So, you succumbed to that craziest of temptations and wrote a book. Now, whether you are one of the “lucky” ones who landed a publishing contract or you did it yourself, you’re starting to realize that you’re the one who has to do the marketing. The problem is that marketing is totally foreign to your innermost nature. There are lots of suggestions out there about building an online presence, developing niche markets, mastering SEO (search engine optimization) and snuggling up to industry professionals, but how do you get to a place where you’re at least halfway comfortable doing that stuff?
The Writer’s Mindset
Whether we’re embroiled in research or lost in our private worlds conjuring up scenes and scenarios, the writer is motivated by a few simple principles, and truth is at the bottom of each of them. We stare into our characters, and using our accumulated understanding of humanity’s flaws and foibles, we fashion plots and conversations that shed some light on something that matters to us.
When we’re done, we want to show off our baby and have people coo about how beautiful it is. We’ve put so much of ourselves into our work that it takes a monumental effort to steel ourselves for criticism of even the most benign nature.
But, steel ourselves we must — and not merely to function in the role of hearing out our critics. The truth is that getting the public to read our work is no easy task, and there has probably been little in our lives to prepare us for the realities of marketing. Some writers will feel like they’re pimping out their child. Others will be easily discouraged by the lack of enthusiasm from a public that doesn’t seem to care.
Here I am giving you advice, but who am I? Is my advice worth taking? First, I’m not a successful novelist — not yet anyway. My book’s been out a year, and for the first six months, I couldn’t lift a finger to promote it. My husband was feeling terrible when The Heart of Applebutter Hill came out as an eBook, and mere weeks after the print edition hit the market, he was in a full-blown crisis of extreme and unmanageable pain.
I was in fulltime research and advocacy mode. Six months later after a myriad of complications and medical snafus, he was diagnosed and treated for Neuro-Lyme disease (Lyme of the central nervous system). He has permanent nerve damage. As of late November, I was able to start spending some time promoting the book.
I don’t have an issue with doing my own marketing. I had a head start. Most of my career was spent as a singer-songwriter and recording artist. No booking agent wanted to take a chance on a blind woman, so early on I started doing my own booking and PR. I learned from my mistakes while working as a street performer in Philadelphia’s Suburban Station, a center-city commuter train and subway hub. When they didn’t want to assign a writer to cover my happenings, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other papers often published my press releases — without any changes. That’s still happening and I’m still grinning about it.
I also learned about motivation and sales from tape recorded programs from Nightingale Conant. The actual statistics may have changed, but the principles are the same. People don’t generally buy something after hearing about it for the first time. The rule of thumb in the ’80s was that it took eight times for the average buyer to respond to an unsolicited pitch. Sales is a matter of high volume and low percentages.
Failing Your way to Success
Most of us have at least twelve years of experience with schools, and we’re used to the idea of success (aka grades) having something to do with percentages. To get an A, you probably needed 90%, and if you had less than 60%, you failed.
There are many things that require accuracy that borders on one hundred percent. It’s not acceptable, for instance, for a surgeon to take out 90% of a cancerous tumor. Fittings for machinery have to come within tiny fractions of being perfect. To bring it closer to home, a book that has only 95% of its words spelled correctly isn’t considered to be properly edited or well-written.
With all of this totally reasonable obsession with perfection, it is understandable that writers are flummoxed by the results they get from everything from letters to their friends and families to paid advertisements. Coping with the realities of marketing requires that we abandon our preconceived and thoroughly vetted expectations about success.
An Example & a Suggestion
When I started thinking about doing school assemblies, I wrote letters to the headmasters of twenty-five private schools in the Philadelphia area. 5 of them hired me. Five is 20%. This was a targeted solicitation, so we’d expect higher percentages than something random, but 20% is still high. For random solicitations, I learned that even 5% was rare and cause for elation.
I built on that initial success by obtaining reference letters and including them in mailings to every school in the area. Now, that I’m promoting my novel The Heart of Applebutter Hill, I use the same basic formula — cast a wide net, rejoyce in small percentages, and use what you catch to create your next net.
So, take heart, recalibrate your expectations and power up with a shot of wisdom from “The Rules of the Game,” a little song from The Last Straw that I wrote to nudge myself onward and upward.