Tuesday, May 08, 2007

May: No-Fling Marketing

"...walk around a busy resort town dressed as a character from your novel, handing out promotional postcards."

Don't laugh. I just read this marketing suggestion in a serious article about publicizing a novel. And I can name more than one author who has dressed up as their protag for a book jacket photo. Which always cracks me up, especially when the big namers do it, so I do hope the tradition continues.

Dress Like Your Character and Accost People in the Street isn't a horrible marketing idea. Dressing up in costume at industry functions is an accepted practice. I wouldn't do it, because PBW does not wear costumes unless it's the night when she rings your doorbell and expects to be given candy.

I don't know -- outside industry cons, it seems like it would be counterproductive. In most places, the strangers on the street who usually approach us are proselytizers, pan handlers and muggers. Call me unfriendly, but anyone walking around dressed like a vampire or a bounty hunter is not going to get the chance to postcard me.

As much of the industry has yet to learn, the "fling it out there and see what happens" approach is not an effective marketing strategy. It's a method more suitable for toilet papering trees on that one night a year when it is okay to walk around in a costume.

We're all familiar with the traditional ways to market your work once it's in print: get quotes from more famous authors; send out postcards, fliers, and bookmarks to book sellers; buy ads in industry magazines, send out ARCs to reviewers; go to cons, have signings, and put up a website and/or a weblog. If you have major backing from your publisher, you hire people to do all that and go on book tours, give interviews, go to industry trade shows and sign in certain places to have the optimum chance of getting on certain lists compiled from sales data from those places.

It's not all bad, but there's a lot of auto-fling built into traditional novel marketing. Fling the promo out there, hope for the best. Fling oneself around the con circuit, hope for the best. Fling promo sites onto the internet . . . you get the picture. Flinging anything is popular with writers because 1) most of us are completely clueless about marketing and 2) all the other authors are doing it.

Remember what mom said about doing what everyone else does? She was right.

Think about fling marketing this way: imagine you and fifty other writers standing around a bookseller and throwing postcards at him while he's working. Tomorrow, fifty different writers are going to show up and do the same thing. Then fifty more on the next day, and fifty on the next, and so on. How is your postcard going to stand out from all the other postcards the bookseller gets hit with that day? And how many times do you think he's going to stop working to read postcards?

More than anything, fling marketing wastes time, resources and money. Today the average writer in the U.S. makes around $6,000.00 a year. Around the major publishers, advance pay-outs are presently being split into thirds: a third on contract signing, a third on delivery of the manuscript, and a third on publication of the novel. That means if you accept an offer for a $5,000.00 advance, and your publisher pays you on time, you'll only have $3,333.33 coming in before publication.

If you use 25% of your income for marketing, which is what I do, that gives you $833.00 to spend. That will buy you -- maybe -- one small ad in one issue of an industry magazine, or registration and hotel fees to attend one regional con, or a single mail out to every Barnes & Noble in the U.S. If you do the later, you better have a red-hot postcard or flier -- one friend of mine who manages a big B&N says she fills her office garbage can with reams of useless author-mailed promo materials that she can't use and doesn't read. She does this every day.

Obviously the average writer can't afford an expensive campaign to publicize their book, so it's imperative that whatever they do spend on marketing not be squandered on a fling.

So what is the no-fling approach to marketing?

1. Target your market. If you don't know who/where/what and why of your target market, you're marketing blind. Who is most likely to read your novel? Where can you find them? What will get their attention? Why should they read your book? These are all questions every writer needs to answer, and the answers are specific to the writer's work.

To start you thinking about the question of who is most likely to read your novel, more statistics: the average reader in the U.S. is female (68% of all books are bought by women), a baby Boomer (half of all book buyers are over the age of 45), and probably feels that someday she could write a novel (over 80% of Americans do.) There's a good chance that this woman will represent a big chunk of your readership. And she should, because she also represents the largest segment of the book-buying public.

2. Market efficiently. It's not just the time you devote to marketing, but how efficiently you use that time. You can spend four hours dressed up and sitting at a table in a mall, and talk to maybe a dozen people. Mostly you'll answer questions like "Do you work here?" and "Can you tell me where the restrooms are?" I can spend an hour in my pjs and bunny slippers at home, whenever I like, write, edit and upload a weblog post, talk to no one, and be read by about a thousand people.

Once you and your readers leave the mall, chances are that you'll never see them again. Due to the nature of weblogs, most of my readers will come back again. Some will be other bloggers who link to or discuss the post on my weblog, and their visitors will follow those links and discussions. Unless I delete my post, I'm here for them indefinitely (try to do that at a mall.)

Who has the potential to sell more copies of their book, the mall book signer or the stay-at-home blogger? Statistics vary, but for the sake of argument let's say we will both sell a book to one out of ten people we encounter that day. That means sales of 1.2 copies for you, and 100 copies for me. Plus you're not going to be selling your books at the mall tomorrow, while my weblog is open 24/7 to people all over the world, even when I'm out in the back yard washing the dog or weeding the flowers.

