Breaking into book marketing. Well, almost.

So, I’ve been doing some research, trying to find out how it is possible to write great books, get tremendous reviews and not manage to sell any of them. The answer lies obviously somewhere in the murky zone of marketing and promotion. There was a time when publishers dealt with the marketing side and authors did their bit towards promotion by doing interviews, book signings, talking to fans etc. Marketing is relatively straightforward for a reasonable publisher. A publisher makes a name by publishing good books. To do that they get their books reviewed, set up book signings, interviews, press releases and by dint of publishing good stuff come to be trusted to deliver a good product.
A publisher who has no marketing strategy, does nothing to promote its authors or its books will swim about like a catfish in the mud at the bottom of the pool. And I speak from experience. Indie authors are in the same boat but without the resources of a publisher.
There is all sorts of advice floating about on the web, mainly written by people who are selling marketing services, about how indie authors need to do it all themselves and how to go about it. Very altruistic of them considering they make their living selling business plans. Putting together the free advice I’ve gleaned, I now know how to market my books.


1) I decide who I am.
2) I decide who I want to target.
3) I find out where these people are.
4) Get a fan base
5) I get them to read my book rather than somebody else’s.

True, the plan seems to get fuzzier towards the end and I admit I lost the plot of it a while back, but I’ll have a go, step by step.

Who am I? I am the woman who writes dystopian fantasy novels, well utopian really, except for the ones set in an alternate universe, and the stories that retell legends that everybody knows are really historical fact. Okay, that’s me sorted out. I am a writer of historically motivated mythologically based utopian fantasies (except when they’re set in the future). Step one is GOOD.

Next step: Decide who I want to read my books, and I’m not allowed to say anyone and everyone. That’s not allowed in the marketing plan. I suppose I’d have to say anyone from fifteen or so up who reads fantasy stories. That gives me a great big audience and that is GOOD.

Step three: Find out where these people are and reach out to them. Helloooo (waving gaily). At a guess I’d say that the fifteen-year-olds are texting their friends or taking selfies. Teenagers, according to recent research don’t read books anyway, so inserting myself into their text battles probably won’t bear much fruit. I’ll put them on one side for desperate measures if all else fails.

The rest of my potential readers are apparently hanging about in online groups chatting to one another about fantasy books. Yes, there are groups like this on Goodreads, but the rules of the marketing plan specifically state I must NOT ask these people to read my book but approach by stealth disguised in reader’s clothing and only shed it when I have gained the confidence of the group’s guru. The guru will tell the groupies to read my book. Step three: location of the enemy market is GOOD.

Step four: Get a fan base by offering the market something extra. As a writer approaching readers of a fantasy book club, one would presume I write fantasy. So I offer them fantasy books? Not enough—loads of people do that. This is where I pull out the historical mythologically based utopian fantasy set in an alternate Dark Ages—a theme hook. This is called a marketing plan—getting the right product in front of the right market—and it’s how I create my fan base. Theme hook is GOOD.


Step five: Just a minute, let’s go back a bit. I have my hook, but where do I sling it? The fan base is there, but for them to know they are my fans I have to reel them in. One way (the only way I have seen set out) is to get an endorsement from the big cheese in each of these virtual chat groups. How? Stalk them on Twitter, toss out sycophantic comments in their Goodreads discussion, hinting that I’ve written something much better? All advice falls into one of two camps—this is something writers absolutely MUST do, or this is something they absolutely MUST NOT do. Take your pick.
I’m a writer not a military strategist or a diplomat. However, many marketing plans state that if there is the slightest chance that my approach is going to look spammy, I am allowed to leave this bit out. So I don’t approach anyone. I just lurk. Aqua in bocca.

So, that’s all the steps completed. To recap: I have my author persona, my targeted market, my snazzy theme hook, and my (virtual) fan base. All I have to do now is sell lots of books. This is where the plan starts going round in circles. The marketing plan is to get my books under the noses of my fan base and give them that extra bit of pizzazz so they will be falling over themselves to get to that buy button. So I need a fan base. How do I get a fan base? By putting my books under its collective nose of course, stupid!

