Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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December 8, 2023

Marketing, How Do I Hate Thee? Let Me Count the Ways!

By Piper Bayard of Bayard & Holmes

I’ll say it straight up. Marketing is the bane of my writing existence. I can draft a book, withstand ruthless editing, rewrite the book half a dozen times or more, format it, create a cover for it, etc., but, dear God, don’t ask me to sell it!

I did all of the things I was supposed to do. I posted blogs and articles. I built respectable platforms on Twitter (now X) and Facebook. I networked with everyone from readers to mega-authors. I started a newsletter. I taught at conferences. I ran ad campaigns. What I learned from all of it is that I need professional help. Today, I’m sharing some mistakes and challenges I’ve encountered in the ruthless marketing arena.

1. Platforms Can Disappear in a Blink

Tech platforms that we build for years can get torpedoed into oblivion overnight through no fault of our own. I’ll give you my own cautionary tale as an illustration.

For years, my espionage fiction and nonfiction partner Jay Holmes and I supplied articles twice a week for a company called Social In, in addition to posting three times a week at our own site. Social In had over 60 websites with corresponding Twitter accounts.

The Twitter accounts consisted of ads to provide people with information on articles at the sites and on social events in their city, and each website was tailored to a different city. The ads were programmed to tweet out at various times throughout the day, and the followers signed up specifically for those event ads and contributed articles. Through Social In, Holmes and I reached over six million people. . . You read that right. Six million.

In 2018, a mere two weeks before our first nonfiction release, Spycraft: Essentials, Twitter changed its rules--no more identical tweets. With over 60 sites, it would have been too labor-intensive to keep Social In alive by hand. The business crashed, and our six-million-reach platform disappeared. Seven years of investment gone overnight, and us left high and dry.

We learned the hard way that six thousand loyal readers in a newsletter we control would have been better than six million followers at the mercy of Big Tech.

2. The Spawn of Satan -- Social Media Algorithms

Believe it or not, there was a time when all of our “friends” on our platforms saw our posts in their feed. With the rise of that Spawn of Satan known as Social Media Algorithms, we have all been squeezed into little echo chambers online. This means that only a handful of people see our posts, and unless those posts garnish great admiration through likes and replies, they remain in obscurity.

Compound that with Big Tech curating what gets seen and what does not, and it makes for precarious marketing platforms. As a result, it is now possible to have thousands of followers with a reach of only a few dozen. It doesn’t mean social media is a complete waste of time for building an audience, but it does mean our audience is severely limited.

3. The Propaganda Cold War

Increasingly, “social media” has become a battleground for foreign and domestic powers to control what the Romans referred to as “the mob.” The Chinese, the Russians, the Iranians, domestic political parties, etc., closely monitor social media feeds and use the platforms to incite violence, chaos, and confusion in the world. They do this with trolling, and as anyone who is on social media can attest, there is always a swarm of poorly informed people with strong opinions who are happy to pile on.

As a result, the consequences of one wrong word, one misinterpretation, one unpopular opinion, etc., have become catastrophic to careers. While it is intellectually fascinating for me to watch, as I have been a student of propaganda for decades, this deluge of social media incitement has put a damper on civil discourse and driven many readers from the arena, making them harder for authors to reach.

4. Ideological Dominance

One more marketing challenge that we face as writers is the elimination of diversity of thought in the traditional publishing world. At this point in time in the publishing world, the current dominant social ideology has pre-empted all else in New York publishing. This is not the first time this has happened. When any single ideology, regardless of what it is, so completely dominates the publishing world, it poses a challenge to the substantial number of authors who have diverse voices. Those authors cannot get contracts with the Big Five, and, therefore, cannot benefit from the Big Five ready-made route to market through established media support, social platforms, and audiences.

Those who do not fit into the narrow conscripts of the prevailing ideology must go with smaller publishing houses, which have fewer marketing resources, or enter the world of indie publishing and depend on their own marketing efforts or the efforts of those they hire. Their customers don’t exist in a convenient block in one place, waiting for material. Those alternative voices must find their own ways to seek out readers and corral them together into the virtual store fronts of their websites and newsletters to build marketing blocks of their own.

