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How Not To Market, by Alma Boykin (reprise)

At LibertyCon, Alma Boykin cheerfully referred to herself as the horrible warning, and the great example of what marketing mistakes not to make. Afterward, Peter got thanked by an audience member for all of us being open, honest, and forthcoming about mistakes… but could they hear more on that?

So, sure! Some of you will have seen this before, some of you may have missed it the first time, and some of you weren’t reading the site yet. You’ll note that now we’ve dragged Alma into posting here, for a broader social media presence. (Muahahahahaha!)

And you can support her and entertain yourself by buying her books here:


Alma Boykin here. I have been successfully getting in my own way and not marketing (fiction) books since December 2012. In the process, I’ve managed to make pretty much every mistake you can do as an indie author, bar one. Dorothy Grant, Cedar Sanderson, and others have written a lot about how to market your books and stories. So here’s a quick guide on how to successfully not market your book, thus ensuring that only the most selective, discriminating, or lucky readers will ever find it.

1. Have absolutely no online presence of any form other than an e-mail address and occasionally chiming in on certain websites. This was my technique after I released A Cat Among Dragons in December 2012. No social media, no blog, no web-site, nothing. Just write and release and see what happens. I was pretty successful at not selling the book. Today, summer of 2017, this technique would be even more successful since so many more people have begun publishing their work.

2. No social media presence ever. I did give in and start a blog, Cat Rotator’s Quarterly, (Alma! I added the blog name and link! You should promote it! -Ed.) in February 2014, but I have no Twitter, Facebook, G+, LiveJournal, Snapchat, Pinterest, or whatever other social media platforms are out there. This is another great way not to tell people about your books. What they don’t know about, then can’t find. HOWEVER! If used properly, social media can help not-sell your work. Some of the best ways are to overload anyone who follows you with near-daily announcements about “Only three years, two months, and a day and a half until the release of [book]!” or “Hey, boy my book! Buy my book!” The more often you remind people to buy your work, the more they will drop your feed and flee the company of your works. Think of it as the electronic version of the whiney 5-year-old in the back seat asking “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? I gotta go. Are we there yet?”

2a. Make it hard to find your books on your web-site. You can use white on black text, busy backgrounds that readers have to read over, page tabs that are hard to read… The options are nearly endless (see the blog link above).

3. Ignore the current conventions for cover design. Let’s say you wrote a dark romance novel with a little tasteful D/s in the plot. Sure, use that great landscape photo you saw on Pinterest for the cover art! The cheerful yellow and red flowers in the meadow under soft, puffy white clouds in a blue sky will do an excellent job of leading to very surprised readers once they get your book and open the cover. Another option that seems to help not sell books is to cram a cast of thousands (think some of the art-by-the-yard historical paintings from the 1600s-1800s) cover onto your book. Oh yes, the one that looked so good on your desktop monitor? Go for it. Thumbnail, schlumbnail, it’s your book and your cover so why not? Genre and designs are challenges to be overcome, not guidelines to work within.

4. Don’t market. Do not use BookBub, E-book Soda, the Amazon marketing tools, link exchanges with other writers, a mailing list, nothing. Do not tell people your book has been released. To paraphrase Fight Club, “The first rule of Not Selling the Book is Don’t Talk about the Book.” What people don’t know about, they can’t buy. If you truly feel compelled, put up a small blog post, without links to your sales platforms, saying “Um, yeah, so I just released the next book.” Granted, if your sales criteria and genre do not meet the requirements for things like BookBub, you have a major advantage in not marketing, but if by unhappy chance you do manage to get 50 decent reviews and have a sweet romance releasing during Romance Week, avoid marketing sites like the plague. The unmentioned book doesn’t sell, which is your goal, right?

5. Ignore genre trends. Dang it, you are going to write the next great angsty vampire teen romance. So what if everyone says that subgenre is no longer selling? Or you have a Fifty Shades-ish idea for a romance between a billionaire businessman who “knows the ropes,” ahem, so to speak, and the city restaurant code inspector who fails the kitchen in his private club? Do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that a market is saturated. The more saturated the market, the lower the odds of readers seeing your book on the real or electronic shelves. That’s your goal, remember?

