For indie authors – and for increasing numbers of authors who aren't indie – writing a book is just part of our job description. Without a publisher (and frequently even with a publisher these days) we have to market what we write, and straight away we run into one of the major problems that beset indies. Most writers are not PR experts or marketing gurus. The two things require completely different skill sets. Some fortunate people have both; but what do you do if, like me, the very thought of marketing makes you come out in hives?
This is a problem I've been wrestling with ever since I stepped into the self-publishing ring. I can’t claim to have come up with any particularly brilliant answers yet. However, I've gradually arrived at the following practices, which I like to think of as a form of invisible marketing. (However, a disclaimer: I am by no means a marketing authority. Everything in this post could well be rubbish. It’s a list of things I've learned over the past few years, and though I think they've been (relatively) effective for me, they might not be effective for everyone. It’s not that my sales are stellar, by any means. They really aren't. But I do think that, if I hadn't utilised the techniques below, they’d be even less stellar.)
Why invisible marketing? Quite possibly because I find visible marketing painful. I was never going to be the kind of author who spammed complete strangers, for two very good reasons: 1) it’s rude, and 2) it’s probably completely counterproductive. I don’t know about you, but I've always found that, the more aggressively insistent someone is that I should read their book, the less I want to do so. Spamming, shouting, and pushy demands were never really options, then. But what to do instead?
The answers didn't occur to me in a flash of inspiration. They just gradually developed as I worked at it, discovered my comfort zone, and found out what I was good at and not so good at. Here they are, for what they’re worth...
As I said, singling out complete strangers (or even slight acquaintances) and demanding that they buy, read, or review your book probably won’t do you any good. They’ll probably either refuse (unless they’re book bloggers), or – at best – grudgingly agree, all the while secretly seething with resentment because yet another person is making demands on their time. But what if you, for example, review another author’s book? Without being asked to? Without turning it into a big thing, or demanding a tit-for-tat review in return?
Well, possibly nothing will happen. The author in question may just think, “Oh, that’s nice,” and forget about it. But it’s a facet of human psychology that we tend to be interested in people who are interested in us. The author may think, “Oh, that’s nice – now who is this person?”, and do a little research of their own. And – who knows? – they may find their interest piqued sufficiently for them to acquire and review one of your books. The good thing about this is that it’s not like the dreaded “Let’s give each other 5 stars whether we've read each other’s books or not!” review rings. The other author is under absolutely no obligation to read or review your book. They’re under no obligation to like it, or to give you a good review. But they might. And even if they don’t – well, so what? You've helped a good book to find its target audience, and that’s reward enough in itself.
The reciprocity principle works in other ways, too. For example, not so long ago I wrote a review of another author’s book on my blog. A book blogger read the review, and liked it. She then read a free short story of mine, liked that, and ended up buying my books. She liked them too, and wrote up very positive reviews on her own blog, Goodreads, and Amazon. By reviewing someone else’s book, I’d made two more sales and got some more reviews.
Yet another example: an author friend of mine occasionally likes to re-tweet his followers’ tweets, including mine. I sometimes wondered if there was any rhyme or reason to when and what he decided to re-tweet. Then, one day, it occurred to me. Periodically, he RTs the tweets of say, fifty, of his followers. He then adds a tweet of his own at the end, typically a promotional tweet for one of his books. The people whose tweets he’s re-tweeted will, very often, decide to reciprocate. When they click over to his Twitter profile, they’ll probably see that promotional tweet first and RT that. A genius idea, I thought. It’s not pushy, it’s not intrusive. He does something nice for you, and in return you feel inclined – but not compelled – to do something nice for him.
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FINDING A SUPPORT STRUCTURE
One of the best things about the indie world is the degree of mutual support that indies offer one another. Slowly building a web of friends and acquaintances is crucial. Your friends will be able to offer advice, share experiences, and – quite possibly – help to keep you sane.
Joining AE was one of the best things to happen to me since I started self-publishing. We don’t just blog here – we chat behind the scenes on Facebook. We form connections, share news, and have discussions (and sometimes arguments). We form a support network of sorts.
By being a member of any kind of authors’ group, you can find some of this vital support. Authors are often very generous with their expertise, and will happily share any information or tips they may have. Or, if you've a new book coming out, you can leave a message or update asking if any of your friends would like a review copy of the book. Again, this isn't pushy – nobody’s under any pressure to accept. But the offer’s there if anyone’s interested.
On a related note...
Making connections with people is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being an author in the internet age. An example: I once got chatting with a reader who’d liked a review I wrote on Goodreads. She noted that I was an author, asked about my own books, and expressed an interest in reading them. I offered to send her a free eBook. She accepted, read it, wrote Facebook updates about it, and left a good rating on Goodreads. She also marked my other book as “to read”. Let me say that I’m not sure whether any of this resulted in actual sales. It probably didn't. However, I’m now on that reader’s radar – and I, and my books, are as a result just slightly less obscure than they were.
Which brings me to...
There’s been a great deal of debate about whether KDP Select, with its option of offering enrolled books for free for limited periods, is a useful marketing tool. I tried it once or twice, and can’t say that it really helped that much. But having one or two things available free, either on a retail site or on your own blog or website, can be helpful (see Reciprocity, above, for an example). My short story The Song of the Sea is permanently free at all outlets that can be reached via Smashwords. I’m not sure how many actual sales this has generated (probably not many), but occasionally it can be just the catalyst that’s needed.
PROVIDING GOOD CONTENT
And that doesn't just go for your books, but for everything you publish. For example, when I’m writing posts for either AE or my own blog, one thing I desperately try to avoid is non-stop, overkill promotion. Instead, I aim to write a range of posts, covering all aspects of writing and self-publishing. I try to provide content that people might find useful, entertaining, thought-provoking, or informative in some way. The promotional aspect is there, of course, in the form of links and so on, but hopefully it doesn't weigh the post down.
The same goes for Twitter, Facebook, and just about any other social media site you can think of. Constant screams of “Buy my book!” probably won’t help, but providing useful content and making connections with people might...
...And that’s it: ideas reached as a result of trial and error. They may not be suitable for everyone, but perhaps someone will find them helpful. Invisible marketing, let it be said, is not necessarily an easy option, still less a speedy one. It requires a certain investment of time, and doesn't yield results quickly. But if you’re turned off by heavy-handed promotion, and you haven’t got the money to employ a PR agency, it might be of some use. And if anyone has any other suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment...