How to Improve Your Fiction Marketing Through Peer Collaboration: 11 Quotes From the Experts

by | Dec 31, 2014

By Jason Kong

Want to get a jump on book promotion for 2015? Start thinking about partnering with your fellow authors.

Working together is timeless strategy. Regardless of how the publishing landscape changes and how online tools evolve, there will always be opportunities for leverage by joining with others who have similar goals.

What ideas should you be paying attention to? I thought it’d be interesting if I posed the question to various leaders in the publishing domain. I asked those who were fiction authors themselves, and others who were marketing gurus. I then compiled their responses and attempted to identify some themes.

Here are the takeaways:

  1. Partnerships start with the right mindset

    We all know the ease of self-publishing has led to a very crowded marketplace.

    If there’s any kind of valid niche for your stories, odds are you’re not the sole writer in that space. Joel Friedlander, the owner of the very blog you’re reading, notes the following:

    I think collaboration offers a real advantage to fiction authors, since fiction books, by their nature, don’t compete with each other. It seems to me that fiction authors could achieve the best propulsion for their marketing efforts by collaborating with other others in the same genre, and I’ve seen many signs of authors doing this.

    It’s inevitable that some writers will try to reach the same audience as you. But by working together and contributing to a joint marketing effort, you’ve transformed a limitation into leverage.

    Johnny B. Truant, one of the partners of Sterling & Stone, comes up with his own terminology for this approach:

    Assuming everyone involved brings something to the table (i.e., everyone has at least SOME audience beforehand), then the promo will expose everyone’s fans to everyone else’s, and everyone wins. There’s no competition — only “coopetition.” Nobody stops liking one author so that they can like another.

    As more fiction writers publish their stories, you’re faced with a situation that is both a problem and opportunity. It’s harder to get noticed, but easier to find other authors that appeals to an audience similar to the one you want. Your decision is to work against them or with them.

    What will you choose?

  2. Joint promotions work

    Out of all the responses I received, marketing as a group was the most frequently mentioned tactic. It wasn’t even close.

    Author Anne R. Allen’s feedback exemplified this:

    Pretty much all my marketing has been through collaboration, but the most spectacular success has come from [working] with other authors in anthologies, joint promos and especially a boxed set. Right now I’m in a boxed set called A Six-Pack of Sleuths with five other comic mystery authors, most of whom I met when we collaborated on the Indie Chicks Anthology in 2011, which was also a big success. The Six-Pack has been in the Amazon top 2000 since its debut.

    Flexibility is one of the many advantages for fiction authors working together. The power to choose how a promotion is executed ensures the fit is right for both the writers planning the marketing as well as the readers receiving it. Shelley Hitz, owner of TrainingAuthors.com, elaborates:

    A group promotion can be organized around a certain theme, holiday, or other event. It is best if there is a catchy title for the group promotion as well as graphic designed that can be used for marketing it. Several of the group promotions I have been involved in have been for a 99 cent sale. However, you can choose the details of your promotion you think will work best for your audience.

    The real beauty of a group promotion is the synergistic nature of the proposition. For readers, it’s a lower risk to find a new author they enjoy. For writers, it’s a higher chance of picking up a new fan. The odds for making a new connection just increased for everyone involved.

    R.J. Adams from BookMarketingTools.com explains further:

    The best way that fiction writers can collaborate with peers is to create a collection of related books, and either give it away for free, or really cheap. This allows you to create huge value for the reader. They are more likely to buy a boxed set or a bundle of books, especially if the price is right, to try out authors they may not have heard of. This allows each author to be discovered and create fans.

    Whether you’re a fiction author with a debut novel or a veteran storyteller with two dozen books published, partnering up can improve your marketing.

  3. Get together in small groups

    Connecting with your peers is like gaining superpowers.

    Their knowledge and experience are enhance your own. They provide insight when you’re stuck, and encouragement when you’re down. Big book marketing problems suddenly become much smaller when you have other writers on your side.

    Online tools are great for scalability, but sometimes engaging more people isn’t the answer. The right environment with the right people is important too. Author and blogger Molly Greene details what works for her:

    Won’t claim it’s the best way, but it’s valuable: I belong to a private Facebook group, just a handful of trusted fellow authors covering all genres and experience levels. We swap info regarding book promos we’re doing and how they worked out as far as results – downloads, sales, date(s) our promos ran, and what we did to pre-advertise the promotion, etc. We also share industry information pertaining to potential trends and what other authors are doing, and ask questions about different platforms and how best to operate on them.

