The Business Rusch: The Old Ways Part 2 (or Discoverability Part 4 Continued)

Business Rusch free nonfiction On Writing

Business Rusch logo webLast week, I wrote a blog about the way traditional publishers market bestselling books. Most writers, indie published and traditionally published, mimic what traditional publishers do for their bestsellers.

Unfortunately, traditional publishers put very little thought into their promotions. As long-time traditionally published bestseller (who happened to be a salesman before he became a writer) stated in his response to last week’s blog: Publishing is the only profession he knew of in which marketing is an entry-level position.

I’ll go one farther than that. Publishing is the only profession I know of in which the people in charge of marketing are actively told not to familiarize themselves with the product.

Um, huh?

Anyway, in last week’s post, I discussed the various things traditional publishers do for their bestsellers and whether such things have any value—both for the traditionally published midlist writer and the indie writer. I thought I’d be able to cover everything in my usual 3,000 words.

Imagine my surprise when I hit my word limit with many things left to cover.

So, if you haven’t, please read the first part of this topic. Then return to this blog.

One thing I forgot to mention last week is an acronym that award-winning hybrid writer Scott William Carter  came up with as he ventured into indie publishing. That acronym, WIBBOW, works on a variety of levels, but it especially applies to marketing.

The acronym stands for Would I Be Better Off Writing? Generally, the answer to that is yes. In this new world of publishing, where books remain in print, the best thing you can do to promote your previously published works is to write new works. I’ve said that before, and I’ll say it again as this discoverability series continues.

Remember that traditional publishers have different goals from indie published writers. Traditional publishers must sell a lot of copies of a title very fast. The faster the better, in fact, because bestseller lists don’t measure sales over a long period of time. They measure sales accrued within a week. So a book that sells well in one week and then sells no more copies might actually hit a bestseller list. A book that sells a consistent number of copies over four months (and ultimately sells more copies than that first book) might never hit a list.

Traditional publishers have a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am attitude toward books. Readers aren’t in such a hurry. They get to a book when they get to it. But traditional publishers don’t sell to readers; they sell to distributors and bookstores. That’s why so much of a traditional publisher’s marketing is invisible to the average reader.

I addressed some of this in the first post on advertising, and again last week.  Then I promised I would deal with media interviews, stock signings, blog tours, and reviews, and maybe a few other things along the way.

Media Interviews

C-SPAN has a channel called Book TV. Every time I surf past that station, I’m struck by one thing: Writers generally make for terrible television. They can’t read their own work in an interesting fashion. They’re terrified of questions. They don’t dress well. Mostly, they wait for others to help them.

For the most part, writers are introverts who should never be asked to perform in public. Yet traditional publishers have demanded that their writers do radio and television appearances to promote books in that high-stakes velocity period.

Some writers do well. They’re relaxed, they’re funny, they’re wise. George R.R. Martin gives a good interview when he feels like it. George used to work in television and isn’t intimidated by the people behind it or the lights or the fact that he’s suddenly talking to a huge audience.

Talk show host Craig Ferguson, a writer himself, can bring out the shyest writer. He calms the writer, asks questions about the work, and treats the writer like a friend.

Most television hosts haven’t read a book, let alone the book they’re doing the interview about. In fact, most people who do the booking for television shows will ask the interviewee—in this case, the writer—for questions to ask about the work.

Very few such interviews do anyone any good. I’ve known a lot of writers who are more interesting in person than their work ever is, and even more writers who are dull as dishwater in person while their work is lively as ever.

But an interview is free advertising, and a good interviewer will hold up a book for a good ten seconds or so, to promote it. Does that sell books? Who knows? Most of the television interviews you see with bestselling writers occur in the same week as the Big Release from their traditional publisher. That publisher is doing everything in its (uneducated) power to get the word out about that book.

That same week, there are book signings all over the country (or region), paid advertising, reviews, and more. It’s hard to tell which is more effective. I liken it to a movie opening. Lots of people might attend a movie on opening weekend, particularly if the film is heavily promoted. But after that, it’s up to the film’s quality to deliver the audience.

How many publishers have sponsored major tours, and signings, and events, and not seen much increase in sales at all?

The answer is more than you’d think.

Just like the fact that television interviews don’t move books. How do I know that? From writers who aren’t in the middle of a big publicity push, yet who end up on television a lot. If they do an interview, and the host holds up the book, the writers don’t usually see a blip in sales.

The key to discoverability isn’t one appearance on the Today Show. Discoverability is really about ubquitousness—those weeks when you can’t avoid the name of that book or that author. So an appearance here and there doesn’t work. It has to be in concert with everything else.

That said, having a television series made from your book, even a bad series, will increase sales. As long as your name is attached to the show. Too many writers, happy with the idea that they might have sold something to Hollywood, don’t pay attention to things like credits. “Based on the novel by” needs to be in the front of the show, along with the actors’ names and the name of the director. You don’t want your name in the end credits since, in the US at least, the end credits go by at high speed and are so tiny that they’re unreadable. That’s not marketing. That’s contractual obligation done poorly.

But you can’t guarantee a movie sale or a TV deal at the right time for your novel. And you probably can’t get a television interview with The Today Show as an indie writer—hell, most publishers can’t get their big names on television; you’re certainly not going to do it either.

Not that it matters. Television isn’t something you should do if you’re not witty and outgoing and a little bit fearless.

