of how many reviews you want.  Send 10 emails a day to Amazon reviewers, book bloggers, people on forums, and anyone who has ever “liked” your blog until you get commitments for the number you want plus at least 25% (some of those “commitments” will fall through).  With luck, one out of every ten emails might result in a “yes.”
  • You do have some control over the reviews.  If you want them to say your book is good, WRITE A GOOD BOOK!  Most reviewers, especially ones you’ve contacted personally, don’t want to say bad things about your work.  If you give them half a chance, they’ll mostly concentrate on the positive.  Make sure there are positive things for them to say.  If you’re getting only bad reviews, consider the possibility that your book wasn’t ready for publication.
  • I agree that it’s unethical to post fake reviews.  I do not plan to use that method, and I do not advocate you doing it either.  On the other hand, I don’t mind gaming the system a little.  If you get enough reviews, you’ll hopefully find one that you really like.  It will be detailed, say fantastic things about the book and about your writing ability, and mention some minor negatives.  Once you get that review, tell all your friends, family, and fans to click “Yes” to the question, “Was this review helpful to you?”  That will move the review to the top of the list, and enough votes will keep it there.

Final thoughts on reviews:

  • You’re going to get some bad reviews.  Don’t sweat them too much.  Not everyone has the same tastes as you, and that’s okay.
  • The best reviews tell potential buyers both what the reviewer liked and disliked about the book.
  • A five-star review that says, “This book is AWSUM!!!” and a one-star review that says, “I hated the title so I didn’t read it.” or “This bok sux!” aren’t going to impact your sales or reputation much.

Tune in next Wednesday for Part 4 – Your Sample Is Crucial.

Analyzing the Behavior of Book Buyers Pt 2 – Reading Your Description

Last Thursday, I examined Step 1 of the Book Buyers’ Process – Finding Your Book.  Now that you’ve got them at your book page, you’re done.  Right?

Wrong.  Your job has only just begun.  You’ve got three opportunities for these potential customers to walk out the virtual door never to return.

Step 2 of the Book Buyers’ Process – Reading the Description

The first thing the book buyer is going to do on your book page is look at the description.  If they like it, they’ll continue on in their research process.  If not, it’s on to the next author.


  • If they’ve made it this far in the process, they’re rooting for you to convert them into a customer.  They’d much rather find a book now than to have to continue on.
  • This stage is only Step 2 of 5.  You cannot get them to click buy from your description alone.
  • You can get them to click “back,” however, if you make a mistake.
  • Your potential buyer doesn’t want to spend a lot of time on this stage.  They want to quickly find out what your book is about.

Advice on Crafting Your Description:

  • Don’t screw up!  Any typos or errors = automatic fail.
  • Remember that the thing that interests a reader in your writing is the same thing that’s going to draw them in with the description – a character.  As research for this post, I spent more than an hour reading book descriptions.  By far, the ones that interested me the most focused on a character and how that character reacted to the plot.
  • The shorter you make this section, the better.  Give the potential customer just enough information to whet their appetite and have some idea of what the book is about.
  • In contrast to the point just above, you want to use all the space that Amazon gives you.  I suggest starting with your actual description and use the rest of the space to help the buyer justify their purchase.  List any awards that the book has won.  Failing that, endorsements from other authors are a good idea.  Work in SEO words if you can (but do not just list phrases!).

Do you have any thoughts or suggestions about how to better craft descriptions to draw in the buyer?

Tune in later this week for Part 3 of this series about the next stage in the book buyers’ process – Reviews.