Should Indie Authors Pay for Promotional Services?

Lacy Hydrangea - Guenette photo

Everything I’ve experienced over the last two years has convinced me that Linda Gillard’s thoughts on how indie authors should self-promote is the best advice on the topic anywhere out in cyberspace.

Linda is featured today on The Alliance of Independent Author’s website. Please check out what she has to say.

What really stands out for me about Linda’s post is her focus on readers over sales. She is determined to win readers, one by one.

Over the weekend, Bruce and I attended a social event – a picnic with interesting people, stunning views and great food. Among this group were at least a half dozen people who had read my books, loved them and told me how much they were looking forward to the next in the series. I thanked one woman for her kind words and she said, “No, thank you. You’ve given us hours and hours of enjoyment.” Wow! You can imagine how those words made me feel.

If I took a poll among a number of struggling indie authors, asking the question – what would you rather do, interact with readers or check out your sale stats – the answer would be overwhelmingly for interacting with readers. It’s a no-brainer. One activity makes us feel good about being writers and the other makes us feel, most days, like failures.

I know I don’t speak for everyone. There are indie authors out there who chuckle gleefully every time they check their stats as the Amazon graphs peak up and up and the money rolls in. But I’m not as naïve as I was when I started out on the path of self-publishing. I fell for the claim that all I needed to do was shell out the money for the latest how-to book and I would see similar sales. The whole indie author advice industry is costly and most people dishing out the secrets to success have a stake in the dollars we might spend.

Then, along comes an author like Ms. Gillard who has been at the self-publishing game for years and she says don’t spend money on expensive promotions. Be in this for the long haul. Cultivate your readership. Give those readers a reason for sticking with you. Keep them interested in your books and yourself.

I’ve wasted money going down the wrong paths on this self-publishing journey. I’ve squandered more than a few opportunities to be with readers and do the type of promotion that matters. And I’ve allowed a lot of useless social media activities to eat up my writing time.

Older and wiser and turning over a new leaf – though I must be honest, here – this isn’t the first time I’ve heard Ms. Gillard’s advice or written about it. Third time’s the charm.

Get back to basics.

I’m writing the next book. Yippee for me! 65,000 words in, I’m dealing with a few first draft issues but going strong.

I have my stash of quality postcards, bookmarks and business cards – now all I have to do is remember to take them along with me and give them out.

I’ll keep this blog going because the writing I do here is a means of interacting with readers as well as creating a valuable dialogue among other writers – who, by the way, are also readers. 

Port McNeill Harbour - Guenette photo

Let’s get a dialogue going on this topic. What do you think of Ms. Gillard’s advice? What have you learned along the way about how to self-promote? What would you do differently now that you are older and wiser?

47 comments on “Should Indie Authors Pay for Promotional Services?

  1. jennieorbell says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you Francis.

    • Good to have you on side, Jennie. I respect your approach to promotion. For all of you who haven’t visited Jennie Orbell’s blog – she provides readers with a hilarious view into her life with a maddening husband, a bird feasting cat and a garden that is in equal measures, a frustrating nightmare and a beautiful retreat. Who wouldn’t want to read what she’s written when she gives readers so much of herself in her blog.

  2. Deb McEwan says:

    Good advice Francis and engaging with real people has got to be more fun than sitting in front of a keyboard. I’ve just read Linda Gillard’s advice and will let her know how I get on …. in five years time.

  3. ksbeth says:

    i think it’s wonderful advice

  4. Roy McCarthy says:

    Couldn’t agree more with Linda’s advice. If we accept that we’re probably not going to sell a million then a relentless pursuit of sales is going to leave us depressed. I’m delighted to be able to produce readable (I hope) books and to be happy as and when someone enjoys them. I’ve given away more than a few, I think nothing of it. Maybe I’ll grow more business-like in time.

    • Lots of time to grow more business like when you’ve secured your fan base 🙂 It’s really all about expectations. In the beginning, I felt stunned that anyone read my book. Then came all the drivel about massive e-book sales and give-aways that garner thousand upon thousands of downloads, expensive blog tours and promotion sites. I’m relieved to get back to that wonder I have when someone reads one of my books and enjoys it. Music to an author’s ears.

  5. Very level-headed and worth pursuing. I think many writers get caught in an instant-gratification trap and start throwing money at promotions that seem like they should work but seldom do. Linda has it exactly right: have a 5-year plan and stick to it.

