When it comes to marketing our books, we can do things for ourselves or we can pay others to do them for us. These are the two 'systems' that support us: one is the 'self-reliant system' and the other the 'organised system'. The first creates self- reliant authors; the latter tends to produce frustration. Society as a whole supports itself by a mixture of the two — the proportions vary.
During the last two hundred years, there has been an enormous shift away from self-reliance and towards organisation. People are now much less self-reliant and more dependent than has ever been seen in history. Though more literate and educated than any prior generation, most people cannot now really do anything for themselves but are utterly dependent on vastly complex systems and infrastructures, on fantastically complicated and interconnected machinery, on larger and larger incomes. A single cyber-attack, a breakdown, a strike, or some other disturbance in the system, would have far-reaching consequences.
A small part of this is what faces us as writers, trying to earn money from our books. Does the system provide all that is needed? Do Amazon, Facebook, Google and all the rest give us what we need? In some cases, yes; in most cases, no. The majority of writers fall through the meshes of the algorithms, despite spending large sums of money; and what then? We become dispirited, even despondent. Many writers give up, introverting and coming to conclude that the reason that they have failed is to do with the quality of their writing.
Why can't they help themselves? Generally, the answer is that they do not know how to; they have never done marketing before and do not even know where to begin.
John Seymour was one of the great pioneers of self-sufficiency, a movement which began in the late twentieth century and gained popularity in some communities. There was a game being played by some people: try to achieve total self-sufficiency in food and energy; go 'off grid' in other words. The same principles can be applied to marketing fiction. Instead of depending on elaborate and ever-more-distant and inhumane systems to provide the readers you require, adopt the methods that bring you what you need.
Should you try to grow all the food your family requires? If you tried to do so, you probably could do little else. And what about all the other things you need? Growing some things by yourself, for yourself, can be fun, and quite liberating, but it’s probably not possible to achieve total self-sufficiency in food and energy, certainly not quickly or easily. You can get closer to the actual processes of creation and thereby re-invigorate an inborn creativity, but it may take a while before you are totally 'off-grid'.
Should you try to acquire all the readers your novel requires? Will you be able to do so in such a way that enables you to do anything else? What about just writing?
Getting readers for yourself can also be fun, as well as liberating — and with the advent of the internet, it’s probably more possible to achieve the kinds of numbers you need to achieve sustainability within a reasonable time period. But you’ll need to wean yourself from certain expectations — this will take time. And you’ll need to cease worshipping the gods of Amazon, Facebook and all the rest: they require sacrifices that not many have the resources to continue to make, and they rarely grant your prayers.
Instead, become self-reliant, adopt a counter-marketing-culture stance, and get ready to grow…