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Think like a marketer.

Lately, I’ve talked with a lot of artists, mostly writers, who have no idea how to market their book. This isn’t news, of course! Artists, in general, hate to sell their stuff — it’s one of the reason that publishers exist. (No need to go into how bad a job most publishers are doing — you can read all about that here and here, if you like.)

Most of them have said things like this:

  • “I don’t know anything about SEO/Google ads/getting visitors to my blog.”
  • “I tweet three times a day and update my Facebook page, but I don’t know what else I can do.”
  • “I’ve spent a ton of money on publicity or book tours, and I’ve only sold a few.”
  • “The publisher went all out in their efforts, but I only sold through a fraction of my copies!”
  • “I have no idea how to sell, and I hate selling.”

Though these issues are all important, that’s not the most important thing to address.  The biggest deficit in marketing skill is not specific techniques or building a website, twitter, FB following, etc.  It’s not even building a list — though that skill alone is often what separates successes from failures.

The biggest problem is that writers aren’t thinking like marketers!

If you’re not thinking like a marketer, all your work may not pay off.  It’s like going to the grocery store when you have no specific meal in mind — you can spend $150, and not have a thing to make for dinner.

I really underestimated this aspect until I started interviewing writers in person.  The techniques themselves that I use are incredibly simple, like saying, “Hey, buy this,” in a banner ad.  Anyone can do this… if they’re thinking like a marketer.

So, how do you think like a marketer, then??

Three words: know your audience.  Know exactly what they want, why they want it, and how to sell it to them.  Start with asking, “Who, exactly, are my readers?  What do they like?  How many children do they have?  What authors similar do they like?  What magazines do they subscribe to?”  It’s like knowing your character — marketers go through the same process to “profile” their audience.  Assumptions can be very expensive.

Here’s an example from this morning.  Let’s say I have a client who writes m/m romances, and I’m trying to find her a new audience outside the realm of existing m/m readers.  Basically, I’m looking to expand the market, and test potential audiences that might like m/m, even if they haven’t read it before.

This morning, I open a copy of House Beautiful — one of the most popular mass-market magazines for a mature female, affluent (or wannabe affluent) audience!  They aren’t modern like Dwell, but more traditional… perfect for testing a romance novel offer.

What do I see?

An ad for Olay Regenerist, no shock there, right?  But also…

An ad for some home furnishing company featuring:

  • A hot shirtless guy
  • Books in the foreground clearly displaying “Tom Ford” and Michaelangelo

‘Kay.  This could mean that they’re catering to a gay audience — and HB has one.  But it could also mean that the magazine has a good percentage of older women who love gay men, and might be interested in reading traditional romances featuring two men.  I dunno, it could mean nothing.  It could be that the women subscribers wouldn’t be interested in m/m at all.  But it was a clue, and nothing happens by accident when you’re paying $10,000 per page.

Naturally, I wouldn’t suggest taking out a full page ad in House Beautiful to start — that would be expensive and foolish.  I’d have a lot more investigation to do before I decided to invest in a market test, such as finding out if they watch Queer As Folk.  My point is, the better you know your audience, the more opportunities you have to reach them.  Most writers wouldn’t even think of advertising in House Beautiful for their books, but these more indirect connections are sometimes where all the profit is!

This work must be done before you take out any ads. Before you do any work at all communicating with your audience, whether it’s on your website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

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Writing fanfiction — why do they care about what you do?

I can understand some authors’ negative attitudes about fanfiction. They clearly feel threatened in some way — creatively, legally, morally, or financially. Whether their feelings and arguments are irrational doesn’t matter; I accept the validity of the perceived threat. Anne Rice and Orson Scott Card, two authors who have been outspoken about fanfiction, are entitled to their views on other people using their characters and worlds. Emotionally, they have something to lose.

I can understand the attitudes of pro and aspiring-pro writers…

Fanfiction communities, in general, are pretty damn respectful about the original creators’ wishes. Since fan works are tributes to both the original works and the creators of the original works, fan writers and artists usually abide by the originators’ wishes. For many, it takes some of the fun out of making fan works if the creator doesn’t want them made, just like giving a surprise party for someone who wants their birthday ignored.

Even the aspiring-pro writers’ attitudes are understandable. They obviously have ambitions and are dead set on improving their craft. Since people tend to give autobiographical advice, it’s natural to project their own aspiring-pro goals onto other people. Just like a father telling his kid, “You’re wasting your time playing guitar. You should be studying the stock market, making something of your life while you’re young.”

…even if they don’t understand why some people want to write fanfiction.

They don’t get that:
1) Fanfiction is actually a great way to hone your writing skills with the right mindset. In martial arts class, we had the option of doing full-contact fighting with our classmates. Our teacher created “RCEs” — Restricted Combat Exercises. It was a game where we did fight each other, but we were only allowed certain things. These restrictions made us focus on strengthening certain aspects of our combat abilities that would go untended, just because there are so many variables to worry about in real-time combat. It takes a lot of experience to fight well, and the restricted, but still combative, environment helped us with that.

2) A lot of fanfiction writers don’t want to be published. It’s an enjoyable hobby, and only that. Many of them do not write because they’ve always wanted to be writers, but simply out of love for the original works. You see this same attitude at many open mic nights — the people are obviously amateur (most of them), but they aren’t doing it because they want to be pro musicians. Anyone judging them against pros is missing the point: they are doing it to more deeply experience the songs they love, to really get inside the music. (When I have time, I will join an amateur symphony orchestra, just so that I can be in the glorious, golden center of art music again.)

My blind spot?