I think I’ll just concentrate on writing decent, original books instead, even though that part of the marketing plan seems to be optional.

If anyone knows how to get out of that vicious Catch 22 circle, I’d love to hear from you.

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

43 thoughts on “Breaking into book marketing. Well, almost.”

    1. Promotion is one thing. I can see why an author needs to chip in there. But marketing is hard, whatever the experts say. It’s the job publishers used to do because they have more clout, know people, can get reviews and publicity. But so many of them don’t bother, exactly because it does involve a lot of work. If they throw in the towel it doesn’t bode well for an indie author paddling her own solitary canoe.

  1. It’s also about promoting / advertising regularly without spamming Jane AND getting YOU as a PERSON, as well as an AUTHOR, in front of people (which is what I’m trying to do on my blog).
    But that only works if you get presented MORE THAN ONCE or TWICE (which is why I keep telling Guest authors to submit more articles about anything they want to talk about – I link them back to previous articles by them, all the way back to their Guest Author article)

    1. Ah ha, Mr Hairy Grape, that is promotion, not marketing. I’m all for promotion (well, I can accept that it’s a necessary evil) but marketing is something that other people make a living out of. And why do they make nice fat, juicy livings out of it? Because it’s so bloody difficult to promote, market and write. Something’s got to give. If I knew exactly how to market maybe I’d give it a whirl, but it’s so nebulous. If it was so easy all those people sellling their services would be out of a job. Is that an invitation btw to have a spot on your blog again to promote my new book?

      1. It’s an ever invitation to all Guest and Featured Authors to Promote their Book(s) New or old – write about stuff they’d like to share – etcetera – you will see that Mariana Llanos, Ailsa Abraham, Uvi Pozansky and several others have been doing 😀

  2. BTW – Didn’t you realise that your Guest Author article is part of your Authors Platform / Base? and that you can use the ever present share buttons under it at any time to share it online with Connections and Groups on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and even StumbleUpon as often and for as long as you want? 😀 😀 😀

    1. Thanks for reminding me. I tend to forget about building and accumulating. I’m more of a plodder, eyes front, heading for the far horizon 🙂 I’ll be in touch now I’ve had a slap on the wrist.

  3. I wanted this to be funnier. Alternatively, I wanted you to have found answers and revealed them. I wanted you to claim to have been successful in utilizing your found answers. Sigh.

    Me, either.

    Best to you!

    1. I’d like to be able to laugh at it more too. I thought I would at first, but finally, I just found the whole subject depressing. I do care that it’s so difficult for indie authors to gain any visibility, and each time I see one of these blog posts that claims to explain marketing I jump at it. But they never explain anything in language I can understand. What’s more, they make no distinction between good books and bad, books that are well-written and books that are crap. It’s as if marketing is the be all and end all. Market any old rubbish properly and you’ll have a best-seller on your hands.

      1. As an author with a publisher, I have learned sales are such a crap shoot. My publisher has one book doing brilliantly, for whatever reason, while the rest of us are doing so-so. He can’t explain it, and the author can’t explain it, either. My publisher once told me it was the author’s podcast, but he only links to it from his blog, and his blog, from what the stats say on the side, hardly gets any views day-by-day. Then there’s another author who randomly sees great spurts in sales (not often enough, let me say), but then those sales don’t stay consistent and just die off. Why? Why? WHY???

        You can also pay a publicist, but that won’t guarantee anything, either! I have a self-published author friend who pays a publicist, and while her books do well from the beginning, sales start tapering off, even with the help of a publicist. She’s got about 6 books out, and you would think by now she’d at least have one bestseller because she can afford a publicist from having enough books out to get some money in to afford that publicist.

        And then some books don’t sell at all in the beginning, but then, for whatever reason, start selling really, really well and do so in the long term without the author having changed much of his/her marketing/promotional tactics. Or even marketing the book at all!

