A Key Tip About Marketing Yourself and Your Work

 

Almost every day I am contacted by writers seeking advice about marketing their books. I’ve written about this topic extensively, and I often share with them links to sources that I believe are valuable.

One especially helpful source is bestselling author Kristine Kathryn Rusch, a veteran of the publishing industry who now publishes independently. She maintains an invaluable blog where she discusses all aspects of the business. Lately, she’s been writing a series on “discoverability”: on how to make your books stand out from the millions of competing titles. It’s well worth following. (Click these links for Part I; Part II; Part III; and Part IV.)

The latest, Part IV, highlights an issue I have long emphasized: the problem of what I might call “marketing mimicry.” It means trying to copy the specific marketing tactics that you see everyone else employing, or that have always been employed — and expecting them to generate exceptional sales.

For example, let’s assume that you are a really good writer of romances — perhaps even better than many successful authors in that genre. You see that every romance book cover has bare-chested males, so you copy that concept and put a bare-chested male on your own cover. You see that every other indie author is pricing her ebooks at $2.99 this month, so you copy that pricing, too. You see that a lot of other authors have produced book markers to advertise their titles, so you shell out the money to do that. You see that everyone else this past few months has been advertising on Bookbub.com, so you do that, too. Etc., etc.

And then you wonder why your sales remain disappointing.

What you don’t grasp is that mimicry is fatal to discoverability. In a competitive, overcrowded marketplace, if you do the same things that everyone else is doing, then you will become lost in the crowd, and thus invisible to your target customers. (That same principle applies to all business, entrepreneurial, and job-related competition, incidentally.)

To become “discoverable,” you must do something that makes you distinctive and unique, so that you stand out in the crowd to your target audience.

In her latest post, Kristine cites the example of a successful advertising executive-turned-author named James Patterson, and how he employed an unprecedented marketing tactic in 1993 — while he was still an unknown — in order to put himself on everyone’s radar. Patterson, who was already wealthy, shelled out big bucks to advertise on TV. Well, it seems to have worked out fairly well for him, wouldn’t you say?

Now, you and I don’t have the money to do TV ads. Nor would that tactic necessarily work well today, because the marketplace has changed. But the point is that Patterson did something unique at that time, something that made him stand out and grab the attention of his target readers. He did it because his traditional publisher wasn’t thinking creatively: They were executing for Patterson the same tired old marketing tactics that they always had used for every other author. It wasn’t working for him, so he decided to try something different.

Rusch goes on to point out that traditional publishers — and the authors under their imprimaturs — remain stuck employing copycat marketing tactics and strategies by inertia, simply because things were always done that way in the past. Their entire companies are built around these hoary old plans. Citing Patterson’s example, she says, “I’m telling you to start thinking outside the box.”

I’m telling you to start thinking outside the box.  – See more at: http://kriswrites.com/2013/12/11/the-business-rusch-the-old-ways-discoverability-part-4/#sthash.XB5DOxmP.dpuf
I’m telling you to start thinking outside the box.  – See more at: http://kriswrites.com/2013/12/11/the-business-rusch-the-old-ways-discoverability-part-4/#sthash.XB5DOxmP.dpuf

So am I. One thing I’ll tell every author who writes me for suggestions: Don’t expect the most popular marketing tactic du jour to give you exceptional results. When every author uses the same marketing tactic, adopting it won’t make you or your book stand out and become discoverable. To the contrary: It will only make you and the book fade into the background.

Instead, I counsel this:

Don’t focus too much on short-term tactics. Focus on long-term strategic differentiation. By that I mean: Find something that is essential or intrinsic to your own identity and/or to that of your work — something that is inherently different. Identify a distinction that nobody else could easily copy, or — better yet — even want to copy.

Then build your entire marketing strategy around that distinction.

It might be something unusual about you or your background, as an author in your particular genre (e.g., Dick Francis was a champion jockey who set all his mysteries in the world of horse racing). It might be something unique and memorable about your main character (think Tarzan, Sherlock, Stephanie Plum, or Jack Reacher) — or the world you’ve created (think of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Robert B. Parker’s Boston, Hugh Howey’s “silo world” in Wool, Vince Flynn’s CIA, etc.) — or even your personal writing style (remember e.e. cummings?).

Whatever it is, if you are thoughtful about selecting that key differentiating factor  — and if you focus all your marketing efforts around it — then you will begin to stand out from the pack and become “discoverable”; you will start to seize the attention of your target readership; and you will set the foundation for a viable long-term marketing strategy.

No, that one principle certainly does not constitute the entirety of effective marketing. But I think it is central to effective marketing. It’s all about branding and “positioning” yourself in the competitive marketplace. Done well, it allows even a lone author without the backing of a Big Publisher, and without a lot of money or name recognition, to compete successfully with millions of other authors for the attention of readers.

So, if you already are a skilled author, one who writes good books that would appeal to a specific readership, then your challenge is to make yourself “discoverable” to that readership by creative, strategic differentiation. If you do that, then I believe you will see much improved sales.

Meanwhile, I urge you to read successful authors like Kristine Kathryn Rusch for invaluable insights into the business end of publishing.

 

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  • Kevin Pickell

    Wow! Well said!

    • RobertBidinotto

      Thanks, Kevin. I firmly believe that awareness of that issue was what allowed me to launch HUNTER successfully, and to generate a lot of ongoing sales.

