By your request! From eating forbidden apples to riding airborne sharks! While thoroughly naked! Here comes the companion post to the post on five marketing sins I committed and learned from. This time about five marketing victories. So, take off your pants, hold on to the fins (or the tail, or the sides, or the many rows of teeth), and let's take a wild ride into the vast marketing sky the color of nipple-pink.
Despite all my marketing mistakes, I have intuitively (at times), by accident (at other times), and finally, due to gained experience, done some things right. I attribute most of it to learning how to survive at home and on the street (when I was growing up as a kid in Russia, that is). At home I learned to read adults and predict their behavior to escape a spanking or worse. On the street I learned to ask people for things I needed and get them—like free food or free rides. My guide was patterns. I'd look for patterns in behavior, and I'd decide on my next action based on that pattern. This made me a people-reader, a human psychology watcher, and a social engineer.
Later, when I had my start-up, I read lots of books on marketing, and most of my wisdom (if there is some, indeed) I owe to Seth Godin on whose books I stumbled by accident, and whose ideas and concepts I've applied ever since. (I recommend you read all his books and subscribe to his blog for daily marketing nuggets of genius.)
On my gut level I always understood (without being able to put it into words) that marketing wasn't about selling a product to my future customers; marketing was about telling my future customers a story. If the story was delightful, the customers chose to take part in it. Meaning, they bought what I marketed to them. Meaning, I made a sale. BINGO.
I grew up telling stories that helped me survive. You know that kid who convinced you to give her change for a bus ticket? That was me. I did it out of necessity, until it became habit. My stories were improving, so later, when I read books on marketing, it clicked in my head. Storytelling. All marketing was, was storytelling. "I can tell a story," I thought. And so I did. It has proven the right strategy. So here are the things I did right.
1. Talking to readers
Whenever a reader comments (on social media, via email, by letter, etc.), I always reply. Well, 97.53% of the time. Lately I had to start cutting back because sometimes there are so many comments in so many places, I no longer have the time to answer everyone, but I strive for it every day. And I always try to talk to those who are new—to answer their questions and to welcome them to my weird world of wonky stories.
For example, I tell them, "Thank you for buying my book! I feel sorry for you. Throw it into the bushes, fast! And run! Before it eats you!!! Oh, and don't forget to invite me to your funeral. Thank you." This sucks them into my story—my personal brand story and the story of all my books—and if they choose to be part of it, they stay, which means I found a new bunch of my ideal customers. And if it revolts them, they go, which means I shed people who were never going to be my ideal customers anyway.
So, you see, by talking I extend my storytelling into the reader's personal world, and in effect it's marketing. Every word I type or say is part of what helps me make a sale. That sale might not come for months or years, but it will come, if I continue consistently telling the same story (I see many indie authors make a mistake of fluctuating in their marketing, thus breaking their storytelling flow and confusing their readers).
2. Apologizing and moving on
Whenever I did a marketing blunder, I apologized and moved on. It wasn't easy, and some apologies took me a while, but eventually I'd understand I screwed up and get on to owning my mistake. (Secret: there are a few I'm still feeling very guilty for, and haven't quite moved on from.)
For example, I called out a bookstore on Twitter by sharing their email declining me a book reading and then posing a sarcastic question about it (can't remember now what I said). I later apologized, but that bookstore might never welcome me in the future. Still, it was very important to apologize publicly, because we're all human and we all do fuckups. Owning up to a fuckup quickly shows your customers two things: you're human and you care. They forgive you and stay loyal to you. Those who don't forgive you usually have a hard time forgiving themselves, so it's okay that you lose them. Again, they weren't going to become your loyal readers anyway, so good riddance.
3. Staying human
Yeah, on that human thing again, since we started talking about it. In everything I ever did or wrote I was being honest (sometimes too honest for some people) about the shit that was going on in my life, so if things went great, I shared it (part of my story). And if things weren't great, I share it too (part of my story too). I used to be very afraid of criticism and would periodically hide and stop sharing, until it hit me that those who criticized me, again, weren't my ideal readers, so by sharing I made my marketing job easier. Which is why I'm back to sharing with a vengeance (riding on top of a flying shark! fucking naked! fucking swearing out of my every orifice! FUCK YEAH!!!).
A friend on Facebook called this, "Being courageous." It might come across as such, but it's really a mix of folly and not giving a fuck. Folly because I'm still learning marketing and am lacking wisdom (I had to be explicitly told to keep some things quiet—like upcoming news or deals—as I'm lacking social filters and common social ethics due to growing up like weed on the street), and not giving a fuck because after wanting to take my life and coming out the other end a lot of problems became non-problems that have no effect on me anymore.
For example, negative book reviews make me laugh (not a normal reaction, right?).
There are things that still get under my skin, though. Like a few bashings I got on Twitter. So I'm still learning to deal with that and not engage out of pure hot-headedness. And that's human too, learning how to give love even to those who want to trash you for your missteps just because they can.
4. Learning and trying new things
Marketing in self-publishing changes constantly. From the automation tools you can use (new software solutions crop up every month), to the internet ad landscape, to new marketing books, to your marketing story that continues to change and evolve...it makes you want to scream in terror and hide under your bed, right? Just as you figure out something that works, it changes, and BAM, you have to learn a new trick and try it. It's scary. What if it won't work? But ask yourself another question.
What if it will?
Try things. I learned a lot from trying, and yes, I made mistakes, but yes, I also won victories (and new readers). For example, if I find a new book I like, I'd follow its author. And if I like what the author does, I'd copy that marketing tactic, do my own spin on it, and try it. If it doesn't work, I'll adapt it to the feedback I get and try again. After a few tries, if it truly isn't working, I'll abandon it and move on. Only to try something new again. And so on. This process never stops. To resist it is to resist your potential for growth.
5. Never quitting
This is probably the simplest giveaway for you from this whole post. Ready?
NEVER GIVE UP.
Don't. Just don't. Always keep moving forward. I recently started going through all my readers by hand (doing the whole CRM thing), and I've heard from so many of my readers who are writers that they quit writing, I couldn't believe it. "Why?" I'd ask. "Oh, because," they'd answer, and cite some misfortune, such as, "No one was buying my books" or "I never got any kind of engagement on social media" or "I spent too much money on promotion and got no return," and so on. A sob story you heard. A sob story that happened to me, too. A lot. So what? Your name won't appear on a best sellers list overnight. It takes years and years of focused work and NEVER EVER QUITTING.
I guess these are my biggest victories so far. Oh, one more.
The decision to give away my ebooks for free (yes, you can download them off their respective pages in any format) has proven a wise marketing move. It helped me battle anonymity. Because they're free to share, my readers shared them, and so instead of dying in the dark, stinky hole of obscurity I'm slowly climbing out of it, with YOUR help. Because YOU are sharing my books. Thank you. Please continue doing so (with a warning to your friends that my books will probably chase them in nightmares until they lose their minds). And share your marketing victories, too. I raise my glass of vodka to you and spur on that shark to go faster! YEE-HAW!