Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Modern Marketing for the Indy Writer, by Cary Caffrey

Part One: Evaluate, Strategize, Execute, Re-Evaluate
Part Two: Sales Targets & Solid Foundations
Part Three: The Marketplace, Your Product & You
Part Four: Branding - Why Your Book Cover Matters
Part Five: Top Five Marketing Dos & Don'ts

Part One

Evaluate, Strategize, Execute, Re-evaluate.

In this series we’re going to discuss a lot of things: hiring publicists, branding, product design and creation, pricing and social media. We'll also discuss working with publishers and how that fits in with your marketing efforts.

But I have loftier goals than simply walking you through some cookie-cutter process and listing off a bunch of marketing dos and don’ts. I don't know about you, but if I hear one more publishing professional telling me about the importance of social media I may put a bullet in my head.

That's why I'm making it my job to make sure you to come away from this with a change in your mindset.

First, I want you to stop thinking like a writer. I want you to start thinking like an entrepreneur. Second, I want you to set your goals higher. In fact, I want you to set your goals a lot higher—much higher, for the simple reason that you can and should be selling more books!

Lastly, I want you to leave feeling empowered. I want you to know that whether you’re with a publisher or going it on your own, you have the means to take charge of your career and have a real impact on your own success.

Sell Books. Make Money. Why The Expletive-Deleted-By-Editorial-Staff Not?

Most artists I meet don't know how to make money off their work. They don't have any clear-cut sales goals, and they don't see how they can get anywhere unless they're discovered by a traditional publisher. 

This isn't their fault. Let's face it, we all grow up in a very familiar environment—one where "success" is for other people, genius people, but not us. Never us. Basically, we're programmed to think we can't possibly succeed, at least, not on our own, and definitely not unless we're "discovered."

This is immensely frustrating for me, because the simple reality is that you can, and should, be making money off your hard work. Writing might be creative, but it's also a business, and your book is a product, one that can be bought, sold, licensed, branded monetized and commodified. The same goes for your author-brand (but I'll go more into turning your book sales into writing/speaking/teaching gigs in a later installment).

But whenever I talk business with artists (writers, musicians, photographers, etc.), I can't tell you how often I see them yawn, shrug their shoulders and say, "Meh, I just want to write."

Well, if that's you—if you're someone who "just wants to write," if you're waiting around for someone to do the heavy lifting for you, then this series isn't for you. On the other hand, if you're tired of waiting for someone to publish you and market you in the way you deserve, if you're tired of not growing your readership, if you're determined to take charge of your career and finally see your books find the readers that you know are out there, then by all means—read on!

Introduction (to me, not marketing)

Here's the deal. When it comes writing, I’m average. I’m a hack. No one is ever going to confuse my writing with high-art. I struggle at it. It’s become a daily grind—one that has me constantly questioning myself, especially when those blank pages stay blank.

But when it comes to marketing, I pull no punches. I’m good at it. I’m fucking good at it. I understand it. I’m fascinated by it. I study it everyday. I’m always looking to see what works, what turns people’s cranks and gets them going, what turns casual observers into customers.

I take a very scientific approach to what I do. In fact, my wife and I got so good at it (promoting our own projects), that way back in the 90's, we started getting hired by other artists to work for them. It didn't take long for this to become our full-time business, and it's something we still do to this day, on top of our own writing and publishing efforts.

Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to know I’m not talking out of my ass when it comes to marketing. I’ve worked for a slew indy artists, some big-name artists, managers, promoters, labels and publishers. I don’t claim to know everything, and I'm hardly a big deal. My books have sold, and they've sold very well, but I know that in the larger world of publishing I am a mere smudge, a glob of goo on heel of the industry's boot. I’ve made my share of mistakes and continue to do so (especially my failure to crank out novels in a timely fashion). But I don’t make excuses. I learn from my mistakes.

If what I’m doing isn’t working, I make changes, I move on.

You’ll never hear me say the familiar, “oh, if only I had a manager." "Oh, if only I had a publisher, or an agent, etc.”

It’s not because I’m some kind of hero-genius. I’m not. It’s because I’ve worked with enough industry insiders to know that there’s not much they're willing to do for me that I can’t do myself, especially in this age of global digital distribution.

SIDE NOTE: Notice I said "there's not much they're willing to do…" rather than, there's not much they can do. This is an important distinction, and one we'll talk more about in a later instalment.

