BookLife’s panel of indie experts fields self-publishing questions submitted by authors and readers via email about literary trends and marketing a first novel.
Setting the Trend
Asked via email by multiple authors: Is it worth following the literary trends? Is there a way that you can figure out what the next trend will be, early enough that you won't be seen as a copycat?
Bestselling author Bella Andre: It can be very tempting to jump on trends, but ultimately, I've found that writers have the best chance at success when they figure out where the intersection is between what they love to write, what kind of writing comes most easily to them, and what their readers most want to read. For me, that's writing long running series about families whether connected by blood, like my Sullivans, or connected by circumstance, like my Maverick Billionaires. Plus, unless you're a really fast writer, often by the time you've jumped on a trend, it's on its way out.
Bestselling author Hugh Howey: Ignore cycles of popularity. They come back around, and your published work is available forever. What readers want are characters that leap off the page and plots they can’t put down. That will always be true, so make that your aim. If done well, there’s not a plot out there that agents, editors, and readers will dismiss simply because it’s been done before. It hasn’t been done like you can do it.
Smashwords founder Mark Coker: Don’t write for the trends, because ultimately that will become a soul sucking experience...Instead, write what you have passion for. If you follow your passion, you’ll write better books and you’re more likely to write for the long term. There’s a multi-billion dollar market out there, so even micro-niche books can find a sizable online audience.
Award-winning author and illustrator Jerry Craft: I’ve always had that same problem of not wanting to follow trends. In fact, I’ve probably done the opposite. Especially as an African-American children’s book author, where following the trend would mean writing a book based on some figure from history. With that being said, I did do a book on bullying, which is a big topic now. But instead of doing it from the victims’ perspective, I wrote it as told by the bullies. So my advice is if you have to do it, give it a different spin.
Publishing veteran and blogger Jane Friedman: It is not worth following trends, and it’s next to impossible to anticipate them. Write what you want to write, that you have the enthusiasm, energy, and the creativity for -- this is a far more bankable strategy for the long term.
Bestselling author and blogger Joanna Penn: I think you have to write what you love to read. I write action-adventure thrillers because that's what I used to read to escape my miserable day job! It's still my favorite genre. I don't read romance, so I don't write romance, even though it's the top-selling genre across all markets. You have to have respect for the audience and you have to know the genre inside and out in order to write it...Also, trends come and go in cycles. I've heard Anne Rice talk about how the vampire trend has come and gone three times in her career. She's done pretty well!...The expanding global market also means there will likely be an audience for whatever you write. For example, I write religious thrillers similar to Dan Brown, which are huge in China and India -- who knew!
Kobo director of self-publishing and author relations Mark Lefebvre: I would strongly advise against writing to trends. By the time you figure out what the next trend is, it’s often too late. Write to be honest with what you love. Trends come and go. Quality and honest writing abides.
Marketing a Single Book
Asked via email by multiple authors: Most marketing strategies focus on marketing a series. What's the best marketing strategy when you have just one book?
Bella Andre: The best thing you can do is look at publishing in a long-term way. Once you finish writing and revising this book, begin the next. If you keep putting out great books, and also make sure the package is great (cover, book description, etc), then eventually I believe you will be putting the odds in your favor for success, even if it takes you longer than other writers.
Hugh Howey: It’s very rare for an author to blast out of the gate with their first book, and that’s true no matter how you publish. To make a career of this, you have to take the long view. Or you have to enjoy writing for non-commercial benefits, like the simple joy of creating a lasting work. There are few shortcuts other than getting incredibly lucky, and no one will have sound advice on how to pull that off.
Mark Coker: Consider serializing your work in process on Wattpad. Wattpad has a massive community of tens of millions of readers. Several of our bestselling authors first build their readership on Wattpad before they commercialized their books at Smashwords. You’ll get great feedback from Wattpad readers that will help guide your revision process, which will ultimately help you publish a better book...A year before your book comes out, get it up on e-book preorder at iBooks and Kobo. E-book preorders enable more effective advance marketing, and can increase the first day’s sale rank at iBooks and Kobo. Note that preorders at other retailers can actually cannibalize your first day’s sales rank by siphoning orders from your first day’s sales. So iBooks and Kobo preorders are a no-brainer must-do. Preorders at other retailers can make sense if you’re able to market the book aggressively for months in advance.
Jerry Craft: I did a book giveaway on Goodreads that I thought generated some buzz. Being on panels is also a good idea. People love to rush the stage afterwards. Book fairs are also helpful as long as the fair is well-attended and well- advertised. I’ve done a few where there are more authors than customers. Also, I’m a big fan of searching out where your readers are...A Facebook fan page also doesn’t hurt.
Book designer, author, and blogger Joel Friedlander: Book marketing takes time and attention. Assuming your book is well written, edited, and has a wide appeal, your job is to get it into the hands of as many people as possible in the hope that word of mouth will take over and start to sell the book on its own. There are many ways to do this from free e-books to short, printed sample chapters giving interviews, doing blog tours, free book giveaways, and so on. The only limit to this is your imagination and energy.
Joanna Penn: You have to consider your definition of success before deciding what kind of advice to follow. The "write more books fast" model is one that is adopted by indie authors who want to make a full-time living with their writing. If you are focusing on the quality of the writing -- perhaps the book is more literary fiction -- books take longer to write and still find an audience. I'd suggest researching your niche and finding five to 10 books and authors who are similar to your book, then find book bloggers who have reviewed those books and start connecting with them. Also, we're never marketing to the general public, we should aim to market to those people who love the type of books we're writing.
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Some questions and answers have been edited or condensed.