Putting emphasis on marketing over writing: an indie author issue.

It’s probably not a secret by now that I find a lot of my blog post ideas on Twitter. Be that something i don’t agree with, or something I whole-heartedly stand behind, or even something going on that I have an opinion about and want to share with others who might find that event (for lack of a better word) interesting.

Writer Twitter is fascinating, to say the least. Lots of ideas ranging from “you can’t make a living writing” to “a book deal is the only way to go” make a unique experience when you’re scrolling through the #writingcommunity hashtag.

Obviously I have my own ideas when it comes to writing, publishing, and marketing, and I believe in a few things that not all indies agree with: writing to market, picking a genre and sticking with it to build an audience, not using Twitter as a place for successful promo. I could probably list a few more, but it’s not important.

Today I saw a tweet from Joanna Penn, and she had commented on Lindsay Buroker’s tweet about how many books she has published:

I’ve listened to Joanna’s podcast enough that I totally read her tweet in her voice and British accent! Joanna always exudes an enthusiasm with indie publishing and life in general that sometimes it wears me out listening to her. But her excitement is usually infectious and it makes me glad that I’m an indie author and part of her community.

This is a really long intro into what I wanted to talk about today. I think that Joanna’s right in that indies put a lot of emphasis on marketing and not enough (or as much as they should) on the actual writing and publishing side of things.

The saying is true that the best marketing is writing your next book but we get really caught up in the excitement that comes with a launch and we want to push that book as long and as hard as we can. I don’t want to take away the satisfaction that comes with writing and publishing a book–we should always celebrate that–but as another saying goes, this is a marathon not a sprint, and you can celebrate the first mile, but trust me I ran a half marathon (once a long time ago) and the first mile isn’t much when you think you have twenty five more to go.

Lindsay’s brilliant career aside, I made up a list of the real reasons why it’s better to publish consistently, even if that’s just two books a year.

The Amazon algorithms will favor your book around your launch period. Amazon wants to give you boost, and anyone who launches well in their categories without doing any work can tell you this. They give you a head start, so to speak, but it’s up to you what you do with it. Most indies drop the ball because they haven’t mastered ads, or they don’t have a newsletter, or they think they can keep ranking without doing anything. But a good launch ranking is more of an illusion than anything else and if you don’t use it, you’ll sink like a stone. Publishing consistently will at least keep the Amazon’s algorithms eyes on you and as you and your books build momentum, the little push Amazon gives you can turn into something useful. All it takes is a little spark to create a flame.

Here are the stats from an author I know who launched a book during the first week of August 2019:

A friend and I were chatting about how well he was ranking for a first time author without prior books released. We didn’t know then that it’s normal to rank higher during launch week. Those aren’t bad numbers for a new author with no backlist, newsletter, no ads running, and no audience. I can’t give you the exact date he published as he re-released his book in the summer of 2020, but it just goes to show that Amazon wants to help you. Use that to your advantage.

Your Amazon Ads will do better. There are a ton of things I could talk about with ads, but the most relevant one concerning this blog post is the fact that if you’re running ads to old books, it’s like pushing a boulder up a mountain. I think it was Robert J. Ryan in his book Amazon Unleashed that used the metaphor. You might make a little headway, but in the end it probably won’t work that well. I skimmed through the first part of his book trying to find it, but I can’t. I’m pretty sure I read it in his book though, and it’s a great resource if you’re looking for more information about running Amazon ads. It all comes down to relevancy. All my books are over a year old and I try like crazy with ads to sell them. It doesn’t matter how much I bid, how high my daily budgets are, Amazon knows they’re old, and to be fair, Amazon knows they didn’t launch well. It’s tough to make Amazon care about your book and if you waste your launch period, it’s even harder.

Your frontlist sells your backlist. That’s something I’ve heard many times, but it’s not applicable if your lone book is your backlist and no frontlist is forthcoming anytime soon. This is especially important if you’re writing in a series. I still see so many indie authors trying to push a book one, when they aren’t even writing book two. What is the point of that? All that work you’re doing right now to bring readers into your series, you’re going to have to do over and over every time you release a book. Yeah, you can get them onto your mailing list and keep them updated as you write more books, but honestly, I’ve only seen this work for established authors who have an audience and that audience trusts them to follow through with the series. I’m going to stop there because I’ve blogged about that many times. But here are a couple more articles on frontlist selling your backlist.

What is a Backlist?

We Need to Talk About the Backlist

You’re giving readers what they want. As your audience grows, you’ll be giving your readers what they want. Being prolific can add stress and pressure to your career, but when readers are looking forward to your next book, that’s a good problem to have. I feel sorry for George RR Martin. Readers really want the next GoT books, but he’s stated the pressure is so intense it’s given him writer’s block. Of course, we can all hope to have the problem the size of George’s, but as you grow an audience they will look forward to every new release and publishing consistently feeds them. Out of anything on this list, this reason is probably the most important in the argument for consistent publishing.

