Ins and Outs of M/M Romance: Marketing by Jordan Castillo Price

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Jordan Castillo Price is well-known to anyone who visits this site because she’s such a prolific writer and just about all of her books have been reviewed here. Although Jordan’s books have all been well received by readers, she’s probably always going to be most famous for her PsyCop stories. When I asked her to participate in this series she didn’t hesitate, and I’m pleased to present her post on Marketing, an area where many authors need a bit of help. If you’re interested, Jordan also has her own advice series at packingheat.net.

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Before I was able to devote myself full-time to writing, I coordinated design and marketing for a public library. In those nine years, I’ve learned a thing or two that are of use to me as an author and a publisher. Most people think of marketing as greedy, self-serving, and possibly deceptive—a way to trick people into buying something they don’t want or need. Hopefully marketing won’t sound quite so smarmy if I explain how I look at it.

What is Marketing?

Marketing is linked in our consciousness to sales, and can often be seen as an unsavory sort of business—but that’s not how I look at it. (And, by the way, I’ve always been a crappy salesperson. I figure it’s not my place to try to force someone to buy something they wouldn’t enjoy.)

When I set out to market a book, I’m not thinking, “Okay, how many people are going to buy it?” What I’m thinking is, “How can I make the type of reader who would love this book stop and check out the blurb and excerpt?” If I write a book, I intrigue a reader to take a closer look, and she buys the title and loves it, that’s a major win/win! We’re both happy! I think that the best thing authors can strive for is not to make a quick sale, but to gain a reader for the span of their career.

Marketing, to me, is about education—presenting my book to its potential customers in a way that they can tell what they’re getting, and make an educated decision about whether they might enjoy it enough to commit their money, attention and time to it.

Title
The first marketing decision you’ll make is the title of your book. Your title should convey something about the book, and should be different from what’s out there. It can be hard to make both of those conditions fit. But you need to run your title through Amazon and see if it already exists in your genre—it’s less painful than finding out you’ve muddied the waters by calling your book the same thing someone else has. (I’ve done this and it stinks.)

Sometimes twists on words or phrases can be helpful in being more original and memorable. Moolah and Moonshine, for instance, are two distinctive words that hadn’t yet been used together, they were also evocative of the era the book is set in as well as the plot points, and they were playful like the book was playful. So as a title, it worked.

Cover
Authors have varying levels of control of cover art. Usually you will at least be able to submit a cover art request. Few epublishers can afford to commission custom illustrations for every title, so these days, most covers are made from stock art. You probably won’t find two guys who look like your main characters—and even if you could find those individual guys, chances are the lighting and other photographic aspects will make them look ridiculous when they’re composited.

Look at big New York publishers. Their books typically do not feature a character on the cover unless they’re romance, fantasy or juvenile. My suggestion would be to find a movie poster or a professional book cover that conveys the mood of your book, and attach it to your cover art request. Pay particular attention to typography. If you see a movie poster or book cover that has a typographical style that represents the feel of your story, attach it and say, “I love these fonts.”

The idea is not to make your story look like something it isn’t. It’s to embrace the sort of artwork and typography that people who love your sort of story would pay attention to.

If you don’t give the publisher something to go on, chances are you’ll end up with a headless gym bunny torso, or two weirdly composited stock art models, and your title over the top in a random font with a few cheesy effects applied to it. So think about the mood and feel of your story and do your best to ask for something that matches that mood.

Blurb
I’m not sure why blurbs got their reputation for being so notoriously hard to write. Picture what the initial conflict of the book is, what the flavor of the book is, and go for it. If you have to write it ten times to get it right, so what? It’s only a few sentences long!

One common mistake I see in blurbs is backing up to far, and beginning with something like, “Life is good for Johnny.” You’re too far away from the conflict if you start way back there. It’s not the Old Testament!

Another tendency is to use empty cliché language. Readers skim over clichés. The words don’t engage people. If you see anything that even remotely smacks of cliché, highlight it and challenge yourself to rework that cliché into verbiage that conveys something that’s special about your book.

Social Networking
The key to effective social networking is being genuine. Yes, you may have a pen name, but readers can sense if you’re putting on a persona to try to sell them stuff, rather than connecting with them on a real level.

It’s a good idea to have multiple channels of social networking, but avoid the drive-by. When you show up only if you have something to sell, readers know—and they don’t appreciate it. (They’re particularly vicious about it on Amazon blogs!)

My personal preference has been to cull my Yahoo groups, because they turned into a wall of noise, just a bunch of writers going, “Buy my book! Buy my book!” to other writers, and no real interaction.

It’s the little things, the genuine things, that readers react to. A dumb little post on Facebook about finding an earwig recently brought a lot more interaction than huge essays and newsletters. I think sometimes the small, human things are more relatable than a big monologue.

Newsletter
You need a newsletter! It’s called “permission based marketing,” and I guarantee you, it is the single most important thing you can do. I work 4 to 5 days per month—you read that right, about 40 hours—on my newsletter. That’s how important I think it is.

Most of the newsletters I read give dates of upcoming releases, have a contest, and that’s about it. Come on, you’re a creative! I know it takes time, but you’ve got to do better than that to make someone want to open your email.

Content is the key. Anecdotes, quizzes, surveys, drabbles, serialized stories. That’s the stuff that gets your newsletter opened. I started my newsletter with only 42 subscribers. Now I have over 700, and my open-rates are astronomical. I consider how many ‘opens’ I get to be far more important than how many subscribers I have—because what good is a newsletter that no one reads?

Be sure to go through a newsletter service, rather than just gathering names and sending from your email programs. Not only do services allow you to make pretty emails and gather statistics, but they stop your message from ending up in the spam folder, and more importantly, from getting blocked.

That’s a lot of what I know about marketing. If the gracious and illustrious Wave will have me back, we can dig deeper into some of these topics in the future!

Jordan will definitely be back authors!!! :)

If you would like to sign up for her newsletter here’s the link

signup – http://tinyurl.com/jcpnews
archive – http://psycop.com/NL

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Contact Information

Jordan’s website: http://www.jordancastilloprice.com/
JCP Books: jcpbooks.com
Jordan’s email: jcp.heat@gmail.com

38 thoughts on “Ins and Outs of M/M Romance: Marketing by Jordan Castillo Price

  1. Ali Wilde

    Great advice, Jordan. Thank you. I like to think that most of our titles and book covers reflect the mood, tone and subject of the story. Both Andy and I are on Twitter and have Live Journals, which are used for more than just marketing. That was an interesting piece of advice, actually. But common sense. Relate to people outside of an author/reader role. Makes a lot of sense.

    Thank you. Everything is helpful.

    Ali xx

    1. Jordan Castillo Price

      Hi, Ali! I listen to a lot of internet marketing guys (podcasts, blogs, etc.) and the genuineness of interactions seems to be a key thing they’re focusing on lately. It’s not enough to only announce your stuff, but to be there to interact in a genuine way with people who want to interact. (Which everyone here does, so I’m preaching to the choir, but it’s still good to have assurance that what you’re spending your time on is helpful to your career and not just you noodling around.)

  2. Val Kovalin

    Jordan, this is an outstanding article! Yours and Josh’s about publishers really stand out in my mind as valuable in this series. I was already thinking along the same lines as what you’ve mentioned here — but only because I was a business major and have a lifelong interest in marketing and advertising. Most writers may have never thought about these things you’ve brought up. Plus, you’ve taken these concepts further than I have so I’m thrilled to have all this reference material you’ve provided here that I can save for my own use. The cover art advice is great. I’d never thought about attaching a movie poster / font examples! Also, you have the best newsletter I’ve ever seen (with the All Romance Ebooks one as a close second), and I’ve seen many. Thanks again for all this info! :)

    1. Jordan Castillo Price

      Thanks so much, Val! My interest in marketing came much later in life. All throughout high school and college and even grad school, I was too damn “cool” to give a damn about business. I guess at this phase in my life, I’m ready to learn. I’m thankful I have the resources–Internet and great public library–to teach myself.

      Photoshop guru Corey Barker often bases his tutorials on movie posters of current releases, and when I watch them I feel inspired to use the techniques in book covers.

      Typography is typically the weakest aspect of m/m cover art. (Anne Cain excels at typography, which is a major reason her covers look so slick.) If you give a cover artist something to go on for your typography, it ensures that they’re at least glancing at some pro typography before they fire up Photoshop and start applying random effects to the text.

      1. Tiggothy

        Yes please!

        You’ve covered so many different things here, I’d love to hear about them in more depth. And what you said about the ingredients of a good newsletter is spot on – I used to subscribe to a well-known cartoonist’s newsletter but gave up when it became more & more “Oh look, I wrote this. Buy it.” with one or two lame jokes, instead of the wealth of observational humour which it had been when I first subscribed…

        1. Jordan Castillo Price

          What a wonderful example of a newsletter that started out good, and ended up being little more than “buy my stuff.”

          I find lately I also have less patience for podcasts that used to be good, but are suddenly full of “bumpers” and sponsorships. Especially when you can tell the podcaster doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the service that’s sponsoring them.

