This is a bit of a ranty blog, and it’s aimed entirely at writers, not readers, so if you read my blog because you like my books, you can ignore this. If you read my blog because you like to hear what my angry alter ego says, then read on.
A tweet came across my Twitter feed this morning, saying this:
RT @PassiveVoiceBlg: Intelligent Discussion on Marketing for Authors bit.ly/H98y0p
I read through the article (which is essentially the comment thread from yesterday’s article) and then I read that article to see what the hubbub was about.
And the “intelligent” part really ought to be replaced with “bitter”.
Here’s the deal: I have my MBA in marketing. I’ve worked professionally for brands as big as Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn, and I’ve had job titles like Senior Marketing Manager and Product Marketing Manager–and despite all of that, even I am often disillusioned by self-promotion and book marketing.
Marketing a book is hard and weird and often uncomfortable. And I personally think that a lot of the marketing advice that authors toss around is a waste of time, money and brainpower. (I remember someone saying they put bookmarks advertising their books in every envelope they mail, including utility bills, because–hey, you never know. And there’s a never ending list of this kind of crap.) I recently taught a marketing class at a writers conference with the title “Marketing: For Real This Time”, because most writers conferences are overflowing with worthless marketing “secrets”.
Anyway, here are a few of the comments from that “intelligent discussion”:
“All this marketing BS is just like playing the lottery. There are just enough “winners” to get everybody else excited and jumping in for a chance at the jackpot.”
“You have to create the covers, edit, format, have a life, read, go grocery shopping, do the laundry, have a scintillating blog, Tweet, Face, Pin and *SPARKLE*. What few moments are allotted to writing in this hectic schedule?”
“But this stuff? It turns my stomach. Not because I have anything against social media, but this is an utterly false picture of it. It’s snake oil.”
These people sound pretty upset. What kind of cuckoo crazy marketing advice were they responding to? It must have been terrible.
It was this:
- Have a Facebook profile.
- Have a Facebook fan page.
- Have a Twitter account.
- Have a Youtube account.
- Have a blog.
Seriously? That’s what the big deal is?
First off, let’s address the second comment first–”What few moments are allotted to writing in this hectic schedule?”
I have all of those five things mentioned above. I tweet, and my twitter feed automatically uploads to Facebook, so Facebook isn’t a time-sink at all. I have a fan page, and rarely touch it: I reserve it entirely for book news–so I maybe invest ten minutes into it every couple weeks. I have a Youtube account, though I never make videos. Maybe I should. Either way, it’s not taking up any of my time. As for my blog, I update it, on average, once every two weeks.
So, everything added together, I maybe spend two hours a month doing those five things. Hardly something to freak out about.
Either way, writing takes time and effort, and so does marketing. To paraphrase Ray Bradbury on the topic: “Some people think that a little paper, a little ink, an idle an hour at noonday, and–VOILA! We are The Creator! … Nothing could be more destructive to creativity.”
That’s not how writing works, and it’s not how marketing works. Both take time and effort. As my brother once pointed out on his blog, time management is just a bunch of value judgments: You go to work because you need to pay the bills, because you need to provide for your family, because you value your family’s well-being very highly. But when you choose to play a video game, or watch TV, or read a book, or anything else instead of writing, then you’re effectively saying that you value those things more than you value writing. If you want to write seriously, you’re going to make the sacrifices equivalent to how much you value writing. For example, when I’m on a deadline, I wake up at 4:00am; I value meeting the deadline more than I value that extra couple hours of sleep.
The same goes for marketing. Do you really value that your book sells? Then you have to put in the time–you have to make the sacrifices–that will help it sell.
Now, I will absolutely be the first to say that a lot of marketing tactics are worthless and stupid and ineffective. But, none of the five things mentioned above fall into that category. I think that a lot of the bitterness that authors feel is that they don’t see results from those activities as quickly as they’d like to. They try Twitter for a month and don’t really fall in love with it, and they give up. Or they blog once or twice a month and don’t get any comments and they assume they’re just wasting their time.
That’s flawed thinking. It’s not how book promotion works–it’s not how any kind of product promotion works.
