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This blog is my diary of works in progress. The only way a writer can improve upon her skill is to practice, practice and practice some more. Here, in this place of quiet peace, I pen to paper my thoughts and creativity. Welcome to my world.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Guest Post: Marketing: Before, During and After Publication

Marketing: Before, During and After Publication 


Marketing is a dirty word.  Isn’t it?

When I was just starting out—when Bethany House released my first book—I sent out a series of marketing emails with the title: A Little Shameless Self-Promotion.  The title was a nod to how odd I felt actually trying to market my book.  There was something faux-apologetic about it, as if I by inserting the word “shameless” I was letting people know that, while I knew it was bad form, I was doing it anyway.

Think about that.  In what other industry does someone create something and then not tell anyone about it?  When the new iPhone comes out, does Apple slip it onto the shelves and hope someone happens to see it?  Or do they marshal all of their resources to get people talking about it?

As writers, we want to think of ourselves as artists—as if somehow that places us above the need to lower ourselves to something like marketing.  After all, art isn’t a commodity.  Is it?

The truth lies somewhere in between. 

 I love writing stories.  And I love when people read them.  But how can the latter happen if no one does the hard work of letting people know there’s a new story out there to be read?

 I’ll be honest; I’ve never been good at marketing.  I don’t keep a blog.  I rarely think up anything interesting enough to tweet.  And I don’t engage all that well with a wide audience.  One of the reasons for that is I’m a serious introvert.  I’m happiest when I’m home by myself jotting stories down on yellow notepads with a mechanical pencil.  I can write stories.  What I can’t do is engage with people.

But when Bethany House signed me, they were taking a risk.  They took on an unknown author and signed me to a multi-book deal.  And make no mistake—the risk was all theirs’.  So how does my publisher try to mitigate that risk?  First, they try to put out books that people will actually read.  Second, they work with the author to make sure the product that’s released is as good as it can be.  And third, they throw resources at getting the word out.  Every one of these things is a partnership, requiring work from both parties.  And that includes marketing, even if that doesn’t play to my skill-set.

As the title of this post suggests, there are three phases to marketing: pre, during and post.  And each focuses on a specific objective.

Prior to publication, the focus of marketing efforts is something I call pre-branding.   Think about the books you buy—and how many of them you buy because of the author’s name on the cover.  Before your book comes out, you have to focus on name recognition.  In a perfect world a reader will know your name before they know the name of your book.

How do you do that?  You go where the readers are.  Take part in online communities frequented by readers.  Join Facebook groups geared toward readers and authors.  Blog prolifically—and not just about books.  Have something unique to say.  It can take a lot of time but it’s worth it because you’re laying the groundwork for the sort of name recognition that will increase book sales.

Admittedly, all of the above is difficult for me because, as I said, I don’t socially network well.  Even so, I’m convinced that my feeble attempts at this sort of marketing have paid off, especially as I’ve gotten a few books under my belt.  If you’re the sort of writer who can be tenacious about this sort of thing, it’s going to be a tremendous help in adding longevity to your career. 

And that brings me to the next phase in the marketing process: concurrent with publication marketing.  This is actually a bit of a misnomer because this kind of marketing starts months before anyone can buy your book.  For my own books, I typically consider the availability of the cover art as signaling the start of this phase 

As far as I’m concerned, this is the easiest part of the process.  I’m getting the cover out there for people to see.  I’m searching the websites (Amazon, ChristianBook, Barnes & Noble) for links to pre-order the book, which I then pass along to fans.  I scour the web for advance reviews and repost/link these as appropriate.  I come up with the occasional tidbit about the new book, or a question for readers, and post on my author page.  Most of this is reactive marketing—I’m responding to things other people are doing and trying to throw my own weight behind these efforts.  It’s easy and there’s really no excuse for not joining in and doing your part here.

Of course, you’re not limited to profiting off the work of others here.  Some authors will use this time to generate interest in the book through contests—with prizes ranging from free books to even a chance of appearing as a character in the author’s next novel.  There’s really no limit to what you can do here—anything to get people talking about your book, to get them looking forward to its release.

Which brings us to…post-release marketing. 

This is the part of the marketing process that has the potential to produce the greatest rewards as it relates to your current book (as opposed to pre-branding, which has greater longevity).  But it can also be the most taxing. 

The reason that post-release marketing has such potential is because this is usually the time when the author partners with, hopefully, a large group of people who can help spread the word about the new release.  This is where the interviews happen (print, radio and television).  It’s also where introverted authors can try their hand at contributing guest posts on others’ blogs! 

Now, you may wonder how a guy with an admitted lack of social media skills can handle the responsibilities of this phase.  The answer is that, while responding to interview requests and writing guest posts for blogs are social activities, they’re also activities with deadlines—and with well-defined parameters.  I work pretty well under a deadline.  And if you tell me to write about something, I can usually do it.  Too, I genuinely enjoy engaging with readers.  I’m actually pretty good at it on a one on one level.  And, to me, these sorts of targeted activities are more like a conversation between friends than they are attempts to engage a large audience.  So I can jump into this phase feet first and enjoy the process.

Yet, I mentioned that this can also be the most taxing phase of marketing—and that’s a good thing!  If you’re lucky, you have another book in the works—something you’re turning your focus to even as the one you just released is finding readers.  It’s a strange situation to be in.  You’ve spent a year writing a book, living with the characters, going back and forth with your editor.  For me, once that process is done, there’s the temptation to wash my hands of the thing, to let the smart people at my publishing house do what they do best.  It’s not that I’m not excited about the book.  On the contrary, I’m looking forward to its release; I want to hear what people think of it.  I want readers to enjoy the story as much as I did.  But I’m also thinking about my future—about the next book.  Because even if the book you’ve just released sells well, even if people are talking about it, if you don’t have a follow-up you’re easily forgotten. 

So you have to split your time between supporting the new release and struggling with a new story—all the while hoping you’re not doing a disservice to either.  In truth, it’s a good situation to be in because once you’re not in it anymore, it means no one is buying your books!  So you dig in and throw all your energy into both tasks, knowing that at some point the book support demands will fade and you’ll find more time to devote to the new story.  And, with any luck, you’ll get to do it all over again!

Ultimately, your book will rise or fall on its own merits.  It’s rare (though not unheard of) for any amount of marketing to save a bad book.  And we’ve all heard stories about some incredible book that reaches the mainstream based solely on word of mouth.  Which means that your best strategy for having a successful book is the same as it’s always been: write a good book.  Concentrate on craft first, which will make marketing your book, in whatever phase you’re in, a whole lot easier.  


Author Don Hoesel

Don Hoesel is a Web site designer for a Medicare carrier in Nashville, TN. He has a BA in Mass Communication from Taylor University and has published short fiction in Relief Journal. He lives in Spring Hill, Tennessee, with his wife and two children. The Alarmists is his third novel.


~Aishah Schwartz said...

"In what other industry does someone create something and then not tell anyone about it?"

This is the message it seems I will eternally be hammering home to MWA members.

Nicole said...

Lots of nice tips in here. I also liked the quote that Aishah calls out.

Ashfa said...

Wow, great post. There's so much that goes into a book.... Really appreciate all what the authors do! Amazing work!

Member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators