Sunday, January 12, 2014

Marketing is Easy, Writing is Hard

It was probably the English actor Edmund Kean (1787 – 1833) who uttered famous last words that have been attributed to others. On his deathbed he was asked by a friend if dying was hard. The thespian replied, "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."

Thus, we come to the subject of today's post, which is this: Writing is hard. You should know that already. (I should say, writing well is hard, but that doesn't sound as snappy).

But here's the other side: Marketing is easy.

Yes, I said easy. I can hear the sighs, nay, the howls of protest. "If it's so easy, how come my books aren't selling?"

The answer is almost always: Because writing is hard. You've got to have a superior product to sell, and that's not easy. It's not easy for any business to create great products. If it were, everybody would be rolling in dough and tipping fifty bucks at Sizzler. 

Believe me when I say, quoting my own 5 Absolutely Unbreakable Laws: it takes quality production over time to make a go of indie publishing.

So why am I saying marketing is easy? Because marketing is not the same as that tiresome buzzword, Discoverability. If you remember that, your life will be a lot happier. 

Marketing you control. Discoverability is out of your hands. Don't brood about discovery. Write well, and market easily, and discovery takes care of itself. 

So why do I say marketing is easy? Because the things that work best for fiction writers are pretty much known. After you've written the best book you can, and given it quality design (editing, cover, description, key words), then you proceed to market. In my opinion, these are the top five ways to go:

1. Word of Mouth

This is, has been, and always will be the greatest driver of sales for any novelist. It is "passive marketing," because it is done by others on your behalf.

Beyond the book itself, you really cannot do anything to improve word of mouth. There was an attempt to do so a few years ago, when authors were buying 5-star reviews. But that practice was quickly flamed, and some authors suffered because of it.

So don't stress about this aspect of marketing. However, in the words of Bonnie Raitt, give 'em something to talk about.

2. Your Own Mailing List

I wrote about this here. Growing a list should be an ongoing enterprise. You should have a website with a place for readers to sign up for your updates. You should also learn how to communicate effectively so as not to annoy people. That's the subject of a future post.

3. KDP Select

If you're just starting out, the Select program from Kindle Direct Publishing is one of the best ways to get your work
out to new readers. You list your book exclusively with the Kindle store for ninety days and are allowed to offer your book free for five days within that period. The days can be used singly or in order. I advise doing it in order. Like I'm doing right now with my first Irish Jimmy Gallagher story, Iron Hands. Yes, it's free, so nab it. I'll wait.

Welcome back. Another option in the Select program is the Countdown Deal. Read more about that here. Currently, you cannot run a countdown and a free promo in the same quarter. If you're just starting out, go for the free promos first. Your main task is to get people to your work. 

How you utilize KDP Select with multiple titles is up to you, but I would advise keeping at least some short works with the program.

4. A Subscriber-Based Ad

Services like BookBub, BookGorilla, and Kindle Nation Daily may run an ad for your book. You pay for the privilege. But here is where many writers make a mistake. You should not view this kind of ad as a way to make money or "break even." You may, in fact, not make back your initial investment. This discourages many writers who may not take out another ad. 

But it's still worth it to do so because when you attract new readers a percentage of them will become repeat customers. Thus, the value of a your return is not dollar-for-dollar, but future income based upon the new readers you generate.

5. Some Social Media Presence

It's necessary to have some footprint out there in social media. But don't try to do everything. Pick something you enjoy and which doesn't gobble up too much of your time. Remember, social media is about "social" and not (primarily) about selling. See my notes here. There is a part of social media that's too hard for me to recommend: personal blogging. TKZ is a group blog. Trying to produce content by myself, at least three times a week, takes too much time and effort for too little return. The people who can do this are few, and I'm still not convinced the ROE (Return on Energy) is worth it. Choose wisely where you specialize.

Okay, that takes care of the marketing. If you have any further questions, you should consult Joanna Penn's book.

Now the hard part, writing. Concentrate most of your efforts here. Writing is a craft. It has to be learned, practiced, polished, criticized, revised, and practiced some more. It has to be wild and free on one side, yet disciplined and structured on the other.