I once worked for a company that used a lot of print advertisements, both in magazines and with direct mail campaigns. And we knew full well that sending out a single advertisement was never going to sell anything to anyone. If we made a deal with a magazine, it was for months of repeating ads. If we sent out direct mail, it was multiple postcards over long periods of time. Why? Because consumers don’t see an advertisement and immediately make a purchase decision. Instead, consumers see an advertisement and they store a tiny bit of that ad’s information in their brain so that the next time they’re making a purchase in that category (in this case, books) they might remember our product. And the more they see about our product, the more it occupies their minds; so when they say “I want something good to read”, they’ll be more likely to choose ours.
So, when it comes to marketing, you keep at it, even if you don’t see immediate results.
Using myself as an example, Marion Jensen once wrote about the way I use Twitter: long before Variant ever came out, Marion wrote about how I was very open and entertaining on Twitter about the writing process–how many words I wrote every day, how I got my agent, how the submission process (and rejection process) went. And then Marion said that after months of reading these posts, he was eager to read the book even though he didn’t really know anything about it. Keep in mind: this was a year and a half before the book was released, and he was already saying he was getting eager to read the book.
It kind of makes me wonder how effective the book launch would have been if I’d waited until a month before release to start talking about it.
It takes a long time to build a twitter following, or a blog following, or a Facebook following. If you wait until your book is released, you’re too late. And if you try it for a month, get frustrated because only 18 people follow your Twitter feed, and quit, then you’re doing it wrong. A key element to marketing is time.
Lovers, Haters, Swingers
Another HUGE part of marketing is understanding that your customers (readers) fall into different categories. Imagine a spectrum, with Haters and Lovers on opposite ends. Lovers are your die-hard fans–the people who buy all your books and come to your signings and take their picture with you. The haters are the people who want nothing to do with you–maybe they hate your genre, or don’t like your style of humor, or whatever. In the middle is the swing group: the people who haven’t made a decision about you yet.
You need to ignore the haters. No need to waste time marketing to them.
The swing group is really important–they’re who you’re trying to persuade to try your books. Hopefully you can convince them to change from Swingers to Lovers.
But you also have to market to the Lovers, to the fans. I bring all of this up just to say that not all of your marketing efforts are designed to bring you new readers–a lot of it is designed to keep your fans happy. Your fans love you, and they’re going to buy your next book–unless you neglect them and they forget why they liked you–or, worse, they feel like you’ve ignored and betrayed them.
So: not all of your marketing efforts will result in an immediate sale. And THAT’S OKAY.
Do What You Love
This is the most important part of all of this, and it’s an issue of mindset.
No one likes promoting their own book. You feel like a shill and a money-grubber. You feel like you’re abusing relationships with friends, and guilting them into buying.
So, let’s try to hammer one thing into our heads. If get nothing else from this blog, get this:
When you see the term “social networking”, ignore the word “networking” and focus on the word “social“. Some people act like Facebook and Twitter and blogging are a chore, and if you have that attitude, then you’ll always hate social networking. But I don’t see it that way. I log into Twitter the first thing every morning to see what my FRIENDS are talking about, and so I can join the conversation. And a lot of these friends are people who I’ve never met in real life. Some are fellow authors. Some are readers. Some are just fun people who I’ve met and built a relationship with.
Yes, that took time, and in those early days when I had few Twitter followers, it wasn’t as much fun. But it’s definitely worth the investment. Now, I feel like I always have someone to talk to, or someone to hear a joke from, or someone who has something insightful to share. It’s like hanging out with your friends all the time.
It’s not a friggin’ chore. It’s a delight. It’s SOCIAL.
And if you don’t like Twitter, then blog. Build your SOCIAL network there, and interact with your commenters. Or on Facebook. Or on YouTube, or Google Plus, or Friendster, or whatever-the-heck else. It doesn’t matter which platforms you chose. Just chose something, and have a good time. Be social. Be fun. Be interesting.
You’re a writer, for crying out loud. If you can’t be fun or interesting for ten minutes a day then maybe you’re in the wrong business.
End of rant.