Radio’s a bit more forgiving. For one thing, the listeners don’t see you. Radio’s intimate as well. You’re usually in a booth with one person, having a conversation. Properly miked, any writer will sound good.

A good radio interview might sell a few copies of your book. But only a few.

Radio is primarily local, even today with satellite stations, etc. Traditional publishers get past the local stigma by forcing their writers to do a “radio tour” usually from some sound studio somewhere or barring that, on the phone, with radio stations all over the country.

The author sits and answers the same questions from different interviewers in the space of a few hours. It’s repetitive and difficult and often at the wrong time of day for wit. If you can move 5 books per interview, then that series of interviews might sell a few hundred copies of your books. Max.


And that’s if you’re a good talker. Most writers aren’t.

Very few programs move a lot of copies. One of them is Fresh Air on NPR. Terry Gross is good at making even the dullest writer interesting; she reads the books, asks hard questions, and can move a couple hundred copies all by herself.

But to get booked on Fresh Air, the book needs a hook. It’s not enough that you published it. Heck, Stephen King isn’t on every single time he releases a book. The most recent Fresh Air interviews have been Delia Ephron, Matthew Hart, Ben Bradlee Jr., and James Tobin.

Who? You might ask. Well, novelist Delia Ephron is a two-fer. Her more famous sister, Nora, died in 2012 (sob) and this fall, a collection of Nora’s works appeared, as did an autobiographical book of essays by Delia.  The other three interviewees are non-fiction writers whose topics are much more interesting than they are. The topics are: South African gold and crime, Ted Williams, and FDR.

In other words, the long form interviews have a good hook, one that the listener will want to hear.

I used to book long-form radio interviews on local topics, and we turned down a lot more people than we ever brought in. The main reason? The writer was dull.

If you want to do a lot of interviews, do them because they’re fun. They won’t sell books, but they might get your name out there. Remember that traditional publishers set these interviews up as a velocity package and for every writer who gets an interview, dozens of other traditionally published bestsellers get turned down.

Also, interviews are extremely time-consuming. Apply the WIBBOW test to each and every one of them. Ask yourself why you’re doing this. If the answer is to sell books, then you’re wasting your time.

Stock Signings

I just spoke to a dear friend who had gone on a big tour for her traditionally published novel. She was shocked that her publisher insisted on stock signings. Because, whenever she went into a bookstore, there was very little stock to sign.

Stock signings were once the heart of any book tour. Bookstores and distributors would have dozens, maybe hundreds, of copies of a writer’s book, and the writer would spend an hour or more signing those copies. Once the copies were signed, they wouldn’t be returned for credit. In fact, they would remain on the shelf with an “autographed” sticker on them.

In the 1980s, the romance writers started going to regional distributors and to meet the truckers who put out the books, and sign, usually bringing coffee and donuts as a favor to the people who took care of their books. It worked. The signed copies would go on store shelves, and the truckers would place the romance writer’s new title in a position of prominence in grocery stores and truck stops.

Regional distributors disappeared in the late 1990s and chain bookstores stopped the practice of keeping signed books about six years ago. In the last few years, the American Booksellers Association has made a concentrated effort to bring the independent bookseller into the computer age.

This means that independent booksellers generally don’t carry a lot of stock. They keep one copy on the shelf, and if the book is in high demand, one or two in the back. When a copy sells, the bookseller immediately reorders and the copy is replenished within a day or two.

That’s why my friend didn’t have copies to sign when she arrived for the publisher-scheduled stock signings. The bookstores had become efficient in their ordering. They keep very few copies in the store.

Stock signings are no longer of any importance. They don’t benefit the writer or the bookseller. It actually shows how out of touch traditional publishers’ marketing departments are when they have their poor touring writer drop in at a bookstore for a stock signing (which are usually unscheduled). Because there no longer is stock to sign.


Good, bad, or indifferent, reviews are your friend—if they’re in the right venues. If you want to be discovered, then you need to be in the tried and true venue for your genre. RT Book Reviews for genre books (particularly romance), Mystery Scene for mystery novels, Locus for science fiction, just to name a few.  Industry bibles Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal inform their respective markets that novels are coming out. Good or bad, the review doesn’t matter, because it’s advertising. It tells the bookseller (or the librarian) that a book is on the way.

Is it worth your time to get into the “self-published” part of Publisher’s Weekly? No, of course not. Because Publisher’s Weekly goes to bookstores, and most bookstores don’t carry e-books.

A lot of reviews at the right time are like little ads. The result is that you’ll see an uptick in paper book orders through extended distribution in Createspace and Lightning Source if you’re indie published and mange to get a review in these venues. You probably won’t see any difference at all in e-book sales.

Traditional publishers use these venues as pre-publication advertising. The traditional publishers (the smart ones) also invite major booksellers to do their own reviews of upcoming titles. But, since every traditional publisher does this, booksellers get inundated in free books—and rarely read them.

Again, it’s not worth your time unless you know how to do it right. Doing it right often means having a real publisher behind you, a real ad budget (since some of these publications won’t review books if your publisher hasn’t placed an ad in that publication), and real advance reading copies.

However, of all the things that traditional publishers do, the one to emulate is getting reviews in traditional venues like the book publications, newspapers, magazines, and book review programs like those on NPR. (If you want to know how to set this up for yourself, we offer an online promotions class which teaches you this and other things in modern marketing.)

Decades of training have conditioned booksellers, readers, and librarians to glance at reviews and order from them. All three groups use reviews as information—not as to whether or not the book is worth their time—just as a way of knowing a book exists.

