So far this year, various self-publishing experts have recommended the following courses of action for garnering success in the indie publishing industry:
1. Don’t buy advertising. I wrote a post about it here.
- J. A. Konrath, Mark Coker of Smashwords, and Dean Wesley Smith all advise against spending money on ads.
2. Don’t create an author platform. Stop blogging. Don’t engage in social media like Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter.
- L. L. Barkat says blogging is largely a waste of time for experienced writers in 2013.
- Konrath has a blog, but doesn’t do much with Twitter and Facebook.
- Here Jane Friedman suggests that first-time and aspiring narrative driven authors in the traditional publishing world might want to desist, but indies should probably keep it up. However, this news seems to be spreading as thought she suggested that everyone stop. Here is her definition of platform, which again, she still recommends that indies build.
- Jody Hedlund says blogging is a waste of time too, but she’s still going to continue.
- Elizabeth S. Craig urges writers to focus on writing before platform building. Sensible advice.
Okaaaaaaaay, so if it’s a waste of money to advertise and a waste of time to have a platform, blog, or use social media, then how do I get my books in front of readers? How do I get my books seen? What avenue of marketing is left to me if everything listed above is a waste of time?
On the surface, it seems that the general consensus for marketing in 2013 is to:
- Allow retailers to take over the bulk of marketing using their internal marketing algorithms (Customers Who Bought Also Bought feature, free bookstore promotions on Kindle Select and/or Kobo, etc.)
- Keep writing and publishing more good books. Sensible advice.
But what happens when you realize that some retailers’ internal marketing is better than others? That some retailers do next to nothing to make your giveaways visible to readers? Oh, and they don’t even have a way to tell you how many you’ve given away? That at certain retailer websites your book cannot even be found in generic searches of the keywords you chose? That your books cannot be seen on some retailer sites unless readers already know they are there? Oh, but no blogging or social media or ads!
Well, you’re screwed.
The truth is that the publishing industry is constantly in flux. Algorithms change all the time. No one, not even the experts, has a clue how to deal with marketing from one day to the next. Forget these big year-long predictions and pronouncements.
Here are my thoughts:
- Watch what the “experts” do and ignore what they say. Look at my own marketing plan from December; not 6 months later, and I’m already rethinking my strategy, so I’m certainly not accusing anyone of being purposefully deceitful. But with the rapid changes in the industry, I cannot imagine that one piece of advice is going to work forever (or even a month). Even the experts are going to have to change, and if their changes are successful, then I want to emulate them.
- Blog (if you want to). I am not going to sit here and tell you that you have to do anything. If you don’t want to blog, don’t. But note that in the above links, most of the people who said blogging was a waste of time continue to do it. (See advice above.) I believe blogging is important, especially for indies, because by nature our industry is highly individualized. Blogs are a great way to share data and marketing successes and failures. Sharing information helps everyone.
- If you choose to blog, have realistic expectations. Tailor your blog for a purpose. If you want to reach readers, then your content will be different than if you are trying to write about your publishing experience (as I am). I know that my blog is unlikely to reach readers, but that is not its purpose.
- Don’t fall victim to the premise that once you begin a blog you have to keep it up forever. Many of the articles referenced above describe blogging as if it were a Tar Baby. Once you get your fingers in it, you can’t let go. Once you start a blog, you’ve got to post X number of days a week or else! Well, that’s bull. If you discover that your blog isn’t doing what you want, then stop. Change it to a static site and be done with it. No harm, no foul.
- Use social media (if you want to). If the idea of Twitter makes you cringe, then don’t use it. But for me, Facebook and Twitter have been consistently strong marketing tools.
- Experiment with advertising. Many of my old faithful advertising venues have shown declining success over the last six months, so I had intended to opt out of paid ads. But after realizing that I still need some outside source of visibility, I decided to keep experimenting with new places. JA Konrath is generally not a fan of advertising, but he tried BookBub recently and has since used it again. He also says that it worked for him. So I’m trying that.
- Embrace change. It’s inevitable and it’s fast. If you find something that works, keep doing it until it doesn’t work anymore and then change immediately. Look, the cold, hard truth is that no one is ever going to find a magic marketing bullet. Ever. It’s not gonna happen. This industry is changing too rapidly, and that means we have to change just as fast in order to keep up.
- Keep trying. I believe that the people who ultimately succeed will be those who never, never, never give up. They will experiment and try new things. They will abandon what doesn’t work and take up what does. They will keep writing good books and selling them at good prices. They will be grateful to their readers and remember to say thank you.
- Focus on books first. The one piece of advice that is constant throughout all those articles is to focus on books. Keep the main thing the main thing. Remember that your marketing efforts–no matter whether you chose to buy ads, blog, or use social media– mean nothing if you have no worthwhile books to share with your readers.