Marketing in the Dark, aka Stumbling Around on the Interwebz

I began writing romance novels in 2010. To learn about the industry I read  the blog posts, reference manuals, submission guidelines, write-a-romance self-help books,  scraps of letters left behind by famous authors, and all of them agreed on one thing: the writer needs to be her own marketer. I would have to be responsible for my own promo. Oh, sure, some publishers place a few ads here and there on websites and in Romantic Times, but for the most part, the writer is expected to take on the bulk of advertising her work.

Fine, I thought. I can do that. I’m really determined. Stubborn. Obsessed with the desire to be an author. I designed my website, filled in all the tabs and dotted the i’s. I posted my favorite quote and came up with a witty saying that encompassed what I believed to be essential to a romance novel. I envisioned my blurb rocketing across the interwebz, a viral string of characters that made readers click all my buy links.

What no one tells you is that once you’ve got a book out there, you have NO WAY TO TELL if your promo/advertising/marketing is doing any good. Why? Because for the most part you can’t track real-time sales. Siren-BookStrand has a nifty author login that lets you track sales on their site, but to my knowledge, they’re the only ones that offer this feature. (Please correct me if I’m wrong and just functioning with a lack of information.)

As far as sales go at Barnes & Noble or Amazon or any number of other distributors, the only time you find out how many copies you’ve sold is when you get your royalty statement, SIX MONTHS later. Frankly, it’s enough to make me tear my hair out with frustration. You can track sales ranking (and we do, oh we do, obsessively) but they don’t really give you a lot of information about the actual sales. I assume the publishers know the numbers. Possibly the distributors, too. But the one person who needs that information the most, the writer/amateur-marketer, does not have it.

How does one figure out how to promo their book, then? How does one know if this ad was successful or that one was? Answer: you don’t. All you can do is work on your website, make friends with other writers (for support, so you don’t lose your mind), and connect with readers in any way you can think of. This might include email, newsletters, blog posts, rain-dancing, community chants, etc. And most importantly: write. If you don’t like the act of writing for its own sake, then you’re in the wrong profession. The writing sustains me when all else fails and I’m staggering around in the dark night of the interwebz, hunting for answers.

So, dear reader, the next time you receive an email about a new book or watch an author frantically posting on Twitter, cut her a break. It’s probably because she’s desperately trying to succeed in this crazy profession against impossible odds and invisible obstacles. And someone turned the light out on her.


ETA: Looks like things are changing. I just stumbled across an article that says Random House launched an author portal allowing “access to comprehensive sales, royalties, and subsidiary rights information.” Awesome. Now if only Amazon and B&N would provide information about ebook sales aside from the book ranking numbers (you know, like actual sales numbers) I’d be happy.

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