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Wednesday, 29 December 2010

On Marketing One's Own Books

In the last month or so, Chaz has been making new online friends, seeking (and finding!) reviews for Maranatha (remember that?) and also, considering the vast and, at times, rather intimidating world of marketing - specifically, how, and how not to go about it.

Having done the easy bit (write and publish a book), the self-published or small-press writer then decides that a quick plug somewhere like Myspace or Facebook with a hyperlink and a begging note attached will get sales. Typically it will follow this kind of formula:

"Buy MY book! Look at MY stuff! Vist MY website!"

To which the neutral, casual viewer could be forgiven for replying: "Why?"

This is little short of spamming, and usually about as successful.

That question "Why" is one of the biggest, and stickiest problems, of any kind of marketing campaign - how to convince an apathetic somebody that their life experience will somehow be enriched by the end of whatever sell (hard or soft) you're about to unleash upon them. That's if they stay around long enough to get to the end. (One way to ensure this is, of course, to make your marketing tag-line exceedingly short - but that takes skill, and practice.)

Film studios, publishers, record companies and such spend very large sums of money to people whose job it is to do nothing but answer that "Why?" question for thousands and millions of their potential customers. Authors are by their nature not generally pushy salespeople. Yet in the field of self-publicity, they will have to assume some aspect of that role in order to get their works to the widest possible readership.

It's really a case of psychology. How many people in all honesty would really buy something from someone who was basically begging you to do so? "It's great, you'll love it, honest". A certain coldness, detachedness, can be desirable in this situation. Look on the work as a product, not your personal beloved baby. Decide why it's worthy, why you spent so long on it, and how well it ought to sell. Get inside the head of your ideal customer (not reader - customer) and give them a quick sentence or two advising why they really must buy YOUR book, look at YOUR stuff, visit YOUR website. Appeal to their emotions, to their mind, to their desires, to their fears, even. Hint at a great mystery to be solved, an unthinkable conclusion, a dastardly conspiracy, of success against all the odds. There's a reason why many successful writers produce formulaic work - they found a way to give readers what they were looking for in a certain genre.

Look closely at how succinct and punchy most adverts are. Be the customer, that indifferent, apathetic slob who couldn't care less whether you were a writer or an air-traffic controller. Then tell them why they should care.

As an example, here's a quick tag line I constructed for a hypothetical ad campaign for Maranatha:

Through the dark, distorted mirror of history and religious heresy, it is the dawn of the Second Coming...and the Fourth Reich.

Or, to elaborate: So, it's a dark book - great for anyone who likes gritty, graphic, sinister stuff. It's got historical background. Good for people who like something that's got a bit of research behind it. It's got heretics in it. It's got Jesus, and nazis (and they're always popular subjects for all kinds of fiction). And it sounds like people are messing with the past in order to really mess up our future. How can they be stopped? Will Jesus return and save us all, or is it He and His name that is being manipulated by bad guys? What sort of heroes can stand up to such strange unpleasantness? Why is this happening?

...and so on. I only gave that five minutes' thought, but I'm sure you could all do a lot better for your own book. After all, it's your book - you must love it to have come this far - so share that love and enthusiasm.

Try a role-playing situation:

"Buy my book."
"It's amazing."
"Prove it."
"You have to read it first."
"No-oh. I'm not one those who was born every minute."
"Look, have you ever read X written by Y?"
"Well, if you liked X, then you'll love this!"
"OK. Tell me more."
"It's a rollercoaster ride of emotion, and a physical adventure from the plains of South Africa to the highlands of Scotland...all in the name of love!"
"Sounds vaguely interesting."
"And you'll never believe how it ends...but you'll love the journey that takes you there, a journey you'll wish you had taken yourself!"
"Fair enough. Where can I see some samples? I'm a miserable cheapskate, you know."
"Just visit this website. You can buy a book there too. But don't take my word for it. You can read some reviews of people who loved it."
"Awesome. I'll buy an e-book now, then."

That wasn't so hard now, was it? So we went from desperate to sold in less than ten steps.
You may not always get the sale. But you surely won't get anything if you don't pique the interest of the casual browser, give them a reason to do more than glance over your first half-dozen words and move on to the next random website or distraction. And these days, you have to grab people from the word 'go' - web browsers have attention spans shorter than hey look up there, a helicopter!


Robert said...

Chaz, on Amazon, there are any number of forums for discussion about various genres of books. Every few days I 'promote' my own books in relevant forums. While it hasn't had any success for the hard copies, it has worked a treat on Amazon.com with regard to my Kindle version of The Siege of Scarn, and consequently the hard copy has sold a few lately too. So be persistent and self promote shamelessly! It works.

Trisha said...

Good advice, thanks for the tips!

Rainy said...


Great post, covering a topic that many seem to be confused about or simply overlook. I wanted to add that this pitch should only be about 30 words long. I have often seen people attempting to pitch with a run-on sentence, which makes the customer less likely to buy, and more likely to slap.

Take care,


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