Look at the image at the top of this post. It’s marketing overload, isn’t it? If it weren’t for the beautiful neon colors, most of us would balk at having that much advertising shoved in our faces. Yet that’s what many brands and companies must resort to if they want to be noticed in an increasingly crowded and distracted world.
Frankly, I hate it. I hate displays like this, I hate the ads on TV and on the web, and I hate the billboards I pass in traffic everyday. (Get off my lawn, by the way.) And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. There are ads in magazines, doctor’s offices, restaurants (you thought those coasters with the beer ads on them were merely functional?), public bathrooms (ads on the backs of the stall doors — what happened to plain graffiti?), and social media (all those “influencer” posts you see are just ads with a sexy name). Even products come with a bevy of ads for other products floating around in their boxes.
The amount of advertising we’re exposed to today is frightening. One day I tried counting all of the ads I was exposed to. You know what happened? I gave up after hitting 1,000 by lunchtime. And I’m a person who does not watch much TV and uses an ad blocker to filter out as much internet garbage as I can. That’s just what hit me during my regular activities (on a day I had to go to the doctor and stopped for lunch).
It seems it’s not much different for writers.
Any writer (except perhaps those who receive huge advances and promotion packages from a Big 5 publishing house) will tell you that the biggest hurdle they face isn’t writing the stories. It’s the marketing. How do you get readers to notice your books and stories? How do you break through all the noise and distractions and get people to pay attention?
Many become what I call a “book whore.” No, it’s not a flattering nickname. You know these people. They are the ones slapping “Buy My Book” posts all over social media. They’re the ones who never stop talking about their book. You ask, “How are you doing today?” They reply, “Have you read my book?” With book whores, it never stops. It’s like walking through that picture above and seeing nothing but the same ad.
Now multiply that by thousands and you have what much of social media looks like from a book marketing perspective. It’s hideous. And ineffective. Eventually people tune out not only your message, but the messages of all writers. You can only look at so many desperate posts before your mind just shuts down.
There’s got to be a better way to promote than being a book whore. The trouble is, I’m not certain what it is. But I foolishly believe in a better way because the thing is, book whoring doesn’t work. It may work in the short term, but as a way to build a loyal following, it sucks. The first time someone sees your book they may think, “Cool. Maybe I’ll look this up.” The four-hundredth and they think, “You’re so annoying,” and unfollow you.
But what else is there? There are paid ads on various platforms, but the metrics show little value for most. There are free posts on book sites but again, they may not deliver. (At least you’re not out any money in that case.) You can try to get guest posts on various blogs, but unless the blog reaches thousands of people, you probably won’t move the needle. (Ironically, it’s almost impossible to get on a popular blog unless your book is already popular. So… yeah. Dog chases tail and goes nowhere.)
There are other things like conventions, signings, review begging, algorithm chasing, giveaways, and more, but much of this won’t generate sales. Or, if it does, it’s not often worth the time, mental energy, stress, or expense. Most of it is simply tossing your money, name, and book over a cliff and watching it disappear. The distant thud you hear are your dreams of big sales numbers going splat.
So what does work? I don’t know. No one does. You can throw everything at the wall and get nowhere, and you can do nothing and achieve success through some weird combination of cosmic alignments that results in bestseller-dom. That’s the joy and sorrow of being a writer. Success isn’t often in your hands. Crappy things take off for reasons no one understands and awesome things flop with no explanation. Some people make the jump to having others take them seriously and show interest in their work and others don’t. Often these people do the exact some things, but one catches on and the other does not. Much like life, it’s totally arbitrary and random. And, much like life, it’s not worth worrying about because there’s little you can do about any of it.
Still, though, I believe there’s a path to success that doesn’t involve whoring yourself and your book for crumbs, doesn’t bankrupt you, or doesn’t make you crazy. Mostly I have to believe this because I can’t believe in all the other crap. And don’t want to. Call me old, but I just have no desire to be a book whore. It repulses every part of me. And the thought of wasting my life hours begging for reviews and fretting over algorithms that I CANNOT, IN ANY WAY, CONTROL, depresses me. Honestly, I’d just rather give the books away if those are my only choices.
Put it this way: I don’t want my time and attention to be viewed as a commodity to be “bought,” and I don’t want to treat others that way, either. But that’s what so much of marketing feels like. We’re all “for sale” and the marketers just have to chase us until we cave and buy their stuff. I don’t want anyone I interact with to feel like I’m chasing them simply for a sale, because I don’t like that feeling, either.
I prefer a life without stress and without… what’s the word?… Falseness, I guess. And that’s what so much of modern marketing feels like to me. Stressful, false, and fake. It feels like flinging myself at a wall over and over again, yet somehow not understanding that it hurts. Maybe it’s because I’m just really too sensitive to be “good” at social media. All the negativity upsets me, even though I try to curate my feeds to avoid it. It still seeps in. I’d rather just stay away from it entirely.
I’m still seeking a way to promote that doesn’t feel either dirty or pointless. Something that doesn’t make me feel like I’m wasting valuable time and money. Something… Different. There has to be something out there. I think I’ll dedicate this year to seeking it. Of course, there’s every chance that I’m naive in believing in an alternative to the book whore lifestyle. But I really hope not. I’ll keep you posted.
(Photo by Wojtek Witkowski)