This is a Guest Contribution by Emily Mah Tippetts, from EMTippetts.com.
When I got started in professional writing, it was still an era when writers did not self promote. It was uncouth to pull out a copy of your book and ask people to buy it.
At science fiction conventions (this is the genre where I began), organizers would shake their heads in dismay if an author on a panel even so much as put copies of their books out on the table in front of them. A real author waited for people to ask about their books, always.
Not waiting for an invitation was to broadcast yourself to the world as a hack. A wannabe. Someone who clearly couldn’t write well enough to sell books, so they had to resort to carnival barking and other gimmicks.
At first glance, it would appear that the world has changed entirely.
With the rise of indie writing, authors are having to act as their own publicists, and even publishers expect authors to do a certain amount of their own publicity. In fact, a lot of traditionally published authors have to do all their own publicity over and above sending out ARCs to reviewers.
It would appear that to be an author now, you also have to be a salesman (or woman), willing to talk up your book any and every chance you get.
I decided to go indie with one of my pen names (E.M. Tippetts) specifically to see how much difference I could make to my career if I did my own publicity. I released two books, publicized one and not the other, and the results were staggering.
The one I publicized has been in the Kindle Top 100 twice. The other limps along and has just barely covered the costs of its own cover design. I say that without bitterness. It was a valuable lesson to learn.
But perhaps the most surprising lesson of all is that even in this era of writer as publicist, my mentors from back in the day have it right and a lot of people I see out there have it dead wrong.
Well, there’s a lot about marketing that isn’t straightforward, and as an ebook formatter who helps indie authors with launches multiple times a week these days, I see a lot of marketing styles and I see what succeeds and what fails.
In short, it’s all about attitude. Specifically, here are three of the wrong attitudes to have:
1. Selling books requires talking about your book to anyone who will listen
This attitude assumes that your goal when you wake up in the morning is to talk about your book as much as possible to as many people as possible. Your work is a product that you have to push relentlessly. But think about this. Would that work on you?
Would you buy a book from someone rambling on and on and on about it? No. You’d think that person can’t be a very good writer because… well, cross reference the end my first paragraph. They have to resort to carnival barking and other gimmicks.
2. You have to be on every kind of social media all the time
Now, there are a ton of social media success stories. John Scalzi runs a very effective blog. John Locke, despite his detractors’ allegations to the contrary, sold a lot of books via Twitter.
I can vouch for his techniques because these are the ones I used at the outset, and while they didn’t get me onto the New York Times Bestseller List, they did get me on the Amazon Children’s top 100 for over a month, before the climate on Twitter changed.
If you look on social media, you will find, unsurprisingly, a lot of people who are good at marketing on it. That’s because… well, they’re good at marketing on it, and hence are the ones who get seen. That doesn’t mean you will be one of them if you copy them verbatim, and you most certainly won’t be if you copy them all verbatim.
There are only so many hours in the day, and you can’t be everywhere at once, no matter how much technology you use. Spread your efforts too far, and you won’t be effective anywhere.
3. Forget marketing and just write, write, write!
I doubt I need to spend too much time on this point. Quality does matter. If you write constantly and just break your manuscripts off in novel size chunks and put them up on Amazon, no one will buy them. There are plenty of people you’ve never heard of with huge shelves.
Indie publishing is about four years old, so of course a lot of top sellers are very prolific. Few people have had the time to build out a shelf more then ten books long. However, that will start to matter less and less as the market ages.
Some of the people with big shelves had a huge backlist that they took decades to build. Others have a freakish talent for writing fast. This kind of writer isn’t new. They’re old as writing itself.
People who write fewer books can and do keep up in the sales charts. So don’t fall into the trap of trying to write fast enough to keep up, and don’t believe the hype that says these authors do nothing to market themselves. They aren’t obsessed with marketing and they devote most of their time to writing, but their books didn’t just luck into finding the right readers.
Marketing can be very subtle, but there is a difference between putting a book out there and moving on, and putting a book out there with a little support, then moving on. All of these writers do the latter at the very least.
