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I get confused with this whole indie-publishing thing in terms of the advice I keep hearing from experts. On one hand, people say that no matter how great your book is, no one is going to read it or even know it exists if you don’t market it. On the other hand, I sometimes come across bloggers who brag about how a book they put up anonymously on Amazon got thousands of sales without them doing any marketing for it whatsoever. Okay, how did that happen? And then there are some popular authors who say that marketing isn’t necessary; all you have to do is keep writing and producing great books and that’s how you’ll be successful. But how will people see these great books in the first place if you don’t market them?

I can understand why people say that no one will see your book no matter how awesome it is if you don’t promote it and get reviews for it: Because books are displayed on Amazon pages according to their popularity and sales ranking. Therefore, when you first publish a book and it doesn’t yet have sales or reviews, it gets dumped right at the very end where people will have to click through hundreds of pages in order to get to even see it. And Amazon deliberately makes it difficult for people to navigate the pages and see other books. They provide only one button that clicks to the next page. They don’t provide any options for page skipping or page number selection. I think they do this on purpose to force authors to pay for ads.

But then how do you explain the cases where books sell lots of copies despite being published without any marketing or promotion? How did people see them in the first place? Was it because of just sheer lottery luck where some person happened to persistently navigate through hundreds of pages right down to the dump region and just happened to see the book, and the person happened to have tons of friends/followers they wanted to share the book with? Is that what happens in cases like that?

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Are they truly not marketed? They in fact are often marketed, though not in the conventional way!

There are lots of sites out there that are used to advertise e-books on various e-book marketers, often by placing free chapters or short stories there. If a person likes the style, these reading samples often contain a link to the full book on Amazon in the back. Others publish short teaser novels with samples of how it goes on, which again, contain a link to the next full book on Amazon, though that you got to pay for. Prolific Works is such a site, distributing loads off samples and enrolling the people into mailing lists to advertise the books for very little marketing effort.

Then there is the Amazon engine - if you read one book's synopsis, it seeks through its tag-and-content-cloud, offering you similar books as people who looked at this also looked at. These suggestions can drive a lot of sales, as they are easy to just add to the shopping cart. If your book is similar to a lot of other well-selling books, then your work is shown often, driving sales.

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People who call themselves experts aren't usually experts.

Those bloggers bragging about how they just put a book on Amazon and it sells like gangbusters? They're leaving out part of the process. Maybe that "anonymous" name they're using is the same as one from an author that sold very well (could be their own book, or not). Maybe the book got found by someone who promoted it for them (and they're not counting that as marketing cause they didn't pay for it or do it themselves). Maybe it's blind luck.

Or maybe they're just lying to get you to buy a book or hire them with the promise that you can do this yourself.

I know people who have self-published on Amazon. If they sell a couple dozen copies, they do happy dances. Thousands of paid sales (vs free downloads) is a pipe dream. Of course it happens, but only rarely to unknown authors without an internet following (like Andy Weir).

Because the majority of Amazon offerings are from unknown self-published authors, once you do get a few sales, you're further ahead. Also, Amazon tends to have fairly specific categories. A friend of mine once was 85th in her category (a category I'd never even heard of) after selling about a dozen copies.

Sometimes though, people get lucky. Then they roll with it. It's rare and not something you can ever count on.

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Just because you don’t see the marketing doesn’t mean the marketing is not there.

Those bloggers usually have other means to market their book.

Take the case of the “The subtle art of not giving a fuck”. Self published and top seller. You may wonder how that came to be...

Well it wasn’t Mark’s first book. Previous one was published and sold only on his website. Even that one was published only after having written on his blog for a long time. I followed Mark Manson blog for about ten years. I saw it grow from a thousand or so readers to over several hundred thousands. More so, those readers knew his style, the way he wrote, commented on the articles and share his posts on Facebook or twitter (myself included).

When he published his book he was also doing writing for some prestigious magazines and blogs. By the time he published his book... do you really think he needed traditional marketing?

Of course not, he had something a lot better than a marketing agency. He had followers. Better yet, he had a critical mass of followers that would transmit the book and give positive reviews and share it on social media.

You say marketing and you think on traditional marketing but that’s no longer the big selling check that you needed to check, social media, viral campaigns, followers and influencers... sadly or not, that’s what marketing is about nowadays. So no, there’s a lot of marketing behind those self published books, just not of the traditional kind.

Final note, obviously this only works because the book and all his previous writing is really good, bad products don’t sell, not over this kind of marketing.

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One thing to be aware of is that some authors "game" the Amazon system. That is, they'll "buy" reads and reviews, through online services that use automation to "read" books through Kindle Unlimited (the author gets paid by the page read, and "reads" are counted the same way), and make reviews from those same KU accounts.

This form of fraud is seldom punished by Amazon, and leads to books riding up the sales ranks, which gets them listed higher in a reader's recommendations and therefore gets more legitimate sales. Never mind that it's probably a crime, only Amazon could pursue those who play the game this way.

Cheating the system in this way can lead to a book from a previously unknown author getting into the Amazon Top 100 before any actual readers have had a chance to read it -- and being in the Top 100 will in itself often guarantee high sales. If the underying book is even halfway decent, very few of those buyers will return the book for a refund, with the result that the author has, in effect, bought themselves a bunch of money by using unorthodox (and possibly illegal) "marketing" methods.

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