Content and Marketing
Now that the holiday season has passed and my puppy has stopped chewing and peeing on everything in sight the moment our eyes are taken off him, I can continue sharing my first-time journey into independent publishing with you. A journey that does not end when your book comes out, as mine has now. As of the release day, assuming you have not done any of your own ‘pre-marketing’, the only people who know about your book is your friends and family. So, what do we do as independent authors to get our book out there? From nothing, how to we become known to the thousands of people we need to even cover the costs of the book, let alone make a profit/afford the next one?
What is it you think of when you think of ‘marketing’? If you’re anything like me you simply think of paid advertisement, having your book cover show up on the side of some website with ads all over it. That’s all good and well, and definitely a part of it, but that costs money and it simply brings potential fans to the table, so to speak. You need food – content – to keep them there. Fans of anything love free content from their favorite things. People like J.K Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Patrick Rothfuss could mash their hands onto a keyboard and send the result into the wild internet, and people would hunt it down just to look at it. Admittedly, if you’re reading this you probably aren’t in the sort of league which self-perpetuates a near cult-like following, but that’s beside the point.
So, what can we, unknown authors shouting the names of our books into the void, do to make ourselves not only known but to keep people’s attention on our work? The more vague and unhelpful answer to that is wise advice from the back of a cereal box; you only get out what you put in. You need to come out with content for your fanbase, to keep them wanting more of your stuff in-between books, and there are many ways to do this.
Before I give examples of content we can give, we need a way with which to give it. The golden rule to this is get a mail list. Social media is a fantastic tool but can be unreliable with its ever-changing algorithms which often result in even your closest friends never seeing the things you post. That’s not to mention having to juggle the many sites out there and finding the time to promote yourself on each in the slightly different ways each cater to. Then of course there are those people who don’t use social media, and no, those people are not as rare as you might think but find me someone who doesn’t have an e-mail address. You don’t have to set up and organize your own list either, there are services on the net that do that for you, or at least help automate a lot of things. At the time of writing I use MailChimp, simply because it is free and relatively easy to use, though I recommend spending a bit of time learning and getting acquainted with whatever service you use before you start using it properly, as it can take some getting used to. Mail lists are important because they help you engage with people who WANT to be engaged with, and them to you. It shows people you want to give them what they want, which is regular content. But most importantly, it keeps your brand fresh in their heads at all times.
What content though? This is something I’m not afraid to admit I am struggling with myself. I mean I’ve got a single book so far, and don’t exactly have people clawing at me for more just yet. The thing to focus on is expanding on what you have. What you are reading right now is a good example of content. Starting a blog is a good way to keep people regularly engaged with you. Even if two or three people read each post at the start, it builds a library for your future readership to look back on and satiate their desire for more of what you put out. Find something to blog about, something that is ‘evergreen’ and will be relevant to people into the future. For me, as you probably know, I decided to turn a weakness into a strength, my anxiety and inexperience of independently publishing. Upon realizing I can’t be the only one, I wanted to share with others who may have gotten stuck where I’ve been and become a relatable guide to those paddling upstream as I am right now. Have I succeeded in that? I have no idea, but it is at least something more than just asking people to buy your books in every post. But seriously, you should go buy my book. My wife says it’s pretty good.
Content doesn’t necessarily need to relate to your book specifically. I know some authors who blog about their daily lives. To be fair their lives are probably far more interesting than the average person, mine included, but the effect in doing it helps people to relate to you, so don’t be afraid to open up a little about your life as a person, not just as an author. The best way to think about content to provide is to think about DVD Extras. People to this day will buy the special editions of things for extra bits and pieces, I mean look at how many times the original Star Wars trilogy has been released. Millions of people buying something they’ve already seen, and own, for the opportunity to see a little bit more. There are just as many who spend extra on games just to have an ‘exclusive skin’ for their character (which they usually never even see outside of a killcam). Point is people want that kind of stuff, so think along those lines. Offer deleted scenes you’ve removed from your book, commission an artist to supply character concept art, write bonus scenes or alternative endings, or write a short story prequel. You can even simply come up with new content altogether such as talking about your own sources of inspiration, your writing methods, anecdotes which led to ideas, that sort of thing. For me, I’ve just released a playlist of songs that helped inspire the events of my current series to my subscribers. After that I may release character sheets with information that isn’t in the book. After that I’ll be commissioning an artist to draw up some weapons, demons, characters and scenes. After that who knows, but I’m sure I’ll think of something. Another way to think of it is from the perspective of your readers. Put yourself in their shoes and consider what extra material you’d want from your books. Also, don’t feel like you need to heap on as much as possible. ‘Drip-feed marketing’ is a commonly effective strategy, and a good way to keep from running out of content.
Another thing that is important, and I’ve learned is harder than it sounds, is to post often and consistently. I haven’t been particularly consistent, especially over the holidays for a myriad of reasons, but it’s important, as I said before, to keep your name fresh in people’s minds as much as possible. Personally, I find a blog once a week far too much to do, not to mention difficult to find content for, so I opt for once a fortnight, coinciding with my mail list posts. A month is OK, but I would advise against anything more than a monthly basis. Life is busy, so you need to be in people’s heads far more often. But, I know first hand how hard creating content is on a regular basis, especially whilst working a 40-50 hour per week job, so something is still better than nothing in any case, just decide how often you’re going to do it beforehand, and stick to it. If you need to reduce your output frequency, make sure to let people know.
Then we come to marketing itself. As I said before social media is unreliable a lot of the time, but don’t dismiss it altogether. It is a good way to get started, but unfortunately social media websites are, at the end of the day, companies that want to make money, and the best way to do that is to create algorithms that benefit those who pay to be seen. A big publishing house can turn ANY book into a bestseller if they wanted to. How? By throwing enough money at it of course. So, if you can scrap some money together to help boost your book in the early days, you should definitely consider it. Personally I threw down a hundred dollars to Facebook to boost my post about my book release, which has, at the time of writing, has netted me around thirty new page likes (from a hundred-ish before), and almost ten-thousand people having seen it, and there is still three out of six days left to go on that. Whether or not it helped with sales is something I won’t know until next month, but it’s worth a shot if you can afford it. Then there are other websites such as Reddit where you can talk about your book all day long on subs which are interested in your genre. Then there are things even I didn’t consider like newspaper advertisements, not just in your local paper, but overseas as well. Not just advertisements either, it was suggested to me that some local newspapers will take on articles about your book that you’ve already written, just to save them the time and effort, and put an article in their paper about your book. It won’t always work, but it’s a good example of thinking outside the box. Also, don’t wait until your book is published to start marketing. Obviously you may want to save the best until then, but start setting things up by slowly building followers and talk about your upcoming book to build a little bit of hype.
I guess at the end of the day, marketing is an art, not a science, and the key is persistence, hard work and a whole lot of luck, much like with everything worth doing well. If you keep plugging away, it’s only a matter of time before things work in your favor, and as Emlyn Chand once said, don’t be afraid to toot your own horn.
“Not all marketing people are writers, but all writers must learn to be marketers.” – Joanne Kraft