Brilliant artwork by Angus McLeod, Deviant Art


I work my ass off marketing my books. I tweet and I buy ads and I pimp myself until I feel like I should be pulling on some lacy leggings and walking the red light district (I apologize profusely for the image I just created in your mind—may it not be as indelible as I fear it will be).

I’ve written some blogs recently on KDP Select (i.e. free promos of your book(s) on Amazon). I have a blog queued on Kindle Nation Daily (I’ve not posted that yet because I am still using some of their various promos to offer a good, overall opinion of their services and the impact they have on an Indie authors sales).

Today I was down. I mean, I was just TIRED of tweeting and pimping and redesigning covers so that THIS popped or THAT stood out. Don’t get me wrong. I am a hard worker. Since I signed up for Twitter in August I have amassed 11,000 followers. I’m not bragging, but a lot of that was me pounding the binary pavement. When I know what to do, you won’t find many who will work harder at it than me.

And up until today, I have been modestly happy with the results. I say “modestly” because I am also not unrealistic. I work hard yet I realize that for us Indies, things happen slowly. Very slowly, sometimes. And I have tried to keep that understanding in front of me at all times. Today? Not so much.

I am quickly closing in on the one-year anniversary of my first (self) published book. On the first of this year I published my second. A third is about a month away from release. I’ve tweeted nearly 30,000 times since August. A lot of those tweets are for fellow Indies—I believe strongest in authors helping authors, writers joining strength with other writer—but a fair portion of those were marketing for my books. I have over 500 FB “Likes” for my Author Fan page and over 1,500 followers of “ME” (and I use my “personal” page almost solely as my author persona, too).

I’ve read a LOT of the books. I’ve talked extensively with other writers, interviewing them, picking their brains, following what they do that works, sharing those things here. I am not hiding trade secrets, I am SHARING (point being that even in the karma department, if you believe in that sort of thing—which I am not sure I do anyway—I should be doing all right there, as well).

(BTW, I don’t share for karmic purposes. Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I want all of us Indies to succeed and I believe wholeheartedly that there are enough readers out there for ALL OF US, so it only behooves us all to help each other up each rung of the ladder. You also know I view one challenge greater than any other. Monumental, this challenge. Pales everything else in comparison: isolation. Indies are NOWHERE. NO ONE knows about us. They don’t find us. We pull a few in, but the numbers are shockingly nominal.)

Today I really started looking at the differences in “doing what I do” (which is a lot) and essentially doing nothing (which is more or less what I did this past week). Without going too far into the boring “numbers game”, let’s just say that the difference between marketing my ass off and basically doing nothing but letting a few tweets go out each day (to 11K followers, most of whom would have already bought my damn books if they were so inclined to do so) is a couple books a day. A ranking of 15-40,000 to a worse ranking of 45-100,000. Monetarily speaking?

Peanuts. No difference at all.  Few bucks, nothing more. (I’m too afraid to do the division of my total number of hours into the money I made even in my BEST MONTH for fear of seeing what my work is truly worth in the market.)

Is this helping my exposure? The heralded Grail? Name recognition? I have a hard time believing the 100 people out of the MILLIONS and MILLIONS out there buying my books is adding much to my name recognition.

My books get good reviews. Not from family or friends—hell, I can’t get my own family to even READ my books.

What does it matter? How do we reach the masses?

I write this blog in large part to help YOU as much as to help ME. But today I am being brutally honest. I am not sure how much forward progress I’ve seen this past year. Some, yes, for sure. And no, I am not going to stop—I will keep on forging ahead. But we Indies who have not yet broken out of our jungle imprisonment need to think of some new material. Stop writing (and reading) “John Locke” books. In fact, here’s a hard truth you better learn to recognize:

Like the stock market, by the time you are reading about the “latest” secret to success? It’s not a secret anymore. And it’s probably not working all that well anymore either (particularly when it’s YEARS old).

