Guest Post: S.G. Night reports on an incredibly powerful marketing tool for authors
“Hindsight is 20:20” takes 2nd place (right behind stuff about death-and-taxes) as the world’s truest proverb. We are always a thousand times smarter than we were six months ago, and we’re always a thousand times duller right now than we will be one half-year hence. What I’d give for a time machine.
Allow me to elaborate.
Rewind the clock one year to August 29th, 2013. The day I published my debut novel, Attrition: the First Act of Penance. I was 18 years old. I had just wrapped up a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the self-publication via CreateSpace. I had 1000+ likes on Facebook. I had just recently held the proof copy of Attrition – my life’s work in corporeal form – in my hands for the first time. And, most importantly, I understood one very important thing about self-publishing: “if you build it, they will come” does not apply on the internet. You have to market things like this, or they’ll never sell. I give myself bonus points for acknowledging that fact where many indie publishers do not, but…
…my mistake was to think that I could learn on the job.
Mind you, I did learn on the job — I learned how to manipulate Facebook ads, make use of Twitter blasts, manage promotional events, and gather reviews. And, to an extent, the book was successful. Attrition has sold 7,000 copies since last August. It floated around Amazon’s Dark Fantasy BestSeller list for three straight months, and even made it up to #1 in its genre for a couple of days. Good, certainly, but not exceptionally impressive.
The problem, you see, is that everything I learned was in hindsight. I implemented every new marketing strategy as I learned it, instead of all at once on release day. The trouble with indie books is that they have a built-in life expectancy – the more time has passed since the publication date, the less effective any marketing tool is going to be. The best thing you can do is to have all your biggest marketing guns ready on the frontline on release day. Unfortunately, all of my marketing tools rolled out slowly over time after the launch (with the exception of the Self-Publisher Showcase, which I had the excellent fortune of joining forces with prior to the release). I have to wonder sometimes how different things might have been had I learned how to market the book beforehand, rather than afterward.
Which brings me to what I want to talk about today — an incredibly powerful marketing tool that I discovered 10 months too late: Reddit. Specifically, Reddit’s Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) events.
On sub-Reddit categories like Reddit Fantasy (r/Fantasy), authors can put up an AMA post and users from all over the globe can drop comments and questions, which the author can then answer at his/her leisure over the next 24-48 hours. I was introduced to the concept when I participated in the recent indie fantasy anthology The Dark Beyond the Door — the editor of the anthology, J.R. Karlsson, arranged to do a group AMA on r/fantasy briefly before the anthology came out.
I was a little nervous at first. Anyone familiar with Reddit can tell you that it’s more than a little intimidating at first glance. Furthermore, the idea of being put on display, open to any criticism or trolling, rather felt like having a target painted on my forehead.
The anthology AMA, however, proved itself one of the most effective marketing strategies I’ve ever participated in. 174 comments in general, with many of them directed at me personally. Dozens of opportunities for branding, self-promoting, and interacting with the readership. The AMA went so well, in fact, that I contacted the moderator of r/Fantasy and arranged a second AMA event for myself alone.
My personal AMA took place a few weeks later. I formatted my post in a way that I thought would best attract the users frequenting r/Fantasy — that is to say, I milked my youth as much as possible by mentioning my age (19, presently) into both the headline and the description body. That little factoid brought in a half dozen questions by itself. I took the time to make myself seem relatable in the description, and invited everyone to comment as they pleased. I then posted the AMA link to all my social media platforms and let my pre-existing readership know about the event.
It brought in a further 82 interactions, all of which helped to promote my writing. I sold 20 additional copies of the book in seven hours — that’s would be a killer sales day even during a book’s post-release peak, let alone ten months later. Again, I can’t help but think how something like an AMA would have helped if I’d arranged to have the event the week after releasing Attrition while the book was still fresh on the market.
What’s astounding is how little it took to set up the event. There isn’t a strict filtration or screening process that they use to keep out the riff-raff like me (I’m not being modest when I say that; authors like Patrick Rothfuss and Brian Sanderson have done AMAs on r/Fantasy, so it’s not just for the little guys). I just contacted the moderator, picked out a slot, and I was good to go. Easy, painless, free, and incredibly profitable.
One last thing to note about the AMA concept: it’s fun. Really fun. You have no idea how exhilarating it is as an author to have people lob question after question at you because they actually care what the answers are. It’s an entire page of the internet where you just get to talk about yourself, and everyone gets to talk about how cool they think you are — definitely an ego boost for anyone suffering from the blues of sagging sales. Not to mention the hilarity of some of the conversations that come out of an AMA — my favorite was this:
It doesn’t get much better than that. I highly recommend that anyone who is about to release a new book find an appropriate subreddit for their genre, and arrange an AMA. I definitely will be for my next release.