I’m not saying there are no advantages to publishing with smaller houses or indie publishing. There are excellent small publishing houses which offer benefits that can outweigh the Big Five, and certainly the independence and flexibility of indie publishing cannot be overvalued. I’m only pointing out that marketing is much more of a challenge for those publishers and  indie authors.

5. Satan’s Other Spawn -- Amazon Algorithms

When a book is loaded into Amazon, key words and categories instruct the program where to place the book so that it appears in searches of similar books. Sounds simple, right? Sure it is, when it works. However, it often doesn’t work, and books get buried in unlikely places.

Again, I will offer my own example. We released The Leopard of Cairo in April of 2022. Key words and categories all involved such fun things as espionage, thrillers, adventure, etc. Somehow, the book quickly disappeared from visibility to be pigeonholed with travel books to Egypt and Africa, and it sits there to this day. The Panther of Baracoa came out one week later with similar key words and categories, and as of this article, it is listed with The Pink Panther videos.

I suppose this is an upgrade, because for over a year The Panther of Baracoa was categorized with panther plushie toys. I kid thee not. When I contacted Amazon for help, they told me to update my key words and categories, but other than that, they could do nothing.

Similar things have happened with the books of a few other authors I know, and none of us knows why. Speculation ranges from computer glitches, to advertisements gone awry, to straight up shadow banning. Regardless of the reason why, misbehaving Amazon algorithms can take a book down faster than fire took down the Hindenburg.

6. Shifting Sands of Success

Successful book marketing is a chaotic target. It is not a math problem which, once solved, will always have the same answer. That means that what works today will at least need tweaking or will not work at all in a few months. For those of us who are not marketing marksmen, constantly having to re-focus on the target is a huge time suck that can torch the joy of writing, stoke depression, and prove prohibitive to actually getting words on the page.

7. Shifting Sands of Technology

Which brings us to the other huge marketing time suck, technology. My husband is a computer hardware architect, and I’m always asking him why he and his peers can’t just make something that works and leave it alone. He blames the software guys, but the blaming does nothing to solve the problem.

Using the technology of word processors, book formatting programs, websites, all of the various social platforms, etc., isn’t something we only learn once. It’s something we have to continually figure out and keep up with as Big Tech does what it does best--make largely arbitrary changes to keep themselves in business. And then there are all of the glitches, outages, hackers, and computer failures that add to that equation. As a result, the infrastructure that our book marketing efforts rest upon is at best an occasional drain of time and energy and at worst entire days spent down technological rabbit holes just to keep things running.

So for all these reasons and more, I’m done with leading my own marketing department. Life is just too short. I’m going with the pros, and, as I’ve told them, I will be putty in their hands--as biddable as a duckling looking to imprint on its mother. May I never fight these obstacles on my own again.

Do you do your own book marketing? What pitfalls have you found? What works well for you this week? Do you hire professionals to help you?

About Piper

Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes of Bayard & Holmes are the authors of espionage tomes and international spy thrillers. Their fiction and nonfiction books are available at their site, BayardandHolmes.com. You can contact Bayard & Holmes at their Contact page, on Twitter (now X) at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or at their email, BayardandHolmes@protonmail.com.


To celebrate the holidays, all digital copies of Bayard & Holmes books are on sale for $3.99 until December 25. As an added bonus, on December 21, a random newsletter subscriber will win one CIA mug and one tin of CIA brand cocoa straight from headquarters in Langley. Sign up at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing to be eligible for the giveaway and to receive notices of upcoming releases.

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19 comments on “Marketing, How Do I Hate Thee? Let Me Count the Ways!”

  1. Thank you, Piper, for a great read. I appreciate your candid and ironically entertaining analysis of what is, without question, the greatest bane of the Indie Author's lot. While hiring marketing professionals is currently beyond my budget, after reading your enlightened missive, I no longer feel quite so alone in my despair. Thanks for making me smile. Onward and upward!

