I’ve been trying to catch up on questions people sent in about writing and publishing. For example, one writer wants to know, “Do I need both a website AND a blog? Or will just a website do?”
That’s like asking, “Do I need to wear black to the meeting, or is color okay?” Depends on the meeting. For an author, it depends on your book and your audience. If you’re an author covering a current topic, you probably need to have a blog where you’re sharing cutting-edge information. If you’re a novelist who just wants readers to get to know you, maybe a basic website is enough. Think of the purpose of each — a site is to introduce you and share basic information; a blog is to interact with others. So there’s a lesson here: The growth of the web offers you the chance to market your self and your book without having to rely on the old notions of “platform” — you don’t have to have a syndicated radio show, host a television talk show, or have a huge speaking schedule. Relying on social media can help you build a platform by creating a big network of online friends.
I’d love to hear from some authors on this topic… Do you have a blog as well as a website? Which has proven most helpful to you in promoting your books?
Another author wrote this: “Is it important for an author to be involved in Facebook and Twitter? I HATE Twitter!
Yeah, I know what you mean. I’ve rolled my eyes too many time at tweets from people telling me “We had fish for dinner!” and “Petey got a new haircut.” What you’re trying to do with social media is to expand your network of friends, so you want your interactions to be informative, interesting, and, probably, thought-provoking. But let’s face it, we talk with friends about dinners and haircuts. So just acknowledge the dumb stuff comes with the territory. A better way to think about Twitter is that you’re trying to discover people who share your interests, so that you can get to know them, interact with them, and, eventually, talk with them about your book. That’s why I always say to authors they need to offer strong content on their blogs. I don’t care if you want to tell me about your new shoes, but eventually share something of value on the topic. Remember, the purpose of effective marketing is not just to “let people know I have a book out,” but to move people to action and get them to buy your book.
I had several writers ask, “Are book trailers helpful for nonfiction, or just for fiction titles?”
I would think they’d be helpful for fiction or nonfiction, if they were done well. [Finally! A short answer!] My problem: Many are awful.
And that leads to this question, which also came in various versions from several people: “I keep hearing about book trailers as marketing tools. I’ve watched a few, but most have been so corny they did NOT encourage me to read the book. In your opinion, how successful are book trailers for marketing books?”
To be honest, the majority of book trailers I’ve seen are boring and amateurish. They are usually based on “image” advertising rather than “decision” advertising — that is, they are trying to help establish a brand, rather than urging readers to buy a copy of the book. That’s an expensive way to market, and it relies on repeated exposures, which most authors aren’t going to get. In my view, too many book trailers are put together by people who watch too much TV, so they look like mini-TV commercials, and I’d rather chew an entire roll of tin foil than watch more dopey TV commercials. So I haven’t been a fan. BUT I think the concept is sound, if the creators would put together something that touched my emotions and moved me to a decision. A good trailer either needs to give me a reason to purchase a book right now (“You need to lose ten pounds — this book will help you do that in the next sixty days”), or it needs to be funny or heartbreaking or reminiscent or memorable in some way, so that it gets onto YouTube and goes viral. If everybody is watching it and enjoying the story, then you’d have a book trailer that actually helped your title. Again, having a clear plan for what you want to accomplish with your trailer is key. And in my experience, most book trailers don’t work because they will never be seen by readers.
Finally, I had an experienced author send me this: “A new study says that books from traditional publishers declined by 3% last year, while self-published digital titles jumped something like 132%. Are books going the way of music, with the creators demanding speedier turnaround times, more control, and more per-unit profits?”
Yeah, I think we all know that’s exactly the direction we’re heading (though I believe the digital numbers have been up artificially high because most authors have suddenly discovered how to use ebook technology). Why are we going that way? Because there’s so much more money to be made self-publishing. Look at the numbers — a $22 hardcover will make the author a bit more than two bucks per book through a regular, royalty-paying publisher. But that same $22 hardcover that is self-published and sold as print-on-demand book directly from the author will earn him somewhere between ten and fifteen dollars per book, and the ebook that sells for ten bucks will earn the author seven dollars. That’s a big difference… but only to an author who has a sales channel. If you can’t actually market and sell your book, you make nothing with either system. (Remember, a few years ago Stephen King tried direct-selling a novel by emailing it chapter-by-chapter to subscribers. It didn’t do much, but King was probably just ahead of his time.) The idea of creating your own book and selling it directly to consumers is enticing to authors looking to make more money. The problem is that many authors don’t know how to market, or don’t have a big enough following to actually sell enough copies of the book for it to make big money. So the distribution offered by traditional publishers, as well as the marketing and sales know-how they bring to the process, will continue to make a difference for writers. Are we seeing some authors self-publish and make real money? Sure we are, and I’m all for it. But check the numbers — for every author who self-publishes and makes a good chunk of change, there’s a huge pool of other authors who self-pubbed and made nothing.
I’m not at all suggesting authors should therefore stay away from self-publishing. In fact, I think authors need to consider having a combination of self-publshed and traditionally-published titles in order to make a living. I’m just not buying into the whole “you can self-publish your books and make a million dollar” line of bull that’s being pushed by some people on the web. They sound like Amway salesmen of the 80’s — “Just sign up, then sign up your friends, then they’ll sign up more friends, and soon the money will be rolling in…” The age of multi-level marketing came and went, and it became clear there was no miracle to making money — good salespeople who had good products frequently made money, while the vast majority who participated did not. We’re in the same spot with ebooks right now.
But I posted this question because the author linked book publishing to the music industry, and that offers a cautionary tale. Everyone became their own music producer, prices fell, the technology changed, a bunch of valuable property was given away for nothing, and soon the only people making a living at music were the mega-stars who could count on going on tour and selling a lot of expensive tickets. Book publishers have watched that and tried to learn lessons from the failures of the music industry… Lessons such as “quality still matters” and “use freebies to draw in readers but don’t give away all your content” and “stay up on technology” and “learn to engage readers personally: and maintain a plan for marketing and selling products so that you make money.” That’s where the future is taking us.