The other day I was talking to my brother about my experience thus far with this whole self-publishing venture. Well, I say “talking to”, but it would probably be more accurately described as “jabbering at”.
See, I was excited. A couple of days earlier, To the North had received its first ever review from somebody I don’t actually know in real life. I’d logged into Goodreads to discover, rather unexpectedly, that one of my giveaway winners had given it 5 stars.
And honestly, it isn’t just about the high rating. I would have been just as stoked if he gave it 3 or 4 stars (admittedly, probably not as stoked if he gave it less than that). What really made me so excited was just that somebody outside of my immediate sphere of influence had done something to start spreading the word about the book!
That’s the heart of my marketing strategy – try to reach a few people outside of my bubble, hope that they enjoy the book enough to tell at least one person inside their bubble, and let it slowly spread from there. Patience is the name of the game.
Self-publishing is huge. There were over a million books self-published in the U.S. last year, and a huge portion of those were done as ebooks through Amazon. As such, there is an entire industry devoted to promising self-publishers fame and glory through independent book promotion. These efforts range from all-out scams to barely legitimate. Most promise reviews on book blogs in exchange for cash, claiming that these review aggregate sites have thousands of followers who rely on them to discover new books to read.
I’m skeptical, at best. I’ll admit, part of me has wondered from time to time if something like that would be worth it. I googled a few of these promotion services, perused a few threads about the process on the Kindle author boards. But I’ve found nothing to suggest that it would actually work. In fact, I strongly suspect that most of the people who follow these independent promotion sites are self-publishers themselves, who are less interested in finding other books to read than they are in promoting their own. It’s just an echo chamber.
In my opinion, there’s a far better way to do it: write good books. Write something people like, and hope they like it enough to tell somebody else about it. Traditional advertising doesn’t work for books. Unless you are a well-known author or you’re writing for a very niche market, people aren’t going to pick up your book just because they see an ad for it.
When I was talking to jabbering at my brother about this, I was through the roof excited because that first Goodreads rating was, in my eyes, the first step toward the goal I had hoped to reach by the end of the year: steady organic sales. By this, I mean people I don’t know buying the book just because they see it on Amazon or Goodreads or B&N or whatever and it looks interesting to them – and enough of them buying it that it stays near enough the top of the rankings to be visible to other passersby.
I knew strangers had copies of the book – between my Goodreads giveaway and the Kindle free days, I’ve given away about 25 or so to people I don’t know. But this Goodreads review last week was the first feedback I’d received from any of them, the first proof that someone had actually read the book – and, bonus, he liked it!
And just in the last few days, I’ve found more tiny little nuggets of happiness. Somebody on Tumblr recommended To the North to their followers in a shortlist that included some pretty amazing books. Like, they put me on a list along with William Goldman and Dostoevsky. And sure, it’s just one random person’s random Tumbl, but it’s exciting to think that somewhere in the world there’s a person who, when asked to recommend some books to read, thought to include mine.
I went into this whole self-publishing thing with the expectation that it would take at least two years before any of it really paid off, financially speaking, if at all. I’m still certain that’s the case. But two months after I released my first novel, I’m really fucking happy with what’s happened so far. I’m so glad I finally gathered the courage to just take the plunge and try this whole “writing books” thing.