        I also looked at a graph yesterday that said people are more likely to buy a book with a great cover. Well, my book arguably has a fantastic one, which is probably why I get over a thousand entries for Goodreads giveaways, but where are my more-than-a-handful-of sales per month? I have over 2,000 people who have added my book to their TBR lists, and these aren’t people who have hundreds and hundreds of books on their lists. So why aren’t those people buying my book? The author selling super well hardly has any adds for his book on GR. The author with the random spurts in sells has about 15,000-16,000 followers on her blog that gets thousands of views a day, yet where are her consistently awesome sales?

        I could go on and on and on, from small presses that are recommended by big-time guys, but the books’ rankings don’t live up to that reputation, to crap presses that have books with god-awful editing but those books sell really, really well.

        The truth is, marketing experts will tell you all sorts of things, but marketing, I believe, is total luck. Perhaps it’s not total luck with the big guys, but even then I’ve read most books fall through the cracks and they have to depend on their bestsellers to keep them afloat.

        I found my audience on Tumblr, and while they’re buying, I’m still selling only a handful a month. Maybe paranormal for the YA market really is dying. I dunno.

        Of course, I’m not giving up. The entire Stars Trilogy will be completed and published by the publisher I’m with, but I’m already moving into contemporary and have my eye on another publisher for a book whose first draft I’ll be done with soon. There’s a pretty great audience on Tumblr I know would be interested in the type of book I’m doing…not to mention I’m part of a forum who would probably kill to read a book that finally gives them representation.

      2. What you say about the publisher is interesting as it goes with what you say about luck. Many small publishers don’t want to spend any money on marketing their books. The one I was with wouldn’t even put the books into netgalley. In theory they have the possibility to get their books known, but they don’t use it if it costs. If one book sells and the rest don’t you have to look at the quality. Is it the only decent book the publisher has? If not, its success is due to the author getting lucky, not the publisher’s efforts. So why bother with a publisher who won’t market? It is hard and frustrating when you have to do it all yourself, and I tend to agree with the people who say a book isn’t like cabbages. You can have good and bad cabbages but you can tell that before you buy. A book needs some kind of explanation and introduction. Publishers can do that if they believe in a book enough to give it the time and effort. An author on her own is at the mercy of…luck most of the time. Goodreads and Amazon reviews you’d think would help a book to sell, but as you say, it doesn’t. There’s something else involved and I suppose all we can do is keep on writing and wait to find out what it is, because it isn’t a publicist or a marketing expert who can predict it.

      3. At the same time, I’ve looked up small presses, like Month9Books (you can go to their website) that have more than what my publisher offers, yet, their books are doing about as well as our books, if you look at the rankings. No lie. Their romance line is doing great, but romance does good, no matter what, from what I have observed, especially with promises of detailed sex scenes.

        And I’ve stopped giving out ARCs. My publisher said they’d pay off. But 78 reviews with a 4.29 average on Goodreads…and nothing. 33 and 4.5 on Amazon…and nothing. That book selling so well only has like 16, I think. So I know my book is good, the synopsis of the book has attracted interest, because a well-known paranormal book review website took it on because of that synopsis, and I know the cover is fantastic. Not to mention my PA helped me give out hundreds of ARCs from people who were interested in it because of the synopsis, so I know it’s not that.

        Just no bites. What is going on? Like I said, I’ll finish out the trilogy with them, because they tell me they have faith in my books, and so do I, so maybe I’ll start seeing something when the trilogy is finished. I’ve read people are more likely to buy series now if all the books are out. So maybe that’s what needs to happen. Otherwise, I’ll just have to move on to other publishers (of course, we shouldn’t stick all our eggs in one basket to begin with), like the one I’m hoping will accept my LGBTQ+ books with asexual/aromantic characters. Those are books they are in desperate need of. In fact, the market is starving for asexual representation to begin with, especially for teens. And since I’m asexual, I know I can write them well.