What all that means is, I win.

3. Invest wisely. When considering any type of marketing you have to pay for, look closely at these three things: distribution, value, and investment return. Whatever you buy should have wide distribution (to reach the most people), some value to the recipient (so they don't ignore it or throw it away) and some indication of how well it's going to work (because if it doesn't, you might as well burn the money.)

Everyone has different ideas on how to spend marketing money. My main marketing investment is to give out free books, and you've seen how well it works for me. Giving a reader a free book does a couple of things: it shows you're willing to invest in them first. Unlike a bookmark or postcard, it's something that has the potential of actual value to the recipient. If they enjoy your book, they will buy others that you've written or will write. There isn't a better way to build a readership than with your own work.

On the flip side, you may not win over the reader. People will ignore or trash virtually any other promotional materials you give them, but 99% of them don't throw away books. Even if they don't like your book, they'll probably give it to a friend, donate it to a library or trade it in at a used book store. E-books get passed around even more. A book is the only promotional material that has a real chance to be recycled and possibly grab the attention of another reader down the road.

The biggest scams I see out in novel marketing land are those that cater to the writer's ego. I won't point fingers or name names, but oy. Sadly, it's a very clever marketing strategy on the part of the people who prey on certain authors and their seemingly unquenchable thirst for personal attention. And while these scammers might treat you like a former Miss U.S.A contestant with honey blonde hair, convincing breast implants and an adorable lisp, chances are you're not. Do yourself a favor and always make whatever marketing you do work-focused. You're trying to sell books, not your ass.

I gather most of my marketing information off the internet, which has a surprising amount available out here for anyone to read. I just found something interesting today while researching regional marketing data. Anyone know what are the most literate cities in the U.S. are? As of 2006:

1. Seattle, WA
2. Minneapolis, MN
3. Atlanta, GA
4. Washington, DC
5. St. Paul, MN
6. Pittsburgh, PA
7. Cincinnati, OH
8. Denver, CO
9. San Francisco, CA
10. Portland, OR

Not a huge change from the 2005 rankings, or the 2004 list. Boston and Portland seem to be slugging it out for a top spot. If I were going to do a big marketing campaign for my next novel, these would be the first ten cities on my target list.

It takes time, careful thought and research to develop a no-fling marketing strategy for your novel. I wish I could give you a schematic, but that's like a secret handshake: it doesn't exist. You have to create and refine your own strategy based on what you write and what sort of marketing you're willing to do. Most pros will tell you to do whatever everyone else is doing, and often that's a lot easier and less stressful.

It's just this: after all you've gone through to get your work into print, do you really want to fling it out there and hope for the best?

Related links:

PBW's Bookmarks from Hell, PTC 2 Part 1, PTC 2 Part 2, Ten Things About Odd Self-Promo, and Widgety posts.

Several articles on Niche Marketing.


  1. Anonymous12:08 AM

    If you dress up at Halloween, will you please post pictures?


    I think this is part of the reason i don't like doing things like RT. It's a heck of a lot of money that I could spend elsewhere and I'm not really hitting that many new readers.

    I don't mind doing booksignings~alhough I still feel like I'm in a fishbowl. I don't actively seek them out and usually when a bookseller emails me to set one up, they have a store with a decent romance following which means I'm less likely to sit and twiddle my thumbs for two hours.

    I've been to several in Cincinnati and I'm not surprised they are on that list. The signings there are usually excellent.

    Promo material, I don't spend much money on just because I've yet to find a single promo item that's good and different. I get bookmarks in small amounts just because I keep getting asked for them, but I don't mess with the magents, the fancy pens, or totes. One of these days, though, I'll figure out a good, affordable DIFFERENT promo item. Sooner or later.

  2. Apparently if you have the four seasons and a cold winter you are more likely to be literate.

  3. I knew I wanted to move to Seattle for another reason than just the coffee. :)

  4. My favourite author promo picture is this one, of Terry Pratchett produced for his book Maurice and His Amazing Educated Rodents. OK, so Terry isn't dressed as one of his characters, but he does seem to have three of them crawling on him. ;)

  5. Thanks for this article. I'm not there (yet) but I'm definitely going to remember these things when (not if!) ;-)

  6. Speaking of free books--I'm giving away Lynn's latest release, Night Lost, on my blog. Stop by through Friday and let's see who can embarrass PBW the most by gushing why we love her books!

  7. Anonymous9:00 AM

    Fascinating. I live in Boston, but am moving to Seattle. I knew there was something I liked about the place.

    There's an old marketing adage that says half of all marketing is wasted. Problem is, no one knows which half!

