Not all marketing is spam (and not all spam is marketing)

Not all marketing is spam (and not all spam is marketing)

This week a few issues have brought up an issue that needs mentioning.

I think there’s a reluctance in high-brow literary circles towards money, or marketing, or sales.

Many indie authors talk about craft or quality but hate the idea of marketing their books.

“Profit” is not the intended result of writing and publishing, for many authors, even traditionally published authors.

It’s nice if it happens, but it’s not something that should be encouraged. At least not by the author.

Because self-promotion reeks of desperation.

The result, unfortunately, is that most authors don’t make a living with their writing. Recently I’ve even seen some articles written by successful, traditionally published, bestselling, award-winning authors talking about how little money they’ve actually made (a $30K advance, split up over three years, for example).

Most authors still need a real job that provides a stable income, and need to write in their spare time.

Most authors are frustrated because they know they should be writing more, but can’t because they don’t have time.

Most authors are looking for someone else to do their marketing for them, because they don’t want to do it (or feel overwhelmed by the process), and are eager to pay someone else who knows what they’re doing.


If you prefer listening to reading, watch this video.


But that doesn’t work.

It doesn’t work because most book publicists charge thousands of dollars and use old school book marketing techniques that aren’t nearly enough to actually boost sales (you can get featured press in huge newspapers and without selling more copies). The way to make a living with books these days, for most authors, is to get your book to stick on Amazon and get thousands of sales a month, and to have lots of books. It doesn’t hurt that if you self-publish you keep about 70% of the profit (you can sell 1 book for every 7 a traditionally published author sells and make the same amount of money). The way to write more books is generally to make more money so you can write full-time.

The people who actually know how to publish and market books online using “marketing hacks” and “gaming Amazon” have a huge advantage over regular authors who don’t know how to get more traffic and visibility for their book.

Which might be why people see it as dishonest or spammy.

People who haven’t read my fiction sometimes assume it can’t be any good, and that I’m only doing so well because I know how to market my books – so they think I’m cheating or I’m not a real writer (even though I’ve gotten over 600 reviews this year).

It’s true I’m doing some unusual things with my writing, and taking some unpopular risks (intentionally, not accidentally. I’m doing some unpopular things now because I know it will pay out big over the next few years). But knowing how to do things online to get more visibility for your books is not immoral.

If you’ve read Book Marketing is Dead – which is still #1 in two categories after three years – you’ll know I think the most important thing authors need to do is stop spamming and trying to get people to buy their books, and try to provide value instead. I’ve built my following over the past five years by putting out a ridiculous amount of useful, free content and resources to help indie authors.

Now that I’m writing fiction full-time, I wanted to share some of the more advanced book marketing strategies I use, so I published another book called Guerrilla Publishing, which I’m also giving away for free. This year I’m also working on some online courses to help authors build a stable, long-term author platform.

I don’t plan to offer any marketing services for authors, because the big stuff I do takes too much time (few authors could afford me) and low-cost marketing solutions don’t work that well. However recently I had an idea to buy some book review sites and use them to boost my SEO and traffic. I put together an offer to see if anybody wanted to split it with me. I tried to include as much value as possible, and I believe it’s something that can really help most authors.

Then I wrote an email and sent it to my list. Responses have been interesting.

342 visited the page, and over 100 signed up – that’s a pretty great conversion rate. I raised enough to buy the sites I wanted and I look forward to using them to promote the authors who bought in. However, given that I sent the email out to over 30,000 people, those results aren’t actually that good.

Which is why I keep telling people, I suck at sales. 

True, I did feel I got the copy writing right with this one – probably because I put it together in one night and didn’t stress about trying to sell it to people (I actually said, very clearly, that this offer wasn’t for everyone and most authors probably shouldn’t buy it). So it was kind of funny to see messages like this one on Twitter.

“The mailing list is one of the few I follow. For content, yes – but foremost to see his salesmanship. Could sell a sheep wool!”

I think that was meant as a compliment, but I definitely do not want to be seen as someone who can sell people shit they don’t need or want. If that’s the impression I’m giving, then I’m doing something very wrong. Because my brand is all about providing value and helping people.

Yes, I think creative people deserve to get paid for what they do; and yes I think learning how to run your business smarter means less time marketing or selling and more time doing your Great Work. I basically want to help authors and artists make more money so they can stress less and create more. 

“Make more, Market Less” might be my new slogan.

That process needs to begin with myself. For years I’ve been working 16 hour days. I make enough money for my wife and I to travel full-time, but our costs are actually pretty low. I’m fortunate I get to spend about 90% of my time working on my own projects, but managing my online businesses takes a lot of time and money – and many of them cost more than they make.

