Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My, That's a Beautiful Backpack, Ch 4.1 How to Market Without Feeling Like a Slimeball

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)

My, That's a Beautiful Backpack

I'm going to assume you've written a wonderful book. Because without that, seriously people, there's no marketing magic in the world that will make people love your book. And loving your book is a key ingredient to selling your book because word-of-mouth is only grown out of love.

So a great book is a given.

This section covers how to take that great book and publish it well. How to create a beautiful package (or backpack to carry it in), how to make a plan to get it in front of lots of eyeballs, as well as tips for building buzz and managing the details of gathering up those treasured readers and treating them well.

But first I want to address something I see over and over again: a sort of reflexive revulsion when it comes to marketing, as if you're a used car salesman hawking a 1972 Pinto. You have a great book, right? Give it the marketing it deserves! That starts with believing you have something worth the reader's money.

Ch 4.1 How to Market Without Feeling Like a Slimeball

Say the word "marketing" or "sales" and people's eyes automatically glass over. Or they shudder. Images of robo-calls and snake-oil salesmen in ugly jackets spring forth. At the prospect of having to market their book, many authors cringe, even as they steel themselves because it's one of those necessary evils. They just loathe the idea of being one of those people.

Well, good grief, who wouldn't?

This is a cultural stereotype, one that can be difficult to get your brain past.

Rule #1 in marketing: if you hate it, everyone else will too. So, take a deep breath. You may have to try some things you've never done before, but if you're doing something that makes you shudder, I can almost guarantee you're doing it wrong.

There are a thousand right ways to market. Just like your books, the way you market will (or at least should), be individual to you. I'm constantly surprised how amazingly creative people, ones who can dream up fantastic worlds and create incredibly life-like characters out of thin air, insist on doing what everyone else does when it comes to marketing. You're a creative person! Bring it to your marketing.

Value Your Product
You have a great book. (If not, why are you publishing it?)

One problem I see with writers is a reflexive apology for their works. As if they feel fundamentally bad about charging people money for their work because they believe it is dross they should have to pay people to endure reading. If you truly believe this about your story, please don't publish it. (Only because it will be a tortuous experience for you.)

Mostly I think this is a faux humility. Or perhaps a fear that we will be "found out" as writing hacks. Address those fears separately (see How to Be Brave), and shuck off the fake humbleness. You've put a lot of hard work into your novel. Value it for what it is: several hours of entertainment that may move hearts or make people think (if you're lucky and have done good work). There are readers out there who will enjoy what you've created! This an amazing and good thing. If you have enough faith to publish, then have enough faith to give it the marketing it deserves, so it can find its audience.

Entertain, Provide Value, Make Connections
Whenever you're interacting with people (on social media, on your website, even on your Amazon description page), make sure you are either 1) entertaining, 2) providing some kind of value, or 3) making a connection.

Entertaining: whether it's a quippy FB post, a fun twitter share, or the description of your book, you should be providing entertainment. You're a storyteller! You should be doing this all the time. (Here's one of my favorite parts about marketing as a creative person: if you're doing it right, it builds your creative muscles, because you're using them in all kinds of situations, not just your stories). Entertainment is always appreciated. Think about the videos and FB posts and silly cat pictures you share - you never think "oh there that person goes again, saying look at me!" You enjoy the content, share it, and appreciate the bright spot of fun that person has brought to your day.

[Ed Note: I actually had a FB friend private message me one day to thank me for having interesting FB posts. She appreciated that I didn't "overwhelm her feed with clutter." I thanked her for dropping me such a nice note.]

Providing Value: Entertainment is just one kind of value you can provide. Providing useful content, whether it's a movie review or a tip on publishing or ways to keep kids occupied during summer, useful stuff is always appreciated. I think you have to be careful here not to make providing useful content into a full-time job. I blog a lot about publishing (this book grew out of that), but I take care to have blogging be a small part of my writing time. I'm a writer first; but when I have useful stuff to share, I like to do that as well.

Make Connections: human connection is something everyone values. Social media is premised almost entirely on this concept. Sometimes people (especially introverts) freak out about the idea of sharing personal stuff on the interwebs. And it's certainly possible to cross the line into Too Much Information. Everyone has a "mask" they show to the world that's different from the naked truth of their innermost thoughts. Don't go naked on the internet! (That I even have to say this is somewhat alarming.) Instead of baring uncomfortable information (for everyone!), offer things from a place of authenticity. Be brave and share thoughts that are a true reflection of your core values. The magic of the internet will bring like-minded people to you. And that kind of connection is beneficial both ways: sender and receiver.

Don't Keep Your Friends In the Dark
Whenever you're talking to the world (which is what marketing is), you're either talking to people who already like your work or people who haven't yet read your work (the people who have read and hate your work aren't listening to you anyway; you don't need to worry about them). If you have a new release, or something cool going on with your work (trailers, audiobooks, sales, etc), make it easy for your friends know. It frustrates me when a friend never posts about their work. Even worse when I have to hunt and search and tear my hair out to find out what books they have for sale. For serious. If I want to know about your books, for heaven's sake don't hide them. And have easy click-through links, a quick blurb or tag line, something that makes it simple for me to buy. Don't make me work too hard to share the awesome book that you have for sale.

Don't Keep Fishing In Your Backyard
At the same time, once you've let your friends (on FB or a mailing list or twitter) know about your book, don't be a spammer. Don't constantly remind them that the book is available. People whose twitter feeds consist entirely of promo are not going to be interesting to me. If your twitter feed never has any promo, you're once again making me work too hard to spread the word about your books. Balance is important, and people will appreciate you for it. Change things up, make your tweets or posts not just promo, but entertaining as well, and you're half way home.

