Do you struggle with the same book marketing challenges as other authors in your field?
I released a book marketing challenges survey earlier in the year and received responses from 93 authors. Some authors were just starting out self-publishing their books, others have published traditionally for years and years. Despite the wide range of experiences, there were a few themes that kept coming up.
Here are the most-reported book marketing complaints:
Scroll down to read actual quotes pulled from the survey. But first, here are the numbers:
Primary income sources: 93 authors completed the survey. 10 of these authors make most of their income from book sales. The other 83 authors have another source of income.
Publishing cost: While many authors spent none of their own money publishing their books, others spent over $20,000.
Marketing budget: While most authors spent less than $500 marketing their books, many more invested thousands of dollars into their book marketing efforts.
Stage of career: Authors that answered the book marketing survey were in all kinds of stages of their writing career. Some were very well established, others were just starting out.
“My main problem is getting interest in my books.”
“I feel like I’m not reaching the folks who would buy my books if they knew about them.”
“I don’t know how to stand out in all the noise.”
“I thought i had a decent fan base but with a new book out this doesn’t seem to be reflected in sales or reviews. There’s so much online noise out there, how does one stand out? How do I make the most user of my time?”
“I don’t know which market or platform is the best for my books.”
“I don’t get noticed among the hundred and thousands of other releases. My blog is… a waste of time. No one visits except writer friends and colleagues.”
“I don’t want or need marketing tips that are fast and easy. What I want is marketing that is EFFECTIVE.
“Despite having consistent and topical blog posts, I also rarely saw a return on the effort, and I’m burned out!”
“Instead of wasting my time say buying useless adspace or sending free copies of my book to a website with only 3 visitors, I want to know where I should focus my energies to find people who want to read my books.”
“I have worked hard cold-calling book bloggers for reviews, sending personalized review requests, and soliciting free newsletters to promote price-reduction sales, and looking for guests posts for an author who neither will promote nor spend any money to promote. I have failed in both reviews and sales garnered.”
“I will probably do a guerilla marketing campaign, dropping cards and stuff. But I don’t know if that will help at all. I feel like such a noob.”
“I can promote until I’m blue in the face, but the only thing that seems to get results is giving away my books, something I am loathe to do on anything other than a one-time, limited basis.”
“Posts that I make are not always seen. I don’t know how many times to make a post or know when to make to reach my audience.”
“I deactivated my Facebook account a few years back primarily for lack of understanding. Although I have a Twitter account I have not taken the time to make it truly viable as a tool.”
“Social media seems like one massive endless swap and shop; people do stop to browse yet after piles of junk mail and slightly damaged articles offered as a real deal, they peruse seemingly legitimate offers warily.”
“I have trouble getting people to click through to blog posts and engage on topics surrounding the books. People are happy to approach and say that the books sound really interesting, but getting the clicks and better numbers is difficult.”
“I’m clueless when it comes to the internet. I’m sure I’m not using it properly to maximize sales.”
“With so many other novels flooding the market, it’s difficult for me to find the time and motivation to chase marketing avenues. Oh now I have to write a blog, oh now I have to tweet about this, oh now I have to make a Facebook page about that. “
“Marketing is a full time job but so is writing and I simply don’t have the time or the energy to do both.”
“I don’t have the time or energy to put as much into social media as authentic relationships would demand.”
“Can I do it all alone with no contacts, author involvement or budget?”
“Which social media sites have the potential to help you market and which are a waste of time and effort?”
“I’ve gone to conferences and read all the information but it’s not sinking in.”
“I have great ideas, but no time to implement them.”
“I struggle with being authentic while also promoting my book. I don’t want to be one of those authors who is always pushing a link to her book (and there are a lot of them!).”
“I don’t know what words to use to attract people without being cliché.”
“I hate being a salesman for myself. It feels awkward.”