  3. Davina

    I think one of the most important things for an author to do, marketing-wise, is to not be a jerk (sounds simple, but…).

    I would like to think that I’m the type of fan most authors would love to have – once committed, I buy everything on release date and recommend to friends and the ‘greater internet community’ via things like GoodReads and Gay Bookclub.

    I once joined an author’s yahoo group (someone who comments frequently on this blog, but I won’t say who) to ask a question about a release date, and was snapped at for making a mistake in my posting format – and I’ve never touched another one of their books. If you can’t spare a minute to be nice to me, I don’t want to give you any of my money, plain and simple.

    Also, I hate it when authors vanish from the internet – if you’re going to have an online presence, have a freaking presence! When I go to an author’s webpage or livejournal, I shouldn’t have to dig to find out what was recently released and what’s coming soon – authors might be busy, but quite frankly, I’m busy too. It’s rare that I’ll actually contact an author to find out where they’ve gone, and I’ll bet most readers are the same.

    And if you are going to take an internet hiatus, don’t come back only to beg for votes on some competition: p&e, dear author, etc. The author I’m thinking of completely vanished *again* once the competition was over – and if they don’t care about maintaining a relationship with their readers, why should we care about their books? (What’s especially frustrating is that this author has another, secret, internet alias (for their fan fic) and posts all the time, so it isn’t like they’re not online).

    If people think these things aren’t important when it comes to marketing…. they’re crazy! :P

    1. Jordan Castillo Price

      Great point about vanishing! I know it gets overwhelming to keep all the plates spinning, but I think an author should probably check in every now and then. I think every two weeks would be sufficient, don’t you? I get sad when I look up my favorite podcasters or bloggers and see there’s a two-month silence.

      I have a policy about not begging for votes for myself. I feel slimy after I do it, so I’ve decided it’s not worth it.

      If I am issuing what’s considered a “call for action” to my loyal readers, I’m not going to waste it on a popularity contest. I had a “call for action” in a recent JCP Books Sale newsletter where I asked people to recommend PsyCop to their friends who haven’t read it yet, and the response was wonderful. If I’d wasted my mojo on “vote for me,” I don’t think I would have had the support where it really mattered. Kinda like the kid who cries wolf.

  4. Jenre

    Sensible advice, Jordan.

    I’m not an author, but as a reader I do appreciate it when authors not only make sure I know of their newest releases – I have a brain like a sieve and would forget otherwise – but also take the time to actually engage with me personally. That by far is the best marketing – you can’t beat a personal response.

    1. Jordan Castillo Price

      Hi, Jenre! I totally agree on the personal response thing. Recently I tweeted about an online Adobe Illustrator course that I was loving, and the instructor thanked me on Twitter. That spurred me to research him and find more of his stuff online. He’s now my new favorite Illustrator guy! (And I go out of my way to buy books from, and attend seminars by, my favorite Adobe guys.)

  5. Jason

    I have to say, you are the right person to write this piece. You keep your name out there, in the right way, and it works for you!

    ~smooches~
    Jase

    1. Jordan Castillo Price

      Thanks, Jase! It’s hard to strike a good balance because I don’t want to be obnoxious by over-promoting myself. But it never fails that I’ll release something via one channel (like a newsletter) and say, “I’m working on PsyCop 6!” and then within a day, someone on another channel (like LJ) asks, “So are you writing more PsyCop?”

      Other than being perfectly happy to answer questions despite the fact that the info seems to be everywhere–from my perspective, at least–I’m not really sure how to ensure that I’m getting maximum exposure without coming off like a pest.

  6. Josephine Myles

    Hi Jordan,

    I just wanted to let you know that your recent PsyCop “2 for 1″ offer intrigued me enough to give them a go, and I’ve spent the past week reading through the entire series (and shorts), and will now be checking out your other work in the future. It also led me to your various sites, and I’ve been really impressed with how professional they all look, and how well they link together. And yes, I have been recommending PsyCops to all my friends, and leaving reviews on Goodreads :D

    This was a really interesting and helpful article. I shall definitely be coming back to it for pointers when it comes to cover art and newsletter time – just gotta finish writing that novel first…

    1. Jordan Castillo Price

      Wow, Josephine, I’m so happy you stopped by to comment. I’ve got goosebumps because your experience was exactly what I was talking about when I say I want to attract the attention of a reader who would enjoy my work, not just sell as many books as I can. Gaining a reader is a heck of a lot bigger than selling an ebook!

      Good luck with your novel! I have a writing podcast too at http://packingheat.net and we talk a lot about motivation, word count, etc.

