Market Like a Punk

Attitude for Indie Authors

I grew up listening to punk music. It started with Minor Threat and the other bands on the Dischord Records label which was, and still is, an independent label. And there were a ton of other labels like it across the U.S.

From this independent scene arose a tremendous DIY ethic. Labels would distribute their records through the mail. Live shows were billed with hand-drawn fliers and you had little choice but to get your tickets at the door. Friends made the cover art. Other friends produced the album.

This DIY ethic became so ingrained in the punk and hardcore music culture that when a band signed with a major label they were labeled sellouts and the fans would abandon them.

I bring this up not to spur teen angst against major publishers. I’m not saying they are the bad guy and there is more honor in self-publishing. I bring it up because there is a direct correlation between how hard these bands worked and how much success they had. Dischord’s biggest band, Fugazi, had an album go platinum. Greenday has done okay and they were even able to make the transition to popular music.

I love this aspect of publishing my own books. I can’t complain that some marketing department picked the wrong target. I can’t whine that some big name author got more of a push. I can’t blame anyone but myself if a book doesn’t sell well. It’s just me.

Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I like this. It means that the harder I work, the more rewards I’ll reap.

So, put on your Mohawk, it’s time to be a punk.

Play the right tune. Create a product that resonates with your audience. Musically, early punk was rough and just plain bad. But, it struck a chord with angry teens across the country. Your book has to strike the same. Make sure your book rocks.

Create a scene. These bands didn’t just put up fliers for a show and hope for the best. They rarely put ads in the paper. They relied on local music scenes to spread the word about an upcoming show or new release. You need to create your own scene on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites that will help spread the word about your books.

Create a zine. These ratty little Xeroxed magazines were the only way to know what was going on in the punk/hardcore scene. And they covered a lot of ground. Punk had a look and style all its own. Weird hair, black clothes, art and skateboarding were interwoven into the culture. It wasn’t all about the music. Your blog is your zine. It shouldn’t be all about your book. Your fans like your writing. Chances are they’ll like the other things you like. Keep your content fresh and quit going on and on about yourself.

Release a 7”. This was just a 45rpm single, but we punks had to be different so we called them 7 inches. The bands put these out in between the longer albums. From what everyone seems to be saying, you’re not going to make a fortune in short story fiction. But, it’ll give your fans something to read while you’re working on your next novel. Sell ’em cheap. Give ’em away. When you’ve got several, put them together and offer a collection.

Help the other bands. There wasn’t a lot of room for the rockstar mentality in the punk scene. Whether it was schlepping equipment, lending out your gear or letting a drummer crash on your couch, everyone was willing to help everyone that wasn’t a jerk. Authors helping authors has been a mentality that developed naturally in the ebook world. Let’s encourage it.

And, of course, keep putting out new material. More books mean more stuff for your fans to buy. It’s more things your fans can love you for.

The point is the establishment sucks. They’re not going to help. It’s you against the conformists. Our parents are all sellouts. I hate the suburbs.

Okay, it’s not all that bad. Society’s rules aren’t holding you back. But, there are an awful lot of people out there trying to sell their books. That’s a lot of noise. You’ll just have to play heavier, harder and louder.

The good news is a lot of them don’t seem to be trying too hard. They put their crappy little hand-drawn flier out and are playing to an empty room.

But, you’re a punk. Act like it.

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