Yes, you can write for pure pleasure, that's fine. You don't have to sell in big numbers if you don't want to. But if you're serious about gathering readers in ever increasing numbers, work at the craft.

Beethoven had to work at his music.

Picasso had to work at his painting.

Pete Rose had to work at baseball. He became one of the greatest hitters of all time with less than all-time talent. His problem was that he thought gambling was easy.

So here is your lesson for the day: Work on your writing and don't gamble.


Are you stressed out about marketing? What are you doing to counteract that? How about a writing self-improvement program?

39 comments:

  1. Compared to writing, marketing is easy. I'm not an expert but I think any of us that have slaved away at the craft, written one book and then another and then another, know that writing is hard. I found that if I get too strung out about marketing that my writing suffers. This year I'm focusing on the writing and trying to set some personal best goals. Like that lesson of the day, Jim, especially living in Cincinnati. :) Go Reds!

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    1. Jillian, you have you writer's head screwed on right. Hoping you have a great writing year.

      Have to say, I loved watching Pete Rose play. Put the guy in the Hall of Fame and move on.

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  2. When it comes to word of mouth, authors who are just starting out may need to solicit reviews from book bloggers. After all, services like BookBub require a certain number of reviews. I believe Author Michael J. Sullivan has great advice on how to go about obtaining reviews.

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    1. Thanks for adding that thought, Brian. Yes, a good review on a good site certainly helps.

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  3. This year is for changing my direction away from comedy. It will be difficult but I suppose that in order to catch the eye (and the wallet) of readers, I really should add a few more strings to my literary bow..

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    1. Comedy has always been a tougher sell, so a dramatic string in your bow is a great idea.

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  4. I was stressed out about marketing, but after reading this post I'm not any more. Now I'm stressed about my writing. Is it good enough?

    I'l find out. Is there a time in any writer's life, that doesn't involve stress? I live for that day.

    Meanwhile, I better go practice.

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    1. Oh man...stress is a killer, isn't it? If you're working hard, you can't try to control outcomes by raw emotion. Easier said....which is why Fitzgerald drank, I suppose. That, or Zelda.

      Stay with the moment, flow with the writing, and try to leave expectations out of everything.

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  5. Jim, Your five immutable laws are reasonable. It's the execution that often leaves us sweating, pulling our hair, and banging our heads on the keyboard. But in the end, I agree that it really comes down to writing the best novel possible and doing what you can to get people to see it. Thanks for some good advice.

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    1. I like people who use the word immutable..

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  6. Well, shoot. I'm not really stressed about either one. Marketing isn't a worry because I only have one book at this point and I'm disinclined to waste effort. When I have more work to offer, I'll start doing significant marketing. For now, a total of three people that are influential in the community that I ultimately want to reach have copies of the books. I haven't asked any of them for reviews. Will sales suffer this year? Sure. But since I want a writing career, I can wait.

    In the meantime, I write. Next novel is half done despite providing some interesting challenges (read: growth) to me as a writer. Got more ideas in my little notebook and the characters for the next novel are already trying to get my attention. Since I enjoy the creative process, there's no stress in actually writing.

    The only stress I suffer is a realization my skills don't match my inner or outer visions. So, I keep writing (practicing), read other authors (study) and take classes with people who won't blow smoke at me (learn.) That's a good, motivating stress.

    Now, I should go back to writing.

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    1. Paul, you are so on the right track. All new writers contemplating self-publishing should read and heed these words.

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    2. Excellent attitude, Paul! You'll go far with it. Every aspiring author should have your realistic attitude and focus on continued effort and professional development!

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  7. Your point about marketing not being the same as discoverability made something go click in my brain. A good click, by the way. Not a psycho one where I'm going to grab a shotgun and run... never mind.
    But reading that made my shoulders relax a bit. It's as simple as "What can I control? What can't I?" (Which is, of course, why I missed it.)
    It also explained why I find it so much easier to dash from FB to Twitter to GR to wherever as I "market," and why it's so much harder to sit down and WRITE.
    Thank you!

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    1. Turn that shotgun impulse into a character...

