Quick disclaimer: I don’t know any indie authors who do this, so I am not thinking of anyone in particular when I wrote this post. These are some things I’ve seen while browsing some booksites.
Ways to NOT market your book:
1. Using a title that tells the reader it’s a short story, a collection of stories, or a certain novel.
When I say this, I mean this is the actual title of the book. It’s one thing to use these terms as a subtitle, but it shouldn’t be the title. For example, these are titles that aren’t likely to pique someone’s interest:
A Short Story I Wrote
A Romance Novel
These are variations of actual titles I found while browsing books. How would any of those titles grab a reader’s attention? How would it specify the type of story or romance the reader would be getting? How would your target audience know this is the right book for them? If someone is looking at a list of books without seeing a (potentially) attractive cover, they would skip right over this because it does nothing to pique their interest.
If you’re having trouble coming up with book titles, I suggest skimming titles in your genre and writing down the words that make you go “Love it!” Then mix and match different words until something grabs you. You can then make a poll or have an informal discussion with others to see what they find appealing and go with the title they pick, unless you like the title you came up with and don’t need feedback.
2. Using a description that doesn’t say what the book is actually about.
Some examples of what I found are as follows:
“This short story is 2,300 words long.”
“This is a Alien Space 2011 Award Winning book. Reviewer X says, ‘This explores avenues not often pursued in science fiction.’ Reviewer Y says, ‘I couldn’t put it down. Definitely worth a read.’”
“A story I wrote in college.”
A reader wants to know what the book is about. Want to mention it won an award? Fine, but be sure to include what the book is about. Want to add the word count? Fine, but tell the reader what’s on those pages. However, no one needs to know when or where you wrote the book (ex. “in college”) because the potential reader doesn’t care.
As for what reviewers are saying, let the reviews on the book speak for you. Readers interested in reviews will scroll to the reviews to read them. They are reading your description to find out what is in the book. Now if the reviewer is a well-known name to your target audience (say JK Rowlings, Stephen King, or Nora Roberts), then this would go well in the description. But a person who no one knows? I don’t think it works.
3. No cover or a cover that looks like you didn’t care about the final product.
Look at traditionally published books. How many do you see without a cover? How many covers do you see that look like a kid drew it? You don’t need a complicated design. You can choose something simple. Sometimes simple is better. As long as the colors work together and the image doesn’t interfere with your title and author name, you can get something to appeal to people. But think of your target audience when you’re doing this.
Okay. I am thinking of someone (not from this blog but from a discussion forum) who didn’t have a cover for their book because they didn’t feel like going through the trouble. Someone commented that they needed some kind of cover and did one up for this author in five minutes. And you can slap something together in five minutes. Using BookCoverPro or GiMP or Paint.net, you can insert a royalty-free stock photo and put your name and title on it. So I don’t think there’s any excuse not to have a cover. GIMP and Paint.net are free, and a picture can be bought for $5-$10. You want cheap? That’s cheap. And cheap doesn’t have to be cheesy.
For example, this cover cost me $10 (I got it from www.shutterstock.com with their $49 for five pictures deal):
It took me five minutes to make. I did it in BookCoverPro, but I could have done it in GIMP or Paint.net.
As for drawing covers, I suggest you don’t do this unless you have the talent for it. I can’t draw to save my life, so I don’t draw my covers. If you don’t have the talent for it and you do this, don’t expect people to buy the book. People do judge a book by its cover, and when they see someone slapping up a cover that looks like a grade school student’s art project, they are going to question the professionalism of the author.
4. Telling everyone on this planet about your book.
This is the most annoying thing I’ve come across when it comes to marketing a book. You have to pick where you pitch your book, and more importantly, you have to be careful on how you pitch it. Sometimes I want to slap people who tell new authors to do things that annoy the crap out of people. How many of you guys love it when a salesman comes to your door to sell a product? How many of you guys jump for joy when a telemarketer calls? How many of you guys would love to be putting gas in your car when someone comes up to you and tells you all about their new music album and want you to buy it. I’m betting most of you just shuddered in revulsion.
But isn’t this what the “experts” tell authors to do all the time? Get reviews any way you can. Email people you don’t know about your book. Post your book on someone’s Facebook wall or blog in the comments section. Go up to someone on the street, pull out your book, and tell them all about it. Mention your book everywhere and over and over again. Never mind that after a while, all you’ll sound like is white noise and lose your effectiveness. People can filter out posts, status updates, etc that go on and on about a book, whether it’s reminding them you have a book or your book got (yet another) glowing review or made a certain ranking. I don’t believe these tactics work. They might earn you a review or a sale short-term, but in the long run, I don’t see this playing out for success because people are more interested in what their friends recommend or in what they come across by searching for books at their leisure. I think most people resist the “in your face” sales pitch.
When marketing a book, you need to think (1) who is my target audience and (2) what can I offer them? Yes, this takes time. Yes, it can be hard to wait. Yes, I realize people like Amanda Hocking and John Locke became superstars in a short period of time, and in our culture of instant gratification, it’s easy to get impatient. But the norm is not instant success. The norm is a slow climb up the hill. People all talk about JA Konrath, but do they even think of how long it took him to get to where he is today? Do they ever consider the time and hard work he put into it?
I do believe it’s very possible to make more money today in self-publishing than in traditional publishing because we get to keep a bigger part of the royalties. But in our fast-food world, it’s easy to forget that certain things must be in place before you can hope to have some nice vacation money, pay some bills, or even make a living off your writing. You need to write a story you’re passionate about that your target audience can’t put down, a great title, a great cover, a catchy description, patience, offering something to your target audience that they want or need, and writing and publishing more books. Most of us can’t take short cuts. Those who aren’t serious about this business will bail because they want those short cuts. But you know, babies don’t become adults overnight. They need to be toddlers, preschoolers, grade-age students, junior high students, and high school students first. It’s a process.