Marketing Is Everything

Author Russell Newquist helpfully informs us of the difference between marketing and advertising while explaining why marketing is essential for authors.
First of all, you have to understand that marketing and advertising are two separate but related things. Any business you run (and remember, selling your own books is a business!) must do both!
Marketing is everything you do – everything – related to letting people know that your product (book) exists and why they should purchase (and read) it.
Advertising is when you pay somebody to include some kind of ad for your product – a video, a little image, a blurb, a text segment, whatever. It’s a subset of marketing.
Advertising almost always costs money. Sometimes you can work out a trade with someone, but usually you’re going to have to pay for it. With other forms of marketing, on the other hand, you can very often trade hard work for money. And you must keep doing it.
You hate marketing? Suck it up, buttercup – or go get a day job. If you want your books to sell, you have to market them.
You’re probably used to thinking of marketing as a dirty word, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time to rethink the word. Look at it this way:
Nobody will ever read your book if they don’t know it exists. Nobody. Ever.
Stop thinking of marketing as a dastardly activity and think of it as precisely two things:
  1. Letting people know that your book exists.
  2. Letting them know why they should read it.

I second everything Russell said. Marketing is what separates amateurs from pros. If you want to be a pro author, you need to market yourself--note: not just your books; yourself--constantly. Marketing grows brands. You are the brand. Your books are your products.

Russell follows up these truth bombs with some actionable advice.
Here are some cheap or even free things you should start early and keep at to market your book:
  • Start a blog and write interesting posts about interesting topics!
  • Bonus points if the blog’s topic relates to your book topic!
  • Create profiles on various social media and participate!
  • Get as many of your friends and family to read and review your book as possible!
  • Talk about your book to anyone who will listen!
Here are a few other things that you should consider spending some money on, even if you only have one book:
A good cover. It’s not so much that good covers sell books (although they do). The bigger issue is that bad covers kill books. You don’t have to spring for the best cover ever. But a bad cover is worse than “not worth the money.” It will actually work against you. There are some good places you can get decent covers done for under $200. They’re worth it. This is also the gift that keeps on giving. You pay for the cover now for book one… but when book two comes out, book one still has that excellent cover you paid for. So book one’s sales boost from book two’s release will be better. And so on.
A good web site. Did you read what I said above about bad covers killing books? Ditto for bad web sites. The good news is, it’s pretty easy to build a not-terrible web site these days. But you want more than that. You don’t just want a web site that looks good. You want a web site that’s built to sell your book. If you’re not technically inclined, or if you’re no good at marketing, save yourself a lot of headaches. Pay someone to build a web site for you. You can find some not terrible web designers for a few hundred dollars. Like your book’s cover, this is the gift that keeps on giving. A good web site will keep selling book one… and then take only a little modification to start selling book two. Invest your time and energy here and, if necessary, your money.
Some sales artwork. The internet is a fantastic place and you can find artwork pretty inexpensively if you look. For $10-30 a piece you can buy very high quality stock images to use. For $30-200 a piece you can pay for some pretty good quality artwork. This is especially worth the money if your book is the first of the series. You can reuse that character art for every single book in that line – and add to it with each book. Eventually you’ll have a really huge collection of art you can choose from for flyers, posters, ads, etc. But you can also start small and cheap and build this collection as you have money.
I can confirm the usefulness of sales artwork from personal experience.

Souldancer - Brian Niemeier

But there's one piece of advice from Russell that needs to come with some major caveats.
Give away books. Yes, you heard me. Give them away. Give away as many books as you possibly can, especially book one in a series. Ebooks are best for this, of course, because they’re free to you. But give away print books, too, if you have to. The more the better. My experience is that about one out of every one hundred readers will actually review a book (maybe fewer). But you need those reviews. So get those books out the door to anyone who will read them. Remember: this is helpful for getting reviews and selling books now. But even more importantly, you’re laying a foundation of fans who will buy your future books. So give them away like candy.
Not to step on Russell's toes, but I've got lots of experience with book giveaways. The result is that I'm much less bullish on giving books away for free than Russell is.

