You didn't ask, no, but I'm going to give you my two marketing cents anyway.
For the past two years, I've been quietly watching the world of self-publishing, trying to figure out if I want to do it myself. I've been reading what writers post on blogs, what writers do to promote themselves, and what kinds of books are being self-published. I created a list of the self-published novels that were getting the most buzz, and I've read a handful of them. While watching, I haven't been able to turn off the "marketer brain" that 15 years of ad agency and marketing work has given me. (And just to underscore the point: if you watched a Jif Peanut Butter commercial in the late 90s, the odds are I worked on it. And if you used an American Express card in the last 10 years, the odds are I might have sent you a piece of direct mail giving you some reason to use it more.)
The bottom line is that I think most self-published writers are not doing themselves any favors in the marketing department. Here's why:
Selling is asking a person to part with their money in exchange for something. A book, a box of detergent, a jar of peanut butter, an all-inclusive vacation. It's all the same. It's parting with money. People usually don't like to part with money, so they have to be convinced (by marketing) to do it.
Marketing used to be mass. It was done mainly with TV commercials, ads in glossy magazines, jingles on the radio, and billboards. For a long time, this is how we found out about things and how we decided to part with our money. The ads had catchy pitches that were repeated SO often that they became an offshoot of our brain wiring that we didn't consciously question. It's how slogans like "Good to the last drop" made us crave Maxwell House, the leading brand of coffee for decades. It didn't matter that it was the TV telling us about Maxwell House. The glitz and polish of the message, the repetition of it, the "sights and sounds" of the dripping coffee, were enough to find it entirely credible.
Now, marketing is based much more on the credibility of the messenger. Social media has largely made it possible for "credible messengers" to have a stage on which to promote their belief in such-and-such product. Techie dads have blogs about gadgets. Moms write reviews about baby products. Writers write book reviews. BUT (are you listening, writers?), writers do not write their OWN book reviews.
I can't tell you how often I see authors floating around the Internet talking about what a great book they just wrote. When it comes to your own book, you are part of the art. You are not a credible marketing messenger. There is no way you could be. You can say your baby is beautiful, but it's your baby. The first thing an observer of your baby will do is turn to the person next to them and ask "Is that the ugliest baby you ever saw, or is it just me?" Yes, authors, you should be out there in social media, sharing your work, doing virtual book tours, readings, interviews, whatever you can do to share your art. But sharing your art is not the same thing as selling your art and you should remember the difference.
Of course, readers like when you share your art. It helps them sample who you are as a writer. But it's a rare reader who's going to be convinced to buy your book - to part with their money - unless they hear from an "other person" - that means someone who is not you - that it's a good read.
There are two types of people you can leverage to be your "other person," two ways an "other person" can be credible. The "other person" is either somebody that the reader personally knows and trusts, or the "other person" is somebody who has the knowledge or experience to make a credible recommendation. For example, I bought a Kodak Zi8 when a techie dad told me on his blog that it was better than the Flip Video. I don't know this techie dad, but I trust that he knows what he's talking about with regard to video gadgets.
Now what about Twitter? Are authors on there sharing their art? No, they are not. They are Tweeting that they just wrote something and you can buy it on Amazon. This is not sharing your art. This is selling. It's a turn off. I've even done it myself with the short stories I had published last year. And guess what? Nobody cared. I probably even turned them off (sorry about that, Followers).
But if an "other person" Tweets that they know of a good book written by someone else, I might pay attention to that. Especially if it doesn't sound like the author asked them to do it. Sincerity just has a ring to it, and you know it when you read it.
So what can you do? You need to rally an army of "other persons." These can come in the form of contest judges, reviewers, blurb-providers, independent readers, magazine editors, other writers. And I'll take a leap and suggest that you need to put the majority of your budget into hiring a good, social media-savvy, book-savvy public relations firm that will be your voice on and offline. No, I can't recommend one. I've never used one so I'm not a credible "other person," but I do know that you need one. If I decide to self-publish The Orphan's Daughter, that's the first place I'm taking my checkbook. I will also have somebody do a Facebook page for the book and write about the author in the third person, not as if I'm writing about myself. I will give free copies of my book to people with tons of followers on Twitter and Facebook. What they say is up to them, and is a risk, but if I've written a good book it's a risk I'll be willing to take.
