Hocus Focus

Another one of those articles came across my feeds the other day. You know the ones? The ones where somebody with a book or two placed with A Real Publisher decries the sad state of authorship and how being poor but published is much superior to being one of Those People? There are fewer of those articles floating about these days,  but I keep running across this canard:

"Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing and 90% of their time marketing."

If that's what you're doing as a self-published author, you're doing it wrong.

I understand the rationale. It comes from the old school marketing people using mass market techniques on niche market segments. The impetus to do something - even something that doesn't work - can be overwhelming. It's what causes authors to abuse social media by posting "buy my book" messages six times a day to hit all the major time zones. It's what causes writers to spend time writing meaningful blog posts three times a week because they've been told that's how to get readers. It's why so very many of us think they have to be everywhere all the time or they're missing out the growth potential of each of the channels.

But here's the thing.

As content creators, we really should focus on creating content. The content we need to create is not "interesting links" or "regular blog posts" or even "quality content." We need to create new stories. Sure, they're rehashed retellings of one of the seven basic plots, but to readers, they're new stories. We breathe life into the characters and unfold plots. We take readers to worlds that fascinate or horrify or titillate - sometimes all three.

We can't do that if we're focused on marketing. We can't do that if we're spending the majority of our effort and attention chasing goals based on flawed models.

The heck of it is, the models sorta work. That's the danger in them. They work in the same way taking a pair of pinking shears to your lawn works. If you stick with it, you will eventually get your grass cut. It may take so long that you'll have to start again immediately, but it does work. Sorta. As an analogy, I think it applies to the way people approach marketing. The mass market tools work but they're not very effective and they're horribly inefficient. By focusing time and energy on using those tools, you incur an enormous opportunity cost. You wind up spending all your time marketing and never write the stories your audience wants.

All because of a misplaced focus.

Image Credit: "Focus" Michael Dales CC BY-AT-NC
Nathan Lowell
Nathan Lowell has been self-publishing his science fiction and fantasy since he started releasing his books in podcast form in 2007.

He frequently writes about social media, marketing, and the life of a full time self-published author.

6 thoughts on “Hocus Focus

    • My gut reaction is “not on marketing.”

      As far as I’m concerned the key ingredients for growing an audience are time, content, and visibility.

      Ad buys can help with visibility but only if you have spent the time to create the content. They generally don’t contribute to long term audience growth but can help in the short term if you’ve got something in the bag to back up the ad. My basic advice is don’t buy an ad unless you’ve got three or four books (novels, not novellas) you can amortize the cost over. If you’re going to spend the time and money to organize it, you’re going to be better served if you’re selling more than one thing.

      The best form of visibility is having a strong presence in social media. Being authentic. Being interesting. Being engaged with your audience will encourage them to be engaged with you. Auto-DM and robo-tweeting isn’t any of those things. They’re broadcast (mass market) tools.

      Most people chase likes, retweets, followers, and friends, but the numbers are less important than the relationship you have with your audience. That’s the problem. Numbers are easy but relationships take time. The good news is that you can spend time building relationships while you’re also spending the time to create the content.

      I’m noodling a post for next month to address some of these ideas.

      ETA: I’m talking about fiction here. Non-fiction marketing is a very different kettle of carp.

    • Some bullet points:

      0. Make a website you can point potential readers to. Make sure you’ve got an email list signup widget on that page.
      1. Focus on getting three novels published so you have something to sell.
      2. While doing that, create profiles on your three favorite social media platforms. Spend about five minutes a day playing with the people on those platforms. If you don’t like what’s happening there, change your platform
      3. Make friends with authors who write what you write. (The fastest way to grow an audience is borrow one. A friend will offer one if they think it can help.)

      That’ll take a year or so and even if you do everything right, it still feels like floundering. It took me three years and seven novels to get beyond that floundering around feeling. I’m now at ten years and writing number fourteen. In all that time I’ve bought ads twice and run freebies twice. Both times after I became a full-time novelist.

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