The do-it-yourself promoter should know that self-promotion is undoubtedly an art. It is an art as fine as public speaking, storytelling or, I dare say, as much of an art as writing or painting. In fact, in this day and age, self-promotion can be even more crucial to the success of a certain project than the actual beauty or usefulness of the product itself.
How many times have we all heard a hit song on the radio or viewed a piece of hanging art and thought, “This is trash.” I know that I do constantly. I would go on to say that in today’s society, an artist or a writer who considers themselves as being above the hassle of promotion and sales is an artist or writer who is doomed to a life of unattained success and, with that, dooming their art to not being allowed to be appreciated by a large group of people. If you wish to not become involved with the promotion and sales of your art, writings, or music, then become used to the fact that yours is a talent to be enjoyed and shared only by a few select people (and there’s nothing wrong with that — if that’s what one wants).
Generally speaking, the first six to eight weeks after a project goes on sale (becomes available to the public) are the most critical times in the life and success of that project. If you are really serious about what it is that you are making then you will agree that the project is your baby. There is no one in the world that should or could care for your baby more than you. Look at it this way: If you don’t wish to become involved with the sales or promotion of your book or record then, that is like having a child but not wanting to be involved with the growth, welfare and education of that child. Don’t do that to your baby.
When it comes to a book or record, I think it is quite obvious that the traditional outlets are headed for a decidedly bleak future. Sure the book stores and record shops still have customers, but how long will it be until Joe Average realizes that the book they just bought at the book store sells for $8—$10 less on line? Not long, I would imagine. So I believe it is most crucial that your product be available on-line through the biggest and most famous Internet store: Amazon.com.
When it comes to books, the age of the so-called “Vanity press” is upon us. As Gary North wrote to me, “This is definitely the end of the old order.” Vanity press seems the way to go (especially for those who have anarchy at heart). Why? Your royalties are much higher (anywhere from 10%—20% per book sold). Also, remember that you all can ignore those who have a disrespectful attitude to the self-publisher, they are confused; Ernest Hemingway self-published all of his first books.
The self-publisher can get their writings out for about $800 — perhaps less. But each writer must decide — before proceeding — what is the ultimate purpose of releasing their book? Is it because they wish to say that they’ve released a book once before they die? Do they want to become professional writers? (For instance, sell the first book independently, and then sell their next manuscript to a publisher beforehand); or do they wish to become rich? (Some people have become rich off of just one book).
If the writer just wants to release a book to have and hold, then selling the book on Amazon.com is not critical. If they wish to do any of the others: Become a professional writer; sell their second manuscript to a publisher; or become rich; then sales and promotion of their product is, of course, the key. Personally, I think I am just about convinced that more money can probably be made by the average person (who has a head for promotion and sales) by going it alone than by relying on a big name publisher.
Big name companies only have X number of dollars they can spend on promotions. Are they going to risk that money on you — an unknown? Or will they spend the money on a new version of a past success? Of course, they will go with the known product. That’s why you keep seeing remakes of old movies; the new releases of rock bands that have been around for ages; and the new releases of established name writers. Being an anarchist at heart, I have an affinity for going it alone.
For example: Have any of you folks ever heard of the rock group NOFX? Probably not many have. I believe that the group NOFX is probably one of the richest rock bands in America today — and they did everything — and have always done everything — by themselves. No big record label backing. No big label big bucks promotion.
I believe it was in the year 1985 that NOFX released an album called, White Trash, Two Heebs, and a Bean. That was the same year that Guns’n'Roses released their debut record. Well, I know for a fact that at one of the biggest record stores in the world NOFX outsold Guns’n'Roses. NOFX sold more than 3,500 CDs at one store here in Japan. Figure that out. Guns’n'Roses were signed to a major label. They probably received about 15 cents (if that much) per record sold. NOFX probably received somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 each. NOFX members said at the time, “Start your own rock band? Stupid. Start your own label? Smart.”
