Ninie Hammon’s Blog for Writers

A Newbie's Guide: Novel Marketing for Dummies

Posted: March 10, 2014, 12:28PM

Shortly before Thanksgiving, I swallowed hard, put on my big boy pants and offered to purchase from my publisher the rights to all seven of my novels. They weren’t selling as well as I believed they could and I was frustrated with the publishing company’s method of marketing them. I watched indie publishers, saw how nimble they were in promotion and pricing and came to believe that would be more effective. To my stunned amazement, my publisher agreed to sell. Six weeks of negotiations, contract back-and-forth and (gulp!) money later, I moved in, a card-carrying citizen of Indie Publishingdom.

I decided at that point to take a break from writing my weekly writing tips blog posts. (For those of you who’ve missed them, that’s where they went!) I determined to set aside my eighth novel as well, and for the first part of 2014 concentrate on figuring out how to effectively sell the other seven. Well, now it’s March. And I am here to report that book-marketing is a dragon and it's not one you can train in eight weeks.

In the beginning, I felt like a flea on the floor at a dog show. There were way too many choices, they were all huge and they wouldn’t hold still long enough for me to jump on. I tired quickly of the claxon cry from all sides that I HAD TO effectively market my books only to discover that nobody seemed to have any idea how to do it. No, that’s not true. EVERYBODY seemed to have an idea, but none of them agreed.

And in order to understand all those Everybodies, I had to learn a whole new language called MarketingSpeak. Knowbies use it to prattle on to newbies about such things as SEO (search engine optimization), KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), TA (Target Audience), AB (Also Bought) and IHT (I hate this!)

                                                 So far, I’ve read 11 different how-to-market-your-novel books. I decided to start with John Locke, who was the first author to sell a million ebooks on Kindle. Bad decision. The man actually bragged in an interview about buying 300 reviews! I determined right then that if the road to success led into the Enchanted Forest of Scammed Readers, I’d grind my laptop into metal shavings and go into real estate!

Finally, though, I located ethical advice. Ethical but contradictory. Amanda Luedeke says you absolutely, positively have to have a big platform, and Jonathan Gunson has a plan to build one with blogs and Twitter. But Michael Alvea says that’s baloney—on dry toast with catsup—that platform is a colossal waste of time.

Some tell you to concentrate on Goodreads—duh, that’s where the readers are.

Others tell you to concentrate on Amazon—duh, that’s where the customers are.

And still others advise you to put all your social media, book reviews, Facebook pages, social karma, blog tours, Twitter interviews, webinars and candy bars into the top of a big funnel and badda boom, badda bing, out the bottom will drop customers. Plop. Plop. Plop.

After two full months of doing nothing but studying marketing, I have gleaned only one timeless truth which I shall pass on to you (listen up, this part will be on the mid-term): At least fifty percent of what is touted out there as expert advice on how to sell books is nothing more than a pile of the warm, sticky substance you find on the south side of a horse going north. Unfortunately, the truth I didn’t discover was which fifty percent.

Frantically treading water to keep from drowning in an bottomless sea of information, I spotted a piece of driftwood and I’ve managed to keep my head above the waves by clinging to it with all my strength. The driftwood of my metaphor here is not an epiphany in which all marketing secrets have been revealed to me. My driftwood is a way for an amateur to look at marketing. My methodology is crude, with lumps, bumps and splinters—just what you’d expect from a piece of driftwood. There’s no new information here, nothing particularly astute that involved profound critical thinking. It is not a thing of beauty, but it works for me.

You’ve heard me say many times about writing a novel that you can eat an elephant—one bite at a time. Well, my driftwood is an ax to chop the elephant into bite-sized chunks. (Ok, the anology's wearing a little thin here.) After two months of struggle, I’ve managed to whack the mammoth marketing elephant into four parts: Product, Store, Promotion and Sales. Each one of those parts is HUGE. So’s an elephant’s leg, but it’s not as big as the whole elephant.



 Duh. My books.

Do you know what constitutes a great title from a marketing perspective? There are useful tips out there for how to pick one. Do you know what a good cover looks like? The criteria is not whether it appeals to you, three readers and Uncle Hurl in Omaha. The criteria is a huge checklist of elements that stand for excellence from a marketing perspective.

For example: if you’re strictly an indie publisher, you’re likely not selling paperbacks readers hold in their hands where they can examine the finer points of your cover design. An ebook cover has to POP when it’s only the size of a postage stamp! Chances are the beautiful, delicate script font you picked won’t be legible that small.

What about live links in your books to your other books? Do you have a request for reviews? A link to an author video? A link to a trailer?

Have you moved all the extraneous material to the back of the book. A reader can only sample about ten pages. Do you want to waste four of those on Acknowledgements, Dedication, Copyright and About the Author? You need a one-two punch of the title and your name, then page one of Chapter One.

Oh, and about Chapter One. Does it end with a cliff-hanger to make the reader click “buy” to find out what happens?

Speaking of cliff-hangers, I’m going to take my own advice here and leave this post dangling. In succeeding posts, I’ll talk in more detail about Product, Store, Promotion and Sales. Explaining it to you helps me clarify it in my own mind.

I’ll return to my how-to-use-foreshadowing-to-create-suspense series eventually, but right now I’m struggling not to drown. If you are, too, grab hold of my driftwood. I’ve got Band-Aids if you get splinters.

Write on!