Have Fun
Marketing can be fun! I can just hear the collective groans rippling across the interwebs. Put it this way: if the marketing isn't fun for you, it won't be fun for anyone else either. Be creative! Do themed giveaways. Create photo teasers that are fun to share. Make your book launch a party. Or don't, if that's not your thing.

Above all, don't take it too seriously. Don't feel like the massive weight of success or failure hinges on every promotion you do. There's a tendency to think that if you don't do everything exactly, perfectly right, and OMG you forgot to post on, that now your book is doomed, doomed, doomed. Or that if you could just figure out the secret marketing ingredients, your book will shoot to the top of the NYTimes Bestseller list. This is the kind of thinking that makes people hyper-focused on trying to sell their book, rather than moving on to write the next one. This is lethal to your writing career. Don't do this to yourself. 

Remember: you have a great book. Either it will find its audience or it won't. Either you'll sell well or you won't. There is no magic marketing gimmick that will make people love your book. Have fun with it - make it beautiful, toss it out there, share it with your friends, do some silly stuff with it, then move on to the next one.

Because you've got lots more books to write, yes?

p.s. Another possibility: don't market at all. I've seen enough books do well with a minimal amount of marketing, especially if that author spends that time writing lots of other books and/or the book is spectacular and touches the zeitgeist of the moment. It's not impossible to succeed without marketing, but smart marketing (in your style and that's fun) will help spread the word about your book.

Ok, now that we've got you in the right frame of mind about this marketing thing, we'll talk about exactly how to make your book the most beautiful girl at the prom (or the most dashing hero storming the beach), how to fish outside your backyard, and how to think like a businessperson and not just an author.

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)


  1. Great advice! As authors we need to be able to think outside the box with this. I took a copywriting course once and the stuff I learned was super helpful in figuring out how to target an audience and make something appealing to them.

  2. Don't Keep Your Friends In the Dark
    Don't keep Fishing In Your Backyard


    Still, finding a balance on Twitter is difficult when you have 2000 followers and some of the people you're tweeting to have 20. In some people's feeds, 2-3 tweets a day will look like spam.

  3. Thanks so much for writing this book, Susan. You are such a positive person, and every time I read one of your posts, I feel all gung ho again.

    This section is great for me, because I struggle with marketing. Reading this made me realize, though, that I'm heading in the right direction because I'm focusing on doing what I enjoy most: connecting with my readers.

  4. Great post as usual, Susan! I'm actually one of those (probably rare) people who enjoy marketing ;-) (not social media, I'm talking pure marketing) Although I do come from a marketing/advertising background and so I'm used to thinking with terms like USP, etc...and I really enjoy thinking up with creative ways to raise awareness. I'm always comign up with new ideas but just haven't got enough time to implement them all! :-)

    However, I'm struggling with one thing at the moment - how do you cope with the recent Facebook changes of not showing all your posts in your followers feeds? I've been hearing a lot about the recent changes in algorithms and also noticed from my Page stats that my posts with links are now often only reaching only 1/2 the number of fans they used to...and I've had actual complaints from fans of not seeing thigns I'd posted previously. Plus, I keep getting messages from Facebook urging me to pay money to "promote" my posts to make sure more of my followers see them. They seem to penalise posts with links the most.

    This puts me in the very difficult position of havign to repost the same thing again a day or so later - which I dislike doing as I feel like that's spamming, since I've shared the news once already - but on the other hand, I know there are a section of fans who genuinely want my news and genuinely didn't get it - and I don't want to lose out on the opportunity of reaching them.

    Just wondering if you've come across this too and how you deal with it?

    Thank you :-)

    1. Great question! The broader answer is never to rely on one outlet (esp social media) for reaching all your fans - this is why I HIGHLY recommend having a newsletter.

      More specifically, although FB continues to evolve, it's been true for sometime that not everyone sees your posts. In fact, simply the nature of FB guarantees this - I don't see all the posts of people in my feed. I have lots of friends and there's simply not time in the day. So, whenever I have a post that I REALLY want people to see, I do a paid promotion. Usually this is only with a book release or something similarly big, where I really want to reach people. The rest is there for entertainment and connection - so whoever sees it, sees it. If something is awesome, it will go viral, which is great.

  5. I'm one of those cringing people. It took me realizing I wasn't trying to sell me, I was selling the book I love that helped me get over it.

  6. Marketing is so hard! My book has been out three months and I'm still struggling with how to get it out there beyond friends and family. I'm tired of posting my link everywhere--I mean posting about it, not in the bio section of facebook or twitter. I hated twitter for so long because I followed all indie authors and all I saw on my feed was 'buy my book' tweets. I've been working to be social and I love the idea of a mailing list. I've been thinking about doing one for a while now. I've been branching out to other sites like tumblr and connecting with people who share my interests, not just with writing but the TV shows I like, books I like, exc. I don't post about my book very often but sometimes, like if I have a promotion going on. I haven't broken a thousand sales yet but hopefully that will happen soon! Just figuring out how to go 'beyond my backyard' as you put it is hard. But I'm going to keep trekking and writing more books! I love how you said writing first, marketing third cause a lot of people say that marketing is 90 percent and writing is the other ten. I always used to think I was doing things backwards but now I know I've been doing it right all along, so thank you and thank you for this post!

    1. I'm so glad it helped. And now that your book has been out 3 months, I would definitely be focusing on Book#2 - either in a series, or a new book, but definitely the NEXT book. And try to make it better than the last one - I'm ALWAYS striving to do that. Always looking how I can take my craft to the next level in every book I write.

      p.s. your book is priced at 99cents. There are plenty of places where you can advertise a 99cent book that will get you outside your backyard. Good luck!


Erudite comments from thoughtful readers