...this post has been prepared as part of the Book Merah Ten Year Anniversary Party... to see other posts related to the history of Book Merah, click here.
"Each author should experiment, but I will say that nothing is better than writing the next book. If any time is being spent marketing in lieu of writing, that’s a bad decision."
Hugh Howie, NY Times bestseller and superstar self-published writer, in an interview with Digital Book World that appeared online April 4, 2016. The interview is here. A few days earlier, the Observer published its own interview with Mr. Howie. Both of these articles are must reads for anyone seriously interested in self-publishing.
I didn't know about Hugh Howie in 2006. Thanks to my father, though, I did know a lot about the book business. My father sold/sells books to school libraries. (I remember him driving his Buick (usually full of boxes of books); me in the passenger seat reading the best-seller lists that were on the last page of Publishers' Weekly; I imagined them to be as cool and exciting as sports statistics or music top ten charts. In 2006, when I decided that I would launch Book Merah, I also decided to do no marketing until I had eight books under my belt. Why?
- Very often, first books are wobbly collections of words on pages, not clock-stopping reading experiences. There is no shortcut to mastering a craft and an artform. I'm not saying I have mastered writing--not by any means. But after my third or fourth book I started to bleed less and had more energy to give to the reader.
- Technology. There were no targeted ads in 2006. Things were not quite in focus. Now, you can ask Facebook or Google to put an ad for your book in front of your desired ideal reader. To comply with your request, Facebook will ask you about the age of your desired reader, will ask for his or her shoe size and the last place he or she used a public bathroom. Like a drone equipped with facial recognition software and GPS, Facebook or Google will get your ad in front of him or her.
- Social media. My latest book is set in Bali. I can check LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter and other services for groups in or related to Bali. Yes, I must be be respectful, but it is a huge timesaver and mentally reassuring to know that there are groups of people who share one thing in common with my book, even if it is only location. However, awareness of these groups, and a small amount of involvement with them, is not marketing.
- Marketing is a full-time job and there is a learning curve. For example, how much time does it take to understand and utilize keywords? SEO? Metadata? Time is limited: I decided I would rather wrete and postpone learning about how to do successful online marketing.
- The amount of resources needed to market and publicize eight books is almost the same as the amount required to market and publicize one book.
- One sale leads to another, hopefully. If a reader likes one book, they will likely be interested in my other books, even if the subject and style are different.
- Even if the first book became popular as a result of marketing, there would be a lag before the next book was written and produced. That lag would likely dissolve any marketing achievements made by the first book; the second book might have to start from zero.
- I also incorrectly thought that Barack Obama, the subject of my first book on Amazon, would attract readers. If xxx million people look for short stories about the President of the United States, wouldn't a percentage of them, even a very small percentage of them--find Obama Search Words? Nope. If you want a book to sell, you have to do marketing.
- Subject matter. If I were writing non-fiction, different story. If, for example, I wrote a guidebook about Tiong Bahru, I would market it heavily. But my work seems to be cross-genre. Travel-literature-history humor. One of the comments for I Ate Tiong Bahru was "like nothing I've read before."
- It's a marathon, not a sprint. I took the long term view, and am now ready to make a little marketing noise. Maybe make up for "lost" time. Hope that I can connect with interested readers. Finally, I should mention that despite a lack of marketing, I Ate Tiong Bahru has sold almost 2000 copies in Singapore, where that number is considered a "national bestseller". The review here is stunning, and no, I had absolutely no connection with the magazine that wrote it.