A Novelist’s Anguished Cry—Can You Help?

by | Dec 3, 2018

As regular readers know, I often promote marketing and platform-building training tools and resources.

I do this partly because I know from experience that understanding how online marketing works will make it possible for more authors to make a living from their writing.

This is also part of my own business, since I earn commissions from the providers of these tools when one of my readers makes a purchase.

But what about authors who aren’t trying to make money from their work but still have a burning design to have their books widely read?

What do you do then?

Here’s a note I received recently from David Gierke, an author who, on my recommendation, looked into both Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula (PLF) and Nick Stephenson’s Your First 10,000 Readers.

These are both excellent training programs that I’m proud to promote because I know that for the right person, they can be life-changing.

PLF is really intended for people who want to start an online business, whether it’s book publishing or something else, and it requires a pretty high level of commitment to achieve the kind of success that’s possible.

Your First 10,000 Readers is squarely aimed at indie writers, but learning how to attract and engage an audience also takes quite a commitment in time, energy, and finances to really be profitable.

The Other Authors

What about the other authors, the ones who have no interest in starting a publishing business, may not even have another book to write, and don’t have the time, money, or enthusiasm for the details?

Here’s David’s note:

Joel,

I stopped watching [Jeff Walker’s] third lesson after he trashed writing books for minuscule profit, instead suggesting that we sell some course (etc.) after the book has been published, indicating that that was where the “real money” resided.

As a first-time, one-book (biographical novel) author, who is not interested in making “real money” or furthering my career, but only that my work gets read, I’m afraid that Mr. Walker falls into the Nick Stevenson mold of selling books. Unfortunately, I don’t have a “magnet book” to give away to “prime the pump” in terms of establishing my “platform”. Even if I had an extensive list, what am I going to sell these people other than my one book?

My goal is to sell my one book, which required seven years to write and two years to edit and format, made available through Ingram Spark and the usual vendors.

I’m afraid I have wasted another four or five hours of my time.

C. David Gierke

P.S. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no answer to my dilemma. First-book indie authors, writing fiction, are screwed in terms of having their work read by the multitudes.

{If you are curious, you can find David’s books here: To Caress the Air: Augustus Herring and the Dawn of Flight (Book 1 & 2).)

I get a variation of David’s question every week. Other authors stuck in the dilemma of wanting a readership but not really fitting into the mold of the entrepreneurial author that’s so widely promoted online.

We can’t repeal the laws of marketing, either. You’ll still need to find a way to get your book in front of audiences who are most likely to be interested in it.

But we also can’t mandate that every author who wants to be read turn into a social media and marketing dynamo, either. So sending them to learn from successful authors like Stephenson or Joanna Penn or Mark Dawson isn’t going to help either.

I confess I don’t have lots of good answers to this question, so I ask you:

What can these authors do?

Photo: bigstockphoto.com This post contains affiliate links.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

29 Comments

  1. Amy Collins

    “For those who understand, no explanation is needed. For those who do not understand, no explanation is possible.” ― Ziad K. Abdelnour

    It took me years as a book buyer for a good-sized chain of bookstores before I was able to determine which covers and design choices were going to work and which ones were not. I don’t blame new authors for not seeing the differences between a good cover and a questionable cover, but I do expect that they will be able to acknowledge that they do not have the experience or eye that is needed.

    Bookstore buyers, librarians, readers, and online shoppers all have the same goal, to find something enjoyable or edifying to read. If a book is presented in a manner that attracts enough attention, it will get read. If a book is not being read, then the publisher needs to adjust how they are presenting the book.

    Amy Collins (yup. That’s my full name)

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      The voice of experience. Great points for all authors to think about. Thanks, Amy.

      Reply
  2. C. David Gierke

    Joel F.

    I consider your comments about my book be inconsequential and decidedly ill-informed. Your 40 years of experience doesn’t cut it with me. In education, we have a saying: “One year’s experience 40 times over.”

    CD Gierke

    Reply
    • Wendy

      How completely rude, ungrateful, and unkind. Joel made this blog post to help you and asked his readers to do the same. You have been given a great deal of good advice in these comments. And instead of saying thank you, you, instead, lash out in the most childish way. Shame on you.

      Reply
      • Anna Castle

        We do seem to have teased out the underlying marketing problem, at any rate :-).

        Reply
  3. C.David Gierke

    Hey Wendy,

    Now that you have provided your name, I have looked at your book covers and had a good laugh. They’re not anyway near God’s gift to the reading public… and just to think, I correctly identified you as a romance writer! Criticism from a professional I can accept… criticism from you is like accepting a restaurant recommendation from the garbage man. Spare me the pap and keep your advice and opinions as to how I spend my money to yourself.

    Cheers!