That’s been 20 years ago. NOFX is still selling records like crazy and the only people who have heard of them are kids on skateboards and all the major record labels who wish to sign them but can’t — why should the NOFX guys give up their sweet deal? I wouldn’t. So, I suppose the moral of the story here is that successful sales of a book or a record can be done by yourselves. Don’t think that a major publisher or label deal is the magic road to success.
When deciding on a self-publisher or vanity press, check to see if they have a plan that allows for your book to go on-line at Amazon. Mine did. The plan was a bit more expensive, but well worth it. If you go to see my book online, you will notice that my book’s on-line page has all the features of any big publisher’s book: Search Inside (where folks can read for free a few pages); photos from the inside of the book; and many extras; all of these were arranged by me — excepting the reviews. But even in the reviews section, I wrote my own review. No, let me tell you the truth and say that I "urged" very strongly to three or four friends to write a review for me. I later added points to reviews from friend’s computers — write to me and I’ll tell you how to do this.
That’s how promotion works. You ask your friends for favors and you utilize whatever means necessary to get the job done correctly. Some people will criticize you for that. But just be honest about it and what more could anyone ask? And I think my efforts bore fruit as my book has generally sold well everyday since its release — several weeks in a row at #1 on Amazon for books related to Japan. I suspect that I easily sold more than three or four dozen books per day for several weeks in a row there.
By the way, I’d like to add here a point about "friends." Whether you release a book or a record or what-have-you, many of your friends might say, "Hey! I’m your friend. Give me a promotional copy." I had this experience when I was a young man and in a rock band and I had this experience many times with my book. Trust me here when I say that, unfortunately, artists and writers generally do not have any friends. Your true friends will not ask you to give them a free sample. There is no such thing as a free ride in this world. Whenever someone asks you to give them a free copy "…because they are your friend," you tell them this:
"If you really are my friend, you’d help me out and buy my book (or record)."
I only gave out a very few free copies and those were only to people who deserved them out of honor and the respect I have for them. Otherwise, give no one a free copy unless it helps you to sell more. Hate to sound cold, but that’s the way it is; this is a rule. If your so-called friend gets mad at you for this, then you’ll know how good of a friend they really are. Wouldn’t they want you to support them if the situation were the other way around?
As I mentioned before, the first 6—8 weeks will be critical in the success of your sales. You must create a buzz about your product immediately. Then that buzz will be somewhat self-generating after that. The hype of a product must always be bigger than reality.
The Amazon Secret
Now, I’m going to tell you all about something that I discovered — to my chagrin — too late to help my own book. But this information is going to be invaluable in helping you.
Get this: I found out that Amazon.com updates its top-sellers page every hour. This is critical information. I also mentioned in a previous article that I sent e-mail out to over 1,200 people after my book came out personally asking them to buy my book. I reckon a huge majority of them did. But after doing so and keeping track of my sales, it dawned on me: Since Amazon updates its top-sellers hourly, what if I had asked each of those 1,200 people to buy my book at exactly, say, 1:00 pm Central Time? Do you think I could have sold more than 100 or 200 books in less than an hour on Amazon? I’ll bet I could have. And had I done so, do you think I could have been #1 in Amazon’s total sales — even beating out Harry Potter? Maybe not, but I’ll bet I could have given Harry one heck of a run for his money. And had my book hit #1 on Amazon, do you think that could ever be taken away from me? Nope. Do you think that may have made some big book publisher executive sit up and take notice? Hell yes.
I’ll have one last installment of this “Promoting your book” series coming up. But until then, think about what I have written here. Check out my book’s page on Amazon. Please buy my book — I aim to be #1 on LRC’s Top Sellers this next time and I need your help. Help me to make it to #1. I will help you with your book sales by sharing more information I’ve learned from the School of Hard-Knocks.
I want to be #1 next time. Then I want to help you become #1 thereby kicking me off the hilltop so you can become the King of The Hill yourself. It’s a great feeling when you see your book charting.
By the way, this information is only to be shared with readers of LRC and their families, loved ones and friends. It just another way we can get the word out. LRCr’s let’s go get ‘em!
Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has the distinction of being fired from every FM radio station in Tokyo — one of them three times. His first book, Schizophrenic in Japan, is now on sale.