    1. Alone in your despair? Definitely not! Despair has been my frequent companion in this journey. It steals my covers at 4 a.m. and leaves me awake, brooding through the cold night. It is the voice that whispers in my ear, "Give up. Go sit on the couch and eat potato chips until you pass out." It tries to tell me my family is right to ask when I'm going to get a "real" job. No, Mazzy. You are not alone!

      Thank you for your comment and letting me know that I'M not alone. 🙂

  2. I just signed up for your newsletter. Your books sound fascinating. I'll be buying a couple for me and as gifts.
    I also want to follow your progress with professional marketers. I'm struggling with that myself

  3. Oh, Piper! I read your title and laughed in agreement. I am right there with you. Marketing is crazy making.

    My hubby is a retired computer software architect who helps me out as much as possible, but everything is in a constant state of change.

    I am shocked with what Amazon did to you book placement. Ridiculous. Your books are great exciting fun to read.

    1. Amazon! I didn't even mention the part where they completely re-formatted the print version The Panther of Baracoa about two weeks after it came out. Could almost make me feel like we have a publishing target on our backs.

      Your hubby's a software architect? Have you watched Silicon Valley? It's hysterical to me, but it gives hubby hives. At one point he was telling me something about his work, and a light went on for me. "So you're selling 'The Box'?" He confirmed.

      Thank you so much! I'm so glad you like our books! You rock!

  4. I only wish I could afford to employ someone to do marketing for me. I'm hopeless at it and although I do everything I should,it doesn't work.
    I spend more time trying to do all the things I should than writing. I'm a WRITER, for goodness sake, not a marketer. No answer to that problem.

    1. Hi V.M.

      I too have struggled with the time crunch of writing versus the necessary drudgery of feeding the social media beast.

      It's not terrible to set limits and go slow with building social media. It has been my approach, and it is picking up after several long years of trying new, shiny things, and sticking to the few that I felt the strongest presence in.

      Never feel badly about putting your writing first. It would be a much bigger problem if you had a strong following and nothing to give to your readers!


  5. Hi Piper,
    Your candid post is refreshing, and it resonates with me as well. You make a good point about keeping and maintaining an email list. At least that is something you can have more control over.

    Thanks for your post!

    1. Thank you, Kris! I know I can still lose the email list through glitches and unilateral changes in tech that are beyond my control, but it comes a lot closer to control that social media platforms. All the best to you.

  6. THIS! All of this! Such fantastic information. I try to teach people the value of a newsletter - that you own - over and over. There's just no replacement for it. I do a lot of book marketing and teach others how to do it. Either I or my students have experienced all of these pain points. For me, there's nothing better than an author genuinely connecting with fans... however they do that most naturally. And if they can do it in a way that is fun, a way that they will be able to keep up with... that's where the power is. Readers know when you are having fun, and they want to be where people are having fun.

    1. That's one reason I'm hiring the pros. When I have to spend all my time beating my head against the marketing with not much to show for it, it's hard to keep up the passion. I don't want marketing to completely suck the fun out of writing.

  7. Go to the pros is also filled with pitfalls. On more than one occasion, I have paid for professional services (marketing, website set up, publishing your book, making a trailer) and encountered a change in staff. Incompetence is the result. Once your money is gone, you are at the mercy of the business. If you are out of the U.S., using the legal alternative is prohibitively expensive. While I have found honest professional businesses, I've found dozens of others that make your blood boil.

    1. I've had that experience, too. I hired some folks to do a small ad campaign for me, and all I did was waste my money. Fortunately, the people I'm working with now are highly recommended.

  8. Piper,
    Thank you for your post and putting to words what so many authors feel- me definitely included. I'm terrible at marketing and therefore don't spend enough time on it, even though I know it's important. Maybe someday I'll hire someone to do it for me. In the meantime, I'll use my time on finshing my next book.

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