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Rudiments of Book Marketing

How often have we seen reclusive authors condescendingly sneering at the mob from the top of their ivory towers, smirking at the mere prospect of marketing their books themselves? Authors that feel entitled to being read by the sheer virtue of them writing, and who equate marketing with whoring themselves, something better left to the sycophantic merchant class?

To those, I would pertinently quote from the movie Gladiator:

LUCILLA: The gods have spared you. Today I saw a slave become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome.
MAXIMUS: The gods have spared me? I am at their mercy with the power only to amuse a mob.
LUCILLA: That is power. The mob is Rome. And while Commodus controls them he controls everything.

In other words, climb off your pedestal and reach out to your target audience, not merely out of spite because the mountain won’t deign come to you, but realizing it is an art form in its own right, one that can grant you to wield tremendous influence if you master it. It does not amount to whoring yourself, quite the contrary; it actually compares more with fighting in the arena, so prepare to get yourself dirty. And don’t throw up the towel because you believe you have no talent at selling; I’m about to explain in depth why marketing is a natural extension of writing for an audience, which means if you’re nearly as good as you think you are at the former, you’re already decently good at the latter.

The idea is to treat everything beyond the writing proper as part of the creative process, from manuscript formatting to book cover and website design to ad conception and blogging, which is why I advocate being as involved as possible in the whole process instead of outsourcing everything en bloc. Simply put, every little detail about you and your books should scream why they’re the best! Put the same amount of energy and enthusiasm into implementing the final product and planning your campaign as you have writing the contents, and you’ll stand a decent chance at success.

“Blog? What blog?”

The most critical example might be the author blog, because too many authors wonder what to write about, which is why many just shy away from blogging altogether! It is so because they imagine all one has to do to start a blog is open an account with Blogger and start typing. Not so fast! Would you begin a book in that fashion? Probably not, and neither should you treat your blog that lightly.

Every successful blog has some sort of concept or focus. That simply cannot be overemphasized. It does not need to be elaborate to work; just be simple and creative. Although not quite yet successful, let’s take for example Muriel Lede’s Official Blog—that’s me!—which revolves around an irreverent eight-inches tall plush giraffe with a ten dollars price tag. Likewise, the very successful Babbling About Books, And More features the demon sheep Mho Fho as a mascot, which sometimes performs interviews or gives love advice to fictional characters. Whoring ourselves, you say? Please, don’t take yourself too seriously! Especially if you’re writing fiction; how do you hope to convince your target audience your book is entertaining if you’re averse to letting loose and amusing the mob on your blog? While if you think so highly of your literary masterpiece that reading it amounts to an act of self-flagellation, why not keep it to yourself? A fiction writer is an entertainer first and foremost, which doesn’t prevent them in the least from delivering contents with literary merit and making a statement as part of their work; if you believe otherwise you have the wrong attitude.

The above notwithstanding, kidding with plush toys might not be everyone’s cup of coffee, nor appropriate to many contexts. Still in the romance field, the two most prominent review blogs are: Dear Author, which is titled after its formula that consists of addressing the author directly at the second person in their reviews (instead of writing at the third person, in a more detached manner, as the overwhelmingly majority of reviewers do), and scathingly so if need be; and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, whose concept is to afflict its own genre with a healthy dose of stereotypical derision, as evidenced by the website’s corny graphical design and its sometimes mocking reviews. Among author blogs, you’ve probably heard of J. A. Konrath’s, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, whose formula is to elaborate on his marketing strategies, to everyone’s benefit, while voicing out some controversial opinions that attract detractors like a magnet. Then, among less prominent but equally ubiquitous authors, there’s the voluble Zoe Winters, with no less than two blogs: Zoe Winters, Paranormal Romance Author, which delivers similarly forthright opinions, sometimes in a trademark foulmouthed fashion (tell her she’s whoring herself, if you dare!); and another over at IndieReader, focusing instead on indie publishing news and tips while fostering the indie brand.

All in all, plan your blog the same way you would plan a book, and you’ll never wonder what to write about. If you do wonder, then either:

  • You’re lacking a concept, as illustrated above;
  • You’re shallow and dead boring.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover!”

Are you serious? This proverb dates back to an era when book covers were all too uniform, only some fancier than others; then judging the book without reading it would have been difficult. In contrast, nowadays’ book covers are both very graphical and as individualized as possible. Considering this, I say do judge a book by its cover, for it constitutes an integral part of the book, and count on prospective readers to do just that! In particular, a botched cover augurs badly for the actual contents.

