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Opinion: The Missing Piece In Self-Published Literary Fiction: Unapologetic Marketing

Opinion: The Missing Piece in Self-Published Literary Fiction: Unapologetic Marketing

Jay Lemming headshot

Jay Lemming shares his strategy for marketing self-published literary fiction

Marketing is one of the biggest challenges facing self-publishing authors of literary fiction. Jay Lemming provides some strategies that have worked for him, as an indie author of literary fiction, and encourages other literary authors to follow suit. 



The nature of the genre is difficult to define, a topic Ann Richards explored on this blog last year. Another challenge is that the literary community leans toward traditionally published works. In “Is Self-Publishing a Viable Option for Literary Fiction?”, literary agents Vicky Bijur and Ayesha Pandea point out that readers are attracted to award-winning books reviewed in already-respected media outlets.

But all is not lost. Assertive marketing may run counter to the thoughtful, deliberate nature of the literary community, but it has the potential to increase the share of literary works in the self-publishing market.

I have used the following strategies to build a reading list of more than 1,100 in 9 months.

Theme, not Term

First, I often avoid the term “literary fiction”. One selling challenge is the genre’s perception of pretentiousness. When I host giveaways, I focus on theme. I have sought works from any genre that took place in different countries. Another cross-genre giveaway ran under the theme of death and evil. My Great Themes giveaway exposes me as a literary author, but it still featured other genres (a romance author contributed her book under the theme “lust”.) Each giveaway earned at least 50 new readers.

graphic from the giveaway

Jay Lemming's Great Themes Giveaway

Focus on Customer Service

I am also always in customer service mode:

  • My readers receive, without fail, a newsletter every Wednesday with giveaways, promotions, book reviews and blog posts.
  • I respond to reader questions and complaints immediately.

James Campbell writes in the “Beginner’s Guide to Marketing Indie Literary Fiction” that literary authors must market their personal brand. We have all encountered fickle, self-serving personalities. We can influence behavior, regardless of what we write, by touching on the need for professionalism and reliability.

It has nothing to do with writing, but it is important.

Listen to Your Readers

Because literary fiction can be a more challenging sell than other genre fiction, listening is crucial. Shoving books at your readers you think are great (especially non-traditional literary works) without soliciting feedback can earn unsubscribes at exodus levels.

I recommend lots of surveys with reader feedback treated like gold. Every new subscriber to my list receives a single-question survey that asks about their reading interests. Some readers tell me they care less about a particular genre than they do about a compelling story. This should give heart to literary authors. I share the survey results (anonymously) in my newsletter, so my readers know I’m listening.

Don't Be a Distraction

Finally, I think we literary authors can be our own worst enemy. It can be in our nature (eh-hem, in my nature) to opine about the genre. If not managed, this can distract from a required focus on sales.

Is the lower rank of self-published literary fiction on the Kindle Top 100 Paid list (as demonstrated monthly by John Doppler’s chart, shared exclusively each month with ALLi members) a byproduct of low reader interest, or a reluctance for competitive marketing?

It may be worth worrying less about what we write, and more about whether we are truly down in the trenches marketing with other self-publishing authors.

Last Word About Literary Authors

Literary authors have a special love of the genre. It is a unique genre defined by an author’s treatment of a subject rather than the subject itself. My modest proposal that we occasionally avoid the term “literary fiction” may sound like blasphemy. And yes, we must understand keywords, metadata, effective copywriting and categories for retailers such as Amazon.

But I also emphatically suggest that hijacking promotional mechanisms that serve a variety of genres, such as Instafreebie, increases exposure. That, and first-rate customer service, brings the fight to the Kindle Top 100 Sales.

My readers have spoken. Story is what’s important. But we must do what we can to share them.

OVER TO YOU If you're a literary fiction author, to what extent does Jay's counsel chime with your marketing strategy? Do you have an alternative plan that works for you? Please join the conversation with a comment!

Why indie #authors of #litfic should adopt the same marketing techniques as genre writers - by @Jay_Lemming Click To Tweet



Author: Jay Lemming

Jay Lemming is a marketing professional in the Washington, DC region by day and an indie author by night and early morning. He is a single father day AND night. A former English professor in training, he chose to leave the academic setting for the professional world but still carries a profound love of literature and literary writing. He is the author of Billy Maddox Takes His Shot, a literary novel, a collection of several short stories and the upcoming novel, Green Bay Outsiders. In late 2016, he hosted interviews with 17 authors (many of whom are ALLi members) who detailed their thoughts and opinions about literary fiction. You can read those interviews here.


This Post Has 4 Comments
    1. Kari, I hope you found the ideas helpful. Would love to hear more about your own marketing strategies for literary fiction if it’s a priority for you and your writing. Regards, Jay

  1. Agreed. Literary fiction is a tough genre to market. I’ve been fortunate to find enough readers who say they don’t really care about genre…that all they’d like is a good story. Presumably that also means “well-written fiction”. There’s hope for all of us. Jay

  2. I agree with you: leave ‘literary fiction’ off at least part of your marketing, because much of what is labeled such is really mainstream fiction, and what we’re trying to say is ‘well-written fiction,’ which unfortunately sounds like the tooting of our own horns.

    And ‘well-written fiction’ that is not in a recognized genre!

    It used to be called, on the cover, ‘a novel.’

    You write what you love to write, which is some combination of everything you’ve ever read and loved, and sometimes it falls in a recognized genre (your mysteries have angels and demons in them), and sometimes it is not-genre.

    We shouldn’t leave ‘not-genre’ to the traditional publishers.

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