What’s all this about a book on Author Marketing?

We’ve seen the Indie Author Revolution.

Now it’s time for a new revolution: a revolution in Indie Author Marketing.

And guess what: it’s not going to be easy, or fun, or pretty. There is hope for indie authors, but you can’t be prepared unless you’re willing to swallow a big dose of reality.

You’ll find that reality in my forthcoming book, Getting to the Truth About Indie Author Marketing: A clear-eyed guide to promoting your self-pubbed book. Continue reading

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Help me pick! Which cover do you like for THIRD?

Input please please! My designer, Derek Murphy at Creative Indie Covers, has come up with two possible covers for my upcoming fantasy novel, THIRD.

Third forest

Choice no. 1

third face

Choice No. 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s my draft teaser copy:

When Lena Lundren wakes up in an unfamiliar house, all she knows, at first, is that something terrible has happened.

It’s not long before she begins to understand just how terrible. She’s been in a car accident. A woman is dead. And according William Fairburn, whose son Cole was also in the car, Lena was behind the wheel.

Unlike Lena, her family, and her lover Dylan, the Fairburns are wealthy and connected. William tells Lena that as long as she keeps quiet, he’ll protect her and Cole from the law.

But then Lena learns that the accident wasn’t an accident after all. It was an assassination.

A war has broken out.

Humans are the war’s victims — and its pawns.

And for Lena to survive, she must destroy the one thing she loves the most.

So which cover do you like? 1, 2, or “neither: back to the drawing board”?

Which cover should I use for THIRD?

View Results

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Learning from failure (indie book marketing)

There's a pattern in there, somewhere. If only we could see it ...

There’s a pattern in there, somewhere. If only we could see it …

In my last couple of posts about indie author marketing, I’ve referenced the need for data.

You need data to market. You need data to even plan how to market.

That probably sounds almost too reasonable to challenge, right?

But it also brings us to a couple more questions:

1. What data do we need, and

2. How do we make sense of it?

It’s All About the Data

The answer to the first question also sounds almost too easy, doesn’t it?

What data do we need? Why, data on how indie authors are successfully marketing their books, of course!

But is that really the best answer?

Maybe not.

The BBC published a fascinating new last week about surviving disasters. It cites the work a guy named John Leach, a researcher at the University of Portsmouth who studies how people respond when their ferry starts to take on water, or their plane crashes, or a terrorist bomb goes off in their office building.

But surprisingly, he’s not interested so much in the people who survive. He’s interested in the people who don’t.

Stories about survival often focus on the 15%, and what is so special about them that helps them stay alive. But Leach thinks this is the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking, why do so many people die when they need not, when they have the physical means to save themselves?

Huh?

This goes against everything we’re “taught” about learning, doesn’t it?

We’re taught to study success. We’re taught to seek out winners and copy them, find mentors and ask them to guide us.

And there’s a place for that.

But we also need to look at losers. We need to look at failure. We need to look at what doesn’t work.

And so often, we indie authors ignore the failures. We focus on the success stories.

Focusing exclusively on success creates problems, guys …

It creates a couple of serious problems.

First, it introduces cognitive bias — specifically, a subset of confirmation bias that’s called survivorship bias.

Author Tobias Buckell wrote a great piece on this in 2013.

It ought to be required reading for every indie author.

“The problem, right now, in eBook direct sales,” Buckell writes, “is that everyone is paying and listening to people” who have broken out. Writers who have achieved bestsellerdom.

“They’re listening to everything they say, and sifting everything they say as if it’s a formula for success.”

That ignores the vast — the overwhelming — number of indie authors who never sell more than a handful of books.

And what can we learn from them?

What have they tried that does not work?

How many times have failed authors applied the same “proven formulas” as successful authors?

We don’t know.

We. Don’t. Know.

And because we don’t know, we don’t really understand what variables are at play.

Focus on that for a moment.

Variables. Those tricky little gremlins that sneak in and try to skew every experiment ever conducted.

You have to control them if you want to understand the experiment.

But you can’t control them if you don’t know what they are.

I’ll write more about cognitive bias in a future post (or posts). But today I want to focus on the psychological consequences of falling under the sway of survivorship bias.

Don’t be hypnotized by dangerous illusions

Buckell touches on one of those consequences in his post:

Like in most cultish behavior, if you follow the rules and don’t get the results, you’re either ostracized, ignored, or it’s pretended you don’t exist. Many who don’t get the same results just shut up and go away.

