Sunday, April 15, 2012

Book Marketing: The Holy Grail - "The Initial Seed Element"

There are so many blog posts, web posts, twitter posts, LinkedIn posts, Facebook Posts and on and on telling you just what to do to market your book. Many of these are very good for the writer/author. Many of them are on the mark, many are very specific to the author who is writing the post. You may be tempted to get carried away. There is no doubt that in search of that all elusive goal of selling ever-more books (and possibly even "illusive" as well) - to this as King Solomon wrote in Proverbs "there is no end". However, all seem to be missing a very critical aspect, and this is the "Initial Seed Element". In this post I will try and explain what that means, and just what is involved in the search to find it.

Some authors and bloggers approach the whole issue of publishing a book with a "master plan". This is actually something that should be done all the time. They take their time, they build up a following in their blogs and they slowly get to the point where they release a partial and then the full book. By that time they hope that many of their avid followers will purchase and read the book. This is certainly a very smart and sane way on how to go about initial marketing of a book. It takes time, lots of it, not exactly writing, but in marketing, and a great deal of planning.

Recently a friend of mine, had a book published in non-fiction by one of the Big 6. I met him by chance in the street, and he showed me the hardcover of which he was very proud and should have been, and we started discussing what he was happy about and what he was very unhappy about. It turns out he was extremely happy with the way the book turned out, but was totally beside himself on the "marketing" end. He had been made a world of promises by the publisher, none of which came to be, (which I told him straight and to the point - they won't come to be so do not rely on it), and he was extremely worried that the book would now languish. He told me he had hired a book publicist, which just took his money and accomplished nothing, (again not a surprise), and even when he mentioned the name of this "famous" publicist I was not surprised as just like the publishers they are swimming in a new sea and still have not caught up with the market. In other words, he finally got an important treatise out there in non-fiction, he had the creditably as a reporter with major newspapers, and his book was now stuck. 

I told him what he did not want to hear. I told him it was up to him now. He had to market his own book. And like me, it was not something he really wanted to spend time doing. Like me, he was incredibly reticent about trying to get people to buy his book, saying it should be the job of the publisher and agent and publicist. I totally agreed on the "should be" part, but there is a world of difference between the words "should be" and "what is". He listened with a frown, and I could see the wheels turning, and the frustration on his face. It was not a pretty sight as it mirrored my own frustration almost every day.

When I got home from this chance meeting, I realized that we are all are missing something. Even if we make maximum use of Twitter, FB, LinkedIn, Klout, Pinterest and all the rest. We are all missing something incredibly critical here and incredibly simple. Unfortunately this specific missing link is not up to us. It can be pushed by us, it can be promoted, but in the end it is karma, fate, luck, God - whatever you believe in which plays a huge part. Not something you want to hear I know, but it is the basic truth.

I come from the world of high tech. In technology, among us nerds and techies, there is something known in the release of any new piece of software as the "initial seed". This actually is the backbone of all viral technology and social networking. So let me try and explain in a layman view.

If you are old enough, you know the game of "telephone". One friend would whisper to another to another and to another, until at the end we would hear the "actual message" which almost always was far different than that original message. The human condition is to amplify, change and put our own mark. It is called "gossip". It is called "talking". It is called "telling a story from your point of view". The effect is the same. Once someone says something, it gets repeated and repeated.

Now on to a bit more sophisticated stuff. Let us say I write a chat system. Now in order for that chat system to work I need people to actually join up and join in. Otherwise my chat system can be great but if there are no users, it is destined for oblivion. So I send out emails and ask people to sign up. I send out 100 emails. 10 people sign up. A couple of those test the system. One of those people, without knowing it, without even having the slightest idea that they are the "initial seed" sends out an email to friends saying "try this system." The email then is spread in a viral method. In other words those that do receive it then in an exponential rate of discovery send it out and the people that get it also send it out, and people start signing up to the chat system. This is what is called viral - in very very simplistic terms.

Believe it or not, FB, Twitter and all the rest had that one seed as well. The one person when they began, without knowing, that at the right second the right place the right moment the right words sent out or phone call or word of mouth and said "try this". Once that initial seed is started the momentum begins. Of course there can and should be multiple "initial seeds" in the perfect world, but even if there is only one, if placed with luck, chance, karma or the kiss of an angel at the right time, the "object" goes viral.

If you work with any of the social networks you will know exactly what I am talking about. The search for your posts and information to go "viral" is the holy grail of any author. This is what brings people to read what you wrote. It establishes followers. And it helps in a very big way to sell the next thing you write.

I know of no way to force something to go viral. There are literally thousands of great ideas and programs who have long since died because they could not manage it. There are I bet, hundreds of thousands of books that did not make it. Great writers who mostly live in oblivion because they were not "kissed by the angel of word of mouth".

In other words all efforts at all social networking and author marketing are aimed at one thing --> word of mouth. Amazing how some things even with all the technology do not change. Without it you are doomed. With it even if your writing is mediocre, you will succeed.

The frustration of many authors, both traditionally published and not is that we do not go "viral". We do not manage to find that luck of finding that initial seed to create a viral path to our books. We read about authors who write fairly decent but certainly not earth-shattering material who are far more successful than we are. And we all wonder how they do it? The answer of course is they managed somehow to go viral. To have their book(s) spread by word of mouth in an extremely swift manner.