What’s the point of today’s blog, you may be asking (other than self pity, that is). Fair question. This blog today is about a challenge. If you are an Indie writer, come up with a NEW IDEA. I’m challenging myself, too. Think outside the box. How can we reach the masses? I’m sure every one of us is willing to let the quality of our writing and our stories makes us or break us (we better be, ’cause in the end, that is all we have) but we need READERS. Not ten or a hundred—we need to tap that vein, baby.

So I’m challenging YOU. Get off your ass, stop being happy with sales of 20 or 100 books and start thinking like you want to be riding the tops of those bestseller lists. Do you even know what it takes to crack Amazon’s Top 100? I can tell you it’s a number you don’t want to hear right now. It’s in the neighborhood of tens of thousands of books a month. If you want top 10 status, you better be selling a couple thousand books A DAY.

Still happy with 150 or 200 a month?

Me either. But until we get outside the box and come up with some new vehicles to drive us to the consumers—THE READERS—we’re stuck in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, you might finally gain name recognition. In the year 2o98. Like so many other brilliant talents—never made a cent or a name for themselves in their own lifetimes but damn don’t we all think of them as geniuses NOW?

I don’t know about you but I want my fame NOW. So comment here. Tell the rest of us what you’ve been doing. What’s been working. What hasn’t. What gives you good Return on Investment (ROI); what gives you shitty ROI. But please, please, please, remember, dear reader, your time is worth something. Your time is worth A LOT. It’s time with your family; it’s time fishing or skiing or reading or napping or hang-gliding or knitting or having sex—whatever it is that you LOVE TO DO, that’s what your time is worth. So every minute you spend on the computer tweeting, accepting new connections, rebuilding yet another profile, authors pics, reading about the latest news (yes, even including my lousy blog)….it ALL COUNTS.

But let’s start sharing. I’ll gather up the information if there’s enough of it and blog about what I hear in the comments in future blogs. And I promise, I will keep blogging about all this stuff I find, good or bad, and if I find that holy fucking hand grenade of Antioch, I will share it with you.

Of course one of you has to check out that rabbit rumor first.


The blank page is dead…long live the blank page.



Author known to use spontaneous satire, sarcasm, and unannounced injections of pith or witticisms which may not be suitable for humorless or otherwise jest-challenged individuals. (Witticisms not guaranteed to be witty, funny, comical, hilarious, clever, scintillating, whimsical, wise, endearing, keen, savvy, sagacious, penetrating, fanciful, or otherwise enjoyable. The Surgeon General has determined through laboratory testing that sarcasm can be dangerous, even in small amounts, and should not be ingested by those who are serious, somber, pensive, weighty, funereal, unsmiling, poker-faced, sober, or pregnant.)



31 Responses to Are You Marketing Like A Caveman?

  1. Love this blog entry and the advice. I am doing the same things you mentioned. I blog, facebook and tweet. I just released my debut novel Gypsy Spirits and it did well on day one then slowed. I need to keep pushing all the same things and add new ones. I use the Authors On the cheep Facebook page to add my Amazon link. I am not which works best, I think it’s a combo of them all. Thanks for the advice and best of luck.

  2. Okay a few tips… Remember… you asked for them 🙂

    Social media doesn’t sell books. It is good for meta-message only.

    Your prices are too high. Until you are consistently in the top 10 of your sub-genre 99 cents is your price tag until your book matures its traction.

    Your Praise should come before your overview in your PD.

    Focus on monthly events to build traction.

    Consider adwords for long term sales

    Hope it helps 🙂

  3. Annette D. Christian says:

    I’m so glad to see a post this honest. I hear TONS of things about this trick or that gimmick. I’m really glad to see someone else out there who is doing the day to day, like me.

  4. Rob,
    You speak the truth – with humor. Love it. I am on the other side of the street. We have charged authors for our services, we have given our services away to authors, and spent many hours of our labor trying to grow our sites along with growing the sales of the indie authors we support. Sometimes I wonder if we make a difference at all.
    When somebody finds that holy cup to drink from, please invite me over for a sip.
    Good luck to all indie authors.

  5. WOW Rob
    Great blog post. I’m at around 1,300 followers on twitter, with my debut up on Amazon and my next novel about 3/4 complete and going up in a few months. I’ve got the website, automated tweeting software, all the “stuff” “they” say you should have and do.

