Just Because You Build it, Doesn’t Mean They’ll Come

Photo by Jo NaylorIn 2008 I used to have a lot of time to randomly search the internet; to click on links, read blog posts, and generally fill my head to bursting with all sorts of interesting tidbits. One gem I stumbled across was that a castle was going to be built roughly an hour away from us, using medieval building methods. Tourists would be able to visit the site, do various activities, and, though transported to a different time, snap hundreds of photos. I marked it down as something I wanted to do when they finally got around to making it a reality, and clicked on.

Fast forward to 2015. I have since moved, but a conversation with a friend reminded me of that castle project that never came to fruition. On a whim, I hit google, and was horrified to discover that it had indeed opened in 2010 – and closed in 2012 due to lack of interest. They’d expected 150,000 visitors and got only 12,000. What did they do when the people didn’t come? They slashed staff, and raised the admission price from 12$ to 18$. But, what was the one thing they didn’t do?


Living only an hour from the site (until 2014), I had no idea that it had ever opened. There were no billboards, no TV commercials, nothing. Apparently they garnered a mention on a TV show I’ve never heard of, and made “national headlines” (that I missed). While this “national attention” was going on, the tourists who were sitting in their backyard, literally wanting to go to something like this, had no idea the attraction existed.

This reminded me of many indy authors. They write a book, they edit, they might even pay for a good cover image and professional polishing. They publish, they announce to their friends and family and then… they sit back and wait for the sales to roll in. When they don’t, they take drastic measures; they slash prices or raise them, they rewrite, they buy new covers, sometimes they even quit, but the one thing they need to do they don’t.

They need to advertise.

Just as I couldn’t go to the castle because I didn’t know it had opened, so readers who would like to read our books can’t buy them if they don’t know they exist. 

I’m not talking about spam advertising, or shoving your book down someone’s throat, or even the aggressive marketing I’ve heard some authors do (Hello stranger in the grocery store, I know you’re shopping for spaghetti, but did you know I wrote a book where a character eats spaghetti? Here’s my pitch and my business card) but we do need to do some advertising.

I’s even better if you can target your advertising. What does that mean? In a nutshell its advertising to the people who want to buy what you’re selling. That above mentioned shopper might like spaghetti, but she might not like your genre, she might not even be a reader, and while buying groceries she’s probably not looking for a new book.

How do we target our advertising? One way is to list your books on email lists (this works best with free days or bargains). The people who get those emails are not only looking for books (not spaghetti) but are looking for books in your genre!

Of course this isn’t the only advertising method, but it’s a start, and for shy authors it doesn’t involve a lot of uncomfortable interaction. The downside is that it often costs to advertise, but you can’t make money unless you spend money, and you can’t sell a product unless your customers know you’re there.

Just ask the Ozark Medieval Fortress.

What are some ways you’ve advertised your books or author brand? Did they work the way you’d hoped?

22 thoughts on “Just Because You Build it, Doesn’t Mean They’ll Come

  1. ronfritsch June 15, 2015 / 7:06 pm

    This post has got it absolutely right: advertise or watch the castle sit empty.

  2. rami ungar the writer June 15, 2015 / 7:25 pm

    I know what you mean. I’ve been experimenting with Facebook ads (something I’ll write a post about soon), and the results have been amazing and eye-opening. I’ve gotten more books in people’s hands through advertising than by not. Something to keep in mind.

    • Joleene Naylor June 18, 2015 / 4:19 pm

      Just read your post! I may have to look into those, prior to you all I had heard was people saying they didn’t work, so maybe they just had their categories too restricted.

  3. Lauralynn Elliott June 15, 2015 / 7:57 pm

    Great post! I think the biggest problem is figuring out which venues give you the most bang for your buck. I tried Fussy Librarian and did much better with a .99 title than the 2.99 title, even though the more expensive one was probably a much better book. So I learned that The Fussy Librarian subscribers are .99 people for the most part. I’ve thought about boosting Facebook posts on my page, but it hasn’t worked for my employer, so I’m not sure it will work for me. Actual FB ads, I don’t have experience with yet. It would be nice for people to comment on their experiences with different venues.

    • Joleene Naylor June 18, 2015 / 4:18 pm

      And then it depends on genre, too, some lists do better with romance than sci-fi, for instance.

  4. Ruth Ann Nordin June 15, 2015 / 8:21 pm

    “Hello stranger in the grocery store, I know you’re shopping for spaghetti, but did you know I wrote a book where a character eats spaghetti?” ROFL I love your humor.

    I recently had a great run at Freebooksy on a series (the first of which was free). That really boosted my visibility. Bookbub has been known to be great, but I haven’t been able to put an ad over there. I have put some of my free books on sites and blogs known for free books as a way to advertise. I’ve run ads on some other sites, too, but I can’t remember them off the top of my head. They have all helped in some way.

    I agree that advertising does help.

    • Lauralynn Elliott June 16, 2015 / 9:38 am

      Oh, I just thought of something else. Sometimes, when I’m in a restaurant, I’ll leave a business card lying on the table when I leave. And I often strike up conversations in restaurants that end up “subtly” mentioning I’m an author. If the person is interested, I give them a card. If not, I just let it pass. One time I had a waiter who had the same unusual name as a character in one of my books. His name was Jin. I told him about it, and he was really interested and wanted to buy the book. 🙂

      • Joleene Naylor June 18, 2015 / 4:17 pm

        That is awesome! I once added a guy on mySpace (this tells you how long ago it was!) because his name was Jorick (my vampire hero in my series) and I sent him a message explaining and asking him how to pronounce it (Turns out it is Joe-rick LOL! – I had actually “made it up” so I had no idea it was a real name anywhere.)