      So glad this helped. I am a fan of the Stoic philosophers, and one of the best, Epictetus, said, "There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will."

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  8. The only one, actually two, that I would add about social media are:

    1. Strive to hang out with people who are more advanced than you. It doesn't mean they are better, it just means they are farther on the continuum than you. The old saw about the fastest way to up your tennis game is to challenge someone who always beats you hold true here.

    On that note . . .

    2. Be someone others want to hang out with. I see people trying so damn hard to establish social media platforms that it gets tedious and transparent.

    If I pro accepts my friend request or offers one that I accept, I don't run over and gush all over their wall and I sure as hell don't market. I read their posts, drop some likes, and, after a while, start with a few comments or questions about appearances, new books, etc.

    Overall, I try to keep it upbeat, amusing, and informative. If I ever write about my own writing, I try to balance it with two instances of writing/sharing about someone else's. *scampers off to share this post*

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    1. Your comments are so right on, Terri. Esp. #2. That's the key secret wrapped up in one, pithy phrase.

      And your message tone and balance are exactly right for social media.

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  9. It's the writing that challenges me, not the marketing. Once a book is done, I don't stress too much about marketing. It's like a chick leaving the nest --it will eventually fly (or flounder), more or less on its merits; I will do a certain amount to promote it, but that effort is nothing compared to the effort it takes me to do the actual writing. I guess I'm lucky that I don't depend on the income from writing--on the other hand, maybe that freedom has simply enabled me to become lazy. Sheesh. Thanks for the kick in the pants! :)

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    1. Yes, Kathryn, you need to be in a cold-water flat and behind in your rent. You're welcome.

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  10. This post is well timed as I'm writing a series of novellas for self publishing while continuing to pursue traditional projects.

    One thing I continue to wonder about is perception. Even though self publishing is gaining more respect, there's still a big line between "I'm a self published author" and "I'm a traditionally published author/hybrid author".

    I know you can't change what other people think, and it just comes down to writing the best book you can, but there's lots of places that turn down review requests if you're self published. Blogs, requests for blurbs, etc.

    At this point, I don't know if there's anything to do about it, any extra hoop or assurance you can give, except just to stay the course and let people figure out for themselves that you haven't actually published your first draft. That your book has seen many different drafts and gasp! even some editors that aren't your mom!

    Thanks for these wonderful tips on marketing! There's something really reassuring to know the best thing I can do to market--the thought of which usually makes me want to crawl into a hole--is write a great book.

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  11. Elizabeth, I think that "perception thing" is quickly going the way of the Dodo. Certainly, the ever increasing number of authors making five and six figures a year aren't stressing about it.

    If the writing is good, it will get noticed. And even trad publishers may come calling.

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  12. Great tips, as always, Jim! There's no point in spending time and money to market a poorly written, poorly produced book.

    My post tomorrow is about book contests for indie authors - another way to gain respect and confidence in your own abilities, and maybe even a bit of prestige - not to mention increased sales. And maybe even some useful feedback on your book, even if you don't win.

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  13. Thanks for letting me know Jodie! I always look forward to your posts. :D

    I also think the perception is changing. I notice more and more traditional authors are self publishing as well, especially books that traditional publishers don't feel are big enough to hit the sale numbers they want. Which doesn't mean there aren't people out there who want to read them, of course.

    Thanks for the great feedback!

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  14. Good to read this today...one of my resolutions was to "sweat the writing" and not the other stuff. Sort of a variation on the old prayer, "Lord, grant me the strength to change what I can, the serenity to forget the crap out of my control and the wisdom to know the difference." It makes for a less sleepless night.

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  15. Well-said, great points. Thanks. Every time I read one of your posts, I feel renewed. The butt-in-chair (sometimes until it’s numb), doing continuous rewrites, thinking through plot, structure, characterization, watching friends sign with agents and ink deals. I’ve been at this for five years and I can be my own worst enemy, (especially when I compare my stops and spurts to my friends who seem to write effortlessly and are uber-prolific) -- yet I think I’ve learned a lot in those five years. The marketing is a necessary part of a writer’s life, but the real gold’s in the work, to make your novel shine as much as possible. Becoming a savvy marketer who has a “meh” product isn’t the path to success. First, put in the hours to write a compelling page-turner, be willing to humble yourself (constantly) – and if you’re doing your job right, the novel sells itself.

