Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Passive marketing, wave of the future

Let’s talk about something besides the coronavirus. Let’s talk about books.

A couple of things are bugging me about books lately. Particularly the marketing of books. During the lockdown, I’ve noticed that my Twitter feed is like a slide show of book ads. As usual, a lot of naked male torsos but also plenty of ladies in dark velvet gowns with pouting lips and ample cleavage, with lightning in the background. It’s getting hard to weed through it all to find news content or funny stuff, like talking dogs and the like.

I’ve had to mute some of the worst offenders, who run ten or twelve ads all at once, hoping to stun me into buying their books.

I’ll confess that I run a promo on Twitter every so often, just to keep my oeuvre out there. You can see how well that’s been working out lately.

So I’m going to try something now, for a few months at least, I hope—I’m not going to run any promos of any of my books. Not because I imagine they’ll miraculously sell themselves but because I’d like to get out of the mindset of tracking them. Especially in the context of quarantine and an uncertain future, it’s not healthy to wonder every few hours if anyone responded to that Fascination ad on Twitter. On top of that, my paid promotions this year weren’t at all successful.

Now I’m leaning philosophically toward this approach to self-publishing: Do it for yourself. (Hence the name.) If I can’t get an agent for some of the books I’m shopping around these days, I’ll make nice paperbacks of them for my wife and me and some friends. If people wind up buying a copy every now and then, great. If not, it won’t be such a big deal anymore. Mental health is important.

Bottom line is, the indie market’s glutted. My Twitter feed tells the tale. Like almost everything involving the internet, something with great creative potential has been overwhelmed and morphed into lowest-common-denominator entertainment.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t use the tools that have evolved for writers over the last ten years to make something I can be proud of.

10 comments on “Passive marketing, wave of the future

  1. Berthold Gambrel
    April 21, 2020

    I’ve never had any success with paid advertising to sell my books either. But I think I disagree with you slightly about the indie market being glutted. In my opinion, fields of creative endeavor can never be glutted, in the sense that creative work is unique to its creator. Books aren’t commodities–if I’m in the mood to read a Kevin Brennan book, then a Kevin Brennan book is all that will do; no substitute will suffice.

    What *is* glutted is advertising–we’re bombarded with it everywhere we turn. So we’ve instinctively learned to tune it out. I probably miss out on books I’d actually enjoy by doing this, but the truth is, I just automatically ignore most ads I see.

    Most of my sales, and all of my post-publication feedback, has come from other writers who heard of me, usually from another writer, or maybe from reading my blog or twitter feed, and said to themselves, “Well, I’ll give one of his books a try.”

    And that’s perfect for me.

    Now, it’s true; I haven’t made enough money to quit my day job and buy a private island with the proceeds from this method. That remains very much a work in progress. 🙂 But I am very fortunate to have a number of friends who I know I can count on to give me thoughtful feedback, and I’ll tell you–I wouldn’t trade that for a legion of random people who bought my books by clicking on ads. The money would be better, but it wouldn’t feel as satisfying. I’d feel like I’d gamed the system, won the lottery, whatever dumb luck metaphor you like. There is greater satisfaction for me in hearing feedback from one person whom I really respect.

    This may not be great as a business model, I admit, but as you say, the really important thing is to be able to make something you can be proud of. And you’ve certainly done that, many times over.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 21, 2020

      Thanks, mi amigo! I definitely hear you about the importance of a bunch of writer/readers who continually come back to the trough. I have some wonderful colleagues who I can count on to read just about everything I write. They’re awesome.

      I’ve been at this for seven years now, though, and I see a definite pattern: fewer sales of each new book than the books before it. I just need to get out of the mindset of caring that nobody’s buying my newer work.

      But thanks so much for your enthusiasm. I really do appreciate it. 🤘

  2. kingmidget
    April 21, 2020

    Several comments …

    You have two more book sales in the last 30 days than me. Congrats!!

    I’m trying to figure out if your theory will work for me. In some respects it is the thing that has held me back from writing a lot for years. Is the effort and energy it takes to produce a novel worth it if the only people who read it are my family, friends, and the fellow writers I’ve met via social media. I mean, I appreciate those who support my writing, but I just don’t know if the benefit is worth the cost. I had hoped that retirement, with more free time, might change the equation. So far, it hasn’t.

    I agree with you that the indie market is glutted, but the problem is, as we’ve discussed before and as you suggest here, it tilts massively towards specific genres. If you want to write in one of those genres, you could find quite an audience. But you and I aren’t writing in any of those genres.

    One more thought … I feel like a lot of us are operating in a closed loop environment. Between our blogs and our Twitter feeds and whatever other social media we use, we are essentially following and supporting each other. Very few “readers” make it into the environment we are inhabiting. So, we’re basically just trying to sell our works to other writers. That’s not a really functional business model.

    Finally … are you complaining about pouting lips and ample cleavage???

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 22, 2020

      I knew something was happening last year when I had trouble getting EReader News Today slots. And then the results of the ones I did land were crappy. It’s true: We don’t write the favorite indie genres.

      So right about the closed loop thing too. Most of my die-hard fans (you included) are writers I met near the very beginning of my indie push … 7 years ago!

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 22, 2020

      PS — Lips and cleavage are great, but when they’re attached to bad novels, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. 😉

  3. Audrey Driscoll
    April 21, 2020

    Your last month of sales on Amazon looks a lot like mine, Kevin. I’ve been using the passive marketing technique pretty much since I published my books. Any month at least one book is purchased is a good month. It’s a good thing I don’t count on much income from selling my books; I use it to buy other people’s books and to pay for the odd Canva image. The thing I need to do is stop checking that sales graph. It shouldn’t matter as much as it does.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 22, 2020

      Yeah, it’s a fruitless pursuit to check the graph all the time. I wish I could wean myself to once a month or something. And I’m hoping that taking a less active promo approach will let me do that. And I’ll be able to focus more on WRITING! 😉

  4. Marie A Bailey
    April 22, 2020

    There’s so much stuff out there that it’s near impossible for anyone to break through unless you have a big name friend to give you a shout-out. Speaking from the POV of a reader, I don’t know how I would “discover” any new writer through Twitter or other media unless a friend recommends a writer or a writer I admire recommends a writer. Passive marketing sounds like sensible marketing to me.

  5. S.K. Nicholls
    April 22, 2020

    I came to the same conclusion a few years ago. I just received my notification from WordPress that it’s my 7th anniversary. A little more than seven years ago I wrote my first book, and a couple of years later I wrote my second. A few days ago, I saw a brand new review on my last book. It was quite flattering and came from someone I don’t know. All I can figure is that he was one of the 4000 people who downloaded my book when it was free. But here’s the interesting thing. Seeing that review pop up on Amazon, which I check about once every three months, I decided to check my Kindle stats page. The pages read for the last thirty days are off the charts…at least for my known performance. The Great Isolation may have some perks for writers. Especially in light of the fact that I don’t promote anywhere. It almost makes me want to start writing again……….maybe between painting pictures. They’re both rather expensive hobbies. We’ll see.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 27, 2020

      Hey, I just had my 7th WordPress anniversary yesterday! We must have joined within days of each other. What a journey, eh?

      So far, since I did this post, I’m not tuning into the stats nearly as much, and it’s feeling good. It’s almost like lowering expectations is better for the psyche than seeing the occasional sale.

      Hope all is well on your island!

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This entry was posted on April 21, 2020 by in Publishing and tagged , , , , , .
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