Five Things I learned from self-publishing that apply to marketing in general.

By: Chris Baca

I’ve learned a lot from publishing my first short story myself. Of course, I’ve dealt with trying to drive traffic to my site, seeking ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’ and more. I’ve also had to contend with every aspect of publishing, from editing to formatting, to marketing, and beyond. My experiences in these roles have given me an interesting new insight into the world of marketing. I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share with those just starting their project. Although, I think even those who’ve been in the game for a while or haven’t been as successful as they wanted would benefit from this knowledge as well. Just remember as you read this list, a lot of us have been guilty of one or more of the things on this list at one time or another, so don’t feel bad. Learn to recognize the things that are harmful to the business that is you so you can market more effectively in the future. I’ll use a lot of references and analogies that have to do with publishing an e book, so I apologize, but that’s where most of my marketing effort has been expended. In other words, it’s what I’m good at.

1. It’s very easy to become a spammer

Ok, so you’ve already published, or are about to publish your first indie e book. Or perhaps you’ve started selling your knit crafts on Etsie. Whatever your adventure is, I’m sure you’re very excited about it and eager to spread the word. Just don’t let that eagerness go overboard. You can quickly become an annoyance to people on social networking these days if you post a link to your blog or site. People have learned to tune out spammers like this quick. Think about when you meet someone in public (if you’re actually interested in speaking to them, that is. If you’re not interested in speaking to your fans, then none of my advice can help you). You try to find common interests and relate to each other from a place of similar experiences. If you were to see someone at the supermarket with a paperback book in their cart for example, would you immediately say to them, “I see you like to read. Would you like to buy my newest science fiction novel also?” as you proceed to slap them in the face with your book until their nose bleeds and they lose consciousness.

In social networking, as well as in real life, you must develop bonds with people. Try to establish connections with your followers and the communities that hold interests similar to yours. If you join their discussion, people will be able to find out more about you, and determine if they like you and your product. It’s been shown that if people like you or your message, not only are they more likely to buy from you, but they’re more likely to tell their friends about your product as well. Besides, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you learn from your followers as well!

I have to be honest with you, I’ve been guilty of this myself. It’s just so easy to want to release your pent up energy and excitement after having birthed your creation upon the world, that it’s almost impossible not to. So I foresee that this problem won’t end anytime soon, especially with all the neat and nifty (not to mention FREE) analysis and optimization tools that exist.

One danger with this that I feel needs mentioning exists solely because of the easy ability to track so many different and varied statistics for little or no charge. This can create a tendency to post on social media links to your blog or website or whatever, and obsessively check to see how many page views or likes that you’ve gotten. I like to call it, ‘scoring points’. This quickly becomes a dangerous game where you risk alienating your fan base and friends by overloading them with your pitch. You’re generally treating them as a statistic for your meat grinder and not as a person.

All that being said, if you just engage in social media like you would any interaction with real people, you’ll get better results for your product. This is because these are real people on the other side of your monitor. We tend to forget that when we converse online. If all else fails and you suspect you may still be annoying your fellow social networking folks, you can always take a break! Step back from the computer/tablet/smartphone/etc. for a while and relax. Play some games, or make a snack perhaps. This is what I do whenever I think I’ve been spending too much energy on marketing, and it helps a lot. I encourage you to experiment with different ways of breaking away from marketing and getting back to what you do best: creating!

2. Stop marketing to your fellow authors (or your competition, in other markets)

This is sort of related to the first entry, but this particular marketing is not only spammy, it harms your fellow writers. Think about it; how much do you do in your average day? That’s just as much as your fellow entrepreneur has to get done as well. Unless your product is designed in some way to assist him (such as a book about self-publishing to assist writers) then there is no need to market it to him. To put it simply, he or she is not your target audience. Your efforts would be much better spent finding people who can relate to your product or message. This way you can be sure that you are maximizing the potential outcome of your campaigns and (hopefully) increasing response to and awareness of your product.

I see this a LOT on Twitter. I am followed by other writers and bloggers constantly. Many of them are following thousands of people, and it makes me wonder about the relevancy of their tweet stream. How can you possibly get any consistent conversations going with such a glut of information coming at you? Try to watch who you follow if you use Twitter. Some people will even use the tactic of following you to get you to follow them. They then promptly unfollow you and hope you keep following them.

When you do this, you’re only wasting your efforts. If you had to convince someone to agree to be bombarded with your message under false pretenses, they’re probably not going to buy anything from you. Again, you’ve just treated that person as another number and not as a person.

