Thurs. July 20, 2017: Reinventing the Marketing Wheel — A Personal Journey

Thursday, July 20, 2017
Waning Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Neptune Retrograde
Sunny, hot, humid

Yesterday, I promised some thoughts on marketing, so that is what this post focuses on today.

At this point, the bulk of marketing falls on the author. Traditional publishers get books in bookstores and to distributors, which is an enormous part of the equation. Some of the smaller publishers give as much support as their overextended staffs can. But the bulk is up to the author.

I just wrote an article for WOW-Women on Writing on how to track the results of where you put your marketing dollars to get the best return and to decide where to put the money for the next go-round. I was lucky enough to have several generous authors and promoters share their expertise. I will post the link when it goes live; it’s a piece of which I’m proud — there’s good research and work put into it, and I think writers across genre will find it useful.

This post, being on a personal blog, is more personal.

I’m preparing my backlist for re-release, and hoping to build on whatever momentum I create to move forward in my career.  Traditional publishers want something new; most of them are reluctant to take on a backlist, unless you’ve hit major traditional best-seller lists.  Many of my decisions are the result of sitting down with people I trust to discuss and figure out what I want and need from my career moving forward, and what was working and not working FOR ME. “This is what’s done” isn’t working FOR ME, and I need to create campaigns that work on both creative and financial levels. Sticking to someone else’s formula limits me. Therefore, I have to come up with my own.

It’s not that I have the ego to think I’m so brilliant that I can create an entirely new model. But I want to find a way to engage and expand my readership with my backlist that encourages them to continue on the journey with me for new releases, some of which will be released traditionally, and some of which will be released in channels that haven’t been invented yet. I have to find the best marriage for each individual project. I need to balance business and creativity.

If I’m only going to focus on sales, on the business aspect, I might as well work full time for a packager and only do for-hire work. Nothing wrong with for-hire work; it can be great fun and a way to build craft, especially if it pays fairly. But the reason I write is to make sense of the world, and to find a greater understanding of the people in it. That means I need to work on whatever interests/bothers/upsets/intrigues me. Which may not coincide with what is thought to “sell”. And yet, it may be what certain readers are looking for or yearning for.

Agents and publishers don’t know what WILL sell. They know what HAS sold. Every submission is a gamble, and they have to make their best guess.  They want the next big thing, but no one knows what that is until it’s there. They have to be careful where they invest their time and energy. Where are they willing to take chances?

I completely respect that. Some projects I write will resonate with them; some will not. It’s like dating — you’re unlikely to find your soul mate the first time out. You keep going. And there might be a few heartbreaks along the way. That doesn’t mean either party is “bad”; it means they’re not a good match. You learn and move on to a hopefully better one.

Far too much of the business is run on “everyone does this” and “that’s the way it’s done.” Not every channel works for every book and author. Readers want good deals; bookstores and libraries face ever-tightening budgets, and they have to be particular about where they spend their money. Amazon, for all its convenience, seems to be turning to a model to actively prevent authors from earning a fair return on their work, between the bots that manipulate rankings, arbitrary dismissal of legitimate reviews in favor of badly written, poorly spelled reviews by unqualified individuals with an axe to grind, and sabotaging publishers by pushing cheaper second-hand deals.

I have several re-releases I want to put back out into the world, with the hope that they’ll start earning their keep, continue to build an audience, and pave the way for the next books in their series, and help build a solid platform while I continue, with new work, to pursue more traditional outlets. The goal of each book is that the storytelling and craft improves from the previous book, which means every book becomes a better experience. For re-releases, I can apply what I’ve gained in craft to the release, and thereby position the next book even more strongly, because I’ve got a firmer foundation on which to build.

But the books still need to find their audience.

The plan and execution for each re-release is easier, at least on the emotional level. Far too often, working with some of the small publishers, I’ve taken the “partner” aspect seriously, working with them on ideas and campaigns, only to have the publisher not fulfill what was agreed, and simply shrug it all off. ARCS not sent to reviewers as promised, books that were ordered far in advance not showing up for special events, “forgetting” or “misplacing” information sent for multiple-author promotions. The most destructive, in my experience, is refusing to put a solid release date into the contract, refusing to commit to a date, and releasing a book when the publisher “gets around to it.” Even if the author is doing the bulk of promotional work, you can’t build a marketing campaign that will get a return without solid information.

