I’m in that wonderful period in every author’s life where they’re prepping for the release of a book. In my case, it’s the first one. After years of gunning for the traditional model for mostly superficial reasons, I was drawn to the self-publishing side of the industry. But, with that change, I’ve had to become my own marketer (something I hear is increasingly the case with traditionally published authors as well). I’m terrible at marketing myself, something that I have to get over if I want to actually be able to sell books, so this has not been a great experience. I don’t have a marketing background, so I did the first thing that any reasonably young person does – take to the Internet! I now have a checklist a mile long and anxiety up the wazoo. Thanks, Internet.
Here’s the thing – the Internet is a marvellous place where people can share ideas and advice on a huge scale. There is no need to jump into a potential minefield when you can grasp at the ideas of countless others who’ve already walked it. The problem is that the advice you get is unfiltered. Worse still, it gets really samey and lacks detail. For example, when I do a basic Google search for common self-publishing mistakes I run into list after list of pretty much the same advice – get a good title, a good cover, know your audience, copy edit, etc. It’s not a bad starting point, but a lot of it isn’t helpful.
The worst part about this kind of research is that you soon begin to realize that there is no law of the land. Everyone’s just flying by the seat of their pants and trying everything and anything that might work. This becomes increasingly apparent as people argue over plans to build a healthy set of pre-release reviewers. This is a particularly terrifying prospect to me. I’ve had readers to be sure in order to test out my material, but every time I give the book away, I brace for impact. Sometimes I think that it would be better to publish and join the millions of unnoticed novels than to publish and reveal how bad a writer I truly am, but that’s just the rabid insecurities talking, which I hear is pretty damn common.
Not only is the prospect of following much of the marketing advice intimidating, but I also question the effectiveness of some of them. Self-publishing is still a burgeoning industry, despite how huge it already is, and there’s tons being written about it prospectively. That is it’s written from the prospective of what the industry will look like in the future. There are also no shortages of people to write on it. Members of the industry are all writers after all, and they tend to like to let their opinion be known- see: this post. The issue with prospective analysis is that there aren’t real numbers behind the advice to justify it. I read several articles that went into great detail about Twitter marketing. It was very interesting with lots of seemingly good points. However, I know from elsewhere that Twitter marketing doesn’t do an amazing job at transferring to direct sales. Those points seem smart, but putting all my energy into bumping up my Twitter presence at the expense of other marketing ventures would be a mistake.
Another issue I run into frequently, which is somewhat connected to the prospective problem above, is that Google’s search algorithm isn’t amazing at directing you to new content. I was part way through reading about getting the most out of CreateSpace until I noticed that the article was hopelessly out of date and didn’t at all reflect the platform in its current form. The article had clearly generated many hits in the past, which put it high on Google’s list, but its age and lack of updates meant that the advice needed to be taken with extreme saltiness. The self-publishing world is exploding right now and old advice can be very dangerous if not properly vetted.
That’s not to say I didn’t find anything valuable from older articles. Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s article about the different marketing approaches between traditional and self-publishing models is an immensely engaging read. The article is from 2012, but the information within is more general perspective than specific, actionable advice. I found articles like this to be surprisingly the most useful since they provide a larger perspective on the industry rather than just saying to make sure you have a good title. I know a good title is important, and checking best sellers for their titles (a common piece of advice) is something I never found helpful in the slightest. On the other hand, a good understanding of the publishing industry was invaluable for me when I was setting my marketing goalposts in a realistic manner.
What’s overwhelming about the whole process is that the sheer amount of advice from blogs, books, and whatnot all may or may not be useful. A marketing book, once incredibly useful, can now be dated and useless. So many self-professed experts have come out with lengthy posts or books about self-publishing marketing and a good deal of them disappear into the ether shortly after.
And I’m getting help with my wife, who has a background in marketing. I can only imagine how intimidating the deluge of marketing advice is for people who are truly on their own. The worst part? I doubt I’ll be able to tell if all this marketing research is actually going to pay off, which is a scary thought.