Pull Quotes

Since we’re dealing with reviews, let’s discuss “pull quotes.” Pull quotes are those bits of reviews that publishers use to entice the reader into buying a book. There are rules about pull quotes.

Don’t take the quotes out of context. If the reviewer said “A great example of how horrible a romance novel can be,” don’t pull “A great…romance novel” and attribute that quote to the reviewer/publication. You’re participating in false advertising. Believe it or not, this practice was litigated in California against (unsurprisingly) the movie companies, and the movie companies lost. You can’t change the tenor of a review.

You can pull a single sentence out so long as it represents the review as a whole.

Do reviews make a difference to readers? I don’t know. I know that I will scan pull quotes in the front of a novel to see if I’m interested. But I’m also looking at where the quotes came from. If they come from “An amazon review” or “Writer’s Family Member,” then I’m not interested. If they come from reputable sources like The New York Times or Publisher’s Weekly, I’m much more apt to buy.

I’m less apt to buy if the pull quotes come from other writers. Even if the writers are big names. A friend just recently showed me a popular history nonfiction book that both of us wouldn’t have bought even though we were interested in the subject matter. Why? Because all of the pull quotes came from talking heads who specialized in politics, in specific, politics that my friend and I disagreed with.

Had those pull quotes come from reputable historians who also doubled as talking heads, we would have been interested.

Remember, advertising can backlash. So be careful how you use it, even with something as small as pull quotes.

The other thing to remember about pull quotes? Usually they’re just a design feature. They’re put on a paper book to balance the back cover copy or to provide interest across the art. If you don’t need the design feature, you don’t need the pull quote. It’s that simple.

Book Marks, Posters, Promotional Materials

Worked for a handful of writers in the early 1990s. Debbie Macomber started this trend (and probably regrets it). When she did it, no one else was doing it. Then everyone started. Now I have so many bookmarks littering my office that I can throw a dozen of them out and still have enough for my books.

Ask yourself. Have you ever bought a book because you saw a cool bookmark? No? What about a cool poster? No? Then why the hell are you wasting your hard-earned dollars on that crap.

Particularly when bookstores and other retailers simply throw the things out. (Or give them to visiting readers, like me.)

Blog Tours

The last part of the Old Ways includes something that I would have thought of as a New Way just a few years ago. The blog tour.

So many publishers are now forcing their writers to go on a blog tour. What is that, really? It’s writing ad copy or an article or something for a blog geared toward readers.

Old-timers like me were stunned the first time we got asked to do a blog tour. Write for free? We didn’t write for free. But that was the blog culture, and this was advertising.

I did my first blog tour for Sourcebooks several years ago, and I did it because I was new to them. I figured I’d give this tour thing a shot. I had no way to measure if it worked, but the bloggers were grateful. I put it in the same category as attending a convention on my own dime.

The next time Sourcebooks asked, I had a way to measure the blog tour’s impact. WMG had published several of my Grayson novels, and I had access to the numbers. Sourcebooks was publishing a Grayson novel as well. For a month, my blog tour articles appeared on various blogs—and didn’t cause a single blip in my sales. Not anything.

Maybe I was doing it wrong. I figured that was possible. So I asked my hybrid writer friends who also were doing traditionally publisher mandated blog tours if they saw any change in their indie numbers.

None of them did. Not a one.

Anecdotal, I know. But this is where the WIBBOW test comes in.

I continued to do the blog tour for my Sourcebooks titles because I had started the tradition, and I didn’t want to insult the bloggers. I appreciated—and still appreciate—their support.

However, on my final release from Sourcebooks, A Spy To Die For, I kept track of my word count for the blog tour.

7,500 words of free blogging. With no return at all.

That was in July.

In June, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine published the origin story for my character Skye from A Spy To Die For, “Skylight.” Asimov’s mentioned my DeLake pen name, but the story was published under Rusch.

Dozens of readers have read “Skylight” and asked me personally if A Spy To Die For continues Skye’s story. “Skylight” is 8,000 words long.

Gee, write a short story that I get paid for, and which shows results (and can be repackaged in a variety of forms, including as a stand-alone e-book) or write blog posts that can only be used once, and really do little to promote the book.

If you also remember that publications like Asimov’s charge $1000 per page for an interior ad, and a story takes up several pages, then you realize that you’re getting paid not only your word rate for the story, but $1000 per page in which that story runs. Because your story is an ad.

Not everyone can get published in the traditional magazines, primarily because most writers never try. These days, no word is wasted. If your stories don’t sell to traditional markets, then put the stories up as ebooks—which also will provide more for your book’s marketing than any blog tour ever will.

And guess what? Writing a story passes the WIBBOW test because (hello!) you are writing.

So, is some promotion worthwhile? How does a writer get discovered?

We’ll talk about all of that next week and possibly the week after that.

The old ways work for a handful of books that have a set purpose. If those books need to sell a lot of copies in a short period of time, then the old ways might work. Remember, you can’t make consumers buy something they don’t want, even if that something is advertised repeatedly.

Apply the WIBBOW test. Chances are, you’ll always be better off writing.

Someone gave me crap last week about writing this blog. It takes away from my fiction. It doesn’t pass the WIBBOW test, this person told me. Well, it does for me, because I’m learning a lot from you folks. The comments are always interesting. The e-mails you send me are informative. And the information you share is quite often information I would miss on my own.

