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  • Writer's pictureBrantwijn Serrah

Keeping Up With The Big Boys

If you haven't heard of the "Big Five", then surprise... yes, you have. They're the top industry book publishers, and producers of what I can safely assume is over half the books you've consumed in your life. Penguin/Random House, Simon and Schuster, Hachette, Harper Collins, and MacMillan: if one of these names isn't listed on the spine of your books, chances are the publisher that is listed belongs to one of them.

Logos from large book publishing houses

These five houses have more monetary resources at their beck and call that most of us will see in our lifetimes. "Indie" books, on the other hand, make it to bookshelves either through small-press publishers with far fewer industry resources, reach, and budget, or through self-published authors, perhaps the least well-funded of the bunch. Every now and then an indie author hits the jackpot, getting "discovered" just the way a doe-eyed Hollywood starlet dreams of, but success is usually a more complicated—and costly—journey.

an advertisement for an author collaboration
Rogue Skies hit the USA Today Bestseller's List in 2018

This is why I staunchly defend groups of authors who band together in anthologies or box sets with the intentions of gaining better exposure, up to and including landing their set on a bestseller's list. There are many in the indie circles who think these projects are shady or intend to game the system, but in truth, they are simply grassroots efforts to fund something all major book releases need: marketing.

And, more importantly, marketing that can compete with the big boys.

Authors participating in these anthologies pool funds to budget cover art and promotional costs of marketing their book—just like the big houses do. Many estimates online suggest a book marketing budget between $1,500 and $5,000 for an indie title... and that's not even taking a bestseller's goal into consideration.

Because what people forget about Bestseller's lists is that they're not Reader's Choice awards. They're not tools for recommending or analyzing the quality of a story. They exist to rate and increase the exposure of the book's marketing. They are Bestseller's lists. And in order to sell, you must be seen. You must sell yourself. You must market.

Authors attend several live events to market their books
Authors attend several live events to market their books

Going back to that $1,500 to $5,000 figure recommended for marketing. It should come as no surprise that most self-published authors don't have that kind of budget lying around for one book, let alone a series or more. So combining marketing efforts is one way to find good exposure and make the most of pre-orders and promotion. Some box sets bring together smaller budgets for the goal of simple better visibility, reach, and sales. Some aim high to hit a bestseller list for maximum exposure. In both cases, the marketing strategies involved are exactly the same as those pursued by the Big Five: promotional press, advertisements, giveaways, bonus materials, and word-of-mouth. Only the Big Five can afford to throw down that $1,500 to $5,000 budget on the book easily—in 2022, Penguin/Random House spent over $8.76 million on digital advertising alone.


I could go on and on about the effort and challenges authors go through as part of a list-aiming box set, but I'll leave it at this: no one blinks an eye when a major industry publisher spends the same on the same marketing tactics, and the Big Five have whole professional departments dedicated to it. Grassroots organizing among indie authors is David to the corporate Goliath.

But my more important point is this: anthology groups have to organize and work together in a group of twenty or more to compete with those goliaths. Spare a thought for the author funding their own promotion alone, without the benefits of marketing departments or fellow investors or the luck of a dream Hollywood discovery.

This is why indie authors truly rely on readers. This is probably the most important point, and if you take anything away from reading this blog, I hope it is this one. If you enjoy indie books, and you want your favorite indie authors to write more of them, you are their biggest and best hope.

This is why you absolutely should pay for a copy of their new releases, and if you're lucky enough to score a beta or Advance Reader Copy, consider buying the book at release time anyway, to show your support. I'm not even going to open the can of worms that is book piracy; Don't do it. Just don't.

Of course, even with our best intentions to back an author, sometimes monetary investment just isn't possible. I've been in situations before where I couldn't even pony up enough for a $.99 pre-order, so I get it. There are still lots of other ways to support an indie, even if you literally don't have a dime to spend on books.

Readers help authors immensely by sharing!
Readers help authors immensely by sharing!

The first and best way is to simply talk about the author and their books. Tell your reader friends and give them recommendations. It's the easiest thing in the world... and you can't imagine how happy it makes us! Someone recently told me they'd discovered my Dark Roads series on a friend's recommendation. It made my whole day! Please, if you read any indie books, tell other readers about them.


Other simple and free methods of supporting indie authors include joining their reader groups and street teams to help spread news about their upcoming works, titles on their backlists, promotions, and news. Sometimes authors offer special bonuses or giveaways to their street teams, so you could find yourself getting a few extra rewards just for—you guessed it—talking up your favorite indies!

Share authors on social media and leave your honest reviews on their books at Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever sales platform they're using, especially if the book listing needs some extra love. Help them be seen by other readers, book clubs, librarians, and reviewers. When we can't swing the thousand dollar price tag of marketing on our own, every repost, retweet, like, share, and shout-out means the world to us.

So help out an indie author today! It really is easy, and it helps us keep working on your favorite new reads.

 

Here's your chance to help out an indie author!

Brides of Carpathia are free all weekend on Amazon.

Pick up a copy, then share the news!

Let your friends know now's the time to snatch these titles up!


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