SELF PUBLISHING: WHY WRITING A BOOK IS JUST THE BEGINNING
“Designing a unique book cover may well be your first mistake.”
Today, a member of one of the groups I am following asked a very interesting question: “Will throwing vast sums of cash at my book marketing campaign guarantee a bestseller?” I was going to simply post a response, but then I thought that a) the answer wasn’t necessarily simple and b) given that I am often asked this question by my clients, it made sense to actually write a post that others might find useful.
WHO IS TONY MARTURANO?
So, first, some context. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Who is this bloke?” I am Tony Marturano, a British author of seven novels, most of which are Amazon #1 bestsellers and Audible top 10 bestsellers in both the UK and the US. In addition, all three books from my HAUNTED series have now been optioned for a major television series or movie.
But it took me a while to get here.
My supernatural thriller, Haunted, performed by renowned voice over artists, Jonathan, and Katy Rand, became an instant bestseller on Audible. The book was recorded at the height of the pandemic but was eventually released to become one of my most successful books to date.
I started writing a few decades ago, and like many authors, I had a full-time job, wrote every spare minute I could lay my hands on, and dreamed of getting published and hitting the big time. But the only thing that got hit was my mat, with all the rejection letters, both from publishers and literary agents alike.
Fast forward to the dawn of self-publishing. After a few years of rejection, I was one of those starry young men who dreamed of seeing my book in print. So, I handed over a ridiculous amount of money to one of those do-it-all self-publishing companies who promised prominent exposure in their online store and far reach into physical stores and libraries. The bit they forgot to mention was that it fell to me to drive people there, of the importance of a good book editor, cover designer and basic marketing prowess. Needless to say, while delivering the thrill of seeing my words in print, the book bombed. Made worse by the fact that it contained a litany of editorial mistakes. And to this day, in a world where you can leave a review for a toothpick, that book never recovered.
Fast forward a few more years. I was doing very well in my ‘day job,’ working my way up from administrator, project manager to senior executive, and eventually a company CEO. Needless to say, over my career, I learned a lot about sales, marketing, accounting, and running your own business.
Meanwhile, I was still writing, still learning about self-publishing, self-marketing, and, thanks to my day job, I had become pretty good at it. Although, truth be told, I think the enthusiastic spark I had when I first started had been snuffed out by this time.
And then, I woke up one day to discover that my six-year plan had matured. The failing company I had acquired was now profitable. It was time to sell. So, when the opportunity arose, I did. Then, I took time out to focus more on my photography (I had also been a professional photographer for more years than I care to mention) and, of course, writing.
All three books in the Haunted series have been optioned for a major movie or TV Series.
That year, I wrote my first #1 bestseller, HAUNTED. Its prequel, PSYCHOSIS, also became a #1 bestseller, as did the third book in the series, CURSED. The audiobooks followed suit. I achieved this by writing and honing the manuscripts and then using my experience and some money to design book covers, plan marketing campaigns, create artwork, cut trailers, as well as a whole multitude of other tasks, way too many to list here. It’s not that I didn’t ask others to design my book covers, run marketing campaigns, create engaging video content, it’s that every time I simply wasn’t happy with the results. To me, everything looked home-made, and I was adamant that I wanted to put out products that looked as good if not better than those put out by big publishers.
My ‘day job’ before this time helped me in this endeavour. I already knew some skills. And where there were gaps in my knowledge, I filled them. Graphic, video design, and all its associated software that I didn’t know, I learned. The hard way! Trial and error most of the time until I’d mastered every tool every platform that would enable my books to be the best that they could be.
And this included popular marketing platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon Ads.
Today, I head every aspect of my book’s publishing journey. Including the production of my audiobooks since these are one of my most profitable revenue streams.
BOOK PUBLISHING FOR NEW AUTHORS
As I was reaching new heights of my publishing enterprise, one of my editors contacted me. She explained that one of her other clients had seen my book covers and liked them so much he was wondering if I would be interested in designing covers for his books too.
My original reaction was that I didn’t want to take on the burden of designing covers for other authors. But, as a personal favour, I took the meeting. It turned out that my new client didn’t need a book cover designer, he needed a whole new publishing company of his own.
I rose to the challenge. By night, I would write and work on my own books. By day, I would work for my client.
I now have multiple clients that I work with on a regular basis. Due to limited availability, I can’t help everyone but, given my extensive experience and the memory of how I felt when I first started out, I try to help as many people as I can.
Hence this post.
HOW DOES THIS ANSWER THE ORIGINAL QUESTION?
Well, it’s because of the above that I am able to say with absolute conviction that any unknown author who throws money at marketing that isn’t planned nor targeted appropriately for a product that hasn’t been written nor designed to an acceptable standard will not guarantee a bestseller.
In fact, more than often, throwing money into a campaign for a product that has been written and designed to an acceptable standard doesn’t always guarantee a bestseller either!
And there are many reasons for this. Again, too many to cover in this post. What I can say is that I have been involved in campaigns that have spent eye-watering six-figure sums and still failed to make the Amazon bestseller list.
That’s six figures. More than any of the big five would EVER dream of spending on a new author who doesn’t already have some degree of public notoriety or proven success. The big five being the top five publishing houses and their respective imprints (simply Google for more information).
THAT COVETED CONTRACT
I too started out dreaming of lifechanging sums of money. Of overnight windfalls that would see me don a writing caftan (if I possessed one) and quaff champagne while flitting around my mansion.