    • Yup – couldn’t agree more 🙂 I also think (and I’ll say this at the risk of sounding like I’ve just ingested a bowl of sour grapes) there are people out there on various sites and in groups that are at best leaving important facts out of their success stories (like this so-called free promotion that resulted in thousands of downloads cost me a ton of money in promotional costs)and at worst massaging the truth for their own benefit. Buyer beware and all of that. Don’t get me wrong – I am happy for other author’s successes – I just wish there was more of a forum for the average, realistic story.

  6. Yolanda M. says:

    Francis I couldn’t agree more with you about what really counts which is connecting with readers. As I am sure you know nothing is more powerful than word of mouth marketing and a happy reader will always spread the word. I’m one of those readers who goes out of her way to connect with authors whose work I admire so I was so happy to read this post. Great advice 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing this comment, Yolanda. It does all of us authors good to hear of a reader who wants to connect and spread the word on books she has enjoyed. There should be a special award available to involved readers 🙂 The word of mouth marketing is powerful and it makes sense that this type of marketing takes time but the dividends should result in people actually reading my book and getting on the bandwagon themselves.

  7. Thanks for spreading the word, Francis.

    Heaven knows, I made some mistakes in the early years. I did far too many gigs for free and my first author signing in a book shop was a waste of petrol. (Only 1 book sold. To a friend.) I bought ads & found I did little more than cover my costs. So what I’ve shared in the ALLi blog is what I’ve learned through trial and error. It’s very gratifying to know that so many people think the advice is useful.

    • So much fun to see your comment, Linda 🙂 And thank you for sharing the fact that you were once a bit naïve in the decisions you made about how to apportion your time, energy and hard-earned dollars when it came to promotion. As I said in my post – this isn’t the first time I’ve been fortunate enough to hear your trail and error learning but I’m hoping I’ve got it now.

  8. smilecalm says:

    if anyone asks
    you’re a special writer 🙂

  9. Behind the Story says:

    Thank you so much for the advice and the link. I just published my first novel in May and am in the early stages of marketing, so I don’t have any words of wisdom to share. I definitely appreciate all the help I can get.

    • Well, you won’t go wrong following Linda’s advice – focus on the readers. She takes the time to make the personal connection and I think her sales justify the effort. Thanks for taking the time to comment on this post, Nicki. Always appreciated.

  10. jenanita01 says:

    I don’t really know what to say… cannot afford to pay for any promotion…books are not selling, but I will not be giving up any time soon, as I really love what I do. Just wish I could do it better?

    • Console yourself jenanita01: paid promotion doesn’t work except (perhaps) in the very short term. Even making your books free doesn’t work any more. The only thing that works in the long term (and as a committed writer, that’s how you’re thinking, right?) is getting better at what you do & waiting for readers to find you and spread the word.

      Writing is its own reward. We need to write books that we’d want to write even if there were no one to read them. So even if no one reads them, they were still worth writing. 🙂

      I was dumped by my publisher after my 3rd novel but I didn’t stop writing. I just prepared for a miracle. That miracle was the indie revolution. But I was only ready for that (with 2 more new books finished) because I didn’t stop writing.

      Give it 5 years, then re-assess. I was first published in 2005. I wasn’t successful until 2011.

      • Thank you, so much, Linda for responding to commenters in this dialogue. You encourage all of us with your level-headed and thoughtful words. More than a few of us are going to be getting back to you in five years time and I think we’re going to have great stories to share.

  11. Gallivanta says:

    As you will probably remember from this post I am very supportive of indie writers, as are many readers. But time is as much an issue for the reader as it is the writer. Together we can make a better world.

    • So true on the time issue. One point Linda makes In her post is the time demands and the wealth of choices readers face. Standing out in that kind of a field takes a lot more than an expensive promo here and there. The personal touch – giving readers something more of oneself – and patience. If we are building relationships, it takes time. Thanks for the link.

  12. Excellent post – and some very thought provoking comments – especially when Ms Gillard says “We need to write the books we want to write” Yay! I write historicals because I love history. I write about love, because I’m a sucker for it. And as to promotion, Francis, I think maintaining a blog is a very good way of connecting w your readers – just look at all the responses you got here!