      1. Josephine Myles

        Thanks for the reply, Jordan.

        I’ve already been to check out Packing Heat, because you seem like the kind of writer I’d like to learn from! I probably need to go back and read some of the PsyCop sex scenes again, and properly analyse just why they worked so well, as I think I was rather distracted by how damn hot they were the first time around!

        Now I just need to work out how to find the time to listen to the podcasts – life is far too busy sometimes.

  7. junkfoodmonkey

    I’m very intrigued about the newsletter. I wouldn’t really have thought of that. Now I definitely am and will subscribe to yours and check out the archive. I subscribe to ones from publishers, but would have thought it would be harder for one author to have the same amount of material to put in one, but not if they put the work in as you clearly do!

    Do you think it’s important for your marketing to go to the reader rather than them having to come get it? What I mean is, say a static blog that I have no way to subscribe to, view on something like an LJ friends page, or get an RSS feed from. If I have to keep going back to check it, especially if the updating isn’t clockwork regular then I’ll eventually forget to go back. But if it comes to me – in my LJ, or Google Reader, or whatever, I’ll usually keep reading it.

    Twitter I’m not so sure is useful for announcements type marketing. For general interaction with readers, yes, but announcements will be there and gone too fast, I probably miss plenty, because I’m not going to go back hours and hours on my timeline. So it’s my gut feeling that Twitter has specific but limited value for marketing. I may be totally wrong, I often am!

    I’ve got all this to think about now I’m sold! And it will become something to not just think about but DO soon enough. Eeep!

    Cover art – I’ve got a cover art request form to fill in later for the artists to work from and that seems like a great idea, so the writer can really try to get across the themes and tone of the book as well as the appearance of the characters and the setting. That’s going to be exciting! :D

    1. Jordan Castillo Price

      It really is important for the marketing to be outbound, either via rss or a friend page or permission-based email or a yahoo group. Otherwise, what would prompt you to visit a site to see what had changed? My weekly specials at JCP Books are sent via email newsletter, but lately I’ve been wondering if it would be helpful to do a Blogger blog as well so people who prefer RSS feeds can subscribe that way. I’ve been getting into Google Reader a lot and can see how that might be preferable to yet another thing in the inbox.

      I agree with Twitter being too fleeting to be your main marketing scheme. Also, I don’t think people will follow you if all you tweet about are marketing things. Then again, I don’t follow too many people because I’m so easily overwhelmed. However, it’s possible your followers will RT you so I wouldn’t underestimate Twitter’s overall potential.

  8. jw

    Although I don’t feel that an interactive web presence is something owed me by any writer, I am tickled pink when I get to communicate with some of my faves. You guys are my rock stars/sports stars so when I get an actual email response to an inquiry or a fan-gush, I’m over the moon. It’s kind of nice that the eBook community allows for that kind of contact.

  9. L.C. Chase

    Excellent advice, Jordan! Thanks for sharing with us. I’m with you on the marketing – I actually work full time doing graphic design in a marketing department, and do fine at home when not writing. I have a clear idea of how I’ll want my covers to look when I finally get published (being optimistic here. ;) ) – and could do the creative myself. Alas, publishers probably won’t let me, right. At least I can give a clear example of what I’m after.
    The biggest problem I have is the social marketing thing. I run a few blogs for writing and art, but keeping up with all the rest overwhelms me at times. How do you keep up with it all?

    :)
    LC

    1. Jordan Castillo Price

      Hi LC – Very few publishers let you do your own cover. That’s a shame…or maybe not. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that some authors are driven to self-publish for reasons like wanting control over cover art and editorial decisions.

      I agree that the social thing is overwhelming. I think if you have inherent interest in one of the venues, you’ll be able to keep up with it. And if you’re “forcing yourself” to be somewhere because you “should” but your heart isn’t in it, those are the venues that become a chore more than a joy. Just cut ‘em.

      Alternately, you could create a promotion with several different landing pages connected to different venues so you could really track how much traffic you’re getting from where. That’ll give you a good idea where to focus your face time. You might have a marketing channel that seems sleepy, but it turns out half your traffic is coming from there.

  10. Eden

    Hi, Jordan. First order of business: a fangirl squeal! Long before I was a writer, I was a reader, and your fan. Second order of business: you have a newsletter? *rushes off to subscribe* Okay, back now. Your post makes so much sense. As a reader I once became frustrated because I couldn’t find a favorite author on the internet. I wanted more info! What was the next book? When would it be out? I had my money all ready to go and….nothing. When I finally did reach them I never heard back. Now I can’t even remember who they were. On the other hand, I received an immediate response from another author, a response I still have in my ‘treasured emails’ folders. Not only do I remember them, I snap their books up the first chance I get.