    And yeah, I like reading a post by someone who knows who “Charlie Hustle” was.

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    1. Ah yes, the old comparison trap. Good to get over it and remember what ol' Charlie Hustle himself said: "Stay aggressive."

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  16. Marketing is one of the toughest things, but your list up there really covers some of the best ways to get it done. Among them KDP and paid adverts via Kindle Nation have worked out to the best for me. That being said I'm adding one more to see what happens. Last fall I tried a Kickstarter program to basically pre-sell my current WIP (ICE HAMMER-late 2014). It ended up getting a pretty decent amount of pledges, but in the end fell flat. This was not because the idea wasn't good, rather it was simply that the timing was way off. The program was set on too short of a deadline, and by the time it started to take off, the deadline hit and all was a bust.
    Lesson learned: Timing is everything (and it's cousin Luck is everything else).

    Therefore I am trying the same approach again, albeit from a different site, this time with a much longer time frame that enables word to get out before the show packs up and heads out of town. Will it work? I know it will work better than last time, but as to stellar success vs. moderate success...well, time will tell.

    Check out the Indiegogo page for ICE HAMMER and see if perhaps an idea like this could work for your project.

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    1. Basil, keep us posted. I'm not yet sold on crowdfunding for fiction, but I may not know enough about it yet. Good luck!

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    2. Yes, please keep us posted! It's an interesting idea.

      I saw a post on LitReacter some time ago (and of course now I can't find it again) about a guy who was trying different things.

      He had pages where you could "buy in" to his latest project, or become a patron in general, which works like a tip jar if I'm not mistaken.

      Kickstarter and Indiegogo could be interesting because you pay a specific amount of money for a certain product and get it at a specific date. Finite, measurable. The patron thing makes me leery mostly because I'm not sure how that would actually work in terms of payment versus product.

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  17. Encouraging post. I'll have to dig deeper into the Select program. Btw, I just downloaded Iron Hands! I've only read your nonfiction, so I look forward to reading your fiction.

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  18. I am beyond inspired by this post. I am an aspiring writer hailing from the country of Guyana in South America. In this zone, people rarely pursue literary careers, much less someone as young as I am. I am in the process of self-publishing my first book. I have always worred about marketing and if my work was good enough. I guess I just have to have faith in my abilities and trust that the year-and-a-half spent perfecting this book was worth it. I have been doing extensive research, and when I came across your blog on Kim's article, I just had to check it out. I'm glad I did. God bless you! :)

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    1. I'm happy you found us here at TKZ, Candy. Always glad to have more aspiring writers join us. Come back often!

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    2. Candy I highly recommend publishing for Kindle, even if you can't buy from Amazon in your area. I published a little booklet on household uses of diatomaceous earth (just as a way to learn about publishing through Amazon) and it now brings in about $200 per month, thanks in part to the Kindle Select program. And it sells all over the world.

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  19. Thank you so much, Jim! I will be following all of this. As my doctor always says, "Try it and see what happens."

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  20. Thanks, James! I've been trying to market my mystery series to regional hotels and shops who initially seem interested, but balk when they find out my novels are self-published. They seem to think they can take advantage or that I'm asking for too much $$. (I only want to split the profits 50/50--not give them half of my retail price, which leaves me $2.)
    I've been a professional writer/editor all my adult life, and I'm amazed how major hotel chains will try to nickel and dime you because they think you're a hobbyist, not a business. How can I get around this way of thinking? Very frustrating!
    Thanks for your help!

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    1. Ellen, I would imagine trying to negotiate a book deal with a hotel chain would be like trying to convince squirrels to share their nuts. It's just not in their DNA.

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  22. LOL Exactly! Let's just say I took away my pile of nuts and gave up. But it seems most retailers have this attitude--how can a self-pubbed author overcome this barrier and get some respect? (To quote a comic) I finally just sent them the link to CreateSpace. Thanks, James for the laugh!

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