Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Ignorance, Harmony and Great Things

Let's pretend for a moment that no marketing at all exists for books. Considering the state of the industry, and the types of marketing which most writers pursue, it's not really a stretch.

Let's also imagine that you're hired to be in charge of the very first book marketing division. You go to a meeting with all the senior executive publishers in New York to present your ideas and secure a budget to market books by all the authors in the world.

What would you recommend as an effective means of marketing? Bookmarks? Postcards? Widgets? Are you going to propose that John Grisham hand out gavel-shaped plastic bookmarks with READ MY LATEST!!! printed in hot pink lettering?

Of course not. Right. So, uh, why are you doing them for your own novel again?

Our ignorance is not so vast as our failure to use what we know. - M.K. Huber

John Grisham can probably afford to have his widgets made from 18K gold, but you can't. But who is buying all the widgets? Here's a hint: Not John.

Just as there is no secret handshake that gets you published, there is no single gimmick, widget, or marketing ploy that will turn your novel into a bestseller. There are very few that will actually do anything at all for your novel.

Before we get into the hardware, let's talk about the finances. Many pros I've met have spent ten thousand dollars a year on marketing for a novel that earned them a three thousand dollar advance. Some have done it for more than one novel. Not one who did ever made it out of the midlist. Some didn't even make the midlist.

$3,000.00 - $10,000.00 = ($7,000.00) Who wants to go to work for this kind of salary annually? I'll hire you to be my secretary. Anyone?

Throwing money at a book does not make it a bestseller. You can't buy your way to the top.

You don't get harmony when everyone sings the same note. - Doug Floyd

As far as marketing methods go, rookie pros generally emulate what established authors do, probably because of the fear factor. That first year spent in "God Don't Let Me Screw This Up" mode makes one prone to doing whatever is suggested.

Established pros are doing what they were taught by their predecessors, as did those who came before them and so on. What surprised me when I got into the game was that no one questioned it.

Here's what I was told to do when I joined one writer's organization: go to as many writer cons as possible, definitely go to the national con, put up a homemade web site, do the bookmark/postcard/widget/booksigning thing, take out an ad in the big industry trade mag and maybe one in the organization's private mag if there's any money left. I was given a handout by one author with all the contact points.

I did what I could afford, which was about 25% of what was on the list. But it didn't take more than six months before I saw that it wasn't going to work for me. From then on I did what I wanted to do, which in most cases was the exact opposite of what every other pro was doing.

The usual industry marketing ploys may be well-suited to you. You may be a very attractive person who can lure people to a signing table with a single glance. You might have a speech so compelling as to send any book buyer within hearing range to rush to the shelves. No one made me the expert on widgets, either; perhaps yours is so wonderful that it will instantly sell ten thousand copies of your novel.

On the other hand, if they're not, why follow the herd stampeding to the Widget-O-Rama?

All great things are done for their own sake. - Robert Frost

After I gave up on the widgets, I focused on my strengths and did what I loved doing: I stayed home and pitched, sold and wrote books. Other than my low-cost web site and no-cost weblog, I left the marketing in the hands of the publishers.

The result was that I sold thirty more novels, and while I have no widgets or con badges to show off, my income has doubled every year since. The next step I had planned required a lot of money, so I methodically set aside part of that income and waited for the right opportunity to come along. It took years, but when it did I had plenty of money saved to do it exactly the way I wanted, and I had a blast doing it.

When you go to formulate your own marketing plan, ask yourself these questions: What are my strengths as a person and a writer? How can I use them to market my novel?

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