Indie Author Marketing Still Sucks…Pt 1.

Wake Up (3)“Nobody counts the ads you run;
they only remember the impression you make.”
-Bill Bernbach

That’s a massive title, yes? Let me explain. Two years ago, I wrote a post entitled Marketing Sucks.

Guess what? It still does.

I stand by pretty much everything in that post, the exception being…is writing a book a remarkable feat? According to Forbes (2013) between 600k-1M books are published each year, with roughly half of those being self-published.

What’s even more troubling is that on average, books sell roughly 250 copies before they, well, for all intents and purposes, die.

But, let’s think about that number. 250. Have you sold 250 copies of your books? I haven’t. (I’ve given away more than that, but I’m talking about selling.) And what about the writers who sell millions of their books?

It’s plain to see that many of us will be lucky if we ever sell a single copy in order to get Stephen King’s millions to average down to 250.

I am lucky enough to have sold more than a few copies of my books. But not enough to brag about. If I’m being honest, which I always try to be, I am actually lucky to have sold any at all with what little marketing I’ve done. (I touched on why that is last week.)

But, I’m afraid, it’s time to poke the bear.

I’ve got to do some marketing, because so far I’ve only seen one Diane. If you don’t get that reference, you didn’t read the post I linked to at the top. The point is, with the sheer amount of books published yearly, I’m at the bottom of the self-published sea. The Marianas Trench, actually. Nobody is going to find me way down here in the depths. I have to swim, and I have to just keep swimming (if you didn’t read that in Dory’s voice,  I worry about you) until I get at least a breath of air.

And no one is going to market for me. I mean, I guess they would if I paid them to. But I don’t know many publicists who want to work for high-fives and IOUs.

What I outline below should not be considered an official plan. Nor even is it really advice. I’m merely laying out a few avenues I am going to try and then, for better or worse, I’ll update on how things are performing once they’re setup and then I’ll give a “definitive” update somewhere around three months after the launch of The Harlot of Blue Ridge.

At this point, I am really prepared to do some silly things if that’s what it takes to find readers. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t think there’s a true one-size-fits-all approach to marketing, or we’d all be sitting on a beach, sipping margaritas, and chatting about our favorite Shakespearean theories. I’m ready to try a bunch of things, throw a lot of darts, and see what hits and what misses.

So, if you’re interested in any of these avenues it may be worth your while to subscribe to the blog and my newsletter for updates, especially since there are so many things to try, I can’t possibly list them all in one post.


See what I did there?

Probably the only consistent piece of advice I have heard in the last few years is have a newsletter. Have a newsletter. Have a newsletter. Build your email list. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, there have also been people who despise the idea of an email list. I guess, to some, it is the equivalent of those spammy people who friend you on Twitter, send you a 1500 word essay via DM about why you should buy their book and then within 24 hours, they’ve dropped you.

Or maybe it just sounds like too much work, I don’t know.

At the time I am writing this, my newsletter has a whopping 16 subscribers. I’ll wait for you to finish laughing.

Done? Good. So, in order to grow that number, I know I have to do three main things:

Offer perks. And just learning more about me isn’t enough. For some people, just the fact I’m going to let them see deleted scenes may be enough. Others may like subscriber-exclusive giveaways. I’ve got to make it an attractive thing.

Consistency. I’ve committed to sending out my newsletter on the last Thursday of every month, and am upfront that there may be additional newsletters going out around the time of book launches or special promotions. I’ve said no more than 16 emails per year.

Advertise it. This means I will have to post about it on social media, my blog (see the new newsletter tab up top!) And when I do live events I’ll have to have a newsletter sign-up sheet. The social media thing will be the death of me. Luckily I have Buffer to fall back on. I can load it up with posts, set up dates and times, and then let it do the promotion for me so I don’t have to think about it.

I subscribe to several authors’ newsletters, both indie and trad, and I’ve spent the last couple of months deciding what I do and don’t like about them in the hopes I’ll produce something subscribers will enjoy. I’m sure I’ll make some tweaks here and there as I learn more.

I’ll update you all soon on how much, if any, growth I see with my newsletter.

Kindle Unlimited

I am not convinced that KU is the best option for me. I think there are certain genres that do extremely well there—such as contemporary romance.

