Monday, February 14, 2011

Guest Post - How marketing helps writers

Guest Post from Sara J. Henry

From a comment I left on a post about branding, Steve invited me to do a guest post.

To me, author branding is your name – making sure it’s spelled right. What’s essential is marketing.
I’ve heard writers say that self-promotion is of little use, that website, Twitter, and Facebook won’t help you sell enough books to matter – and hey, as a writer, it’s just your job to write the best book you can.
Yes, you need to write a kick-ass book, but if you don't get the damn thing in front of people (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, reviews, whatever it takes) it can die a lonely death in a dusty corner of a bookstore. I’ve seen it happen to too many fine novels.

I don’t want it to happen to me.

Last fall Reed Farrel Coleman sold out his print run of his 12th novel, INNOCENT MONSTER, in six days - after his first-ever blog tour promoting the book, crossing into non-crime blogs to introduce him to new readers. Maybe coincidence - but I don't think so. Neither does he.

A.S. King, who just won an Edgar nomination for PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ, convinced me I had to visit bookstores and meet owners. She basically told me, You can’t afford not to. Who would have heard of her novels, which weren’t in chain stores, had she not gotten the attention of indie bookstore owners, run a blog and contests, and Tweeted? Not me.

Daniel Woodrell is an abso-fucking-lutely brilliant writer - why has the rest of the world suddenly heard of him and sales of WINTER'S BONE are soaring? Not because he's a brilliant writer - he's been that all along. But because now there's a movie out based on the book, with four (well-deserved) Oscar nominations.

What can you do?

You can get your ass into bookstores and meet the owners and booksellers and hand them a copy of your ARC even if you have to buy it off eBay or AbeBooks. (Yes, there’s a horrid irony in this, but if it makes your career, you do it.)

You can set up a basic website and or blog, using free or inexpensive programs.

You can set up a Twitter account and install TweetDeck and learn to use it so you see at a glance every mention of your author name, your book title, and maybe your main character’s name. (And you can use Twitter to applaud your friends’ books you love.)

You can set up a Facebook author page, and post events, reviews, and other happenings.

You can come out of your ivory tower and visit some blogs and leave a few comments, post once in a while on Facebook or Twitter, and put up a photo or report on your website.

Find the concept of self-promotion anathema? You’re not the only one. It helped that I did it for author friends first – and that my agent told me Think of it as reporting, not bragging.

Yes, self-promotion done badly is a minefield. You don’t send emails imploring your friends to “like” your Facebook page or direct messages on Twitter exhorting people to buy your book. Use common sense.
And you don’t force yourself to do things that don’t fit. T-shirts, bookmarks, gifts – not my thing. Amy King just ran a chainsaw haiku contest – not my thing. Blog tours and book giveaways, that I can do.

Some of all this has been fun – and I have met some fantastic people – but of course it cuts into writing time. Here’s how I look at it: If my book doesn’t sell, I won’t have a career.

Unless you’re a blockbuster author, the day that you can write a book and sit back and expect it to sell itself – or expect your publisher to do it all for you – is over. If it ever existed.

Sara J. Henry’s first novel, LEARNING TO SWIM (Crown), will be published Feb. 22.  Because she is promoting it as hard as she can, she will point out that it’s been called “an auspicious debut” (Daniel Woodrell), “a moving and insightful psychological thriller” (Michael Robotham), and “emotional, intense, and engrossing” (Lisa Unger). Her launch is Feb. 23 at Partners & Crime, and the first chapter is available for download.


Nigel Bird said...

That's really tasty food for thought. I know it's part of the package, it's working out the best use of time, so pointers such as this are very useful. I'm doing the e-book thing just now and the only one that i'm excluded from doing is the book-stores. I've offered my services to talk to a couple of book-clubs and writers' groups in my area and would recommend a try at that even though nobody has taken me up on the offer.
A FB page is a good idea, one I haven't thought of - it would be a good way to turn great reviews into a few sales; I think that's my point of frustration, that someone with taste and talent tells folk to go and get and only so few do.
The worst that someone you approach for help can do is say no (however strongly) so it has to be worth a punt.
I'd be grateful on advice on how to set up a blog tour. Is us simply a case of approaching a list of blogs or is there a particular expectation.
Anyway, thanks for the tips.
Great cover for Learn To Swim by the way.

Nigel Bird said...

and ps Sara, come and do an interview at Sea Minor any time - you'd be more than welcome. some of the DSD crew have already been and some of them are close to the top of the rankings for the series.

Sara J. Henry said...

Nigel - for my blog tour I first approached friends and then just posted on Twitter something like Looking for a few good blogs to visit to promote my book, and people contacted me. And back when I first got ARCs, I emailed book bloggers/reviewers to ask if they were interested in reading and reviewing.

When I helped Quinn Cummings set up her blog tour I was pushier (which is easier to do for friends than for oneself) - I contacted her frequent commenters to ask if they would host her, and they were delighted to.

PS I'll be happy to visit Sea Minor! Thanks.

John McFetridge said...

That's a very good cover, Sarah.

And a good post, thanks.

Steve Weddle said...

Looking forward to reading the book.

The marketing/promoting/branding vs writing is a bit of a balancing act, isn't it? I guess if it were easy, they'd call it soccer.

Thanks for the post.

Sara J. Henry said...

John, thanks. (Wasn't the original cover - this is where you thank your lucky stars for having a good agent and a cooperative publisher.) You and I met in a case of reverse-branding - at Bouchercon Baltimore where everyone was greeting me cheerily, thinking I was Sarah Weinman ... before I figured it out I just thought crime writers were the most outgoing batch of people in the universe!

John McFetridge said...

Oh yes, Sarah, I remember now. Are you going to St. Louis this year?

And crime writers are a friendly, outgoing bunch!

Sara J. Henry said...

John, I NEVER miss Bouchercon! So of course to St. Louis. Yes, crime writers are a friendly bunch, but don't usually come up to someone they never met and greet them by name!

Nigel Bird said...

much appreciated.
and i look forward to hearing from you Sara.

Carl said...

Sara, thank you for the well written article and excellent advice. We are marketing newbies and this is just the type of info we were looking for to spread the word about our books. Best of luck with your book!