    • I think it takes time to discover what works – blogging works big time for me. I enjoy writing posts and I like responding to comments even more. Yes indeed – we do need to write the books we want to write and if we participate in social media we need to find the ways that work (translation – doing things we enjoy doing.) I think this enjoyment factor comes through. I look over people’s Facebook author pages or their Twitter feed and I know right away if they enjoy keeping up the site. I can tell if tweets are automated and I don’t like it. Or if a Facebook page is all promo. Forget it. The blog gives me a chance to be me and I love that. Thanks for popping by, Anna.

  13. Gwen Stephens says:

    Fran, I have a feeling those indie authors (and likely even traditionally published authors) who chuckle gleefully at their sales stats are those who have been around a while, who have published several novels, and who have a well-established reader base. Folks like E.L. James who hit the big time with a debut novel set an unrealistic, nearly impossible standard, and cast stars in the eyes of unpublished hopefuls.

    I read Ms. Gillard’s post, and it is excellent, and probably encouraging for you to know that you’re doing it right. I think it’s worth repeating that connecting with readers goes far beyond the hard sell. Readers are happy to lend their support to emerging authors, spread the word, buy books, etc., if they feel it’s a two-way street. There’s nothing worse than connecting with a pre-published writer over social media (on any given platform) who transforms into a 2-dimensional, hard-selling robot after the first book is published. I’ve unfollowed more than a few bloggers who have taken this road. I like knowing the person behind the book. I like knowing there’s more to an author than “Hi, I’m Joe. Wanna buy my book?” It’s a turnoff, and unfortunately, too many authors choose this misguided path.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, Fran. I love your posts about writing – what you learn, what you’ve done right, and your various missteps, too. You’re a great teacher, and you have a knack for making every narrative interesting.

    • An added bonus of making a genuine connection with readers – one-by-one – is that they come on my blog and write such great comments! Indie author promotion has to be about way more than the hard sell. Readers have no inclination to get behind that. Gone are the days when the greats could stayed holed up in their garrets eschewing contact with readers and equally gone are the days of auto-generated, Twitter blast advertising. You are so right, Gwen – readers want much more than that. And maybe, in this changing landscape of publishing, they have a right to demand more from authors. Many of us who have self-published have blasted the whole traditional publishing industry and their gatekeeper status. We’ve said, let the readers decide. I like the two-way street comment because maybe that is what readers need to make their choices. How does a reader decide to invest valuable time in reading the work of an unknown, self-published author? It is only through relationship that it can happen.

      • I know for a fact, Fran, that being myself on Facebook and sharing my working & personal life has brought readers to my books. I’ve interacted with friends & strangers, then 3rd parties have later turned up on my author page, not because I was plugging my books, but because I’d said something to say that spoke to them or stirred their interest.

        I’ll give you an example. Someone posted on my page that they’d downloaded one of my books because of the way I’d posted about my experience of cancer. (My books aren’t about cancer.) That was an act of faith. And that’s what we’re asking readers to do. Make a leap of faith.

        I’m not saying it’s easy, but I think the way to a reader’s heart, if they don’t already know your work, is to comment/post/blog in a way that makes them think, “That was interesting. S/he sounds interesting. Maybe s/he writes interesting books…” It’s possible of course that really boring people can write really interesting books, but that’s not the way readers think. They think there will be a correlation.

        I believe the first duty of a fictional character is not to be likeable, but to be fascinating. The same goes for authors. We have to persuade readers they want to spend time with our minds. 😉

        • I love this comment stream. Reading a book is an act of faith. Books change us. We let the characters and their emotional messes in. Our lives are changed. Linda, I still remember Flora in, A Lifetime Burning, and that coat stuffed with paper. Yes indeed – we are obliged to be fascinating.

      • Gwen Stephens says:

        Every time you write a post about life on the island, it takes me right back to the Crater Lake characters. When you publish photos, or when Bruce does on his blog, it makes the experience of sitting down with your book even more real. I can picture the setting and connect with your characters better, because they are a part of you. I don’t necessarily get that with the big name authors at the large publishing houses (the one exception that comes to mind may be Kristin Hannah). There’s something much more intimate about following small indie authors through their blogs and other social media. I loved the card you sent me in the mail, and I still have it. I also have autographed copies of other indie books, with personalized messages from the authors. I’ve connected with a piece of these authors’ lives, you included, and in my opinion, that’s the way to win reader loyalty. The Light Never Lies is next up on my long reading list, and I can’t wait to dig in.

