Book marketing · The writing business

Building readership: a quiet rebellion against three pieces of conventional marketing wisdom

I’ll readily admit that book marketing is not my expertise, but some commonly accepted maxims really chafe for me. Indeed, my gut tells me I should do the opposite. So here they are, for better or perverse.

Rebellion 1: Social media – use pictures and videos for greater engagement

We all know the equation. A picture is worth a thousand words. Facebook certainly thinks so, and constantly reminds me with helpful messages. ‘Increase reader engagement with pictures! And videos!’

This is because most of my posts – on my page and my personal space – are text.

I love pictures and I’m not shy to use them, but my medium is words, not images.

As a user of Facebook, the people I cleave to most are those who write thoughtfully, beguilingly, provokingly. Though pictures might attract my eye, I take more notice of the accompanying caption or story. I tune out most of the videos because they are not made by the user. I have never made or posted a gif.

This probably makes me an unsporting FB citizen, but for me the joy of the platform is people’s voices, preoccupations, the way they speak their minds or sing their souls and the conversations that follow. Words. Because I want to meet people who like reading.

More successful with whom? (Here’s my page, BTW.)

Rebellion 2: Newsletters – keep readers keen with special offers and deals

I was a late starter with newsletters because I didn’t know what I’d put in them. I don’t produce books fast so I don’t have many new launches to write about. I have a small catalogue and can’t keep up a pace of constant special offers.

This sale-sale-sale mentality suits some writers, but it’s unsustainable for people like me. Besides, I would never subscribe to a newsletter with bargain mentality, so how would I write one?

It’s taken me a while to realise I could do something else. Although the books take shape slowly and there might be little progress from issue to issue, I am a full time wordperson.

I write about other work I’m doing. Adventures that arise from books past, present and future. I wrote about a highway that had been returned to nature – continuing the spirit of my travel memoir Not Quite Lost. I wrote about meeting a friend from my teen years and discovering how we had both turned into professional creators. I write a diary of what’s mattered to me in a month, as a human whose main delight is storytelling (and, yes, taking pictures).

Rebellion 3: Find out what your readers want

This is excellent advice in most types of commercial life. If you make running shoes, coffee, pens. It’s good for writers of how-to books – and yes, I have a list of Nail Your Novel book requests that I’ve not yet tackled because I don’t have a clone.

Researching reader preferences might be good for certain kinds of fiction writers. To find out which series characters to write about next; or which locations or historical situations might be popular. There are plenty of writers for whom this advice makes good sense.

But not for writers like me. You can’t tell me what you want to read from me. It’s my job to invent a book that only I could think of. Here’s Husband Dave, dreaming up his next one.

So this is the Roz manifesto for book marketing

1 Social media – to find people who enjoy reading … try text-only posts

2 Newsletters – invite readers into your creative life and share its milestones

3 Don’t ask others what you should write; follow your own star

But does it work, Roz?

Good question. I can’t produce evidence that this marvellously maverick approach is helping people discover my work. And without such evidence, articles like this can sound smug and insubstantial. Here are a few observations:

Facebook regularly hints that I should post more pictures, but the stats tell a different story. Posts that are pure text actually get better engagement.

My newsletter is not to everyone’s taste, but whose is? Some of the new subscribers fall away, but my list is slowly growing and some of the recipients reply to me by email or Twitter, continuing the conversation or just saying hello. (PS You can try them here.)

Most of all, I don’t find any of this to be a chore. It feels honest and genuine. As a sustainable policy, that seems like a good one.

Do you have any quiet rebellions, either in the writing/publishing life or elsewhere? Let’s discuss!


36 thoughts on “Building readership: a quiet rebellion against three pieces of conventional marketing wisdom

  1. An interesting and refreshing view, Roz and one I identify with. It’s what weighs on my mind whenever I think about going indie or not – all that marketing! I’m not sure I’d have the time. Or the inclination, if I’m honest. And it’s so hit and miss, I’ve found with what I’m doing already. And seems to be individual – what works for one author, doesn’t work for another.

    1. Hi Tom! All good points. It’s definitely hit and miss, a long game, unpredictable for everybody. Do you have it easier as a trad-published author? In some ways, yes. The publisher has already marketed themselves as a source of a certain kind of book and you are piggy-backing on that. You don’t have to drum up every sale yourself. But there’s an aspect of marketing that all authors should be doing, I believe – keeping contact with the audience. Even if another party builds the audience, don’t let it go. Then you can take them with you for the next books you publish, whether traditionally or indie.

  2. I agree with you that your approach to marketing has to be tailored to yourself as well as your customers/readers. Marketing can take many forms, and I’m not comfortable with doing all of them. That’s okay. The main thing is to do *something*. I’ve concluded that no book becomes a best seller without marketing, but no amount of marketing will turn a book into a best seller. It’s up to me to get the word out about my books, but it’s up to the readers to decide whether or not they are worth reading (and to tell their friends). For me, stressing over marketing and sales is a motivation killer. If I’m writing for sales, I might as well stop writing. That said, there’s joy in finding readers who appreciate your work, so it’s worth some pain to make an effort to let others know it exists.

    1. Hello Daniel! Wise input as always. If a tree falls over in a wood and no one hears it, no one heard it. If you write books and no one knows… there are few people who turn into Elena Ferrante. The ideal marketing should put you in touch of people who like you talking to them … and sometimes you’re lucky enough to see them wave back.
      While we’re on that subject, thanks for being such a consistent reader and commenter here.

  3. Always good to see a post questioning received wisdom – or in the case of Facebook, wisdom that can feel like it’s pushing you somewhere you might not want to go. Good to have a think about what suits you. In the long term is has to be more sustainable. I’ve never been a great follower of fashion!

  4. I think this really is the most important: “Most of all, I don’t find any of this to be a chore. ” I agree that it’s best to follow our own star and produce content that WE ourselves enjoy because if we are trying to please other people it will never be genuine and it will never have a unique voice! Thanks for your insights, I really enjoyed them 🙂

  5. I was quite relieved to read your post, as it was a direct, almost confrontational, opposite of a lot of what I see around. I saw one post on FB on how to write and winced because I did the complete opposite of what was held up as good writing. That *might* be why I’m such an abject failure…

  6. What a relief to find I don’t have to do all that is advised. I felt in my gut that advertising on line wasn’t for me. My books sell themselves, once I have found someone who likes their first one.I’ll have to be content with growing a readership gradually.Also, I have been trying to find pictures to go with my blog but perhaps just improving the content is the way to go. Thanks, Roz.

  7. Thanks for saying what I’ve been thinking but haven’t quite been able to articulate!

    I think a lot of the advice to writers is too generic. You wouldn’t expect a discount supermarket to use the same strategies as an artisan bakery so why lump together readers of say, romance and literary fiction?

    You have to do what feels comfortable for you, otherwise it doesn’t come across as authentic.

  8. Reblogged this on Campbells World and commented:
    Author Jo E. Pinto sent me this link and suggested I read the article. I found it to be a good one so am sending it along.
    Just let me add this word of wisdom.
    Do what feels right for you where your social media promotion is concerned. If you keep true to you you’re always going to come out right.
    This author is doing just that.

  9. Thanks for your wise words, Roz. Agreed on most points. I hate videos and newsletters, and I follow my own star.

    However, I’d rather read a blog post like this than verbal diarrhea on Facebook. Shorter FB posts accompanied by a suitable picture engage my attention. I’m also more likely to share them.

    1. I’d rather not read verbal diarrheoa either! I’d think an article like this would be too long on Facebook, but I’ll happily read longer posts on Facebook if they’re well written. Thanks for commenting, Kathy!

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