    The value of a smaller group may be further elevated by face-to-face interaction. That’s not always possible, but physical proximity creates an intimacy that can’t be duplicated over the internet. Dana Lynn Smith of The Savvy Book Marketer has a few words on that:

    Get together with other novelists in your local area to share ideas, celebrate successes, plan library or bookstore events, or host book launch parties for each other. You can organize your author group informally, or set up a group at MeetUp.com.

    Instead of cultivating more relationships consider deeper ones, the kind that’s made possible through regular contact and mutual support. Working in smaller circles may be your key to getting the traction you seek.

  4. Help your peers first

    What habit will allow you to attract collaboration opportunities?

    Being generous to your fellow authors. Even if there’s no formal partnership in place.

    Why? Tim Grahl, author of “Your First 1000 Copies,” reveals:

    My opinion is that every author should start by thinking through how they can help other authors sell more books. Review their books, blog about them, interview them on a podcast, etc.

    It’s all about the long view.

    The more I help other authors sell books, the more people I’ll find in my corner when it’s time to sell my own books. In fact, in many cases people will offer right away to reciprocate in some way.

    Keep in mind, Tim isn’t saying to expect aid from those you’ve helped. Rather, you’re in a more favorable position to receive support when you do need it.

    Besides, there’s a practical reason why promoting your peers makes a ton of sense. Prolific author CJ Lyons, owner of the blog No Rules Just Write!, shares this insight:

    I never wanted my newsletter to be all about me and I know my readers are voracious and there’s no way I can write fast enough to keep up with their appetites (which is why authors really aren’t in competition with each other), so I often invite authors whose work I think will resonate with my readers to be highlighted in my newsletter. It becomes a win/win for all: the author has a chance to reach a new audience (I’ll often ask them to provide a special gift whether it’s a free short story or excerpt or special deal), my readers get the chance to possibly find a new “must-buy” author, and I get to give my readers something special.

    CJ understands that when her readers benefits, she benefits too. Any action that aligns the well-being of both her customers and peers sets her up for success as well. Goodwill may not be measurable, but it definitely has impact.

    Initiate generosity.

  5. Investing in the right partners is worth it

    Joining forces with different people can lead to wildly different outcomes.

    You shouldn’t take your partner selection process lightly. As Sean Platt, one of the partners of Sterling & Stone explains, who you choose to collaborate with has a profound impact on the bottom line:

    Fiction writers can improve their book marketing through peer collaboration by harmonizing their skill sets with someone who complements them perfectly. Fiction writing, by and large, is a numbers game. The more books you have in your library the better you will do. Working with (the right) partner greatly reduces the friction in getting product to market. By working someone who allows you to do what you’re best at faster, you can create more product, deeper funnels, and a more rapidly expanding fan base.

    Yes, trust and respect are essential — that’s true of any relationship. But wondering up front how certain individuals mesh together is a worthwhile consideration, because some fits are better than others. And if you’re going to invest the effort for a joint venture, the whole really needs to be greater than the sum of its parts.

    If you’re a fiction writer for the long haul, then having the right partners at your side is a splendid idea. Kimberley Grabas, owner of YourWriterPlatform.com, advises to look beyond the immediate time horizon:

    Approach each collaborative project with longer term goals in mind – not just a bump in book sales.

    Choose partners carefully, and promote them freely without expecting anything in return. Commit to supporting your partners on a continual basis, focus on strengthening relationships, and you’ll build a tremendous asset to your writing career that will increase in value over time.

    Collaboration can be a short term tactic, but there are huge benefits to viewing it a long term strategy. Marketing your fiction with partners may be one of the best investments you make.

What is your biggest question about book marketing through peer collaboration?

This article only touched on some of the ways you can benefit by working with your fellow fiction authors. What was left unanswered? Let’s talk about that in the comments.

Jason KongJason Kong is a Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He also runs Storyrally, an email-based subscription that helps fiction writers with their online marketing.

You can learn more about Jason here.

