The majority of indie authors have day jobs, family responsibilities, the burden of developing, writing and publishing their books, and the burden of establishing and maintaining an author platform on top of all of it. It’s not surprising that when it comes time to promote a new book, indie authors very frequently begin by reaching out to their fellow indie authors. After all, who can better understand the struggle and sacrifice that went into the achievement of bringing a book to market independently, and who could possibly be more supportive of an indie author’s efforts than another indie author?
Even though that rationale seems sound, authors promoting to other authors has got to stop, NOW, for two very good reasons.
The first is that unless you’re writing nonfiction books on craft or book production, other authors are not your target demographic and every bit of money, time and effort you spend promoting to them is money, time and effort that isn’t going toward courting your real intended audience. The second is that it’s simply too much to ask of your fellow authors.
You may think the fact that you’re spending more time promoting to fellow authors than the general public doesn’t matter, since increased sales and positive reviews will inevitably raise your book’s visibility among members of your target demographic and the general public, leading to more sales, but you’re wrong. Book lovers have gotten pretty savvy to the indie world, and they automatically discount reviews written for indie authors by indie authors. If the majority of your book’s positive reviews are from fellow indies — especially those who take posting a review as an opportunity to cross-promote their own books by including their own book title in their username or signature line — it’s actually a mark against your book in the eyes of the general public. They think, "How good could this book be, if the only people who read it and posted positive reviews are friends of the author?"
You may also think that since writers are readers too, it’s totally legitimate to promote to them the same as you would any other member of the public. But the thing is, most indie authors don’t promote to one another the way they would to the general public, they often think nothing of spamming and haranguing their fellows in ways they would never even consider doing to the general public. For example, they may think it’s totally fine to post a promotional message and link to their book’s product page on the Facebook wall, page or timeline of an indie author ‘friend’, but would never dream of doing so on other Facebook members’ walls, pages or timelines. They would never send out a "please buy my new book, I really need your support" email to their PTA or church email list, but don’t hesitate to do it to their own email list of indie authors.
Spam is spam is spam, regardless of whether or not the person on the receiving end is a fellow indie author. If anything, indie authors should be even more hesitant to bombard their fellows with promotional messages and pleas than they would be in dealing with the general public, because they should know very well what those fellows are up against every day.
Several times a week (or more) I’ll receive pleas from indie authors to buy, review and recommend their books, attend their events (virtual or IRL), locate and tag their books on Amazon, cross-post announcements of their book release events, share links to their blogs on my own blog, "Like" their Facebook pages, follow them on Twitter, allow them to post their promotional messages on my sites, et cetera. They don’t seem to realize it, but what their requests really mean to the person on the receiving end is this:
"Hey, I know you have a job, and a family, and your own works in progress, and your own published books that you need to promote, and a website, blog, FB page, Twitter stream and Goodreads account to keep updated, and a To Read pile a mile high containing many works from favorite authors of yours that you’ve spent the last year wanting to read for pleasure and for your continuing education in craft, and that on top of all this you’re trying to squeeze a half hour or so of free time or exercise into your day (and failing in that endeavor more often than not), but can you just drop one or more of those things to do me a favor, even though we’re only nominally acquainted and your own siblings would think twice before making this request? P.S. – Since we’re only nominally acquainted you don’t really know me, and it’s possible that I’m hypersensitive or just plain off my nut. If you don’t grant me this favor I may go totally ballistic and badmouth you all over the internet as being non-supportive of your fellow indie authors. ‘Kay? THANKS!!!"
If the request is to read a book and post a review for it, this wrinkle is added:
"I know you value your online reputation and integrity and stuff, but can you read my book and post a positive review of it? And if you don’t like it, can you just write off all that time you spent reading it and pretend you never read it at all? P.S. – If you do post a review and it’s anything less than a glowing 5-starrer, I may go totally ballistic and badmouth you all over the internet as being non-supportive of your fellow indie authors. I may even be one of those mean and bitter types who will go so far as to post negative reviews on all your books on every site where they’re listed. ‘Kay? THANKS!!!"
If the request is to buy a book, that request really means this:
"Hey, I know you’re only earning something like twenty bucks a month in royalties off your own books but can you take some of that hard-earned cash this month and hand it over to me? Of course, I’ll only be getting a small percentage of the profit, you’ll actually be giving most of your money to a publisher or reseller. I know you’re acquainted with hundreds of other indie authors who may be making this same request, and of course I realize you can’t afford to buy everyone’s books, and you don’t really know me any better than you know any of the rest of them, but can you just blow the rest of them off this one time and buy my book, because I really really really really need the help so much more than they do, and you know what it’s like being a struggling indie author so I’m pretty sure your guilt alone is already making you lean toward ‘yes’? P.S. – Again, since you don’t really know me it’s possible that I’m a selfish jerk. If you don’t buy my book and I find out about that, I may go totally ballistic and badmouth you all over the internet as being a greedy, tight-fisted hypocrite. ‘Kay? THANKS!!!"
What about lesser requests than these? You may assume that because it only takes a second to ‘Like’ a Facebook page or re-tweet a message, there’s no reason why anyone should turn you down or be annoyed by the request when you make it. But many people take their ‘Likes’ and re-tweets seriously, and believe there’s an implied endorsement and recommendation in every one of their ‘Likes’ and re-tweets. I don’t personally think there’s anything wrong with asking for a ‘Like’ or re-tweet, the problem is that most people who make the request attach an expectation to it and get angry or disappointed when their expectation isn’t met. Asking isn’t the problem, it’s the wave of resentment or even retribution that too often follows.
Identifying your target demographic, locating its members and crafting a promotional strategy that’s tailor-made to appeal to that demographic is hard work, but it’s the only kind of promotion and marketing that truly builds a dedicated and enthusiastic readership from the ground up. An appreciative readership becomes both a fan base and a cheering section, filled with people who are very happy to recommend a book they’ve discovered and enjoyed. That kind of fan base grows organically, so long as the author or publisher doesn’t screw up the relationship by subjecting the fans to spam or trampling on their boundaries.
If you still insist on viewing your fellow indie authors as a kind of training wheels community to which you can turn for support in promoting your book and goosing your sales, really think about what you’re asking before you ask. And no matter what, never ask your fellow authors for something, or promote to them, in a way you would think is inappropriate to do to your neighbors, the other parents involved with your kid’s soccer team, your co-workers, or the general public.
Being an indie author is a demanding and draining privilege; we need to treat it, and one another, with respect.