However, I have been reading more about people using KU as a launching pad before going wide. I am going to give this method a try with The Harlot of Blue Ridge. The plan is to take advantage of some free days and countdown deals in hopes of getting reviews before going wide.

Since I am hoping people who read Harlot will also want to read Alabama Rain and vice versa, I am going to work on pulling AR out of wide temporarily so KU readers can access both. Depending on how successful they are will determine how long I leave them in KU.

I do think, though, since more people are likely to get Kindles for Christmas than they are a new Nook…I’ll likely let them stay in KU until at least February.

Amazon Ads

My friend, author Joshua Edward Smith, recently did a great post on lock screen ads with Amazon, and I am anxiously awaiting to hear an update. (Joshua recently released a fantastic financial thriller, Singularity—I cannot speak highly enough of this book!)

Since I am going to utilize KU at the launch of Harlot, I am going  to toss some money at Amazon and utilize the lock screen ads using some of the tips in Joshua’s post.

There’s not a lot for me to say here, since I haven’t created the ads or decided how much to bid—or anything at all just yet. I will go more in depth on this in the coming weeks.

Social Media Ads

I would love if you’d comment below with any prevailing advice you have or your personal experience with social media advertising.

My initial assumption is that Instagram would be a good place for some sponsored posts because of how insanely popular Bookstagram is. There is one giant looming issue I have, though: the lack of clickable links. I don’t think there are many people out there interested in the painstaking process of copying and pasting. Something else that gives me a shred of hope is that I am getting a little better at InstaStories.

I think the second-best place for ads would be Facebook. If I can figure out, and I doubt I can with one go, the best parameters to set for the ad, they can take off.

Twitter, as much as I adore it, seems like the least likely to be worth my time and money. Please feel free to tell me if and why I’m wrong.

Online Launch Party

These always sound fun, though I haven’t the first clue how to make one successful. I haven’t really decided on if I’ll go through with one of these or not. If anything, I’ve considered doing a modified version of an online party. Maybe an Insta/FB Story with me reading some lines or a live Q&A. I know what my biggest hangup would be here, though: No one showing up. That would be my biggest fear, and most likely outcome. I can see doing the Insta/FB story thing. Perhaps instead of a live Q&A, I would ask for questions in advance and answer them via Stories. Idk. Logging in to do a live event and having no one there would deflate me completely I think.

In-house, Local Launch Party/Signing

When I launch Harlot it’ll either be late October or early November. My FAVORITE time of year. So, I am brainstorming ideas for setting up a few things around town. I’d like to approach a local book store about setting up a signing, which may not sound like my cup of tea because of my aforementioned fear of people not showing up to an online launch party, but I think there are enough people locally I could invite that would show up so I’d avoid that. I’m also thinking of seeing what I could set up at a local coffee shop or two.

I’ll need to tightly budget this because I’ll want to offer snacks and beverages at the in-store event (the owner appears to like wine and cheese events. *squeal*) but I’ll also need to have swag (which, just a heads up, I’ll be doing a post about swag soon), and the main thing—books. I’ll need to have a sufficient amount of paperbacks on hand so I actually have something to offer people.

Doing in-person events can get pricey.

ARC and eARC Giveaways & Book Reviewers

I plan on doing a small run of ARC copies from IngramSpark and doing a giveaway or three for an ARC, but also I want to find some book reviewers to send ARCs to as well. I’ve found a few on “Booktube” I’d like to approach, but alas, not a single  one of them are accepting submissions…and haven’t for a while.

eARCs are a given. It costs me next to nothing to send eARCs.

And, even though I’ve done my fair share of complaining about it, I’d like to do a giveaway with Goodreads. So…that’s $119. And I can’t think of a single metric to determine if I recoup that cost. I know GR makes entrants add the title to their  “want to read” list among other “marketing perks” (I think that’s their term), but I’m also cynical and believe there are many people who create accounts simply to enter giveaways and will add any and all books listed in giveaways and do not care at all about titles they don’t win. But, I’m still going to give it one shot. We’ll see.

All for Naught

But none of the above matters a single iota if I don’t have an amazing book with an amazing cover an amazing blurb, and amazing formatting. Because Mr. Bernbach’s quote up top is spot on. It won’t matter how many ads I run if I don’t have a product and brand that gives a good impression.


Obviously I’m working on the story—and I have a few ideas on how to expand on what I learned with formatting Alabama Rain.

