What to do when book marketing doesn’t work for you

My book, Book Marketing is Dead, has been out for almost two years. In that time, it’s sold around 10,000 copies and has 140 reviews. But the two reviews most people found helpful are critical.

I understand why the normal advice is to ignore negative reviews and not respond, but I think these issues need to be discussed, because authors who can’t implement the advice I wrote in Book Marketing is Dead are the same authors having trouble with book marketing in general.

They center around two issues.
#1 Indie authors don’t like to pay for things.
#2 Indie authors follow advice and then quit if it doesn’t work for them.

In the book, I basically suggested that authors need to build author platforms and make friends, instead of being spammy and self-promotional online. I offered a lot of things you can do for free, but recommended paying for some things that are frustrating and time consuming.

Altogether, I spend a few hundred dollars launching a book, which I don’t think is an unreasonable amount of money to spend on a book you’ve poured your heart and soul into. But there are no obligatory costs. You can publish for free and market for free. It’s just that there are better uses of your time.

So a lot of people don’t like hearing my advice, if I recommend spending $15 here or $20 there. That’s fine. You don’t need to do those things. You can just writing great content (for free) and guest post it on other blogs. But most authors don’t like that idea; or they say “they tried it but it didn’t work” – because they posted on other blogs with very low traffic. One site may get 10 visitors a day, and not even people who like to read a specific genre. Other sites might get 10,000 visitors a day who love to read a certain genre. You need to figure out which is which before you submit anything.

The other thing people hate about Book Marketing is Dead is that I recommended paying for reviews. Many authors happily spend money on reviews from Foreword or Kirkus, and I simply suggested there are other, equally reputable sources, that are much cheaper. I don’t suggest paying for fake reviews you’ve written yourself, but I do think you can pay for someone’s time, if they review a review authentically. Also, I never do this myself for my own books. There are better ways to get reviews for free. But most authors don’t do that either. So their books just sit there, not selling, with no reviews.

Anyway, I understand it’s extremely unpopular and I get why people hate the idea. That’s fine. I’m probably wrong. I’m learning more about book marketing all the time too. I’ll be careful not to recommend that bit of advice in the future.

Instead I’ll probably focus more on promoting free and permafree strategies, which don’t cost anything. But… authors are skeptical of this one too; because they don’t like the idea of giving things away for free, and because “they tried it and it didn’t work” – which usually means, the put it at free when it had less than 10 reviews and didn’t promote it right. So they didn’t get many downloads.

You can always get at least 1000 downloads for any book, and often over 5,000 downloads. Unless you have an ugly cover, no reviews or a boring book description. So if a free campaign “didn’t work for you” then you have bigger issues. Book marketing strategies and hacks and secrets and shortcuts won’t fix your actual problems.

Unfortunately, most authors aren’t equipped to fix those problems themselves, without help. The first negative review on Book Marketing is Dead came from an author with a few books out – I offered to remake her covers and she changed the review from one star to three stars, and softened it a bit, which was nice of her.

The second review came from another author, and I’m going to post it here because it’s really interesting.

Good ideas that didn’t (haven’t) really work for me.

Mr. Murphy obviously has a bit more capital to invest in getting his books moving that many indie authors. Much of his strategy involves paying for someone else to do something for you. He makes good points as to why this is the preferred route to go and it makes a lot of sense. But, if you are living on a shoestring budget, much of his advice simply cannot be taken.

I was, however, able to take some of his advice. I won’t go into everything I did, but I did not pay for reviews – I already had more than the minimum he stated – but I did get a new, snazzier cover and some other things. I let the new cover run for a week. In that week, my sales dropped by half. Literally. I put the old cover back on – the one that does not pass his qualifiers – and my sales returned to the previous levels. I tracked my sales by day and the day the new cover went on until the day the old cover was restored, sales dropped 63% the day the new cover went on and the day the old cover was restored, it jumped 236%.

