Monday, March 9, 2015

Rolling a Snowball Uphill: My Theory on Book Marketing

by Shannon Baker

Happy Book Birthday to Tattered Legacy whose official release date was yesterday. This is the third book in the Nora Abbott series and my fourth published book. AND I KNOW NOTHING. (Raise your hand if you added, “Jon Snow.”)

I am a marketing novice, fumbling around, making mistakes, missing opportunities. But here’s the thing, I knew less than nothing before I started out. By the time my first book came out in 2010, I’d been an active member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers for so long I think they called me Granny Shanny behind my back. I was published with a nano press, the puppy mill of presses, and knew I was on my own.
I’d heard about promotion and had taken notes in a zillion (give or take a few) workshops. So I sent out press releases and pleas for reviews. I think the only reviewer that bit was the famed Harriot Klausner (is she still around?) and man, she reviewed everyone.

When the first of the Nora books hit the shelves, I was smack in the middle of a new job. Midnight Ink got it reviewed with the big guys and they had distribution, so I sent out some emails, did one book launch signing, and signed up for a few conferences. I couldn’t see that my efforts made any great difference in sales. But I had a whale of a great time at conferences meeting other writers, hearing what they were up to, both in the writing and marketing side.

One marketing expert told me not to waste my money on conferences. They don’t sell books. But for me, conferences are fuel. I love writers and getting to hang out with them for several days in a row is heaven. I never counted conferences as a marketing tool, that was “me” time for which I must carry around the attendant guilt.

But over and over I was getting the defeating message that all efforts were futile. Blog tours didn’t work. Book signings were a waste of time. I knew from personal experience that press releases were like blowing dandelion seeds into the wind. In the meantime, life threw me for a slight loop-de-loop and when Broken Trust came out last March, I let the defeatists win me over.

Why bother? I didn’t set up one single launch event. I can’t remember if I visited any blogs. I think I probably posted on Facebook a time or two. I threw up my hands and cried uncle. I still went to the conferences, not believing they were doing much for my career, but because they were so much fun.
I’m not sure exactly what happened to smack me upside the head and pull me out of that sad, dark place. It could have been that a bestselling writer, one I’d met at these “fun” conferences, offered to read a the first few chapters and synopsis of a new book I was working on and praised it. Or maybe because my editor loved the book I’d just turned in and said it was the best so far. It could be a nomination for an affirming award or maybe it was that winter finally pulled down the curtain and spring bloomed bright and warm (no small consideration). Whatever the cause, the effect was me emerging from my stupor to start paying attention to marketing.

A friend prodded me with Guerrilla Marketing’s tip to do five things every day, even if they’re small. I got a few bits of SWAG, I drew up a marketing plan for Tattered Legacy, broke it down by month, put specific tasks with completion dates…just like a real business.

I had no expectations for this launch. My goal was to do some things that might help but that I would enjoy. I wanted it to be a celebration of publishing this story that I am proud to have written.

Fellow Inkers Cricket McRae and Mark Stevens and me signing at B&N Loveland March 7 

Here’s what surprised me: I decided to plan a blog tour and thought of the most popular sites I knew. It turns out, these conferences I’d felt guilty about spending money on, had presented an opportunity to get to know lots of people. And some of them had popular blogs and readily agreed to host me.

I set up some book signings, again, just for fun. The first one out of the chute, The Bull Bash in Valentine, Nebraska on Valentine’s Day (MI did me the great favor of printing early enough to have books) was a bigger success than I could have imagined. I’ve done a half dozen of the blog stops and they’ve been fun. I sent out a boat-load of press releases and, gasp, gotten about a 30% response rate.

I can’t tell you if any of this will net sales. But I can tell you this, even though it’s a ton more work than not doing anything, it’s way more fun than doing nothing. I am determined to figure out Twitter. So far, I am half-assed with it because I just don’t get how it works. I’m building my email list and even sent out my first newsletter (which isn’t going to be a newsletter but sort of an announcement thing every now and then).

I’m a total marketing novice but I’m starting to see that hardly anyone starts out on top. It’s a growth  process. Some writers take to it naturally and they shoot up. Some of us are slow starters with inching progress, but everyone grows with one reader at a time. Since I normally spend the bulk of my self-esteem energy looking at what I haven’t accomplished or comparing myself to super stars and falling short, it surprised me one day to realize I have made progress. I don’t have fans sending me daily emails, but some people I don’t know have read my books and bought more.

I’m going to end with advice I’ve heard over and over and am only now believing. You can’t do it all so pick a few things you enjoy. Do those. You might not see a big impact but keep doing it. I am convinced that marketing is like rolling a snowball uphill. It’s work and you have to keep pushing but eventually your results will grow exponentially. I’m at the base of the hill so those of you at the top who can let it roll down the other side without effort, do not put a blow torch to my theory.

Today, in celebration of Tattered Legacy hitting the shelves, I’m guest blogging at Dru’s Book Musings and Get Lost in a Story, both with giveaways. And if you don’t win there, pop over to Goodreads and sign up for a giveaway there, too. 


Tracy Weber said...

CONGRATULATIONS! All this work will inevitably pay off. In fact, I think it already has!

Keith Raffel said...

Go get 'em, Tiger!

Unknown said...

Congrats & don't give up! I don't think there's a sure fire mktg way, some traditionally published authors still do "manual" mktg despite having big mktg machines on their corner. Word of mouth is the best way to go Imo.