Marketing 101

First off, there is no 'trick' to marketing. There is no secret button, and despite what John Locke (the first indy-published million seller on Amazon) says, there is no such thing as a golden blog-post, so don't bother flipping ahead to the section where I reveal all. That section doesn't exist.

Just like learning to write requires constant study, practice and evaluation, so does developing good marketing skills. And if what you're doing isn't working, then (just like good editing) you're going to have to develop a backbone strong enough to subject yourself to the same level of merciless and ruthless criticism that you do your writing.

We're all guilty of showing our work to people who pat us on the back and tell us what a good job we're doing. I understand this. We need that validation to keep going—because this is bloody hard work and it's extremely stressful. But if we don't learn to actually seek out hard, honest criticism, if we don't learn to embrace that criticism, learn to process it and use it, we're sunk. Because the reality is if we're not selling books we're going to have to make some changes.

If something we're doing isn't working, if our book isn't selling the way we'd like, then it's up to us to address those problems and fix them. I see the same fixable issues all the time. Sometimes our book needs more work. It's tough to hear, it hurts, but it's true. But almost always, it's our branding that needs serious tweaking, if not a complete overhaul.

Cover changes, title changes, re-edits, better websites—even changing your author name to make you stand out from all the other Joan Smith-Collingsworths out there—absolutely nothing should be considered "off the table" when evaluating your efforts.

Going generic is not the way to stand out from the crowd.

Ninety-eight percent of the books on Amazon look amateurish. They are completely generic and, worst of all, they look identical! I've even caught a couple of SFR members using the same stock photos for covers that have already been used several times by other writers.

Fitting in sounds great when we're in high school, but when it comes to marketing our book we want to stand out like the biggest sore thumb there ever was. We want to turn heads, not bury ourselves in generic packaging. This is marketing at its most basic.

Another common problem is trying to sell our books to the wrong audience, in the wrong place and at the wrong time. We'll address all of these issues in the coming installments.

The good news is that none of these issues are a big deal. The sooner we realize this the sooner we'll start making changes, and the sooner we'll start selling books.

And, yes, you can sell books. We write SFR! SFR is a growing mass-market category, and that means you can sell a lot of books. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Oh, and remember when I said there was no trick to marketing? I lied. There is a trick and it is quite simple: we do whatever it takes to make our customers excited! Let our enthusiasm for our book become their enthusiasm.

There. Now you know everything there is to know about marketing.


Next week we'll take a more in depth look at your marketing efforts—everything from what it takes to build a solid foundation, your strategy and your sales goals. Until then, I have a homework assignment for you. I want you to consider the following, and I need you to be brutally honest:

  • How does my book and my (or my publisher's) marketing efforts stack up to the competition?
  • Do I stand out from the crowd or blend in?
  • Have my marketing efforts achieved the goals I set?
  • Do I have any goals?
  • If I have fallen short of my goals, what changes have I (or my publisher) made to rectify the situation?

Cheers, and thanks for reading.

Next up, Thursday Sept. 18, Part Two: Sales goals, target markets and building solid foundations.


  1. As always, Cary, some very insightful information. Thank you!!

  2. Much as I've been in denial about it, I had come to the conclusion some time ago that social media was not the way to sell books. However, I feel kind of stuck in not being able to see what the alternative is at this point.

    1. Pippa, this series will be ALL about the alternatives, what works, and why it works. This is about getting you unstuck.

      Stay tuned.

  3. Love the attitude. Can't wait for more!

  4. I'm just starting out on the indie path, with my first book releasing next week. This series is perfect timing!

    1. Sweet news (on your release). I've got a whole segment coming up on releasing, but let me plant this seed now: start soliciting as many 5 star reviews as you can from friends, family, other writers--anyone who will read your book. Launching with a good number of 5 star reviews on day-1 will make your book look ultra-hot on Amazon's new release list (marketing tip: people search by best-reviewed).

  5. Did the homework assignment. It was easy, as my (and my publisher's) marketing efforts do not stand up to the competition's. :(

    I'm excited to learn more. Looking forward to the next post.

    1. Good for you! I mean, well, on doing the assignment ... not on your publisher's efforts ... er, you know what I mean.

      At least we're all in the same boat: we've all got work to do. The biggest hurdle is admitting it and then doing something about it.

  6. Good post and I'm looking forward to the next one. Thanks for sharing what you know with the group. :-)

  7. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. I shall read the next post with interest.


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