But the "initial seed" is not enough. The step afterwards is to make sure you can "sustain" the viral network. Let us call this "sustainability". Here the power of social networking comes to the fore. Because if you are viral and you have and are building up a following social networks allow you to "reach out and touch your following". Blogs allow you to post ideas. Creating more interest. Creating an ever increasing spiral in your viral network.

I always try and use real examples here. I have not succeeded in my book "Ancient Tales, Modern Legends" to reach a viral network. I have also watched another author who writes short stories, and is well known, release his collection, with an agent and publisher at the same time, and jump to the top of the best sellers. Is his work better than mine? Is mine better than his? I have no clue that is for readers to decide. But I do know he has a tremendous jump on me in that he has "followers" and without even knowing it, a "viral network" in place. Which means he can get reviews in the major papers - easily. He can be interviewed - without begging and waiting - easily. He can sell simply because he is who he is.

Frustrating in the extreme. Especially if you are like me, and hate being the marketer of your own work, and hate the idea of having to put yourself  "out there" by yourself, for yourself. However, it is also true the publishing world and readers have changed. He who was on top yesterday is not on top today. So if you do believe in yourself, if you do think what you have to say in the written word is worth reading by others, then you have no choice but to seek out the "magical angel in charge of word of mouth".

Again, I repeat, I know of no formula that will cause your book or books to go viral. I know of no formula that creates "word of mouth". Advertising may or may not help. Book reviews may or may not help. And on and on and on. What is very clear, is that good old simple "word of mouth" the real viral network - that is certainly the holy grail. So all your posts must have that in mind in the end result. Whether they are about your book or not. They need to contain something of import. Something which on a day when you least expect it, that "initial seed is planted".

But be warned. If your book does go viral, do not rest on that. You will still have a lot of work to do in marketing. When your 10th book goes viral you can rest. Because you will be in a very unique place. It is hard work. It is frustrating. It is very depressing at times. And yes, you just want to scream out at times, "Buy the book and read it - you will see that it is great". But of course that does not work. So you plug on. You may succeed you may not. Chances are and odds are that you will fail. It is simply the odds of the game. But if you are like me, and have this inner drive to leave something of a legacy, to leave the world a little better than the one we were born into, to hopefully make people think, laugh, cry, and understand themselves better - you simply have no choice in the matter. You must write. You must work at it. And one day maybe, with the right combination of time, luck, karma, God or the angels, you will find yourself on top of the mountain.

The goal is viral. The challenge is sustainability. Remember those terms. Do not be duped into buying into schemes that will get you a zillion followers on Twitter in one week. You need to work hard. You need to write. You need to hope. And possibly at the end, no promises, you may just succeed. 

Books by Ted William Gross

If you wish to purchase the books at Smashwords click here.


Carol Wills said...

Great post Ted, thanks for sharing your view.

Carol x

Martha Moravec said...

A thorny problem beautifully articulated. Thanks and good luck.

Matthew Rowe said...

Harsh, but true, and this is what is currently bugging me. I got depressed because despite heavy marketing my KDP select title got pitiful numbers, even less than my last try, on its two free days. Yet I see authors get 15,000 plus downloads and all they do is chat on twitter. Infuriating.

LK Watts said...

In the words of J.A. Konrath: 'All you can control is how much you write.'

He's right. You cannot force people to buy your books or to talk about them. You just have to keep writing.

Teddy said...

LK Watts - No you cannot "force" people to talk about anything. But even Konrath and all others, did have the "initial seeds". Konrath started in traditional publishing, others did too. They may deny it today, but they did have then a jump on others especially at a time when self-publishing and Indie virtually did not exist and was looked down upon. Once Konrath established his followers, yes, all you have to do is keep on writing. e.g. Herman Wouk at 93 will be releasing a book soon and so will Elie Weisel. So the following is there and those books will be gobbled up.

Writers need to keep on writing. The purpose of the post was to show that clearly the fact that "you build it" does not mean "they will come". And with all the self-marketing work, there is a huge - a very huge hurdle of that "initial seed". And even for Konrath that was luck, and if I am not mistaken he admits to it as well. Of course, it depends on the quality of your writing and if the public wants to read what you wrote based on taste and certainly reading fads. But that "initial seed" is critical.

Maggie Anton said...

Thank you, Teddy, for articulating this problem so well. I admit that I am one of the "lucky" ones. My self-published RASHI'S DAUGHTERS: BOOK 1 - JOHEVED ended up selling 26,000 copies in 18 months, as well as getting the next 2 volumes, and my upcoming historical novel, RAV HISDA'S DAUGHTER, published by Penguin. JOHEVED is still selling well 7 years later, and over 150,000 copies of my 3 books are in print.

I admit my writing will not win a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize, though I do tell a decent story. But what I did really well, and still do today, is go out and speak about the research behind my books. In 2009 alone, I spoke at over 100 JCC's, synagogues and Jewish women's events. It's grueling work, and I arrange these all myself, but I'm sure that if I'd sat home that first year JOHEVED came out, my initial 3000 copies would still be in my garage.

Maggie Anton,