Self-Publishing 101: Finding Your Community / Daily Kos, James Wells

Thu Jul 09, 2015 at 11:01 AM PDT   James Wells
When you are getting ready to self-publish your book, two questions loom over your project and in fact your entire life:
– Who will read my book?
– How will I find them?

You’ll find lots of advice online about how to promote your book. Typical ideas may include setting bargain days (especially for the ebook version) and then paying promoters to send out thousands of emails about your opus to their subscribers. You are advised to set up your website and Facebook page, and flood the ether with tweets (doing your part to alleviate the serious shortage of tweets out there).

Some sites may advocate a kinder, gentler version of self-promotion, where you locate online  groups who might be interested in things similar to your book and so you join, making a point of doing enough to be recognized as a contributor before you do much mentioning of your great work. Being sure to be genuine at all times. Conducting the delicate dance of promoting while seeming not to. Flying casual past the imperial star destroyer of being perceived as selling or spamming.

There’s another approach to consider: Community Marketing.

One of your best opportunities to get your book started is to bring it, directly and honestly, to the communities where you already are a contributor and a known friend. You’ll be surprised how many people are willing to give your book a chance, and if it’s excellent (that part’s up to you) they will tell their friends about it or write a review.

This may seem to be in conflict with another piece of advice that you’ll see – to seek out people interested in the subject matter of your book, rather than people you simply know.

Here’s how that apparent conflict resolves: The people you choose to spend time with probably think about similar themes as you, and hopefully what matters about your book is theme – those ideas that you care mostly deeply about – just as much as the overt subject matter.

[Let’s be clear that affinity groups matching your subject matter can be great. I won’t turn down a chance to meet with a bunch of scifi readers! ]

Here’s an example of community marketing from the launch of my science fiction novel The Great Symmetry. A reasonable person would think that it’s important to find science fiction enthusiasts – that’s the overt subject matter. But that posed a problem, because in my daily life I don’t seek out herds of scifi readers and hang out with them.

Rather, my community is defined mostly by the groups shown in the diagram below.

Luckily, there’s some alignment going – more than I would have thought. Out of each population, some people like science fiction. Others care about freedom of ideas and social equity, which are strong themes of the novel. Others just like an adventure story in any setting.It’s really worth evaluating which of your communities may be interested in your book, even if you initially don’t see any alignment. For example,  members of all six of the groups I list above have bought my novel.

Now you need to learn how to tell people about your book. It’s scary. Nobody wants to sell to their friends.

Here’s the key realization to help you through this stage: You are not going to make money on your book.

It’s not a commercial venture. Some day in the future? Okay, maybe. But not today, or next week, or next month. The selling price of your book isn’t income, not by a long shot – it’s cost recovery.

This is actually good news.

Your book is your art. It’s your labor of love. And that changes everything.

Instead of selling, you are sharing a part of yourself. People respect that. Once you embrace this idea, suddenly you can ask where you never could before. Go for it – tell people about your book. Ask them to come to your book launch. If they read it and liked it, ask them to post a review on Amazon or elsewhere.

You can ask because it matters. The ideas in your book matter. Sharing those ideas with your friends matters.

My friend Kurt told me this one day, as I was pondering how many Facebook posts about the book launch was too many:

James, DO NOT apologize for promoting your book! Use any legitimate means at your disposal to get the word out!

As the date of my first reading and book launch approached, I faced a level of social terror that I don’t think I have ever experienced before. I had spent years on this project. But – no matter what I might do to get the word out, what if nobody other than my mom showed up?So I asked. I wrote individually to friends to tell them about the event. I asked a local talk radio host for a radio interview. I asked the editor of our local weekly to profile the book. I made a Facebook event and invited everyone in the known universe.

The results were encouraging.

Attendee count: 123 people, the third highest in the history of the bookstore (Tom Robbins and Ivan Doig outdrew me). Mostly because I asked. BTW – my mom made it too.Community Marketing won’t work forever. After a while, you’ll run out of friends who don’t yet know about your book. In the long term, it can’t be your only plan. But I believe Community Marketing can be very effective in helping your book get started: getting some copies out into the world, having an encouraging first reading event, and accruing those all-important first few reviews.

Just remember – it’s okay to ask for something you think is important.

Notes:

Thanks to Akadjian for the invitation to guest post on SP-101 today. I just received my autographed copy of his book The Little Book of Revolution in the mail a few days ago. Based on the first few chapters, it’s an excellent read.

All the community marketing in the world won’t help your book if it’s not good enough. See my prior SP-101 post The Kübler-Ross Stages of Editing about the process of getting ready for publication.

Image of attendees at reading copyright Paul K. Anderson.

Song Lyrics from “Paperback Writer” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Psychedelic image (it’s actually a soap bubble) from Randommization.com.

How’s this for irony? By complete coincidence, today is the day that I am doing my very first promotion via an email service for a bargain offering of The Great Symmetry, Kindle version, for $0.99.

James R. Wells is the author of The Great Symmetry, a science fiction novel is set 300 years in the future, but is definitely about our world here and now.

In an asteroid in the Aurora star system, exoarcheologist Evan McElroy has made a discovery about the Versari, a long-departed alien race. He doesn’t realize that his findings will reawaken the long-buried struggle of the Infoterrorists, who believe that all knowledge screams to be free, against those who maintain the True Story that holds all of civilization together.

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