So you published your novel and now you’re trying to market it and it’s going slow and you suddenly realized that you hate marketing. How do you get the word out when you don’t know anything about marketing fiction?
Sharon posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
So I’ve written two books. And most of the readers who own the books have liked them. (Not all of course, none of us will write a book that every reader falls in love with.)
But still the big marketing hatchet man hovers over my head. Why does marketing have to cost more than book sales? Or does it?
And Jonna posted a similar question on the same day:
I have indie published the first three novels in a series, all available in print and for Kindle, and have gotten good reviews from readers, but my marketing skills are pretty bad. You recommend sending out review copies. I’ve seen some sites offering reviews for a fee. That seems a bit dodgy to me. My question is, to whom should I be sending review copies and should these always be print copies or can I submit digital files for review?
Thanks for all your great advice, Randy.
Randy sez: Sharon, I love that phrase, “big marketing hatchet man.” It conjures up an image that resonates with just about all fiction writers.
Jonna, your specific question is about review copies, and I can answer that very quickly. Don’t pay for reviews. Indie authors will do best by getting reviews on the online retailers–Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc., along with reviews on Goodreads and other social media for book-lovers. But the more general question that you’re really asking is the same as Sharon’s: How do you market fiction?
Let’s be clear, right up front, that this is a very hard question. A very big question.
It’s a little bit like asking, “How do you play chess?”
Sure, I can show you what moves each of the chess pieces is allowed to make, and once you know those, you technically know “how to play chess.” But you will play like a beginner.
This is the way people usually teach marketing. They show you how to do a tweet or how to post on Facebook or how to pin on Pinterest or how to post a blog entry or whatever. And technically, now you know how to market. But you will market like a beginner.
If you really want to learn to play chess well, then you need to get some training from somebody who knows how to play chess. Either you find a mentor or you learn from books or from software. But you need to get training.
And then you need to play chess. Lots of it. If you want to become a grandmaster, you need to put in about 10,000 hours playing chess. That’s 5 years, playing chess 8 hours per day, with a couple of weeks vacation per year. That’s a lot of chess!
Do you have to become a “marketing grandmaster?”
No, no, no, no, no.
You can do that if you want, but very few novelists ever do. I would say that James Patterson is a marketing grandmaster. And he gets the kind of results you expect from a marketing grandmaster.
But you don’t have to be a grandmaster to play a mean game of chess. You just need to master a few tactics, such as the pin, the knight fork, the skewer, the double-attack. And you also need to learn basic chess strategy, including king-side attacks, queen-side attacks, defense, and the end-game. Each time you add one of these to your arsenal, you become a strikingly better player.
Likewise, you don’t have to be a marketing grandmaster to do well as a novelist. You need to master a few basic marketing tactics. And you need a marketing strategy.
I could write a whole book on this. In fact, I am writing a whole book on this.
I can’t possibly put everything into one blog post.
But I can tell you the essentials, and they’re pretty simple.
Let’s start by asking why you need marketing. Then we’ll ask what marketing is.
The reason you need marketing is because most people on the planet have never heard of you. (There are seven billion people on earth, and none of them knows everybody.)
Marketing means taking people through three distinct phases:
- Attraction–they learn that you exist
- Engagement–they learn that you write the kind of fiction they want
- Conversion–they pull out their wallet and buy your book
Each phase is essential. Nobody will buy your book unless they want it. Nobody will want it unless they know it exists.
So you need a marketing strategy that will first attract people (to your web site or to the sales page on Amazon or some other retailer); then you need to engage those same people long enough to figure out whether they like your kind of fiction; finally, you need to persuade those same people to buy RIGHT NOW.
If your marketing strategy fails in any of these points, then almost nobody will buy your book.
If your marketing strategy is designed to attract one kind of person, engage a completely different kind of person, and convert a completely different kind of person, then almost nobody will buy your book.
If your marketing strategy succeeds in all three points, then a growing number of people will buy your book. Then if it’s good, they’ll talk about it and word-of-mouth will take off and your sales will grow exponentially.
Those are the essentials.
That is the big picture.
Filling in the details will take a whole book. I can’t change that fact. Marketing is complicated. The best I can do is to break it down into a series of simple tasks, and I’m working on that right now.
I don’t want to discourage either of you, Sharon and Jonna.
So let’s end on a happy note. This is critical for your long-term success, so start with this key principle:
The best marketing tool for any book is another book by the same author.
If you’ve got only one book on the market, then it’s one book out of ten million on Amazon. A few people will find it by chance and buy it, but if they like it, they’ve got nothing else to read. They might tell a friend, but that’s it.
Whereas if you’ve got 100 books on the market, then 100 times as many people will find them by chance and buy them, which means you’ve now got 100 times as many sales. If they like one, they’ll buy several, so now you’re getting several hundred times as many sales. And with each book, they’ll tell a friend, so you’re getting tons more word-of-mouth.
If you look at the successful authors, most of them have a lot of books published.
So it may very well be that the absolute best way to market your novel is to … write another novel. And another. And another.
Of course, people will tell you that you “must” be on Twitter. You “must” be on Facebook. You “must” be on Pinterest, on Goodreads, on the blogosphere. You “must” do this, that, and the other thing. You “must” be on the marketing treadmill ten hours per day.
Really? Seriously? These people know this for sure? Or do they just think it?
I’ll agree that it’s POSSIBLE that some of those things might help market your work.
But you should always ask whether they’ll help MORE than just writing another book.
If you don’t KNOW that the answer is “yes,” then the answer is probably “no.”
There are certain things that I KNOW work. I know, because I’ve tried them and measured the results. I know when they work and why they work. I know when they don’t work.
Blogs can have value, under certain conditions. E-mail lists can have a lot of value, under certain conditions. Ditto for all the various things people do.
But here’s the thing that has the MOST value: Writing another great book.
Right now, I’m doing almost nothing to market my fiction. Instead, I’m putting my effort into getting my back-list of books back in print as e-books. That should be done fairly soon, and then I’ll have six books that I can market all together. And I’ve got another two books that are partially written–books that publishers had issues with, so they never got published traditionally. Books I believe in and plan to publish as an indie author.
My focus right now is on production, not on marketing. Most of the successful indie authors say that they started getting traction only after they had 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 books out. So that’s my goal.
Jonna and Sharon, go write some more books! This is an exciting time to be an author. Few of us will have success like James Patterson, but that’s OK.
Today, I read that there were 150 authors on Amazon’s KDP program this year who each had sales greater then 100,000 copies.
And thousands more indie authors sold thousands of copies apiece. (I was one of them, without doing much at all to market my books.)
You can too. Write more books. And stay tuned, because I’ll have more to say on how to market fiction effectively in the coming months. But I won’t be able to fit it all into a blog post.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.