Being responsible for all the aspects of the backlist releases myself takes much of that frustration away. That’s why many of the traditionally-published authors I know have decided to go indie or hybrid. It’s not because they “can’t” get published by a more traditional outlet. It’s because the publisher isn’t giving them the support that will actually give a reasonable return.  Granted, they start out with a major advantage over me — they had the support of the traditional publisher to build their audience in the first place.

I’m also tired of all the marketing campaigns being so similar. Far too often, I’m scrolling past book promotion posts, because it all sounds the same. Covers are too similar. Cover blurbs don’t hook me. If I see a review quote from a site I know charges authors for a review, I dismiss it.

How does one set oneself apart?

There’s argument that one shouldn’t. This is what readers are used to; this is what they want. I think that underestimates the reader. Yes, there are readers who read to escape, who want something safe and familiar. They want the category romance where the only thing that changes is the character name and location. They are happy with the ever-more-restrictive formula for certain cozies that is more intolerant, that dumbs down character and motivation, and reaffirms their own narrow view of the world.  They’re free to read whatever they want, and I believe there’s a need for every type of book and every type of reader.  We all have days were we want to escape, and not be forced to think too much, or have our views of the world challenged. If that’s ALL a particular group of readers craves, they’re not the readers for whom I’m writing, so I’m not targeting them.

I’m on the hunt for something different. I have three major releases coming up in the fall and early winter, and several short releases. I have to build the individual campaign for each, and I have to integrate and cross-promote where appropriate. Each campaign has to be unique to the release, while building momentum.

I’m going to experiment. Yes, I’ll use some tried-and-true techniques, but I’m also going to come up with some things that are different. I’ll be sharing them as I figure out what they are and how to use them.

I’m starting with the following questions:

–Who is my target audience?

–What elements have given me the best return in the past, and can I adapt any of them for this particular release?

–As a reader, what catches my attention? Can I adapt any of that?

–As a reader, what turns me off? Can I avoid that?

–What makes my book unique, and what tangible aspects of that uniqueness can I use in promotion?

The answers for most of those questions will be slightly different for each release. Since I write in different genres, the target audience for each of the big releases (paranormal romantic suspense, contemporary mystery, paranormal mystery) will be slightly different. There’s room for some crossover, which I hope to exploit. But there will also be differences.

Elements that have worked for me include good media kits and individual outreach (absolutely no generic email blasts). Radio is also always one of my strongest aspects.

What catches my attention? Hard to pin down, but I have to.

What turns me off? Constant demands that I buy the book; poorly written cover copy or excerpts; covers that I’ve either seen on other books or that are so similar to other books I think I’ve seen them.

Two of the biggest turn-offs tend to happen on Twitter: one is a series of identical promotional posts that are scheduled and keep turning up in my feed. The other is when a new-to-me author follows me, I follow back, and get an immediate direct message demanding I buy the book. For me, that’s an automatic unfollow.

Another thing I don’t do is author photographs. I get a lot of flack for that. I write under multiple names in multiple genres. What I look like has NOTHING to do with my writing. I’m not an actor. I’m a writer. My words are my instrument, my words are what I share with the world. My life (which includes my looks) are separate. Readers don’t need a photograph. I have icons that designate the different pseudonyms. It’s even in my contracts. I’ve lost contracts when I refused to supply a photograph instead of the icon that is recognizable for any specific name. Interestingly enough, the ONLY time that’s happened is when the venue didn’t pay, and they wanted to run a piece of mine for “exposure.” In other words, no loss there. Unfortunately, I lost paid contracts when a newspaper ran a photograph of me that it had agreed not to run (I explained my contract). I should have sued the paper. I didn’t, but I lost a series contract thanks to that, as well as a stand-alone contact.  Because it was specified in my contract that I do not do author photographs; I only agreed to the newspaper interview because they promised NOT to run a personal photograph (I provided professional photos of the topic of the interview, which wasn’t even writing-related).  They lied to me and cost me book contracts, which means income.

