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Self-publishing: don’t write what you know, write what people are looking for


As you’ll no doubt be painfully aware due to my tedious blahing about it on Facebook and Twitter, I recently wrote and self-published a horror ebook called The Slender Man.

This isn’t a plug, by the way.

I did something of a launch campaign for it, centred mostly on Twitter and Facebook, and I promoted it fairly regularly for probably about a week either side of Goth Christmas (Hallowe’en). Since then, however, I’ve left it pretty well alone (as I’ve got a lot on at work and then in my spare time I’m back onto other writing projects).

The thing is, it’s still selling. It’s not setting any records, and I won’t be retiring to live off royalties any time soon, but it’s selling. Every day. Without me even doing anything.

I’ve even had e-mails from an Italian film-maker, asking me to turn the book into a screenplay for him, and from a soldier in the US Army who said the book “scared the shit outta him”.

Now, although I’m very inexperienced at self-publishing and marketing my own books, I do know about marketing in general, and I know about channels and touchpoints and critical mass…and I wouldn’t say that it has much going for it in any of those departments. When it first went live I did a little Facebooking about it and a little Tweeting about it, and some people reviewed it and wrote about it on their blogs, but that was about it. It’s for sale in three places, and there are links to those places on this blog and perhaps on three or four other blogs, but as we’re talking about blogs these posts will have sunk down below the line by now. And Twitter has about a five-minute window of visibility, so I’m not counting anything that went up on there.

So really there are no prominent, persistent inward channels to the places where the book is on sale, beyond the online shop fronts themselves.

So how are people finding it, and what’s impelling them buy it?

I’d like to think that they’re browsing horror ebooks in Amazon and Smashwords, spotting the cover, reading the reviews and taking a chance, but have you ever tried just browsing aimlessly on those sites? It’s like trying to find something in a catalogue by randomly scanning it through a drinking straw. I’m no bestseller, so you’re going to have to be a pretty persistent browser to stumble upon it by chance. Similarly, if you perform a Google search for “Slender Man book” or equivalent, my book doesn’t even appear on the first page.

So the only thing I can think is that people are specifically searching for “Slender Man” within books on the Amazon site – in which case my book appears at number four.

This takes me back to marketing, specifically to SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

blue-footed-booby-262x350
A naked booby

The principle behind this is to get your website at or near the top of a search engine result for a specific search word or phrase, and it’s something of a balancing act. On the one hand you have the very high volume searches, such as “naked boobies” – getting to the top of a search like that is difficult because of the huge number of competitor websites out there, and even if you do, it’s such a general term that there’s a high chance that your particular website isn’t quite what the searcher is looking for and will just look around for ten seconds and then leave.

On the other hand, you have low volume searches, such as “naked boobies and southern black tits” – getting to the top of these is far easier as it is a far more precise phrase and therefore represents a niche with much less competition, and there’s the added benefit that if you have a website about naked boobies and southern black tits and someone searches for that then it’s likely that it’s exactly what they’re looking for.

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A southern black tit

OK, so SEO is about search engines, but I think the same principle applies within Amazon: if I search for “chick lit” in Amazon’s “books” category then I’ll get a list of about a billion pastel-coloured images with stylised pictures of women shopping on them, whereas if I search for “Slender Man” I get about four that are relevant.

And I think that’s what’s happening. People who are searching Amazon for a book on the Slender Man know exactly what they want, and when they find it they buy it.

Which leads me to conclude: perhaps for independent authors one way of boosting your profile is to pick a niche with little competition and write something that fits within it. I didn’t do this intentionally – I wrote the story because I was fascinated by the meme and thought I could turn it into a good story – but I’m glad that I did. There’s so much competition for attention out there, anything us indies can do to improve our chances of people spotted our writing has to be worth considering.

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