Marketing: The Plight of an Independent Author

I lost a follower on Twitter. It’s a fairly common occurrence when you’re gaining several hundred new followers a week. Perhaps I wasn’t entertaining enough. Perhaps I said something that conflicted with someone else’s opinion about a topic. I don’t take it personally.

This follower was different. Not trying to be overly dramatic, but he was special. When I first joined Twitter in November of 2010, I had seven followers for a very long time. That number increased gradually—a great portion of which were spam bots—but then along came a real person. He followed me quietly and had even purchased my first book. He began to tweet me and tell me about his experience reading my book. It was sincerely the most flattering thing I’ve ever experienced as a writer. It’s always fantastic when a reader cares enough to leave a review, but to care enough to describe their experience as they’re reading? That’s something else entirely.

When he finished my book, he wrote a nice review for it. He mentioned both the positive and the negative elements of my book, but overall he came away with the experience that I hoped everyone who read my book would. It was the first review I’d received from someone outside of my circle of friends, and his approval filled me with hope that I was onto something. That I could tell a story that would entertain readers. I enjoyed our chats, but over time they ceased.

I hadn’t heard from this follower in a long time, so I looked him up to see how he was doing. I was disappointed to discover that he had long since unfollowed me on Twitter. Even though I had never met this person, I legitimately felt as though I had lost a real life friend. My mind raced with the scenarios of what I could have done to lose his interest.

Not that I wanted to become a Twitter stalker or anything, but my curiosity got the better of me. I tweeted him and asked him why he’d stopped following. He was very polite about it and told me that while he still enjoyed my writing, he had become tired of my “incessant” marketing. My jaw literally dropped when I read that. I’d never considered my marketing to be incessant.

Sure, I advertise my products, but I’m not a broadcaster by any stretch. I share random thoughts, jokes and opinions every day that have nothing to do with book sales. I respond to every tweet I receive from followers. I am a human being of real flesh and blood. My tweets are sometimes funny, sometimes inspirational, and yes, I’m sure sometimes boring, but that’s real life, isn’t it?

I whole-heartedly agree that being marketed to via Twitter can be annoying. Every time I mention something as simple as reading my Kindle or getting some breakfast, I’m immediately sent various tweets about where I can win a Kindle Fire and where I can claim my *free* McDonald’s gift certificate. My good friend Laurie gets weekly tweets about the benefits of Viagra. I’m not sure what she tweets about to draw such a bold prediction, but she’s not a person that I’d ever want to be on the bad side of. ?

Being marketed too feels like a violation of privacy, I get that, which is why I work very hard to insure that my marketing isn’t an intrusion. I don’t *market*, I *advertise.* If you follow me on Twitter, it’s likely that you have an appreciation for books. As a writer, I offer a product for people with an appreciation for books. If the two happen to mutually come together, brilliant! I’m happy to have you buy my books, but it’s not a requirement to talk to me on Twitter. I’m on Twitter for the social experience and to get to know both readers and writers alike. In the midst of all of that communication, yes, I do advertise my books. Why?

Because we all need money to survive, don’t we? Look in the mirror. You see that person staring back at you? That person needs to make money to feed their kids. To pay their mortgage. To have some fun in their life. And how do we earn money? By applying the skills that we’ve honed to a particular trade or business, and then every two weeks we receive a paycheck for our services rendered. The same is true for me as a writer (except that my paychecks are spaced 90 days apart).

If you stop and think about it, everything you’ve ever bought is because someone somewhere marketed it and informed you of its existence. That’s all I’m doing. My marketing tweets are only meant to inform, not to bombard you with messages that imply why you must buy my books. I don’t mean to offend you or insult your intelligence. I simply mean to build awareness of a product that you may or may not be interested in so that I can make a living doing what I love. Hopefully, I can entertain you in the process.

It’s hard being an independent author. We don’t get six-figure contracts from publishing houses who then invest thousands of dollars into making our books visible. I’m not complaining, mind you. We do it because we love it. However, success requires a lot more elbow grease at this level, and that means more marketing than you’d see from a Stephen King or a Suzanne Collins. To my credit, not all of my marketing messages are asking for your money. I often give content away for free.

I will never deceive you and pretend to be something that I’m not. I write with your enjoyment in mind. However, I absolutely cannot survive in this profession without readers becoming aware of my books, and that will always require a fair amount of marketing. If at the end of the day my marketing is just too much to bear, then I sincerely apologize, but understand that I’m just a man trying to rub two nickels together. I’m no different than anyone else.

4 comments

  1. David,
    This is an issue I too have been tossing around in my mind as of late. How much marketing and advertising is too much? I understand an all-out flogging being frowned upon. However, an occasional advertisement via Twitter, Facebook or personal blog does not exceed the threshold of marketing etiquette, especially if one continues to engage in other particular facets besides advertising. There is too much negative hype being build up around self-marketing and promotion, which is causing an enormous backlash for self-published writers.

  2. Wow, I never looked at it that way. We say pretty much up front that we are on Twitter to tweet about our books and those of other authors. Hmm…would hate to lose a Twitter friend. They are all important to us. This is food for thought.

    1. It’s a balancing act for sure. I don’t know if there is a perfect mixture, but I’ll refine as needed if it begins to be too much.

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