Thank you! And thank you for supporting the blog with donations. Because, honestly, the moment this blog stops paying for itself is the moment I write a short story instead—no matter how much I learn.

So, if you learned something or like the blog, please leave a tip on the way out.

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“The Business Rusch: The Old Ways Part Two or (Discoverability Part 4 continued)” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.


SPECIAL NOTICE: I’d like to put out a call to those of you who are traditionally published. I need to update my Deal Breakers book for 2014. I have quite a bit of material, but I would like to see what I’ve missed.

So if you received a traditional publishing contract from a major publishing house and/or an agency agreement from an agent, please black out all the personal information and send it to me. I’m particularly interested in the contract clauses you negotiated away and/or that you walked away from.

I also would like to see the clauses you’re proud of getting. The ones where you feel you triumphed in your negotiation.

I need the entire contract, because a contract is a living document, and what it says on page 13 has an impact on what it says on page 2. Please black out your name, the name of your agent, the advances, etc., and send me the file.

I promise, I will not use your name or any personal information, except that I might say something like “a first-time author” or “an author who has published novels for fifteen years” or “a bestselling author.” I won’t even use a personal pronoun to give your secret away. And I’ll be the only one who looks at this.

If you want to see how I do this, look at the Addendums post from earlier this year. (And yes, that will be in Deal Breakers 2014.)

Thank you! I appreciate all of the help.

61 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: The Old Ways Part 2 (or Discoverability Part 4 Continued)

  1. I’m another person who started buying your books because of your business articles. I really liked the consistent writing style and no-nonsense approach your articles took, so I grabbed one of your fairy tale romances when it went on sale. I’m now working my way through the rest of them and have started your science fiction series. It seems like articles count for self-advertising just like short stories do!

  2. I think I’m going to have to try and become a hybrid author. Should I submit books and stories that I’ve already self-published? Or should I send editors new stuff? If my books don’t get accepted by any editors should I wait a certain amount of time before self-publishing my submitted works?

    My main problem is finding out how to skip subbing to literary agents and going straight to editors. I don’t know how to reach editors!

  3. This is interesting. My experience in nonfiction is different when it comes to media, especially national media. For example, a book I edited by a doctor went on sale last week. The doc did the Today Show this past Tuesday and he’ll do Weekend Today this Sat and we’ll definitely see a sizable bump from that. He also did Science Friday on NPR and we saw a bump from that. A second printing has been ordered based on this.

    Granted, service-based nonfiction is a different editorial animal than fiction, but I think anytime any writer, no matter the product, can give good media, it’s gotta help. I also think it’s a very good idea for any pro writer to do some formal media training. This won’t just help if the Today Show happens to call, but it’s a good skill to have in any business dealings. Or even if you meet someone at a party who is curious about your work. If you can generate some wit and likability and enthusiasm when talking about your work (without being obnoxious), that can be infectious. There is also the subject of Youtube interview videos, stuff like that. Lotsa possibilities.

    At one point in a different job, for a couple years I was averaging 3 radio interviews a week at various stations across the country, usually during morning shows, which require some energy and one-liners. That’s a good trial by fire and taught me a lot about how to keep your message concise and engaging. It also helped me a few times when I had to do some television. Now if I’m ever fortunate enough to have some fiction get a little media attention, the tools are in the toolbox.

    Great posts, as always, Kris. Hope this helps,

    Mike Z.

    1. Nonfiction is very different, Mike. If I didn’t mention that above, I meant to. But the nonfiction person is selling a targeted product–if you want to learn how to fly a kite and this book tells you, then it’s the book for you and you buy it. But fiction is a different experience altogether which is why just seeing and liking the author won’t make you buy a slasher novel ever if you only like sweet romance. That’s a huge difference when it comes to marketing, and something writers should keep in mind.

      I agree though that writers should learn how to be good interviews/speakers–or learn how to say no to all media.

  4. I work hard for my novel. In some ways I’m lucky that I write historical fiction and this novel is about the Civilian Conservation Corps set in a fictional village in my county. It’s led to talks at museums, libraries, and historical societies. I blog, but not regularly. I didn’t do a blog tour (just a guest a couple of times) but I do jump in when there are invitations to post on writerly friend’s blogs on a topic like food. (I wrote about mess halls and food in CCCs) I didn’t paid but I got writing practice. I later wrote an article for an outdoor magazine ( for which I got paid. That issue won a couple of journalism awards.

    Do I sell books? It’s not a mad rush, but steady. I have the book in libraries and book clubs are reading it. I did get some national reviews for it (PW Select Chanticleer Book Reviews). Librarians choose it as a community read in two separate communities. And, oh, I’m writing. Almost ready to publish the prequel and another novel is getting its beta reading/editing work out.

    WIBBA is a good reminder to take stock and do what works right.

  5. Kris, did you see Beyonce sold 1 million MP3 of her latest album in one week by selling it exclusively with Apple? UN-BE-LIE-VA-BLE! And at a good price for Beyonce, thanks for her.

    Yet, if you give thought to it, it makes sense : businesses like Apple or Amazon are as much powerful as states, now. If you can make sure some powerful companies like these are behind you, sales should follow.

    I wouldn’t have believed to say that, because I’m opposed to exclusivity, but I must admit that within the business side of things, Beyonce did a good move.

    Still, for myself, I prefer my work to be available on multiple platforms.