The best advice, as always, comes from Larry Correia: only do free if you have a plan.

Here are some pointers to help you make that plan:
  • If you only have one book, don't give it away for free.
  • Most authors will tell you to make the first book in a series free. Consider giving away the second or third book in a series. I've found that people are more likely to go back and buy previous books in a series than they are to buy later installments after getting book one for free, but your mileage may vary.
  • Give away free copies of your books through your web site/mailing list. Kindle Unlimited requires a 90 day commitment, and it sucks. Seriously, getting paid based on number of KENPs read amounts to a pay cut from Amazon to tradpub royalty rates.

The moral of the story? Always. Be. Closing!

By the way, The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III is currently on sale for only 99 cents.

The Secret Kings - Brian Niemeier



  1. Great advice, lots of food for thought. You aren't kidding on the artwork: a bad cover screams "my author doesn't take me seriously and neither should you." To contact, that picture you use of Astlin catches my eye every time and gets me wondering when the next book is coming (crashingly unsubtle hint).

    1. Thanks for the feedback. It always helps when readers tell you which forms of marketing they find appealing.

      To answer your question, I'm currently getting a non-Soul Cycle novella ready for publication. Then it's straight to work on the 4th and final SC book, The Ophian Rising.

      Question for you: what's your opinion of Souldancer's current cover?

    2. I was so sold after reading Nethereal that I didn't really factor it into my purchase. However, upon taking another look: I like it. Stylistically, it matches Nethereal, which is a nice touch even if a bit impressionistic for my taste. However, that's part of what makes it stand out. Best of all, it intrigues (no spaceships, but what's with the guy and the big black pyramid? I think I'll crack this open and take a look!). So yeah, if I'd seen this in a bookstore, I would have stopped and read the opening chapter or two before purchasing.

      BTW, read your short story in Forbidden Thoughts and loved it! Have you considered a book of short stories, maybe in the style of Foundation or Hyperion, set in your Soul Cycle universe?

    3. Added thought: part of why that picture of Astlin catches my eye is because of the contrast between it and the cover. The cover is serious, an invitation to a mysterious and metaphysical world where reality...isn't.

      Astlin, however, is cute! She looks like the kind of girl I'd have gone after in High School, only what's with the arm? Why's she dressed that way? Is this some kind of new anime or cartoon?
      In short, it intrigues, but for different if wholly valid reasons (Souldancer could work well as an anime or some other form of cartoon; I'd watch it, at least). For stylistic reasons, I prefer the cover as it is, but I think using the other picture as an ad or blurb also works well as a hook.

    4. Thanks for the additional feedback. Every little bit helps!

      "BTW, read your short story in Forbidden Thoughts and loved it! Have you considered a book of short stories, maybe in the style of Foundation or Hyperion, set in your Soul Cycle universe?"

      Glad you liked "Elegy for the Locust". One of these days I hope to release an anthology of short stories that fill in the backstory of the Soul Cycle. Who are some established and up-and-coming authors you'd like to see playing in my world?

      "Astlin, however, is cute!"
      If she heard you say that, it would definitely earn you a hug. Take that for what it's worth.

      "Souldancer could work well as an anime"

      I basically wrote it by envisioning Souldancer anime episodes in my head and writing down what I saw.

  2. Even if you only have one book, I say it's fine to give out copies in a person to person context as often as possible. You need reviews, and you need evangelists. The biggest push I ever got for my first book was when I gave a few copies out on a survivalists forum. One of the guys who got a copy continued to pimp it to all of his friends for a couple of months.

  3. I think all of your caveats are very valid, although I personally don't follow all of them 100% of the time. And as a reference to a comment earlier in this thread:

    YMMV, indeed.

    I've had several discussions with folks in various businesses now. And I can tell you definitively...