 
Photo: bigstockphoto.com

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23 Comments

  1. Barry Knister

    Jason–
    Thanks for this post. I’ve just subscribed to Storyrally and look forward to reading more from you.
    But here’s the thing: everyone in the photo at the beginning of your post looks to be somewhere in the neighborhood of fourteen. Not really, but my point is that most of the advice being offered on social networking or, in this case, peer collaboration is targeted for young or almost young writers. I’m pretty sure I’m a good writer (I’ve been published commercially), but I’m really too old to have much in common with those who make up your target audience. What’s going to be my status, parent? grandparent? It just doesn’t work.
    So, my question is simple: if such collaborations are possible for older writers, how do they go about establishing them?

    Reply
    • Jason Kong

      Barry: I definitely believe collaboration is possible for older writers. While it’s true many of the references in my article assumes some familiarity with technology, the core themes have little to do with being technically skilled.

      Helping your peers, working in small groups, having a partnership mindset, investing in the right partners, and doing joint promotions isn’t dependent on age. If you aren’t comfortable with social media, you can still have an email an email exchange with fellow authors, or find peers who live locally and meet in person.

      Getting to know someone, having a rapport, and seeing an opportunity to work together works the same way today as 30 years ago. It takes time, patience and trust.

      I hope you weren’t looking for how to do a joint boxed set on Amazon, because that wasn’t the point of this article. I simply wanted to encourage fiction writers to connect with their peers.

      I hope this helps.

      Reply
  2. mikel miller

    Collaboration works for many. Just try it, and don’t become obsessed with details on how to split the revenues.

    Reply
  3. Cassandra

    I’m looking to do a collaboration, but it’s the technical aspects that are becoming a stickler, like a legal contract to protect each of the authors in the collection, splitting the proceeds and how to merge several authors mobi and pub files. Any advice or pointers?

    Reply
    • Jason Kong

      Cassandra: Are you asking in a general sense or did you have specific questions?

      I’m sure other authors have shared their experiences in those areas online, although unfortunately I don’t have specific links to share with you.

      If you’re looking for input on your particular situation you’ll want to consult a specialist, especially when it comes to a legal matter like a contract.

      Sorry I can’t help you more.

      Reply
    • Anne R. Allen

      Cassandra–With my boxed sets done with multiple authors, we all chipped in to have the books reformatted as one file: both in mobi and epub. It wasn’t that expensive. I think it would be hard to merge different files into one ebook.

      We only have a “handshake” contract. One author we all know and trust usually does the accounting. One box set pays quarterly and the other pays monthly.

      Reply
  4. George Donnelly

    Excellent article, Jason, thank you. I’m sharing it. Keep up the great work and best wishes in the new year!

    Reply
    • Jason Kong

      Thanks, George, really appreciate that. Thanks for reading and I hope all is well with you!

      Reply
  5. Jake D. Parent

    Love the idea of community building as a way to help each other out.

    Do you have recommendations of where to find fellow writers?

    Reply
    • Jason Kong

      Good question, Jake.

      I think the key word to keep in mind is familiarity. The better you know the fiction writing and the author behind it, the better you’ll be able to determine whether a collaboration fit is right — both in terms of the working relationship and the target audience.

      Along those lines, assessing who you personally know already is a good place to start. These will tend to be authors whose writing you’re familiar with and appeals to the same kind of readers you do. And of course, the level of trust will likely be higher if you already have a good relationship with each other.

      Another angle is to determine what author would be a good match for you based on the body of work. If you and another writer attract the same kind of reader and have similar sized followings, then some kind of joint venture could be mutually beneficial. The big obstacle here is the lack of familiarity with each other.

      I’ve written more on the subject of peer collaboration here.

      I hope this helps!

      Reply
  6. Kimberley Grabas

    Fantastic article, Jason! I love how the same question can result in a myriad of viewpoints and interpretations – including those in the comments.

    My favourite takeaway from the article is this: “Instead of cultivating more relationships consider deeper ones…”

    Mindset, intention and finding the “right” partners are important, but developing deeper, more meaningful partnerships can be extraordinarily rewarding.

    Reply
    • Jason Kong

      Sifting through all the different responses was a definite treat for me. I’m looking into more ways to incorporate more perspectives into future articles.

      Thanks again for letting me quote you in the post, Kimberley!

      Reply
  7. Dana Lynn Smith

    What a terrific article, Jason. I especially like this comment from Johnny B. Truant: “Nobody stops liking one author so that they can like another.”

