We all know somebody who is a relentless self promoter, who comments on every discussion list post, haunts every related blog and speaks anyplace that isn't equipped with a giant hook or a suspended ten ton weight. Relentless self promotion works - if your goal is to be known by many and despised by not a few. It's not a bad fit for self publishing, where simply making people aware of your titles is a major challenge. But it's similar to most brute force solutions in that it's rarely as efficient as an intelligent approach, responding to the market rather than trying to shove your book down everybody's throat.
One of the interesting aspects of professional sports for longtime fans is watching coaches adjust their strategies for different opponents, whether mid-game or in multi-game series. Simply going out there and doing what you do best is enough to compete in a neighborhood pick-up game, but it's not enough to win against comparable opponents on an even playing field. Developing flexibility is the main stumbling block for many a self publisher who did well enough with their first title, but fails to recognize that the same approach isn't ideal for all titles. In fact, last year's winning approach may be this year's guaranteed loser.
The sports analogy only holds up so far in self publishing because the challenge is less one overcoming opponents than making new friends. The opposition consists of competing publishers, but there's always room for a new title if it's good, and the competition is about gaining visibility rather than somehow defeating similar titles. Your potential readers are not opponents to be overcome, they are the people you are trying to help or entertain. This is one of the reasons I dislike the practice of gathering e-mail addresses to blast with news of a new book, something that strikes me as an attack on customer privacy. In all my years of publishing, I've never sent an unsolicited e-mail asking somebody to buy a book, despite my direct sales channel providing thousands of customer addresses.
So how can you tell if your efforts to market your book are paying off? By whether or not you are generating sales over time. Nothing else is relevant, not the number of "You're a wonderful human being" e-mails, not the number of media mentions and calls from reporters, not the number of reviews you generate by giving away free copies. If you've written a book featuring walking tours of Central Park, setting up a pushcart (with a permit) at a park entrance and hawking the book to passers-by makes a lot more sense than sending out a mass mailing to public libraries. Finding out what groups have a vested interest in Central Park and speaking to them or sending review copies to their newsletter editors makes a lot more sense than going on a cross-country tour of bookstore signings.
Yes, it will be helpful if your book shows up at the top of the Amazon listings for a search on "Central Park" or if your website places high for related searches on Google, but both of these are passive forms of marketing that may not be best suited to an ultra-niche title. The interesting thing about highly targeted niche titles is that the audiences are often highly concentrated, and can be reached through a small number of physical locations or niche/fan publications and websites. Sticking to your guns and not giving up is a large part of success in any endeavor, but you have to be smart about your book marketing as well. I'll conclude another lazy summer post with a publishing video rerun about selling books through your website: