Except for the hippies on Vancouver Island. Oh, wait. I got called a hippy last week. Guess it about sums it up.
In the overall flurry of promotion, most people talk only about the strategies and approaches you can use to get your name and book out there. But there’s more to promotion than just tailoring the various strategies to your personality and your abilities and comfort levels or blanketing the internet ether and real world with your name, face and books.
If all you’re doing is following the advice of experts, without thinking about who you are, what you want to accomplish with promotion and how long it’s going to take you to reach your promotion goals, then you’re not doing yourself any favours, and you may even be doing yourself harm. In all the frenzy of getting your name and your books out there, have you ever thought about WHY you’re promoting? Yeah, to get your books and name out there. But so what? What’s the point? Where are you going to be next year? In five years? In ten? What are your long term goals for your both your writing and your promotion?
You need to know what and why you write in order to effectively promote you and your work. Do you know why you write, and what you want your writing career to accomplish? Yes, you want to be successful, like all the experts say. But what do they mean by success? What do you think of when you think about being a successful writer? Why are you writing in the first place?
There isn’t a right answer to these questions by the way. You can write for the ages, so you’ll be known three or four generations from now, so your books will make your great-great-great grandrelatives rich. Are you writing because you have things to say and need to say them? Are you writing because you want to be as rich and famous as today’s big name writers? Any or all of those are legitimate and valid reasons to write. (Oh, and “because God made me a writer” isn’t a good answer for this. He might well have, but that still doesn’t absolve you from the responsibility of knowing why He did that, and doing your best to develop and use the talents he gave you, including the talents that you use for promotion. Remember Matthew 25: 14-30. It’s the parable of the talents and is as applicable to creative talent as it is to money.)
If you don’t know why you’re writing, what you want from your writing career, or how long it may take you to get there, then you aren’t going to be able to do your marketing and promotion in a way that will help you accomplish your writing goals.
Answer the questions above and the following ones, then figure out what promotional approaches will work to best help you get to where you want to be: What is success to you? What do you mean when you say you want to be a successful writer? Why do you want to write? Do I want overnight success (however you define that word) or is this going to be slower, more gradual climb? Who is my audience, and at what point will I feel as though I’ve succeeded in promoting the kind of writer I want to be known as?
If you know your long term goals, there’s an added benefit in knowing that you aren’t going to have overnight success. You are working toward something that is in the future, and you can assess your ongoing success by how close you are to your ultimate goal. That will help you survive setbacks, slow movement, slack times when everybody’s attention is taken up by the next new thing.
Promotion for promotion’s sake might pay off in Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame, but as a writer, unless you’re a one book wonder, that’s not going to be enough. By paying very close attention to the marketing strategies out there, how they will work for you, which ones you can use and adapt that fit your personality and comfort levels, and by looking at the long term, you’re in a much better position to achieve whatever success you want with the tools available to you.
As promised, here are some more thoughts on the amount and kind of promotion we’re all encouraged to do. This is designed not so much to give you specific, practical pointers on what to do, but to start you thinking about what kind of person you are, and to choose the marketing strategies that will best fit you.
My friends, EB and P, used to live on a farm and run a market garden. P did the heavy lifting – planned the garden, planted the plants, tended them, harvested and packed them for market. EB helped out by plowing the fields, fixing broken machinery, finding deals on equipment and supplies, but his real contribution to the business was at the weekend markets. He sold more produce for them than any other three stalls at the markets. Why? He loved people, he loved talking and he’s a showman. I love listening to EB. He can yarn for hours, he can make people laugh, and he’s most brilliant with complete strangers. He’s an extrovert.
I recently attended a publicity workshop filled with great advice and good ideas. But there was one presenter who made me want to pack up my netbook, throw my coat over my head and slink out. She cold called and cold visited every bookstore in Ontario and got promises from most of them to stock her upcoming book. She still does it. She’s amazing. She’s extroverted.
I’m not. I’m an introvert who hates talking to people I don’t know. Not because I hate people – I just feel awkward, tongue tied and clumsy. My hands and feet feel three times larger than they really are, everything I say sounds fake, stupid and lame, and more often than not, I manage to put my foot in my mouth and really goof. Or at least I feel as though I do.
