A friend of mine asked me to write about this topic and I’m running late on fulfilling that promise, but it happens to be a topic much on my mind: marketing for writers/of books.
When you are a starry-eyed as-yet-unpublished writer you may (and most of us do) believe that all there is to being a successful writer is writing a good book and getting it published. Alas, no. There is so much more to the equation than that and most of it is time-consuming, costly, annoying, boring, crazy-making, and utterly necessary. If you are a self- or small-press author it will be even worse, but at least you probably already know you’ll have to manage most, if not all, of your marketing, publicity, promotion, and travel yourself.
Here’s the thing: even MegaPublisher will devote only limited funds, time, and effort to your marketing, promo, and publicity. Especially with the current economic issues, there’s less money, workers, and time for the publisher to spend for each book, so they’ll do their pre-packaged best based on your initial advance and then on the growth rate of your “brand” afterward. The rest is up to you and chances are good you know nothing about how to do it. Some of it you can’t even do if you want to. As an author, you will generally have no access to the buyers who make purchasing decisions for the major chains, nor to their equivalents in smaller stores, online markets, and “rack jobbers”–the companies that stock the book and magazine racks in grocery, drug, convenience, and “big box” stores like Target. Unless you just get lucky and meet one of these guys at a convention, you really can’t reach them because they don’t want to be bugged by every author in the world–they have a job to do. These people will be contacted by your publisher while you cross your fingers and hope nothing makes them hate you and your book. If you are your own publisher or if you are with a very small, independent press, they may not have those contacts and the weight of the impossible now falls back onto you.*
OK, so now you think I’m a bitch, but this is the economic fact of all freelance writing: it pays lousy, the writer must be involved in the marketing and promotion of their book, and everything that can or does go bad effects the author worse than anyone else in the chain. Not emotionally–you already know that–but financially.
Here’s the other thing that’s going to make you hate me: even if you spend money on publicity and promotion, travel and swag, it may make no difference. The first thing that has to be accomplished in selling your book is marketing it.
Marketing is not just selling or distributing the book, though in the big publishing houses it’s closely related and usually done by the same department. The real thrust of marketing is to create awareness of the product in the broadest possible market(s), and even to create markets to begin with. Marketing is not the same as Publicity or Promotion. Marketing is the action that reaches out to define markets and then to those markets and segments of same to say “Hey, here’s something really nifty for you (and your customers) that you really want and here’s why: [insert why]”
As a writer, you must be marketed by your publisher, market yourself, or hire someone to market you, unless you happen to be a pretty good marketer on your own. Or a really amazing self-promoter like JA Konrath (and let’s be honest, here, how many people are really as good at that as Joe?) If you really are that good, that’s cool and you’re going to go far, but most of us aren’t like that. For the rest of us, the key is a combination of marketing ourselves, working with our publishers, and possibly hiring someone to do some of the marketing for us.
Publicity and promotion really can’t work without marketing. You have to have all three in place and without marketing, there’s nothing for publicity to talk about or for promotion to push. First comes marketing, then all the rest can grow from that.
Marketing isn’t the same as advertising. Advertising is a tool of marketing. But successful marketing also needs to create a package or “brand” as well as identifying and reaching out to appropriate groups and then making them want the product. It’s the hardest and most important thing you’ll do as an author after writing the book, itself.
Personally, I’m a lousy marketer and self-promoter–I’d rather spend my time doing research on or writing the next book–which is why I’m currently looking into hiring someone to do it for me. I am good at writing, but I don’t really know much about how to package myself and my books as a product or “brand” that people want to buy. In spite having a bestselling series, one anthology that hit the bottom of the NYT list, and being a full-time author for four years now and a part-time pro for three years before that, I still have a small reader base and poor name recognition. The current economic situation and decisions made by my publisher haven’t helped increase my readership–they’ve made it shrink. And these are things over which I have no control.
What I can control is what I do about it.
I’ve tried hiring a publicist, but without a recognizable product or name to publicize, his work has gone pretty slowly. I’ve tried to promote myself, but I don’t have enough energy to do it 24/7–which is about what a writer with so little name recognition needs. And I’m no Joe Konrath. Luckily, with the Internet, it’s easier to reach out to a larger audience than ever, but first you have to stand out from the other millions of things vying for their attention online, let them know you exist, who you are, and that your book might interest them. Big job….
So, if you’re a newly published, about-to-be published, or even an established-but-poorly-known author, you’re going to need to think about marketing as well as self-promotion. If you can, get to know the marketing folks at your publisher and ask what you can do to help or what they plan to do that you can support or add to. You can also hire an independent marketing firm to add to that work. If you’re a self-published writer hiring an independent marketer or firm to help you create a marketing plan is pretty close to a necessity. Especially now that there are more and easier opportunities online for anyone who wants to to publish their story, you need to have a marketing plan and edge in order to reach the readers you need to buy your book and make you a success. You can’t rely on a great book alone. You have to get some recognition and desire for your book growing in the potential buyers’ minds.
Even if you have a “niche” book that will practically sell itself to a specialized audience, like, say, computer security programmers working with a proprietary chip set, you still need to reach them. If you have a book with potentially wide appeal, you not only have to reach as much as that audience as you can, you have to compete for their attention and money. Marketing is the first step in reaching that goal.
*And I don’t mean to sound mean here, but small independent shops, big chains, and groceries simply won’t take independently-published books by unknown writers from unknown presses. Sorry: it’s just the truth. If you are a self- or micro-press-published author, you will have to rely on the internet, in-person sales, and any sales contacts you can scrounge up through the press or community of other self- and micro-press authors.