Photo by Mr. Serum, used with attribution. (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Several times a week, I get email solicitations for the masterclass for this, or the video conference for that. Almost all of the emails employ lots of ALL CAPS and lots (!!!!!!!) of exclamation marks and bullet points.
All in marketing-speak and all personalized with my name. They almost all start with a question.
Well, sure, who wouldn't? But here's the thing - even though the vast majority of these initial 'courses' are free, they are designed to do one thing: sell you on buying future courses and services.
Lisa! How would you like to increase your sales one hundred fold?
It's an industry, in and of itself, all couched in intensely optimistic language geared to make you fear you are missing out on the secret sauce if you don't SIGN UP NOW!!!! They use outlier case studies to make it seem that if you only follow their formula, you, too will be a superstar success.
If you're an indie author and haven't gotten any of these, I suspect you live in an internet dead zone or were smart enough to NEVER, EVER sign up for any marketing newsletters.
I have to admit to viewing some of these presentations in moments of weakness. Yes, I've also sat through timeshare pitches, though I've never been tempted to buy into one. And just like the timeshare pitches, the marketing video conferences are mostly flash and very little substance: they are selling you on your own wish fulfillment.
I've said this before and I'll repeat it now: In the world of indie publishing, there is no secret sauce.
Yes, there are some folks who have made it big, who have gone on to get publishing contracts and representation and movie deals. And those stories are real. They're just not reliably repeatable. Because if it was, EVERYONE would be repeating it. Everyone: Traditional publishers, small publishers, and indie publishers.
There. Is. No. Secret. Sauce.
Sing it with me, in three part harmony: There is no secret sauce.
I've been writing for almost 12 years. I've been publishing for over 4, with 6 novels in the marketplace. I've spent a lot of time educating myself about all aspects of the publishing world and there are 5 elements that seem to be common among successful authors.
And still, this isn't a surefire formula. It just helps stack the deck in your favor so you might have the CHANCE to succeed.
Quality means a well crafted, well edited, well produced manuscript. It doesn't mean the great American novel, but a book that delivers on what it promises to its target audience. Quality is also a promise you make to yourself and your readers to keep challenging yourself to be better.
AuthenticityCommon wisdom is that social media sells books, so we're all told to build our platforms and be everywhere, touting a consistent message. Yes, consistency is important (that's next), but not in this way. There are still writers who send autorespond messages to all new twitter followers with buy links to their books. There are still writers who only interact on threads to inject their books into the conversation. Don't do this.
It is my belief - backed by years of observation - that social media doesn't sell books, but it certainly can turn OFF potential readers. (One exception is when OTHER PEOPLE talk about your work in an authentic and enthusiastic way. That is gold. But if you do a 'tit for tat' kind of social media blitz, readers will figure it out. Don't do that, either. Just don't.)
If you like to blog, then blog, but don't expect your posts to go viral and your books to sell as a result. Even the biggies - folks like Chuck Wendig who have scads and scads of hits on his blog will be the first to tell you that traffic doesn't translate into book sales.
Same for any form of social media. Engage because you find something of value in the engagement. Otherwise, don't bother.
What I have noticed is that readers will find me on social media and seek to engage in positive ways. But only AFTER they have already read my books. Not every writer likes this, but my experience has been very positive.
ConsistencyThere is some evidence that regular book releases in recognizable genres help readers find you. There are some writers who can write fast enough to publish several books a year, like clockwork. That's beyond me, but each June for the past 3 years, I've managed to publish a book in my Halcyone Space SF series and I'm on track for releasing book 4 in June of 2017.
There are too many writers with one book in the marketplace who spend all their time and energy marketing and promoting that one book. Paid promotion (when it works at all) certainly doesn't provide an effective return on investment (oops - marketing speak! Sorry!) with only one book to sell. Find a production schedule that works for you and do your best to follow it. Even if that means you publish a novel every 5 years. Readers will wait for a good book, as long as they know it will happen.
The authors who have produced books I've loved and have raved about have created effective teams of skilled individuals around them. They have great beta readers. They hire excellent editors and cover artists and designers. They network with other authors they respect and who would appeal to their audiences so they can do authentic kinds of signal boosting.
They create a community of fellow travelers to commiserate with, encourage, and assist one another.
They understand that indie doesn't mean they have to go it alone; rather it means they are ultimately responsible for the end result. And if they don't have a particular skill set they need to professionally publish a book, they appropriately outsource it.
LuckAnd they can have all of the above going on and still not sell enough books to hit the front page on an Amazon category, or to make back their production expenses, or see their names and the names of their books talked about on twitter. That is the grim reality of being an artist of any kind.
Anyone who discounts the degree to which luck plays into the equation is probably trying to sell you something. Usually what they're selling is their sure-fire way to earn a buck. (Which they do when you buy their product. See? It works. For them.)
Yes, luck is that random factor, but here's the thing: you want to position yourself in the best possible place so that when luck strikes, you can take advantage of it. And that means all of the elements here: well written and produced books that deliver on the promises you make to the reader, an authentic presence, even if it's fairly sparse, consistent work over time, and a support network.
I've shepherded 6 novels to the marketplace. I was the beneficiary of a huge stroke of luck for 1 of them. And while I still understood that its big sales numbers were a result of serendipity, somehow, I didn't really appreciate it until the book that followed failed to do anywhere near as well.
For some time, I had convinced myself that that book had failed and I didn't understand why. Hadn't I done everything right? Hadn't I repeated everything I had done the first time, to such great effect?
That, my friends, is magical thinking. I had taken as a given that 1 success meant I had figured the formula out, even when I knew better.
There really is no secret sauce.
There is no secret sauce. Save your pennies on services and sales pitches that try to convince you otherwise. Save the time you'd spend watching what is, in essence, an infomercial. Even if it's free, it costs you your time and your energy. Save that energy for your craft.
Being a creative soul in the world is a hard road and very few are able to survive by their art alone. But it doesn't mean we're not going to try our damnedest, right?