marketing: the impossible problem solved in 3 simple steps

Marketing is one subject of perennial interest to me. It also causes a lot of consternation. I don’t understand marketing. I’m not a sales mentality person. But, being a self-publisher, learning something about marketing is essential. I do have a little (very little) money to put toward it, but where would that do the most good? Recently I’ve read or watched several works on marketing:

So what did I learn? Too much, and not enough. Here are my takeaways.

successful self-publishers have a ton of books

The 3-step formula from Write, Publish, Repeat is in the title. Their (rather sanguine) hope is that if you just publish enough, you’ll win the lottery with something and people will suddenly start buying you like crazy. I like to think of this as the “Hugh Howey” method. He was publishing short works on Amazon, not having much success, and put Wool out there and forgot about it. Before he knew it, Wool was selling like hotcakes. I guess I could also call this the “no marketing is good marketing” approach.

This also seems to be a common theme in the Gaughran book, at least in the author testimonials at the end of the book. Gaughran found 30 successful self-published authors. A theme seems to be “I did nothing but people suddenly bought my book and I woke up one morning to find success had found me.” Sometimes their first book performed like this. Well, I guess it can be interesting to read about, but I don’t find it helpful in terms of “do this and you’ll have a shot at success.” The advice on the whole amounts to “keep buying lottery tickets.” Someone will win, just not me.

there is no failsafe marketing approach

Also in Write, Publish, Repeat, there is a theme of “nothing replaces hard work.” It was good to see this, especially after the (slightly shady) webinars I watched promising me bestsellers up the wazoo if only I give them $500 or more dollars for their online course. One of the webinars seemed to be advocating seeing what was bestselling, slapping together a similar work, then putting it out there. Advanced basket weaving might be bestselling right now but I’m not going to be able to contribute much there. As with most authors (I think), I write what I like. It’s mainstream enough that I believe there is an audience out there, but it’s not likely to be the hottest topic of the week or month in any given time period.

If there’s no marketing that works, what is a self-published author who’s not selling to do? Fortunately, there are sources that are more optimistic about marketing efforts.

no…wait, there is a failsafe marketing approach, just give me money

There is a certain type of webinar aimed at self-publishing authors. It promises to reveal the secret formula to selling (say) 10,000 books and making 100,000 dollars in 18 months. Or was it 1,000 books a day for 90 days? Anyway, the promises are big and enticing. The webinar is disappointing, though, as you realize near the end they haven’t actually given any workable means of doing anything. The webinar turns out to be a half hour (or hour) long advertisement for their larger online course. These courses can have eye-watering prices, too: $500 and up.

I was thinking Nick Stephenson fell into this category. But then I realized that, no, he was actually giving actionable items in his 3-video mini-course about marketing. More on this next.

the 3 steps I’ll be attempting

Stephenson has hit the jackpot himself, clearing 7 figures in 2014. (Must be nice!) His videos are well-produced and easy to follow. Best of all, they’re free. Although he does have a premium course, you don’t get the feeling you absolutely have to buy it to hear some of the meat of what he has to say.

He has a 3-step process to getting tons of sales.

  1. Offer something widely, like a free book, giveaway, etc.
  2. In the offer #1, include a link to what you want the potential readers to do, whether it’s signing up for your email list (recommended), or buying a book.
  3. Offer something of value for doing what they’re supposed to in #2, like something else free, and good content, stuff like that.

He puts it more succinctly, but you’ll have to check out his videos for that, I don’t want to steal his thunder.

So, I’m going to try this. I already offer Sinking for free for signing up for my mailing list. So my idea is to make Polygraph (another Richter short story) free and include links to a sign-up page. That’s it. Stephenson says such a plan will make passive income with all the people signing up to your mailing list (people you can then contact when you have book launches, ad campaigns, etc.).

Will it work? I have to say, it seems like a sensible approach. But I’m also not expecting much. Stephenson says hundreds of people tend to get free books, and a certain (low) percentage of them will click the link and sign up. I’m going to take a guess and say that I’ll be surprised if I get a handful of signups a month this way. That’s a far cry from his 10,000 readers. On the other hand, it’s better than I’m doing now with about zero sign-ups a month.

Stay tuned! I’ll keep you posted about my marketing endeavors. What do you think? Have you heard about any marketing methods lately that made sense to you? Let me know in the comments!

Cy Wyss

I am an author currently residing in the Indianapolis area. I write and review mysteries, thrillers, and science fiction. Sign up for my newsletter at right and get a free short story.


  • Avatar
    Mark McKay

    Hi Cy,

    What Nick Stephenson says about always having a freebie available is good advice. It will get downloaded and if the reader likes it, they may well buy more of your stuff. I finished writing a trilogy recently, with the first one free. Lo and behold, the books have started selling! Not 1,000 a day, but when you’ve had no paid sales forever it makes you feel like you’re getting something right. One of the things that keeps coming up is – write a series and make the first one free. That seems to be working for me, just not on a Hugh Howey scale just yet!

    There isn’t really any way of getting around spending money on your marketing. You can build your mailing list using facebook ads and if you want to learn how to do this effectively you should check out Mark Dawson’s course – ‘Facebook Ads for Authors’. Mark has been extremely successful and the course is good value, but it is expensive. One of the ways guys like Mark and Nick make money is to sell these courses and that’s where some of that 7 figure income derives from. In Mr Dawson’s case, I can recommend his course. It’s helped me build my mailing list and you can also use it to help you drive sales. There have been some remarkable successes from students of the course, but as in everything in life, there are no guarantees. He’s actually about to release a new course called ‘Self Publishing 101’, but I don’t know when and I don’t know the price. Just might be worth checking out, though.

    I use freebooksy sometimes. I put my free book out there. This gets you readers (my last one had 2,500 downloads in a day) but it doesn’t get you an immediate sale. It does drive people to your next book though, and that is a paid sale. But again, you gotta spend money to get that initial visibility.

    You’re right. You can publish your book and leave it, and hope it hits the jackpot. Good luck with that. For the rest of us, there’s no substitute for finding every available way to get noticed. And putting aside a budget for doing that.

    • Cy Wyss
      Cy Wyss

      Hi Mark,

      Great to hear your series is selling! Kudos. I did hear about Mark Dawson’s course, and it sounded good. Nick Stephenson has some bonus videos about Facebook ads and I will definitely be investigating them (and reporting on it). I guess the old adage that you have to spend money to make money is true in self-publishing as well, huh?

  • Avatar
    Steven Hayward

    Hi Cy!

    These are the same steps I’ve recently put in place and have added 300 to my mailing list in 2 months. Just wondering on which platform you are making your offer in #1? I set up a Twitter Lead Generation Card whereby everyone who follows me automatically gets the offer in return for their email address which Twitter then passes seamlessly to my email system (MailChimp). Email me if you’d like to follow up offline.


    • Cy Wyss
      Cy Wyss

      Hi Steven!

      That’s great! 300 more to your mailing list is fabulous. I was wondering about those Twitter lead generation cards (someone posted something about them) and am glad to know they work. I was also wondering about Twitter ads. I’ll probably try them at some point (and report on how they work or don’t work). Right now, I am just going to make Polygraph perma-free at B&N, Apple, and Kobo, then get Amazon to make it free as well with price matching. Thanks!

  • Avatar

    Thanks for sharing this with us Cy! This is a nice little compilation from what sounds like a great deal of research. I’ve definitely found that there’s a lot of rather shifty advice out there, so it’s great that you’ve placed some of the key highlights of what seems sensible here. Best of luck in trying these methods out yourself!

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