    • Joleene Naylor June 18, 2015 / 4:17 pm

      I started keeping track, oddly enough, and will post my results with the sites I’ve used 🙂

  5. emmajamesonbooks June 15, 2015 / 9:23 pm

    Bookbub remains supreme in my book, but Facebook advertising can help a lot, too.

    • Joleene Naylor June 18, 2015 / 4:12 pm

      I’ve heard lots of good things about bookbub

  6. francisguenette June 16, 2015 / 11:16 am

    Great post and great comments. I’ve gone down more than a few fruitless routes when it comes to trying to get the word out about my books. Spending money to make money is hard when you don’t have a lot of money to spend and there are no guarantees that the money spent will achieve what you’re after. I’ve been most grateful for the way some self-published authors share (honestly) their own experiences – what works and what doesn’t.

    • Joleene Naylor June 18, 2015 / 4:13 pm

      Yep, I know exactly what you mean! And the sites with the biggest return cost the most – that’s why I’ve never tried bookbub. I just don;t have the budget for it.

  7. Norma Beishir June 16, 2015 / 1:12 pm

    I have my own way of getting the word out. I absolutely hate the in-your-face marketing a lot of authors do. There are some who can turn any topic of conversation into an opportunity to pitch their books. I just maintain a presence in social networking–joining in discussions on movies, TV shows, and other things I can connect with others about. It’s subtle, but when I’m really active, it seems to be working. I don’t even mention that I’m an author most of the time. People get curious and go to my profile.

    Love your spaghetti example, Joleen. I confess I’ve said a lot of prayers of thanks that most of this stuff happens online. My worst nightmare would be to be chased down the street by a mob of aggressive authors, all waving copies of their books and yelling, “:Buy my book!” like a writer version of Village of the Damned.

    • Joleene Naylor June 18, 2015 / 4:16 pm

      LOL! Now there’s a scary isea – “Twitter in Real Life” – the stuff nightmares are made of!

      I tend to do the same. I don’t really advertise that I’m an author, it’s just in my day to day stuff sometimes – like when I redid my book covers and got the new paperback set I posted photos on FB, or mentioning that “yay! finished this chapter/scene/story” etc. I think that works better than the constant advertising in people;s streams because people aren’t on facebook to be sold something. That’s ehy I like the email lists so much 😉

  8. Ernie Zelinski June 21, 2015 / 5:08 am

    As an author whose books (mainly self-published) have sold over 875,000 copies, I can claim that I haven’t used any “paid advertising” at all in the last few years. I find most of paid advertising totally wasted. These quotations apply:

    “Ninety-nine percent of advertising doesn’t sell much of anything.”
    — David Ogilvy (late advertising executive who was widely hailed as “The Father of Advertising”).

    “Even the most careful and expensive marketing plans cannot sell people a book they don’t want to read.”
    — Michael Korda, former Editor-in-Chief at Simon & Schuster

    “A market is never saturated with a good product, but it is very quickly saturated with a bad one.”
    — Henry Ford

    “The shortest and best way to make your fortune is to let people see clearly that it is in their interests to promote yours.”
    — Jean de La Bruyére

    I discovered that the best way to use social media (Twitter or Facebook) to market my books is to avoid it as much as possible. What’s more, I don’t use email lists (although I know that email lists can be very powerful in marketing books if the email lists are long and are used properly).

    If you want to be successful at the game of self-publishing, do not follow the crowd or listen to the book marketing experts. Very few of the book marketing experts have sold more than 1,000 copies of their own books.

    To be successful at the game of self-publishing, I have come up with 75 to 100 of my own unique marketing techniques that 99 percent of authors and book marketing experts are not creative enough to come up with. I have used similar unique marketing techniques to get 111 books deals with various foreign publishers around the world. (My books are now published in 22 languages in 29 different countries.) These techniques involve what my competitors are not doing — instead of what my competitors are doing.

    Regarding creative marketing, I like this quip by an author whose nickname is “The Name Tag Guy”:

    “I once saw my book for sale on eBay. For two dollars. (sniff) So, do you know what I did? I bid $250 on it. Then bought it. That’s marketing baby!”
    — Scott Ginsberg (The Name Tag Guy)

    In short, I suggest that authors who want to be much more effective than 99 percent of authors in promoting their books go against conventional wisdom. Stay away from social media. Also stay away from other things the majority is doing such as the trendy free ebook promotions on Amazon. You will find, as I have found, that you will attain greater success than 99 percent of authors attain. As Scott Ginsberg says, “That’s marketing baby.”

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 280,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  9. Veronica Sicoe June 22, 2015 / 12:48 pm

    Marketing is absolutely necessary, but the decent, smart and long-term kind, not the one reeking of despair and bible-sales-man attitude.

    • Joleene Naylor June 26, 2015 / 5:01 am

      Ha ha! That description made me giggle. Love it! Perfectly sums up some of the campaigns I’ve seen.

  10. pewpartners June 28, 2015 / 1:13 pm

    I am trying to locate my readers so any info I can find helps start the search so thanks for keeping us newbies informed.

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