Sunday, February 17, 2013

"Dammit, Jim, I’m a Writer, Not a Book Marketer!"

I’m a writer. I love everything about writing: dreaming up new stories, outlining, writing, and editing, editing, and editing some more. And I love sharing my stories with readers.

But I am not a book marketer

I don’t know how to sell stuff. I’m an introvert. I’m shy, and I’m modest. I hate tooting my own horn.

You can write the best book in the world, but no one
will buy it if you don't know how to market it.

So what’s an introverted, shy, and modest writer like me to do? “If you build it, he will come” only happens in fields of dreams. In reality, you can write the world’s greatest book, but no one will ever read it if they don't know it exists. You might as well have consigned it to the proverbial desk drawer. 

The reverse is also true. I've seen terrible writers sell tons of books because they are amazing salespeople. These are people who could sell anything, and books are just another product to them. Of course, I'm not one of those people. 

At least there are two things about book marketing I do know: I know how to write a good blurb, and I know how to design a great cover. Of course, both of those are step two in the process of marketing. Those things don’t matter if you can’t convince people to check out your cover or your blurb to begin with.

It’s that first step. That's the real problem for me. How do you get the right people to check my book cover and my blurb? And by “the right people,” I mean potential readers who are likely to enjoy my books; because I know that once they do check them out, the books will sell themselves. 

For example, how do I get proud geeks to check out Why My Love LifeSucks? Or how do I get girls who love fantasy novels to check out Toren the Teller's Tale? And how do I get teachers who are looking for a fun book that boosts self-esteem to combat bullying to check out Dan Quixote: Boy of Nuevo Jersey? How do I get Ride of Your Life into the hands of people who need to believe that there can be a happy ending after a deadly tragedy? 

I don't know. Do you? 

I need to think like, Gilbert Garfinkle, the hero of The Legend of Gilbert the Fixer series. I need to apply his method for fixing things to this problem I have with marketing. 

Step one, I need to break it down to its parts. And here they are:

1. Blogging, guest blogging, and blog tours
It’s all based on writing and graphics (my strengths); I have plenty of material; I can make it specific to my books; except for paid blog tours, it’s free; I can assemble useful blogs into a nonfiction book, which I can sell. (See 8)
Who will read it? How can I get people to read it? How do I find blogs that would be interested in my books? (The Indie Book Blog Database is a good place to start: There are affordable blog tours available in certain categories (I did two Bewitching Blog Tours, one for Toren the Teller's Tale and one for Ride of Your Life, and that worked well enough for both), but some categories don’t have them. Some tours are way overpriced, and there’s no guaranty anyone will see your posts. In the end, this could be a lot of work with no return on the time (and possibly money) invested in it.

2. Goodreads, LibraryThing, and other contests
Free, except possibly the cost of printing and shipping paperbacks to "winners."
Most of the people who participate are more interested in getting something for free than in your book. A giveaway on LibraryThing of 75 e-books resulted in only one Smashwords review that can be summed up as “I want a free copy of the next book in the series.” Still, I haven’t tried Goodreads yet, so that might be worth a try.

3. Facebook and Facebook advertising
Except for advertising and promoted posts, it’s free.
I hate tooting my own horn. I don’t want to be “that writer,” the annoying one who constantly screams, “Buy my book!” on Facebook. Ugh. But I will keep up the little bits of advertising I do for $1-2 a day. I just need to experiment with tweaking those for different audiences and with different content. I also need to keep interacting with my Facebook friends and groups.   

4. Twitter
Free. Fun. Hashtags make it easier to find the right audience, and I can join Twitter chats on suitable topics.
Time consuming. And once again, the squeaky wheel gets the grease (and I’m not comfortable with squeaking). Twitter is better geared for the salesman than the writer.

5. YouTube
Words and images together, two things I’m good at; another form of storytelling, which is always fun. I love storytelling in all its forms!    
Time consuming when done right, and with generally very little return on time invested. I could consider Vlogging, which is less time consuming, although I don’t feel comfortable in front of the camera. Maybe getting comfortable in front of the camera is something I should work on…

6. Pinterest
Pinterest is fun.
I have no real idea how to use it for book marketing.

7. Publish a picture book
I’ve already written and illustrated a few dummies. Parents love book readings at libraries and bookstores and will buy the book for their small children. I can also do paid elementary school classroom visits.

I’ll need to redo my picture books so that they’re under 24 pages, which will make them cheaper to publish in full color. That could be a lot of work. This won’t help me sell my middle-grade and teen novels.
8. Publish an adult nonfiction book
Makes it easier to do library and bookstore visits that will attract people who will buy my  book, since you can give a helpful presentation on the topic of your book to adult book buyers. Also makes you more attractive for radio and TV interviews. You can assemble blog posts into a nonfiction book, so that would let you accomplish two things at once.

