I've made my fair share of posts commiserating with other authors—especially other horror authors—about the very real possibility we are on some sort of watch list for the content of our internet searches. After all, it's bound to raise a few eyebrows when you're researching how to dispose of a body, how long the heart beats if suddenly removed from the chest cavity, and how to hide the smell if you don't end up burying your victims in the basement floor after all. Perhaps the only thing saving me from an invading S.W.A.T. team are the cute kitten pictures I post and my incessant need for coffee. That must scream, "Writer and editor!" However, many of the authors I know who are extremely diligent about fact-checking their novel information—detailing elaborate medical procedures, location layouts, and law enforcement processes with meticulous accuracy—are sometimes the same authors who cut corners in other areas of production that are just as important. I'm in a number of author groups on Facebook, and everyone is always looking for the answers to three very important questions: how do I increase my exposure, how do I get my book edited, and how do I get readers to buy more books? One person in particular tried to address one of these conundrums. We will call this person "Beth." Beth made a promising post in a large author group, offering to help promote their novels for only $99. In their pitch, Beth included a link to their website and claimed to be a best-selling author who has made over seven figures. Beth would essentially show you their formula for achieving this level of success and help you replicate it, step by step. Sounds great, right?
I'd like you to do an exercise for me. Answer the following questions for yourself. You don't have to share.
Would you have contacted Beth, be it as a comment expressing interest or through a private message asking for more information?
Would you look at Beth's website prior to reaching out or after?
Would you ask Beth what qualifications they have—do they have a degree in marketing, have they worked for a novel marketing firm, or do they have certificates of continuing education courses they've taken?
If you see testimonials, would you try to validate them? If so, how?
Would you try to verify the level of success Beth claims to have achieved, and would you know how to do this?
Or would you bypass all of this and send Beth $99 plus tax for their expertise after a friendly conversation where they make you feel comfortable and secure, use the correct terminology, and make some really fantastic promises?
Accepting our truth is the first step to making better business decisions. There was a point in my career as an author when I might have grasped for Beth's offer. I've seen the other side of the industry. I've seen reputable novel marketing companies—Novel Publicity, for example, with proven five-figure monthly results—charging upward around $2500+ quarterly to set up and monitor Facebook and Amazon ads, not including the actual costs of the ads. There are not many new authors in position to be able to afford that after editing, cover art, and formatting. I get it! Being charged $99 for that same success level seems like a steal. And when Beth tells you they have just started building their business to help other authors reach this momentum, it's very easy to explain away why they are charging so little when others charge so much more. And we all want to support new professionals in the industry, especially when it helps us get comparable services at lower rates, right? In fact, many authors did approach Beth for more information and asked very publicly how to send them the money to get the process started.
But this is where applying the same research you use for your novels to other aspects of your business will save you time, money, and stress. When I came across Beth's post, I immediately looked up her novels on Amazon. My research showed that Beth has six novels published, the first one with a publication date in 2013. However, out of all six of those novels, none of them have even one review. First red flag. I then went back to question Beth. Their response was that their model did not focus on reviews. They stressed that their approach is unique, not used by any other marketing company. Beth claimed that they sold the majority of their novels through their website, shipping out all orders by themselves, which would explain the lack of reviews on Amazon. Again, this is easy to explain away. All authors know how hard it is to get our readers to leave reviews for our work. Could it be feasible that an author could sell so many novels on another platform, enough to hit seven figures, and not a single review happened to make it to Amazon?
Even after I raised this red flag, multiple authors still asked Beth for more information.
So, I then did an independent internet search on this author. If Beth is a seven-figure author, then at some point, a blogger has to have made a post about their books. Someone somewhere had to have posted how life-changing the novel was for their perspective. Someone somewhere had to have posted how much they despised it—we all know...there's always one. I found nothing. No mention of this author.
Second red flag.
When it was then brought up to Beth that selling so many books yet not appearing on any internet searches seemed strange, they again reiterated that the majority of their sales were through their website. Perhaps their SEO needed adjusting. Again, feasible. We've all struggled with that. But then something Beth said previously made me take pause. Beth claims to have sold enough books to reach seven figures and shipped all of those books out themselves. Realizing how many book sales that had to have been, I expressed my wonder at how Beth found time to do all of that. Because wow, Beth must have been a permanent fixture at the local post office for some time. Beth's response floored me. "I said that I had sold a million dollars in my profession, not a million dollars in my books."
