I’ve rethought free lately and I see now that I got something wrong. I didn’t wade deep enough into the free pool. When we give books away, we shouldn’t focus on getting those same people to buy more of our books, as awesome as that would be. We should build a team of enthusiastic disciples. As marketing guru Seth Godin says, “Nobody says I can’t make a living because too many people are reading my book for free.”
I had assumed that he simply meant that same group of “too many people” would turn around and purchase the rest of your bookshelf. Therefore, publish a lot of books.
It’s still a great idea to publish a lot of books, but we can go much deeper. Here’s how:
INVERT THE CURRENT STRATEGY
Most authors try to get traction in the short-term by having friends and family buy their books and hope that, somehow, word will spread. That’s a flawed strategy, not least because it’s incredibly hard to get anyone to write a review.
Instead, think long-term leverage. What we should do is give books away to our true believers to build our network of reviewers, allies and preachers of your gospel. Your biggest fan isn’t necessarily your dad (at least mine isn’t.) My biggest allies are on my newsletter subscription list and those who have declared themselves fans. That’s my beachhead. We seed the morphogenetic field and percolate through the culture by sending out free information. (That’s even happening now as you read these words.) To infest the culture, you’re going to need a cult.
HOW TO BUILD AN AUTHOR CULT WITHOUT BEING EVIL
If some loon can convince a group of nerds to become eunuchs because aliens are arriving in a comet’s tail (yeah, that happened) building a cult shouldn’t be too much harder than convincing friends to help you move a piano. Okay, it’s going to be pretty f&$#!!! hard to reach critical mass, but the alternative is obscurity and failure, so gird your loins and strap in.
What each of us needs is a cult of proselytizers to spread our word. They’ll tell two friends and they’ll tell two friends etc.,… We need people — author CJ Lyons calls them “street teams” — to read, review and spread the happy word. We build those teams by giving away free books. This is not new. However, when most of us think about free promotion, we think of a contest giveaway or our five KDP Select free days. There’s much more to do and these strategies require your generosity.
CULT LEADER ACTION PLAN
1. The long-term money starts with your list. Build one. If you don’t already have one, set up a subscription for a newsletter on your author site. I use Mailchimp at my author site, AllThatChazz.com, I give shoutouts on the All That Chazz podcast to new subscribers. I’m thanking them, but I’m also giving their book, business, blog or website free promotion. You have to incentivize now to monetize later.
2. In advance of your next book release, give away review copies to people on your list. CJ Lyons gives away fifty books at a time to her street team (out of a pool of 200, so she’s not asking the same people for an advance review all the time. She published eight books last year.*)
Some churlish people think there’s something wrong with reviews appearing as soon as a book is published. That’s not cheating. It’s actually standard practice in publishing to give out advance review copies (ARCS). Every publishing house gears their publication dates to when reviews can appear in major publications. CJ Lyons admits she’s received a three-star review from a street team member, so obviously membership in her cult doesn’t equal idolatry for every book.
3. Speaking of standard practices, send out more review copies to book bloggers and review sites. Sharing an epub file or a kindle mobi costs you nothing so there’s no reason to hold back. I’ve switched my thinking about paperbacks recently, too, so my focus with CreateSpace is usually (though not always) for promotional purposes and much less for direct sales. I always send signed paperbacks to influential people, editorial team members and people who have inspired me as a special thanks.
4. Write something that is meant as an introduction to your flavor and make it extremely cheap or free forever. It doesn’t have to be long but make sure you show off. Here’s a NSFW example from Johnny B. Truant. He says this one essay about our place in the universe gets 60 downloads a day. It takes just a few minutes to read, but he’s spreading his word and beginning induction into his cult.
Naturally, some authors will object to these strategies. I’ve anticipated objections so…
PULL! But giving away free books devalues my art!
BLAM! What devalues your art is, though no doubt brilliant, it’s sitting unread. Your light is hiding under a bushel of entitlement. To burn that bushel: Get generous, make friends, build a list and inspire a network.
PULL! But I don’t want a “cult”.
BLAM! Don’t get so deep in the metaphor that you miss the tasty cheesecake. Chuck Pahlaniuk’s fans really are called “The Cult” but they haven’t established an armed, fortified compound. They’re just really into Chuck’s books…okay, and possibly punching each other in the face. But who isn’t into Fight Club?
PULL! I want my success to happen organically so it’s not a flash-in-the-pan cult of personality.
BLAM! No worries there, mate. If they don’t like your books, they’ll hate you. Everyone confuses the book with the worst potential of its author.
BLAM! The marketplace is so congested, one “flash in the pan” might be our best chance. Success could come without getting others to blow your horn, sure. However, it’ll probably be a post mortem-type deal. Your genius will be discovered when an Amazon hard drive is pulled from the sand of a burnt Earth by a curious alien who discovers he’s really into cozy mysteries set in Maine with a ghost unicorn as the retired detective out to solve the murders of syphilitic elves. Best of luck.
PULL! I really just want to write my books and do no marketing.
BLAM! Most authors get into micro-publishing to take control of their fate, not leave it to the whims of strangers. (No offense intended, but what are you doing reading this far then?)
BLAM! You can just write more books and hope for the best. That’s not the way to bet, though. This is Art + Business = Art that is read + More Art. If marketing makes you feel impure, why publish at all?
PULL! Free is the finish line for the race to the bottom in book prices!
BLAM! Since few will heed this advice, don’t worry about what the unread herd does. The herd focusses on losing 100 book sales. Your intention is to stun with sales of 100,000 to a million or more.
BLAM! Good art will survive. You can’t build a cult around your books if they suck. In fact, give away more bad books and you’ll sink faster.
PULL! Free means more one-star reviews from people who will never like my books!
BLAM! Why worry about people will only ever download it if it’s free? They aren’t eligible to be cult members. One-star reviews are usually so poorly thought out, no one takes them seriously besides people who give out one-star reviews. When you’re selling chocolate, you don’t grieve for those freaks who only eat vanilla. Sell more chocolate.
I’m hunting for cool and interested people for my cult. Are you one of us? To sign up for my free newsletter and get a shoutout on the All That Chazz Podcast, go to AllThatChazz.com and do the drill in the right sidebar.
I’m looking for cool and interesting people. Are you one? To be interviewed on the All That Chazz podcast, click the Chazz Has Guests tab at the top of this page.
- Author Platform: Problems, Solutions & Stuffed Speedos (chazzwrites.com)
- Seven tips about book marketing very few will heed (chazzwrites.com)
- Micro-publishing is publishing: Tools, tech and committing to change (chazzwrites.com)
- Amazon sales secrets you’re probably missing (chazzwrites.com)