So here’s the challenge: as I redo my websites, funnels, products and services this year, and as I get better at selling things, how do I keep people from just seeing me as an online business/marketing guy rather than the generous, creative genius that I actually am?

  1. I’ll be doing a lot more videos this year, and the production quality will be higher. I’m an introvert so this is challenging, but I need to put myself out there and let myself be seen.
  2. I’ll be focusing on some more interesting non-fiction projects, including Paid to Create and The Creative Brain on Drugs. Now that I have a PhD in Literature, I’d like to start using it for some fascinating research books on the history of creativity and artistic production – I’ve been studying this stuff for years and am excited to share it with you. If you’ve only read my short non-fiction books on publishing or marketing, these books should seriously improve your opinion of my intellectual capabilities.
  3. I’m going to start making at least 10K a month in book sales by the end of the year. I don’t want to be someone who just talks about marketing but isn’t actually making money. You don’t need to write and sell books to know a lot about marketing, but I think especially fiction authors will see me less as an outsider, and more as a leader, if my novels consistently make money, earn high quality reviews and stick in the bestseller lists on Amazon. This should demonstrate I’m not just a marketer who is scamming Amazon, but I’m also writing quality books that readers love.


Not all spam is marketing

Recently a member of one of my Facebook groups got her account banned, because she was using a personal Facebook account for business purposes (which is against the rules). She didn’t understand why, because she was “just doing what every other authors is doing.”

Readers often ignore or forgive book spam (Buy my book for only 99cents!!! Today Only!!!) because it’s become normalized. Even though I don’t think promoting your book in Facebook groups or on Twitter actually works, most authors do it because they see everyone else doing it, and also because they have no idea what they should actually be doing.

It might be annoying, but at least it’s transparent. Who can blame an author for trying to promote their book and sell more copies – isn’t that what they should be doing?

My tactics, on the other hand, are mostly invisible. I don’t promote my books on social media. I don’t even try to sell them to the massive email list I built (I give fans my books for free). And I talk about SEO and “keyword anchor link” and things that sound technical. So people assume I’m gaming the system.


Let me explain what I actually do

Imagine a reader walks into a bookstore and is looking for a new book. Something with UFOs and spies and romance. Or something like Stephen King with robots and dinosaurs. The bookstore clerk would go back and scan all the books until they found something that fit the description. However, if they haven’t read all the books, actually they’d only be using the keywords on the cover or on the description. If the authors described the plot without mentioned those keywords people are actually looking for, their books will get skipped over.

So first, I find what keywords people actually use when they’re looking for books similar to mine, with a tool like KDPRocket. Then I rewrite my blurb and book description and try and use those words. That allows my book to be found, and also quickly informs the reader that it’s something they should read. It’s not actually that complicated, nor very fancy. I’m merely describing my book in a way that will allow it to be found. (And not in a false or manipulative way, you never want the wrong readers to buy your book, you want to screen them out so that only the readers who will actually enjoy your book buy it).


People don’t value what they don’t pay for. 

Recently in one of my Facebook groups, an author said he was looking to hire someone to do his book marketing for him. I wrote a long response about why that wasn’t a great idea, but then took a look at his Amazon page. He wasn’t using any keywords in his description, which made all of his books nearly impossible to find. So I made him a bet: I’d rewrite his book descriptions and double his sales, to prove that he doesn’t need anyone to market his books for him. He just need to write better sales copy and include terms readers are actually searching for.

This would have taken me 10 minutes. But that’s not what he wanted. He wanted to pay someone.

Previously I was charging $2500 to do a full book launch, but I don’t have time for that anymore. I *might* continue offering the low-cost marketing package I set up, because I think there’s a great deal of demand and I think I can provide better results than most people offering spammy promotions that prey on indie authors… but I might now. I’m pretty happy writing my own books and am not interested in running a book promotion business.

But I also need to be aware of what people want.

I’ve been building courses because I want to teach people to fish… but maybe the majority of authors don’t want to learn how to fish, they just want their fish handed to them and are happy to pay for it. 

My point is that… a lot of the things people consider to be ‘book marketing’ is actually annoying spam that won’t sell your book. And some things that people consider “spammy” or manipulative, like using keywords in your Amazon description, is much less spammy and actually works to attract readers. Be skeptical of marketing offers or opportunities. Focus on building your own traffic, platform and list so you don’t need to pay to access someone else’s. On the other hand, if you are going to hire someone to promote your books for you… start small and make sure you see results before you fork out a bunch of money.



1 Comment

  • Dave Chesson Posted

    I’ve always loved your approach to this….As I’ve said before, you were the first book I read on Self-publishing that I absolutely loved. Keep up the amazing work!

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