    But you are so right! The only way to get ahead of the game in any industry is to actually be AHEAD of the game. I, like you, haven’t figured that all out yet.

    I’ve personally begun thinking along the lines of the old school word of mouth approach to marketing. I’ve wondered if I can exhaust every contact, get some word of mouth going among those who I have casual acquaintances with (for me that’s more than a few) and get them excited enough to spread the word to their friends, social networks, contacts, then maybe I can create a wave that will grow larger and larger until it becomes a tsunami of sales. 🙂

    I find this post a hard reality check but at the same time extremely inspiring. It reminds me again of the need to get out of the box and make things happen for the future.

    Thanks for the motivation.


  6. Bert Carson says:

    So far what I know is – I don’t know and neither does anyone that I’ve asked, talked to, or read.

  7. Interestingly, today I was researching indie writers in the top 100 paid best sellers on amazon and I tell you, I could find NOTHING that would suggest what put them there, not blogs, tweets, websites, followers, reviews – nothing. It was almost funny – like we have this ancient riddle, and we can’t get into the kingdom until we solve it.

    • First off you are right. No one since Amanda Hocking has made it big on blogs etc.

      Again, social media does not sell books. Period. At least not more than a few dozen per month.

      As to the Top100 indies, you need to dig deeper than their social media…

      #10 today is On the Island.
      First it had a tremendous free run, then got featured in the KDP Select newsletteter

      #13 is The Marriage Bargain
      Her first books have a MASSIVE free run in December and each book after that has had huge free runs along with massive borrowing. That’s how she got there

      #16 is A Matter of Honor
      His book is listed #1 in the $3.99 or less books on Amazon so that is his pump

      #17 is She Can Run
      Huge free run and was featured in the $3.99 or less before

      #19 is Lifeboat
      Anniversary of Titanic

      This is always a reason for Top #100 and is based on increased massive discoverability – either free, amazon promotion or author promotion 🙂

  8. keta diablo says:

    Kudos on the article. Well done.

    I’m thinking on what you said, and there is a lot to digest. Thinking . . . . I’ll return.


  9. Steven Lewis says:

    Hi Rob,

    I’ve just written the first draft of the Taleist Self-Publishing Survey’s chapter on marketing. I can’t say too much now but you might find it gives you permission to take your hand off the throttle. The data shows some counter-intuitive things about marketing books. I was certainly surprised.

    Thanks for a great and honest post.

  10. Matthew Rowe says:

    This is a remarkably calm blog from you. I can almost see the psycho lurking in the shadows, face half shown in light, spouting this monologue. Well, I have only tried the usual and my success so far is pitiful. I have another idea, I’m not solely doing it to promote my work, but its a project for my students and will help charity too. I’m sure that many people who read the book my students will create, and whose profits will go to help schools affected by last year’s tsunami in Japan, will also be interested in my writing. It occurred to me not long ago.

    As for actual plans, I’m trying to find a new way to tweet without annoying people, but other than that. Nothing new. I’ve just come out of a self-pity cycle myself from my poor KDP select results.

  11. The one thing I know for sure: I can’t predict what will take off and what will not.

    I write clever posts and think they will generate great amounts of traffic. Then I write about teaching in overseas schools – and an International School magazine promotes it, giving me far more hits than previously received.

    June will be my blogiversary. My growth is slow but steady, which is all I can expect while working a fulltime job and keeping my marriage exciting ;).

    “Fame” is relevant. I want to enough credibility to start consulting and go from there.

    How do YOU define “fame”?

  12. Caleb Pirtle says:

    I can always depend on you to provide common sense to this nonsensical world of publishing and marketing. Thanks again.