6. Ignore pleas and offers to alpha read or edit your noble, pristine work. It is perfect just as it is, fresh off the printer (or screen). Those are not tyops, those are just alternate spellings that have not been discovered yet. And formatting is for wimps.

7. Wait until the middle of the series to release novel-length works and to offer them in print. Nothing chases away readers like finding that the first dead tree book is #7 in the series.

8. Release series out of order, although this technique is not as effective as some others. The last Colplatschki book (#8) will actually be the first in in-series chronological order. Which leads to …

9. Allow bad reviews to determine what you release and if you “finish” a series. Although this may fall more into “How to Chase Off Readers” than strictly not selling books. This also falls into traditional publishing’s bailiwick, since they are very good about stopping series in the middle if the publisher’s lack of marketing has hurt sales of the earlier books. Learn from the Big 7, er 6, ah 5. They have spent the past few years laboring hard to become masters of not marketing.

10. Ignore release dates of other books. Let’s say Brandon Sanderson, Brad Thor, Larry Correia, Michael Z. Williamson, and Stephen King and Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele are all going to release books August 1-4. Of course this is the best time to launch Angsty Teen Vampires from Tacoma! No one will have any money left to buy your book, and they won’t see it because of the full-page ads and Amazon sales blitz and big posters at Barnes and Noble. That’s a great way to not sell books.

I’ve also written so cross-genre that no one is quite certain how to categorize or market my books. I’ve written alt-history that is closer to secret history except for the heavy sci-fi elements, but that has so much actual historical background that it almost needs footnotes in spots (almost). I’m going to release a YA (but it’s not, really) in September that is sci-fi but also coming of age and exploration and school-drama and planetary exploration and hunting and oh heck, YOU figure out how to sell it. And I released a steampunk story, Language of the Land, that lacks a bunch of the “things you have to have to call it steampunk.” And urban fantasy set in Colorado and rural Kansas that includes a texting cat and Russian mythology but no elves, vampires, werewolves, or the other now-seemingly-standard UF elements. (Links added. Would it kill you to mention your book names and add them now and then? If people are interested, let them know where to go! -Ed.)

The few things I’ve not done yet to not sell books include getting into hissing fights on-line, insulting readers or saying that if readers disagree with my politics they should stop buying my books. I’ve noticed that the latter technique seems to work very, very well for not selling books, but it does imply that you had readers to begin with. And I’ve never, ever gone after anyone who left a bad review of my work. Even I don’t want to replace the author of You Know Which Book on the Marketers’ Wall of Shame.

And yet, despite my valiant efforts at not marketing, people still find my books, like them, and tell others. If I marketed, I’d do better. I know this. I have lots and lots of excuses for not marketing. I marketed my non-fiction. And I survived, and sold.
But if you want to not market, just follow my advice above, and you too will successfully not market and not sell books. Unless people like your books. I can’t help you then.


Unfortunately for Alma’s plans for World Anti-Domination, people like her books! And she’d gotten even more of them out since she wrote this last year – there’s a merchant who can’t see magic just trying to trade in a world full of it (if you like Nathan Lowell’s Quarter Share books, think that set in true medieval Hanseatic League.) Merchant and Magic

And Familiar Tales – wherein we get to see just how much having a familiar can ruin the everyday life of a mage! (Strangely familiar, in which a goth mage gets a very sheddy non-black lemur, is here!)

30 Comments
  1. OMG, I’m dying on the floor laughing. Thanks for the pick me up

    July 15, 2018
  2. Made me laugh. Thank you.

    July 15, 2018
  3. That was utterly hilarious, Alma~! Loved it!

    July 15, 2018
    • *bows*

      July 15, 2018
  4. Loved the editorial comments, too.

    July 15, 2018
  5. Some of the world’s best anti-marketers work in the ‘classics’ departments of major publishers. I’ve seen really interesting & exciting books…thinking particularly of Melville’s ‘White Jacket’…with cover art that seriously projects a ‘this is a boring book’ message.

    July 15, 2018
    • Christopher M. Chupik #

      To be fair, a lot of the books they push really are boring.

