14 February 2013 - 12:24 pm

Independent vs Traditional Publishing: Marketing

You could have your book wrapped entirely in plastic, too!  Photo by TheCreativePenn

You could have your book wrapped entirely in plastic, too!
Photo by TheCreativePenn

(Part of the indie vs trad series.)

When you publish a book, you have to tell people about it. Otherwise, how do they know it exists? That’s what marketing is for: getting the word out so people come and buy your stuff.

This one is slippery to consider in the indie vs traditional publishing debate, because there are so many possible mitigating factors. To make it simpler to assess, let’s assume that you haven’t had a bestseller yet (that tends to change all the rules). Let’s assume that you’re starting out, or you’ve got a few books out but none of them have ‘taken off’ in a big way yet. That way, we’re looking at a level playing field (and let’s face it, if you’ve got a bestseller and ‘made it’, you’ve probably already gone through this process and have an approach that works for you).

With self-publishing, it’s all up to you. You can hire someone to help you out, but that’s all on you as the author. There’s no-one that’s going to do that for you, and in many ways, you get out what you put in.

It is easy to assume that a traditional publisher will solve the marketing problem for you. Because these companies have resources and experience – and are, after all, in the business of selling books – it’s a safe assumption that they’ll do everything they can to sell your book. Right?

Every published author I’ve talked to says different. Yes, the publisher will spend some money to promote you, and of course they’ll want your book to be a success. They’ll design the cover, posters, adverts, and maybe a book trailer for you. They might even place some adverts in publications about your book.

But their willingness to go beyond that is variable and often non-existent. The likelihood of a publishing house to pay for you to go to book signings or conventions is dictated very much by the bottom line; most authors, particularly mid-list and those starting out, foot their own bills. It’s up to the author to travel around to the bookstores and do signings, to book themselves into conventions and conferences, and to sell their books to anyone who comes within shouting distance. Often, authors wind up creating their own promotional merchandise as well (pens, bookmarks, etc), which means paying for it to be made so they have stock on hand to give away.

Then there are the more ethereal aspects of book marketing. Building your author brand; connecting with your audience; getting involved in communities: all of these things take time and effort, and it doesn’t matter which way you get published. A traditional publisher isn’t going to do that for you. It’s a lot of time and, sometimes, money. From talking to traditionally- and self-published authors, the effort required seems to be about the same.

(If you want an idea about the kinds of things I’m talking about here, check out Mark Coker’s free ebook on this subject: Smashwords Book Marketing Guide.)

Whichever publishing route you go down, it’s a lot of work. It’s pounding pavement and pressing flesh. It’s creating an author brand and platform. It’s getting your presence ‘out there’. And it’s all down to you.

Going independent means paying all of your bills. It means designing your own marketing materials and campaign, and managing it from start to finish (or hiring someone to do it for you). You answer only to yourself, and there’s no-one to blame but yourself. With traditional publishing, you’ll get some cool posters and marketing materials to play with, the base collateral which should be targeted to your specific audience, but not a great deal beyond that.

It’s worth keeping the relative importance of marketing in mind, too. All of the advice I’ve seen on this subject says that the number one factor in sales is writing a good book. Second is word of mouth (which is dependent on the first). You can’t buy either of those things.

The real questions: do you have the marketing knowledge and experience to manage it yourself? How much money can you afford (or are willing to) put in? What is the best way to reach your audience? Do you know? What kind of weight are you willing to place on marketing?

I’m terrible at self-marketing and I freely admit that. It’s something I try to work on every day. It is definitely a lot of work, but here’s hoping that it’s worth it!

Next up: Services

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