  • Kevin Pickell

    I peered into the “Young Adult” world of indie authors and got a glimpse at what they were doing. In summary…they are all doing the same thing, merely copying one another. They are all pimping each other’s books, trading favors. And they are trading five star reviews for five star reviews. The vast majority of their readership are merely the other indie authors who write similar books and who subscribe to their marketing MO, and who fall into their cultish social circle…call it a Mutual Admiration Society, if you will.. I follow one of them on facebook and every time she reads an indie YA book she posts a five star review. Good God Almighty…can every book she reads be a 5 star gem? Of course not! But she knows the other authors are watching and expecting it. And she knows they will do likewise for her books. Now I realize this might work to generate some mediocre sales within their cult-like circle, but I don’t think this method will ever allow them to break out. The way I see it, when a large group of people are all doing the same thing, it inevitably becomes self defeating. At some point you want and need the sales to reach the masses. The idea that my entire readership might only consist of “other like-minded indie authors in my genre” detests me. I would never write another novel facing that reality.

    http://www.kevinpickell.blogspot.com

    • RobertBidinotto

      Kevin, I share your frustration and irritation with that kind of short-sighted phoniness. It devalues the entire meaning of a “review” or “rating” when authors try to game the system. All that happens is that those upon whom their careers depend — browsing online customers — become jaded about all reviews, and stop paying attention to them. That means books with true appeal, which earn honest reviews, will get ignored by a lot of potential readers who may otherwise have bought them.

      There is no short-cut to success, no gimmick that can long boost, and certainly not sustain, a writer’s career. In the “Ten Marketing Strategies” article that I posted here some time ago, I emphasized that 90 percent of success comes from having a book that authentically appeals to some target audience. Marketing aims only to enhance the “discoverability” of that book by its target audience — not to hoodwink buyers into reading something they won’t like.

      Writing is a business that rewards honesty. It begins by the honesty of the author in revealing himself on the page, and going about that effectively. It continues with being honest with potential readers about what you’ve written, instead of tricking them into a purchase they may come to resent. In the end, an author’s success depends on word-of-mouth, which means: reputation. I know of some authors who have lost or tarnished theirs through such gamesmanship and deception.

      More to your point: You do not need to play such games to succeed. To the contrary: They’re counter-productive. Continue to focus on the quality of your work, then upon the kind of marketing that brings it to the attention of the right readers. That is all we can do to succeed. But in the long run, that is more than enough.

  • disqus_IEdgLGcTVF

    This was the post I needed to find.
    My stuff is weird, I mean, different to anything I see in my genre. Kevin, below, sees the same thing I do, but has analyzed it better.
    Originality used to be a sought-after quality in literature–a fresh uniqe voice. Becuase of this post. I now feel encouraged to keep putting my stuff out there. I figure my sales will get better when the right people read my books–which is starting to happen–but its been a slow burn. Plus my marketing efforts are not that great.
    But Kevin, I see so many bare chested men on books for adults, and am baffled. Maybe they are well-written but these concepts seem like a dime a dozen to me.

    Cheers!
    Alyne de Winter

    • RobertBidinotto

      Go for it, Alyne! If you tried to ride the Query-Go-Round, agents and publishers would likely try to push you to conform to “market expectations” (i.e., whatever sold recently). But if you do it on your own, you get to experiment and produce work that reflects who YOU are.

  • Yvelle

    Robert,

    I’m confused. I purchased a package from Authorhouse and I have to sell my children’s book for $15.00 or they won’t connect me to Barnes & Noble. I can buy my own ISBN and bar code but may not be able to sell to the “big fish”. I’m at a crossroad……

    • http://www.bidinotto.com bidinotto

      Yvelle, I sympathize with you. I do NOT recommend that authors utilize any of the so-called “self-publishing services” companies, including Authorhouse, which is part of the larger “Author Solutions” family of companies. Regrettably, these companies are little more than vanity presses, masquerading under the new guise of helping authors to self-publish. They grossly overcharge for services such as covers, ISBNs, uploading, proofreading, etc., when such services can be had for far less money by hiring talented freelancers. They also overpromise and underdeliver about marketing. Even if you agree to price your book at $15.00, there is absolutely no guarantee that your book will be placed in any Barnes & Noble stores.

      I don’t know how far along you are in your publishing process with them — whether they have already performed any services for you, and what the terms of your contract are, and whether you can still drop out of it and get your money back at this stage. I would try, if I were you. If not, you may have to proceed with the $15.00 price. I wish you the best in this difficult situation.

    • RobertBidinotto

      Yvelle, I sympathize with you. I do NOT recommend that authors utilize any of the so-called “self-publishing services” companies, including Authorhouse, which is part of the larger “Author Solutions” family of companies. Regrettably, these companies are little more than vanity presses, masquerading under the new guise of helping authors to self-publish. They grossly overcharge for services such as covers, ISBNs, uploading, proofreading, etc., when such services can be had for far less money by hiring talented freelancers. They also overpromise and underdeliver about marketing. Even if you agree to price your book at $15.00, there is absolutely no guarantee that your book will be placed in any Barnes & Noble stores.

      I don’t know how far along you are in your publishing process with them — whether they have already performed any services for you, and what the terms of your contract are, and whether you can still drop out of it and get your money back at this stage. I would try, if I were you. If not, you may have to proceed with the $15.00 price. I wish you the best in this difficult situation.