3. Cheap Ads Are Too Good To Be True

The area I have the most experience with this is Facebook ads. They make their ads seem nearly infallible, showing you how many thousands of people you will reach before you post the ad. If you’re just starting your Facebook company page, this can be frustrating. If you just want to send the ad to your friends and their friends, you may find that even at the five dollar level it isn’t worth it. It won’t reach very many people. In fact, I tried this early on and Facebook told me it would reach 3,800 of eleven people. That one made me laugh. Alternatively, you can choose keywords and demographics to market to. I selected an age range of 18-25 years old, with keywords like ‘science fiction’ and ‘alternate universe’ when promoting my e book. I got the number of views promised (almost 4,000 views) but no click through or engagement whatsoever.

What I’m getting at is this: in our day and age, most people are nearly completely immune to advertisements. They’ve been conditioned to know what to look for, and it’s a simple matter for them to ignore, avoid, and obfuscate attempts at being sold to. This is why it’s so important for you to find out where your target audience is already conversing, and join them there. Find people to talk to on social networking, message boards, communities, etc.

I originally underestimated the usefulness of Google+. But then I started using the communities and found how easy it was to keep track of the most important conversations. The Communities on Google+ allow you to easily join a group of like-minded people and quickly join their conversation. I particularly love that it gives you the option to turn on and off notifications for posts in particular communities. This helps you to remember to get involved in your industry and engage your customers. If you don’t respond to them or give them a reason to continue to engage with you, they’ll soon spend there time elsewhere on the internet.

With so many options for communication, and the instant gratification that the internet has brought us, people are quick to flee boring or useless sites. If your site or product can’t satisfy them with entertainment or information or something else useful, then you’ll lose them. You can also push people away by being lazy in your response time. People don’t like to feel like you’re too big or too important to respond to them. Once they’ve migrated on, it’s not likely that they’ll look back either.

4. Wait Until You Have A Product

Particularly when you’re considering running promotions or contests. I was hung up on when I could publish my story because I was running a contest to title the story. Whoever had the best title would win a free e book once it was published. I expected there to be a big response, but at first there was almost total apathy. As a result, I was forced to delay the publishing of my book by over two weeks.

It’s OK to run promos to get likes on your Facebook page, however. Something like that doesn’t limit your ability to produce, and doesn’t obligate you to do anything beyond marketing. In fact, I have a running promo on my Facebook page like this, and once we reach the goal I’m giving away free e books to three random followers.

I’ve heard this referred to as creating urgency in the mind of your customer. Basically, you want to make your promotions sound exciting, and make them limited offers. Things like the first twenty to comment on a blog post get a free sample, or giving your followers incentive to help you hit milestones are great examples of marketing. Just make sure you’re not tying your own hands with the promotion.

That’s really all there is to this point, I just felt that it was really important to mention. I thought my promo for the free e book was going to make my blog take off. The fact that it didn’t, and subsequently delayed my originally intended schedule, greatly frustrated me. I hope by listing this here, other artists and entrepreneurs can avoid making my mistakes.

5. Don’t Settle For One Market

This is basically like the old saying, “Don’t put all of your eggs into one basket.” I say this because Amazon requires exclusivity in order for you to get the best benefits as an indie publisher. Their KDP Select program gives you greater visibility, but at the cost of forgoing any other market in which you could place your book. This just seems like a bad idea to me. Granted, the exclusivity provision lifts after three months, but that’s three months in which you could be making sales with other publishers at the same time. That’s why I published with Amazon (NOT in the KDP Select program, however) AND Smashwords, to ensure greater distribution. This ensures that I not only get more visibility to potential customers, but my customers can choose what kind of device they want to view my work on. They aren’t restricted from reading my story because of the device they use.

This applies to all of marketing. You want to give your customers the freedom of choice. Don’t limit the way you interact with them. Don’t limit the way they interact with you. If your industry warrants, make your product available in many formats, and let your customers know about each one. When a person sees the thought that went into making your products available to them, they will appreciate it. Nothing frustrates someone quicker than being amped up about a particular product only to be told they can’t use it. It’s like if I told you about an awesome new video game that came out and got you excited about it, only to tell you it’s exclusive to the Playstation 4, and you own an Xbox. Talk about a let down.

So remember, treat people on the Internet like you should: like people. Help your fellow entrepreneurs by sharing your experiences with them and discussing what works and what doesn’t. Don’t just bombard them with sales pitches. Be wary of ads that seem to good to be true, because they probably are. Just because you got 10,000 people to look at your page doesn’t mean a single one of them wanted to stick around. Develop and release your product or service first, and then run your competitions and marketing campaigns. Finally, never settle for exclusivity in marketing, engagement, or distribution, and beware those that ask for it.

Chris Baca is a 25 year old father and husband. He lives with his loving wife Audrey, and his amazing and intelligent daughter Ella in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Chris is the author of the recently published, “Day In & Day Out” This e book can be purchased at Smashwords here:, or at Amazon here: