I like tea and I need reading glasses.
I mention this only because both activities require some basic accessories: a china cup in one case and a pair of glasses in the other.
But those accessories aren’t actually glued to me and I often put them down. Because I’m absent-minded, I often forget where I put them or, indeed, that I had them with me at all.
The result? I leave a trail of tea mugs and reading glasses wherever I go. When I’m on the phone, I’ll often walk into the garden or down the road outside the house. (Walking is good for brain activity and conversations, in my opinion, happen better outdoors.) Trouble is, I’ll often have a cup of tea in my hand, put it down when it’s finished, then forget that I’ve done so. It’s perfectly common for me to find a mug of tea in our vegetable patch, a pair of glasses on a box hedge, or any empty cup, with a pair of glasses in, on the verge outside our gate.
This sounds like a mildly chaotic (if agreeably bucolic) way of life, and I suppose it is. While more organised people buy designer glasses for eighty pounds the pair, I buy my glasses from Amazon, ten pounds for three. So when the kids sit on a pair, or I leave them in a café, or a hedge somewhere just grows over their carcass, I don’t really mind. Just chalk the cost up to me being me.
Now, I mention this because earlier in the week I talked to Rachel Abbott about her career in self-publishing.
(Short recap if you missed the webinar: she built a tech company, sold it and retired. But when she retired she wrote a book that became the #1 bestseller on Amazon for eleven weeks. That book launched a whole new career and Rachel has been a huge-selling author ever since.)
Rachel is organised and productive.
She has self-pub books, books with Amazon Publishing, and books with a Big 5 firm. She sells overseas in multiple languages. She has an agent and multiple editors and a virtual assistant in Serbia.
She divides her marketing efforts up by type of reader. (Red-hot: her passionate fans. Warm: people who have read a book or so, but aren’t yet addicts. Cold: people who haven’t yet read her stuff.)
She thinks about ad platforms and her Facebook page and her Facebook group and email lists.
She manages multiple series. And has to write the damn books. And deal with edits. And do all that while (in theory) retired and enjoying the gentler life.
All this is kind of intimidating to the rest of humankind.
What if you’re not quite so superhuman? What if – just to pick an example – your kids are quite likely to come in from the garden having found your glasses in the strawberry bed? Or rescued from the roof of a car before it drove away?
A few thoughts.
First, this isn’t just about self-pub
Certainly, self-pubbers have more on their plates than trad-authors do, but any really high-profile author is juggling a lot. I know of one reasonably successful literary author, who has mastered the art of being a literary author. Hanging out at the right parties, knowing the right people, popping up on the right talk shows, and all that. Her books aren’t actually all that good, but she’s parlayed a middling level talent into quite a successful career by just working her own specific channels as hard as she can.
The short message is that flourishing careers involve complexity, whether you’re trad-published & literary or self-published and genre. You can reduce the challenges by going trad, but you certainly don’t eliminate them.
Second, write well
Being a good writer always, always helps. Marketing bad books is a pretty much impossible exercise. (Not quite, but almost.) Marketing good ones ought to be, and is, a much simpler exercise. The heart of any writer’s job lies exactly where you want it to: putting the right words in the right order.
Third, focus on what works for you
What works for you? What things are you good at? What do you enjoy?
If you love the chatter and hubbub of Facebook, then go for it. Use it strategically, and with a clear plan in mind, but you can certainly make that the centre of your marketing work.
If you like the mix of creativity (ad creation) and geekiness (ad dashboards) involved in advertising, then ride that tiger.
If you like direct communication with your reader – which you should; you’re a writer – then a mailing list should certainly be at the centre of things for you.
And so on.
You can’t be good at everything and you don’t need to be good at everything. You need roughly three reliable traffic sources to succeed. In self-pub, those sources might be your mailing list, promo sites (like Bookbub) and one paid advertising platform.
In trad-land, you need decent supermarket uptake, plus a good presence on Amazon, plus some additional means of driving interest in your books. (A successful publicity campaign can work, but don’t just assume that what your publisher does will be sufficient. It usually isn’t.)
Fourth, get the basics right
Any marketing, whether trad or indie, will basically fail unless you have the basics right. I started to write a checklist and why it matters so much, then realised the topic was big enough – and important enough – for a whole separate email.
I’ll write that email another time but, for now, just know that getting the basics right is critical. Do you love your blurb? Is your cover stunning, and appealing to the exact right audience? Is your pricing right? Do you have authentic book reviews (or a plan for getting them)?
You don’t have to have a Rachel Abbott level of organisation to achieve those things. You just need to realise that they matter and you need to go on worrying at them until they’re right.
Cheer for the disorganised
So yes, if you are a Monarch of the Spreadsheet, an Empress of the List, you’re lucky. I’m not.
If you are capable of hanging onto a cup of tea or a pair of glasses for an entire day without losing them, then you’re lucky. I’m not.
But writing well, focusing on what matters, and finding a small handful of things that you can do well? That’s enough. Trad or indie, that’s enough.
And the heart of it all? The bit that matters most? It’s the ability to put sentences together in a way that pleases readers. Nothing else.
Now I’m off to go and find tea mugs amidst the bindweed. It’s sunny here and the tulips are out.