Wednesday, March 8, 2017

To Market, To Market...

 When you start to write a book, there’s this notion that you are one with your muse, the words pouring out effortlessly in a flood of awesomeness that will astound the reading public, the critics, and the NY Times Best Seller List.

Which sounds great. Unfortunately, for most of us writing is a lot more complicated than that. And even were it true (I have yet to meet any writers who’ve had this experience) there is still a significant facet of the writer’s life that few authors consider when they start on their writing odyssey.

Marketing.

Ok, yeah, you’ve written a book. And, as books go, it ain’t bad. It’s getting decent reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, maybe it’s placed in a couple of contests, and sales are… well, let’s just say sales could be better. Because unless your name is King or Rowling or Patterson (or perhaps Steel), sales could always be better. And suddenly you realize you need to spend a whole bunch of the time you were going to devote to writing your equally amazing sequel doing marketing and promotion instead.

Some authors take the easy way out of this dilemma and hire a publicist. Which I suppose is dandy if you can afford it. But even so, a publicist can only do so much, as M&P requires an awful lot of boots-on-the-ground work by the author him/herself.

I guess in a way I’m one of the lucky one. My publisher, before they actually offered me a contract, asked for a promotional plan. And lo and behold, I was able to fire this off to them without a lot of fuss, because I’d already put some thought into how I’d go about promoting my debut novel if it ever came to publication. See, something came of all that research along the way. Granted, most of what I thought I knew was wrong, but at least I had given it a bit of consideration.

First off, there’s the actual promotional material needed in an author’s arsenal. Business cards, bookmarks, postcards (for event announcements) and banners are pretty much a must. In my quest to get the word out about Traitor Knight, I’ve also added in logo tote bags, mugs, mouse pads, and t-shirts. Let me tell you, this stuff isn’t cheap. And because I don’t own the rights to the book’s artwork, I can’t sell any of it—I can only give it away. I know I’ll never recoup my expenses in this area, but I just chalk it up to marketing costs, and write it off on my taxes.

Then there’s the dreaded (or thrilling, depending on your viewpoint) bookstore/library reading and discussion. I’ve spent a lot of time contacting libraries and doing presentations at them. Some libraries seem to be a bit chary of these, primarily because they don’t often bring in much of an audience. I mean, how many times can your friends and relations and co-workers come to cheer you on as you read from your book? For a new author starting out, it can be a bit problematic as to whether anyone at all will actually show up for your big night. That’s ok. Be gracious to the librarians who organized the event, and make sure they get a copy or two of your book on the shelves. Even if you have to donate it (library budgets being what they are, many smaller libraries are hard pressed to buy it. I’ve donated quite a few in my travels around upstate NY, just to hopefully garner some additional readers who may stumble across it.

Another avenue is local media outlets. Again, for a newly minted author, unless you’ve got something extraordinary, you may have a hard time cracking this nut. Patience and persistence are key, but don’t be pushy or annoying. You’re courting editors like you’d court a romantic interest, and the same rule applies: no means no. I’ve been lucky--I’ve managed to snag  interviews in both the print media and on TV to talk about my book and the writing process. It’s all a matter of getting out there and selling yourself, because in this case it’s really more about you as an author than it is about your book.

Next up: conventions focused on your genre, and other related events. See what’s around that you can plug into. Volunteer, offer to serve on panel discussions, or to do a presentation on some aspect of expertise that your book has conferred on you. I’ve served as a panelist at our local SFF convention’s writers’ workshops. I’ve been a dealer at various author fairs, SFF conventions, and a Renaissance festival. And I’ve put together countless prize packages for charity events, auctioning off copies of my book and swag, in an effort to get my name out there just a bit more. All this takes time. Lots of time. It takes time to discover events, contact the organizers, make arrangements to attend, and spend the evening or day or weekend necessary to actually participate. But I figure it’s worth it, to be accessible to a relative captive audience. Remember, people who attend conventions are there because they’re interested in the kind of stuff you’re writing. This is your tribe. Smooze, smile, and talke to everyone. And have chocolate on hand. (Note: just purchased 410 pieces of Hershey’s chocolates for the SFF convention I’m attending this weekend. Tax write-off!)

Finally, last but certainly not least, there’s social media. You may not be “social”, but you need to be out there. I maintain a website, two Facebook pages, and a very active Twitter presence—not so much to say “Hey, buy my book,” which just gets annoying and turns people off. Instead, I just try to interact, toss out a few humorous comments, participate in various writing games that show off my work, and every once in a while say “Hey, I’ve written a book you might want to check out.” This can, if I let it, eat up all available time and then some.

I tell people that marketing is my fourth job, after family/home, day-job, and writing. Unfortunately, the only one of these four jobs that brings in any money is the day-job. Yeah, I make a little off my royalties. It doesn’t come anywhere near covering the costs of the promotional materials I buy to give away, or the cost of the events I attend. This coming weekend I’ll attend a SFF convention about two hours away. This means food, travel and lodging for the weekend, in addition to the expense of renting table space, and the added expense of the convention membership for myself and my lovely assistant. It’ll run $400 easily, not including any promo materials (like the aforementioned cards and bookmarks and, in my case, toy dragons that I’ll give away. There’s no way in creation that I’ll ever sell enough copies of my book to make that up. And that’s ok. It’s all part of the game.

But for those authors who just write a book, throw it up on Amazon (hopefully it doesn’t look as though they threw up on Amazon), and figure having built that better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to their door, or at least their website, I say Good Luck. If you don’t have some kind of plan to sell your masterpiece to more than your friends and family, you’re going to be rudely disappointed. If you’re not willing to devote the time and resources necessary to promote that masterpiece, you might as well hang it up, friend. Because you’re going to get quickly lost in the noise that is Amazon, where millions of books are there competing with yours.

So I’m off to spend a few minutes on Twitter putting my words out on #1linewed, and shouting out a friend’s book release, and get prepared for the convention this weekend. Because if I don’t toot my own horn, who will?    

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