Okay, so that’s a list of the wrong attitudes to have. What are the right ones?
I won’t pretend to be an expert here, but let me put forward three that have worked for me:
1) Market YOURSELF
A deceptively short sentence that encompasses a huge range of strategies you should employ. Don’t be on every type of social media. Find one you like and just stick to that.
Don’t script your posts and try to cultivate a certain “look.” Just be you, because that’s far less exhausting. Put yourself into situations where you’re likely to find readers. You only have so many hours in a day to socialize, so go do it in a Goodreads group of people who read what you write.
Not that you’ll go there to blab about your book, but if you’re going to strike up conversations with people, focus on people who might be readers, and then just socialize normally.
Forget about your books and your upcoming launch. Joke. Respond. Post your reviews of other people’s books. Put in your profile that you’re a writer and that’s how you get that “people coming to you without you selling yourself” phenomenon to start.
Think about it!
If you’re at a party and meet a very interesting person who was great to talk to, then find out they are a writer, you might very well pick up one of their books. If someone at that same party talked about their books all the time, forget about it. You’ll likely avoid those books even if other people recommend them to you.
2) Be accessible
It floors me how many people trawl Twitter for new followers but don’t check the “Other” box in their Facebook messages. You know who might be in that box, among the usual spammers? Fans.
People who have no social connection to you at all who love your books. Always respond. Always check your email, your Goodreads inbox, your Wattpad comments, your guest blogpost comments on other people’s blogs, etc. Don’t miss the low hanging fruit while in search of some grand marketing scheme that will make you famous.
You know who I found in my email inbox one day? Caisey Quinn. She now outsells me on Amazon by a lot (I helped her launch her first indie book after we got talking via email). Go on Caisey’s site or her Twitter and you’ll see she endorses me, personally, to her hordes of loyal readers.
Connections like that are worth a million pointless tweets about your $.99 sale and the reason Caisey’s helping market me isn’t because I targeted her with some strategy. It’s because she was already my fan when she contacted me (and I didn’t blow it by being a jerk to her – I don’t need to write a section on that, do I?)
Caisey’s just one example. Most of my indie writing network was formed online, and it isn’t the result of some devious scheme to make the perfect indie writing network. It’s the result of answering my email, Tweets, Facebook messages, and so on.
People who already like me act like they like me in public. It’s genius. Needless to say, it’s also important to do the same in return for the authors we love.
3) Focus on gratitude
Too many people focus on their goals or aspirations when they market. They think, “I want to sell ten thousand copies,” or, “I want to be on this bestseller list.”Market with that attitude and you’ll sound needy or arrogant or both, I guarantee it. You’ll seem like a carnival barker begging for sales.
I suggest you count your blessings instead. It’s much more appealing to hear someone thank their fans for their support rather than brag about how many books they sold. “Can you believe my readers got me on the New York Times Bestseller list? Aren’t they awesome?” conveys that sales information in one of the least obnoxious ways possible.
And when your career isn’t going gangbusters, cultivate enthusiasm for others. Don’t be the whiner who doesn’t like how so-and-so outsold them. Take other people’s success as a sign that it really is possible.
You may celebrate a lot of other people’s bestsellers before you celebrate your own, but if you don’t learn how to do this, odds are high you’ll never celebrate a bestseller, ever. Don’t feel that you failed if you aren’t the guest of honor at the party.
Be the kind of person everyone wants to invite to their celebration bash. Because nothing dispels an aura of neediness like generosity and kindness. Shrug and smile when people ask what your sales are and move on to talk about your friends whom you’re excited for. That will sell your books much more effectively than acting bitter, I guarantee it!
As I said, I don’t have all the answers, but those are six tips that have helped me. Please feel free to share yours in the comments. I’d love to hear them!
Emily Mah Tippetts writes romance as E.M. Tippetts and science fiction and fantasy as Emily Mah. She is a former attorney with degrees in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University and business law from UCLA. For more information or to sign up for updates on future book releases, visit her website at EMTippetts.com. You can connect with Emily on Twitter.