There is an old saying, often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, that goes like this.
Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.UNKNOWN
The actual Emerson quote doesn’t mention mousetraps, but the sentiment is the same.
If a man has good corn or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods.ACTUALLY RALPH WALDO EMERSON
And the expression is only honestly famous for one thing: it’s obviously wrong.
Or, at least, like so many other well-meaning dictums, it fails first contact with the real world. Don’t believe me? Then consider the following.
That Gum You Like Will Never Come Back in Style
Ever had a favorite restaurant?
I bet you have. It would be a safe bet for readers of this blog, who mostly come from English speaking countries, where restaurants are popular. So lets assume you used to have a favorite restaurant.
Did I say “used to”? Why would I do that?
Except you don’t have to ask. You know why.
It’s a common enough occurrence that it has practically become a cliche: “My favorite restaurant closed down!” And no other restaurant on Earth serves exactly the same kind of food. Like the lost city of Atlantis, your descendants can only marvel at your description of what a wonderful place it was, once upon a time.
And this reverence for restaurants past does not translate to other consumer institutions. Nobody mourns their favorite laundromat or car dealership. We don’t shed tears for the closed down shoe store or news stand.
We love our favorite restaurants. Yet they continue to disappear. Why is that?
Except you don’t have to ask? You know why.
“There just aren’t enough customers,” Mom and Pop will tell you as they close down the one diner in town that makes Eggs Benedict the way you like them.
“If only more people would come by,” says the sorrowful abuela as she closes down the one taco cart you’re addicted to.
“Why aren’t people buying my delicious haggis?” Moans the Scottish chef. Who was apparently born yesterday.
Yes, there are other reasons why a restaurant may close: a bad rating from a health inspector, earthquakes and sinkholes, a downswing in Kenny Rogers’s career. But the primary reason in most cases comes down to: the food is splendid, but nobody buys it.
It turns out that simply hawking a superior product at a reasonable price is not enough to guarantee success. History is strewn with the corpses of enterprises that never found their niche, regardless of how excellent they were in delivering product or customer service.
Meanwhile, mediocre restaurants and businesses are franchised and syndicated to worldwide popularity!
“Build a better mousetrap” is a recipe for failure. Excellence in function may be appreciated by the people who are already your customers, but that is not what causes people to stop in for the first time.
To do that, you need to dabble in the dark arts of marketing.
A Scary Business
Marketing gets a bad rap.
Marketing deserves a bad rap.
Marketing is the kind of business no upright, intelligent, and non-insane person would ever embroil themselves in. This is the prevailing thought, made popular not only by real-world encounters with marketing, but by the fiction-fueled stereotype that it’s a duplicitous, dog-eat-dog underbelly of the business world.
For one thing, it’s all too easy for marketing to go to waste. Regardless of what The Simpsons told you, people don’t reflexively buy a product just because an advertisement told them to.
Many marketing companies, including high-priced, well established ones, typically misrepresent the effectiveness of their product placements. Google is notorious for making all the money in the world off a business model that consistently fails to generate measurable results.
So marketing is an unfortunately necessary yet highly dubious business. But what does that have to do with me?
Because I’m sure that’s what you’re thinking.
An Author’s Got to Get His Hands Dirty
Advent 9 releases on October 19th.
There’s not a lot of time left.
And, frankly, the marketing avenues for independent authors are not great. Oh, there are fine resources that will teach you marketing techniques. But the selection of actual, worthwhile marketing services is slim.
Here’s what I’m up against:
- As far as advertisements, most authors agree that only highly targeted Amazon ads are worth the time, with Facebook and Goodreads just barely meriting consideration.
- Some of the more expensive advertising services, such as Google and Twitter, fail to achieve book sales.
- Costless marketing methods (podcast interviews, etc.) tend to garner interest from certain niches, but fail to cast a broad net.
- Bookstore marketing—which may be the most effective method—is largely unavailable to independent authors.
- Worth of mouth campaigns—which are the most effective method—require at least 70,000 sales before they kick in.
And it’s no secret that marketing anything outside of the corporate world is often an exercise in futility. Even the huge corporate players often fail to capture a portion of the attention economy. There is no magic bullet, especially to those authors who don’t have a marketing budget to begin with.
What I Am Doing
I’ve decided not to waste precious marketing dollars on platforms that have proven to not work.
I am, however, open to spending marketing dollars on platforms that are untested. Often, the only advantage one can get in marketing is discovering a new vector for it. I’m currently in the process of a few experiments, which unfortunately I cannot share publicly.
However, here are a few traditional methods I am using, in connection with this release:
- I have bought a Kirkus review. Kirkus is an industry staple, and authors who can afford to have their book reviewed are often benefitted by doing so.
- I have bought some advertising space in Publishers Weekly. This is another trade paper that has influence in the industry.
- I am making Advent 9 available at the Frankfurt, Sharjah, and Guadalajara book fairs through a partnership with Booklife (PW‘s independent book news arm) to give the novel some international exposure.
- I am going to arrange marketing with Amazon and BookBub. And likely Goodreads and Facebook, too.
- I have plans to push the Advent 9 audiobook, which already has the draw of having Michael Kramer attached.
And yes, I am also banking the book’s inherent quality. A better mousetrap is no marketing tool, but one thing I have noticed is that when people actually read Advent 9, good things miraculously start to happen.
It was after reading Advent 9 that caused David Farland to offer me a free second edit and the offer to help me publish.
It was after reading Advent 9 that Michael Kramer and Kate Reading became invested in my success, and they went above and beyond to produce a quality audiobook.
And if I can guarantee even a few people will read this book all the way through—even if that guarantee is secured by officially and transparently buying review space in a trusted publication (such as Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly)—then I do not find it unreasonable that even more people will become invested in the fortunes of this book. Upon reading it, one can’t help but root for its success.
When I originally tried submitting this book for corporate publication, I often compared the experience to walking around a crowded city with a gold brick in my hand and hoping it gets stolen. Once people can see what it is I’ve got, they suddenly want it.
The only barrier is getting them to read the thing. Which, in the case of paid reviews, is quite convenient.
But the danger in this enterprise comes not from the known unknowns.
What Lack I Yet?
I have to admit that not all avenues for marketing Advent 9 are visible to me. There are things I don’t even know I should be trying. This is the part of publishing with which I was pinning all my hopes on David Farland’s expertise. If only he were still alive, I would know better where to focus my efforts.
I do not have him as a resource anymore. But you know who I do have?
You. And I mean all of you.
One man on his own, no matter how smart, is hopeless. But a million minds meeting across the datascape—that is genius.
If there is anything I am not trying, or that I haven’t mentioned, please leave a comment.
I’m serious. I have all sorts of blind spots, and I am actively looking for input. Leave it on the dotted line.
If not for my sake, than for the sake of a book that deserves recognition. The world is about to have a huge surprise dumped on it. You will not believe what I’ve been carrying around this crowded city for so many years.
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