Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The second commandment

Marketing is something small groups of like-minded writers can in many ways do better than big publishers

If there’s one reason writers give more than any other why they don’t want to self-publish, it’s marketing. Sometimes that’s because they see the writer’s job as writing – the rest is for the publisher. Sometimes it just seems a daunting prospect. I’m not going to argue with the former. Some people just don’t want to do anything but write. I’d question how feasible it would be for a new author with a big publishing house to do it that way, but I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to the people who are interested but think marketing’s impossible.

It isn’t. It can seem like it – websites, blogs, book tours, twitters, virals, readings – when you can’t see where it stops, how on earth do you know where to start. One thing I will say is – assume the Web, or Web 2.0, is the answer to everything, and you probably will do just what you fear – throw hundreds of hours into all these gismos and gimmicks – and end up talking to no one but yourself.

Get it right, though, and it needn’t take forever – and will get great results (of course, marketing is about getting people to look at your book thinking it’s what they want –e-book, POD, or real book, though, if the actual thing isn’t up to scratch many of the people you draw in won’t buy it – and if you do your job well and get the attention of the marketer’s gold dust – a big opinion-former – you could do way more harm than good if you haven’t got your writing, and your layout at least as good as a regularly published book.

This isn’t really about what YOU can do – although alone you can do a lot. I’ll give one piece of advice to the soloist. For someone as ardently supportive of new tech as I am, I still believe the very best thing – if you only do one thing for your book – is the local newspaper. They will almost never say no, first off, if you offer a story. I’ve done it twice – and twice I’ve had an e-mail straight back saying here’s some questions, when can we send the photographer round? (of course you’ve got to pitch it right – human interest, local story: make it about YOU more than your book). And the thing about the local rag is that freelancers scour it for stories they can sell on to national rags and magazines. The local paper ran a story on how my wife and I had been to 23 countries in a year on budget airlines a few years back (I was writing a comedic travel book – the airline industry went belly up just as I was ready to pitch it). Within a month we were front cover of Woman’s Own, I had a piece in The Observer, The Sunday Times was on the phone, and I had a TV crew round shooting a screen test for a travel documentary. They’d all contacted me – because of a small piece in the local rag. So when people say to me “I want to get in the media – I’ll contact The Times, The Guardian, Channel 4…” I tell them to take a deep breath and send a well-crafted one page press release, with a short bio and maybe a photo, to their local paper, and give it a month before they even consider anything else.

That’s an aside. The main point of this week’s column – but I’ll keep it short – is this. If you get together with a few other writers who write the same kind of thing as you, and form a collective identity, you can achieve a vast amount.

My golden rules for collective success are:
Replicate don’t duplicate. If one of you finds something that works – tell the others how to do it by copying the template, but don’t all do the same thing. For example, if you’re geographically scattered – you can each approach your local radio station and offer to appear on a phone-in show. But don’t all put effort into contacting Radio 3.
focus on marketing – if you want to make your books perfect, get in a professional editor, professional cover designers, even professional IT staff – if you were running a small business you’d outsource things – so do it with your books and give yourselves time to get the marketing right.
Promote your brand at least as much as the individual books – that way you all benefit from each person’s efforts.
Stick to your target market. Collectives work better if you have a specific niche market – and you will often know this market better than a publishing house because the chances are you’ll be part of it. My collective writes fiction aimed at urban indie readers. I like to go to gigs and galleries and coffee shops – I know where my readers hang out and what they do – I speak to them every day. That’s all marketing often is – speaking to your readers. So don’t just throw things out into cyberspace. Find real (or virtual) groups of your readers and speak to them about your book. They like what you like – if it’s any good they’ll like your book and tell their friends – and because you’re operating in a small circle, word will spread wide through the group’s channels.
Share ideas, and form action plans. Don’t all do your own thing. Don’t get carried away. Start off with a time-limited brainstorming session. Online or face to face, give yourselves enough time to think things through, not so much your mind wanders – a tight schedule means you start to bounce ideas off each other and creativity arises out of the whole process. Then analyse what you’ve got – research the options you like, and draw up a realistic timetable for action.

I could happily write a whole column on each of these. That'll come with time, but for now, these are tasters to get the ideas flowing


  1. I still don't know where you get the time to do a real job...

    And anyway, that is what?

  2. Tony, you overestimate the time I take on these blogs, and underestimate the extent to which i'm a total hack...