I’m still tweaking the cover…and it’s completely different than I any previous design I’ve shared publicly.

I’m already working on the blurb. It’s gone through a few changes and will likely go through plenty more.

If you’d like to be among the first to see Harlot’s official cover, blurb, the release date, etc…then you’ll want to sign up for my newsletter. ♥

Have any must-try marketing tips for me? Please leave them below!

Have a fantastic week, loves. ♥♥♥


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5 thoughts on “Indie Author Marketing Still Sucks…Pt 1.

  1. alfageeek says:

    So much ground to cover here. I’ll keep it to pithy bullet points:
    – The people who are successful with newsletters aren’t writing long-form fiction.
    – Online launch parties and blog tours are silly and generate no sales and only raise awareness among your friends, who already knew you had a book.
    – Kindle Lockscreen ads generate NO sales.
    – Facebook and Instagram ads are completely ineffective for selling books (they are also ridiculously overpriced).
    – Twitter ads work better, but they’re break-even at best.
    – Goodreads stopped showing book’s “on X to-read shelves” so there’s no longer any point in doing a giveaway there (plus, the price is absurd).
    – Local signings and book store placements are fun and good for the ego, but they are not an effective marketing tool.

    Here’s what will work:
    – Put both books in KU. Set up a free promo on AR and set the new one to 99 cents. Spend a bucket of money promoting AR’s free day (book sends, ERN, bookbub if you’re lucky). Of the several thousand people who grab your free book, a few hundred will pay 99 cents for the new one at the same time. I can’t promise they’ll ever actually *read* either of them. But you’ll hit your 250 sales goal. You won’t break even.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aila Stephens says:

      I would love to know where your information is coming from about newsletters as several of the indie authors I’ve heard espouse newsletters are novelists. Not saying you’re wrong, because, well, you rarely seem to be.

      Online launch parties and blog tours…yeah, we’re pretty much on the same page on those. I’m not interested.

      I’m so sad to hear the Lockscreen ads aren’t generating sales.

      Your analysis of the social media ads baffles me, honestly. Not about the pricing, but about Twitter being better. I need to scour your blog.

      I admit the Goodreads giveaway seems pretty pointless on the surface, but I found one crazy successful (by my standards) indie author who says it is a successful tool around launch time. For the life of me, I can’t see it for myself…but I part of me keeps saying I should try.

      Local signings are definitely an ego thing. You’re not wrong.

      And the KU stuff you mentioned is pretty much spot on what I want to do.


      • alfageeek says:

        On newsletters: I’m saying that the people I’ve seen espouse them are writing humor, short romance/erotic pulp, or non-fiction. If you’ve seen novelists who say they work, and you believe those people have something other than “intuition” to back up that claim, then perhaps they do work. It’s not clear to me how keeping a newsletter audience engaged for a year between book releases could possibly be a good use of one’s time, though…

        There’s a ridiculous amount of information about how to do Twitter book promotion on my blog, including lots of numbers. Here’s my how-to:

        Check the dates on those posts about Goodreads giveaways. Have they continued to be successful since they took away TBR listing, and started charging a hundred bucks? Remember that at that price, “successful” now means at least 50 additional book sales.

        Also, in general, anyone who writes about marketing and doesn’t include data on conversion and ROI cannot be believed. If they say they are advertising to “build a brand,” that’s the first clue that they have absolutely no idea what they are doing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aila Stephens says:

        I will concede that the newsletter advice comes from someone who writes short-ish romance under the pen names Lyra Parish and as part of the duo to Kennedy Fox. Titles published under either name seem to do quite well and she credits part of their success to having a newsletter with…I believe she says around 16k subscribers.


  2. AuthorSarahKrewis says:

    I am going to sign up for your newsletter after I post this comment. I am looking forward to your new book. I’d love to offer a Author Interview the week of your release, and I’d love to pay for the giveaway (a paperback copy…maybe signed, so I’ll pay for a signed copy and media mail and you can send it to the winner?) We can discuss if interested. I’m excited to read your tips on instastories (I’m learning these as well now) and I love the idea of allowing readers to send in questions and then you do a live event. You never know who’ll show up. I’m excited for you. Even when life tries to knock you down, you’re the badass who gets back up and strives forward. Proud of you!


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