      July 15, 2018
      • Christopher M. Chupik #

        Sorry, not the classics being boring (though some of them are). That would be many of the modern books being pushed as future classics. Which brings up a pet peeve of mine. The classics always seem to be the same twenty or so books. Surely they could cast a wider net and find some more obscure but equally interesting books that have fallen from the public eye.

        July 15, 2018
        • Well, a lot of that sort of book is available on ebook now. (Ooh! A bunch of R. Austin Freeman books I’ve never even seen, all free on my library’s Hoopla app! Borrow, borrow, borrow….)

          The main difference is that if you’re looking for mysteries or sf, Otto Penzler and mystery/sf fandom have kept talking about the greats of the past. It’s a lot harder to find the forgotten greats in other genres, or the literary genre.

          July 15, 2018
    • Oz #

      Yes and No.

      Thinks of New Order’s Minimalist album covers. They probably bored some people away but also stood out as an exception to others, to the extend that people would get excited to see a minimalist design in the record store because they knew an awesome records was within.

      But yeah, some clue of the genre helps. Have to admit quite a lot of book covers from both indy and trad publishing are off-putting.

      July 17, 2018
  6. Zsuzsa #

    I find this oddly reassuring. Yes, I will try not to make these same mistakes when I release my book, but I know I’m still going to screw up in multiple ways. It’s good to know that someone can do just about everything wrong and still recover to become a successful indie author.

    July 15, 2018
  7. Christopher M. Chupik #

    “The few things I’ve not done yet to not sell books include getting into hissing fights on-line, insulting readers or saying that if readers disagree with my politics they should stop buying my books. I’ve noticed that the latter technique seems to work very, very well for not selling books, but it does imply that you had readers to begin with.”

    How can you live with yourself knowing that bad people might be enjoying your stuff?

    July 15, 2018
    • By taking their money and giving it to worthy causes – like buying Larry Correia’s books, or buying goodies at the local Orthodox Church or LDS Stake bake-sales.

      July 15, 2018
  8. Bookmarked. I’m hoping by the time I get to “finished” with this book, the appeal of magical girl urban fantasy novels that are written in the style of David Drake is doing well. 😀

    July 15, 2018
  9. I chuckled a little at #6 — I’d love to have people offering and pleading to alpha and beta read my stuff. Instead, ever since I outgrew the big public workshops like Critters, I’ve struggled to rustle up anyone.

    Just last week, I was trying to find someone to take a look at the beginning of a novel. Just the first three chapters, not the whole thing, so it wasn’t an enormous request. A dear friend, who is both busy and in poor health, pried loose a crumb of time for it, but even she can’t find anyone else to provide additional perspective to filter for personal tastes. Everyone in her circle of friends is either too busy or so miserable from the heat that they’re out of energy by the time they’ve finished paying work and necessary household chores, and have no spare energy for volunteer tasks.

    July 15, 2018
    • SheSellsSeashells #

      How deep of a crit do you need? I read exceedingly fast and could at least give it a once-over, maybe more depending on how this week treats me.

      July 15, 2018
      • Since I’m planning on completely rewriting it, not hugely detailed, and certainly not stuff like typos or infelicities of phrasing. More general impressions — does it introduce you to the world and the characters in a way that allows you to make sense of it (as opposed to leaving you floundering or worse, giving you nasty lurches when something alt-hist pops up, especially if it’s one of those “is this an artistic choice or a dumb mistake?” things)?

        If you’re still interested, click on my name in the header to this comment and it should take you to my website (unless the efforts to get the SSL certificate to work have completely bollixed it), where you can find my e-mail address under the “contact us” link in the top navbar.

        Thanks in advance.

        July 15, 2018
    • OldNFO #

      Send it my way. I alpha/beta for folks.

      July 15, 2018
      • Thanks. Send me your contact info and I’ll send it on your way.

        Since it seems that my personal website still isn’t taking well to the SSL certificate and I’m going to need to fix some code before some people’s browsers stop treating it as dangerous, you can reach me at leighkimmel (at) yahoo (dot) com . I’ll send the file as soon as I know where to send it.