    1. That’s not why she sold so many copies, Alan. She (and Apple) did not advertise, so having them “behind” her is a misnomer. It’s a fascinating marketing study for what she didn’t do, particularly if you compare her launch to her husband, Jay Z,’s launch a few months earlier.

      1. In my wiew, Beyonce had Apple behind in the sense Apple made Beyonce appear in its first page of the iTunes Store. But you are right, there were no advertising campaign. You could even argue Beyonce reached the “first visibility place” on iTunes only because of her fanbase, and not because of the exclusivity deal with Apple.

        I think we can agree on what is really really striking with that case, is that she succeeded only by advertising her new album on her Facebook page, and nothing else. Yes, that’s really fascinating.

        The level of success she had in a week should have implyed massive ad campaign. And that’s not the case. We definitly enter in a new era.

        1. Well, she did promote the album all year. She released singles, mentioned she was working on it, and vowed it would come out before the end of the year. 🙂 So she did her own promotion, easily and stealthily.

    2. “Kris, did you see Beyonce sold 1 million MP3 of her latest album in one week by selling it exclusively with Apple?”
      I think she sold her latest album by putting out good* albums since 1997, and doing music and related stuff since being nine years old.

      *you don’t have to like the genre but you can’t deny the craft. It’s similar with writing.

  6. It might not be possible for every writer to make it into one of the better-known magazines, but it’s comparatively easier to make it into an anthology, or at least that’s been my experience. And I tend to think anthologies have a longer shelf life, though maybe not.

    Also, it’s been my experience that after one has appeared in a handful of anthologies, editors will start contacting you to seek your interest in appearing in one of their anthologies.

    As long as I have the time and it pays what I consider a fair amount, I’m good with it, and it gets my name out there a little more. Plus, it can be fun working with other writers and editors.

    And that’s my current marketing plan, writing more, and writing for anthologies.

  7. Another terrific and practical essay. Thank you.

    I’d like to add two points. First, I know your advice is good because I came to the same conclusions. Mostly, I use my writing as paid (to me) advertising. In addition, though, I use public speaking the same way (though, like you, I can’t travel much any more). I get to personally advertise myself and my books and get paid $10,000 or more (plus expenses, plus books sold at the conference). Even when I won’t accept a fee (like for a charitable organization), I get free admission to the conference (I don’t speak at conferences I wouldn’t spend my own money to participate) and some book sales. Yes, I’m not writing, but actually, I’m usually preparing material that later becomes articles and book chapters. That is, I’m not writing down, but I am writing.

    My second point concerns selling books that people don’t really want. The more effectively you do that, the worse marketing you’re doing—because those readers are going to bad mouth you 20 times more than happy readers are going to praise you. (That’s a truism in the marketing business.) So maybe a writer should be happy to read that these traditional methods are not awfully effective. At least the won’t be selling your stuff to people who will hate you for it.

  8. “I’ve known a lot of writers who are more interesting in person than their work ever is …”

    I sold books based on doing a full schedule at Loscon including my fake TED talk – I’m now working on another fake TED talk. I sold books literally while at the convention in front of myself through someone ordering the book on their tablet, and there are some continued sales. I have built up my Facebook page through a combo of selfies of my awesome self and chapters from my current book, and very limited, ultra-cheap ads to the demographics I could see were the people who would buy and read my work.

  9. Kris, I shouldn’t be surprised that you consider it an “unexpected side benefit.” Sigh. I guess that it points out how _long_ Advertising and Marketing have been done incompetently. I’ll leave you with a truism that *every _good_* advertiser/marketer/sales person understands. “People buy from people.” We buy, because we like/trust the person whose product/service that we buy. Your blog lets us “get to know” you, as a person. The occasional free snippet, lets us know if we like your fiction. Both of them lead to selling books (fiction, non-fiction, and courses).

    1. Thanks, Walter. I didn’t expect it because I truly don’t do this as “marketing”–in that I don’t expect a return. When I started the free fiction in 2010 (and I haven’t repeated a story yet!), I saw that as a gift to the fans who managed to find my website. The blog is paying forward to writers. So, I’m doing the things that are working as marketing for reasons other than marketing. And they’re fun for me. I like sharing the short stories, and I like researching this blog. I usually like writing it, although some weeks it’s an effort. But I always learn from it, which is of value to me. Weirdly, I learn from the free fiction too, because the responses are never what I expect–in a good way. So it’s fun for me. (Thanks!)

      1. That’s probably why it works so well. If you were just doing it for marketing, that would come through and it would turn people off. You do this because you’re awesome and that’s why we like you. 🙂 And walter’s right: people buy from people. Particularly people that we like.

  10. “Remember, you can’t make consumers buy something they don’t want, even if that something is advertised repeatedly.

    Apply the WIBBOW test. Chances are, you’ll always be better off writing.”

    This has been my personal feelings from the beginning. Being one of those introverts, I just can’t bring myself to do most marketing anyway. Guest blog? Geez, I can hardly keep up my own blog!

    So many new writers are just frantic about promotion and marketing their books, willing to do just about anything to get their title/author name out in front of readers. Sadly, all their efforts seem to do little for sales.

  11. I recently analyzed the amount of time I’ve spent ‘promoting’ and realized I probably could have produced 2-3 full-length novels with the time/effort.

    What’s particularly telling to me is my wife’s success. She made up a pen name, wrote several short stories, then just wrote several novels in series. Yes, it’s slightly easier for her because of a popular genre (romance), but she went from making nothing to making thousands of dollars a month in six months with ZERO promotion outside of just writing books and short stories.

