The Book They Never Heard Of



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“Nobody can buy a book they’ve never heard of.”

I don’t know who said this, but in my opinion, it is the single most brilliant statement ever made about marketing, sales, and/or publicity.

Obviously, people in other sectors can substitute whatever product or service they like in place of “book,” but the principle stands. In fact, these days, it races around in my head like a deranged chipmunk.

The second statement that’s been hanging over my head is a statistic I read so long ago that I can’t even give you a citation to it: the average person has to hear about a book seven times before they’ll buy it.

Obviously, exceptions exist. If a reader loves a particular author, they may immediately pounce on whatever that author publishes. A gift-giver may choose a book because of its subject matter, as in, “My friend loves cats, and she reads mysteries, so—hey, look! A mystery with a cat on the cover!” Still others may rely on recommendations: “Barry in Accounting says his brother-in-law’s niece really liked that new book about zombie guinea pigs, and she’s around your nephew’s age, so he’d probably like it, too.”

But for the most part, people are more likely to wade into book-buying than to dive in. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself this: when was the last time you saw a book by an unknown author and immediately bought it?

Uh-huh. I thought so.

As you’ve probably divined if you’ve been following my recent posts on indie publishing, I have arrived at the point where I need to start thinking seriously about how to sell this book. The other pieces are clicking along nicely. I’ve seen an initial proof of my book cover, and we’re currently playing with a few tweaks. The interior designer is awaiting the finished front cover so it can be embedded in the file and sent to me for final proofreading. Two marvelous authors, David Handler and Susan Schoenberger, graciously provided cover blurbs that make my heart sing. My author photo routinely draws gasps of admiration from people who look from the fabulous photo to the live version of me with a certain level of disbelief that even an artist like the great Christine Penney could work such magic.


Photo credit: Christine Penney

Which means the main thing left for me to do at this point is to figure out how to sell the book on which all these people (and I) have worked so hard.

If you ask practically any published author, traditional or indie, what the one thing is that every author must do to sell a book, the answer is the same:

“You need an email list.”

Being a good student, I immediately began to research author email lists. Like everything else on the indie journey, the email list is much more complicated than it sounds. Even those of us who have been sending and receiving emails for decades can find ourselves lost in the fog. Terms like “landing page” and “automation” are bandied about. Email service providers (ESPs) offer all sorts of packages ranging from free (my favorite kind) to fancy (and pricey), leaving the hapless author to cull through the options and try to see five miles down the road to what they’re going to wish they’d done back at the beginning.

This is precisely the kind of decision that can paralyze me. Few things are more daunting than having someone lay out a dozen choices and then wait expectantly for you to decide which one you’d like when you don’t know why you should prefer one over another. The “what ifs” can be staggering. Even when I try to talk myself down from the ledge— “you’re not marrying the ESP, you’re just hiring them, which means you can always fire them if you don’t like how things go” —it still feels momentous.

So, I opted for a webinar about getting started marketing a book. During the webinar, the host mentioned the ESP he uses and pointed out that if we signed up with that one through his affiliate link, the service would be free for the first 1,000 email subscribers. He explained why he likes this particular service, he promised it would be easy to use, and he put the link in the chat. That was good enough for me.

Turns out, clicking the link was the end of the easy part.

Photo credit: skeeze on Pixabay

I went to my new ESP and created an account. So far, so good.

Then, I got to the part about forms and landing pages, and everything stalled. Should I create a form? Should I create a landing page? Should the landing page be a part of my website, or should it be separate? Does it matter? Does anything matter?

I went to the community section of the site to ask a basic getting-started question. Even this turned out to be challenging, because the form wanted me to submit a topic, but it didn’t give me either the option of typing in my own topic or choosing from a drop-down menu of topics. I eventually fumbled through by piggybacking on someone else’s question. I added my author photo to my profile, but when I posted my question, the question sat atop an enormous photo of me. Even though I love that photo, it just seemed like too much me for the context, so I went into my profile and deleted the photo. (I figure Stephen King would have done the same.)

While waiting for an answer to my question, I Googled the ESP and “getting started.” This turned up several videos. The one I chose was excellent, but intimidating. By the 5-minute mark, the guy was well past what I needed, demonstrating how I’ll be able to target and automate and assess responses. I saved the link to the video; I may need it in a year or two.

As far as I can tell, there are two kinds of author email lists. One kind is when the author uses the list only for news and announcements. The other is when the author produces new email content on a regular schedule. I know that some people who follow this blog (thank you!) get an email from WordPress when I post something new, but this email list would be for separate communications, and I’m concerned about cluttering up people’s email boxes.

(Note: shortly after I wrote these words—an hour, maybe—I asked an author friend about her email list. She responded by sharing a link to a book she’d found helpful. I downloaded the e-book, began reading, and promptly came upon language in the foreword about how that author had had the same concern and it was a huge mistake. Clearly, I have more research to do.)

Let’s assume I get the email form set up, at least in its most primitive form. Let’s even assume I put together a landing page and make all the other decisions about the email list. There are still so many other things to be concerned about—preorders, blog tours, virtual events. Even live events are becoming permissible again. (If there’s been an upside to the whole lockdown experience, it’s that unknown authors are spared the humiliation of setting up a reading at a bookstore, only to have nobody show up except their best friend and two kind bookstore employees who were working anyway.) It’s enough to get even the most level-headed debut author’s head spinning.

Image credit: Brett Jordan on Unsplash

This is the part where I have to stop and breathe. This much I can control: the book will be released. And of these things I am certain: It will have a gorgeous cover. The interior will be beautiful. The story I’ve worked on for so long will exist in public, published form, electronic as well as print. It will be on websites and in catalogues. I will hold it in my hands. I will place it on the top shelf of my bookcase, together with the books by people I know, the anthologies and reviews that have published my short stories, and the lone MP3 version of “The Protectors,” one of my early published stories that is now available on Audible as well as from Amazon. It will be real. My book. My actual book.

Photo credit: Darius Bashar on Unsplash

As for the rest, who knows? I once read that marketing is what you do, and publicity is what you hope for. In other words, much of this stage of the proceedings is out of my hands. I can let people know my book exists, but I can’t control whether they buy it, review it, tell others about it, give it as a gift, ask the library to order it, leave extra copies on the subway for someone else to pick up, or anything else.

So once again, I put one foot in front of the other. First one thing, then another. A, then B.

And maybe Item A should be telling you the title of the book again so we can check off the second of the seven times you’ll hear about it:



12 thoughts on “The Book They Never Heard Of

  1. You crack me up, Jo. Somehow, all this will fall into place, even all he email crap that seems so ridiculous to a person who will never publish a book but has meaning, I guess, and you’ll figure it out. Hurray for Google and Youtube!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Seriously! Without Google and Youtube, I don’t know how anybody does this! Thanks so much for your confidence in my ability to navigate this corn maze (or whatever metaphor works for you). So glad you’re enjoying the trip!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I wish I’d thought of it that way! I was basically trying to figure out how to give other people the information I wish I’d had when I started this journey, with all the little bits that all the blog posts seem to gloss over or assume people know.

      You’ve definitely reached your seven times (and then some!), and I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate all your support. Love you, K!


  2. Kudos to you for even beginning your journey, let alone keeping going. I would have thrown in the towel long ago. Your goal is in sight, and if perseverance is rewarded, you’ll get there.

    Liked by 1 person

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