When you self-publish your novel, you discover that writing the book is the easiest part of the process, no matter how hard it is or how long it takes (four and a half years, in my case). Why easiest? Because it’s the only part you have total control over. You can’t guarantee that anyone will buy, read, or like your book, but you can guarantee that you at least get the damn thing written.
Then comes the fun and excitement of marketing your novel to the public! For the longest time I had a visceral negative reaction to the word “marketing”; when I heard or read it I would wince as if I was smelling a particularly vile fart. Marketing had a bad ethical odor, and I wanted no part of it. Then my friend Krista Bremer—author of A Tender Struggle and associate publisher, marketing and circulation for The Sun magazine—gave me a different perspective on the concept.
“I think of good marketing as a win-win situation,” she said. “There are people out there who would genuinely want to read The Sun, if they only knew it existed. I’m just trying to let them know the magazine exists. What they do about it is up to them.”
I’d never thought of marketing this way before, but Krista’s description of it instantly made sense to me because I faced the same issue when I was a freelance editor. An editor’s main job is to make other people look good, but he can’t do that for you if you don’t know he exists. I tried various schemes to get my name in front of people—never very effectively—and now I’m in the same boat again, but with a novel.
Marketing a novel is both harder and easier than marketing professional services: harder, because you’re selling a commodity in a marketplace absolutely swamped with that very commodity; and easier, because a great marketing opportunity is built right into the market’s normal activity. I’m talking about reader reviews on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads.
Reader reviews obviously help when they’re good, but they also help just by serving as proof that someone has read your book. “Reviews on [Amazon] can give your book legitimacy, make you look popular (or not), and tip the scales for buyers browsing your page,” says book coach Brooke Warner. That appearance of legitimacy primarily stems from the number of reader reviews a book has garnered. This is especially true for self-published books, which have a very low bar to clear in order to enter the market. The more reviews a self-published book has, the more it seems like an actual book that might be worth actually reading.
The results of an Amazon search on “supernatural thrillers” (my book’s genre, more or less), sorted by relevance, show books with 429, 89, 39, 60, and 105 reviews each. The same category sorted by average customer review shows books with 120, 86, 79, 75, and 1,435 reviews (that last one was The Green Mile by Stephen King). And this is where you see my lack of marketing acumen: my book only has three reviews. They’re all very positive reviews, mind you, and I’m deeply grateful to each reader who has taken the time to write and post a review. But when you compare my book to its peers, you see that one of these things is not like the others, as Sesame Street used to sagely observe.
So here’s where I have a favor to ask of some of you. If you’ve read my novel Blood Family and you haven’t posted a review of it, would you mind doing me a solid and popping over to my book’s Amazon page to post an honest review? If you didn’t buy it on Amazon (which includes CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing arm for print books), then you could post a review wherever you did buy it (links to other marketplaces are at the bottom of this page). And no matter where you bought it, you could post a review on Blood Family‘s Goodreads page if you’re into the Goodreads thing.
Many thanks, my friends, for helping an inept marketer become a little more ept.