When I started blogging about the whole process of self-publishing Thy Fearful Symmetry, I said I’d try to share my thinking along the way. Part of that, now that the Kindle edition has been released ahead of any other, involves the marketing strategy.
I don’t have one. And I’m good with that.
I’ve done a hell of a lot of research into marketing from a self-publishing point of view. As a better writer than me said recently (and I would link, but I can’t remember who or where – answers in the comments, if you know), it’s the new received wisdom. For the most part it’s propagated by a small bunch of writers for whom it really worked, when they were the first ones doing it, but things have moved on, and the legions of self-published writers parroting the same thing endlessly are fooling themselves, and you.
A lot of it is about fooling you, actually. It really shouldn’t be, because it’s the book, stupid.
Here’s some of the things I’m supposed to do, if I wantThy Fearful Symmetry to be a success:
Twitter bomb. I’m supposed to mention the book on Twitter, with links, all the time. There’s even a magic formula for how much – 80:20. Tweet a lot, and make about 20% of it to do with the book. I despise the very notion of this. There’s nothing wrong with Twitter. It can be terrific fun to do, and to scroll through. What isn’t terrific fun is when you scroll through your Twitter feed and see nothing but adverts for books. I’ve just ‘unfollowed’ a bunch of people who seem to have nothing to say except ‘here’s my book, look at me, buy my book, look at my book, buy my book!’. I’m going to get rid of more of them. It’s become the most tedious party in the world.
Don’t misunderstand me – when I follow a writer, I expect to hear about what they’re up to, when they have a book out, and so on. That’s a big part of their life, and all part of the mix. If they grab me by the back of the head and repeatedly smash my face against their book though, I’m getting shot of them. The 80:20 rule becomes increasingly obvious in practice too. So many are trying to say something about nothing, just to fill time and get to that next spam post.
Facebook bomb: see above. Have you ever bought a book because a hundred people clicked ‘like’ on a Facebook post about it? I haven’t. What both of these practices get wrong is the fact that you cannot manufacture good word of mouth. There’s a very clear difference between a genuine reader sharing their enthusiasm, and endless retweets and shares with no heart behind them. Readers can spot this a mile off – it’s so old now – and tune it out. The author of a book cannot create good word of mouth about their own book – it’s transparently flawed even to try. Only one thing generates good word of mouth.
It’s the book, stupid.
If a book doesn’t grab my attention, no amount of author-driven social spam is going to make me buy it. I have a vast array of reading material available to me today. I will avoid, like the plague, authors who won’t give me a fecking break.
To be honest, you can’t really blame authors for this sort of thing. Long before the current self-publishing model came into force, publishers were pushing their authors to market themselves more and more aggressively (cheaper than paying for advertising campaigns). Some are gifted at it. Most are failing to emulate them. We’d all like there to be a secret formula to make us JK Rowling. Everyone’s looking for advice to help them navigate this nonsense. For my money though, most of the advice is dead wrong.
These days there’s an additional sense of over-entitlement from many new authors, armed with these hidden secrets of self-publishing success. If they tell people about their book and nobody responds, they’re not prepared to consider that they… wait for it… might not have written a very good or interesting-sounding book. Instead, they ramp up the marketing, as though that’s going to compensate for it.
It’s the book, stupid.
In some ways, the social media stuff is pretty harmless, even where it’s exceptionally annoying. Unfollowing and de-friending is a pretty easy way to escape it.
The fraud, though… that’s another level.
Where I say fraud, it’s best encapsulated by Stephen Leather. Leather’s a fairly prolific writer, traditionally published and with a loyal following. He’s also a self-confessed practitioner of sock-puppet marketing. Mr Leather has aliases, with which he writes reviews on Amazon and other sites, pretending to be readers who love his own writing. Sometimes, he uses the aliases on forums, and discusses his books with himself, even going so far as to start arguments with himself to make his work seem more provocative.
