There exists a very gray space for “indie” authors. Acting as your own advocate, you must find the sweet spot between advertising your book and bothering your potential readers. I have spent a great deal of time recently watching other “indie” authors in a variety of locations to get a better idea of how to find this balance while expanding readership. Here are some observations I’ve made along the way. What works and what crosses over that line.
Misleading Key Word or Hashtag
I learned my lesson about this one a while ago. I wrote a blog post during the hight of my seizure period in which I complained about “A Fucking Wall of Secretaries” in which I complained about running into officious bureaucrats and busybodies that were universally in my way while I struggled to find help, a diagnosis, and even (a hope in vain) a cure. In 2012, it was the single most searched on post of mine, but not because the rest of the world was running into a similar wall of phone-answering boobs. Rather, some of you watch porn and you search on the terms “Fucking” and “Secretaries” … a lot.
I’ve noticed that there are a number of “indies” out there seeking to capitalize on this phenomenon. About once a day I see this one.
The problem with this strategy is that if you happen to attract Anthony Weiner with this bait, he is unlikely to actually bite your hook. You won’t sell any books to someone searching for “#sex” unless you happen to write erotic graphic novels.
One Book Wonder
In a recent industry guide I picked up, “Write, Publish, Repeat“, the authors, Sean and Johnny, spend the better part of a chapter building an illustrative narrative about anyone’s experience going into an old fashioned book store (the kind with walls and shelves). Within the narrative, they describe the several layers of book marketing that happen for someone searching for their next read. You walk through the door and there will be some choices, usually best sellers, sitting on a table right in your path. They are there because someone, the publishers and their authors, want you to see those first.
Maybe there’s nothing there for you, so you wander over to your favorite section. Genre fiction. Along the shelves you’ll notice that there are a few books with their covers out, but most are only spine out. Maybe you’re interested in a particular author so you side-step down the aisle. Maybe you’re looking for the next in a particular saga. However, in this “indie” marketing mistake, none of that matters because you’re actually experiencing a hallucination. The hallucination is an after effect of the book some overzealous author fired from a cannon at your head when you first got out of your car in the parking lot of your favorite Barnes & Noble.
Yep, there are people out there that write. And then, once the writing is done, they try to sell the crap out of that book. They load it up in their social media shot guns, yell “pull” at the top of their lungs, close their eyes, and pull the trigger. Over and over and over again.
And frankly this sort of self-promotion is annoying. Regardless of the quality or price of your book, the only thing it does is turn people off. It is like trying to attract flies with highly concentrated sulfuric acid or win friends by punching strangers square in the mouth.
And of course I see “indie” authors making this mistake on Twitter all the time too. It has gotten to the point that as I scroll my feed I simply blank them out, already knowing what they’re going to say. I know, when you are the only one at the helm of your little writing and publication company, it can be very tempting to imagine that the aggressive sell might work. You know your book is *that* awesome, if everyone would just cough up the equivalent of half a cup of coffee they too could know the wonders of your imagination.
But folks — and I’m reminding myself right here, right now — if you want your reader’s love and affection, you’ve got to take your time. You’ve got to seduce them. You’ve got to romance them in 140 characters or less. You gotta, gotta, gotta show a lil tenderness. Just try, try a little tenderness, yeah yeah yeah.
So you have worked hard. You have written your book or your trilogy or whatever. And you have enough in the way of connections and leverage that as soon as your magnum opus hits the shelves, you have already hit several best seller lists and you’re making plans to attend “WorldCon Where Ever” because there will be a little metal rocket waiting for you when you arrive. And hey, good on ya! Because that sort of fairy tale actually happens so infrequently that it is phenomenal if only for its rarity.
But maybe your modicum of success goes to your head. Maybe you never were a very nice or considerate person in the first place. Or perhaps you are too privileged to recognize what a good thing you have. It is a rare thing when authors actively scare away their fans à la Orson Scott Card style. Most of us will just lose our enthusiasts because we simply fail to recognize that they exist.
This marketing failure is best illustrated by its negative. There are a few very notable examples of what I mean. Near the top of that list are folks like Hugh Howey and John Scalzi. These guys both have earned enviable positions within the publishing world. Yet, both of them have a well oiled socialization mechanism that does two things for them.
First, it keeps them human. Your fans really like to know that you do the same things that they do every day. If they’re like me, if they aspire to your level of success within this business, they’ll want to know the details of each little fuck up or struggle. And you can tell them about these things via your blog, or Twitter, or whatever. They’ll listen.
But with guys like this, who annually receive millions of hits on their sites, it is unlikely you’ll ever get a reply email. Yet it still happens. Even these guys at the top of the game will take a moment to listen to their fans, to their followers. And I think, in some way, they gain something from this interaction, although I suppose no one really expects anything from them.
But then there are guys like Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, and Michael Bunker who are all working very hard at their craft, but who have more nominations than awards. These three examples have built a large and flourishing fan base, but routinely find time to reply to their email, hold twitter conversations with strangers, and are quick to provide a word of encouragement or even publicly acknowledge someone else’s work. That my friends is the stuff of greatness.
Incidentally, if I didn’t mention you here, please don’t take it personally. It is New Year’s Eve and I have had a couple glasses of wine, so much of this is simply coming off the top. I know these authors perhaps better than others (because I’m a fan) and so its easy for me to talk up, not only their work, but also their contributions to other writers. This message is for those of you who *DO* acknowledge their readers, keep up the good work.
Finally, if you’re reading this and wondering “Where are all my readers going/gone?” then you may be illustrating the consequences of not taking care of your readers. Think back: have you ignored someone because it just seemed like too much time or effort to respond? Get followed on Twitter, but refuse to follow back? How about your blog? Do you have followers that you refuse to read? They are all little slights, but even well beyond high school ignoring someone who is just trying to, at the very least, be friendly with you is a fine way to create a foe. They wont forget the slight.
Yes, here is the resolution part. Having thought about these things, in apparently great detail, I also resolve to do my best to remember them. The difficult part of this whole thing for me is the business side of this small business. I can write my fingers off day after day, but ultimately that’s just step one. After the editing and copy work, comes the selling of the books and stories. My intention is to build a loyal if small fan base, and write a mountain of stories. I don’t want to cross that line with any of you, straying into the territory of annoying author/self-publisher, but I sure would love to see more of you reading the stories I have to tell.