Why Marketing Your Books May Be the Wrong Idea

This coming weekend a new experiment will be taking place.

A friend of mine, @Rolling20s, will be attending Con on the Cob, a small gaming convention in Ohio. He will be attending on my dime and manning a table there selling all things Matthew and Epp. Which is to say, I registered him as a vendor at the convention and then shipped him a bunch of books and some promotional stuff. He gets to attend the convention and I get a man in the trenches with my product.

So all this week I’ve been wondering if maybe marketing your books isn’t the right way to sell your books.

This is, as mentioned, purely experimental, sort of a test balloon or what have you. I had zero idea what to send @Rolling20s, how many books, what the set-up would be like, etc etc etc. But we’re giving it a go. And I think this is an important move.

As far as I can tell, there are three elements to any retail business: production, distribution, and marketing. This notion was one of the driving forces that made me take my career online and away from the major publishing houses.

My thinking was as follows:

1) Producing a book (and I’m talking about the manufacturing of the book itself, the writing process is a whole other conversation) is easy and cheap. You can get your book listed and sold via amazon for the cost of  ordering yourself one proof copy for you to approve. Yes, if you want a nice cover you may have to spend some money, or some of your time, but the price of entry is still absurdly low. One of my favorite factoids about the production of books is that, way back in the day, when books were written in calligraphy by monks and the binding was hand sewn, producing a book cost…(wait for it)…a vineyard. That’s the best estimate that some article I read came up with. A vineyard. You give the value of an entire freaking vineyard and you get yourself one (1) book. So, yes, there are some hidden costs in book production nowadays, but with the movement away from silver etching printing and into digital printing, producing a book on your own is possible. Plus, in the ebook realm, producing a book costs nothing but the time it takes you to make some formatting changes and follow the instructions at the Amazon DTP and Smashwords sites.

2) Distribution is now open to everyone. My books are on Amazon. Amazon is the biggest whoozit with worldwide whatzits. If someone has heard of my book, and wants to buy my book, they are able to purchase my book. Yes, there are people who only shop in Brick and Mortar stores, but their numbers are shrinking, or they’re at least becoming hybrid buyers. Plus, most of my books, through CreateSpace’s distribution channels, are purchasable at Brick and Mortar bookstores. They may not be on the shelves, but a customer asking a clerk if they sell Probability Angels will get the response, “We don’t have it in stock at the moment, but I’d be happy to order you a copy.”  Unless the clerk is a jerk or something. And, again, with ebooks coming into play, distribution is…weird. If you own a Kindle (or what have you) then I am distributed to you. Done and done. No publishing house needed.

Oh, I know what some of you are saying: “But the publishing houses can get your books onto the shelves in bookstores.” Yes. Yes, they can. However that isn’t distribution. Look at it this way: if someone walks into a bookstore with the intent of buying a Joseph Devon book, then they will be able to make their purchase, thus distribution is complete. Now, if someone walks into a bookstore with no idea of what they want to buy, but sees my book displayed prominently on the shelf and decides to give it a try, well that isn’t distribution. That’s marketing. Which brings us to…

3) Marketing. I knew this was the only puzzle piece that I was lacking. And I knew it was going to be a hard one to build. And I knew that this was the piece of the puzzle that traditional publishing houses had a big advantage with…sort of. The connections that a decent publisher has should, arguably, provide an author they’re backing with access to widely read reviewers and bigger bookstore chains for possible tours or semi-decent shelf placement. However, over the past decades the marketing departments of publishing houses have gotten the ax, only a slim few authors that get published get publicity from their house. The vast majority of authors get published and then set adrift to do their own marketing. And, if they succeed and their books do well, then the publishing house will obviously pay them more attention. Granted, this is not the case with every house, but my point here isn’t to make a broad condemnation of publishing houses, my point is to explain why I took the independent route. And that view of things was a big reason. If the odds strongly suggest that I’ll have to do my own marketing anyway, then why not just go it alone? The other two components are already taken care of. Plus, in a world where a site showing pictures of cats hazzing cheezeburgers gets millions of visitors a day and a shirt with three wolves on it becomes an amazon best-seller, maybe the marketing rules are up for grabs. Maybe, in the words of one of my favorite authors, William Goldman, nobody knows anything. Maybe the doors are wide open.

And so, year after year, I’ve been marketing myself. I’ve used my budget to purchase various ads, I run contests here and there, I blog, I do blog tours, I tweet (I love tweeting) and Facebook and on and on and on. And my sales still suck.

This weekend, though? This weekend everything changes. This weekend @Rolling20s will sit at a table at Con on the Cob for a few hours each day and sell my books. He’s a great guy for doing this, and without all my previous marketing I never would have met him nor would I have learned that gamers tend to be easy converts to my books.

We have no idea what’s going to happen, but this past week one question has constantly been going through my head:

“What if the answer isn’t to market my books? What if the answer is to actually get out there and sell the damn things?”

Comments

  1. An interesting experiment. I’m looking forward to hearing how it turns out. I can empathize with your frustration. Actually, I can do more than empathize. Because even though I BELIEVE my books are good, if they don’t sell I have to admit at least the possibility that I haven’t been objective enough about my own writing. But I KNOW your books are good. If you’re having trouble selling Matthew and Epp to the world, I can believe maybe I shouldn’t be so down on myself after all.

    • josephdevon says:

      You’re not alone in any of this, Albert. I still have days where I wonder if maybe I don’t suck and everyone who says good things about my writing is just being nice.

      Trusting that your audience isn’t lying to you and also has taste is surprisingly difficult. 🙂

      • I’m not sure I have taste, but I’m almost never being nice. And I like your books (and Albert’s too, for that matter). More to the point, as one of a few thousand people out there with a book I’d like to start marketing (or not, as the case may be), I’m interested to see how this experiment plays itself out.

  2. Laura Coraci says:

    I couldn’t get off of that cat website quickly enough.