The Flash-in- the-Pan Nature of Online Marketing

RWchat book promo marketing graphic#RWchat this month is all about book marketing. This week’s guest post comes to us from RWA-NYC president Kate McMurray, author of “There Has to Be a Reason.”


One of the particular challenges of publishing in These Modern Times is that everything changes so fast. We as writers have to be on our toes, because what worked well even just six months ago may not work now.


For example, something magic was happening in 2012, and savvy authors were beginning to master self-publishing. It was possible to make six figures just by uploading a book. But then everyone got on the bandwagon, the market became glutted, Amazon’s algorithms changed, and now it’s still possible to do very well with self-publishing, but it’s much harder. (Success stories are more rare. I bet I could count the number of self-pub authors still pulling in six figures on one hand.)


Or, putting a story in one of those 99-cent box sets used to be an automatic ticket to a bestseller list and lots of exposure, especially if a big name headlined the set, but those get many fewer sales now. (Not to mention, the New York Times no longer has an ebook list.)


For me personally, things like Facebook ads used to be a slam dunk marketing decision. They’re inexpensive, they got lots of clickthroughs, there were demonstrable increases in sales from them. But the last Facebook ad I put up, this past March, did very little for me.


If there were a magic elixir we could drink to become better at book marketing, we’d all be millionaires, but the reality is that a lot of us are basically just throwing spaghetti at a wall. We all look around to see what other authors are doing, or we read articles about what works, and because we’re all sharing the same online spaces, when something succeeds, everyone rushes to do the same thing. Of course, this means that the thing everyone is doing is no longer eye-catching or innovative.


I don’t say all this to be discouraging, but more to help make authors aware that what worked marketing-wise for their last book may not (and probably won’t) work for their next book. (And now you’re all throwing your hands up in the air like, “Well what am I supposed to do now?”)


I am by no means a book marketing expert, but I can tell you this. Some things are working well right now. The number of reviews you have affects your placement in the Amazon rankings, but who knows if that will be true in six months. Though they’re expensive, BookBub promotions can spur a lot of sales (and you’ll note I said BookBub, not “services like BookBub”), but something new may usurp it by 2018.  


However, some marketing techniques are evergreen. Facetime with readers at cons, signings, and readings is still valuable. Word of mouth is king, so facilitating getting books into the hands of reviewers and readers—ARCs, free books, 99c sales—can still have a great effect, especially if you have a backlist. Email newsletters send news about your new projects directly into the inboxes of your fans.


And keep in mind that a writing career is a business. Writing is an expression, an art, absolutely. But a writing career requires some business savvy. So be creative! Try new things! (And if anyone is like, “You must do X, Y, and Z to be successful!” back away, for they are a snake oil salesman.)


But I can give some general advice. Use analytics to track what’s working (and where you’re wasting your time). Cultivate genuine interactions, both online and in person, with your readers, because readers will respond to the parts of your personality that you let show as much as they do to your books. I know you are going to roll your eyes at me, but have an understanding of your brand as you strategize for how to market your books, and be consistent with it. (And, honestly? Having a handle on your brand takes some of the guesswork out of the equation. Otherwise you are just throwing spaghetti at the wall.) And do your research; read books on marketing, take classes, absorb as much knowledge as you can about what has worked in the past and adjust accordingly. Be open to and aware of the changes in the market.


Thanks, Kate! Join us for a chat on advance reader copies and reviews this coming Sunday, May 21, at 7pmEST/4pm PST.

RWchat 5-21-17


erinKate McMurray writes smart romantic fiction. She likes creating stories that are brainy, funny, and of course sexy, with regular guy characters and urban sensibilities. She advocates for romance stories by and for everyone. When she’s not writing, she edits textbooks, watches baseball, plays violin, crafts things out of yarn, and wears a lot of cute dresses. She’s active in Romance Writers of America, serving for two years on the board of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter, and three—including two as president—on the board of the New York City chapter. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with two cats and too many books.


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