Posted in Book Marketing | Posted on 10-08-2012|
As I’ve mentioned before, selling your first 1,000 books or so is excruciating (unless you’re one of those rare authors who love marketing and think nothing of carrying a crate of your books around in the trunk of your car, so you can foist them upon unsuspecting people at malls and grocery stores). After you sell a thousand, things get a little easier, especially at Amazon where algorithms designed to promote books that are proven sellers kick in. Until then… it’s a hustle.
As an author today, you have to be willing to self-promote if you want to sell books. That’s just the way it is. And, as with most things, there are good ways to go about it and bad ways, or, as I’m calling them shameless ways and shameful ways. The former can earn you new readers and the respect of your peers. The latter…
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of shameful self-promotion going on these days, and these methods can not only hurt your prospects of selling books, but they can also leave bad tastes in people’s mouths. Self-published authors, in particular, seem to be big offenders.
Note: traditionally published authors can be just as guilty of shameful self-promotion, but I believe the real-time sales reporting we indies have access to through CreateSpace, Amazon, B&N, and others makes us a little crazier. We can see exactly how well our book is selling (or isn’t), whereas traditionally published authors can only guess based on sales ranking, so it’s not until they get their royalty statements many months later that they know how well their book did (or didn’t).
So, what are examples of shameful self-promotion? Here are some that I see (trust me, as a blogger and active Twitter person, I probably get more of this than the average reader):
- Emailing people who didn’t opt into a newsletter signup on your site or who didn’t otherwise ask to be kept abreast of your releases. Most of the buy-my-book email spam (yes, I’m going to call it that) I’ve received violates the CAN-SPAM Act. While it’s unlikely that there will be legal repercussions, if enough people complain to your internet service provider, you could find yourself with a disabled email account. Regardless, people loathe email spam (oddly, we get more ticked off about this than we do about junk mail in our physical boxes), and you won’t sell any books this way.
- Leaving blatant plugs for your book in people’s blog comments. It is possible to leave comments as a way of getting your name out there and, maybe, enticing people back to your site, but you need to add some value to the topic being discussed and find a subtle way to mention your book (if you mention it at all — leaving an awesome comment and simply working in the fact that you’re an author may entice folks to click).
- Leaving blatant plugs for your book on other authors’ Facebook pages. This is rude and likely to irk the author, someone who’s already gone through all the hard work of selling those first books and building up a fan base. Said author might actually be in a position to help you in a way that would be far superior to your spammy link, but you’d have to earn her respect first (more on that further down).
- Sending people direct messages (ie. check out my site/check out my book) on Twitter. Some people are easy-going on Twitter and they’re open to following people who follow them. But a follow isn’t an invitation to try to sell junk to them. They’re opening the door when you ring the bell, and if you stuff a flyer in their face, they’ll probably slam it shut (and let the pitbulls loose). Instead, if someone opens the door, strike up a conversation. Don’t ask for anything, at least not until you’ve given them something (retweets or plugs for their blog posts/books, for example). Even then, I’d be careful about asking. There are a lot of magnanimous folks out there, but they want to be magnanimous based on their own whims, not because they feel socially obligated.
- Joining forums just to promote your book. Over at the Amazon forums, there are a lot of people who will tell you how much they loathe self-published authors, because they’ve had to scroll through so many self-serving plugs (now, the forums are highly monitored, and posts get deleted anyway). If you’re genuinely interested in becoming a helpful part of a community, then, by all means, join a forum (many of them allow signatures with links to your site or your books), but don’t expect to get anything out if it if your only goal is to sell books.
- Asking other authors to read/review your book, especially if this is your first contact with that author. Your first contact with anybody shouldn’t be a request for a favor. If an author’s popular enough to have attracted your attention, assume that they receive quite a bit of email, including requests for favors from new authors. They’re also busy writing the next book to keep their fans happy. If you establish an online relationship with the author first, again doing favors for them before thinking of asking anything in return, he or she may be willing to help you down the line, but I still wouldn’t ask them to read your book. I know you think your book is brilliant, but chances are said author is just going to see it as a 10-hour (or however long it would take to read the book) burden on their precious time.
- Inventing schemes that are ultimately designed to pressure or trick someone into trying your book. As an example, one fellow on the Kindleboards mentioned that he’d been trying to get a national newspaper to review his book, so he asked his friends to email an editor there, recommending that the paper cover the book. The author eventually received an email back from the editor to the tune of, “Tell your people to quit spamming me.” The author had good intentions and didn’t see his efforts as spam, but now he’s likely blackballed at that paper and will never get a review. Worse, editors talk to other editors, and it’s a smaller industry than you’d think. You don’t want to become known that way.
Okay, so if all these tactics are off the books, what’s allowed? What’s considered shameless self-promotion?
The term for what’s effective (and unlikely to earn you enemies) in the 21st Century is permission-based marketing.
You can promote all you want… to people who have raised their hands and said they want to hear your message. These are your blog readers, your Twitter followers, your Facebook fans, your newsletter subscribers, and the people holding a copy of your book right now. You still won’t want to bludgeon them with marketing messages every day, but they’ve come to you, so you know they’re interested in your work.
How do you get these people to come to your site, your social media pages, and to sign up for your newsletter? Here are some things I’ve done as an author:
- Plug your sites and your newsletter at the end of your books (with ebooks and e-readers, in particular, people can finish the story, click the link, and open up a web page right from the comfort of their chosen reading spot). Make sure to answer the what’s-in-it-for-them question (i.e. freebies? cut scenes? character interviews?). No, this doesn’t sell the original book, but it builds and perpetuates your brand. Let me say that again, because it’s important. This is how, as an author of fiction, you build your platform. People will not become fans until they’ve read at least one of your stories from start to finish, so it’s utterly worthless to try to get them to sign up for anything until that has happened.
- Give away a free ebook (I started with a short story) to get the ball rolling — People who won’t drop $5 or even $0.99 to try an unknown, untrusted author, will say, “What the heck? It’s free” and download a freebie that sounds promising. If they make it to the end, that’s when you give them your marketing message (as detailed above). Ideally, you have non-free books for them to go on and try, but if you get them on your mailing list or to subscribe to your blog/feed, that’s a good start as well. Then, when you release the next book, you’ll have fans ready to go out and buy it.
- Get to know the “connectors” in your niche. These are people who, be they authors or bloggers or social butterflies, have the power to reach a lot of people with their message. If they recommend your book, or perhaps a helpful blog post you’ve written, you’ll get a noticeable amount of attention, far more than you would if Joe Schmoe recommends you (not that we don’t like the Joe Schmoes, too, but the connectors are the ones who can make your career). Do not, as we discussed above, pop out of the blue and ask for a favor from these people. You have to court them. Bring them flowers (leave helpful comments on their blogs), bring them chocolates (retweet their posts on Twitter), and compliment their hygiene (mention them and link to them from your blog), thus to develop a relationship, or at least distinguish yourself from other suitors, before asking for a favor, preferably a both-parties-win favor (i.e. offer to give them a day off blogging by writing up a helpful guest post for their site). You might not even have to ask for a favor. If you’re publishing good content on your blog, they might simply link to you of their own accord.
Not only are these shameless methods of self-promotion going to give you better results than the shameful methods, but, by employing them, you’ll be building your platform and establishing your forever-and-ever brand, not simply selling books.