Unless the topic of the book somehow relates to your other books, this won’t sell your other books.
9. Publish a Jewish book
Like an adult nonfiction book, this will open me up to giving presentations at synagogues, Jewish schools, and JCCs. I already have a finished book based on my mom’s childhood years in Jerusalem at the time that Israel became a state, but I’d like to expand it to include the life stories of four generations of women in my family in the Holy Land. I also have a semi-autobiographical, funny, middle-grade novel about growing up in a modern orthodox Jewish family, which I've written but haven't published yet.  

I don’t want to be categorized as a “Jewish author.” Yes, I’m Jewish, but I write mostly comedy, science fiction, and fantasy. This audience is unlikely to spill over to my other books. I don’t want to be pigeonholed. Plus, I'd have to spend time editing and possibly illustrating this book, which would take time away from my other books. 
10. Paid advertising (Google, TV, radio, magazines, websites)

Potentially a lot of exposure
People generally tune out ads, and they’re expensive! Plus, how can you be sure it’s the right audience?
11. Become a celebrity
People will buy anything a celebrity is selling.
The easiest way to become a celebrity is by doing something humiliating. No thanks!

12. Email newsletter
Relies on writing and visuals, and only those interested in it would sign up.
People generally ignore newsletters in their email inbox. Why would they open mine? Plus I’d need to pay a service to run it properly.

13. Approach bookstores
Getting my books into bookstores would be great.
They generally won’t take indie published books. Selling them on consignment is a possibility, but I don’t know how that works. I could do an event, but that works best for picture-book reading or nonfiction presentations.

14. Approach schools and libraries
Many writers make more money from school visits than they do from book sales. I have a great school program about bullying and self-esteem for Dan Quixote, and another good one on analyzing and writing fiction for my other books.

Who do I approach, how do I approach them, and how do I convince them my presentation is worth spending more on than another writer’s?
15. Podcsasting
Similar to blogging, but with a different audience, an audience that is on the move, driving somewhere or exercising. I have the equipment, like a great microphone.

I tend to get nervous when it’s just me talking to nobody. Sometimes I cough or say things wrong. With an autistic teenager at home, there's rarely any peace and quiet. And I don’t know if I have any material for the podcast listening audience that will draw them to my books.

16. Attending fairs, conferences, and suitable conventions
Fun, and I can definitely pick the right audience for each book (Toren the Teller’s Tale for Renaissance Faires or DragonCon; Why My Love Life Sucks for Sci-Fi, Trekker Cons, and ComicCons; Dan Quixote for education conferences)

Costs a lot, and unlikely to be worth the money. (However, I might be able to get speaking engagements at some of them, and they might even pay.)

So those are the options for step one, each with its pros and cons. I guess if there were one clear easy answer, everyone would be doing it.

I hate having so many choices, particularly when every one of them has its drawbacks. Do I waste my time this way or that way? Do I embarrass myself this way or that way? Do I feel awkward and inept in this context or that context? It’s quite a predicament.

All I know is that I’d rather be writing.

So what do you think I should do? What would you do in my situation? How would you handle marketing a middle-grade or YA humorous fiction, fantasy or science-fiction novel? What do you think works, and what doesn’t? 

I hope you'll leave your thoughts in the comments below. 


Paula Beavan said...

It's all so frightening that I don't know which way to go! Sometimes I think I'll just write for fun and friends and family! Let me know if you come up with a plan.

Joelle said...

Wow, that was cool seeing it all laid out like that, Shevi. I know I've been thinking on all that in the last few days. I was told that an author acquaintance of mine doesn't believe blogging is worth it for self-publishing authors. That forced me to consider how I use my blog and I realize, for me, since I'm not "just trying to sell books," it's worth it.

Kathleen said...

I have the same issue. I know my stories are good but where do I find the readers? I do social media and blog tours. I'd love to do book signings and to get my books into libraries. I wish I had the answers. Publicist? PR marketing firm? If only.

Krystalyn Drown said...

Ah, I feel your pain. I'm literally afraid of picking up the phone and calling schools or bookstores. While I'm not technically an indie author, my publisher is small, and most of the PR falls to me.

Shevi Arnold said...

Thanks. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one.

Paula, I've decided to start with one or two and then move onto others. I guess you just have to pick one and go for it. And if it's the wrong choice, you can switch gears later on.

Joelle, I hear you. Blogs do serve many purposes. We each have to figure out what we want ours to do for us. This particular post is me working out a problem I have, and I hope in doing so, I can help others who have the same problem. I guess that's as good a use for a blog as any.

Kathleen, I talked with my local YA librarian, and that's how I got to do a book launch there. I haven't a clue how to get into bookstores for signings (or if that's something worth trying). I guess I would approach an indie bookstore and ask. Book publicists and marketing firms are expensive, but that's something I should have included on this list. We can dream, right?

Krystalyn, phone calls are the worst! I get palpitations. It's really tough now that marketing most often falls on writers. Lucky (and rare) are those who can do both well.

Sue Bursztynski said...