    And when I say zero promotion, I mean zero promotion (other than her work). No ads, no BookBub, no KDP select, no freebies.

    Magic bakery indeed! It’s fascinating to even watch the numbers. A book or story starts dipping, she releases something new and poof everything goes up.

    Of course, you and Dean have been saying this stuff for years, but it’s fascinating to see it a bit ‘closer up’ as it were.

  12. My habitual process when looking at a Trad Pubbed paperback book by an unknown-to-me author is this:

    The cover art captures my eye, or the title piques my curiosity.

    I pick up the book and flip it over to read the blurb on the back. If that intrigues me . . .

    I turn the book over and raise the cover to see if there’s an EXCERPT. I do this to see if the scene taken out of the book makes me 1) wonder how the character in it got to that point; and 2) if it makes me want to know what happens next.

    If the excerpt does BOTH of these two things, I read the opening paragraphs and see if that curiosity is further encouraged.

    If I want to stand there and read more than a few paragraphs, I buy the book.

    If there’s no excerpt but a list of other books by the author or images of covers of any other books by the author, I check the opening chapter. If I’m intrigued by what I read, I buy the book.

    I have NEVER bought a book by an unfamiliar author when I’ve found nothing except pull quotes under the cover. I don’t trust pull quotes because I usually don’t CARE what other people, who I probably don’t know or recognize in any way, thought about the book. They don’t interest me. They don’t make me wonder about the story within the book, no matter how they refer to it. I just DON’T CARE. I’m not positively impressed. I’m most definitely not intrigued.

    I ALWAYS put down a book where there are a bunch of pull quotes under the cover or on the first several pages of the book, and I probably won’t ever buy a book like that if I’m not familiar with other works by the author, and if the book with the pull quotes is the first one I pick up by that author, I won’t bother looking under the covers of the rest because I was so offended by the unrequested opinions I was just subjected to.

    I don’t buy books advertised on bookmarks, either. Don’t even pick up such bookmarks to begin with, even if they’re free, right next to the register, and the cashier invites me to take one. If the cashier puts it in the bag with my purchase(s), I throw it out when I get home. I have free bookmarks I like much better, because they’re bits of scrap paper with story ideas, possible character names, and in other ways relate to MY OWN writing and are thus far more interesting, inspirational, and entertaining to me than any free-from-a-store bookmark I’ve ever received.

    1. “I have NEVER bought a book by an unfamiliar author when I’ve found nothing except pull quotes under the cover. I don’t trust pull quotes because I usually don’t CARE what other people, who I probably don’t know or recognize in any way, thought about the book. They don’t interest me. They don’t make me wonder about the story within the book, no matter how they refer to it. I just DON’T CARE. I’m not positively impressed. I’m most definitely not intrigued.”

      I feel the same way! I want a blurb, not reviews. It’s worse when all the reviews take up 99% of the ebook sample!

      1. Me three. Boy, I hate the pages of pull quotes at the front of books. I can decide for myself. I flip through a book and read randomly, often in the middle of a paragraph. Good writing will pull me in no matter where I start reading, I find.
        Those pages of quotes always make me wonder why they are so desperate to shill the book. Can it not stand up on its own? I always feel that the publisher is trying to mold my opinion before I’ve even started to read it, manipulate my perception.
        And God forbid, should I dislike the book, pages of panting pull-quotes make me dislike it much more intensely.

        1. This is closely related to a pet peeve of mine: the blurb that is nothing but reviews. What is this book about? i dunno, eight people think it’s awesome, but nobody says what it’s about!

          If I don’t know who the protagonist is, what the setting and plot hook is, or anything like that, I put the book down and walk away (or click away to another page.)

          1. HUGE pet peeve of mine. And I’m seeing it coming from big publishers, and Indies copying the trend. One Indie earlier this year did a huge blog post about doing it, and look at me, I’m a success with it, and so many fawning over it.

            You know, maybe she wrote a good book and it hit the lists DESPITE the horrible description.

            It just annoys the heck out of me as a reader. As an Indie, I refuse to do it.

          2. I thought I was the only one who frowned upon the non-blurb. I don’t care what other people think, especially when those quotes rarely say what the book is about. I’ve passed on quite a few books even though I loved the cover because there was no description what so ever. I take great care to make sure when a reader opens a sample of one of my books, they will actually get a sample of my writing. Hopefully this type of hype will fall out of fashion quickly.

  13. Oh you make me feel better that as someone who is new to self publishing books that I have no pull quotes to use for my book. And that blog tours are not that helpful either. And that the thing that does work is something I want to focus on next year, which is pushing myself to publish more short stories in more major or at least semi major markets… ;).

  14. I’ve appeared on the Discovery Channel, the Syfy channel, and had articles where I was mentioned in places like the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, the neighborhood watch association newsletter and do you know how much they helped sales?


    I’ve had over 120,000 views of my Youtube video from Discovery. Sales help?


    I agree writing is more important than any of it, but also, the market is so saturated now, that anyone without a solid fan base is in trouble. I’m currently revamping my marketing approach for 2014 and the focus is going to be one place: readers.