“Plus, how do you promote yourself on social media without annoying people? I share when someone else says something positive about my work (through retweets, reposts, etc…) with a ‘thank you’ included, and I’m fine to share when my work is discounted, but otherwise, I don’t know how to promote my work without feeling like I’m being a slimy used car salesman.”
“I don’t like talking about my book or, worse, ‘selling’ people on my book. I just really hate being like ‘Buy my book! Buy my book!’ It is the worst.”
“Can I do it all alone with no contacts, author involvement or budget?”
“I don’t have the resources to do anything that will make a big impact.”
“I want to hire a professional to help me, but I don’t know if it will be a good investment or not.”
Do any of these book marketing complaints sound familiar to you? Clearly, you are not alone. Authors work very hard to identify effective ways to promote their books, while salvaging some time to write and work on their craft.
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Funny how the science fiction writers of my youth are now classified as literary. I’m talking Kurt Vonnegut, Ursula K. LeGuin, Margaret Atwood and Madeline L’Engle. I love science fiction, particularly when authors choose to use creative strokes to illustrate a lesson in society or human behavior. I do believe that Kurt’s Harrison Bergeron is the best short story ever written. When Ursula showed up in town to read from her new poetry (!) book, I brought my daughter along in the hopes that some of Ursula’s powerful thinking would magically rub off on us. I named by first car “Ananda” based on a note that Madeline L’Engle scrawled in my copy of A Wind in the Door at a reading.
There came a point, however, when the genre exploded in a great and terrible way. Writers pumped out books faster than boobie-ful space explorer covers could be painted. Plot lines featured more violence and war than thoughtful exploration of society through artful prose. I thought to myself, these books are not for me. I lost interest in the genre and no longer visited that section of the bookstore.
How grateful I am that Hugh Howey came along. I first heard about Hugh through self-publishing world. He wrote and published his own books and they were wildly successful. This garnered some attention. I knew more about Hugh and his publishing process than I did about his actual books. One Friday evening, I decided I better read one and see what all the fuss was about. I downloaded Wool, the first book in his Silo Series and and stayed up until I finished it. I immediately bought the next, then the next. I spent my entire weekend sitting on the couch reading his books. These were days well-spent.
Reading Hugh’s books taught me that there are still authors with interesting things to say publishing in the scifi genre. When Kindle released it’s “unlimited” program, I decided to browse the best sellers in the dystopian section to see if there was something that caught my attention. I discovered Marcus Sakey‘s Brilliance series. The same thing happened. I read the first one in one sitting, read the next one the following day. How horrified I was to learn that the next book in the series won’t be available for months. For the first time in a long time, I am anxiously awaiting the publication of a science fiction novel.
You may read thousands of books in your lifetime, but there will always be those few special ones that impact your mortal trajectory in major ways. Books inspire us, show us glimpses of the kind of lives we want to live, of the kind of people we want to be. For those of us who discover the nature of our souls vary greatly from the people that surround us in real life, books can show us understanding, give us a familiar home.
Three books in particular influenced my awareness of myself as an artist and thinker in the world. Without these books, I may possibly have believed the story I was told as a child. The story about how a life of purpose means a life of work at a desk, preferably on computers, 8-5, government-based all the better.
Enter Frederick by Leo Lionni. The particular copy you see in the picture hiding behind my Royal I picked up in Japan. However, I first read this book when I was very young.
This slim children’s book tells the story of a little mouse with an artistic soul. While the other mice labor for winter stores, they deride Frederick for sitting and daydreaming. Frederick does not budge. He states his purpose, he is collecting colors, sensations. When winter comes, he freely eats of the food the other mice collected. What a lout!
But then the food runs out, and winter’s coldest nights fall over the mice. Now Frederick’s work may be appreciated. He tells the suffering mice stories of summer, of plenty, of warmth and sunshine. The little mice feel comforted. They gain peace, joy even, and the strength and perseverance to survive to springtime.
Collecting food is valuable work. Building computer programs is valuable work, so is teaching and business and labor. So also is art, and writing. The way that I work may look very different from the way much of the modern world works, but it is still work.
