Sometimes authors write me asking for advice about book marketing, but it turns out they want advice on tricking somebody (a store, a publisher, an individual reader) into buying their book. Other authors confuse book marketing with advertising, or with soliciting praise and reviews. For me, book marketing is a process encompassing many activities, from publicizing your book and making sure it's available for purchase to tracking the efficacy of your sales efforts and experimenting with alternative approaches. It's not enough to advertise, to obtain a measure of personal fame, to draw the praise from "thought leaders" or to obtain bookstore stocking. The goal of book marketing is closing sales.
Some guy e-mailed me a week or two ago to let me know that he had harpooned my web design in a design discussion group. I receive unsolicited aesthetic advice on a regular basis from web designers who couldn't attract a dozen adolescent visitors a day if they owned the domain "sex.com," but this individual took the time to add that my site owes its apparent success to (paraphrase) "secret practices yet to be revealed." Anybody who spends time on this site knows that the only secrets I keep are my politics and my bathroom habits, and if you're that interested in the latter you can read all about bowel movements on IFITJAMS.
Yesterday, the FonerBooks website drew just over 10,000 unique visitors, with over 8,000 of those arriving through search. That translated into a few hundred dollars of sales, including eight eBooks to customers in a half dozen countries and some Amazon Associate sales of paper books. Over the course of a year, the website will directly generate tens of thousands of dollars of eBook and paper book sales, and indirectly generate tens of thousands of dollars in paper book sales that I can't directly track. That's my idea of a successful book marketing website for a self publisher with a handful of titles, and the only "secret" is that I put visitors first and sales second.
The content based book marketing strategy only works if you give away some of your best work in order to draw visitors. In my case, I literally give away much more than I ever get around to publishing in books, because I enjoy creating content (writing and illustrating) and find it easier to publish online than to publish books. Every morning, I check the website visitor statistics BEFORE I check on book sales. As long as the site traffic is healthy, I know that the business will be healthy. No amount of diddling about with website design, balancing text and white space or tweaking order pages will draw visitors to your website. Other than writing and posting content, the only activity you absolutely have to spend time on for a new website is soliciting some quality incoming links. Since the only way to get quality incoming links from sites in your field is to publish quality content, publication has to come first.
I spent quite a bit of time at O'Reilly's Tools of Change last year talking about Internet strategy. It may seem strange that a one-man publishing shop with a four title list would have the nerve to be preaching at trade publishing executives about their approach to online book marketing, especially when my flagship website draws the drive-by ire of professional designers. But it's a rare trade publisher who can boast several times the FonerBooks web traffic, and despite their hundreds of employees and thousands of titles, most draw fewer visitors. It's also important to note that most large publishers design their sites around community building, with forums and frequent updates that should inflate their numbers. The consequence is that many of them draw only single digit percentages of their traffic from search, compared with over 75% for a strong content website. And what this means is that more than a decade after the Internet went mainstream, it's not too late for you to compete with the biggest NY trades online. Just don't waste another year thinking about it, because a couple of them actually read this blog:-)