Market Like a Reader

In his first Site Update of 2014, the Smashwords founder Mark Coker gives odd advice for the author of Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, "I've said it before and I'll say it again - the best books market themselves on the wings of reader word of mouth. Write a great book, give it great editing, a great cover and a fair price, and then get to work on the next book." That contradicts all the social media advice of his book, but I think that this briefer advice has it just right. At an author panel at the Northwest Bookfest, the question was asked, "Should I read books or focus my time on writing my own?" Deb Caletti's answer was unequivocal, "Read, because you need fuel for your writing." Essentially, she was telling the new or aspiring authors that dominated the Bookfest to write like a reader. Mark Coker is essentially telling his Smashwords authors to market like a reader. Admittedly, he has a financial bias here, as the more books an author distributes via Smashwords, the more chance there is for Smashwords to gain their cut from book sales. This advice is so different from a lot of what passes for writing advice on social media. Of course, a lot of that advice is coming from the authors of self-help marketing guides, whose main expertise comes from marketing the marketing book that they have written and want writers to buy (unlike Coker who offers his as a free download to promote Smashwords). Their free advice on websites is then marketing for their books of marketing tips. The problem is that their success is based on marketing to writers who are desperate to attract readers. In other words they are business to business [B2B] marketers presenting themselves as business to customer experts. They are very successful at their B2B marketing judging by the amount of hopeful indie authors who follow their advice. As a result social media is flooded with unsuccessful authors tweeting promotions for their books, often telling you that it is the best thing that you will read this year. Yet, as Coker points out, if it is a great book, it will market itself via excited readers.

Writers need to remember what drove them to write in the first place. Very few looked at JK Rowling's fortune and thought I want to be that rich. Most want to write because they loved to read and think that they have the ideas and the skills to write something that will add to the range of good reads that readers have at their disposal. Many writers will have served an apprenticeship as voracious readers. Some of them make the foolish mistake I once made of stopping my reading, because it was getting in the way of becoming a voracious writer. Many write their book and become a voracious marketer by tweeting endlessly about their own book. Instead, they should think of their marketing from the perspective of a reader. A reader does not want to spend her day reading your tweets about how great, or cheap, your book is. A reader wants to read more books.

Remember what is was like when you were a voracious reader, rather than writer or marketer? Market for that person, not for the ideal book-buying fodder that the B2B experts have persuaded you exist. Before you wrote your first book, did you want to read book promotions or to read books? I hope it was the latter and that is how writers should think about marketing. Spending two hours each day on Twitter telling your followers about your books is not giving your fans what they want. What your fans want is another book to read. Give it to them. Get off Twitter and write another book. Do not listen to those who preach on social media that you need to build your social media platform before you publish your first book. Such people are seldom fiction writers or make their main sales through fiction, they are B2B authors hoping that in order to follow their freely given advice you will buy their non-fiction book on how to build your social media platform. A large proportion of a writer's Twitter or other social media following is made up of other writers or those wanting to make money out of writers (publishers, editors, authors of how to market books, etc.).

Most writers' websites have as their primary audience other writers. Readers do not read author websites, they read reader websites, you know, the sort of sites where authors get in trouble for promoting their own books. Readers do not want to read writers begging them to write reviews. They want to read a great book and then make up their own minds as to whether they will write a good review about it. Do your marketing in the way that readers want you to, by writing a great book.