  15. Even though your blog isn’t aimed at readers, I think it’s still effective advertising. (Or, at least, as effective as anything else…) This is anecdotal, of course, but I come to your blog for the Business Rusch. I had never read your fiction before I started reading your blog. But even though you don’t really pimp your books in the Business Rusch, you do use them as examples on occasion. And I like you and your writing style enough that when some of those books sounded interesting, I bought them. And I liked them. So now you’re on my fiction list. And when I read one of the free short stories and I like it, I’ll post it to my private Facebook page and tell my friends I liked it and they should consider reading it too. (And hopefully they then go on to check out your books.) So your blog results in word-of-mouth advertising, which is the best kind. (Take THAT, unknown person who gave Kris crap about her blog!) And I will also note that, given two books I liked roughly equally, I am much more likely to pimp the one where I like the author as a person, as opposed to the one where I’ve had no interaction with the author as a person.

      1. Add me to the list of “came for the business, bought a book or three and hit the tip-jar” folks. I think I wandered over because a friend mentioned Sarah Hoyt and Sarah Hoyt mentioned the Passive Guy’s blog, which led me here.

          1. Add me to the list of people who came here for The Business Rusch and ended up buying your fiction; I think I’m four or five books into your work and look forward to reading more.

            And it’s the best thing ever to find a new author to like and then realize that they have thismany books!

      2. I also came here for the Business Rusch at first, and didn’t pay attention to the fiction until your blog solved a mystery I’ve had for years: I could not remember who wrote the story “Cool Hunting” that I read in “Science Fiction Age” (I think). That story stayed with me for *years* after I read it.

        Then I saw the promo for “Cool Hunting” in your carousel, and was pleasantly shocked and surprised. Now I not only make this site a Thursday stop, it’s my Monday stop, too. I have every novel in the Diving series. I’m getting Skirmishes tomorrow. I’ve been saving it for the end of a project and I *finally* get to buy it.

        1. Thank you, Jamie. I’m so glad you remembered Coolhunting. It’s one of my own personal favorites, mostly because it was a craft challenge for me. And I appreciate hearing that the blog led you to the fiction again. That means a great deal.

    1. I’m thinking about getting WIBBOW knuckle tattoos. Okay — maybe not. Alphabet fridge magnets are probably more my speed. But it’s a totally awesome acronym that I intend to rely on heavily going forward.

  16. WRT pull quotes, I recently read a book that I’ll do my best to keep anonymous. (I’d like to tear it to shreds, but I’m on someone else’s property.)

    What made me angry wasn’t that it fell apart 3/4 of the way through. It happens and this is a fairly new writer. It wasn’t that parts of it were completely cliched. A lot of it was decent (even though it was more of the “oh, that’s clever” cerebral admiration rather than loving the story) and the cliches were at least understandable. I don’t expect to like all the characters. It was light, undermanding fluff that I simply skimmed the last bits of, to while away a short trip where I needed distraction but couldn’t concentrate. And the writer showed some serious promise.

    No, what made me feel actively angry were the pull quotes declaring that this was the best book ever, a master of its genre, truly evokes the purest form of (what emotion this genre is meant to evoke), this writer will only get *even* better, etc. All from established authors with great reputations in their field. And there is no way that it could’ve been true, even accounting for taste. Just no. It smacked of – at best – people sucking up to impress another writer, a giant in the field. At worst, it seemed like said giant made calls to get superlative quotes.

    And I’ve made a promise to not read any more of this writer’s work, out of principle. It just left an awful taste in my mouth, and I ended up talking a friend out of buying it in a shop. (I think other people were listening in as well.) It can’t have helped this writer, who could’ve built up better stories and some word of mouth attention. It makes the writers who gave the inflated quotes look really bad. It even makes me think twice about reading the giant’s work.

  17. Thanks for another great article! The acronym WIBBOW sounds like a good guideline to remember, but I was wondering when the answer to that question would be “no”?

      1. Sorry, I meant when would you answer “no” instead of “yes” to the question, “Am I better off writing?” Under what situation wouldn’t you be better off writing?

        1. I got you, H.S. I think it’s individual. But if you’re doing something or feel like something else is important, so the answer to the question is that you wouldn’t be better off writing in that instance, then do the other thing. But not for long… 🙂

  18. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. You confirmed what I’ve come to suspect over time: the best promotion for a writer’s work is more of the writer’s work.

    I do think a few early birds got lucky with various promotional tools simply because they were first. But at this stage in indie publishing, unless something breaks new ground, it’s not going to move the sales needle in any significant way. Why? Because the key to being heard in a crowd is to whisper, not shout louder. Thanks again for underscoring this.

    I didn’t leave you a tip. I did one better. I bought one of your books.

    1. “Because the key to being heard in a crowd is to whisper, not shout louder.”

      Wow. I just had a flashback to a scene in “The Muppets Take Manhattan” and the ‘whisper campaign’ in Sardi’s restaurant. Kermit and the rats attempt to stir up interest in their Broadway play… with usual Muppet mayhem resulting. 😀

  19. It’s bad enough that tradpub is so retarded about their tradmarketing, but to see them tie themselves into knots of incompetence as they try to replicate those policies of systematic failure online is almost an entertainment form in itself. Taken out of the context of a book cover, blurbs are pretty boring, but they seem to be the hallmark of how marketing is done online. Perhaps this is because social media sites are text-bite friendly, and they already have these tasty little text bites, so why not reuse them?


    You know what kind of text bites people actually DO engage with online? News articles. Reports of the weird. “Man bites dog” kind of stuff. So rather than tread the well-worn hallways of blog tours and reviewing circles, I created a vehicle that lets me (and other authors) share bite-sized pieces of engagement with readers. It’s an online newspaper called The Looking Glass, and it reports “breaking news, from the worlds you’d rather live in.”