    Reply
    • Jason Kong

      I really liked that quote too, Dana. Not all aspects of business is a zero-sum game.

      Reply
  8. MM Justus

    I’m beginning to think it’s me, because every marketing article I read appears to be telling me “this is what you should do” without saying how to do it.

    So, yes, I understand that marketing collaborations are a good idea, but I have no clue how to go about getting involved in one.

    I am quite sure you feel like you’ve told how to do it, too. So apparently it’s just me.

    Reply
    • Jason Kong

      Thanks for your comment, Meg.

      Actually, I don’t feel like I told you exactly how to form a partnership. This particular article only touched on the high level ideas without many details, so you’re right about that.

      As I’m sure you’re aware, there’s a trade-off in providing the step-by-steps of anything. Too much specificity and it’s only useful for a few people dealing with that exact situation. But if it’s too general, it’s too abstract to help anyone.

      I do understand what you’re saying, however. And I’ll agree with you that many marketing articles lack the how-tos. I’ll try and do better.

      Reply
      • MM Justus

        I think it’s possible to give more how-tos without being less useful to a broader audience. At least I hope it is.

        But I do feel that it must be me, because if it wasn’t I’d be finding at least some articles with actionable stuff in them. Beyond the passive marketing parts of the deal. That part I do understand.

        Reply
      • Heidi Kneale (Her Grace)

        I’m with MM. I’d love to know more about where I can go to find authors willing to collaborate. Stuff like, say, Smashwords blogs or forums, etc? Or is there somewhere else they gather, like an Indie Craigslist or something?

        Where have you found your promotional collaborators?

        I’m at the beginning of my career with only two books out currently, so marketing is an uphill slog at the moment. I’ve attempted some collaboration with a few others previously, but that hasn’t been as long-term fruitful as I’d like. Maybe I attempted collaboration a little too early?

        Reply
        • Jason Kong

          Heidi: Sure, online venues like the ones you mentioned are possibilities. Think of the places you frequent with others like you (motivated, similar level of progress as an author, writes fiction with same kind of readership). Also, see my response here.

          I don’t have the same audience as you do, but I met many of my collaborators through blogging.

          It’s hard to know whether you attempted collaboration too early without knowing the specifics. There are many possible reasons why your results fell short of expectations. Maybe your partner wasn’t a good fit for you, or perhaps there were problems with the approach. Just remember a bad experience doesn’t mean it will never work, and that going through the process may help you have a better outcome in the future.

          Reply
  9. Anne R. Allen

    Thanks much for the mention, Jason! Just today I got a payout for that “Six-Pack of Sleuths” that was bigger than payments on any of my single titles for the month.

    Besides the money, this wonderful group of authors give each other support in ways that transcend Gordon Gekko/Don Draper “greed is good” thinking. All the bestselling authors I’ve teamed up with have become good friends as well.

    I couldn’t disagree more with Mr. Zelinski’s self-aggrandizing comment. I will give Mr. Z’s books a wide berth.

    Thanks for your helpful and enlightened post, Jason!

    Reply
    • Jason Kong

      Anne: That’s awesome “Six-Pack of Sleuths” is doing so well. I couldn’t be happier for you.

      Thanks for chiming in!

      Reply
  10. Ernie Zelinski

    I can’t say I know much about book marketing through peer
    collaboration for fiction. In fact, I know nothing about fiction. As Socrates said, “All I know is that I know nothing.”

    But I think that I know a little about marketing nonfiction given that my books (mainly self-published) have now sold over 850,000 copies worldwide. Fact is, marketing my nonfiction books through “peer collaboration” would hinder me.

    As best-selling author Robert J. Ringer said in his mega-bestseller “Looking Out for Number 1”:

    “In many respects, there is weakness in numbers, not strength . . . joining a group to accomplish any purpose is irrational. In reality it actually slows your attempt to get things done.”

    For the record, Robert J. Ringer knows what he is talking about particularly when it comes to writing books, self-publishing the books, and marketing them effectively to become bestsellers. Results don’t lie. Ringer is the only person to the best of my knowledge to write, self-publish, and market three #1 “New York Times” bestsellers in print editions. His three self-published books sold over 10 million copies in the 1970’s and the 1980’s. Not so long two of Ringer’s self-published books were listed by the “New York Times” among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

    In the same vein as joining groups, years ago people were advocating the power of networking. I became really doubtful of this concept after attending a few networking events.

