The kindle edition of Darklaw has been out for just over a month and is selling well. In fact, I’m thrilled by how many people are finding it, considering how little actual promotion I’ve done.
Years ago, when I began publishing digitally, I explored the ways small publishers and independent authors promoted their work. You can have a fantastic piece of literature, but people have to actually know about it. At one time, advertising was a bad word to me. But I came to realize that advertising is just letting people know what’s available. It doesn’t have to be about manipulating or conning. There are many ways to do it poorly, and most people without professional experience do it very poorly because they feel doing PR well means making someone buy something.
But it’s not as easy as just posting your book on a website. Website traffic is generally smaller than you think, and websites with impressive stats are going to use those stats to get advertising dollars (which is another subject I’ll discuss sometime because I have a lot to say as a small business owner with a small advertising budget). That means you’re competing with lots of other ads and paying per view or per click…neither of which has any relation to actual sales. I spent $2000 for my small business on website advertising and saw not one new client through it.
Giving stuff away
Most authors and small publishers create social media groups on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and all the newer ones I barely know about. They have promotion parties online where they play games and give away prizes. They attend conferences where they give away books and promotional items. They recruit fans with freebies to promote for them on their social media and to provide reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and other distribution sites. They offer review copies free before and after release. See a pattern? They give away a lot of stuff.
Digital publishers create excitement by pre-release parties that require a lot of forced joviality and late nights. Readers and fans often want to connect to their favorite authors, and our culture in particular is obsessed with celebrity.
Whew! Modern PR is a lot of work. And I did much of that a few years ago. I plunged into the world of PR helping a friend whose work I admired. She knew the online PR game, as well as being a good niche writer. I learned a lot. I saw a lot. I decided I wanted nothing to do with that. Don’t get me wrong — I love creating graphics and gadgets for promotion. I love talking about my work. It’s just that I found it was a slippery slope. You can spend so much time and money doing promotion that your budget and your writing suffers.
And the worst part was that I hated the feeling of using people and manipulating friendships for sales. Social media is driven by the sale — business to business, business to customers, and friends to friends. That’s ugly to me, and as a small business owner and author, I experience all those. But truly, who cares if a reader likes me? And maybe I don’t like them. What matters is do they like my art and was the business transaction we shared worth it?
Better PR comes from unrecruited fans of your work — people you don’t know personally but who promote you to their networks. And as your body of work grows, you get more exposure. I can’t say how many of these fans I might have, and I probably never will. And that’s ok. Readers don’t owe me anything. And I’m always surprised when they spend their money and time on my creation. It’s truly an honor.
Despite my lack of PR, people are finding Darklaw, and I’m grateful. I’ve had good feedback so far, except for one review on Goodreads that gave it 2 stars and no rationale. I’m curious what the reader found lacking, but I’ll never know. Products with more mixed reviews (some good some bad) sell better than those with all good reviews. Counter-intuitive? Not really. We all have the sense when something isn’t right. Amazon has gone out of their way to fight the paid and influenced reviews.
That’s why real reviews by real buyers are so valuable. The more reviews a product receives, the higher it shows in search results.
If you’re new to publishing, you may not know much about keywords. These are groups of words often used by buyers to find products. There’s an art to picking the right ones. Do you put “epic fantasy” on your book or “lgbt epic fantasy”? Well, the narrower your term, the better, since you will have less competition from other books, but if it’s too narrow, maybe you have too few people even searching for it.
In the end, the business-to-business people will try to sell you all kinds of things ot make your book sell. Kirkus Reviews, Spyfu, Banner ads, Amazon promotions, etc.
Quit paying to write
When I attended promotion parties, they were almost entirely filled with other authors, not readers. In other words, your author friends will fill your feed and expect that in return. They join your promo so they can mention their own books, too. And it’s new authors who keep editors, cover artists, keyword, and advertising businesses in business.
You may think that’s just the way business is done, but I’ll tell you…if you spend more promoting than you make selling your art, you won’t be creating for long. It’s demoralizing besides.
I went through publishing the old school way in the 90s before the web. I was had by agents who wanted a reading fee, competitions with entry fees, awards with trophy fees, and paying money made me feel like I had more of a shot, somehow. Not true. None of those panned out. But I did finally get published in print and digital, and I was not paying for the privilege.
I suggest you never pay anything up front for publishing — except for a good editor. THAT may make all the difference!