OK, with that being the case, why not give it 1 star? It failed, right? Simply put, I didn’t give 1 star because I think his advice might work for others. Some of it will probably work for me in the future. More importantly, the book was a bit of a paradigm shift in how I thought about indie books. It brought up things that I simply had not thought about and I’m always willing to encourage broader thoughts.

The moral of the story is that not everything will work for everyone and what works will not always work equally. It’s 99 cents (at the time of this review). Get it. Read it. Then find what works for you and what doesn’t. Just don’t go into it thinking that it is a step-by-step guide to an indie best seller. It is a guide to marketing your book – which is weird that the whole theme is marketing but he calls marketing ‘dead’. There are plenty of products that are marketed well and simply don’t meet an immediate need.

I was a little confused: basically he says, he changed the book cover according to my advice, but the new cover didn’t sell as many books, ergo I was flat out wrong. I did some research, and the only covers I could find were these. My guess is, since I say I don’t like flat covers or illustration, he switched from the purple one (which is fine) to the gey landscape one (which doesn’t work at all).

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I wish he’d emailed me and asked for feedback, and I could have saved him the trouble by telling him which cover would work better (yes, you should test them, on the other hand, I can predict which cover will sell better with 95% accuracy).

Marketing isn’t hard. You’re just doing it wrong.

I hate seeing authors struggle with book marketing, because it’s actually pretty easy to give your book the best chance of success, without spending much time or money. But most authors try the BIG things that always work once, and don’t do them well enough to see results, so they give up. Then they focus on hundreds of other little things that don’t work, when their real problem is always:

1. Lack of reviews

2. Bad cover design

3. Not a gripping teaser

4. Not driving their own new traffic by creating content that appeals to readers of the target readers.

And there are ways to test each of these to find out what your biggest problem is. But most of the time, what you really need is an expert just telling you what’s wrong and how to fix it.

That’s a problem, because – even though I’ve done free consultations for many years, I’m not going to do it anymore. Instead I’ll give all my knowledge and help away for free (way more of it than anybody else offers), but if you want my personal feedback, help or advice, you’ll have to pay for it.

At least that would be ideal. I’m too busy right now. But actually… I’ll probably still run a few crazy events and activities. Like I’ll have a day when everybody can post their websites or book covers and I’ll critique them all for free, live on air (which is always some extra free promotion and visibility for you).

I do want to help you. But there are far too many authors to help for me to be effective, so I’m trying to find better ways of helping… like the video courses I’m developing. I need to get those finished, so that you have more material to help you publish and sell more books, which means I’ll be less available than usually for the next several months.

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me
  • This was a really interesting take on your marketing book! I’ve read it and used a lot of your advice (except for paying for reviews because no) and though I still am not a best seller (lol) I like the way I market more and my books get some extra added visibility. I’ve been thinking about changing covers a lot lately for 2016 and going more scifi with my series. It’s a hard decision to make.

  • Thanks for the comment – I feel like I’m becoming more of an asshole with my posts, I’m just a little frustrated with authors who need to make changes but then make bad decisions. On reviews: basically paying for Kirkus or something and then putting the reviews in the editorial review section is not in anyway against Amazon’s policies. I don’t think that’s a good use of money, and there are better ways of getting free reviews, but if authors aren’t doing anything and have zero reviews, then they’ve got to do something to change that.

    • Derek: There’s a s**tload of urban mythology about Amazon and Reviews. Trust me, I get it all the time. “You can’t gift your book, Amazon will a) remove the review or b) take the “verified purchase” off of it.” Etc, ad nauseam. It’s endless.

      I am, in fact, thinking of taking on the issue as part of what we do–trying to de-mythologize reviews, reviewing, getting reviews, etc. The wonder of the Net is also the bane of factual data–there’s an increasing inability by people to distinguish OPINION or drivel from FACT. It hurts a lot of authors and publishers, IMHO.

      (And no…I don’t really think you’re being an asshole. But I know what years of being in this business can do to you.)

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