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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!! :)
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