If I’d wanted to become a marketer, I would have gone to business school. Instead, I earned a master’s degree in creative writing, where I learned a bit about how to move readers with my words but not a blessed thing about how to move my books from bookstore shelves into readers’ hands. This was fine when I began my career. Back then, publishers took care of marketing for us.
Gradually, however, publishers chose to do less and less marketing for most of the books they published, and dumped more and more responsibility for marketing onto the authors. We knocked ourselves out designing and distributing bookmarks, maintaining websites, traveling to conferences to present workshops at our own expense, donating books as giveaways, writing articles for professional journals, compiling mailing lists, creating blogs, buying ads in fanzines, and on and on. These are all activities people who want to become marketers might actually enjoy, but they take precious time, energy and creativity away from a novelist’s primary job, which is writing novels.
Today, many writers are independently publishing their own books. We are the publisher dumping marketing responsibilities on our writers—who happen to be ourselves. While I still have a publisher for my new novels, I’m also running a flourishing business indie-publishing my out-of-print backlist titles as ebooks. I’m now a publisher, and I’ve tried to become a marketing expert.
Alas, an expert I’m not. But I’ve learned three important lessons about how to help readers find and buy my books.
LESSON ONE: Forget humility.
I’m a naturally humble person. I don’t like tooting my own horn. I’m kind of an introvert; I enjoy socializing, I’m fun at parties, but I’m more of a listener than a talker. Listening is how I learn about the world around me and the people inhabiting it. Listening is how I get ideas for my stories. Talking about myself—or my books—doesn’t come easily to me.
But marketing is all about reaching a market—my readers—and telling them about my books. So I do it. I maintain a mailing list. I post on Facebook. I write blog posts, both on my website and in group blogs like this one. I occasionally make one of my books available at a discount price or for free and urge readers to download it, so they can read something I’ve written, hopefully like it, and buy some of my other books.
LESSON TWO: In the ebook world, you don’t have to reach a mass market. You just have to reach your market.
It is possible—in fact, quite common—for ebook authors to make a nice living without ever hitting a bestseller list. One of the wonderful things about the ebook world is that the books we indie-publish don’t have to appeal to everyone. They just have to appeal to our readers. I’ve never written romances about cowboys, vampires or billionaires. Popular though they are, such heroes don’t appeal to me. I like to write about real people, people you and I might know, people we can relate to. My romance novels, which skew heavily toward the women’s-fiction end of the genre, appeal to a niche market. Not a problem. I don’t have to promote my books to all the romance readers in the world. I only have to promote my books to my market.
LESSON THREE: Cooperate. Collaborate. Don’t try to do it all yourself.
I have joined forces with eight other indie-publishing romance novelists to share marketing insights and cross-promote our books. We communicate constantly. When one of us hears about a marketing opportunity, she shares the information with the rest of us. We cheer one another on. We support one another. We learn from one another. If you don’t know how to market your books, gather a group of similarly positioned author friends and learn together.
I now understand why business schools require two years of a student’s life to teach the mere basics of marketing. I’m a first-year student, and my name won’t be appearing on the dean’s list anytime soon. But I’m studying hard, doing my homework and keeping up. And trying not to let my marketing efforts deplete me so I have nothing left for my writing.
Because, when all is said and done, I’m not a marketer. I’m a novelist.
Judith Arnold’s most recent marketing coup was to have her novel Safe Harbor included in “Book Blast,” a promotional newsletter emailed to thousands of ebook readers. Her next novel, The April Tree, will be released this spring by her publisher, who—she hopes—will handle the bulk of the marketing. For more information about Judith, please visit her web site. “And sign up for my newsletter!” she requests humbly and introvertedly.