You PAID for blog tours? You shouldn't have to do that. Follow other people's blogs, make comments, let it be known you're there and then see if you can arrange a blog tour on those ones. Most bloggers won't mind giving you a guest post, which, let's face it, is all tour is. If they're charging for it, you have to wonder who their readers are, whether they will bother checking out your book. I agree giveaways are nice, but not a lot of help, although I was touched when, some months after failing to get a copy of my book, a lady tried again. Of course, I made sure she got one. But she didn't review it. Another winner did, though. Go through your local schools and libraries. Offer a book launch, which is win win - the school gets a free writer visit and you get the promo and hopefully sell some books.

Shevi Arnold said...

Sue, I wrote the post after I did a book launch at my local library. I only sold one book to the YA librarian. She explained that kids don't buy books, but if I write a picture book, I can sell it to the parents who come with their small children. Funny, I thought I mentioned that discussion with her in the post...

And I do think the blog tour was money well spent. They cost $75 each and brought me Amazon, Goodreads and other reviews, as well as readers. Bewitching Blog tours specializes in paranormal romance, which doesn't fit my latest book (a geek-centric, scifi, teen comedy with a male hero), but if I had another suitable book, I would definitely use their services again. It averages out to only $7.50 per blog, and I feel my time is worth more than that.

Shevi Arnold said...

I see what I wrote was that if I write a picture book, I can sell it to parents at library visits. What I neglected to mention is that it can't be done with YA, because kids don't have money and don't come with their parents to YA events. I write mostly YA.

Melanie Cossey said...

I like some of these ideas and I think a reading at a school would be good. Maybe a contest or give away in the school. I'm just thinking of the way my middle grader son comes across his books. These are fads or trends that go through the school by word of mouth. Like the Whimpy Kid books, one kid reads it and then tells his friends and so on.

I would try to create a buzz amoung your readers. I wouldn't take to heart what that librarian said about kids not buying books. IF a kid says to their parent "Mom I want this book." then the parent would usually go get it, because most parents want to encourage their kids to be readers.

Since you have an anti-bullying book, can you get in on an anti-bullying event? Donate some sales to that? They have them all over the place here. The schools hold them too. Perhaps you can present yourself at one of these. Don't just call a school. Call a school board.

As for the jewish books, I am not sure it would work or not, but the books sound very interesting to me and I would love to read them. :)

For phone work, I too was nervous on the phone, but then I got a phone job for Avon Canada where I had to call about 200 people a month and with all that exposure and practice I'm now very confident on the phone. So all it takes is practice. Write a script first that you can just read off, and practice reading it many times before you actually call anyone.

I wish you the best in your marketing endeavors. I love your writing, I think it is very good.

Lori said...

I think like everything else it's down to what you are paying for. If you go to a reputable source of promotion and they charge a 'fair' price and yield results, then why not? I agree that there are a lot of free resources out there, but if you can swing your way onto a popular, paid-for service, why not? I guess it's all down to investment and return. I don't particularly care for free-- I've seen some horrendous free interviews filled with typos, poor formatting, poorly structured interview questions, etc. Like everything in life, if you want quality you likely have to invest. BUT I don't think anyone should be paying over the odds for anything. I myself do some book promotion on my website. I charge $20 for an interview; I use a professional editor. I have worked with all kinds of writers and I've built up a following. I have my own website, readers. I also do critiques, I list books, I do reviews and I try to do them all on a budget basis. I guess that makes me biased, but recently I did a free interview with a blogger (I was the interviewee) and the thing was one huge typo. It really looked like hell. I was embarrassed to be associated with it. I have worked with free bloggers who don't take care with their work. It's sad to say, but free doesn't give people incentive unless they really love what they're doing and take pride in it.

Having said all that, I also do free interviews as well as charity interviews for people who really can't afford it. I think that's important to be generous in this life, too. Overall though, if a blog looks good, reads well, if he/she has a good reputation, then a small investment could reap you some good rewards. Just my humble opinion.

Shevi Arnold said...

I agree, Lori, which is why I recently signed up for a book blog tour for Why My Love Life Sucks. The trick was finding a service that handles YA. I went with Xpresso Book Tours, which helps writers connect with book bloggers, and I paid for a service called Reviews to the Max. It should hopefully get the book 25 or more honest reviews, and it costs $150, so if it works, it will come out to about $6 or less per reviewer. I'm not paying for reviews. What I am paying for is someone who can help me get the book into reviewers' hands.

Meanwhile, I've read a wonderful book that I plan to use to help me start vlogging. One of the great things about this particular book is that it's about sharing ideas--not marketing. I'll post something about it soon. (It might even be a video.)

Janet Heller said...

Dear Shevi,

Participating in discussions on Linked-In and other sites also increases your exposure. Reviewing other people's books on your website will prompt many authors to review your books on their websites. Joining the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators and participating in their listserves gets you more readers also.

You ask about how to contact schools. Contact principals, librarians, and teachers of the right grade level. Tell them you will read your book and do creative writing workshops at the school. This has been successful for me. I also have the teachers send out a letter to parents, asking them to purchase my books at a special price.

Best wishes!

Janet Heller
Author of the award-winning book for kids about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Sylvan Dell, hardback--2006, paperback--2007, e-book, audio, and Spanish edition--2008, 3rd paperback edition and iPad app--2012)
Website is