If you’re an author today (or any sort of entrepreneurial business person) this is truly a wonderful time to be alive. The freedom and power given by the internet is unprecedented. But for authors, all that power comes with great responsibility. How to you make yourself heard, rise above the masses, and sell books without becoming a ‘MY BOOK IS NOW .99 ON AMAZON!!! RT THANKS!’ jerk? Good question.
For myself, this is the simple formula that seems to work best (inspired by Austin Kleon) —
- Do good work
- Make it interesting
- Put it in front of as many eyeballs as possible
In a moment I’ll explain each of those parts in more detail, but for now let me give an example of how this was recently successful in a RL event.
The Athens Writers Association had its first ‘Writers Read’ event and I wanted it to be a big hit. So I picked good people and they (and I) practiced our readings and worked hard to bring our best (‘Do good work’). Then I made flyers, put stuff up on the website, etc — all with the idea to make it alluring and exciting to people (‘Make it interesting’). Lastly, I contacted local papers, and spent a whole day going to nearly 30 places around town to distribute flyers (‘Eyeballs’). It was exhausting.
But it was SO worth it. We had a giant crowd, and everyone who came seemed to love us and wanted to hear more in the future. The excitement was palatable.
So what does that mean for you (and me) online? I think the same rules apply. Allow me to explain —
Do Good Work
People, this is the catch. Right here, right in the beginning. You want to put out good work, really good work if possible. All the other time and effort you put into to advertising and marketing is pointless (in my mind) if you’re not pointing people to something they are going to love. You’re just the matchmaker — you believe your book and this reader are destined for each other and you just want them to meet. And just as you wouldn’t set up a good friend with someone you thought was unworthy, don’t set your beloved reader up to fail by giving them a bad book.
‘Bad book? Wait a minute,’ you say, ’My book’s not bad.’ No, maybe not. But you want great. Not flawless, not perfect (because we are human and what have we touched that we could not imagine more perfect somehow?), but great — really fucking great. As good as we can make it.
Make It Interesting
This is where some ‘Mad Man’ magic mojo can help (by writing copy, not by sleeping with models BTW). The simplest way to think about this is just to remember what made you in love with the world of your book, be interested in that character, or want to know more about a topic than you were finding (think: ‘Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask’ or Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing). Also check out my Amazon description posts for more suggestions. In the end of the day, my advice is to spend a medium amount of time (more than five minutes but less than five years) on advertising, make it fun, and be confident. Since I’ve release my first book, I’ve probably apologized to no less than five people — it’s too short, I usually write fiction, this book is just to ‘test’ self publishing for a future ‘real’ book. What the hell? These weren’t people who were unhappy, mind you. Meanwhile, the people who have read it all love it. Point is, I need to be more confident, and so do all of you. If you have made a really good book, your advertising should (honestly) be able to confidently recommend your book to people. They’ll love it; they’ve been waiting for it. Now you just need to —
Put it in Front of as Many Eyeballs as Possible
I’m still working on this part, but I think paid advertisements are one of the least important parts of the puzzle. Sure, you have to spend money to make money, but be careful how you’re spending money. To reference back to the title of this piece, I can tell you for a fact that I’ve never bought a book because I saw an ad for it online. No FB little side ads, no banners, nothing. Now, I’m sure a lot of people do buy that way, but my audience is probably more people like me, and ads turn me off pretty hard. So is this the fall of capitalism? No way; let me tell you how I do buy books (and games, music, etc) —
- Heard the person speak (either in person or on the radio)
- Read their blog and loved their ‘voice’
- Read a review
- Found it among the ‘highest-rated’ whatevers
- A friend recommended something they love
- Had met the person in real life
- Searched Google or Amazon and the key words brought me to the perfect book (i.e. Self-Printed by Catherine Ryan Howard)
- Was given a gift by someone who loved the author
One of my favorite shops in Athens, GA is The Native American Gallery. I only go there five or six times a year, but I’ll happily spend a lot (for me) when I do. I probably just wandered by the first time, looking for presents for others, and just fell in love.
On the internet, the challenge is that no one in a hundred years is just going to ‘wander by’ a URL. The great news is that there are billions and billions of paths, leading people from one place to another. And there are billions of people. So start making connections — start a blog, guest on others’ blogs, send books out for review, contact sites to do interviews, and even put flyers all over your home town.
I really believe being an author today is summed up thus —
So do the great work I know you are capable of, make it interesting, and start sharing it with the world. There are readers who just dream of books like yours.