Ellis Shuman March 11, 2014, 5:19AM |

This post is "right on" for us authors who should be spending our time "write on" but end up drowning in the sea of marketing. I will continue to follow your posts, hoping that your driftwood will indeed help me find dry, and successful shores where I can better sell my books.   Reply

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TR Hudgins March 11, 2014, 11:29PM |

In trying to prepare for the self publication of my debut novel this summer, I am beyond excited to learn what you have learned. I have been following the "word of mouth" promotional technique for now, but that might get me two dozen book sales. I think it's promising that most people I tell about my book (you know, that condensed version you talked about a while ago -- I think you called it an elevator ride version) are excited to read it and ask me to repeat the title as they type it into their smart phones or "jot it down for me so I'll have it"! But this past week a lady asked me if it would be available for her to purchase on her Nook. I stood mouth agape just blinking at her. "Uhh..." In that instant, I made a decision I knew was going to mean more work than I could fathom: yes, I will make it available as an e-book. I walked away thinking, "What did I just say?! What did I just do?!" Now I'm desperately researching what I need to do to make that happen. (I must have the first book available in print form though; I have too many people that want a paperback for me to sign for them. I'm going print-on-demand for those readers.) This post couldn't have come at a better time for me! Now I need to design a new cover (because I had no idea I would need a different one for my e-book version) and see where page ten is going to fall in the book. I need to completely reformat the entire book and learn how to add links in the end of it. From this post, I now have a whole new to-do list. And I actually want to express my gratitude: thank you!! I can hardly wait to read more! TR   Reply

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Colleen March 13, 2014, 2:37PM |

Great article, Ninie! Love your sense of humor. :) I'm in the same spot as you apparently were before—reading piles of books on the subject of marketing. So kind of you to share your insights so far. Will definitely be returning for more!   Reply

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Brent King March 14, 2014, 10:47AM |

It's certainly a confusing world sometimes, isn't it. When it comes to marketing, I think it is smart to take time to REALLY learn Amazon, but I don't think we can downplay the value of making connections, of forging relationships. We all know the power of word-of-mouth in our world, how interacting with the "right" person can make all the difference. The problem is that we often don't know just who that person is or where, in our interaction with others, we will meet him/her.   Reply

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James W. March 17, 2014, 3:20PM |

9e....You really hit the nail on the head with this article. I can honestly say I fell victim to some of this (now) ridiculous ploys out of desperation. Being a new Indie author, my eyes have truly been open thanks to your article and a few other sincere ones. Please keep the knowledge flowing.   Reply

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Steven Whitacre March 18, 2014, 10:20AM |

Thanks for the article! I've been running down the same path and am finding that the marketing aspect of it is a lot harder than the actual writing itself. It seems no matter which way you turn, there is somebody standing there pitching their sure fire method of success. But what works for some, doesn't work for others. I think what it all boils down to is exposure though. For me, Facebook has been the biggest marketing tool. I see others who use Twitter extensively (I haven't figured out how to do that without coming across as spammy). Goodreads seems good, and for the cost of one book in a giveaway, there is good potential exposure, but most of the marketing "tools" aimed at the indie publisher seem to be overly expensive and ripe for scammers. Pay somebody $150 to have them tweet my book to an unknown set of "followers" (that may or may not be real people)? Pay $75 for a guaranteed good review? (really? I understand the power of reviews, but I couldn't live with myself if I were buying reviews - I want my book to sell on its own merit).. then of course there are TONS of sites that will pimp your book for you to their "followers" and subscribers. I have heard mixed success stories with those as well... As soon as April rolls around and I receive my first royalty payment, I'm going to give a Facebook ad a try... I'll let you know how it turns out :)   Reply

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McKenzie March 28, 2014, 2:23PM |

I love this post, making notes to myself. I seem to encounter a lot of noise and chatter about what to do and what not to do but your writing makes the most sense and hits me the hardest. (In a good way). I agree - there are tons of red flags. And as writers we are so hungry to find out that magical potion that works. Thanks for sharing, it's very valuable!   Reply

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Marge March 31, 2014, 10:50PM

You are a woman after my own heart! I, too seem to research the he#$ out of important things (for my novels, my kids, how to publish etc.). I am at the exact spot you are with the same conclusion. I have a business degree and worked in marketing; it depends on research, industry knowledge, hard work and luck. I wish you luck because the rest you can do!   Reply

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Michael November 1, 2014, 4:18PM

I'm in the same boat. I am on my second novel with no idea how to promote. I use twitter and Facebook and my Middle Grade fantasy novel is going to be featured on Wattpad but beyond that, I'm flying blind. I've received advice from several successful e-authors but what works for one writer doesn't necessarily work for another. Mr. Gunson was successful because his book was a puzzle to find a treasure. Now he sells a how-to course on marketing. If you figure what works, please share with the rest of us. Sorry to hear your publisher was a disappointment. I always thought if you had a publisher, they would do everything in their power to sell your book.   Reply

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"Oh, and about the 9 and the e beside my name. Say it fast, emphasis on the 9. That’s how you pronounce my first name -9e. (Think “rhymes with tiny and shiny, NOT with skinny and penny.”)

Suspense Author

I have soooo many stories I want to tell you, so many worlds I want you to see, so many people I want you to meet. People in trouble, most of them. Big trouble they didn't ask for but there it is. Ordinary folks like you and me who are forced by circumstances to fight for their lives. And then, smack in the middle of their everyday worlds they encounter the unexplainable. It's always the game-changer.

Welcome to my world. If you'd like to know more about me, I'm easy. Click on Meet Ninie and you'll see. My life isn't really an open book; it's more of a pamphlet, and you are cordially invited to read it. I'd love to interact with you on Twitter, Facebook Fan page, and Goodreads. Or come visit with me at 9e's Kitchen Table, a Facebook group where readers and I hang out. I think you'd like it.