All authors have to market themselves. There are possibly a few newbie authors out there who have just signed their first big NY contract, who for some reason aren’t aware of how much they’ll have to market. But indies know going in. They say "Knowing is half the battle" but man, that other half…
Marketing and promoting is very hard for everyone, but it’s especially hard for an indie. Yes, a lot of the barriers are lowering and theoretically the playing field is leveling. But there is still so much noise. So many books out there being published and now with lowered barriers, even more. What makes yours so special?
Authors published by a big New York house tend to get national distribution in physical brick and mortar bookstores. Which means that some authors will be discovered just by someone browsing the shelves looking for them. They still may not earn out their advance, but a book sitting on the shelf at Barnes and Noble is a type of exposure, at least for the browsing book buyer. (Here’s a hint: If you’re going for bookstore shelving, choose a publishing name that starts at the front of the alphabet where most people start browsing. Yeah I know, Winters doesn’t exactly scream "Pick me first!")
How many people do you know who browse at Amazon.com? I know I sometimes do a search, but most of the time I go to Amazon to search out a book I’ve already heard of. And then I find out about other books judging by what other customers liked and bought besides the book I’m looking at. So how does an indie get attention for their work? A lot of it is branding/marketing yourself, the author.
I know there are people who I wouldn’t have just gone out and bought and read their book if I didn’t already have some kind of online communication with them first, or exposure to the author as themselves. The story can’t just stand on it’s own, even as a free giveaway. I do support free giveaways, but I’m still trying to figure out the best way to leverage it.
Many indie authors are starting to give out work or part of their work for free as a promotional strategy. Unfortunately a lot of it is bad. That’s just the statistical reality. So right now free is almost a “gimmick.” But how long before readers just get tired of downloading free, just because it’s free and giving out endless chances? How long before you have to stand out, above and beyond just having a free ebook? I’m thinking not that long since many have decided “free” is the panacea for the writer masses. Again, not saying it’s not a great way to build an audience, it is. But there is still competition for time and attention.
This is especially true in light of larger publishers starting to get on the free-train too. (Harlequin is doing a lot of this in the romance genre.) Fictionwise also has free e-reads. (And indies need not apply.) So this leaves us at the question of HOW do you get someone interested enough in you to read your book? Whether they pay for it or download it for free, you still have to get someone to take a positive action toward your work, instead of someone else’s work, or a video game, or TV show, or just playing on the internet, or the other zillion things they could be doing for entertainment right now. And a large part of the problem isn’t getting them interested, but getting them interested enough to take the step "right now."
I have 30 books on my shelf right now, novels I haven’t yet gotten a chance to read. The authors have all been paid for my purchases (well depending on payment schedules and advance earn out and blah blah blah), but most of them are still just sitting there. Then I have a larger "to be read" pile. But I can’t really justify buying more books until I finish reading the ones I’ve already paid for but haven’t read yet. I also have limited reading time. So it may take me awhile to get through those 30 books. In order to sell me a novel right now, you have to have something compelling. Otherwise it’ll be added to the TBR list, and other books will be added to that list. And your book may always be on that list of good intentions, but never quite make it out to a purchase.
So what makes the difference in being 1 of 500 books on a list of books I’d like to read, and being the book I push ahead of the crowd to buy? If I’ve communicated directly online with an author and I like that person, I want to read their book, and they automatically zoom to the top of my list.
Web presence is crucial. You gotta have a website. A blog is good because it offers you a communication forum and level of interactivity. You have to get out there and mingle and communicate with other people in a “real” way. Constant direct promo won’t cut it. Because people get tired of hearing the same message over and over. People hate being advertised to.
Though as I say this, I’m breaking my own rule. Because I have been a direct promo marketing monkey of doom this week. And I almost never do this, but this week (through Sunday February 8th, 2009), is Semi-Finals week for an erotic short story contest I’m in. The grand prize is $3,000, so I’m pretty intense about this right now. Any promo opportunity I can find to get this in front of other people so they can go vote, I’ll take it. Which means that right now I’m skating that very thin line on the annoyance meter.
Just engaging with people is great, and over the long term it will build you an audience. But if you have a deadline, and you have to make something happen, you just gotta go for it. Be bold. Fortune favors the brave. But don’t make it a habit. If you promote everything directly with the same level of urgency, at some point people’s eyes glaze over as the "blah blah blah" goes past them.
Zoe Winters is an indie author writing primarily paranormal romance and dabbling in erotica. Go here to vote for her short story, A SAFER LIFE.