    Thanks for sharing your insight. I look forward to your post on newsletters. Gotta run now, my blog needs updating!

    1. Jordan Castillo Price

      I can’t wait for you to see the newsletter. It’s chock full of good stuff to read.

      I’m right there with you on reasonably up-to-date web content being available. I mean, I don’t expect authors to update their stuff every day, but at least every book. And I think you’re right, it really makes a big difference to have a little contact with a content creator you’re enjoying. I’m still giddy over a tweet an Adobe Illustrator guru sent me after I mentioned I was loving his class on Lynda.com.

  11. Wave Post author

    Jordan
    Since Marketing is also my business, I must emphasize that one of the things that authors neglect to do is to have a website which is constantly updated. This has been said here by some readers and I can’t stress it enough.

    Readers don’t have the time to go searching for your latest book authors, as well as information on your upcoming novels. You have to make the information accessible and do it in an attractive package. There’s nothing that turns readers off like a website that looks like something put together by a 3 year old. Your website must be focused on your books and not on what the cat caught that morning :-) – that latter bit of information is for your blog.

    1. Jordan Castillo Price

      I wonder if some writers can’t be objective about their own websites–like they’re looking at it through rose-colored glasses and they don’t see the rasterized graphics or weird color schemes. Much in the way many publishers think their awful covers are just fine when clearly they’re not.

      I think it’s critical to invest in your business and bring in professionals when necessary. I don’t know Spanish, for instance, so if I wanted to translate one of my stories, I wouldn’t just run it through Google translator and call it good. I’d hire a translator (or maybe a bilingual writer who was game to give it a try) and try to pay and barter with her to do it right.

      Heck, I also wouldn’t dream of doing my own taxes. I have a CPA.

      But too many people treat the tools of their writing career like a Do-it-Yourself project that they probably shouldn’t.

  12. Diane NYC

    Great article Jordan. Your newsletter is an excellent example of how to keep readers engaged and entertained between book releases. I look forward to opening each issue.

    Another suggestion for authors/publishers… when someone orders a book in a series, provide a little check box so the person can get an alert when a new installment in that series is released. It seems so intuitive, but I don’t think anyone is doing it.

    1. Jordan Castillo Price

      Thanks, Diane! That makes me happy to hear it!

      I’m trying to think of the way that checkbox would work, and my guess is that it would take some really advanced programming to make it happen. More than most small presses have at their disposal.

      The segmenting of my mailing list that I’m trying to do is even more ungainly than I want it to be. But I don’t want to pester someone in Canada if I see a good sale on my paperbacks in Germany.

  13. Jade

    Wow! What a fantastic post, Jordan. Thank-you so much for taking the time to provide such great hints, tips and information. And thank-you too to everyone who had added things along the way via comments. We have such an amazing online community!

    1. Jordan Castillo Price

      I love talking about stuff like this, Jade. It makes me happy that it can help some people out. It sounds like the newsletter process, philosophy, etc. piques people’s interest the most, so I’ll focus on that in greater detail next time.

  14. PD Singer

    Thanks for shedding some light on a vexing topic. It’s been hard to know where to devote the effort.

    I had one of those designed-by-toddlers sites and ended up reskinning it; while it’s not perfect, it’s better. This site: http://kateinthecloset.blogspot.com/ had some really good advice.

    There probably is a way to add an RSS feed widget to your existing site, depending on what you built it with. But there should be some canned code that could be edited in.

    Torquere does have the option to be notified when a particular author has a new release — it’s an “add your email” form on the author’s bio page, so finding it means going down a few layers.

    1. Jordan Castillo Price

      I just peeked at your site–wow, it looks really slick. I’ll be sure to check out your series of Guide to Author Websites posts when I redesign the PsyCop site, which has become sprawlly and too complicated.

      With skinnable sites (blogs with themes), there’s no need for anyone to have that amateur look anymore. That’s exciting. It makes for a level playing field, if a new author’s site can look as clean and professional as the site of an author from a big publisher with a marketing budget.

      I had researched the RSS widget idea and come up with nothing. It was a matter of how many hours I wanted to spend in implementation. I knew a quick Blogger blog would take 15 minutes, if I even decide it’s necessary.

      Thanks for sharing your site!

    2. Jordan Castillo Price

      I’m really pleased you encouraged me to figure out a better way to do an RSS feed of my JCP Books sales than to start a whole blog for it; it turns out I was able to do an RSS to point to a single LiveJournal tag. YAY! I love simple solutions.

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