I’m going to talk about marketing. That’s a conundrum for:
Self-published authors, because if they don’t market their work, then no one else will.
Traditionally published authors, because an increasing amount of the marketing load will fall on them, no matter what.
Not yet published authors, because you guys still have to market yourself to agents or whoever else in due course.
And although authors are a pretty diverse bunch, they’re generally united in really, really, really hating the whole business of self-promotion. The brash, self-loving types who make confident hucksters generally have a 0% overlap with the sort of people who scurry off to a quiet place to write down the pictures they have in their head.
And good news:
That brash hucksterism just doesn’t work in the world of books. You don’t have to do it. If you do, you’ll fail.
And more good news:
Doing marketing right is easy. I’ll tell you in just two words what it’s all about. (Though obviously this email will be the normal thousand word whopper, because I don’t do short.)
But first, a cry for help:
We’re taking a look at our editorial service at the moment. The actual quality of what we do is generally stunning and we work very hard to keep improving. We’ve got some ideas on how to to do that, but before we do anything at all, I’d like to hear from you:
- Have you personally purchased editorial services elsewhere?
- If you did, did you compare those services to ours first? Or were you not aware of ours? Or what? (You can remind yourself of what we offer right here.)
- And what swayed your decision to go with whoever you went with? Was it price? Was it word of mouth? Was it quality of follow up? Or what?
- And of course, if there’s anything you’d like from us that we’re not currently offering, then tell us about it.
There’s no agenda behind these questions other than a genuine desire to improve a service that is already strong. And I’d love to hear from you. So just hit reply and let me know – I really appreciate your effort.
OK. So, marketing.
The first word that needs to discipline everything you ever do on the marketing front is simply: Authenticity.
If you’re not authentic in your marketing, it’ll never succeed. So let’s say you’re coming to the Festival of Writing this September. (Tickets still available, by the way.) Obviously you’ll want to meet and talk to some agents.
So be yourself.
Nothing else will be remotely convincing to the agent. If you try to fake some hyper-extrovert brashness, you’ll come over as a clown or a fool. (Unless you are hyper-extrovert, in which case, fine. Be yourself.) Agents would far, far rather meet a writer who spoke with sincerity and truthfulness, then someone who was trying to sell in a pushy way.
Same thing for trad-published authors. If you hate and loathe Twitter, for example, you’ll be crap at it. You can’t goad yourself into being something you’re not. So just tell your publishing team that you hate Twitter, and they’ll structure their marketing campaigns to take that into account.
Same thing for self-published authors. Readers sign up to your mailing list because they want to hear from you, not some weird, constructed alter-ego. You may notice that these emails from me sound authentically me – because they are! I say what I think and I express myself the way I like expressing myself. The real me and the email me are one and the same. (Except that the real me is devilishly handsome, of course.)
Which brings us to the second massive requirement on your marketing efforts: Strategy.
You need to be authentic, but always strategic. Those two things together (plus time) is a lethally powerful combination.
If you’re coming to the Festival this September (and did I mention that the Festival always creates book deals and that tickets are still available?), then we said that you’d want to meet and talk to agents.
So research them beforehand. Who’s coming? Who looks like a great fit for you? Make little cheat sheets for who you’d like to meet and including key data about why you like them. Include little printed photos, so you can be sure you recognise them when you see them across a dining hall. Remind yourself of what you want to ask, before getting into that conversation. And if you are in the midst of a long but inessential conversation with a fellow writer as Your Perfect Agent queues to get coffee, then break off that long but inessential conversation. (Politely, of course, because the authentic you is always polite.)
Same thing with trad authors. If, for example, you’re invited to a meet-the-trade evening, figure out who’s going to be there. Figure out who you want to talk to. Make damn sure you spend as much time talking to the other person about what they do as you do in talking about yourself. And if you are on Twitter, then cultivate followers and influencers who are relevant to you. Be authentic and strategic.
Self-pub: the same thing, but squared. There’s an inconceivably huge number of ways to market your work. You’re going to be authentic in everything you do. Your ads will truthfully reflect your work. Your emails will sound like you. Your Facebook content will vibrate with personality and genuineness.
But you’ll prioritise. What sales channels work? What’s just fluff? When do you kill a series? How much time do you spend replying to reader comments and questions?
I can’t in fact think of a single author/book marketing issue, broadly defined, where the Authentic + Strategic combination isn’t the right one to adopt. Make those two commandments central to everything you do and you’ll be fine.
Don’t forget that I want to hear from you on the editorial side. If you have experience elsewhere, then tell me about it. Good, bad and just plain weird …
And tell me about your marketing puzzles too. What's got you stumped? What bothers you in the small of night and assails you at the loom of dawn? Comment below, and we'll dig in ...