Indie Authors – To Promote Or Not To Promote

indie author handbook

Indie Author Handbook

We indie authors face tough challenges.  No one knows who we are or anything about our books.  We try all kinds of different things for book promotion.  But does promotion really work?  I’ve read some fascinating posts about the topic of book promotion, both the pros and the cons.  I’ve had varied success with different types of promotion and I’m not sure why.  But some things do seem clear…

Indie Authors – What Is Your Mentality?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, an award-winning fiction author, wrote a fascinating post about what she sees as two types of authors: those who hurry up and then wait (indie authors); and those who wait and hurry up (traditionally published authors).  It’s a long post but it’s worth the read.  What I found interesting is that it seems she has nailed it, at least in terms of the indie authors I know.  Many have books they wrote long ago, or it’s been a dream to write a book, so they do, not really knowing how good or bad the book is, or the cover, and so on.  And they publish and just expect that their book will be discovered and the money will roll in.  Ah, but the money doesn’t just roll in (at least not for most of us).  But she has another interesting point as well…

Indie Authors – Word Of Mouth

Rusch contends that book promotion doesn’t really work.  Here’s what she says:word of mouth

I buy five or more books per week, usually when I see a review, get a notice from a bookseller that a new one of my favorites is out, or follow a recommendation from a friend about a really good book she’s read. I buy because of word-of-mouth, just like every other reader on the planet.

It’s true that word of mouth is the key to selling books.  But isn’t promoting your books through social media, ad space, your website and your blog creating word of mouth?  That’s what we constantly hear, right?  But does all that promotion really work?

Indie Authors – What Works?

Taleist recently did a survey of over 1,000 indie authors.  Granted, this is a small set of authors, and surveys can be slanted, but there are some interesting things that came out of the survey:

  • indie authors with high-quality books did slightly better on sales (those who used others for story editing, copy editing, proofreading, and book covers)
  • indie authors who spent more time on writing than on marketing made more money
  • indie authors with more reviews, and more positive reviews, sold more books

As you can see, it’s still hard to say what exactly worked for those that made more money.  I’ve found that a promotion that works for one author doesn’t for another.  This stresses the importance of targeting your own audience, knowing what they like and want, and marketing your book to that audience.

Indie Authors – What Doesn’t Work?

The Taleist survey did have a couple of interesting points about what indie authors said didn’t work:

  • indie authors surveyed said paid reviews didn’t work (those who did had the lowest average number of reviews and lowest revenue)
  • two-thirds of the indie authors said paying for ads was not successful

What does that mean?  I myself have had limited success with ads.  Some (mostly those around free books) have helped, but overall I’m not sure how effective they’ve been.  I haven’t paid for any reviews so I can’t speak to that.  As far as reviews go…

Indie Authors – Get Reviews!

I’m amazed at the number of authors who send me links to their books and I go check out the book and see that there are no, or very few, reviews.  It’s not hard to get reviews for your books, it just takes some time.  There are so many book reviewers on blogs, Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook and more.  They specialize in a variety of genres and are typically glad for the opportunity to read your book.  But they’re not going to find you – you have to find them!  Here’s some food for thought from the Taleist survey: indie authors who submitted to popular Amazon reviewers generate up to 30% more revenue than those who don’t have reviews.  I’d stretch this and say that even reviews by others, not just top reviewers, will bump up that revenue as well.

Indie Authors – One Thing Is Certain

promoting your booksRegardless of if you choose to promote your books or not, in order to achieve that dream of making money with your writing, you have to keep writing.  JA Konrath, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith and many other authors will tell you that the more books you have available for purchase, the more money you will make.  Hm, that makes sense :).

I recently helped an indie author with his first book, and he, like many others I’ve heard, was astounded at the amount of time it can take to promote your books.  It’s true, and it’s a delicate balancing act to promote and write.  But it can be done.  Good luck with your promotion and your writing!

I’d love to know what promotion you’ve done and what’s worked (or not).  And please share this post if you’ve found it helpful.  Thanks!

And for a few tips on book promotion, read Indie Authors – Promoting Your Books.

About Renée Pawlish

Award-winning author Renée Pawlish writes the bestselling horror book, Nephilim Genesis of Evil, the Reed Ferguson mystery series, short stories and non-fiction ghost stories.
This entry was posted in Indie Author Handbook, Promoting Your Books and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Indie Authors – To Promote Or Not To Promote

  1. Just tweeted this balanced, thoughtful post…I am a big fan of Kristine Rusch.

  2. I’ve shared this as I’m sure a lot of people will find it useful. It’s early days for me concerning promotion, but there are some great hints. Thanks :)

  3. Caleb Pirtle says:

    You have your finger on the pulse of writing and marketing better than anyone. This post was enlightening, needed, and appreciated.

  4. Calvin Craig Miller says:

    I really like your comment below, because of the way it flies in the face of conventional wisdom.
    ■indie authors who spent more time on writing than on marketing made more money

    I think it’s provocative and will also RT.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Thank you. There does seem to be a balance between writing and marketing but getting more books out there for sales means more money…thanks for your comment.

