When Marketing Works, But You Don’t Want to Do It
I am not bragging. My marketing isn’t working, and neither am I. Or, at least, not to the extent it/I should be.
I follow a lot of independent authors and artists attempting to go self-promotion alone, and the best part is how informative it can be. It, bare minimum, gives you insight to what works and what doesn’t without having to humiliate yourself. It also allows you to be far more objective than when you don’t want to hear something.
The best promotional tool I learned was from a fascinating, yet somewhat assholish man. I never met him, but he abandoned his wife and kids to go across country and promote his book. He hit on my friend (who was about half his age) while talking about what he was doing, why, and offering her a free physical book in exchange for a review. Then made her boyfriend pay for one. She asked me what I thought of it, and we read the first chapter together. He had a great voice—despite my desire to make fun of it—and when I looked at the book online, he had gotten over fifty Amazon reviews.
Most indie books I’ve read have less than ten. Most traditionally published books (produced after 2010) have at least twenty. Fifty is pretty impressive.
Following around other writers, I am aware that a face to face with real people offline, making connections, and just being a friendly, interesting person is powerful. This is unfortunate because social stimulation throws me into a catatonic inner panic, so not something I’d like to hear. All of my experience in selling, marketing, and observing suggests that nothing works like being an old fashioned salesman.
But this isn’t what I’m talking about.
While I don’t want to go out into public (end of statement) and promote myself, it’s not a moral conflict, just an issue of anxiety and laziness.
When I say marketing works, but you don’t want to do it, I’m talking about things you consider kind of skeezy. Or sometimes things that you don’t think are amoral, but that aren’t the kind of writer you want to be. It’s not something you want to do, or it’s something that others do that you dislike artistically.
Why do so many books have cliffhangers? Cliffhangers work. You hear readers complain and complain, but from my experience, they sell sequels.
Naked men on romance novels aren’t all that atheistically attractive—not like a leather bound book with golden letters. It’s not something you want sitting on your bookshelf, that makes you feel glee at every time you look at it. But indie authors with scantily clad men and models they can bring to signings get far more attention than the expensive and artistically rendered alternative.
Personally, I don’t like when authors post too many non-personal statuses. I don’t like when I go to their social media page to find out more about them and see reams of promotion on books they didn’t write, or Twitter inundated with retweets. A lot of the indies who sell well are publically supportive of others, and I don’t (always) think that it’s a bad thing. But I like pages filled with original content, informing me predominantly about them and their work.
Therefore, on Twitter, I don’t retweet a lot. I only do so if I genuinely find something interesting and funny and want to share it. Basically, if I think others will want to read it. I try to keep my pages akin to how I, as a reader, want pages to be.
Bill Watterson, the author and artist of the comic Calvin and Hobbes, went through a long battle with the syndicate when it came to merchandise and media representation of his work. He decided he didn’t want any films, any lunch boxes, none of that commercial crap.
And while I think we all would love to have a stuffed Hobbes by our side, I agree with his decision. If you look at what happened with Garfield and the oversaturation of the market versus the continued integrity and respect for Calvin and Hobbes, plus the terrible, terrible films that typically come from comics, I would think that if he had allowed for other works to be made from his it would have diminished my love for it. He could have made a fortune, but he chose not to.
I respect that. I wish to emulate that.
But then there’s the flip side where people craft terribly written books, don’t market period, and refuse to put in the work on the guise of “selling out.” Nothing hurts more than when you grab a story with so much potential—that you wanted to love—but it refused to fix its typos and smooth out hackneyed, cringe worthy moments because “that’s my voice.”
When it comes to marketing, you have to do something. The idea that, if you really are great, God or destiny will bring your readers to you causes a lot of unnecessary hardship for some very talented writers. If you build it, they won’t come, mostly because everyone around you has built one too and you can’t fault people for not thoroughly examining the qualities of every one of the thousands “its” out there before making a choice.
Sometimes your so-called morality proves to be plain ole snobbery.
People are most creative when problem solving. When the book starts fresh with all the potential in the world, we tend to conglomerate in the center of our comfort zone. Why not stick with what works?
It’s not until there’s a reason to leave our comfort zone—an inciting incident if you will—that we start to consider what other options are truly out there.
So what do you do?
I think the key here is to honestly and logically consider the pros and cons of the decision rather than let your emotions reign. Research the success of a decision and weigh the potential for consequence against the potential for reward and then, looking towards your personal philosophy on how you want the literary world to be, make a decision according that.
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