  14. dex says:

    It’s a tough question. Ultimately, I think I agree with you, primarily because I suspect most ‘promoters’ don’t care about the indie book in question. For them, the process of promotion is most likely plug-and-play. I don’t want that with my material. I want passionate interaction, like you.

    Then I think about my blog. My blog, which I’ve been writing for years and which I’ve poured myself into. My blog, with literally hundreds of ‘on writing’ posts offering encouragement and sharing my experiences of the writing process. My blog, with hours and hours of free fiction, there for anyone who wants to read it, including even the first draft of one of the novels I’m currently working on. My blog…with a steady readership of less than 10.

    No lie.

    If I had any idea HOW to cultivate readers on my own, I’d be with you 100%. I simply don’t know how you’ve done it.

    • Oh Dex – I hear what you’re saying about the blog. It’s so hard to gauge what the actual readership is. I hear about all these tracking-type sites that let you know exactly what your analytics are – I don’t want to go there. If I start gearing blogs according to what’s popular then I’ve defeated my purpose of being in the blog world from the start. It’s complicated – right? I don’t want to re-invent the wheel – if there’s someone out there who can deliver readership or exposure for a reasonable price, I’d be getting in line. I’m just tired of wasting money I don’t have on promotion that doesn’t seem to make a bit of difference. Keep plugging away – that’s my advice to myself.

  15. P. C. Zick says:

    Francis, I’ve come to the same conclusions as you. I’ve fallen for some pretty lame things to try and boost my sales. I’ve wasted time, money, and soul on these efforts. So I keep writing and remember that perseverance will do me more good than tweeting.

    • I absolutely agree, Patricia. Just have to get writing that next book. Nothing else seems to work – I’m going to throw my lot in with Linda. Checking back in five years – LOL.

  16. I loved this post and comments, too. Let’s see, blogging since ’02, 8 books, some indie some e-pub with POD option. Not making money, but holding those books in my hands. Incredible. And the friendships I’ve made, so precious. None of that necessarily translates to sales, but I’m okay with that.

    • Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, Cynthia. You have the attitude I need to cultivate in order to stay focused and keep writing – the accomplishment of completing a book is somewhat of its own reward and it is about more than sales. Blogging, which started as a “must” promotional tool has become so much more – friendships develop. Sometimes one reader at a time means a new person added to my circle. It’s all good.

  17. Hi Francis! I completely agree with both you and Ms. Gillard. We have to get out there and interact with our readers. My blog is my main platform. I write short stories to show potential readers my style of writing and I also post articles, author interviews, and spotlights. My blog represents me as a writer and as a woman because readers want to get to know both. I can’t give up on social media because that is one of the ways I draw in new readers. I did have to learn to prioritize and create a balance between promoting and writing. I also believe that writing all the short stories and articles on my blog has improved my writing significantly. Another benefit of blogging. 🙂 Great post! I enjoyed it. 😀

    • Thanks, Vashti – I agree (and I’m sure Linda would, too) that having a venue where readers get to know the author is really important in the self-publishing age. The blog suits me as that venue. Now, this balancing and prioritizing act – whew – quite the challenge. I’m working on it. Glad you enjoyed the post. I continue to enjoy this comment stream.

      • I’ve found my Facebook author page invaluable for making contact with readers. It’s less work than a blog but just as interactive. Over the years I’ve also been active on book discussion forums. You have to be careful you don’t just do book promotion, but I’ve found the moderators of some book forums are open to the idea of author interviews or discussions of a book with the author involved. Readers like the “inside story”. But it’s best if you’re known on the forum as a participating member before you suggest anything of a promotional nature. Readers are really fed up with the relentless self-promotion some indies indulge in.

        I don’t claim that any of these activities sell books, but they’ll certainly make you some new friends.

        • I love the interaction of my Facebook author page, too. Just wish I could ensure status updates got to a wider audience.

          I appreciate the tips on book forums discussions. I haven’t delved much into that arena of meeting readers and hear what you’re saying on how this interaction has to be more than just plugging one’s own book. Readers are too savvy for such ploys.

          New friends are great and they may always turn into readers which is a bonus.

  18. […] I sign-off – last month, I blogged a post entitled, Should Indie Authors Pay for Promotion. The post generated a great discussion. The comment stream has become far more useful than the post […]

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