  13. Has anyone explored the voodoo hypothesis?

  14. Thanks for saying all this, it’s great to see someone being honest – especially someone who knows what he’s talking about.
    I’m pretty new to all this, so everything I do to promote my book (The Darkness Beneath – on Amazon) is new to me. But then I discover everyone else has already tried my idea and has moved on. 🙂
    I’m not keen on giving 1000s of books away one day, then selling four the next. That’s not good marketing at all. So if I go down that route, it’s because someone’s convinced me it’s a good idea, or it does actually work.
    It’s also interesting to hear what you say about the effort:ROI ratio. Basically you’re saying that working yourself into the ground produces not much more than doing very little. Which is surprising and disappointing, and a relief. I really don’t want to be killing myself with promoting my book (The Darkness Beneath – on Amazon) because I already have a number of commitments that are squeezing the juice out of my clock. So I’ll just keep going with what I’m doing (blogging, tweeting, replying to other blogs, getting interviewed…).
    Facebook isn’t a lot of help – to paraphrase you: I can’t even get my family to say ‘congratulations on publishing your first novel’ let alone buy a copy. 🙂
    Also, yes, I want my fame NOW! too. That said, I’d settle for a decent salary and the time to work as and when I want. But that depends on how well my first novel (The Darkness Beneath – on Amazon) sells. I’m hoping to break into double figures before the end of the year. 🙂

  15. Well, I see you’ve been rewarded with the greatest wisdom of all by the fabulous Carolyn McCray. I was going to list off what’s happened to me upon following her advice, but she’s provided more than enough actions items and given you places to start.

    I have been less than enchanted with social media as of late and it’s crossed my mind to strip it all down to just my website/blogs (I have three, none of which I do very well in terms of focus). I have 12,000 + following me on Twitter. And, you’re right. Those that read and buy my stuff have already done so. I agree with Carolyn on this point entirely. It really is just a step towards building your brand/persona online. I’m not convinced it’s all that necessary anymore, although I do like Pinterest. (It’s like a ten-minute spa visit and I use it to collect recipes and get inspired for my next book. Yet, surprisingly, there are people who re-pin my book covers (linked to Amazon) of course. Bonus!)

    Carolyn didn’t mention the Indie Book Collective’s book that outlines the marketing philosophy she goes by, but I will: “Dollars and Sense: The definitive Guide To Self-Publishing”. If you haven’t read it, go, now, and pick it up.

    Massive discoverability as Ms. McCray puts it is THE KEY. It’s everything.

    Katherine Owen

  16. Rob,
    The best luck I have had so far is with the free KDP promotions. However, the one that really accounted for some sales was the one where my book made the “hot new release” feature. When that happens, Amazon starts selling the book for you.
    I have done the free thing several times now and can report poor results, so-so results and one really good result. I have no idea why any of them panned out the way they did.
    I am sure that whatever works will require a tremendous amount of elbow grease, and I would really like to apply it where it is most needed.
    What I glean from all of this is that “making a name for yourself” is the key. The more times people see your name, the more likely they are to feel like they know you when the time comes to hit the “buy button.”
    I have contacted the Monty Python crew and they are fetching the Holy hand grenade as we speak.

  17. Emma Calin says:

    Thank you so much for your honest post, you have put my own feelings into words – it feels as though you have written my next post!

    I too am coming to my first anniversary and relate totally to the experiences that you have had and continue to have and share your frustration at the ‘black box’ that is e-publishing where we have no idea which levers worked – or even which levers we pulled in many instances.

    If I find any secrets to success I will share them with you.

    In the mean time – cheer yourself up with “Stuck in the Middle of Nowhere” – one of my favourite tunes from 2011:

    Best wishes

  18. I know exactly how you feel! Love the part about the stockings! lol

  19. Nancy Fornataro says:

    Glad someone else is going through this. If there’s one thing I’m not good at is book publicity, bragging like goes against my grain or something I guess, even though my romances are getting five stars. Would like to understand which events make the book go and which don’t. I know I haven’t published on Amazon yet, hoping for a smashwords patch to make my life easier. All I want to do is write, and I hate promoting. Oh, I already said that. Anyway, well written blog, and greatly appreciated!!

