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.