The Marketing Conundrum for Authors

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I’m the new guy. I only just started exploring the publishing universe in the last couple of years. And like thousands of other new authors I am out there mining for as much information as I can uncover about the Big 5, Indie publishing, e-publishing, self-publishing, co-publishing and every other kind of publishing available these days. Not to mention agents, editors, contests and author collectives.

It’s overwhelming, to say the least, but it’s clear to me that the road to enlightenment is lined with snake oil salesmen and false prophets.

Thankfully, every once in a while you come across some real gems. In the past week I have found two very insightful articles about author promotion that really helped shed some light on the darkest corner of the publishing world—marketing and self-promotion:

“Please shut up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn’t work” (and the follow-up “Wait, Keep Talking: Author Self-Promo That Actually Works“) by Delilah S. Dawson (whimsydark)

[Here’s an excerpt from Delilah S. Dawson’s piece]

“From the very beginning of my writing career, I’ve been told that publishers want a writer to have a brand, a platform, a blog, a built-in army of fans. But that was 2009, and now it’s 2015, and that doesn’t work anymore. Book blogs become paid services, giveaways become chum pits, conference-goers dump purses full of business cards out in the trash to make room for more free books that they won’t read. It is virtually impossible to get your blog seen or your book discovered. We are glutted with information, and yet our answer to ‘How do I get people to buy my book?’ is social media marketing, which is basically throwing more information out into the void.”

“Amazon pays $450,000 a year to this self-published writer” by Jay McGregor (Forbes)

[Here’s an excerpt from Jay McGregor’s piece]

“Dawson also credits his success to his unusual attitude towards publishing. He approaches it like a business, one in which writing is just a single cog in the media machine. He engages (responding to all fan messages) with all of his fans and focusses on building a rapport to ensure their loyalty. He holds seminars to give other writers advice and guidance. And through all of these activities, he collects names and email addresses that have amounted to a 15,000 person strong mailing list. It’s through this that he disseminates his new work. What Dawson has done is essentially build a small but loyal community that translates into near guaranteed sales.”

All three pieces offer some fascinating opinions and perspective on what it takes to succeed and/or survive as an author these days. But what I have found equally fascinating are the discussions that these two pieces have sparked in publishing circles on social media.

In particular, I saw quite a few comments about the Forbes article that focused on the fact that the featured author, Mark Dawson, spends $470 a day in Facebook advertising. That seemed like a pretty high daily social media advertising budget to me too, so I reached out to Jay McGregor on Twitter to see if he could shed a little more light. Here is our brief correspondence:

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That makes much more sense to me. Let’s say that you start with a $50 a week budget for Facebook ads. If you can generate $65 in sales from that $50 investment, you could put the $15 aside and reinvest the original $50—or reinvest the whole $65. Either way, if you are paying close attention to the metrics, it’s easy to see how that could potentially snowball the way that it apparently has for Mark Dawson. Of course, all of that assumes you have $50 to start with.

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I found this second exchange with McGregor just as informative, specifically because it made me confront the age-old “arts vs. commerce” debate. As far as I can tell, in the simplest terms, writing is art and publishing is commerce (however you decide to do it). And if you self-publish, it looks like you’re in charge of both. It’s all a big balancing act.

That is certainly what some of the authors I have interviewed told me:

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So if you are a new author, or even if you are a more established author looking to attract more readers, I highly recommend checking out these articles and the discussions swirling around them.

S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Akashic Books, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine. His novella, CROSSWISE, and his debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, will be published in 2015 and 2016.

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