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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Marketing - A novel experience

You see, the thing is, marketing ain’t art. It just isn’t. Writing is art. One is left brain (marketing), the other right brain (writing). For most people anyway… except those lefties. Now, according to some measures, some folks say I’m reasonably successful at this whole writing thing. Am I getting rich at it? No. Could I make a living at it? I am, like any other small business person, for the moment. Will I still be making a living at it in a year? I sure hope so. But make no mistake about it, writing is also a business, and Indie writing even more so. All I can tell you is what has been working for me.
One of the first and best pieces of advice I ever read – and one of the ones most ignored is – don’t stop. When you finish with book one, write book two.  Then book three.  Why? Because the list of one-hit wonders is pitifully small. In the 20th century there were three – Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird,  The Catcher in the Rye – that were successful. Unless your book is that great and/or that memorable, you need to write another book. (Oh, and if you really think it’s that good, I can recommend a good psychiatrist for that ego. Most real writers are massively insecure and periodically convinced their writing is crap. Back to what I was saying… ) People want to know that if they love what you’ve written, they’ve found a new author. It also demonstrates that you’re serious about this writing thing.
Besides, it will keep you busy while you wait, because here’s the hardest thing to learn – it takes time. The list of overnight successes is very small, and most of those weren’t really overnight. (Barring the kid whose parents helped him get published.) If you don’t believe me, just read Stephen King’s On Writing. Even Amanda Hocking took time to build her audience.
It takes time for your book to get known, it takes time to build a reputation. One that people trust. To accomplish that, you need a marketing plan, and far more importantly, reasonable expectations.

Marketing plan

Rule One…Create a marketing plan and not a short one. You need to plan for at least a year. Why? See….
Rule Two…it will take at least three months if not longer to make even a few sales. Each month after that earnings should increase as word of mouth and curiosity drive sales. If there is no book two, sales will plateau and then begin to drop off. You need to be prepared for that. Using the following rules will help. Schedule days to market/promote, days to blog. Just a few days a week. In the meantime, since you have nothing else to do except drive yourself crazy, if you haven’t written book two, now is the time to start. After all, you’re a full-time writer, a part-time marketer. If you don’t have any writing ideas, start with the Indies Unlimited writing exercises or Nanowrimo or a journal.
Rule Three…Set a reasonable release schedule. Once a year is possible if it takes you that long to write but understand that readers have to know another book is coming.  (I began a series with my traditional publisher but for various reasons decided to publish book two independently. A year later I was still receiving requests for a release date from fans.) Anticipation is a good thing. However every two or three months is probably more realistic – and now you see why you really should have those two other novels completed. Don’t worry if you don’t but keep writing. Try not to fret about sales. When book two is released, it will bump sales of book one. In between, you’ll have time to write some more!
Rule Four…Don’t spam, promote. Spamming Facebook, Twitter, etc. doesn’t work nearly as well as most people think it does. So stop it. Instead, be respectful. Join writers and readers groups. Learn the rules and follow them. Don’t irritate people by trying to get around them. Don’t just say “Buy my book” find creative ways to feature it, make it intriguing. ‘Want to warm up your sweetheart for Valentine’s? Try “My Book”‘  will probably work better. Set a schedule so you don’t keep hitting the same sites on the same day. Oh, you know that nifty little ticker on the side of Facebook? You can watch the spammers paste the same promo from site to site to site. Betcha that makes those sites feel special, doesn’t it? It may still work but so many people are doing it, its losing it’s effectiveness and looks a bit desperate. Or careless. And guess what? Everyone can watch as you do it, too. So don’t just promote. Converse. Talk to people on the sites you visit, it only takes a few minutes.
Rule Five…Don’t load up on five star reviews by asking friends and family to write them, most readers will suspect that’s what your doing.  Solicit reviews from legitimate sites. Most writer’s groups have lists. (I used to say that if you see consistent comments to listen to them but it seems lately that almost everyone tacks on the standard ‘there were typos’ comment even on books I know to have been professionally edited.)  Even a lowly one star review isn’t a bad thing, though – not everyone is going to love your book. It adds a certain legitimacy to the good reviews you have. And never, ever, argue with a review.  Which takes me to….
Rule Six…Be professional. It matters. Readers are watching how you act, how you talk to them and others. So are reviewers, editors, etc. They will be MUCH more inclined to work with you if you act professionally. Stand by your word, don’t promise what you can’t do.
Rule Seven…There are sites, blogs and people willing to help with interviews, blog posts and even marketing. Many are free. USE THEM. Indies Unlimited has it’s Freebie Fridays for promoting free books, there’s a wonderful site called eLTC that will promote your book for you, romance writers can find free advertising on The Romance Reviews in exchange for putting their banner on your website.  There are lots more. Ask for help, most will be happy to give it. Which brings me to….
Rule Eight…You have to do the work. If you can’t afford an editor, pick up the Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, got to author/editor sites for their pet peeves or to ask for help. Many will at least take a look at your first chapter and give you hints on how to improve.  (See Rule Six for this, too.) Even marketing is a learning process. At each site you’ll learn something else, then something else. Remember, you have a year. There’s time and you can’t rush it. Believe me, that was the hardest one for me to learn. Ask my husband.  There’s also no short cuts unless you have parents in the publishing biz. Then it still has to be a good book. Which takes us to…
Rule Nine…Be realistic. This one hurts. If your book isn’t in a standard genre, if its quirky or really different, it’s going to be difficult to find an audience. it may take months longer. One of my books is like that. It doesn’t generate a lot of sales but I started working on a sequel anyway because I really like the book and the characters. So do the folks who have read it. Whether it finds its legs or not, I loved writing it… even the painful parts.  The same is true of the sequel. Which brings us to…
Rule Ten…Write because you love it. Write because you have to, because you can’t stand not putting the words on the page. If you write from the heart, create wonderful characters in unique worlds from your special perspective, nothing else matters.  See Rule Nine. Yes, I’m making money… but every sale of each book warms my heart. It was the thought that no one would see those stories that broke my heart and made me determined to keep trying.

Only that passion will get you through. Not the money. The joy.
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Originally written as a contributing Author for Indies Unlimited on Feb. 15, 2012