When you apply some “winning formula” and it doesn’t work, you often find yourself marginalized.

And that hurts.

Now we’re all big boys and girls. And you know this as well as I do: we must grow thick skins if we’re going to survive as indie authors.

So I’m not bringing this up to whine. I’m not bringing it up so that I can decry how horribly unfair it all is.

I’m bringing it up because you and I and every other indie author out there on the long tail needs to be aware of what’s going on. We need to wake up. We need to know what we’re up against.

Which leads to the second psychological consequence of survivorship bias:

Discouragement.

You look out there and it seems like everyone else is succeeding.

And that’s a dangerous illusion.

You are a writer.

Write.

Don’t become transfixed with an illusion.

Don’t start comparing yourself to Internet spirits who seem to have achieved something that you also want.

Write.

Write.

Write.

Like This Post? Want to Stay In Touch?

Everyone who subscribes to my Getting to the Truth email list before midnight, E.S.T., on Sunday February 15 will be entered in a drawing to win a free e-copy of the book.

Subscribers will receive brief, periodic updates on the book, including links to blog posts like this one that share information I’ve dug up about indie marketing. These will be hard-hitting, extremely useful posts that you do not want to miss.

I will not share your contact information with anyone else, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Subscribe by using the form below, and please pass along this link to your indie author friends so they can participate as well.

Thanks for your interest. Thank you for your support.





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Why marketing indie books is so hard: competition, value, pricing (Part 2)

You can’t market without data.

Well, okay, you can. But you’re shooting blind. And if you’re spending money, you’re throwing it away.

There’s not a professional marketer in the world — and by professional marketer, I mean someone with education and experience in marketing, who has been hired by a bona fide company to run its marketing programs — who would dream of spending marketing budget without first validating a whole slew of assumptions.

Another word for it is metrics.

Hang out on any marketing forum for any period of time, and the conversation will turn to metrics.

When social media first became a “thing,” the marketers became obsessed with metrics. They’d ask each other all kinds of really hard questions.

  • Have you tested Facebook? Twitter? YouTube? That other social-media-platform-of-the-day?
  • What were your results? How many visitors did you get? How many clicks per visit. How many conversions per click?
  • What was your cost per click?
  • What was your cost per conversion?

Dear fellow authors: have you ever once heard any indie book marketing company talk about ANY of those things?

Bet you a steak dinner you haven’t.

Because those kinds of questions poke holes in most of the author marketing “strategies” out there. Holes big enough to heave a trad pubbed book through.

What Indie Books Are Up Against

You can’t find a solution unless you understand the problem.

So pull up a chair, because I’m about to lend you my brain so that, together, we can understand a bit more about the challenges we face when we decide we’re going to “market” our indie titles.

The way I’m going to do it is through a little thought experiment.

Put on your pretend business person hat. Pretend you were going to found a new business which would be based on an ideal product, and you were going to launch it in an ideal marketplace.

I’ll go into this in more detail in my book, Getting to the Truth About Indie Author Marketing (click for details) but here’s the gist. Here are a few characteristics that define an ideal product in an ideal market:

  • The product would have an enormous potential market.
  • It would have little-to-no competition.
  • Prospective customers would need the product. Or if they didn’t need it (as in, they die without it, like food) they want it so badly it hurts.
  • The perceived value of the product is very high.
  • The cost of producing the product is very low, relative to the price you can set for it.

Now comes the painful part.

(I’ll wait while you find the Kleenex …)

How do indie books compare to that marvelous ideal?

Answer: they don’t.

The only possible exception is the first  bullet — market size — and that comes with a few caveats.

If you’re writing genre, for example, you may be creating a product with a large potential market. Sources day that the market for romance novels is around 29 million readers, for instance.

But if you’re not, your potential market is smaller — potentially much, much smaller.

And market size hardly matters anyway, because of the other factors we’ve listed.

Competition? Hey, you know how flooded the market is. Amazon carries over 30 million book titles, guys. That’s not even a flooded market. That’s darn near a saturated market.

So what about bullet #2. Do prospective customers need books? Guess what. They don’t. They might want them — and there’s a segment of the market that wants them badly — but nobody’s gonna t die tomorrow if he/she doesn’t get his/her hands on a new book.

Perceived value? Tell you what: if the perceived value of books was high, people wouldn’t be giving them away. They wouldn’t be pricing full-length novels at 99 cents.

