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Writing and Marketing: Some lessons learned

Let me be clear: I am not an expert on this subject. At best, I am a novice, Level 1. There are many resources out there--books, podcasts (a couple good ones below), and websites--on the subject. There are many people who will take your money to market your books. I am not one of those people, and this is not one of those websites.

In fact, I'm not just a novice; I am an abject failure. I have nine, now ten novels, with probably 20 Amazon reviews between them and pretty dismal sales. I take full responsibility for that. I can't blame others for not reading or buying my books. They have lots of other items to spend money on, including in this inflationary period, rent, fuel, and food, the basic necessities. While $12.00 or $15.00 isn't much money, there might be other legitimate ways to use their hard-earned money.

Why do I take responsibility for the low sales? Because I have not realized a few things about being a writer who sells books, even books that I did not self-published. Half of mine are traditionally published and half are "independently published." In both cases, unless you already have a platform or one of the Big Five Publishers:

  • Penguin/Random House.

  • Hachette Book Group.

  • Harper Collins.

  • Simon and Schuster.

  • Macmillan.

you have to make your own way in the marketing world. I once heard it would take 25% of your time as a writer to do marketing. I think that's a low estimate. The books you decide to write are a marketing decision (genre, plot, audience, characters, design), not just what you start doing after it's in a physical form.

I decided within the last year to be more serious about my marketing, without spending a lot of money. I am already doing that by having a "platform"---this website and a podcast being the main one, and I do not wish to spend any more money cajoling others into buying a book. It has been suggested to have "merch" as in T-shirts and coffee mugs, but that is not appealing to me since I believe the world has too many T-shirts (we really don't know what to do with them all) and since I can't think of anything clever enough to put on a mug. So, I have had to think differently.

Here are a few solutions I have found.

  1. Think of myself as not selling a chunk of paper, ink, and glue but as selling an experience. The experience is that of reading, but also getting to know the author, to be able to come talk to the author, to have the author talk to your group, to looking forward to his/her next book. This one is connected to the next two.

  2. Plan to be in public places to meet customers/readers regularly; make yourself (reasonably) available. Spread around your card and answer emails religiously. Some authors have an email list through Constant Contact or Mail Chimp. I haven't started that because of time and because I'm not sure I want to invade readers' email. But I might; you have to collect email addresses first. For now, they have access here and on my other blogs. And more to the point, at a local farmers' market every Saturday this year, May to October. I am meeting lots of people, giving out lots of flyers and business cards, and developing relationships. They know I will be there every week. They know they can talk to me about writing, and as an educator I will gladly come speak to their English students or book club.

  3. Now this is the hard part: have a regular output of new product. One stand-alone book is fine, and if it's good you can do well with it. But series are really better from a marketing standpoint. That may seem cliched, like a TV show rather than a movie. It may be that the 300,000 novel you are working on would be better as three shorter ones. And they don't have to be the same characters, just the same quality or type of product, if a series doesn't work.

  4. Be honest about what you aren't. I tell the folks I talk to at the market I have no fantasy or traditional romance. Maybe someday, but it's not in the plans right now.

  5. Find the ones who are going to be attracted to what you write. I have gone to some writers conferences or fairs and probably won't be doing so much more. I pay rather a bit for a half a table and everyone else is in the fantasy/sci-fi/not my cup of tea genres. Topics like vampires, sexy witches, dystopian sci-fi, and scary beasts. So none of the customers are in my categories of historical fiction/contemporary fiction/family sagas/mysteries. Oh, and I don't write about the Amish, either. This directive is why I am doing better at the market than I have at all the writers' conferences or fair I've attended combined. The people there are not writers, and they are mostly women, and they want read the kind of things I write (usually) I even get husbands who bring their wives over.

  6. Be willing to talk to people, freely. And not about yourself. That is key. Questions like "What was the last book you read?" "What do you like to read?" And if they want to write, give them some tips. Be a person. Writing is incredibly solitary, and solitude has its value, but we were made to live in community, at some level.

Now, there is a lot more. But this is working for me right now. Fortunately, I am having fun at the market and making friends. It's a nonprofit, so I don't mind the minimal fee (much less than writers' conferences), and the spirit there is supportive and neighborly.

In fact, check out this podcast about it:

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