        But I got a lot of promises from my small press, and while they’re giving out promotional advice from week-to-week, it’s more of the same. Read your competitions’ books similar to your book, write a review, plug in a mention of your book. Do a goodreads giveaway, befriend those people, consider giving an ARC to them. Contact Amazon top reviewers. It’s promotional advice that requires too much dispassionate effort. They’ve got great books with great content and covers, but I notice that once our books are released, they don’t even tweet about them. I see a lot of small presses giving nudges to books that were released even months ago! Of course, they claim the website is getting thousands of views, and we can submit stuff to the website to bolster our books, like fantastic reviews we’ve gotten, or articles we’ve written that will help others. I haven’t done that lately, but it wouldn’t hurt to try.

        I know I sound depressed and sad about all of this, but I can assure you I’m not. I SUPER believe in my book, and I’m just experimenting and trying to find that one thing that will help it go beyond just a handful of sells a month. It started out great in the beginning, but now sales are just fluctuating each month. So I’m basically functioning like a self-published author, sans having to sink money into my own book. Frankly, I’d rather do that, because I don’t have the money to self-publish. I just don’t like that I’m wading the waters on my own now.

        And, again, I’m writing tons, which is keeping me very happy. I’ll begin content edits for its sequel shortly, which will probably put me in the mindset of outlining its third book. I do believe in my books, and I think that’s what it takes for an author to survive is believing in what we do.

      4. Your publisher sounds a lot like the one I was with. I bet they encourage you to do blog tours (that you pay for) send out press releases (that you pay for) enter your own book for awards (you pay the fee) find your own reviewers because they won’t pay to put it in net galley, won’t provide a paperback for reviewers so the big ones are out etc etc. Romance does sell and erotic romance sells even better, but anything else needs some leg work on the part of the publisher. If you’re going it alone it’s even harder. I hope you’re right about the final book of a series making people sit up and take notice because it’s what I’m counting on too 🙂

      5. They don’t encourage us to pay for anything. We do have someone who sets up blog tours for us, but they’re not incredibly long, and so we have to find more blogs for ourselves to extend our tours. I’ve gotten lots of interviews from lots of blogs without paying a thing, but I’m stopping until the release of my next book. Our books are also on NovelUnity, but the suck thing about this is that they choose one book a month to read, and mine was never chosen. If your book is chosen, you get an award for that. They also send us links to big, free advertising opportunities, like this one massive author show I’m still filling out for (because I can’t think of a compressed, 100-word synopsis for my book). Now I could ask my publisher to help me with it, but, meh, I’ll just have my PA help me when she can.

        They send out press releases for us (but these aren’t that successful unless you’re a known author). And, yep, they do expect us to find our own reviewers, and they do give us eight paperbacks to start. So we’re not completely disadvantaged when our books release. We’re just disadvantaged after a month, which is how long they plug new releases.

        Unfortunately, they haven’t been seeking out any places our books could potentially earn awards, but awards don’t really do much to bolster sales from what research has told me. Another small press’s books have lots of awards, but from looking at the rankings, there is no increase in sales.

        Like I said, I believe marketing is a crap shoot. Not even the big guys can explain why great books fall through the cracks–because there are plenty of great books that do.

      6. I think the awards thing is just to make authors feel good about themselves when their books aren’t selling. You had masses more back up than I got, you even got paperbacks to give away! As you say though, it does seem to be a case of getting lucky or not. I’m just hoping that the more books I have in the draw, the more chances I have of winning the jackpot 🙂

      7. One thing I am doing that, to me, every author should do, no matter what route they go, is build an e-mail list and send out monthly newsletters. I’m doing that right now. It’s slow going, but that’s because I try not to plug it so much on Tumblr–it also connects to my Twitter and FB. However, I notice that every time I do, I get about 10-12 new subscribers. I just don’t want to annoy my Tumblr followers, but on FB and Twitter, it’s probably okay.

      8. I’ve done a few newsletters but I’m not sure what impact it has. Didn’t do one for July at all. I send it out to the people who comment on my blog. If it was just to those who ‘volunteer’ I’d probably be sending out three of them.

      9. I agree that very few are willing to arbitrate or even admit distinctions in quality. Also most marketing plans are for nonfiction authors. Some mystery is involved as to which books “make it,” for sure. best to you!

      10. I’d noticed that too. The people who write these how-to books believe you can apply the same tactics to fiction and non-fiction, as if novels fit into neat categories like gardening, history or cookery books.

  4. Thanks, humour helps.

    A good review by someone whose voice is respected and genuine goes a long way.

    Other than seeking genuine communication with writers and readers, I can’t see myself doing the commercial spam line. Writing is my passion and has its own rewards.

    The Story Reading Ape is a rare, compassionate creature 🙂

  5. Oh, thank *** it’s not just me… I haven’t published at all yet. I figured I’d suss it all out first, soak up each and every wise tip on marketing, promoting, building platform, and then when I do go out there I’d be well-armed and maybe even a step up. Bwahaha! The suspicion has been a long-time growing that this whole marketing do-and-don’t wisdom is circular logic. Thanks for putting this out there – sometimes we need to have a laugh even at the most depressing aspects of this business!

    1. I’m just getting jumpy maybe. The final volume of my trilogy is ready for release. It’s my trump card, and if still nobody buys my boooks I won’t have a clue what to do about it. Except find a publisher for the next series. To read some of these how to posts you’d think that all that matters is marketing. If your book doesn’t sell it’s because you haven’t marketed it properly. What about the absolute crap that does sell? Often that doesn’t need to be marketed at all. If you don’t have a good publisher it’s all going to be hard, every aspect of it. You need a lot of perseverance and a lot of good luck. I wish you lots of it 🙂

  6. Thanks for info … I have nothing to add except to keep trying and hoping.
    A good product usually becomes respected and purchased, that’s the start anyway. 🙂

    1. I think that’s all we can do. Write the best book we can, present it as attractively as possible, write a good blurb, offer it for review and hope for the best. As authors, we can keep a profile on the social media, offer samples of our work, help other authors out with a bit of publicity and just keep writing. In theory, if it’s good and it isn’t too last year’s model, it should eventually pick up a bit of momentum, says she hopefully.

  7. Those who can do, those who can’t publish self-help books to sell to other people who can’t.

    On another blog site of mine I’ve offered a challenge to any of these masters of the universe. Get my book to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and I’ll give them a Gibson Flying V guitar. (worth $3000 ?)

    I doubt any of them will put their own money where their mouth is.

    I’ve also come to the conclusion that selling involves attracting custom and closing the deal. Closing the deal is where a lot of the frustration comes in. How to get people to take that one final step and click the buy button.

    1. I have a theory and I know a lot of people aren’t going to like it. There are more books available than ever before. Thousands of them are free. Problem is, the book buying public is growing at a far slower rate than the book producers. If it’s growing at all. With so many free or dirt cheap books around, it’s often more interesting for the punters to pick up a freebie or a cheap ebook than buy a magazine to read on the train. They are not demanding about their reading matter. All they ask is that it hold their interest until their stop. And in 9 out of 10 cases, that it’s romance. It’s finding the readers of the other kinds of book that’s the problem because most of them actually know how to find the books they’re likely to be interested in. They don’t rely on Twitter spam or Goodreads groups to tell them. Often they actually go to bookshops and browse! If you’ve written a book that isn’t a quick easy romantic read, your audience is limited to the old book buyers, and they are getting fewer rather than more numerous. I might be wrong, but until somebody shows me the figures that prove it, I’ll go on believing that supply is greater than demand. The punter is king, and the punter likes free.

  8. It’s getting to be quite popular, isn’t it, this ‘I’m a writer but not getting anywhere’ club. I think it must come down to luck, and I’m fresh out of that…

    1. Luck I think is a big factor. I’m wondering if there would be so many disatisfied authors if there weren’t so many gurus making them feel they would be successful if only they followed a proper (their) marketing plan.