Which leaves us cost. I’m having a lot of fun with cost in my book! But the bottom line (har har) is that you have to look at cost in terms of cost per unit sale.

And here’s the cold truth, my fellow writer: most indie authors aren’t going to sell more than a few dozen copies of their books.

Yeah, I know, I know, e-books are forever, your title might take off someday, and so-and-so sold zillions of copies, didn’t he/she? (Don’t worry, we’ll come back to that last claim early and often in future blog posts!)

But you’re investing your time and money today.

You’re paying your bills today.

No professional marketer in his right mind would ever dare turn to his boss and say, “I know, my marketing program didn’t result in any sales this year. But not to worry! I’m sure you’ll recoup you costs sometime in the next coupla decades.”

So suppose you churn books out at lightning speed, and keep your costs to almost negligible levels.

You’ve got to clear at least $5000 per title to break even.

At least.

(I will show the math on that in a future post.)

So plug that number into your calculator, along with how you’ll price your book and your expected royalty cut. And figure out how many copies you’ll need to sell.

1500?

2500?

5000?

I’m hunting down numbers as I research my book. Numbers. And one of the numbers I’m researching is how many copies/title the average indie author sells.

Not the big guys. Not the Hugh Howies and the Amanda Hockings and the JA Konraths.

The no-names.

I have yet to find any source that puts that number at higher than a couple hundred copies.

Got that?

On average, indie authors can only expect to sell a couple hundred copies of any given book.

Have you soaked your Kleenex yet?

Look, I have a huge problem, here, and I know it.

Nobody wants to buy a book that’s a total downer.

Hunt around on Amazon for titles on how to market your indie book. You’ll find a happy place, I promise. This works! That works! Five simple steps! Seven simple steps! All you have to do is xyz!

It’s a fantasy.

And I have nothing against fantasy. In fact, I adore dreams, fantasies, imagination. I write novels because there’s almost nothing in the world that makes me feel better than conjuring a fantasy and committing it to a Word file and then sharing it with other people.

So if you want to buy into some fantasy about how easy it is to market indie books, I say: more power to you.

But speaking for myself, I’m a professional writer. I’m in this as a career, not a hobby. I’m into this indie publishing thing as a business.

Not a get-rich-quick scheme.

A business.

So I want a clear-eyed view of what I’m up against.

Won’t you join me?

Everyone who subscribes to my Getting to the Truth email list before midnight, E.S.T., on Sunday February 15 will be entered in a drawing to win a free e-copy of the book.

Subscribers will receive brief, periodic updates on the book, including links to blog posts like this one that share information I’ve dug up about indie marketing. These will be hard-hitting, extremely useful posts that you do not want to miss.

I will not share your contact information with anyone else, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Subscribe by using the form below, and please pass along this link to your indie author friends so they can participate as well.

Thanks for your interest. Thank you for your support.





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Speaking of misinformation

Quote of the day:

I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a business where there’s so much poor advice or lousy, limiting thinking than the writing business, nor so much misinformation.

–Russell Blake, novelist.

He’s writing about the myth that only “hacks” write novels quickly, but that observation could be applied to a looooot of other things as well.

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Speaking of data

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a terrific blog post up that looks at a number of publishing metrics that have been reported by industry peeps lately.

I’ve just added this line from the post to my list of favorite quotes:

There’s an awful lot of common knowledge floating around in the publishing industry, most of which is not based on any reality at all.

Yep.

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Subscribe to my email list for chance to win e-copy of “Getting to the Truth About Indie Author Marketing”

For Indie Authors:

Today marks the launch of my first promotion to raise awareness about my upcoming book, Getting to the Truth About Indie Author Marketing: A clear-eyed guide to promoting your self-pubbed book.

Getting to the Truth will be unlike any other indie publishing guidebook out there.

It will help you come to an honest understanding of the factors you face when you try to market your indie title.

It will look at data — or the lack of it.

It will shine a spotlight on author marketing services, so you know when to spend your money and when to keep it in your pocket.

There’s a longer description here.

The tentative publication date is on or before May 1, 2015. (I’ll firm up the date as I get closer.)

Along with writing the book, I’m also working to raise awareness about it. To that end, here’s my first promotion:

Everyone who subscribes to my Getting to the Truth email list before midnight, E.S.T., on  Sunday February 15 will be entered in a drawing to win a free e-copy of the book.