  20. What I’ve noticed is that I can promote the hell out of Amazon and it seems to make no difference. Yet I can see books going out the door on Barnes & Noble in encouraging numbers. This in spite of little or no promotion via Twitter, FB, etc.
    The one element that we consistently underplay is time. There is no substitute for time. Since I joined Smashwords, they have gone from about 12,000 authors to around 40,000. Each and every one of them is perfectly capable of promoting via Twitter and FB, etc.
    The best advice I can give is to start while you are young and try to live for a very long time…

  21. J Eric Laing says:

    I feel your pain. No, wait…that was just some scalding groin coffee. No…now that’s cooling off and I’m still getting some other pain. I’m pretty sure that’s your pain I’m feeling now. Keep us posted. I’ll be reading.

  22. Merita King says:

    I do the same things, tweet, fb, blog etc and I haven’t noticed it make any difference at all. I have 2 space opera novels out and a third planned for Aug/Sept. I got my best sales during smashwords ‘read a book week’ promo when I gave my e-books away for free. I shifted 120 copies of the two novels during that week (not huge by your standards but I was delighted). I’ve now come to the conclusion that the main problem is, as you say, getting our name known and for that we need readers. I’ve also come to the conclusion that a big part of the answer is FREE FREE FREE. So I’ve reduced the e-book version of my debut novel to free download and will follow suit with the second.

    I’m in the UK so can’t use createspace due to the tax thing so I use smashwords which means my books don’t get to Amazon. I have found out though, that even though my e-books are already out, I can upload them to KDP and give them out for FREE, thereby avoiding the tax thing. I’m going to do that over the next few weeks, if I can learn the formatting that is and hope that being on Amazon will help.

    Great blog.

  23. Jericha says:

    Rob, a fascinating post as usual. But a couple of things stood out to me:

    1) You said you’re not seeing not much of a difference between doing a lot and doing nothing at all – for a week. A week! You’ve worked so hard to build up your social media array that I’m sure you can coast on the work you’ve done for at LEAST a week without seeing a difference. Try taking a month off from tweeting, or six. See if THAT makes a difference. I bet it will.

    2) Reality check. Look, yes, we all want fame right now. The likelihood is that you won’t get it. Not because your writing sucks, or because you’re self-published, or anything like that – but because getting famous, in ANY discipline, is like winning the lottery. Work goes into is, but so does a LOT of luck. We live in a culture that hero-worships instant success stories, which is a relatively new phenomenon. Because of the focus on quirky people who accidentally hit it big, we’ve stopped honoring the people who make it small, or medium. We lust after the supersized spotlight. Seriously, fuck that noise. If you are writing in order to get famous, you’ve been seriously misinformed about what being a writer is about. Do you know how many of the writers on the “Top 100 books of all time” or even “Top 100 books of the 20th century” lists were famous in their lifetime? Very, very, very few. Do you know how many made a living off their writing? Very, very, very few. Just because social media exists, just because Amazon exists, just because the huge barrier presented by traditional publishing has been broken down – doesn’t mean that suddenly more people have a chance at stardom, or even a basic living. If you are basing your desire to write or your success as a writer on outside numbers, you are losing touch with what fuels great, powerful writing.

    3) Lest I sound like a negative Nelly here, let me put this another way. How many people do you meet every month? I mean really meet, shake hands with and learn the name of? Maybe 50 to a hundred, if you’re pretty social? Okay, cool. You just said you’re selling 150-200 books a month. Think you can keep that up for the next decade? So…think about this. That’s like knowing that EVERY SINGLE PERSON YOU MEET (and then some) for the next TEN YEARS was going to buy and read your book. If you ask me, that’s some pretty serious impact. That’s awesome, actually. That’s a whole lot of people your story is going to reach. Is it millions? No. Does that matter? No. If what you really want is to sell as many copies of your book as possible, and you’re writing your books IN ORDER to sell as many books as possible, I think that’s going to show up in your writing, and it won’t touch anybody, and nobody will want to read it. But if you’re writing in order to tell a story, then that will show up in your writing, and it will impact people, and each one of the books you sell will reflect a moment you touched someone’s life. Imagine that the story you tell touches the life of every single person you meet for the next decade. I’d say that’s pretty fucking great, myself. And if it’s not enough for you, I am sad about your definition of success.