  9. Wow. Step three literally had me rolling on the floor laughing. I feel your frustration Jane, and I think many of your suspicions are correct. Also, I want to add about reviews: There are so many people out there getting fake reviews, that it takes away the impact of the real 5-star reviews that some of us are getting. Reviews carry little weight anymore. Sad, but true.

    1. Too right. I automatically assume that any five star review that includes grammatical and spelling mistakes and the word awesome is written by the author’s little brother. Likewise I discount most one and two star reviews because so many of them are written by trolls.

  10. This is one of those posts that makes me feel like I’m not alone!

    I have steady sales with the occasional spike – but I never know what actually causes it. It always seems to be pretty arbitrary.

    So glad to know I’m not the only one who really doesn’t get ‘marketing’.

    1. All I get about it is that it’s more or less pointless to market when you’re on your own. Publishers do it when they can be bothered because they are already in the business and should know which doors to knock on. Otherwise, there are loads of people selling their marketing services. From what I’ve heard, the results for fiction are very uncertain. You need lots of luck and to concentrate on what you enjoy, hoping you get some promotional spin off from it.

  11. i think the problem with marketing books, is that you have to think of your book as a product, and think about how you would sell it in much the same way as you would sell soap or beer. As authors, that’s quite hard, because we are so emotionally bound up in what we have produced. And you can’t think of marketing while you’re writing because it just kills your creativity (well, it does mine, anyway).

    1. You’re quite right—it is very difficult for most authors to sell. Selling and writing are not the same things at all. Writing is pure creation; selling is at least part con, spin if you prefer, but it’s not straight up anyway. That’s why publishers should handle that side of things. Their interest (whatever they may say) is purely commercial; there’s no emotional commitment. When authors try and sell me their books I look the other way. It’s somehow not nice.

    2. At the same time, it’s not a great comparison between books and beer. You have different brands of beer, and all you have to do is convince drinkers why you should drink this particular brand, as each brand DOES taste differently. Books, on the other hand, are FAR more complex than that, because there are MANY different types of books, FAR more than brands of beer, so all of these books are shouting for attention.

      Beer can compete with one another through price and MAYBE taste, though I argue that all beer tastes like crap. Books, on the other hand, don’t really have this price competition. They’re roughly the same from publisher to publisher, from self-publisher to self-publisher. And authors are really only competing amongst themselves and not really with other authors. Readers can buy hundreds of books, but this does not mean they will ever get to your book, especially if you offered it up for free or discounted.

      Beer, on the other hand, is going to be consumed eventually.

      Marketing books is unlike marketing other products on the market, because there are so many genres, sub-genres within genres, and different types of markets. Paranormal books contain many different sub-genres. Contemporary books contain many different sub-genres. ALL books contain many different sub-genres to cater to hundreds of different tastes.

      With marketing books, you have to find some way to draw attention to your book, which is really difficult, especially if there are a bunch of books in your same genre and sub-genre crying out for the same attention.

  12. Maybe beer isn’t a good analogy, and I’m not arguing that marketing is simple, just that you can apply some of the same principles. The fact that you are competing in the same genre can work to your advantage, in that at least you can attract readers who like that kind of thing. The tricky thing, as you say, is then to get them to read your stuff, as opposed to someone else’s.

  13. That though is what marketing is all about. Marketing packages a cocktail of poisonous chemicals from Monsanto and call’s it the healthiest thing since the Cretan diet. Marketing is about selling to the people like supermarkets or book reviewers/sellers who will promote the product/book with similar products/books. You might think that all beer tastes the same. The marketers convince the supermarkets that even if all beer tastes the same, this beer is cooler, has more street cred, has a catchier slogan than the others.
    Promotion is about pushing your particular product/book when it’s in competiton with other products/books of the same category. Authors can do this bit because it’s about their particular book, not about a category of products. Yes, it’s still about competition, but it’s what goes on once the market has been defined, the audience is there, and you just have to convince readers that your book is worth a read. Marketing is about publishers competing for shelf space, playing on their reputations, selling a package. I still don’t think that authors are in a position to do that unless they are already household names and can sell themselves as a brand

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