Third red flag. This was posted publicly. It was part of the same thread. All an author had to do was scroll down to see it. I had already done their research for them. Yet authors were still asking Beth how Beth's process could help them with their novels.
Come to find out, Beth was an interior designer who felt that being able to market herself and her talents in furniture and decor positioning qualified her to successfully market novels.
The two are not even remotely the same.
Yet even then, authors were still asking for her help.
Research is fundamental to our industry, but it doesn't stop when the novel is done. Its reach extends to programs you purchase, advice you follow, and who you hire.
I once purchased a program by a successful author in the industry. This author advised others to put the first novel in a series as permafree to drive sales to the rest of the series. However, when I searched for this author's novels, they did not follow their own advice. If this advice was effective and provided a better return on investment (ROI) than other options, wouldn't this author be doing it? Yes, it might be worth trying it for myself, since no two authors market the same if they tailor their efforts specifically to their style and their projects. It might end up being effective for me. But this knowledge guided me to not only stop purchasing products and classes from that author, but it also caused me to look at other avenues first that wouldn't have resulted in me constantly giving my hard work away for no cost, effectively lowering my ROI.
And I have seen authors throw their hands up in the air and quit the industry, give up on their dreams, because they followed another author's launch structure and advertising guide and did not achieve the same results. After all, if you follow what a successful author did, a guru of the industry, it stands to reason that you'll have the exact same results, right? If you don't, that must mean that you aren't meant to be an author. Is that it? Absolutely not. What works for one author has a high probability of not working for you for multiple reasons, but the one reason you should never consider is that you weren't intended for this.
If no one has told you today, your story needs to be shared. This process is hard, and it takes a great deal of time and effort, but you can do it. If you don't know which direction to take, let knowledgable people in the industry guide you on where to find the information for yourself and how to manipulate that information to create the best possible outcome for your unique work. But never, ever, ever consider giving up as an option. That would be such an incredible loss.
Following another author's success strategy doesn't take a number of things into account that have a dramatic effect on the results. How long has that author been in the industry? What is their reader base like before that particular promotion? Do they write in the same genre as you? Do they use the same tropes? How different are your writing styles? How do your covers compare? Is your blurb as effective? Does the author use free advertising platforms like TikTok and Instagram? What are their social media followings like? Are they running numerous BookFunnel promotions as well? Do they write series or standalones? Realistically, two authors could have the exact same novel—same cover, same formatting, same content, same blurb, same A+ content—and still have dramatically different results if they follow the same advertising guide.
The reality of this industry is, you don't want others' successes. You want your own. I personally don't want to be "the next Stephen King." I want to be the Lyndsey Smith, the best me I can be. And in order to achieve that for ourselves, we have to stop focusing so much on trying to figure out exactly what others around us are doing and focus instead on the bits and pieces that we can combine to make our own success. You want to build your own empire, not build your castle in someone else's shadow.
Doing this requires research: What bloggers have a sizable reader base for your genre? If you're following marketing advice, is it genre-specific? Are you comfortable using the platforms it suggests? If not, what platforms are you comfortable using? What have other authors used that works for those platforms? Make multiple accounts and try different methods, then see which one works for you. Research how to effectively read your KDP advertising dashboard. If you write in a series, when you promote one of the books, are you looking at sales across the entire series to determine your ROI, or are you simply looking at that first book? Research the people in the industry who are giving you advice—especially if they are asking you to pay them. Research the novel marketers. Research your editors. Research the ones who offer classes supposedly teaching you the next best thing to make you a best-selling author.