Those contracts are few and far between. There are only so many new books that even the big publishers can bring to market each year. And there are many manuscripts vying for those coveted slots. So many, in fact, that prompted most publishers to stop accepting unsolicited manuscripts.
But let’s just assume that you are one of the lucky ones. That you managed to scale the castle walls and convince an editor to publish your book. There’s a good chance that your advance will barely be enough to pay for that dream once-in-a-lifetime holiday given that the average advance tends to be between $5,000 – $15,000. Although there are percentage royalties on top of that too.
Generally, new authors will receive a fraction of that in marketing budget (if at all). The rest is down to you to push sales because, God forbid, if sales don’t make back your advance, you will often be required to make up the difference.
I should say, I’m generally speaking here of course. All contracts are different.
THE TIDE IS CHANGING
But the tide is changing. Thanks to the likes of Amazon, and others. The tide is shifting in favour of indie authors and publishers. You only need look into publisher presence in each genre. For example, in SUPERNATURAL THRILLERS/ HORROR, the average presence of books by the top five is around 40% and 50%. That just gives you an idea of how much independent authors are carving their own destiny.
BUT IT IS NOT A CASE OF WRITE IT AND THEY SHALL BUY…
So, it’s all good, right? There’s a future for the independent author. Yes. But it requires a lot of hard work and ingenuity. While the playing field may have been levelled somewhat, this also means that there’s a lot of noise out there. The trick is being able to rise above it. With so many books being published every year, what makes yours so different? What makes your book good enough to capture the attention of the average shopper when their attention is by mere seconds. What is it about your offering that will make them spend their latte money on your book instead of somebody else’s?
And if your answer is that you’ve designed a truly unique cover, try not to fall of your chair when I tell you that this, for a new author, is more than often, their first mistake.
This is precisely why I am receiving more enquiries now than ever before. Publishing your book is relatively easy. Getting it noticed and profitable is something entirely different.
Plaudits from family and friends may well be admirable, but, in the big world of bad reviews, these should be used with caution. I will often seek the feedback of those closest to me first. But then I put all of my manuscripts to focus groups before I even start the second draft, and I make good use of online polling websites for book covers and blurbs. Don’t get me wrong. None of this guarantees a bestseller, but it certainly brings you one step closer to one.
SO, HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU SPEND ON PROMOTING YOUR BOOK?
How much money do you have?
The question here isn’t how much money you should spend promoting your book, but more, how much money do you need to spend and where for it to become profitable? There’s a very fine line between selling books and making a living.
I’ve seen people dispense a lot of advice about Amazon Ads. What I don’t see is people talking about the profitability of these ads. Yes, you may sell books, but are you selling them with enough of a margin to make a profit?
Amazon Ads for example, is not a set-it-and-leave-it type of platform. To ensure ads perform effectively, they require regular attention and optimisation. Otherwise, you may well find that you are shifting units, but are making unsustainable losses.
SO, WHAT ABOUT THOSE COVETED BESTSELLER LISTS?
‘New York Times Bestseller’! ‘Sunday Times Bestseller!’ Sounds so good, right? Imagine that stamped on the front of your first book. It’s mouth wateringly enticing, right? But what does it actually mean?
Well, if you aren’t part of the big five. Not much really.
Some say that these lists were first designed by and now managed by the cartel that are the top five. But I would never allege such a thing without evidence. But I do believe that while these companies may well have lost some share of the market, they remain very much in control of its infrastructure. Newspapers, magazines, television shows, agents, distributors, retailers, and big book clubs.
Remember, many books are published, but there are only so many slots.
Ask yourself, of all the books featured in these infamous lists, how many of them are written by independent authors/publishers?
But if it isn’t. And you’d rather look at a case study. Have a read of this BBC article about WH SMITHS, and how they go about displaying their top 10 books.
SO, IS THERE HOPE FOR NEW AUTHORS?
Of course! It’s the very reason why I shared some of my story with you.
I have been writing full time for several years now and have never looked back. But the publishing road is long, convoluted, littered with technical hurdles, and mired in marketing nuances.
SO, WHAT’S MY ADVICE?
Here are a few nuggets for any aspiring author out there:
- Never underestimate the importance of a good book editor. Your book needs to be well-written and free from errors. Readers have no tolerance for poor writing or poor grammar and will quickly lose interest in your book.
- Invest in a professional book cover designer. Your book cover is often the first thing a potential reader sees, and it needs to look professional and eye-catching. Your cover should convey the genre, mood, and theme of your book.
- Plan and execute a targeted marketing campaign. A scattergun approach will not work. You need to identify your target audience and promote your book where they are most likely to see it. This may include social media advertising, Amazon Ads, book reviews, and other promotional opportunities.
- Be patient and persistent. It takes time to build a following and become a successful author. Keep writing and keep promoting your work.
- Learn from your mistakes. If something doesn’t work, try something else. Keep experimenting until you find a formula that works for you.
- Finally, don’t give up. Writing and publishing a book is a challenging and rewarding experience. If you’re passionate about your writing and your story, keep at it. Success may not come overnight, but it will come with hard work, dedication, and persistence.
In conclusion, I don’t believe that throwing vast sums of money at a book marketing campaign will guarantee a bestseller.
If you really want your book to succeed. It’s important that you take it seriously. By that, you need to treat it as you would any business. Create the best possible product, package it beautifully, market it aggressively and provide the best possible customer care for that all important repeat business.