Subscribers will receive brief, periodic updates on the book, including links to blog posts like this one that share information I’ve dug up about indie marketing. These will be hard-hitting, extremely useful posts that you do not want to miss.

I will not share your contact information with anyone else, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Subscribe by using the form below, and please pass along this link to your indie author friends so they can participate as well.

Thanks for your interest and support!





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Why Marketing Indie Books is SO Hard (Part 1)

Getting to the Truth about Indie Author Marketing, by Kirsten Mortensen

Getting to the Truth About Indie Author Marketing: A clear-eyed guide to promoting your self-pubbed book

As a fellow writer, I’m sure you share my fascination with the trickiness of the human mind.

It is, after all, one of the primary sources for conflict in fiction. Pick up any decent book or article on the craft of fiction, and you’ll soon find yourself reading about character motivation: what your characters want or desire.

“Desire drives the action,” notes novelist Carol Edgarian. “It is what makes characters real.”

But characters’ desire is only half the equation. Their desires must also be thwarted.

And very often, the thwarting comes not from external factors but from internal ones. Characters’ desires are thwarted because of their internal flaws and mistakes. Characters become their own worst enemies.

We writers are also, often, our own worst enemies

One of the most fascinating internal character flaws, in my opinion, is what author mentor K.M. Weiland calls “The Lie Your Character Believes.”

A character realizes he has a problem in his life. What he doesn’t realize, subconsciously or otherwise, is the true solution to his problem.

He thinks that if he can just have what he wants, all will be well.

In the the great English novel Middlemarch George Eliot follows a number of characters who are their own worst enemies, because they’re unable to see past the fantasies they’ve erected in their thinking. Their fantasies obscure reality.

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

900 pages later, and she finally realizes it was Rhett all along.

Dorothea, for example, believes that marrying Edward Casaubon will fulfill her deepest desire. It will allow her to align herself with a cause that is larger than herself, that will make a mark on the world. Throughout the courtship period of the relationship, she builds a fantasy in which Casaubon is a man of extraordinary gifts, destined to publish a great scholarly work, The Key to All Mythologies.

Marrying Casaubon is what Dorothea thinks she wants.

But within a few weeks of being married to the man, she begins to realize she’s completely mistaken about her husband’s greatness and destiny. Much of the novel explores the sorrowful consequences of that mistake.

There are a zillion other examples in both literary and genre fiction. Think Scarlett O’Hara’s fantasy about Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind, for example. She’s so committed to that fantasy that she fails to understand her true love is right there under her nose. A tragedy for the ages!

But here’s the thing: it’s not just our characters who struggle with this.

All humans do.

Including writers.

We think we know what is “real,” but we don’t.

In Getting to the Truth About Indie Author Marketing, one of the topics I explore is how difficult it is for we writers to really know what author marketing tactics work.

This is hugely important, because if you don’t really know what works, and what doesn’t work, you’re guessing.

You’re gambling.

And if you’re gambling with your money, chances are you’re going to get burned.

One problem is lack of data.

Professional marketers don’t make uninformed bets.

They make bets that are based on years’ of experience — and on DATA.

We indie authors don’t have data.

But we fool ourselves into thinking we do.

We think that by reading what other authors have done, we’re getting a true picture of how to market our titles.

Okay.

I’m going to be completely blunt here.

That’s a fantasy.

No matter how much time you — as an individual — invest in gathering information about how to market your indie book, you can’t begin to grasp the entire industry. You can’t begin to see the “big picture” information about what authors are doing that works, and what authors are doing that doesn’t work.

Think about it. There are some 300,000 indie titles published every year. In some cases, authors are publishing multiple titles, but even if we account for that, there are hundreds of thousands of indie authors out there.

You could read ten or 20 or 50 or 100 case studies about those authors, and what they’ve done to market their books.

You still wouldn’t have a representative sample of the industry from which you could draw any meaningful conclusions.

There’s a second factor as well: the information you do gather is almost certainly dated.

This industry moves at lightning speed. Factors that influence the effectiveness of specific marketing tactics change overnight. (Just look at the way Amazon’s introduction of Kindle Unlimited roiled the status quo for many authors.)

Third factor: there are so many indie authors out there trying to market their books, that if anyone gets a clever new idea that proves successful, within a matter of weeks thousands of other authors are doing the exact same thing. By the time you tumble to the idea, the novelty has worn off. Readers have tuned it out.

