“…it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.” – David Ogilvy
Ogilvy’s aphorism is absolutely true for books, one of the purist forms of creativity. Unless a new author composes only for themselves or is arrogant enough to expect that their readership will form spontaneously, they must promote their work. Tactics for driving up awareness of a book include: word-of-mouth, cool websites, book reviews, signings/readings, discounts, and attending literary festivals. However, these mostly passive devices rely on someone stumbling across the literary work. Advertising proactively reaches out to folks beyond an intimate circle of initiates who haven’t heard of either the author or their creative efforts. Further, by placing your own ads, you control the message.
The focus of this post will be on digital advertising rather than traditional media (e.g. print ads) because digital ad’s relatively modest cost and broad reach seem to make it suited to the challenges of promoting books. However, in a fluid, inchoate period for the publishing industry, the post doesn’t pretend to comprehensively describe book ads. Also, I don’t explore the intricacies of outwitting a particular social media platform’s algorithmic logic to get an ad to an ideal reader. Instead, the post reflects my modest, but growing, experience introducing my contemporary fantasy novel (The Lords of Oblivion) to a wider readership and examines challenges common to many genres in light of this experience.
Unlike other analysis of book advertising, this critique isn’t clickbait for paid eLearning courses or expensive marketing primers. Indeed, I’ll try to avoid the usual bromides and received wisdom on this topic. Read that elsewhere if so inclined; a virtual cottage industry has grown to provide guidance of varying quality in this area. In addition, though this post is intended for rookie, self-published authors, it’s also relevant to traditionally-published, yet lesser-known writers whose editors will delegate the lion’s share of promotion right back to the author.
Overall Challenge – Advertising books appears relatively easy until the author tries it. In principle, the tools to target ads toward a precisely defined audience potentially interested in the author’s work are more readily available than ever. Facebook (FB), Twitter, Instagram, Google and other platforms offer cook-book instructions for the mechanics of creating and launching such ads. This is complimented by an army of internet advisers offering sometimes contradictory instruction on optimizing your promotion and, by the way, touting their own marketing material. However, even a cursory look at actual author experience achieving sales traction based on ads provides a sobering counterweight to Panglossian thinking about the power of social media. Advertising on Amazon and other online shopping platforms is another means of supporting book sales, but here also experience should temper a writer’s expectations.
Though I argue that at least some advertising is essential, men and women of letters need to be measured, cynical even, in their expectations about generating speedy sales for their work (even if they get many ‘clicks’ and ‘likes’). Social media platforms’ business is to monetize their membership’s personal data on a gargantuan scale. Their size renders them unaware and unconcerned with the success of individual authors spending a pittance on advertising. Even big publishing houses appear to struggle with converting a social media presence into sales of individual books in their catalogs . Given this daunting environment, authors should be: 1) agnostic about which platform(s) to use; 2) parsimonious until they can gauge what works; and 3) inquisitive enough to develop a working knowledge of the platforms.
To be continued in subsequent posts…