So here we are at the point in the discussion that you’ve all been waiting for. Marketing.
Marketing our books has got to be the most time-consuming, frustrating part of the entire self-publishing experience. It’s frustrating for all writers, no matter how you’ve been published. How do we get our books out there? Where do we find readers? How can we get more reviews? Most importantly, how can we hit it big and retire to JUST WRITE. Everything we try seems to come with a cost, and gargantuan effort yields so few sales that we just want to give up and cry in a corner, am I right?
I don’t have the definitive answer about how to become a bestseller. I do have some educated guesses though. At this stage of the game, I’m pretty sure sheer dumb luck plays more of a role in the process than any of us wants to admit. But as they say, we make our own luck. I believe there are a few crucial things we can do to start the marketing ball rolling and to harness the momentum to make something.
As I see it, there are two types of marketing for books: Passive Marketing and Active Marketing. Passive Marketing involves all those seemingly small but ultimately all-important static things that we do to make our books look attractive to readers. I’m going to talk about those today. Active Marketing involves all of those herculean efforts that we go to in our attempts to get our work out there and find readers and reviewers. I’ll be talking about that next week. We tend to focus on and tear our hair out over Active Marketing, but in so many ways it’s the Passive Marketing that catches more eyes and draws more readers in. A lot of people trip themselves up by not paying attention to this aspect.
So what is Passive Marketing?
Passive Marketing are those aspects of our books that are permanent, ever-present, and that reach people whether we know it or not. I’m talking about the quality of the writing itself (write a good book, remember?), editing (developmental and copyediting), formatting, the book cover, and the cover copy. It’s easy to forget about these things, but nothing turns a reader off—or gets them excited—faster than the cover or the blurb or the physical appearance of the inside of the book.
If you look at reviews anywhere from Amazon to Goodreads, chances are it won’t take you long to stumble across a bad review in which the reviewer waxes on about the number of typos, grammar mistakes, continuity errors, or formatting gaffes. It’s so easy to shrug them off as unimportant, but the nit-pickers out there will catch them. And unfortunately, it’s the nit-pickers who review books. Yep, someone who disliked a book for whatever reason is far more likely to take the time to write a review online than someone who liked it.
This is why traditional publishing companies have layers of editors. You need to hire a professional developmental editor to help you work with your story to make your final product smooth, well-paced, complex without being confusing, and engaging. You need to have someone else go through with a red pen to find word misusage, misplaced punctuation, bad grammar, and those awful spelling errors that Spell Check just can’t catch. Yes, I hear you groaning “Do I have to?”. Technically no. But would you rather find those inevitable mistakes right away and fix them or would you rather have a reviewer blast them all over a vicious 1-star review?
Still think it’s not important? I will avoid paying money for a book if I see more than one reviewer go on and on about copyediting mistakes. True story. I’m not the only one.
Another equally important but easy to overlook aspect of Passive Marketing is formatting. Remember that all of these fantastic self-publishing platforms stick your final document through a meat-grinder in order to produce a file that is compatible with everyone’s eReader. Smashwords even calls their converter The Meat-grinder. Smashwords also has this fabulous book called Smashwords Guide to Style which will hold your hand and walk you through the baby-steps of creating a document that will not get torn to shreds in the conversion process. I recommend following it religiously each time you publish a new book. I’ve heard other people in the know recommend following it religiously as well. Formatting errors are not technically your fault as a writer, but again, try telling that to those troll reviewers.
Incidentally, it takes me at least an hour, usually more, to adequately format a book. It’s worth the time.
Then there’s the cover.
Covers are awesome. Some of them are so pretty I want to buy the book based on the cover alone. In those old fashioned places where you can go to get coffee and meet your friends called brick-and-mortar book stores, people take the books off the shelf and look at them to decide whether or not they want to buy them. Don’t think that they don’t do that online too! That tiny little thumbnail is the single biggest factor that will make someone click to find out more about your book or scan on to something that catches their eyes.
So why, pray tell, do so many self-published authors think they can create their own covers? Authors with no professional graphic design training or experience. It is painful when someone who owns a copy of Photoshop and fancies themselves able to use it thinks they can cut financial corners by designing their own cover. This is where humility plays a major role in self-publishing. You may very well be brilliant with a design program, but just like you need someone else’s perspective to edit your book, you need someone with specialized talent to design your cover.
I have had so many compliments on my covers. My good friend, Jonathan, of Pehr Design & Photography makes them for me. He’s been a graphic designer for YEARS. He has his own company. He knows what he’s doing. (He’s looking for more clients, btw) Aside from Pehr Design, there are bunches of companies popping up out there who specialize in cover designs for self-published novels. (Please share designers and companies you know in the comments so we can compile a list!)
Having a beautiful cover is key, but perhaps even more important is what a reader will find when they click on the cover to find out more.
Readers decide to buy a book or pass based on the “back cover blurb”. It is my firm belief that all other factors are secondary to this simple statement of what your book is about. And therein lies the problem. I have read some cover blurbs that do nothing more than tell the reader what the book is about. “Joe is a young boy who is beamed up by a spaceship one night. He goes on adventures through the stars.” Yep. That’s what the book is about all right. And I’m already bored.
We’re writers. In theory, we’ve written tens of thousands of words that spin an exciting story that will have the reader flipping pages. That starts with the blurb. A good blurb orients the reader in the world they’re about to explore, but it also gives them a myriad of reasons why they want to buy the book to explore that world. Fill your blurbs with conflict, with intrigue. Write them in the voice that you use throughout the story. Hook the reader before they know what hit them. Remember, you’re selling your book. Make people want to read it!
The best way I’ve found to write a good blurb is to study the blurbs of bestselling books. I write Romance, so I routinely read the blurbs of all of the books on the top lists for Amazon and iBooks. I’ve even been known to go to bookstores to read the backs of the books on the shelves. Not only do you begin to get a sense for what story information hooks readers, you can also get a sense of what’s going on in your genre, what types of stories are popular.
There’s one other thing that you can add to your Passive Marketing if you’re lucky enough to have it. I’m talking about excerpts from great reviews and/or “blurbs” from other star writers in your genre. Honestly, you can quote a good review from anyone from your aunt Mildred to a random Amazon reviewer, but review quotes from publications or well-respected blogs hold much more weight. In fact, I have very mixed feelings when I see a glowing quote followed by –Amazon Review. As far as “blurbs” from other authors go, again, you have to be careful that the author blurbing you is a big enough deal to make a difference. I was recently part of a discussion in which some well-known authors were commenting that their publishers wouldn’t let certain other authors blurb them because those authors weren’t big enough. It hurts, but they have a point.
And there you have it. Passive Marketing. Next week we’ll look at that big, bad, bugaboo of Active Marketing. What works? What’s a waste of money? How much time do you have to spend on it? We’ll look at it all.
Any questions or tidbits you’d like to add to the conversation? Please do!