(Blog tours probably fall into this category; I’ll be including a chapter on blog tours in my book, and will write more about my research on blog tours in a future post.)

Last but not least, there’s the issue of cognitive bias. I’ll be exploring that in more depth in a future post, so be sure to come back, but in a nutshell: the human mind is wired in a way that makes it hard to make sense of data, even when we do have access to it.

So Is There Any Hope?

Actually, yes, there is.

However, making money at indie publishing is FAR from “a sure thing,” and if you think it is, odds are you’re going to be disappointed.

What we writers need to do is to approach marketing our books the way experienced, professional marketers approach their consumer products challenges.

We need to use data. We need to cultivate expertise in the principles of marketing so that we don’t so easily jump to erroneous conclusions. And we need to be honest with ourselves.

We need to be clear-eyed about what bets make sense, and what bets are just a waste of money.

More Coming!

Interested in staying in touch with what I post here? Want to know when Getting to the Truth About Indie Author Marketing will be available for sale? Please subscribe to my newsletter:





Have You Had an Experience with Author Marketing That You’d Like to Share?

I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to either leave a comment or click here to contact me using the form on my About page. Anyone who’s contribution is used in the book will receive a free e-copy on publication. (And yes, you can remain anonymous if you like.)

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Calling Indie Authors: Have you been disappointed by an “author marketing service”?

The hypothesis:

These waters are suddenly FULL of sharks.

Well hello, my pretty! Would you like to help me market your book?

Well hello, my pretty! Would you like to help me market your book?

I self-pubbed my first novel, When Libby Met the Fairies, in 2011 — early enough to catch the first happy wave of indie authoring. I didn’t do a lot of marketing. I didn’t have to. I took advantage of Amazon’s KDP Select free days. I listed that book as free. And then I publicized the free days by submitting the information to maybe a dozen or so sites that list free books.

I got over 20,000 downloads.

I might have paid a few dollars here and there for some of the listings, but for the most part, it cost me nothing out of pocket.

Since then, I’ve published three more novels. And like all indie-authors, I’ve watched our little industry change. You know the drill, I’m sure! The market is flooded with indie titles. Traditional publishers are starting to compete with indies on price. Amazon has made big changes to KDP, including the introduction of Kindle Unlimited.

It’s getting harder — WAY harder — to get noticed.

But there’s been another change, as well.

These waters are filling with sharks — and they smell blood.

They smell the blood we authors shed, mingled with our tears, as we write our books and then try to get someone, anyone, to read them.

You’ve seen them, I’m sure. Tweeting services. Advertising services. Blog tour organizers. Promote your book this way, promote your book that way.

Read the fine print, and they all have the same disclaimer. No guarantees! Results may vary! Don’t blame us if you use our services and don’t sell any books!

Well guess what, dear author.

They’re rip-off artists — and YOU are their mark.

And, as you might be able to tell from the tone of this post, I am extremely PO’d about it.

So I’ve decided to write about it.

I’ve decided to write about it long, and hard, and often.

But I need your help.

I’m SURE there are “author marketing services” out there that are honest, and legitimate, and actually deliver measurable results.

But the vast majority are a complete waste of money.

Let’s band together to protect each other from the sharks.

Reach out to me. You don’t have to use your real name. You don’t have to name the service that disappointed you — or outright ripped you off — if you don’t want to. (And in fact, please do NOT mention a service by name in the comments, for now.)

I’m not interested in “outing” specific companies or services at this time.

What I do want is to talk to other authors.

I want to deepen my understanding of what authors experience, today, when they hire someone else to help them with marketing.

As I understand your experiences more fully, I’ll report back what I’ve learned, here, in this blog. And then, when I’ve got enough, I’m going to compile it as a handbook for authors.

Together, we can fight back.

Please share your experiences with me by emailing me at kirsten AT kirstenmortensen DOT com, or use the contact form on my About page, or leave a comment.

Everyone who contributes to this project will receive a free e-copy of the handbook when it’s published.

Thank you!!!!

Posted in author marketing services, Getting to the Truth About Indie Author Marketingl: a clear-eyed guide to "author marketing services", Writing | Tagged | 8 Comments

We have a winner!

Congratulations to Leslie F., winner of the 2014 Holiday Book Giveaway!

Many thanks to all who entered. I’ll be sending out an email to you within the next day or so — and, if you subscribed to my newsletter, it will include a little gift from me as well :)

Posted in Writing | 2 Comments