    C.D. Gierke

    Reply
  4. Carolyn Gierke

    It is interesting that Wendy is the only person who did not include her last name with her comments. I would like to see what she has written and what her book covers look like. It is pretty rude to leave disparaging comments and not to identify yourself fully.

    Carolyn Gierke

    Reply
    • Wendy

      My name is Wendy Wallace

      Reply
      • Amy Collins

        Wendy, are you the author of The Sacred River and the Painted Bridge? Because those are two GREAT covers.

        Reply
        • Wendy

          No. That’s a different Wendy Wallace–a literary novelist from the UK.

          Reply
  5. C. David Gierke

    Joel,

    “Sub-optimal” cover design? I think not! I worked for several months with the best aviation illustrator that I could find. The bill (well worth the cost in my opinion) was over $2300 and is extremely accurate. As far as the covers being identical, Wendy should look more closely. One cover shows the pilot running along the sand, the second cover shows him in flight, with the propellers spinning. Wendy, the self-admitted “I don’t know anything about aeronautics” critic, hasn’t a clue as to the significance of the the book’s content blurbs. As far as intellectual “Jibber jabber” is concerned, I say… go write another romance novel.

    Being accused of not putting my time in concerning marketing and promotion, simply isn’t the case. For example: The softcover and hardcover versions of To Caress the Air, Book 1 & 2 run over 750 pages (each) and sell for $21.95 and $32.95 respectively, that’s what I call giving the book away. Don’t think so, check out IngramSpark’s rates (printing and shipping costs, plus Amazon’s cut at 30%). Kindle lists each book for $9.99 (not $15). During the entire three month pre-order period for Book 1, I sold the Kindle version for $1.99.

    In terms of promotion, I have sent thousands of blurbs to individuals and airplane clubs all over North America – a two month effort (working every single day). My wife and I have tried most of the other suggestions supplied by your readers, all to no avail. Also, I have spent in excess of $3000 for advertising in aviation and related magazines; I have also asked for and received some great reviews from various columnists within the aeronautics industry (my contacts)… and continue to pursue these leads

    A a former educator, I am adept at public speaking and am about to embark on speaking tour (to aviation related groups) throughout the eastern US.

    Say what you will, but I haven’t been convinced that first time independent author/publishers aren’t marooned on some far-off publishing island, where the only useful suggestion for having your masterpiece read is to “spend more money “on advertising (or anything else that will support the independent book seller industry).

    C. David Gierke

    Reply
    • Wendy

      ““Sub-optimal” cover design? I think not! I worked for several months with the best aviation illustrator that I could find. The bill (well worth the cost in my opinion) was over $2300 and is extremely accurate. ”

      Aye yi yi.

      You paid $2300 for those covers? Whoah. You got scammed.

      And this isn’t about me, subjectively, not liking your covers. Take a look on Amazon at covers of books that are selling well in your book’s category. People respond to visually pleasing covers. Yours isn’t visually pleasing.

      Your reaction to my comment is the reason you won’t sell any books. You get upset over smallest of criticism and think you know better than the reader. Clearly, you haven’t researched the market to understand what readers find pleasing when it comes to covers, titles, and blurbs. If you don’t care about your readers, why should they care about you?

      Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      When I called the covers “sub-optimal” I meant that they did not communicate any excitement or make enough impact to stop browsers and draw them in.

      Unfortunately, the research and artistic skill that goes into an illustration, the cost of the cover work, or the amount of time it takes have no effect whatsoever on the ability of the cover to accomplish its most important goals.

      So your illustration might be the best, most accurate ever, but it doesn’t rescue the drab colors, the awkward and unprofessional typography, or the general lack of any contrast or drama. Obviously, this is simply my informed opinion.

      Good luck with the book.

      Reply
  6. Lindsay

    “But what about authors who aren’t trying to make money from their work but still have a burning design to have their books widely read?”

    Not to be (too much of) a smartass, but if this is true, you give your book away for free. If you want to make money, you put effort into marketing.

    I think there’s good advice in the comments. I’d write a blurb that promised the scintillating story of this guy’s life, not a dry historical text.

    And then accept that this is the kind of book you hand sell by giving talks at conventions or whatever gatherings there are related to the niche. Nobody is looking for this book (I did a 3-hour history-of-aviation-and-space tour at the National Air and Space Museum in DC last year, and I have no memory of this historical figure even being mentioned), so it’s like any new product that doesn’t have an existing market. You first have to educate the buyer and convince them that they want it. It’s tough. That’s why people write to to an existing hungry market when they want to make money.

    Good luck!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Some great advice, Lindsay, thanks. I especially appreciated your comment that “Nobody is looking for this book” because I wrote about this just recently here: Does Anyone Care About Your Book?.