    Joe Vitale in his best-selling book “The Attractor Factor” confirmed my suspicions about the benefits of networking:

    “Years ago I attended networking meetings. These were usually breakfast or lunch meetings where people exchanged business cards and tried to help each other get new clients. I spoke at many of these events. What I quickly noticed is that the same people seemed to be at the same meetings. One observant friend said, ‘It’s the same people — and they’re all starving.’ That’s when I first learned about the concept of levels. That is, people tend to say on the same level of business or social
    status. When they meet friends, it’s usually in their circle of activity. whether church, work, school or some club. As a result, they rarely get out of the level they are on.”

    So that is one danger of peer collaboration: Staying on the same level as your peers. Indeed, I know people who are still in the networking game twenty or thirty years after I first encountered them — and they’re still starving.

    Like my role model Robert J. Ringer, I strongly believe that the truly creative individual can be much more effective and powerful than a group in marketing one’s own book.

    These quotations apply:

    “The amount of money you make will always be in direct
    proportion to the demand for what you do, your ability to do it, and the difficulty of replacing you.”
    — Earl Nightingale

    “The great creative individual is capable of more wisdom and virtue than collective man ever can be.”
    — John Stuart Mill

    “Creativity varies inversely with the number of cooks involved in the broth.”
    — Bernice Fitz-Gibbon

    “What Is Your WOW Factor? This applies to both the service that you provide to the world and the way you market it. Make it edgy, make it snappy, and make it punchy. Even make it raunchy — but make it different! Real different!
    — from “Life’s Secret Handbook”

    “If you see in any given situation only what everybody else can see, you can be said to be so much a representative of your culture that you are a victim of it.”
    — S. I. Hayakawa

    “The fishing is best where the fewest go and the collective insecurity of the world makes it easy for people to hit home runs while everyone is aiming for base hits.”
    — Timothy Ferriss

    “The good ideas are all hammered out in agony by individuals, not spewed out by groups.”
    — Charles Bower

    “It’s not enough to be the best at what you do. You must be perceived as the only one who does what you do.”
    — Jerry Garcia

    “If you follow the crowd, you will likely get no further than the crowd. If you walk alone, you’re likely to end up in places no one has ever been before. Being an achiever is not without its difficulties, for peculiarity breeds contempt. The unfortunate thing about being ahead of your time is that when people finally realize you were right, they’ll simply say it was obvious to everyone all along. You have two choices in life. You can dissolve into the main stream, or you can choose to become an achiever and be distinct. To be distinct, you must be different. To be different, you must strive to be what no else but you can be.”
    — Alan Ashley-Pitt

    But if you want to hang out with someone who may be able to help you,
    be extremely selective with whom you hang out (which was already emphasized).

    As Joseph Marshall Wade advised, “If I wanted to become a tramp, I would seek information and advice from the most successful tramp I could find. If I wanted to become a failure, I would seek advice from men who have never succeeded. If I wanted to succeed in all things, I would look around me for those who are succeeding, and do as they have done.”

    That’s why I hang out in Robert J. Ringer’s best-selling books many years after the books were written and read his latest blog posts. His advice has helped me have the best year ever by far in 2014 with over 45,000 copies of “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” and over 6,000 copies of “The Joy of Not Working” having sold. (The former was first self-published 11 years ago and the latter was self-published 23 years ago.)

    But of course, as I have said before, the only way to know anything definitely about success and prosperity as a writer is to attain them for yourself by yourself — anything less is hypothesis, idle talk, and folklore.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 225,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    Reply
    • Jason Kong

      “In many respects, there is weakness in numbers, not strength . . . joining a group to accomplish any purpose is irrational. In reality it actually slows your attempt to get things done.”

      That’s an interesting quote by Mr. Ringer, Ernie. Context is important, of course, and I’d be curious to know what was between the ‘. . .’ in the passage you shared.

      Saying you should never work in a group is just as extreme as saying that you should always work in one. I’d wager neither is true 100% of the time, so it helps to talk specifics. Again, that’s where context comes in.

      I’m happy to hear that working solo has worked out for you. But has there truly been no instance where you pooled resources with someone else so that you’re both better off?

      Reply

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