But what I don’t really get is why non-authors care so strongly about fanfiction. They have nothing to lose, unlike published authors. After someone commented on my previous fanfiction post, I had to do a little research on people’s attitudes.

Vanessa had said:

I wouldn’t say I’ve seen rancor but there’s definitely an attitude of why bother, you’re wasting your time, you don’t get anything out of it from some aspiring pro writers, even if a person says they’re just writing it for enjoyment. The thought process seems to be you could come up with an original, publishable story in the same amount of time. And of course some people just consider it right out plagiarism.

She is clearly more in tune to the scene than I am. While I had thought that the general attitude was either positive or, “um, it’s kind of lame,” I discovered a lot of non-published authors being actively against it. Arguments showed up such as:
– It’s a waste of time. If people want to write, they can write their original stories just as easily. (Variations on this are, “It’s lazy.”)
– It’s not serious writing.
– It’s plagiarism.
– It’s stupid and no one should do it.

Illogic of these ‘arguments’ aside (why is fun a waste of time?), the interesting aspect of this is: why do non-writers care so much?

If I want to spend my leisure time writing fanfiction — in a fandom where the original creator gave express permission to write it — instead of playing video games, who does it harm?

This sounds like a very teenager-ish, idealistic attitude. “Why should anyone else care if I dress Goth? It doesn’t hurt anyone,” etc. But really, it feels like people have a moral crusade against something that will never affect them. Unless they think it does affect their world for the worse in some way.

If anyone can shed some light on this, please do. I seem to have a blind spot here, and I want to understand.

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Before You Self Publish: 5 Vital Things To Do

Warning: this article is very information dense. Don’t be fooled by its short nature and “checklist” form — these five areas are not just important, but imperative to understand for any successful self-publishing venture.

1) Research your market (know your reader.)
If you self publish, you cannot take your book’s positive reception and marketability for granted. Just because you think it’s great or important doesn’t mean that anyone else will buy it. Even if you write in a known and thriving commercial genre, such as romance, you can’t just assume that because people read romance, they’ll want your particular book.

Romance, in fact, is a great example. There are many kinds of romance readers, and even though romance makes up a huge portion of all fiction books sold, you only apply to a small percentage of the buying audience. Just because someone loves Regencies doesn’t mean she loves glitz. Some people will not read any sex scenes at all, whereas some will only read R ratings and above.

You need to know exactly who is likely to buy your book, and why she will purchase it over her other options, including books from traditional publishers or simply not buying any books at all!

Action: Write out exactly why your ideal reader will like your book, and why it is worth buying. Don’t worry about being fancy with wording — this is just for you.

2) Make sure your website feels “professional.”
Your site doesn’t need to be big, extensive, or fancy, but it does need to look like a true website, not just a blog. Essential features are:
– Your own domain name, not just a Livejournal or Blogger account.
– Good, organized design. There are many free and low-cost WordPress templates to choose from.
– A real home page with a big, clear message about your website’s purpose. The default view should not be the most recent blog post. A blog alone does not feel professional enough for a lot of visitors.
– The right information. As your own brand, you have to build trust and rapport with your reader before she buys. Your site needs to have plenty of information about you, your book, your sales and refund policy, and what you stand for. Especially important is to explain why you’re self published, and to present your decision to publish yourself as a positive move for you and your readers.
– Post a sample. Either of the book, or short stories, or a novella… anything! I can’t tell you the number of writer’s websites I’ve visited with no samples of their work. Three chapters of a novel seems to be a good sample length.

3) Figure out how you’re going to reach your (specific segment of the) market.
As your own publisher, you have to make sales, and that means getting your goods in front of the people most likely to buy them. Find out where your audience gathers with the purpose of finding out about books just like yours, and advertise there.

The most obvious and easiest places to advertise are not usually the best. They will be the most competitive and expensive — so, probably out of your budget — but also, they will be the least focused. If you have a romance book to sell, you might think of advertising on major romance review sites, but you’d be better off looking for websites and blogs about your particular romance niche, whether it’s African-American, Regency, gay, or dark fantasy. The audience will be more responsive and less immune to advertising, especially since your ad will be a great match for their specific interests.

4) Figure out how to advertise to them in a way that they’ll respond to.
Pretend that you’re paying $10 per click, even if it’s a banner ad. You can’t afford to be cute, inscrutable, devious, or clever — the best results for novice advertisers is to plainly make an attractive offer. (To know what’s attractive, you need to know your reader — see #1.)

Tell them to go to your site and do something — either buy your book, read your free stories, take a poll, etc. Do not try to trick them into coming; people are wise and have seen much advertising these days, especially online. You can’t afford to have people misinterpret your meaning, especially if you are paying per click. You want visitors, yes, but you want high-quality visitors most likely to buy.

Your ad starts this process, and it can either work for you, or against you. Create your ad with the action you want your visitor to take in mind.

5) Start building an email list.

You can do this even before you release your book… in fact, you should. It’s the first thing I recommend any author do on their own website. There are right ways and wrong ways to do this, but any action is better than none.

When you have an email list, you have much more opportunity to build trust and rapport with your audience. Most people coming to your site will only be interested, but not ready to buy. When you give them the opportunity to sign up for your list, you don’t force them to either buy right now, or leave. There is a way for them to say, “Tell me more, because I may want to buy in the future.”

Building an email list is easy and low cost — there is even a free option, though I really don’t recommend it. The free service lacks critical features that you need to get your emails actually opened and read.

These five steps are exactly what I did with my first book, and I actually made money the first month. There is no reason you can’t do them, too. If you can prove there’s a paying market for your book with direct audience feedback, prove that you can reach them with low-enough cost, and build a list of responsive fans, you have every reason to be confident about getting some book sales!