Above all else, believe you are worth the time, the effort, and the investment. Do not approach this thinking you'll never make a return on the money you put into your business. Yes, oftentimes, the professionals in the industry with proven track records are a little more expensive than the rest. You're paying for value, for a higher level of expertise, for a promise of accuracy, accountability, security, and industry knowledge. It's easier to quickly hand over a much smaller sum to someone claiming to offer the same quality without looking too far into the person's experience and credentials. However, don't fall into that trap. Mistakes in this industry are made when we act before we think, when we make a decision on impulse instead of on research. Researching will help you escape predatory vanity presses, untrustworthy publishers, unqualified editors, and marketers who simply don't know how to advertise. Here are a couple of great resources to get you started on your research:
Bryan Cohen - Ads for Authors Challenge - This is a new free course round starting in October. It teaches you the fundamentals of Amazon ads and helps walk you through the first stages, critiquing covers, blurbs, and ad copy. It also teaches you how to read multiple ads running at once and determine if they are providing the best results possible, plus what to do if they are not. Again, it is free. Simply approach it for the knowledge it provides and incorporate that knowledge into your own methods.
Kindlepreneur Book Promotion Services - This is an up-to-date list of promotion sites for both free and price-reduced books. Please note that many of these services are not free to use, ranging anywhere from $5 to $400, depending on your goals and your financial means. Also, just because an author did or did not achieve success with one of these sites does not mean you will have the same results. There are too many subjective factors involved in our industry that affect readers' perceptions and buying power. Try a few, research which ones work best for which genre, and find what works best for you and your projects. 20Booksto50K Facebook Group - Many authors know about this group and its massive yearly convention. The number of six-figure authors who unselfishly offer their advice and guidance within its halls is incredible. There is no limit to the depth of information available, no matter the genre or trope, simply from joining and watching the daily posts. But did you know that they also have a full library of recorded courses specifically geared toward self-publishing and advertising your novels? These are all free and usually are around five to fifteen minutes long. Again, tailor them to your specific needs. Get Writing Horror Facebook Group - I am a huge proponent of this group. Joe X Young, the founder, is doing some incredible things for the industry. He's an author himself and an unconditional supporter of the genre and the authors who work tirelessly each day to make it great. Joe constantly offers options to help authors promote themselves and have easier avenues for research resources to help propel their careers.
TikTok for Authors Facebook Group - This group is very helpful when it comes to finding out what different authors are doing for engagement. Since TikTok is currently a free platform, utilizing it as an advertising function provides a great ROI, and these authors help determine some of the best practices to make your efforts more effective.
Indie Cover Project Facebook Group - This group provides feedback on cover art without any restrictions on genre.
Novel Publicity Marketing Firm - This is one of the more successful novel marketing companies I've been able to find. It was founded by cozy mystery author, Melissa Storm, who built an unquestionable empire for herself within the genre and industry. I know multiple authors who have achieved four- and five-figure months because of Novel Publicity's expertise and practices. I've also spoken with them and found them to be knowledgable and extremely helpful.
Indicted Fiction Podcast by Author Alyanna Poe - Yes, Alyanna Poe is a distant relation of Edgar Allan Poe! Poe has been growing her platform and audience incredibly over the last couple of months I've been watching her progress. She offers marketing opportunities on her blog, her social media, and her podcast.
The Horror Business Podcast by Blood Bound Books - S.C. Mendes and Lucy Leitner are a dynamic duo in this podcast focusing on the self-publishing industry. Though some of their content is centered around the horror genre, I've found that many of their topics are relevant to the entire publishing industry and would be helpful for authors in other genres. Plus, I've been very impressed by the caliber of professionals they've invited as guests.
Novel Marketing Podcast by Thomas Umstattd, Jr. - This podcast is the longest-running novel marketing podcast, and the wealth of information they provide is incredible. I highly recommend going through their back library.
As always, if you have any questions about the editing industry and process, I'd be happy to help. I think too many people shy away from speaking to an editor they might not be ready to hire, and I understand these concerns. But I make myself available for questions whether you want to hire me today or a year from now. I feel like it's my job to make sure you're as successful as possible in your publishing career, and if I can't be an active participant in that just yet, I'd love to make sure you have the resources to be able to progress to where we can work together in the future. Be sure to leave a comment on this blog and let me know what you think! Horrorsmith Editing - Horror, dark fantasy, fantasy, and thriller division
Cozy Nook Editing - Romance and cozy mystery division