The book cover is most often the first contact customers have with any given book. Simply put, yours must convince your audience at first glance that they should delve deeper into it. Remember show instead of tell? Time to apply this most literally. Once again you need a concept, aspects of your book which you want to emphasize. Two things might help achieving that goal: a slogan, which is a short quote or subtitle carrying such an aspect, and a logo, which ideally should do the same. For my novel’s book cover, I wanted to put in evidence things that set it apart from the rest, like the polyamorous romance, the spiritual settings, and the poetry: it resulted in the following horizontal bar at the top, and poetry in the background using a fancy font. Notice I stayed clear of decapitated man titty, that on purpose—further evidence I’m not whoring myself; let’s see how far it goes. Need I emphasize it was made with zero stock pictures and zero budget? It’s all about creativity.

Similarly decent book covers put together with little more than a good concept abound. I like J. A. Konrath’s for The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing (indeed he turned his blog into a book; see my point now?), on which he emphasizes its sheer volume with a simple slogan: “Over 360’000 words of advice,” and the author’s reputation with a JK initials logo. That’s it. And that book cover sells! (at the time of this writing, the book ranks #8148 among paid Kindle Store titles, near the top in the categories it belongs to; even #11 out of all of Amazon’s editing reference books, Kindle or otherwise, barely below the classics!) It can be done by an amateur armed with only a free photoshop clone in very little time. In fact, it differs little in essence from brainstorming chapter titles, or tinkering descriptions’ wording to make them most evocative—hence from creative writing and editing, only in a more visual form. If you’re good at the former, you can be good at the latter.

A good book cover goes a long way toward helping your target audience make up its mind about your book. Instead of treating them as superficial twits, put yourself in their shoes: they’re inundated with a tidal wave of new offerings every quarter, and they have only limited time to decide which titles are most promising. Don’t forget that a picture is worth a thousand words, therefore carries far more information than just a title, and that is especially precious in long search listings or on bookstore shelves, for the purpose of separating the wheat from the chaff.

“But I’m an introvert!”

Is that your excuse to shun social networking? The Internet fortunately made this argument moot. Now even if you think of yourself as the least charismatic of nerds you can still meddle into conversations and animate them! Plus, you have plenty of time to ponder your posts, and total freedom as to when to blend them into the flow, without having to yell louder than the crowd nor worry about being interrupted. While if you bore people or incense them, who cares? They’re just a bunch of strangers living thousands of miles away, sending signals through wires. Really, you have no excuse for being shy.

Wait, do you really think of yourself as a nerd, or antisocial? May I suggest a healthy dose of roleplaying then? All you have to do is incarnate a character of your making, one you wish you were in the circumstances, and make her write your posts, whether on you blog or on social networks. I know firsthand of a certain lady doing just that! Unauthentic? Not any more than writing fiction, for instance; would you think of novelists as professional liars? No one expects what they read online to be 100% faithful to reality, a fact illustrated by users’ screen names and avatars. Everybody wears a mask, and so should you. That’s part of the game!

You think of us rabble as unworthy of your time? Please, by all means, enlighten us! You don’t need to join trifle chitchat, you may choose more serious threads, or start new ones. Worried your opinions are too incisive? That’s great! You should embrace controversy, for the simple fact that controversy sells. Nothing online attracts more visibility and generates more posts than a heated argument, which often goes viral all across the blogosphere. Time to channel that mob loathing into something productive! Although you’ll fare better if you yourself retain a facade of civility. You have no idea how gratifying it is to infuriate people that disagree with your tenets, which is much better than sulking in one’s corner, while you’ll be surprised how many allies you’ll find and how much respect you’ll earn in the process; the latter people are your future followers, while the former shall oblige no less to spread your name.

Really, treat your posts the same as fictional dialogue, thereby turning your weakness into a strength!

Conclusion

Time to quote more from Gladiator:

PROXIMO: Then listen to me. Learn from me. I wasn’t the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd, win your freedom.
MAXIMUS: I will win the crowd. I will give them something they have never seen before.

That is the right attitude for writing, and it is equally important for marketing. Learn from the likes of Matt Groening and Scott Adams instead of treating them with disdain. And quit presuming that whoever succeeds in the industry is either lucky or a whore, as I read constantly from countless defeatists that should bite their tongues instead; that is an insult to whoever worked hard to make it to the top, and a very lame one at it. While if you keep thinking, after reading the above, that marketing is solely the domain of whores, then keep practicing intellectual masturbation in the confines of your basement, with only fellow masturbators for an audience, confident in your vainglorious delusion your oeuvre is just too brilliant for the masses! In other words:

That’s all folks!