On Marketing Your Opus Magnum

As a relatively unknown, self-published author, you have to face the fact that it’s difficult to gain much market traction. Advertising is expensive, major publications don’t want to add your opus magnum to their slush pile, some booksellers will rip you off for the privilege of allowing an onsite book signing (boy, do I know about that one), and getting a review from a respected reviewer is nigh onto impossible. So, what can you do?

My own personal experience with this has been spotty. I was highly naïve following publication of my first book, Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe, and my marketing efforts, to be honest, sucked. I did manage a couple of short reviews in niche publications that got me no sales. Then, figuring I needed to go bigger (read: spend more), I took a several month ad in Analog, a science fiction magazine with a circulation of about 80,000. After some four months of running the ad, not a single book had sold. Was this depressing? You betcha.

As I’ve previously described at some length, the publisher of Spacebraid…  was not at all helpful in the marketing of the book. They offered expensive marketing services which mostly involved their sending out some publicity blurbs via distribution e-mail (i.e., spam) and getting the book listed in indexes seen only by bored Himalayan hermit librarians, and I got no boost from those.

Eventually, I made two decisions: spend no more on Spacebraid… and find a new publisher for my second book, Zendoscopy. The first was easy. I no longer take calls from the high pressure salespeople at Xlibris. The second took some time to find, but I settled on Inkwater Press in Portland, Oregon. The attention and support I’ve gotten from Inkwater has been most encouraging, and what I’ve liked most is that when I call them, human beings pick up the phone and they actually know who I am.

Publication of Zendoscopy went smoothly and I’ve now got a few copies in my closet with more ordered. So, how am I going to do the marketing this time? Well, I’ve learned a lot since my first experience, so now, at least, I’ve got a plan.

Immediately upon receiving my first shipment of books, I contacted Inkwater and had them set up a book giveaway on the Goodreads website. They also did a publicity release and a couple of pitch letters for me on their letterhead which I can use as I please. I had bookmarks printed up that I can distribute or leave in batches in bookstores and elsewhere. (Actually, I did do the bookmark thing with Spacebraid…, too.) None of this was free, but Inkwater’s fees were bundled into a package at reasonable cost. Next, I requested a review from Kirkus, a reputable and well known organization which, for a price (of course), will review your work and provide you with an independent review that you can choose whether distribute or not, based upon how it turns out. At your direction, they will also distribute or bury the review as you prefer. The Kirkus  review of Zendoscopy is pending as I write this, and probably won’t be available until early May. If it’s favorable, it should help sales considerably.

A few other actions. First, I will be sending a copy to the host of a local NPR radio program, hoping he’ll read it and respond to my suggestion of an on-air interview. Second, despite my prior bad experience with a local bookseller over a book signing, I will try to schedule several of these with stores that won’t cause me to lose money on every sale. Third, I’m experimenting with a new online marketing site called TweetInto that links with Twitter. The site functions to connect your tweets with other Twitter/TweetInto users who will re-tweet your advertising tweets. I’m still learning how to use the service and whether it will make sense, but for a minimal investment of $20 to get started, I figure it’s worth a try.

I am very fortunate in that I’m able to write because I love to do it and not because I need to make my living as a writer. Despite having many articles and two books in print, I’ve made very little from my writing over the years. So, why do I do it? I think the answer I would give is the same as that given by many others: because it is a need. The need to write is something internal that exerts terrible pressure to be let loose. Said in another way, I write because I have to write. Selfish? Maybe. But whether you read what I put on the page or simply ignore it is up to you and not really a problem for me. Although I care, I don’t get all twisted up over it. I’m just glad for the decompression I feel as the words escape from wherever down deep they come from to land on the page, where I can see them and, in so doing, see some of myself. For me, that’s enough.

Today’s annoyance: People at the movies who won’t shut up.

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