I've had a couple people suggest we spend some time exploring marketing your writing. To be honest, I'm reluctant to do that... There are a million conversations happening about writing and marketing. In fact, sometimes I think a lot of authors have given up talking about the craft of writing, and are spending all their time exploring the latest marketing ideas. I really don't want to duplicate what some other sites are doing, but I can speak to a few direct questions...
1. Candace wrote to say, "I'm lucky to have some great marketing at my publishing house, and they actually DO what they say they're going to do. My marketing director came up with some creative things to do when my book released, but now I'm stumped. What else can I do to promote my novel?
With all the whining that goes on regarding marketing, it's nice to hear an author show some appreciation. There's no publisher on the planet who wants a book to fail -- they often just aren't sure what to do in order to help your book succeed. So let me give you one thought: YOU are in charge of marketing your book. Not the publisher. Not the publicist. Not the editorial staff. You. So take the initiative. Be the person who is in charge of your own marketing. Make plans. Get people involved. Ask questions. Find out what your publisher is doing, thank them, then do something else. If they're setting up radio interviews but not getting you magazine interviews, focus on that. If they're sending out review copies but not setting up a blog tour, focus on that. Don't wait for somebody else to do it. There's nobody else who is more committed to the success of your book than YOU.
A good place to start is by reading some marketing books -- a quick trip to Borders or Barnes & Noble will give you plenty of ideas. Start by giving yourself a grounding in the field: read Guerrilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson, 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Ries and Trout, and maybe Kotler and Armstrong's Principles of Marketing in order to give yourself a basic knowledge of the field. Then, to really get up to speed, check out David Meerman Scott's The New Rules of Marketing, Sernovitz and Kawasaki's Word of Mouth Marketing, and John Jantsch's Duct Tape Marketing. The big names to know are Reis & Trout and Levinson -- in fact, Levinson has a Guerilla Marketing for Writers title that offers some good information.
Once you get a handle on the basic concepts of marketing (a topic I find most writers to be woefully under-informed about), consider talking to some experts. There are a bunch of free-lance marketing gurus who will consult with you. Sometimes they're trying to sell their services, other times they're willing to simply advise. But talk to somebody who knows how to help, and take their advice. That'll get you on the path to a successful marketing effort.
Jon wrote and asked, "What is the most overlooked marketing opportunity for writers?"
For years I used to answer this question with the words "magazine articles." There are thousands of magazines out there, all of them calling for content. And you're a writer, so if you can take material from your book, re-shape it into a strong article, and make sure it fits their readership, you've got a built-in publicity machine. (An example: When I wrote 1001 Things Everybody Should Know About Christianity, I checked into "Christian History" magazine. They wanted several thousand dollars for a full page ad...but I wrote them a special article on some of the fascinating little facts I found, and they gave me a two-page spread -- for FREE. And they included a small shot of the book cover. It was like getting $10,000 worth of free advertising, and it was being delivered into the hands of people who already were interested in my topic.)
BUT I've changed my response. With the growth of the world wide web, I now think the most under-used marketing strategy is the internet. Here's why: I recently sent in an order on Amazon for a "Great Big Sea" CD (if you're not familiar with the neo-Celtic sound of this band from Newfoundland, you're missing one of the best contemporary groups out there). A few days later, I got an email from Amazon, telling me that my purchase was being shipped, and letting me know that they have a deal on the Great Big Sea concert video. They also told me that many people who purchase Great Big Sea also like another band, Gaelic Storm, and that the Wicked Tinkers' "Bangers for Breakfast" CD was on sale (another good band that offers up-tempo Irish folk music with a contemporary backbeat). In other words, Amazon is working to try and help me find products I'll like. They've tailored their approach to try and meet my unique needs. Fascinating...and instructive. What if authors began to do research and tracking like this? What if they focused their marketing on specific readers, and tried to growth their base in a similar way?
It's already happening. Stephen King has tried this (with admittedly mixed success to this point). Radiohead has released their latest album stictly over the internet, cutting out the middleman and going directly to consumers. I know that novelist (and theoretical physicist) Randy Ingermanson is exploring doing something similar with a future work. It's clear the day is coming when we'll see an author sell enough copies to hit a bestseller list even though the book has never been made available through normal retail channels. We're not there yet, but it'll happen.
Nadine wrote and asked, "Where can I learn about internet marketing?'
There are a number of books to get you started. Street Smart Internet Marketing by Justin Michie is one. Marketing for Dummies, Internet Marketing for Dummies, and Web Marketing for Dummies all offer helpful information. Steve Weber's Plug Your Book, and Levinson's Guerilla Marketing Weapons may prove useful. Among the more general marketing titles to try out are 1001 Ways to Market Your Books by John Kremer, which certainly gives you a lot to think about, and David Cole's Complete Guide to Book Marketing is good. Jodee Blanco's Complete Guide to Book Publicity takes a bit of a different approach, and I found it helpful. You could also choose to take a basic marketing class at your local community college, check out the CD's of marketing sessions at writing conferences, or schedule a sit-down with a free-lance marketing specialist.
Cindy wrote and asked, "Do you think web promotion will help a writer find the perfect agent or publisher?"
Interesting question. Maybe in a general way -- it's certainly better for me to see an author has already invested in a good web site than to see that an author has done nothing to promote himself or herself. But let's face facts: Even a dynamite website isn't going to compensate for a weak book. So while it's nice to see an up-to-date site with lots of cool bells and whistles, it's certainly no guarantee of an agent's interest. If you want to catch the eye of a publisher, the first thing to do is to write a great book.
Lindy asked, "Should a website have the author's name, or the name of the project being developed?"
That depends on what the site is promoting. If it's an author's site, giving us background information, writing history, personal appearances, etc., I strongly encourage authors to simply use their name as the web address. But if the site is dedicated to a title or series, it needs to be focused solely on promoting the books.
More on this next time -- including one of the BEST marketing ideas I've seen in years.