  5. Geri says:

    I found this particularly interesting. Almost every writer I come in contact with would rather write than promote – if not, maybe they aren’t so dedicated to writing. It is a heck of a lot of work to get your book to rise to the top of the enormous heap of self-published books. First and foremost you must have a good book! A good story that is well edited and properly formatted or don’t bother. If you think your books is the best it can be, let our readers (who now extend around the globe) take a look at it. If they unanimously agree it is a book they would recommend to their best friend, we will give it our medallion. We will do all we can to try to shine a light on it. I do agree that “word of mouth” will do more for your book than just about anything else. The Medallion is becoming recognized as just that – “Readers” recommending books to “Readers”!

  6. Hello Renee,

    Thank you for this post.

    The problem, as I see it, is not that promotion doesn’t work. It’s that most authors (especially indies) do not know who their audiences are. They do not interact with them based on their interests. They just talk about themselves, without building a storyline around their books.

    And they often only rely on Facebook or Twitter to get the word out there without taking the time to check out other platforms.

    It’s one thing to post cute and funny pictures and quotes on your Fan Page, it’s another to raise awareness of what you do in a way that will make people take you seriously. It’s hard, yes, but not impossible to do.

    Another thing that most authors are missing as well is diversification. I know quite a few who have stopped beating around the bush and started acting like brands. Before you know it, sales of their books went up.

    With that said, yes, reviews have become an important tool to help your books gain visibility. You are quite right about that!

  7. LJCohen says:

    Well, I’ve done all the usual things to support my debut novel. Got reviews, guest posts, giveaways, etc. I’m active, but not obnoxious on social networks. Have I sold books? Yes, but I can’t attribute any spike in sales to any promotional work I did. I know this because I also have an ‘accidental’ book in the marketplace. The eBook of a collection of poetry I put together a few years ago thru Lulu press.

    I never got the opt-out message and they put the eBook on iTunes and B&N. I don’t market it. Don’t do anything but have a single link to it from my website, buried in an internal page and on my blog. Month by month, it sells copies. I have no idea how people even find it. And it doesn’t have a single review.

    I’m a firm believer in the best marketing is simply having more books available.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Interesting points. I also wonder how some people find my books, but I do know that the promoting I’m doing does help. It’s difficult to know, but as Cendrine said, creating and marketing your brand does indeed help. Knowing your audience and targeting to them helps as well. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Tim Kershaw says:

    Interesting that the survey produced a non-existent correlation between promotion and sales. In a recent online podcast from The Naked Book (run by The Bookseller), Rob Nicols from Constable & Robinson the independent publisher, stated that what is clear about self-publishing and particularly Kindle publishing is that “publicity and marketing has become really key in driving sales – it’s almost immediate”.

    I’m actually looking at the issue myself and would love to hear back from any Kindle authors who have a minute to fill out a quick questionnaire for my Masters degree in Publishing. It can be downloaded here and then emailed back to me at TRFKERSHAW at HOTMAIL dot CO dot UK.

    Many thanks in advance for anyone who replies.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      There does seem to be an impact on sales if one markets, but how much impact is difficult to measure. Thanks for your comment and I will check out your survey. Good luck with your degree.

  9. Virginia says:

    Thank you for the valuable information. I do not have a completed book yet, but until I do, this gives me a lot of think about.

  10. Renee,

    As always a very well thought out post. To bad somebody does not have a crystal ball to give us all the answers.

    Somedays it seems like all we have is a Magic 8 Ball.

  11. Matthew Iden says:

    Hi Renée -

    Thanks for the article. My thoughts on promotion after very moderate and recent success:

    1. It takes time – I started self-publishing in Nov. 2011. It took me 3-4 months to get up to speed on what I should be doing, how I should be doing it, where I should be going. It continues to be a learning process, no surprise. That’s one reason why I’m here reading your blog :)

    2. Keep up – You can’t put 10 hours into promotion one week and nothing for the next 3 weeks. Promotion for most indies is about personal contact. The Hockings and Lockes of the world can spend their time on million-count ad campaigns; beginners should worry about forging relationships. And relationships don’t happen in bursts of tweets once a month.

    3. Give something to get something – Literally (a book giveaway) and figuratively (blog posts that aren’t all about you) giving things away will attract quality people to your tribe. This sounds like old news, but it’s odd how many writers agree with this concept, then go out and spam 1,000 folks instead of sitting down and writing a thoughtful or helpful blog post about the experience of being a writer. I just swallowed my pride and posted the line edits from my second novel, Blueblood (see Me in my (literary) underwear) and have gotten a ton of positive responses (there’s self-promotion buried in there, but comes after the offering).

    More pragmatic advice:

    1. I gave away one copy of my first novel, A Reason to Live on Goodreads on two separate occasions. I got 924 entries the first time, 989 the second. About half of those people ended up as GR “friends” and now receive very occasional updates on freebies and new releases from me. But I also take time to drop most of them a line or a comment when I can.

    2. I went on a recent run of 500 sales after going on a last-hurrah, 4 day KDP Select free sale. I’m dropping out of Select in order to sell in other channels, but it still demonstrated the power of free to me.

    Hope that helps…sorry for the encyclopedic comment!

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Thanks for the wonderful and insightful comment – I love to hear what works for others and you’ve hit on some key points. I wish you the best of luck with your writing.

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