    The premise is that it’s collecting articles from the news reporting media in the worlds that genre fiction books are set in, trying to make sense of the plot events from the perspective of people who live there. The stories are a lot of fun to write, and readers are starting to cruise the paper like a newspaper, diving into the stories that tweak their curiosity. A well-written article exposes the reader to the world of the story and the flavor of the author’s style, but in a way that is MUCH more engaging than a blurb or interview, and much less of an investment than reading a sample chapter.

    And the news articles are actually getting circulated, shared, tweated, etc. When was the last time your blog interview or your blurb went viral? After all, which would you rather read right now? This blurb for my most recent novel, or this Amber Alert for a missing cave-troll child? And that right there, is what’s wrong with blurbs.

    1. Jefferson Smith, I TRIED to “sign up” and couldn’t. I tried to comment (how do I order that book), and couldn’t. Your site, at THIS time, has problems. Email me g-r-a-f-x-m-a-u-s at Yahoo dot com (remove dashes). The idea is a good one, but doing itself a lot of damage, by not working right.

    2. You might want to consider branding with a “times” or “chronicle” or other slightly less common word than “Looking Glass.” I just tried to search for you (so I wouldn’t have to open another tab on my tablet), and even using looking glass online newspaper and looking glass news fiction, I got several pages of… Books, book reviews, and movie reviews. “Looking Glass Wars” is showing up first. Even when I add worlds rather, you’re not there.

      Having to rely on people remembering the actual link, not being able to search on a partly related title, seems a weakness of the method.

  20. I just went to a science fiction convention in Baltimore, MD. They always have a flyer table. In the old days, it was just flyers for other conventions, but now we get a lot of postcards and bookmarks for books. I’ve NEVER bought a book based on a bookmark or postcard. It’s just so much clutter. Even when I have picked them up, they tend not to survive past the hotel.

    The worst promotion I saw was writer offering a book for free to convention goers. It was on a bookmark, so I grabbed it. I was going to look the book up and check it out — only there was one small problem. The writer required me to give him my email address so he could put me on his mailing list. Excuse me? I decide what lists I want to sign up for, and I’m very picky. I’m not going to sign up for one just to get a free book. So the result was that I never even looked the book or author up online, and the bookmark went into the garbage.

    1. The only postcards/bookmarks I ever pick up are ones that offer a free book for anyone who clicks on the link, no signing up for another publishing platform/blogging service/mailing list. Those, I’ve kept long enough to get home from the con and download the work. I don’t even use the bookmarks as bookmarks — I was going through some books last night and the bookmarks were random scraps of paper torn from junk mail, magazine subscription cards, and the sales receipts from buying the book. If I have bookmarks and postcards inflicted upon me, they get tossed in the recycle bin when I get home from the con. The free paper books make it home, or at least to the airplane, if the blurb interested me enough to pick it up.

    2. I agree that most Convention book marketing is abysmal. _Give_ me a free book, and I’ll probably read it. Anything else, and I’ll probably ignore it.; However, give me a decent teaser, and I *will* read it. Will I _buy_ the book? Maybe. As you say (repeatedly), “Give me a reason to read/buy the book.”
      When I’m choosing a book, I make decisions in this order: Author name; cover art; Title; description of the book (*what it’s about*). If I really can’t decide, I flip to a random location in the book, and read a couple of paragraphs.
      (Note: I just got about 10 books the the library, and half went straight into the “going back” section of the bookcase. All “Big Name publishers, or their imprints, and badly written/described.) I hate wasting my time/energy that way, and I suspect most readers do. In fact, I got a Kindle for Christmas, and am getting a number of Kindle books to go with it. _All_ of them, ones where I read an excerpt, and decided to spend money on the books.
      Kris, as you rightly pointed out. The way to stand out, is to do what others are NOT doing. If the crowd is jumping up and down, going “Boing,” jump _down and up_ going “gniob.” The alternative, is to do it *better.* (Too often, doing it better, just means doing it right.) Too often, what I see is akin to. “Yesterday, I couldn’t spell marketur, today I are one.” How they got to there positions, is beyond my comprehension. I wouldn’t even call them “entry level efforts.”

  21. Thank you for the reassurance that I’m not insane. I’ve pretty much stopped promoting this year, and most writers I know think I’m nuts. Ironically, I watched Michael Connolly on Craig Ferguson tonight before I read your post, and it was… uncomfortable. Craig was trying so damn hard, and Connelly couldn’t seem to loosen up.

    And thank you for Scott’s words of wisdom. I’ve gotten to the point where I do a cost/benefit analysis before I do…most things. I broke my habit and accepted Joe Konrath’s eight-hour challenge this summer. But now, I know what to call my method–What Would Scott Do?

      1. I watched that too. I thought it would be good, since he’s on there every time he has a new book b/c Craig is a big fan who’s read all his stuff. And Connolly usually isn’t quite that stiff, due to his years in reporting and the fact that he and Craig have known each other a while. Everyone has a bad night, I guess. You want to see awkward but funny/affectionate, check out Craig’s interview with his mother-in-law, who’d just published a steamy romance. He and Jon Stewart actually read the books and can throw in a dumb joke to lighten the mood.

        I was wondering why I never saw those “autographed copy” stickers any more. I used to buy those all the time.

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