You may remember a few weeks ago I published an infographic designed to help you wade through the quagmire of getting started with marketing your books.
In case you didn’t spot it first time around, here it is again:
The first question on that flowchart is this:
How many books have you written?
If you’ve written just one, the flowchart tells you to start work on the next book, while you create your author website and start building a presence on social media: in other words, while you build your author platform.
(Yeah, I know: author platform. Yukky marketing speak. But it’s a useful term, and an important thing to start building up in the background.)
If you’ve written two or more books, my advice is to start marketing them using paid ads, as long as they’ve been properly edited and have a professional cover that’s on-genre and is going to help you sell the book (I’ll come to these issues in future posts).
I have to admit that when I ran this flowchart past some of my indie author buddies (yes, I have friends who aren’t cats), there was some disagreement on the ‘get on with writing the next book’ advice. One (very experienced, very successful, very talented) author said he believed you should start marketing with your first book, as then you learn marketing at the same time as you develop your writing chops.
He has a point.
But I worry that marketing can be a demoralizing and potentially expensive business, especially if that marketing involves advertising. And in the current publishing industry, the only way to get sales of any volume is through advertising.
Sure, other methods will help: websites, mailing lists, giveaways, newsletter swaps etc. But the reality is that in 2019, you have to advertise to get your books noticed.
I think you should wait to do this until you’ve written two or more books. And that’s for two reasons:
- Writing the second book will make you a much, much better writer.
- Having two books will make it easier to run profitable ads, especially if they are in a series or in the same genre.
I published my first book in January 2018. I didn’t do a huge amount of marketing for it because deep down in my heart of hearts, I knew it wasn’t really as good as it could be. I struggled to get reviews for it. Sales were lacklustre.
I then published a trilogy, beginning with a book I’d been working on for 15 years, and which I’d worked damn hard to improve over those years. My experience of publishing that first book (which wasn’t actually the first I wrote, but still) helped me become a better writer. So when I finally released the book I’d been working on for so long, and its two sequels, they got fantastic reviews and sold well.
This made me even more aware that the first book wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. So I unpublished it, got a new cover and – most importantly – gave it a radical edit. It got a similar overhaul to what I’d give a first draft now.
And when I re-released it, it suddenly started getting good reviews. I knew I had a book I could be proud of.
Now I know you’re thinking but my debut novel is a work of literary genius. Or if you aren’t thinking that, maybe you’re thinking, what about all those debut novels published by the Big 5 that sell like hot cakes?
Well, in answer to your first objection: I’m sorry, but you aren’t the right person to judge the literary merits of your books, especially not in the early days. And in response to the second: I believe that blockbuster debuts get a HUGE amount of editorial support from the publisher. Something that sometimes becomes apparent when you read the author’s second book. The one the supermarkets decided not to sell, so the publisher decided not to spend so much money on, so which didn’t get as radical an edit.
Cynical, I know. And I apologise if I’m wrong. But that’s my theory.
So – to summarise. The single most important thing you can do to support your author career is to develop your craft. And the best way to do that is by writing another book.
Writing short stories will help: it’s a great way to cram in loads of diverse experiences of working on story structure, premise and character development. But it isn’t the same as writing a full-length work.
Writing your first novel is hard. Coming up with the idea for your second is very hard, but writing it is easier. For a start, you know you can do this. And you have the experience of writing and editing (you must edit) your first novel to help you do it.
And the grim reality is that running profitable ads on one book by an unknown author who can’t charge vast sums for that book means your margins are very tight. You’ll struggle to make any money.
And if you make a loss, you could just find yourself coming to the conclusion that this writing lark isn’t for you. Maybe you’re not talented enough, or you aren’t good enough at marketing, or you just haven’t got that magical something.
There is no magical something. Talent is earned, and developed. Writing is something you can learn to be better at. And so is marketing. But the only way to do it is by writing the next book.
So why are you still reading – go on, get writing! I’ll see you when you’ve typed ‘The End’.