Thinking about it just gave me a shudder. Who’d want to be inside Stephen Leather’s head? How many people already are?
What harm that though? Whatever gets a reader to pick up your book, right? Leather certainly doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong.
Really? By faking his own endorsements (customer reviews) to lure new readers to his work? Isn’t that just… a con-job? Do I really have to point out why I find this reprehensible?
When I read about this (he admitted it on a panel, I believe), I got seriously depressed. Is that what being an author is, these days? Tricking people into buying my books?
The depression was compounded by finding out about paid reviewers on Amazon, and other sites. Sling them a tenner, and they’ll review your book. Same thing as Mr Leather does for himself, basically, but without the risk of multiple personality disorder. A lot of these reviewers promise ‘honest’ reviews, but that’s not a very credible position. They draw an income from authors who want it to look as though somebody has enjoyed their book when nobody actually has. Their income would dry up pretty quickly, I would suggest, if all of their reviews were actually ‘honest’.
Fooling readers, finding more and more elaborate ways to make you buy a book, outright fraudulent behaviour.
When I decided I wanted to write books and stories, no part of that decision came from a love of spending hours endlessly spamming people, or worse, tricking them into buying my writing. Not part of the dream, for me.
So, I’m not going to play. I won’t abuse Twitter and Facebook to try to badger people into buying Thy Fearful Symmetry. I’ll tell them about it, sure, and share my own excitement. If you want to buy the book, then you’re not an idiot – you know how to do so.
I won’t spend hours trying to find new and exciting ways to trick you, either. You know where the book is. If you like the look of it, go and buy a copy. If you don’t think it’s for you, that’s fine too.
The way I see it, if Thy Fearful Symmetry doesn’t break even, then I should have written a better book. It doesn’t matter that I’ve spent years on this novel, nor does it matter that I’m very proud of it, and really want it to entertain you. If you don’t want to read it, I can’t do a single thing about that. I’ll try harder on the next one, and maybe you’ll get on better with that idea instead (nothing to do with whether TFS sells well or not – real writers are always trying harder on the next one, because they’re never quite satisfied).
What has worked for me is, unsurprisingly, the genuine stuff. A few retweets from people who actually seem genuinely excited to see the book released. Some nice reactions from overburdened reviewers who are interested enough to make some space in their reading list to have a look at my Scottish apocalypse. One person, who I won’t name for fear of embarrassing them, has even shared their enthusiasm for the book (which they haven’t read yet – god, I hope they like it!) with a bricks and mortar bookstore, which led to a casual inquiry about whether a paperback will be forthcoming that they might stock. There’s an excellent chance that nothing will come of that (though, dear me, I’ll be delighted if I’m wrong), but the enthusiasm is what makes me happy. A few people, at least, are really, really pleased to see this book. None of that enthusiasm has been generated by spam or marketing ploys from me (I’m genuinely inept at that sort of thing anyway).
It’s the book, stupid.
In celebration of it being all about the book, I’m withdrawing from the Internet for a few days, and the book can do its own thing. I’m spending this precious launch-week marketing window doing some actual writing.
Thy Fearful Symmetry will find readers, or it won’t. People will be excited about it, or they won’t. I’ll help it along by making it completely free on Amazon for the rest of this week, Wednesday through Friday. That’s about as much marketing as I can stomach. Tell people, if you think they’d be interested, and it goes without saying that tomorrow would be an excellent time for you to pick up a copy for yourself. I hope you do, and that you enjoy reading it as much or more than I enjoyed making it up.
I realise that I could be wrong. Maybe all this pointless noise really is the secret to success. In not playing the game, I may well be consigning Thy Fearful Symmetry to obscurity. Well, if that’s what it deserves, then so be it. I’ll be disappointed and frustrated, but that’s all part of being a writer too, and that’s what I am and want to be.
Let’s see what happens next. After I go to bed tonight, I’m unjacking until Saturday. See you then.