Hey, everyone, I know I’ve been a bit quiet as of late, the last weeks of the semester always bog me down. Only a few weeks, and I’ll be back blogging and tweeting at my normal schedule. In the mean time, I’d like to introduce Laura E. Bradford, a member of my virtual writing group, and independent author of Flyday.

I wrote a guest post over at S.M. Boyce’s blog a few days ago, titled “What New Indies Should Know,” so check it out. And go read her new book The Grimoire: Lichgates if you like paranormal fiction.

Most of us are not new at this–we’ve been writing and publishing for quite awhile. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of industry and author blogs about marketing. With a new book coming out soon, I’ve taken quite an interest in the subject. I already have a list of some of the blogs I want to guest on during my tour. I’ve visualized what the cover will look like, and how I’ll run my contests. Wrote, rewrote and tweaked a back-cover summary. I really want to make this book the best it can be, and I want it to be successful.

But this is publishing, and there are no guarantees. Basically, selling a book comes down to this:

1. Finishing a book.
2. Initial marketing push to make people aware of the book.
3. Word of mouth to keep it selling.

But that’s about as useful as telling an astronaut, “Basically, to travel to the moon, you need to fill a ship with rocket fuel and take off.” You’re missing a lot of integral pieces there.

How do you “make people aware of a book”? Do you need a social media profile? Do you need a PR company and the backing of a NY publisher? What about advertising, branding, networking? How often do you blog? How often do you tweet?

The short answer is: it doesn’t matter.

The idea of “branding” and “platform” is like a balloon: shiny and attention-getting, but full of hot air. I think all this is going around because indie ebook publishing is popular, and no one remembers that we are just selling books here and the act of book-selling has been going on for quite some time. Take a step back for a minute. What are you selling?

You don’t want people to buy you, as a social media concept. You want them to buy your books.

But what creates massive bestsellers like the Harry Potter series, Twilight, and The Hunger Games? There are a few common themes. These particular books can be enjoyed by both teens and adults. That’s a wide viewing audience. They’re written to be “sticky”–once readers open the book, they can’t put it down. And, of course, each book is in a series, and every new release has a swarm of marketing and buzz. (Add in movies, and sales go through the roof.)

One common theme, of course, is controversy. With Harry Potter, many people considered it taboo because it contained spells and witchcraft. Twilight drew criticism for its portrayal of relationships. And before I even read The Hunger Games series, everyone I knew was talking about how violent it was (a violent book being marketed to teens! Clutch your pearls!). Remember how The Da Vinci Code offended Christians? If one thing’s for certain: if some group tells you not to read a book, you’ll want to pick it up.

These books pushed the envelope. They were different. People talked about them, discussed them. Are you following any of the authors of those books on Twitter? Probably not.

There’s no map for social media marketing, no blueprints to follow. Just write a great book, and go out and tell people about it. If you don’t sell enough, write another book, and repeat. But the important thing is to focus on the book.

– If your book is not selling, don’t just tweet more. Write another book.
– If that book doesn’t sell, ask your followers to look at your first 2 pages, your cover, and your summary again. Do they draw readers in? Is your cover eye-catching? Does your summary make sense and provide an accurate, exciting description of your book?

Some authors have put multiple variations of a book cover on their blog, and asked readers to vote on the best one. Others rework their summaries until they’re perfect. And it goes without saying that the first page is the most important page of your book–if you’ve got a reader on it, you need them to stay. Make your product the best it can be. Why spend 1,000 hours tweeting if the essentials aren’t there?

You can follow Laura at her blog or on Twitter.