Indie Book Pimping, Part 1

Like all indie authors, in addition to actually going through the labor-intensive process of writing books that people hopefully love and rave about, I also have to market those books. That is a much less pleasant process than writing (which can also be unpleasant at times), and most authors are horrible marketers. We spend hours at a time locked up in a room, pecking out words on a keyboard, and trying to make the stories in our head make sense to everyone else. Writing is done alone, and it is mostly done by people who would rather spend their non-writing time with their cats, playing Dungeons & Dragons, or just reading books that other people wrote. That’s why it’s hard for most authors to make the switch to being gregarious marketing people.

But authors are also people who do well with challenges. You have to be a certain kind of stubborn to have the resolve to complete a novel and, like all artists, authors also need to have a special kind of fearlessness. When you put your work out there for all to see, you’re exposing a raw part of yourself to criticism and ridicule. But we still have the guts to say, “this is mine and I want you to look at it.” That stubbornness and fearlessness comes in handy when you’re forced to switch from book writer to book seller.

I’ve been gradually making that switch myself, and making some hilariously bad mistakes in the process. But my suffering and embarrassment can be your gain! In this first installment of my marketing series, here are a few lessons learned from my epic fail adventures in getting people to care about indie authors:

  • Don’t be afraid to be just a little annoying. The most effective sales people are persistent without being pushy. Know where the line is, but get as close as you can to that line without crossing it. Be like an asymptote, my friend (and yes, I did break out the high school math on ya).
  • Be genuine. Nobody likes fake people. Say what you mean and mean what you say. A short-term sale is not worth your long-term credibility.
  • Focus your efforts on a target audience. Yes, Facebook has eleventy bajillion people on it. But the vast majority of them aren’t there to find new books to read. Go where the readers are: book blogs, GoodReads, book forums, etc.
  • Help others. Think of it as promotional karma. You may not see an immediate return, but your kindness will be repaid in ways you never could have imagined.
  • Start conversations. I know this can be hard for the aforementioned socially-awkward wordsmiths, but it’s important. Show people interesting things to see, learn, or talk about and they’ll be more likely to listen when you start promoting your own stuff.
  • Be funny. “If you can make a woman laugh, you can make her do anything.” ― Marilyn Monroe
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Penny Arcade drops ads for Crowdfunding

I love comics, and I love geek humor, so it should be no surprise that I’m a big fan of Penny Arcade – the web comic about two snarky video game nerds and their exploits. But now I’m going from fan to fanboy because the guys at PA are doing something that could be the future of digital independent publishing on the web – they’re ditching the ads, and asking their fans to donate to their cause on Kickstarter.

Crowdfunding is getting increasingly popular with tech startups and indie artists, but it’s nothing really new. As Penny Arcade’s Kickstarter page plainly says, “After the ‘dot com bubble’, we ran the site entirely on donations for over a year. The word crowdfunding hadn’t been invented yet; back then, people simply called it ‘begging'”. But with crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, RocketHub, Sponsume, and GoFundMe all doing big business, independent creators no longer need to feel like they’re going around with their palms up, looking for a handout. The idea behind all of this is simple: let the people who are most interested in your product fund you from the start.

For Penny Arcade, this means that instead of doing the traditional thing of sticking ads all over their site, they can go directly to their fans and say “Hey, if you’re tired of these dumb banners, just contribute whatever you want to help us take them down and still pay the bills.” If that weren’t motivation enough, the PA boys have additional incentives for your donation dollars. Contributors who drop $25 or more can get exclusive prints of some of PA’s spin-off comics sent right to their door, and the big spenders get even cooler gifts like passes to the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) or a visit to meet Penny Arcade founders Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik in person for lunch (and given their sense of humor, I’d imagine this would be the most epic lunch meeting of your life.). PA has already wildly exceeded their original funding goal of $250,000 and now have $460,000 from their adoring fans.

I’m excited that the “famous” indie artists are finally getting in on the Kickstarter bandwagon because it gives further validation to this model. Instead of giving more money to the corporate machines that indie artists and their fans historically loathe, you can go directly to your fanbase and say “just pay us whatever you want.” It reminds me of the time Radiohead went “pay what you want” with the release of their “In Rainbows” album. At the time it was a groundbreaking move for a major artist, but the recent trend of Kickstarter success stories (the Ouya video game console, Pebble e-ink watch, et al) is proving that this idea has legs. Perhaps in the future we’ll see more and more artists ditching the old models and offering their fans direct methods to support their favorite creatives while getting a little something extra too.