Should writers market?

I’ve been reading Seth Godin’s fascinating book Permission Marketing today and it got me thinking about how I, and other writers, seem to approach promotion. Right of the bat I have to say that I have never liked marketing. While I recognise its necessity, self promotion has never come easily to me. I find it awkward and unpleasant, but reading Permission Marketing has really lifted a weight of my shoulders and got me looking at things differently?

So, what is permission marketing? Basically, Godin outlines too kinds of marketing inhis book. The first is interruption marketing. This is the basic form of marketing that we’re all familiar with in which you attempt to draw your prospective customer’s eye away from what their doing long enough to talk them into buying your product. I’ve always hated this kind of marketing and I’m pretty sure that this is why talking about advertising makes me so uncomfortable.

Permission Marketing, Godin tells us, is the exact opposite of this. Rather than intruding upon your prospective customer, you get permission to contact them and then work to build a relationship with them over time that gradually turns them into a loyal customer. The only drawback appears to be that getting the initial permission to contact them necessitates a little of that old fashioned interruption. However, I must admit that this sits a lot better with me. I feel much more comfortable talking to people who are a little bit interested in what I have to say and going from there than standing in the middle of the street shouting “buy my book.”

I’m still in the early days of my writing career and I don’t really have a marketing strategy to speak of, but it has always been my intention to avoid becoming a spammer.  Unfortunately seems to be one of the pitfalls of the internet, you’re only a few short clicks away from the deadly Affiliate Marketing machine that seems to suck in so many good people and absorb them.

But are any of these concerns really necessary? Should self published authors really worry about marketing?

One of the great advantages to Amazon’s KDP service is that a small bit of luck can go a long way. This is partly because you are publishing to one of the most visible and reliable online stores in the world, and partly because it doesn’t take much to get Amazon working for you. While they seem to be a little more effective at sorting out the chaff than they used to be, Amazon’s algorithms are still very favourable to authors. When you combine the bestseller lists, popular lists and also-boughts, Amazon actually does a lot to generate exposure for your book once you get your feet off the ground.

A spike in sales and good reviews seem to be the only events that reliably generate more sales, with advertising and agressive marketing remaining a defunct option. One of self publishing’s biggest success stories, J.A Konrath, said not long ago that he doesn’t believe that many of his sales come from his reputation in the self publishing world. Rather, he attributes his success to writing and publishing a large number of books and giving them professional covers. This is the same advice we see repeated over and over in the self publishing community; the best promotional tool is another book. Over time the writer should seek to develop of platform of multiple books and good reputation, eventually this will create enough momentum and sales increase across the board. Sounds nice.

So, what can I contribute to this discussion?

At the moment I only have one book to my name, I’ll be sure to tell you what happens when I have a second. What I can tell you is that selling a single short story is no small job. In fact, just about the only thing that ever shifted copies was the faithful KDP Select free day that I talked about previously.

Should writers market? I’m inclined to say no. At least, not in the traditional sense. I tried marketing a short story. Though my efforts were meagre, the time I spent should have generated a few sales. That was not the case and all the self promotion in the world only seemed to count when the book was going for free. Admittedly, a short story by an unknown author is at a disavantage, but one only gets known by selling books and had it been a novel the improvements could not be huge. Writers marketing online seem to get a very small benefit compared to the effort they put in, and the success stories come, not from those who marketed, but from those who wrote the most.