Book Marketing – The One True Way

To prepare for my Christmas Sales I’ve been reading a lot of book marketing posts. And what a lot of them there are. You can’t visit a writers’ forum these days without stumbling across marketing advice. But… while some of this advice is excellent, the majority is rife with misinformation and the occasional conspiracy theory. I think the problem stems from the fact that they seem to concentrate entirely on book marketing and ignore the content – the actual book. I can understand why. Marketing professionals would be used to treating a book as a product. Although some may have an influence earlier in the book cycle, most of the time they won’t. They’re assigned a book to sell and that’s it. It’s a product.

Unfortunately a lot of new authors have picked up on this. If sales begin to drop, or never take off, they look for a marketing reason. It’s the cover, or the back cover blurb, or a lack of reviews, or tags, or – in increasing numbers – a conspiracy against them. The possibility that the answer may lie inside the book, is rarely mentioned. And if it is, it’s a formatting problem.

It’s understandable. No one likes criticism, and many authors have a secret fear that they can’t write, or have lost it. A fear they can’t afford to voice, or even think about, in case it precipitates the reality. And quite a few authors – particularly the newer ones – inhabit the other end of the spectrum – the overconfident ‘I am just so good, it’s scary’ territory where prose is just so perfect and speshul that it can never be questioned.

Radical Observation Number One: Sometimes a book just doesn’t sell.

It doesn’t have to be because it’s bad, or boring, or in need of an editor. It doesn’t even have to be because it’s ahead of its time, or out of fashion, or in a niche genre. Sometimes it just doesn’t stand out. And with tens of thousands of new books being published each month, that’s not surprising. And it doesn’t mean that the book will never sell. Circumstances change. An ‘invisible’ book can become ‘visible’ in the future.

How?

Now, this is where people tend to go slightly insane. The human brain loves to find patterns. Browse the indie publishing blogosphere and forums and you will find all manner of magic numbers and patterns. The Secret Masters of Publishing (SMOP) who have controlled publishing for the last fifty years from their secret cave beneath the Vatican (possibly in alliance with the Lizard people ™) now have a series of secret algorithms that control the visibility of books.

Amazon, who were once the Holy Defenders of Indie Publishing and beyond criticism, have now allied themselves with SMOP and are out to destroy all Indies. Oh noes! And the proof is the frequent tinkering with these secret algorithms to benefit the Big Six Legacy Publishers. The fact that Amazon occasionally accidentally deletes all the books belonging to a publisher it’s in dispute with, is brushed away as a smokescreen. That’s the past. They’re now allies with one goal – the destruction of the indie author.

But luckily a few adepts have worked out the secret codes and you can still game the system if you do this, and that, and this … and write more books – the magic number is six or nine. As soon as you have that many books, SMOP begins to take notice and treats you like one of theirs. And…

Radical Observation Number Two: There is one proven way to increase a book’s sales – write another book.

Every time you bring out a new book, it causes renewed interest in the older works. And the more you write, the more books there are to have their sales increased. It’s not a secret formula. It’s worked for years.

But don’t fixate on a magic number. It’s not six or nine. Churning books out to make up the numbers is a recipe for a short career. Yes, you can increase your sales numbers by writing a lot of books, but only good books build a career. It’s a simple matter of the more you write, the more people are likely to see your work. Entertain them and they’ll come back for more. And tell their friends. Bore them, or take them for granted, and they’ll drop you. And tell their friends.

So, don’t obsess over marketing. Write more good books.


GlampireChris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novelette, What Ho, Automaton! was a finalist for the 2012 WSFA Small Press Award for short fiction. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
An Unsafe Pair of Handsa quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?
Medium Dead – a fun urban fantasy chronicling the crime fighting adventures of Brenda – a reluctant medium – and Brian – a Vigilante Demon with an impish sense of humour. Think Stephanie Plum with magic and a dash of Carl Hiaasen.
What Ho, Automaton! – Wodehouse Steampunk. Follow the adventures of Reggie Worcester, consulting detective, and his gentleman’s personal gentle-automaton, Reeves. It’s set in an alternative 1903 where an augmented Queen Victoria is still on the throne and automata are a common sight below stairs. Humour, Mystery, Aunts and Zeppelins!
French Fried true crime, animals behaving badly and other people’s misfortunes. Imagine A Year in Provence with Miss Marple and Gerald Durrell.
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth?

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Book Marketing – The One True Way — 5 Comments

  1. I used to cowrite with a marketer (we are no longer cowriting, for which I am grateful for). He flatout refused to believe that the publishers were doing it the best they could and instead, thought they were doing it completely wrong. He was utterly convinced that if he could figure out what things to put in the book, it would turn into a best seller.

    I think a novel is the opposite of what marketers get. A product like the proverbial widget does something like make ice cream, so it’s easy for the marketer to control the message and find the audience. But a novel? It lands in the hands of a reader and the imagination takes over, because a book is part writer and part reader. Even timing can have something to do with how that reader reacts to that book. All of that the marketer can’t control. People will buy an ice cream widget because they want to make ice cream. I normally read thrillers and fantasy, but I bought a Women’s Fiction because of the setting of the book was a place I had lived. The reason was that I happened to be writing a short story set in that area, so it went on my radar. A woman might buy a particular book because she just broke up with her boyfriend, or a traveler might pick up a book that’s a light read because he’s going to be sitting in an airport. That’s unique to each person, and even each circumstance. You can’t market to that.

  2. I’m so much not a sales person. I realized quite a while ago that trying to “game the system” would drive me nuts. Nuts as in unable to do what I do best — write. I’m also good at connecting with my readers — any readers, for that matter — on a small group or individual level. I love talking about writing and books and stories. I continue to have faith that if I do the work I love as best I can, my books will find their way into the hands of readers who like what I have to say and the stories I tell.

    Sales figures are only one measure of success, and although of course I am happy when my books sell well, some of the most meaningful fan letters have been the result of books that didn’t do all that well, or stories in out-of-print anthologies or magazines from decades ago. If I wanted to make tons of money, if that were all that mattered to me, I’d be in another field. If, on the other hand, I want to let my imagination soar, to create work of lasting value, to touch the hearts of my readers, I’m in the right place, and that’s where I should be putting my focus.

    • Exactly. If you keep writing great books, readers will discover them. Great promo will get you discovered quicker but it can’t make a great book out of a poor one. And, whereas in the old days poor promo could kill your career (because publishers would drop you if the sales were bad) nowadays everyone has the self-pub option. And really there’s not a lot extra that a publisher can give you these days that you can’t do yourself. You can employ a good editor, a good cover designer and book formatter. I’ve sold more and earned more through the Book View Cafe co-op than I ever did with Baen.

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