Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fool's Gold II: Why Indies Should Question Marketing “Rules”

By Dario Ciriello

Part of the Indie Author Series

Question, Question

Following last month’s column in which I advocated ignoring popular trends and writing just what you want (and love), this month I want to question all the “expert” advice, popular assumptions, and received dogma about marketing as a self-published or indie author.

Since self-publishing really took off in 2007 with the launch of Amazon KDP, many hundreds of books have been published on the science of indie ebook marketing, often focusing specifically on the various tips and techniques to hit to help your book rise to number one in your chosen category, jiggle KDP Select free days to maximum effect, tweak prices just so, and a myriad more arcane formulas. That the authors of some of these books have made very good money is unquestionable; what I wonder is how many authors have really benefited.

When KDP Select was young, it was a very powerful tool: the first people to use those free days (when a free book download counted in your stats as a full sale) really boosted their numbers and thus climbed in rankings. Then KDP tweaked the formula so that the free downloads were less effective. So indie authors starting looking for other strategies, and the authors of books offering marketing advice were quick to publish books offering new advice and strategies. I could go on about the death of “free”, the dilemma of Kindle Unlimited, about Bookbub and review sites, but you get the idea: the topic is dynamic, complex, and ever-evolving.

I know authors who spend a great deal of time, up to hours a day, keeping tabs on all this, comparing and juggling and tweaking every book on different platforms in an attempt to optimize sales and visibility. Some very few of these authors do well, but mostly these are well-known and prolific writers with a good body of material and a large audience.

My question to you is, is it worth the time and mental real estate trying to keep up with all these changing online marketing strategies and tactics? Because let’s not kid ourselves that we’re only investing time—we’re also investing emotional and intellectual energy, and cluttering up neural pathways that could, along with the time spent, be occupied with keeping a full focus on that novel-in-progress, or maybe the next one.

Let me be clear: I’m not just playing the skeptic here, nor am I suggesting that all the time you may be putting in to keep up with the latest ebook marketing tricks is utterly wasted—I’m just saying think about it. Think about how much more writing or outlining or revision you could get done each day, each week, each year, if you weren’t spending so much time trying to keep up-to-date with the latest techniques for maximizing your visibility, tinkering with pricing and categories, trying to parse whether Amazon’s latest new slippery program (like Select and Unlimited) is for you, annoying your friends on social media, worrying—and you know you do—about whether you’re doing everything you can to promote your book, and so on.

Or you could write. Just write. Only write. And publish, perhaps at double the volume you currently are. Meanwhile, use real-life contacts and networking—things which are part of your everyday interactions—to inform and enthuse your growing audience and potential new readers. Hold big launch parties with wine and food and readings and giveaways, interact with actual readers directly and have fun instead of driving yourself nuts over trying to figure out esoteric algorithms and wicked new programs aimed at maximizing Amazon’s profits. (Again, let me be clear: of course there are decisions to be made on these things, but maybe consider making them every few months, not weekly or more.)

I can hear the laughter and howls. Like last month’s column, I don’t expect this to be a popular view, and don’t for a moment expect many people will even take me seriously. I’m cool with that. I honestly believe that if I write well and enough, I’ll build that audience and those sales. I’m not going to waste time on things I dislike and believe are of questionable and diminishing value. I’m doing what I enjoy and believe to be of true value: I’m writing.

How about you?

Dario Ciriello is a professional author and freelance editor, and the founder of Panverse Publishing. His nonfiction book, Aegean Dream, the bittersweet memoir of a year spent on the small Greek island of Skópelos (the real "Mamma Mia!" island), was a UK travel bestseller in 2012 and has recently been published in Poland. His first novel, Sutherland's Rules, a crime caper/thriller, was published in 2013. Free Verse and Other Stories, a collection of Dario's short Science Fiction work, was released in June 2014. He is currently working on his second novel, another thriller. Dario has also edited and copyedited over a dozen novels, as well as three critically-acclaimed novella anthologies. He lives with his wife in the Los Angeles Area.


  1. I'm with you on this one--but I also suspect that it could be quite effective. What if, during one of those free-wine-and-food gatherings, the attendees were encouraged to post where they were at and links to your Amazon (and/or other) page? Each person that participates in a social site reaches out to a slightly different circle, which might in turn intrigue people who aren't immediately in your circle. Rinse, repeat. Hmmmmm..........

  2. Hi Meg--and thanks for commenting.

    That's a really awesome idea! Wow. I can see real synergy coming from that. I'm going to use that one :) Many thanks :)


  3. All I can tell you, as someone with 8 published books and another one coming out in November, is that when I pay attention to marketing my books, my sales go up. If I don't, they drop to basically nothing. So I pay attention.

    1. Hello MM,

      And thanks for weighing in on this one :)

      I understand what you're saying. What I wonder is how the math works for you.

      Just taking an uneducated guess, let's say you spend a total of just two hours in thinking on how best to tweak, reviewing sales of the particular book, inputting the changes, announcing on a few social media platforms, on your site, etc. If you price your time at a very modest $15/hr, that's $30.

      Now, if your per book profit is $2, you have to get 15 additional sales to cover the time you put in. And this does't take into account the "x factor" of just having this stuff knocking around in your head--negligible, maybe, but I contend that that focus could equally be directed at writing...maybe 1,500 words in that two hours.


    2. This article helps me to breathe a sigh of relief. I am coming out with a new children's book in November and I am a very social person. I recently went to a book festival with advance copies and sold out in less than 2 days. Put me in front of people and my passion flows! I'm exhausted by algorithms etc. Though I do think social media is a HUGE piece (some people who bought from me said they found out about me on Facebook), I also think something is to be said for good 'ol fashioned face-to-face and enjoyable events. While my paranoid side will keep me tied to social media, email list building and other marketing avenues, I now feel better about working in my element...being just plain social. Thx! :-) ~Lynyetta Willis