As indies we talk so much about marketing that we forget we need something to market. I’ll never forget the writer who started Bryan’s Amazon Ads Profit Challenge and asked after we started: Do we need a book published for this? I get we can be excited and sometimes that excitement is putting the cart before the horse. Writing is hard. Learning ads is easy compared to that. Writing is hard. Playing with Canva is a lot more fun. Writing is hard. Writing a blog post or updating your website is a more pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Writing is hard. It’s easier to read in your genre and call it research.

Not everyone can be like Lindsay and have several 10,000 word days a week, but she does, and it’s no secret how she can write a 150,000 word epic fantasy novel in just a few weeks’ time.

Being prolific helps with marketing. It’s a lot easier to market if you have a new launch every few months.

I don’t have a system yet as to how I write and publish books. Publishing consistently gives the process almost an assembly line feel, but I try not to think of it that way. If you have a process, you’re much better off to think of it as being efficient with your time rather than typing The End, looking up from your laptop and yelling, Thank You, Next! a la Ariana Grande and shoving the manuscript on to your editor. Just because you publish frequently doesn’t mean you don’t care about your books or characters less than someone who has to take a year to write a book.

In a previous blog post I talked about taking time with your launches, enjoying your books, giving them room to breathe. I haven’t done that, not with the 13 books I have completed on my laptop because I enjoy the writing process so much. I jump from one finished book to the next without regard for how how I’m going to publish them or when. I may have gotten carried away with the writing part of it, but at least I’ve got the hardest part down pat.

As a friend likes to say, it’s all about the books. But you can’t market if you don’t have any. Create the product then worry about the rest later.

Until next time!

4 thoughts on “Putting emphasis on marketing over writing: an indie author issue.

  1. Random thought triggered by this post: I think Amazon would do everyone a tremendous favor if they stopped reporting category rankings. They are completely meaningless, and only encourage people to spend money on promotions that don’t ever hit the bottom line.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Overall rank is important because that’s the order Amazon lists things, so higher ranking books catch more eyeballs. But category and especially sub-category ranks appear to be completely irrelevant in the algorithm.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey, sorry, but you’re conflating marketing with advertising. This is a super common issue, both for indies and for people trying to sell things to indies. It can be a big red flag, especially for those selling high-ticket courses, as a person who doesn’t know the difference is not going to have a lot of insight.

    Unfortunately, the terms are conflated so often that it creeps into usage as a colloquialism. I avoided Joanna Penn’s blog until recently because she makes this mistake all the time, so I assumed she was another blow hard. Of course, I’m now really regretting that, as she’s awesome! But when she says “marketing” what she means is “advertising”.

    Here’s my point: Marketing is the study of the supply/demand dynamic, finding out what needs the customer base has, figuring out what products are available, and what needs are met by them, so that you can understand what needs are not being met, and can fill that gap with your product. This is most easily done by members of a specific consumer viewpoint, who have an inherent knowledge of the relevant gaps.

    A lot of the people who say “write to market” are not talking about writing to market, they’re talking about copycatting and then underselling as a means to build an audience. This is an incredibly poor way to make beans. You’ll gather a few readers, but they won’t stick, because your product is not unique. The people who recommend this don’t understand what marketing is.

    ~Please note, all of the following niches are currently being slammed with wagon jumpers, so traction is hard going, but they’re still terrific examples~

    On Amazon, examples of excellent marketing include the *first* person who published a body-positive BBW romance series (Jennifer Crusie), the *first* person who published gay paranormal fantasy, the *first* person who published a later-in-life romance and labelled it as such (there were many before that, but one person made it a formal genre on Amazon). Every one of these people was a member of the demographic not being served. They saw the gap and filled it.

    Early adapters who jump on the train can often gain a piece of the pie, but you have to be early in the door AND a community member, or you will be seen as a wagon jumper- and the problem with wagon jumpers is that they’re not part of the community the books serve. Wagon jumpers get it wrong, which alienates the customer base. The base then increases loyalty to the first provider, and in some cases some of the early adapters.

    Check the reviews on any man writing women’s fiction with low star ratings. The number of likes on comments about how the author really just doesn’t get it number in the hundreds. I would not still be publishing in a genre if I got that kind of feedback. I guarantee you that these guys think they’re writing to market, while in fact, they’re ignoring the market.

    One of the things that has always kind of amused me is just how many of the people who advise “writing to market” are talking about copycatting. If you look back through their history, you’ll see that they were wagon jumpers, not the person who actually wrote to market, or even an early adapter.

    I’ve never seen a pioneer advise writing to market. Instead, they talk about how they saw a media environment that didn’t showcase people like them in a positive way, and they decided to fill the gap.

    As a caveat, I am not an indie author, I’m a Mass Communications grad student working on my first fiction novel. My background is the study of media democratization, and how both marketing and advertising has changed as a result. My focus is on inclusion and agency, how platforms for speech are created. Markets 🙂


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