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How not to market

A year ago, I marketed my books everywhere - I thought. I went onto forums, I tweeted reviews and links, I did interviews, was in newspapers. I was everywhere.

Did I get sales from it? Yes, some. Has it been effective? Sometimes. But not always - because some of the approaches authors use are not just ineffective, but doing them damage.

From my experience only (and it is purely my experience - for another writer some of this might work well) these are the things which simply don't work (and which I see authors doing all the time). To cheer you up (and you'll need it), I've popped in some that do work at the bottom.

1. Joining forums* to promote your book.

*And facebook groups, and private groups. Basically anywhere people go to congregate and chat. 

Don't get me wrong. Forums are great. I have tons of support on a few, I have had people pick up and read my books and review them. That is great. That's what a forum should be for. But why did they pick up my book? They picked it up because they knew me. Some knew my flash fiction writing and were keen enough to see what I'd do with a longer piece. Some are writing friends, and we all like to support each other (and see what each other is up to.) Some are people I just engaged with who were interested enough to take it further. Some took up others' recommendations for the books. That all works.

What doesn't work is turning up at a forum, cold, and announcing you're the author of a book. Worse, posting a link to it. Writers do this all the time. Shockingly often. Frankly, it's like turning up at a party where people are having a fun, standing on a seat, cutting off all the conversation and yelling "Come, buy my book!" It doesn't work. Ditto posting links on twitter and nothing else. Or on Facebook. Or anywhere. Engagement, first and last, every time.

(It does, however, make it a little awkward joining new forums because once you say you're a writer - and I like to get it out there, as sometimes it has context to what I post - the regulars are waiting, dreading, the moment you ask them to buy your books.)

 2. Posting reviews.

I like reading good reviews of books. I like reading the thoughtful ones, the high profile ones. I even like (whisper it) when a writer is confident enough to post their bad ones and show off a good car crash (but don't, don't, don't do this if you're crushed by bad reviews. Please, don't. Ask for cake instead, and we'll all support you through it.)

I don't like seeing the same review posted fifteen times. I don't like seeing the short reviews.  ('It's great. Really enjoyed it!')

By all means, share a couple of reviews. Share the ones that make you smile, move you, or get you to hit the air with your fist and say "Nailed it!" But don't keep sharing every single one. I shared too many in the early days - my apologies to my long-suffering followers.

For Sunset over Abendau (which is getting my best reviews ever) I've shared three, I think.*

*I do like to share those that are posted on people's blogs because it brings traffic to them, and that's a good thing for their blog.

3. If you're going to share, engage me first.

I know of a writer whose book appears to be getting great reviews. It's got a number of awards (although see point 4). It sounds like it might be an interesting book (although see point 5). But the only thing this writer has ever talked about, that I can see, is their book. I know nothing about the writer. I know nothing about their personality, what they're interested in. They've shared nothing of mine, or anyone else's, back, despite some early shares by me. In short, they're promoting to a vacuum and it doesn't work.

4. Make it meaningful. Awards are great, but there are lots out there and I have no idea if your sf book was the best of the year out of 2 possible, or 200. Reviews are great, too, but I need to know the source is reliable. I follow some review sites -, nerds of a feather's blog, the Wertzone blog, various forums all come to mind - and I respect what they have to say. But when a review can be purchased, or comes from a source I can't quantify, that review gets, mostly, sadly, disregarded by me. (For me, this also includes having a Kirkus review. It was paid for. I don't see that as the same as a reader becoming enthused and talking about the book.)

5. Describe the product.

I suffer badly from this one with Inish Carraig. What the heck is it about? Belfast or aliens? What sort of book will it be? The fact I have a review calling it 'sensible in its weirdness' probably sums up the problem.* (I'm not sure I have the answer, but if anyone wants to suggest the perfect description of it, I'm open to suggestions.)

*A quick anecdote. Having written Inish Carraig, I had one of those crises of faith all writers have from time to time. This was along the lines of 'I have no imagination, everything I write is derivative'. The esteemed Anna Dickinson suggested the fact I'd written a book about aliens in Belfast rather threw my worries out of the water. Turns out, she was right - I get a lot of reviews that support her view. ('Blessed with an entirely original storyline' springs to mind.)

A reader might know about the book, and that it's getting good reviews, but they don't know if they'll actually like it. (You will. You should buy it.) That can be because it's a mix of genres, or the blurb is confusing, or just that it's something unusual in the market.

All right, all right, I've depressed you enough. Don't tweet, don't facebook, don't use reviews, don't get awards. So what do you do?

1. Shared promo. Part of selling a book is getting a buzz going, a conversation. A few weeks ago, I was tagged by another author on Facebook because our books were close to each other in the charts. We had a tongue in cheek buy mine-not theirs kind of thing (and both bought each other's, I believe), and some of our various facebook people joined in. It was an easy buzz to get going. And more fun than doing yet another tweet.

Last year, I had a world tour going on with my book. That got loads of coverage. It wasn't a selling activity, but some fun. Fun and engagement is good craic. Online book launches are fun - if I'm around and they're on, I'll often drop in.

2. Promote others. Good will comes around. Tell people about books you enjoyed - online, in the office, in your book club, wherever you like doing so. Call out for other writers. If they're up for an award, give that a tweet instead of doing another boring link to your book. If they have a great review, share that one for a change.

But not just other writers. Other mediums. Podcasting is a thankless thing to break, right up there with writing. And they're generous to writers. Share them. Share your friend's small film, their radio station, their event. No, you won't may not get any sales from that but you'll feel more connected with the community, and part of it. Long-term, that's worth more than a cold call of any sale. 

3. Face to face. Everything is online these days, and it gets tired. I like meeting people. I like meeting writers. I like them talking to me about their ideas and inspirations. I'm much more likely to buy the book when I'm engaged by them and interested than from any tweet.

4. Bookbubs etc. They do work. They get your book into the hands of readers. Some of the best call outs I've had have been on the back of someone sampling off those sort of promos.

The crucial thing is who they get your book to - readers. So much of author promotion actually goes to other writers. Now, writers are readers, mostly voracious ones. But they're only a tiny minority of the reading public. It's readers you need to reach, not writers, and sites that readers use to select books from are what is important to you.

Ditto, use Goodreads profiles and Amazon pages (mine's at the very bottom) - because readers do look at them. (Well, I do. So one reader does, for sure.) 

5. Be yourself. Being honest and open*, and not fake, is the best way I know of to engage people. If you're acerbicly funny, be acerbic and funny. Some people will dig that. Don't pretend to be breezy and fun because there will come a day when you haven't had your coffee and everything is going wrong, and you'll show your acerbic side. When that happens, all the people who followed you for being breezy, stop. They know you're a fake.

*Although, you know, remember - you're in public. So, perhaps, also be moderate - it's a professional game, after all, writing.