  24. […] blogged the other day, at times tongue-in-cheek as usual, about the risk of marketing like a caveman. The point there (if you didn’t read the blog) was that so many Indies are out there reading […]

  25. Andrew says:

    Okay, I’m over from Jericha’s blog, and this is my response to this before having followed the whole chain of events:

    I agree with you both.
    I’m not really looking for fame. I do want my book(s) to be read, and I would like to make enough off of writing to contribute significantly to the family income even if it’s not a “living wage.” No where close. That said, I do -not- want to be like the guy who wrote those Dragon Tattoo/Hornets’ Nest books. I don’t want to be discovered -after- I’m dead. That would just suck.

    Anyway… I’m with you on the slow… I so often feel like I’m like glass. As in, it’s so slow no one can tell. Seriously, not even as fast as a sloth. I also don’t work at it as hard as you do, but I don’t really have that option.

    I’ve been trying to think of something new to try for a while, but nothing’s come to mind. Most of my promotion, I’ve done at my kids’ school (reading in their classes). That has resulted in some sales, but, mostly, it’s resulted in a bunch of kids that love my book and can’t wait for the next one. I’d really like to do more local stuff, but I’ve had a hard time getting responses, and I haven’t been willing (so far) to spend more time on it than I already am.

    I don’t believe in karma, either, by the way. I do my best to review as many indie author books on my blog as I have time to read, but, so far, no one has returned the favor. I’ll keep going at it, though, because I think it’s the right thing to do. Even if no one responds in kind. (Actually, that’s not true: I did have one return the favor, not that he was doing that. We just both happened to be reading each other’s books at the same time. Without knowing it.)

  26. Terry Tyler says:

    I thought this article was excellent, and I know exactly where you’re coming from. I’ve sold 4000 books (maybe a few more) in the past month, but I’m still only at, at best, 1000 & something in the UK charts. And part of that was the result of a massively successful free promotion.

    Yes yes, i agree with everything you said about us all helping each other, and i do all that, too. But we need READERS. Lately I’ve been doing this: go on your Goodreads profile, look at well-known books similar to yours, see who’s reviewing them, and send a friend request to those people. No, don’t message them and say ‘buy my book’. Build it up a bit first. Use Goodreads as a reader, not just as a promotional tool, and it starts to work a bit more for you.

    Like you, I have many good reviews, all genuine – and yes, some of them ARE from people I know, or friends of friends who say “bloody hell, your book’s brilliant, I didn’t realise it would be like a REAL book”, and stuff like that…. so, yes, how do we get the rest of the world to know about it?

    I watched an interview with Rachel Abbott on You Tube yesterday. I thought she was going to give out THE KEY, but she didn’t; what she has is a VERY GOOD BOOK. You won’t hit the heights unless your book is VERY GOOD. Most aren’t.

    One thing she did say is something else I’m trying to put into practice – getting reviews from people who matter, not just Miss A Reader – even though 25 of them are what got me all the sales on my best selling book, and I am eternally grateful for them, they won’t make it hit the big time.

    Oh, and if you get a review from someone whose name/profile page/email you have access to, thank them.

    Hope this adds to the discussion in postive styleee!

    • rsguthrie says:

      GREAT comment, response, etc., Terry. I agree totally. Other than a few that slip through by some Black Marketing Magic, your book has got to be GOOD first and foremost. At least that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. Your comment TOTALLY adds positive styleee to the conversation. Thanks! 😀

  27. Mary says:

    I’m still building, just starting. A steady trickle has me hopeful better days are coming. Some people hit it doing nothing more than everybody else. Who knows what the answer is. I guess catching the attention of a few people who think you’re fabulous and then tell others about you.

    A network is helpful for starting. Just have to keep writing and putting books out. KDP Select seemed to help for awhile. But Amazon changed the algorithm. And I don’t like putting my eggs all in one basket.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Hi, Mary! Thanks for the comment. Yes, I think all are necessary. Twitter is an EXCELLENT tool when you start—you DO sell some books that way, find some people who become BIG fans, etc. Then after you’ve established your name “around the community”, other mechanisms work better, etc. A network in the beginning is a must though. 🙂

  28. Marlon says:

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