Nothing Works Part II: Indie/Small Press Book Marketing Assessed

This is the second article in my series on the various book marketing techniques I tried and which produced actual sales (none did) and which were worth doing anyway. (See the previous post for more on my purpose in writing these.)

Doesn’t Work #7:  Blog Interviews.

I love doing interviews about my book. I hate talking about myself in general, but I love to talk about my work and the ideas behind it.  Doing interviews is great for your writerly self-esteem because it creates the impression that people are really interested in what you have to say about your book.  I manage to maintain this illusion even when I am sent a form interview by someone who has specifically done so because she has no interest in reading my book.  Occasionally I’ve seen comments posted after interviews I’ve done, although most often these were there when the interview was combined with a giveaway and that is what you had to do to win.

In any case, I love doing interviews about my work and its themes, and who knows, maybe the six books I sold in a given quarter went to people who liked what I had to say.

The main thing about interviews is this:  I repeat (from my previous post), people who do not already know you do not care to read about you.  Unless you are a member of a boy band, no one wants to know what your favorite color is or what food you like to eat for breakfast.  The only reason anyone would read an interview with a person he has never heard of before is to learn something about how to get his own books published, or about your book’s subject, or about the creative process.  If you are to have any hope of people being engaged in what you have to say, it can’t be about you and your hobbies.  If a blogger sends you a list of questions about whether or not you have pets, try to do what the politicians do when they do not want to answer something.  Change the subject.  “You bring up an interesting point about pets, I’m glad you asked that.  It relates to a problem I had in the third chapter of the novel…”

I will not say that interviews in general fail to sell books.  When my book The Pocket Encyclopedia of Aggravation came out in September 2001 I did not expect it to sell at all coming out, as it did, in the wake of a national tragedy.  My publicists advertised my availability for interviews in Radio TV Interview Report.  I was doing as many as three radio interviews a day for about a month and the book went on to sell 85,000 copies.

If you have a large budget I would recommend Radio TV Interview Report.  I have never had enough money to buy an ad there myself.  I have been successful with radio friendly books setting up radio interviews myself, and I did even line up a couple for my novel Angel, most notably the syndicated show State of Belief.

Radio interviews, mainstream press interviews if you can get them, will help.  Blog interviews certainly do not hurt.  Internet radio interviews are usually heard by 1-2 people, including yourself, but they are fun and decent practice.

None of these things resulted in a measurable uptick in sales for the novel, but again, you never know when something you put out there will resonate with the person who will become your greatest fan.  So it’s worth doing anyway.

Doesn’t Work #8: Guest Posts

I did a fair number of guest posts when Angel first came out.  A few were on blogs with larger circulations such as The Good Man Project.  I saw absolutely no evidence that it resulted in any sales or even any increased activity among my social media followers.  I have not had an article appear on the Huffington Post, and perhaps it would make a difference if I had.   The fact that most indie books sell fewer than 100 copies tends to suggest that all of that guest posting is not resulting in many new readers.

I am old enough to remember when writers were advised to write spin off articles on their books in order to sell them (that is sell– for money) and make a living wage.   Because of this, I am wary of spending a lot of time writing articles for free.  It is time consuming, and it is writing that is not going toward something more creatively fulfilling or lucrative, such as a proposal for a new book.

I am advised constantly by bloggers and even people in the industry that the key to selling books these days is doing lots of guest posts.  I am convinced that this is one of those things that is passed along without much reflection and that it simply does not work.  It is cheaper than buying paid advertising, but only if you ignore the fact that your writing time has value.   If you are blogging already, the best way to approach guest posting is to take subjects you feel compelled to write about anyway and post them somewhere else instead of your own blog.  This has the potential to make a few people aware of you who weren’t before.  On the other hand, it could just make your own blog less interesting because all your best stuff is posted elsewhere.   Indie writers often get in a hamster wheel of writing constantly and never getting paid.  You take the advice that you need to have a compelling blog, entertaining tweets and lots of guest posts.  You produce more writing than a full time journalist of days gone by but without the salary and then you try to write books on top of that and somehow also earn a living probably with a day job.  Something is not going to be done well, and there is a decent chance it is your next book.

One reason I suspect that guest posting is not very effective is the same reason paid print ads tend to be ineffective for books.  Professional advertisers know the key to a successful campaign is repetition.  GEICO does not run one ad and hope you act immediately.  They hit you over the head with their lizard.  Most writers don’t have the money to buy an ad campaign with enough repetition to have an impact and they do not guest post on a single blog regularly enough to become familiar to that blog’s audience.

There may be a savvy way to make guest posting work and shift some units.  The way it is usually done generally does not.

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5 comments

  1. In my opinion, I think blog interviews or blog referrers are a great help. If people search your name and want to know more about you and your book, they can easily search for it online and it’s free access as well for your readers.

    A really good post though may I say 🙂 By the way, I wrote a post about my own fiction pet peeves on my blog so I hope you will read and comment with your own! http://nynyonlinex.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/fiction-pet-peeves/

    1. It doesn’t hurt. I can only say that I haven’t seen it lead to any appreciable, measurable book sales. It has to be better than not having any information at all out there, surely. It is probably the difference between the six books I sold in a quarter and the zero I would otherwise sell.

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