A lot of marketing strategies are designed for people who love people and can talk easily and well with strangers about just about anything. They’re the ones that get out from behind the table, who snag passersby with a pithy comment, a compliment, a trenchant phrase. Their twitter posts are always funny, pointed and brilliant. Status updates are layered, elegant and erudite. These are the people who can walk into a bookstore, and by the time they leave the bookstore, know everything there is to know about the bookstore, the proprietor, their family and the employees. They have a permanent place on the bookstore shelves, their names engraved in copper plates, just waiting for their next three novels. Know something? Introverts can’t do that.
One thing that comes through clearly whether you’re in person or on the web is how relaxed and genuine you are when you’re talking to strangers, acting a role you may not be used to or taking risks with your personality type. If you’re not the kind of person who wear a lamp shade and do the fandango on the dining room table while sober, chances are you’re not going to be able to don a costume, act silly and make a fool out of yourself to promote your book. So don’t try. Find ways that let you be you when you have to promote your book and yourself as author, whether its on the web or in person. If you have a knack for coming up with pithy phrases, great puns or plays on words and fantastic one liners, then twitter is probably a good venue. If not, don’t go there.
If you’re an introvert, and chances are, being a writer, you do prefer the company of cats, dogs, computers and goldfish to other people, then be very careful about the promotion you do, and how you do it. The more like yourself you really are, the more comfortable you’ll be, and the more appealing you will be to your audience, and the more people will remember you and your books.
As writers, “everybody” tells us we need to get our names, our books, our presence out there. We need to do all the social media, we need to do author visits, we need to be a presence, be in people’s faces (in an amusing, helpful and non intrusive way, of course).
So everybody climbs on the various bandwagons to promote hell out of . . . what? The experts say you have to promote to be a successful author, but just what are we promoting? And why? And to whom? And in all this promoting, how does our writing fit into our limited time? What’s at the end of all this frantic hand, flag and book waving?
In the course of the next several blog posts I’m going to look at some of this promotion stuff from a couple of different perspectives.
Let’s deal first with what and to whom we’re supposed to be promoting.
Our book, yes. To make sales of said book, yes. To get your name as an author out there, so that, unless you’re a one book wonder (see Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird), you have a fan base for successive books, which will help build your career. That’s easy. Or is it? What’s the long term view here? Where are you going to be in five or ten or fifteen years? Have you thought about that? No? Well, stay tuned because there will be thoughts on that later, but first let’s deal with to whom you are promoting.
As a young adult writer somewhat in tune with the world of kids lit, I wonder how many writers actually know to whom they’re promoting? I keep wondering why I receive so many social media requests from fellow children’s writers. I am not their target audience, especially when it comes to young readers – picture book and chapter book readers. I can help young adult writers perhaps, by connecting them to whatever of my audience might like their books, but even there, I shouldn’t be their main target. I get the feeling with a lot of my fellow writers that their followers are fellow writers. Why aren’t they (or you, for that matter) on teen sites, teen forums and teen places on the net? Why aren’t you engaging your readers directly, instead of me and people like me? If you’re writing picture books and books for younger kids, then why aren’t you on parenting sites, writing for parenting and grandparenting magazines, reviewing young children’s books for those sites, hooking up with parenting groups and grandparenting groups? Why am I still your target? My kids are all grown up and I don’t have any grandkids nearby to read to. Why aren’t both of those groups hooking up with librarian groups and bookstore owners and groups?
If you don’t write for kids, then I suppose I’m one of your potential readers, but y’know? I don’t read romance. I don’t read military fiction, I don’t read much horror and I’m not real big on spy books either. So why are you marketing to me?
If you want to really promote effectively, promote to the people who read what you write. Think about it. If you sub to royalty houses, then you wouldn’t sub a romance to SF, fantasy, mystery and horror publishers, would you? Then why promote to readers in that scattergun, if I shoot enough buckshot, it’s bound to hit something approach? Find the genre or subgenre you write and be active in those groups, both in person and on the net. Which also raises the question of why you aren’t already – don’t you read what you write? And haven’t you been honing your skills for years and years? Years in which you could have been active and by now, well known in those groups? So . . . why are you reading this? Go find your market and get yourself known. But don’t forget to come back and read the rest of this subject!