You know, I did find a life of purpose at a desk, on a computer. My mom was right about that.
Next is Irving Stone’s imagined biography of Vincent Van Gogh, Lust for Life. Van Gogh was one of my early obsessions. The Starry Night, Irises, Cafe Terrace at Night, The Yellow House… I can go on and on. I studied these paintings for hours, captivated by the color, by the audacity of the thick strokes of paint.
Many people have told me this biography is far from fact, and there are better ones about Van Gogh out there, but this is the one that I read when I was thirteen. This book revealed to me that an artist I considered a master actually toiled his entire life to build his craft. It wasn’t as if he picked up a brush and BAMN a masterpiece happened.
Van Gogh lived unapologetically off the support for his brother, doing the work that made him happy. Ultimately, his work impacted millions of people, but he never knew that. He just knew that painting called to him, so paint he did. Van Gogh was poor. He received almost no external validation. My own art is certainly no better than Van Gogh’s, so how may I be discouraged if money and recognition do not come easy to me?
And finally I offer you Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Despite the great teachings of the books above, I often find myself caught in corporate clutches, or confused about the importance of things like money and titles. When I find myself stressed to the point of nightly glasses of wine, or when the greatest anxiety I have in my day revolves around A-Thing-That-I-Want-Really-Bad-But-Can’t-Actually-Afford, it’s time to reread Siddhartha.
I discovered Siddhartha in my twenties, when I was living in Japan. The sweeping view of a life spent began in anxious unease, but ended in sublime peace pours a calm into my spirit that lasts for weeks. Of course, it also entirely kills my productivity for a few weeks, so I must be careful of when I choose to read it. I’m the girl who gets things done. A little anxiety helps me along.
These books have properly ruined my ability to hold a “regular” job or find satisfaction in a daily grind. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Just a couple days ago, I took the leap and launched my first ever Kickstarter campaign. I’m raising money to publish Book Lush, a guide of what to drink with what to read.The inspiration:
A while back during my Japan years, I was sitting alone on my apartment balcony, reading a copy of Haruki Murakami’s The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. It was late, but warm. I had Miles Davis Kind of Blue on the CD player and was drinking Cutty Sark (a whiskey) on the rocks. A perfect moment. Imagine my shock when I read as the character Toru played a record of Kind of Blue and poured himself a glass of Cutty Sark. After a moderate freak-out over the coincidence, I greatly enjoyed the blending of the drink and the book. As it was the character’s drink, I was able to enter the author’s world even deeper and experience the book in a multi-sensory way. Groovy, yes?
After that moment with the whiskey and the Murakami, I began to look for drink references, or even wonder what is the best drink to match with each of my favorite books. My writing friends shared their favorite pairings as well. Sometimes the match was pulled from a direct literary reference, sometime the match was made more on mood and general meaning. All these great conversations let to the Book Lush book idea.
There must be a perfect drink to pair with every great book.
I thought long and hard about how I wanted to bring Book Lush into the world. I have attended incredible workshops by Jen and Kerry at Business of Books that gave me the information and confidence I need to pitch to publishers. However, I have never attempted crowd-funding and I believe Book Lush is a good choice for the medium. I have many more ideas I can send to publishers later down the road. As I made my career in publishing, this is a great opportunity to learn more about this particular path.
I also took a long hard look at Pubslush. I am a huge fan of the Pubslush team and the platform they have created for authors to fund their book projects. In fact, my company Writer.ly recently started a Pubslush community page.
I finally decided to go with Kickstarter as I was looking for more organic traffic and campaign templates I could easily follow.
Oh dear Lord, it’s live.
After much clever procrastination and delay, I finally launched my kickstarter. A couple days in I have 16 backers and $660 pledged. I have a long way to go to meet my $8,000 pledge minimum. I’ll keep you updated as I go with my experience and what I learn along the way. If you would like to join the Book Lush kickstarter, you can become a backer. Of course, shares and encouragement are also very much appreciated!