Flood waters and sign

Some time back, a friend posted in a group we both frequent. She was frustrated with the flood of conflicting marketing advice for authors, and listed some of the contradictory advice she’d heard.

  1. Socialize with non-writers on Facebook. Don’t try to sell. Make friends.
  2. Advertise on Facebook.
  3. Advertise on Amazon.
  4. Forget Facebook and Amazon. Focus on Goodreads instead.
  5. Forget Goodreads. LibraryThing is the place to be.
  6. Advertise on other sites.
  7. Give away books on Net Galley.
  8. Don’t give away books for free. It invites pirates!
  9. Give away one book to entice readers.
  10. List with genre sites.
  11. Concentrate on Twitter.
  12. Forget promotion. Sign up with KU.

While I can’t stem the flood of contradictory and often counter-intuitive advice, I can offer my experiences. I spent a lot of time sorting through a veritable avalanche of marketing advice to come up with my strategy. These are my answers, backed up with research and personal experience.

1. Socialize with writers and non-writers alike on Facebook. You’ll make friends and all of those people are potential buyers if your book is something they’re interested in. Quite a few other authors have bought and enjoyed my work. You can and should promote, but keep it infrequent so people don’t get tired of seeing it.

2. I don’t recommend buying advertising on Facebook for two reasons: I haven’t heard anything too great about the results, and Facebook deliberately suppresses the reach of links and pages to get people to pay to boost those posts. This is a strategy that absolutely deserves to fail.

3. Advertising on Amazon is fairly affordable, and I’ve had fairly good success with it. Each author’s mileage will vary, but I recommend giving it a shot for a few months to see if it can work for you.

4. Goodreads’ promos are vastly overpriced and I’ve heard absolutely no one saying “wow, Goodreads really boosted my sales!” The site seems to be a cross between a reading club and a digital bookshelf to show off what you’re reading to your friends. No one goes there to buy books.

5. Library Thing? I think I heard about them once, way back before Necrotic City launched. It sounds like their naming committee only got as far as “something like a library” before getting bored and wandering off.

6. You can advertise on other sites, but from what I’ve heard AdWords and the like are deep, dark money pits that offer little return on investment. To be successful, I suggest advertising on sites that A) get decent amount of traffic, B) are related to your genre, C) won’t bankrupt you, and of course D) are willing to feature your content. Sites that meet all of those requirements can be hard to find, though.

7. I’m skeptical of Net Galley. Beware any service that promises to put you in front of readers only if you offer your book for free. Essentially, they’re building their brand by using your hard work– work for which you will get zero return on your investment.

8. Giving away books for free: approach this strategy with caution. If you want to give away a freebie, make it a short story that you didn’t spend years writing and thousands of dollars polishing up. Give people a little taste; don’t condition them to expect to get the whole banquet without paying.

Piracy is a whole different issue, and it doesn’t having anything to do with whether your book was free. In fact, the whole concept of pirates competing with legitimate downloads of a free book is ridiculous. If the book is already free, nothing is being stolen. At that point, the pirate site is just helping you reach more potential readers– and that’s about the only reason I can imagine to not mind your book being pirated.

9. Giving away one book for free is probably a better business model for those who publish shorter works several times per year. This strategy only works if that free book is going to really hook people, and even then it may just sit on someone’s hard drive, unread. I’ve seen readers that have more than 5000 books marked as “owned” and “to-read” on Goodreads. Think there’s any chance of them getting to all of those before they die?

10. Genre-specific lists are probably more effective than the shotgun approach. If they want an arm and a leg for the “honor” of being listed, though, they’re probably not worth it.

11. Twitter has much better reach and engagement than Facebook, but I’m not sure how that translates to sales. The click-through rate is lower than Amazon ads, and in my experience it falls behind both Amazon ads and posting in book-themed groups on Facebook in terms of driving sales.

That said, it’s still a great tool for engaging with fellow authors and potential readers. Be yourself and post things that interest you. Post about your book occasionally. With Facebook looking more and more determined to go the way of MySpace, Twitter is probably the next good place to develop a following and interact with your fans.

12. Kindle Unlimited is your only hope! Or so Amazon would like you to think. Some authors love it and say that it’s 90% of their sales; others say they get tons of downloads and pathetic page read numbers. Worse, the free downloads deprived them of paid sales. Take your pick.

Personally, I refuse to sign my soul over to a company which already has an unhealthy stranglehold on the ebook market. While a single book or a single author may be just a drop in the ocean, enough drops together can form a tsunami– and I choose not to help Amazon crowd out other booksellers.

TL;DR: Don’t take other people’s word for it. Throttle the flood, ignore advice that seems biased (for instance, marketing advice put out by a vanity press or a site that markets free ebooks), and do your own research. Then do some testing to see what works for your schedule and your books.

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