  8. Fascinating topic that I've read too little about. I find that so much of the information out there on the whole writing craft/business seems to be aimed at writing the first draft, then how to submit to publishers/agents. Not enough on going about revising a draft or what to do after you've sold a book. You deal with both, which is one of the reasons why I'm totally addicted to your blog (the wicked sense of humor doesn't hurt at all, either). As always, thanks!

  9. Seattle, we're literate because it's always a good day to stay indoors with a good book. *looks out at fog and places bet with self as to when it will turn to rain*

    I'm with Shiloh, I want to see Halloween pictures.

  10. Great ideas! Thanks for posting this! *wg*

  11. I happen to think any day with the temp over 100 and the humidity over 100 is the perfect day to stay in an air conditioned house and read a good book.
    And I agree with the others, pictures please.

  12. I guess if you had no clue, you could hire someone to help market it for you. I came across this website, for example.

  13. Anonymous1:52 PM

    Here's to hoping PBW doesn't kill me.

    PBW... You've been tagged...

    click here

    don't shoot me... i love memes. can't help it!

  14. I wasn't brave enough to tag you, PBW, and I didn't tag Shiloh--she decided to tag herself. *slinks away*

    And congrats on hitting number 1 on the Borders bestseller list!

  15. Tell you what, I'll publish photos of me in costume as soon as Laurell Hamilton writes an inspirational romance. With Bible verses in every chapter.

    Just remember, Shiloh, I know where you live.

    May, thanks. I just heard the news from my editor, and I'm still a bit rattled by it.

  16. Anonymous3:58 PM

    Thank you for this! Very helpful.

  17. Anonymous4:05 PM

    *G* You're more than welcome to come visit!

    And May, it is your fault. I read your blog and I have this compulsive thing about memes. i love them. So you did it. You fed my addiction.

    And I'm going to assume we won't be seeing pictures any time soon, eh?

  18. I don't really want to toss a book out there like a frisbee and hope it gets grabbed by a lot of people...but...I've sold more books doing nothing than I did the one time I did the bookmark/booksigning thing.

    I'd love to do more giveaways, but outside of starting a blog--and I could only be interesting for about 10 days so that's out--I haven't come up with a good, consistent way of doing that. Any suggestions anyone? I don't do costumes. Not even for chocolate.

  19. Good post, thanks. I've spent a huge amount of time thinking about promo since my first book came out, and I agree that giving away copies is one of the most effective publicity tools.

    If people took all the cash they were planning to spend on widgets and conventions and instead used it to get copies of their books into potential readers hands, they'd do themselves a lot more good.

    It takes word of mouth to sell a book, and you never know what might set it off.

    (One comment though - if you're planning on giving books away, don't think you can then write to people asking for a review on Amazon. As soon as you ask for something in return you've turned your giveaway into something different - a bribe. It's nice if they do it, but it has to be entirely their choice.)

  20. Awesome post. Thanks for sharing your wisdom on self-promos/marketing: what's worked for you, what hasn't, and where you can spend your budget. Very informitive ;)

  21. Anonymous8:47 PM

    Congrats on the sucsess of your latest, much deserved. :D

  22. Sigh. I've already been talked into this. I am to play myself while my co-author hides behind me. I'm not sure I'm going to like being a co-author after all. Unless there's Coors Lights as my reward. Then, I am so there.

  23. Darlene wrote: I'd love to do more giveaways, but outside of starting a blog--and I could only be interesting for about 10 days so that's out--I haven't come up with a good, consistent way of doing that. Any suggestions anyone? I don't do costumes. Not even for chocolate.

    I used to do a monthly update and post a free story on my old web site for the readers, and they'd respond on my guest book. Some variation of that (maybe a small discussion board?) might work better for you versus a weblog.

    I know some of the group blog authors invite guest bloggers for interviews and chats (Shiloh did a nice one for me over at Vamps and Scamps, and we had a great turnout.)

    Your situation demands some brooding -- I'll keep thinking about this and see what else I can come up with.

  24. So, would it be lame to for a bookjacket photo to show me in my rather battered and well-used plate armour?

    And, what about SF conventions? Are con-goers a pool of useful ambassadors, or merely a self-contained fishpond?

  25. *lisa furiously scribbles notes, hoping that she'll need to use them someday*

    Lynn--I've said it before, but you keep giving me more reasons to repeat it--you are my model for how an author interacts with her readers.

    And thank you for all the work you do to help the writing community.

    This aspiring author appreciates you! (ooh--alliteration!)


  26. Anonymous2:45 PM

    Lynn, thanks. That was a really informative post. *sigh* I guess I'll have to return the six-armed, blue horse costume.

    Thanks again, that was really interesting. I just hope I get to use it someday.

  27. I'm going to attend a science-fiction convention in June...

    ... but I sure as heck ain't coming dressed up as an alien. Or an astronaut. Or a golden robot.

    But a t-shirt with a printed book logo might fit my marketing budget...


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