I’m sick and tired of fighting with people when I hang out and they want to take pictures to post on Facebook. No. I don’t do photographs. Period. I have personal photographs that are in frames or albums with people in my life who are important to me.  I am not part of the “selfie nation”.  I could go into a whole rant on it, but people would feel I judged THEIR choices, which I don’t.  They can take and post any photo they want — as long as it’s not of me.  I have no interest in posting a selfie of me in front of something. To prove I was there? I don’t need to prove anything. That is my choice. That is my right. People can share whatever THEY chose, and it’s not up to me. But I can also choose what NOT to share.

Social media has done a great deal to expand my work’s reach. At the same time, I’m not willing to stop being who I am for fear of offending readers. I’m politically active — in life and on social media. At this particular juncture in time, my very life and that of my family depends on my so being. I’m not going to stop. That may turn off readers. Chances are, they are readers who wouldn’t like my books anyway, because my characters stand up for social justice and tolerance, and fight against oppression, tyranny, racism, bigotry, misogyny. Readers who don’t believe in those issues aren’t going to like my books anyway. Nor will I let them bully me by threatening not to buy my books if I’m politically active. Then don’t buy my books — you are not my target audience. It is your choice where to put your money. I’m an advocate of conscientious consumerism, and means respecting the choice of those who’d rather put their money elsewhere. We’ll go our separate ways. YOU are not going to change what I write. I write what I write, and I endeavor to get it out to the widest audience possible, who then CHOOSES if it’s what they want or not. It’s fine to be “not”. There are plenty of books and authors that don’t work for me. I wish them well in their careers and move on.  I don’t argue with them or publicly trash them.  I move on.

In fact, an author whose work I used to read fairly regularly (although I feel she’s dumbed down her last few books) complained about authors being politically active and threatened to stop following or supporting any authors who remained active. Although I consider her a midlist author, she is traditionally published, and believes that her platform has strong influence. Fine. That’s her choice. But she’s now dropped from MY list. I wish her well; I hope she’s happy and successful. I didn’t argue with her or try to bully her into changing her views.  But I choose to spend my hard-earned money on other authors, and I choose to spend my time with people who respect my beliefs, even if they don’t always agree with them.

As a dedicated member of PEN, who used to work on behalf of incarcerated authors all over the world when I lived in New York, walking my talk is vital to who I am and what I write. I’m not going to dilute it because it threatens certain readers’ narrow frames of reference.

Again: they are not my target audience.

And the rule of marketing that works, after “write a good book” is “know your audience.”

My goal is to create interesting, engaging campaigns for books in which I believe. I want to expand my audience. I want to write books that interest, entertain, and maybe make readers look at the world a bit differently. I want to create marketing campaigns that are less of “Buy my book, damn you” and more “come play in this sandbox for awhile — you might enjoy yourself.”

I’m still working out the details. I know I’m going to pursue interviews (blogs, print, radio). Once print editions are available, I may start pitching for appearances again. My media kits are vital tools, and the Media Room on my website is the one of pages with the highest traffic.

I also spend time dissecting what is unique about each release. Themes, characters, leitmotifs that turn up in the books. I want to build aspects of each marketing campaign around that, to make the campaigns more unique. I’m not sure what all of those are yet, but I’m working on it.

Will any of this work? I won’t know until probably 2019. I’m going to try different elements. Some will work. Some will not. I’ll adjust.

One of the biggest challenges is handling of all this, keeping on schedule, and maintaining momentum while staying on track with new projects and with the freelance writing that pays the bills and keeps a roof over my head, AND dealing with the difficult personal issues that I’m currently dealing with.

But, most important of all, I will keep writing.

I hope you continue on the journey with me. I hope you will learn from my experience. If my mistakes can prevent any of your own, that will be a positive, in my opinion.

Namaste!

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