        July 15, 2018
    • Could the people who’ve volunteered to read my chapters please let me know what e-mail address you’d like me to send the file to. I have it ready to go, but don’t know where to send it to.

      If you’d prefer not to post it in public, you can send it to me at leighkimmel (at) yahoo (dot) com .

      Thanks.

      July 17, 2018
  10. Writing well in a bunch of different subgenres is NOT A PROBLEM. It is a long-term marketing strategy in itself. All you have to do is get a new reader on one book, and you can funnel him towards all your other books to fulfill all his other subgenre needs.

    This worked really well for Martha Stewart, and is currently working for food blogger Pioneer Woman. All you had to do was buy into her world once, and you were sucked into tv shows, books, pots and pans, recipes, etc….

    This is often a marketing strategy for really long series, like Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden. Tired of rural small towns? The gang goes to visit a seaside resort or a horse ranch out West. Or they go overseas to France. Or they run into a spooky ghost or a curse – is it real or isn’t it?

    You’ve read The Black Stallion series, right? What horse subgenre is that? There’s Thoroughbred racing, trotters, hunters, Arabs, blah blah blah, adventures of every kind, romance with a hippie chick (okay, that one was not so great), and even a crossover with another series

    The nice thing is that, as long as you have a lot of reassuringly trustworthy authors in your Also Reads, you will tend to show up in people’s feeds with your appropriate subgenre books, at just about the point when they feel like reading more of that subgenre. And so you begin to suck them into your world, with its full service spectrum of subgenres!

    July 15, 2018
    • PS — Black Minx was the best one. Although I liked them all.

      July 15, 2018
      • Can you believe it? The Black Stallion’s Filly is $7.99 on Kindle! Come on, that book is not even 200 pages long, kids don’t have that kind of money, and it’s fifty years old. Pffft, what a ripoff.

        OTOH, I had forgotten that Alec’s last name is Ramsay. Clearly he’s related to Gordon Ramsay, and there should be a crossover. I will keep it mental, but the idea amuses me.

        July 15, 2018
  11. Stan Miller #

    Some folks hate chatty mailing list messages and after spending a couple minutes reading through one turn from looking for the new book they are interested in buying to looking for the Unsubscribe button. Other folks love the chatty format, contests, surveys and all the other fun stuff. If you aggravate either bunch you can cut down on your sales.

    Seriously, maybe cater to both types with two lists?

    One short and sweet “New Book”, “Blurb”, “link to Amazon” or Amazon and other sites. A second the usual chatty list with all the fun stuff plus a link to the short email list, put it near the unsubscribe button and maybe save a few subscribers?

    Oh, and please do not send your “Buy My Book” link through a tracking service or more and more folks won’t be able to use the link as their home or their workplace ad and tracking blockers become better and break your tracking links. I’ve dropped several subscriptions that don’t work for me for this reason.

    Maybe even embed a cover image in your e-mail rather than linking it so it shows up without the recipient having to open their mail program’s security to see it. At least take a look at a draft of your message with remote images blocked to see what it looks like, many are ugly and unusable.

    July 15, 2018
  12. “despite my valiant efforts at not marketing, people still find my books, like them, and tell others”

    Sympathies on your failures here. By emulating your brilliant marketing strategies, I have obtained the success that you have missed.

    July 15, 2018
  13. George Phillies #

    Hysterically funny. Did you consider the check the boxes approach, in which you made sure you have characters of all the right identity groups?

    July 15, 2018
    • Not yet. I’m tempted to, but the closest I came was in _Language of the Land_. I didn’t find a way to work in the Fabulously Gay Guy Friend or Wise Native Elder, though.

      July 15, 2018
  14. OldNFO #

    Soooo… You’re saying I shouldn’t be pimping your books, right? 😛

    July 15, 2018
  15. Synova #

    Writing about ways to fail at marketing and not including links to your books is REALLY FUNNY. 😀

    July 17, 2018
    • In my defense, I did include the links when I submitted the post to Sarah the first time. But when the .doc was copied and pasted into WP, all the links broke.

      July 17, 2018

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