      Reply
  7. Monica Lee

    Maybe adjust expectations. Niche-y biographical novels aren’t candidates for best sellers. Unless you’re a celebrity, a memoir-y type book is a blockbuster at 5,000 copies, in my estimation. I’ve sold 800 copies of “The Percussionist’s Wife: A Memoir of Sex, Crime & Betrayl” (plus a bunch of free ones that led to selling copies) by using the methods suggested by Anita (first commenter). I think that’s pretty awesome for the type of book I’m offering. So maybe David is doing just fine, given his title. Or, if he’s sold only 31 copies, well then maybe some of the other suggestions from this post would help: Basic promotional efforts on Amazon and community outreach. Can’t wait for readers to come to you– there are too many options out there.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Monica, I think you hit the nail on the head here: ” adjust expectations.” Frustration arises when authors don’t want to market (for whatever reason) but still expect big sales. As a rule, that just doesn’t happen. If more authors of very personal books with small potential markets lowered their expectations, they would improve their entire publishing experience, and have a lot more fun, too!

      Reply
  8. Anita Rodgers

    I think he might find some help in Dan Blank’s book, “Be the Gateway,” where he suggests that connecting personally with readers and approaching marketing more organically is the key. In his shoes I might look for local groups that are interested in his topic, offer to give talks at rotarity clubs, libraries, flight schools, local airport clubs or events. I might also contact specialised libraries that highlight flying, airplanes, etc and see if they would be interested in stocking the book. Also, get with his local Chamber of Commerce and get involved in events, become a speaker, etc. I get where he’s coming from, doing the reader magnets and becoming a social media maven isn’t always the answer or right approach. I wish him luck.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Dan’s book is squarely aimed at writers who want to emphasize their creative work, and I highly recommend it. You can find it here: Be the Gateway.

      Reply
  9. Anna Castle

    He could easily create some reader magnets by writing short bios of lesser figures related to his story, or something that would intrigue the history and aviation buffs who would enjoy his books. He could blog for a while on the same sorts of things. He can do discounts & related promotions, even knowing that he won’t make the cost of the ads back during the promotion period.

    But I hear his lament. I remember being at a fork in the road, career-wise, and reading books like The Million Dollar Consultant. I didn’t want to be that aggressive; I wanted a book called The Quarter-Million Dollar Consultant. But wise counselors like David Gaughran offer guides that fit more author ambitions than the Neal Stephenson and his ilk. Gierke could trouble himself to reach a little farther into the advice section.

    Reply
  10. Wendy

    He needs a better cover. He uses the same cover for both books! He needs two better covers.

    He probably needs to use better keywords as well.

    Also, the blurbs are long, boring, and do nothing to excite the reader. I don’t know anything about aeronautics, but if a blurb promised me an exciting hero’s journey involving a guy who loved planes and whose passion was about making the impossible into a reality, I’d buy it. But the blurb gives me nothing but intellectual jibber jabber.

    If he wants readers but doesn’t want to do marketing, then he needs to do research. He needs to find where all the aeronautics nerds hang out online and start reaching out to them–asking them to read the book or help promote it.

    Reply
    • Wendy

      P.S: To answer the general question, “What can these authors do?” At the very least, they should:

      -Come up with a good book title
      -Have the best cover they can get
      -Write a good blurb

      You come up with great titles by studying your genre and/or similar books to your own.

      There are plenty of affordable book cover designers. There’s no excuse for not paying for a good cover when you’re not a professional designer yourself.

      There are plenty of writer forums on which you can ask for help with a blurb. If you can’t afford to pay someone to write one, ask for help.

      Finally, spend the time getting to know your audience, the influencers in that area of interest, and the places online where they discuss their common interest.

      It’s fine to not want to learn marketing. Instead, take the time to build relationships with people whom you want to read your book. Also, make sure you’re creating a book they would want to tell people about.

      Reply
      • Joel Friedlander

        Very practical Wendy, that’s great and especially the idea of “building relationships” rather than “marketing.” And yes, the covers are shall we say sub-optimal.

        Reply
  11. JJ Toner

    I took a look at the first book. The Kindle version is selling for $15.00 with 8 good reviews and a rating on Am.com of 2million. My first suggestion would be to reduce the price. Amazon pays 70% royalty on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99r, but not higher. And readers will not pay $15 for a book from an unknown author. I would suggest $3.99 or $4.99. Then try a little light advertising on Amazon.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      JJ, solid advice, thanks.

      Reply
  12. Ev Bishop

    Huh! I ADORE that that you offer no pithy answers to this dilemma, only a shout out to the void . . .

    My response: you’re not alone, but I have no wisdom. Perhaps just sharing your personal story for the random seeker (of which I am one, foremost) will be enough. Good luck.

    Reply
    • Roddie Simmons

      Well Said! Too many I know better, you know nothing comments in the Self Publishing world.

      Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Ev, much appreciated.

      Reply

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