Once you have them, all the "other persons" need the same song sheet - think of it as your "Good to the last drop" message - but it shouldn't be as canned as a plain, old ad slogan. The PR firm should be able to come up with this or, maybe, YOU. Because, after all, you are a writer. Nobody has to know you wrote your own slogan. As long as you don't pitch your own slogan. The song sheet should hit the high points of why this is a book worth reading. What's in it for the reader? Why should they part with their money?
The most important advice I can give you is that once you have this army of "other persons," then you need to get out of their way and only open your mouth when it is to share your art. Sell? No. Market? No. Share? Yes. Sharing has its own way of moving product, yes, but you have to do it without the readers in the room knowing what you're doing. You want them to want your book before they realize you want their money.
It used to be that the likes of Random House and your literary agent were your "other persons." Just having them on board was worth parting with the huge cut they took out of a book, leaving the author with pennies on the dollar. But you don't have to have them as your "other persons" anymore. You must, however, have "other persons," and very good ones. People who know distribution, reader demographics, and media, especially of the social variety.
Isn't all this abundantly obvious to everyone? I thought that, too. Then I kept seeing writers everywhere telling me where to get their book on Amazon, or to read their latest whatever. And they didn't have many reviews. No blurbs. No reviews. They hadn't won a contest, or even submitted to one. And nobody else was saying much about their book. Just the author. And that, folks, is a turn off.
So, authors, go get your others. Go get them now!
January 09, 2012
|Stingo watching Sophie|
This time last year, I wrote these five points in a blog post. My rules:
Five Writer's Rules for 2011
1 -- Write especially when you don't feel like it.
2 -- Come to the page each time with optimism. Don't get mad at the writing.
3 -- Ignore the destination. Write only for the joy of putting words together.
4 -- Write everyday. Even if it's just a shopping list.
5 -- Celebrate the successes of others.
I wouldn't change them for this year. They're exactly the same. The fourth rule is absolutely the hardest. If I think about only one rule this year, it's that one. I don't know how you do it. You just do it. I didn't do great with #4 in 2011, I'll admit it. I hope 2012 is different.
There have been friends lately who have reminded me why I'm doing what I'm doing, who seem some days more excited about the fact that I am trying my hand - seriously - at writing than I am. Thank you, friends. For the contacts, the web links, the book ideas, the encouragement, the feedback. Even just asking me how it's going. Even sitting with me on a chilly sidewalk last weekend in Shanghai and listening to me try to remember the passage below, how it went, why it is so lovely, such an exquisite string of words, so perfect. You seemed like you genuinely wanted to know about it, and that stayed with me for hours after. You fix this wobbly statue to her pedestal. You are glue. No, you are cement.
Here are the words I was trying so hard to remember, exactly as written:
As she walked slowly up the stairs I took a good look at her body in its clinging silk summer dress. While it was a beautiful body, with all the right prominences, curves, continuities and symmetries, there was something a little strange about it -- nothing visibly missing and not so much deficient as reassembled. And that was precisely it, I could see. The odd quality proclaimed itself through the skin. It possessed the sickish plasticity (at the back of her arms it was especially noticeable) of one who has suffered severe emaciation and whose flesh is even now in the last stages of being restored. Also, I felt that underneath that healthy suntan there lingered the sallowness of a body not wholly rescued from a terrible crisis. But none of these at all diminished a kind of wonderfully negligent sexuality having to do at that moment, at least, with the casual but forthright way her pelvis moved and with her truly sumptuous rear end. Despite past famine, her behind was as perfectly formed as some fantastic prize-winning pear; it vibrated with magical eloquence, and from this angle it so stirred my depths that I mentally pledged to the Presbyterian orphanages of Virginia a quarter of my future earnings as a writer in exchange for that bare ass's brief lodging -- thirty seconds would do -- within the compass of my cupped supplicant palms. Old Stingo, I mused as she climbed upward, there must be some perversity in this dorsal fixation. Then as she reached the top of the stairs she turned, looking down, and smiled the saddest smile imaginable. "I hope I haven't annoyed you with my problems," she said. "I am so sorry." And she moved toward her room and said, "Good night."
~ from Sophie's Choice by William Styron