    You and I could be selling the Exact. Same. Book. And we could be do the Exact. Same. Marketing. And it might work for you but not for me - or vice versa. Successful marketing is very personal, especially at an indie or small business level. You have to find what works for you.

    1. "You and I could be selling the Exact. Same. Book. And we could be do the Exact. Same. Marketing. And it might work for you but not for me - or vice versa."

      There it is.

      Couldn't agree more. In fact, so many marketing tactics that others swear by just plain don't work for that I'm tempted to make doing the opposite a rule ;)

    2. The key is experimentation. TRACK EVERYTHING, and learn from it.

  4. Brian

    Awesome advice from you and Russel. As a reader i totally agree with you about cover art. It's very important to have elegant or beautiful covers that catchbthe eye. I've come across some stunning book covers that tempted me to buy the book.

    As for the free books. I'm conflicted, i like the authours giving away the first book of a series OR selling a 3 book pack of a big series for ultracheap price I like both options.

    The secret is to give your customers options that are reasonable for both sides.


  5. And this is exactly why I gave up trying to write for money. It's a sales job, and I don't like sales. Having a fairly decent product line helps, but a good salesman who is a mediocre writer can make money with fiction. If you're a lousy salesman, however, it doesn't make any difference how well or poorly you write.

    Writing fiction isn't a job. Selling fiction is.

    1. "Writing fiction isn't a job. Selling fiction is."

      You're exactly right.

      When aspiring authors come to me for career advice, the first question I ask them is why they're writing.

      Making a decent supplemental income is one thing. Making a living is a related, but different ballgame. Publishing a book just to scratch it off your bucket list and impress your family and friends is a whole other sport. Specifically, an amateur sport.

      That question catches most of them off guard. The number of aspiring authors out there who've never stopped to consider why they want to write is staggering.

      If you want to write a novel as a personal challenge or an essay in the craft, that's great. Don't pay for pro editing or a cover. Enjoy the pleasure of writing "The End" on the last page and file the MS in a shoe box in your closet. Or send a few copies to friends and family. Congratulations. You've achieved what very few people ever accomplish.

      If you have more than one book in you. If, in fact, you can't stop writing. I mean, if they locked you away, you'd swallow a pencil nub, regurgitate it in your cell, and cover the padded walls with fever dreams. That kind of obsession.

      If you need to write like you need to breathe and you want your writing to reach as wide an audience as possible, then you need to learn sales. It serves no one to be good at the art and bad at the business.

      On a personal note, I used to hate sales, too. I did my tours in the Christmas retail trenches trying to convince people that they wanted useless junk they couldn't afford. I'm not talking cool toys for grownups with some entertainment value. I'm talking extended warranties on CDs and store credit lines. It was miserable.

      In the middle of that drudgery, I sold my first short story. Suddenly I learned that people wanted to read my writing, and what's more, they'd pay me for it.

      Now I've come to appreciate sales. I even love sales. Because there are people out there who want to read my stories, but they won't know it until I tell them that my stories exist.

      I'll let you in on a big secret: everything is sales. Life is sales. If you think about it, you use salesmanship in your day job, whatever it is. In the hypothetical case that you don't, your job depends on someone who does.

      But it goes beyond that. Your interactions with co-workers, friends; even your spouse and kids involve salesmanship principles. So it's not a matter of biting the bullet and suffering the unpleasant necessity of sales. It's about having something you're so passionate about that you find joy in doing everything you can to share it.

      People who find their dream jobs always say it doesn't feel like work. For me, selling my stories doesn't feel like sales.

  6. I also have no friends, have a job where I am generally working by myself, and avoid my family as much as possible. Fortunately I have a skill set that allows me to pay my bills with an absolute minimum of human contact.

    1. I'm a maintenance tech. I spend the day fixing things and pretty much only talk to people to get my work orders. It's a good job for people who don't like people. I had thought that writing might also be a good job for people who don't like people, but it isn't.

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