Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Spreading the word

The internet is a marvellous thing. If this resource had been available to me when I was younger, chances are good I’d have had a head start with my writing career. There is a plethora of informative sites available geared toward writers taking those first steps. There is so much information available, it’s sometimes quite bewildering, but if you take time to hone your filtering, you’ll definitely find more than enough knowledge to write, revise, find an agent for or publish your first novel.

But that’s not where it ends. Many authors don’t consider possibly one of the most important aspects of being successful: marketing. Here’s where being handy at writing your own press releases, blogging and social networking can really help you. You can’t expect your book to fly off vendors’ shelves if your readership doesn’t know the work exists. And the buck doesn’t stop with the internet. You have to become adept at finding promotional opportunities in your immediate environment.

Over the decade or so that I’ve been involved in the media industry, with emphasis on below-the-line marketing, I’ve picked up a few tips that I’m happy to share.

The first question you need to ask is: who is your target market?

Who will enjoy your book? Where will you find them? In my case, I need to aim at people who enjoy urban fantasy with a gritty, dark edge (think Goths with an interest in the supernatural, Twilight fangrrrls and folks who slurp up Charlaine Harris’s writing). Where do they lurk? Social networking sites like Facebook and interest-specific forums provide ample opportunities to share links, as does Twitter. Blogging platforms such as blogger.com or wordpress.com are just as useful. They’re even more magical if one combines them. Even better: they’re all free.

Add free press release sites to the mix, and you’ve got a helluva lot of outlets.

Written a novel about a young woman learning to become a belly-dancer? Then see about sending press releases to local belly-dancing studios in your area and beyond. Now here’s a really devious idea: design snappy flyers of your novel and leave them in coffee shops and internet cafés, or slip them into books similar to yours at your local library. Give just enough information to make people save the slip of paper and look you up online. Perhaps hold off the guerrilla tactics in your local bookstore, okay? Unless they’re already stocking your novel, that is.

Although many people complain about Facebook as a waste of time and energy when it comes to all the apps and stalking, take some time to consider the site. Used properly, it’s a powerful tool. Sure, you’ve added your best friends (as in real people you see once or twice a month); old school or college mates (you probably only bump into at clubs or shopping centres then bitch about how fat/bald they’ve become); family (now you don’t have to call them, hey?); industry-specific peers (other professionals you like or stalk); and friends of friends (random acts of friend-requesting that will probably because “I liked your profile pic and think you’re cute”).

One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve actively begun marketing my novels is that people talk. I receive messages from people who buy my novel, enjoy it then mail me, purely because they first heard about it through the links I’ve shared. Sometimes they are moved enough to post a link to their status reports. This makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

As one of my friends, a South African author published through a large multinational publisher said to me, “It’s by word of mouth you’ll sell your novel, and it doesn’t really matter if you’re with a big or small press.”

It’s quite simple: the more “friends” you have, the more people will know about your work and will, perhaps boost your sales. People talk. Recently a friend of mine on Facebook bought a print copy of one of my novels upon seeing it was available locally after I shared a link. She read it and enjoyed it so much she lent it to a mutual friend who liked the story enough to tell me that much the next time we spoke. And I know of yet another mutual friend in that circle who’ll most likely borrow that soon-to-be dog-eared copy of Khepera Rising. Sure, I’m not generating additional sales but that’s three people who know of me and perhaps say good things to a wider circle. “Hey, I read this novel by this crazy Goth chick who lives up the road…”

Sure, I’m not making huge sales but I’m definitely creating a buzz. I don’t expect to churn out one best-seller after the other in the same vein as Ms. Meyer, but I want to make sure the right people know about my books and that I can gradually build loyal following of readers. And while I don’t have budget to pay a PR company, there’s much I can already do on my own.

Some people complain that nobody follows their blog. Well, maybe that’s because no one knows your bloody blog exists. Don’t just blab about your boring day at the office. Make your blog interesting by interviewing fellow authors, writing reviews and discussing some of the issues surrounding your craft in a way that will invite people to comment. Write about what inspires your tales. Share success stories. Blog it then flash the link via sites like Facebook or Twitter. This will not only alert potential blog followers that you blog exists but will also divert some traffic if people have their interest sufficiently piqued.

Another useful tip: get your friends to write reviews on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads.com after they’ve read your novel. Granted, most people are just plum lazy but I’m blessed with friends who aren’t afraid to tell me what they liked or disliked, and I’m steadily building some lovely balanced reviews. These are far better than reviews that froth or gush. People like to read reviews about the product before they hand over their credit card details. Hell, if your friends don’t do it for you, band together with other authors you’re friends with and agree to write reviews for each other.

And if you tell me you don’t know any fellow authors, then you may as well just go and crawl under a rock and stay there. Networking in this day and age is vital. Piggy-backing on your peers is an excellent way of saying “Hey, howzit!” to potential readers.

Press releases are a great way to send out important news, like a sale or a new release. Where to send them, you ask? Mail them to your local newspapers. You never know, one of the editors might decide to use the information as a filler or, even better, send a journalist to do a story. Mail these to online press release sites. It may often feel like you’re farting in the wind but trust me, you may not see results immediately but they do help in building awareness. Ditto for arranging your own release event. Even if you’re meeting at a bohemian café, are serving cupcakes and reading a few pages to your best friends, do it. It helps you build confidence. And, once again, people talk.

Marketing is ninety percent bullsh1tting. If you present yourself as a professional, with a great product (and you’d better back up your claims by doing those revisions) then people will come to see you as a success. Once again it boils down to a simple axiom: people talk.

Say you’ve written a paranormal romance about wolf shifters, see about running give-aways of your novel online over Halloween or Valentine’s Day. Donating copies of your novel as prizes for charity events is excellent, as well. Not only will you get some coverage, but you’re also associating your brand (yes, your name) with a worthy cause. Copies of Khepera Rising will be donated at the upcoming SA Horrorfest as well as the Love Cats fund-raising event for the SPCA. The latter’s organisers have even gone so far as putting my name as a sponsor on the flyer. It may not seem like much, but this steady kind of publicity has made a difference. I’ve noticed in the past year that people are already referring to me not just as photographer Dr-Benway’s wife, but as Nerine Dorman, that crazy writer chick. I kinda dig that.

* * * *
Best-selling South African author Sarah Lotz has this to say about Khepera Rising, “Definitely not for the faint-hearted or easily shocked, Khepera Rising is part hardcore murder mystery, part revenge fantasy and dark Gothic horror, and effortlessly subverts preconceptions about religious intolerance, the dark arts and Cape Town’s underground Goth culture with devastating effects. With its deliciously morally ambiguous narrator, non-stop pace, high body-count and gore-splattered pages, it’s sure to outrage some, but lovers of noir, black humour and no-punches-pulled horror will be hooked from the first page. It’s an accomplished, scathing and daring debut from Nerine Dorman, who clearly has a brilliant career ahead of her.”
Khepera Rising (book one) and Khepera Redeemed (book two) are available electronically and in print, from Amazon.com, Kalahari.net or direct, from the Lyrical Press website (www.lyricalpress.com), as well as other vendors.


PamelaTurner said...

Great advice. And yes, Khepera Rising is on my TBR list.

Since my upcoming short novel is set in Louisville, I'm trying to find ways to cross-promote with other venues, to think outside the proverbial box and implement strategies used by bands, filmmakers, etc. Can't say whether I'll be successful or not. Hell, I used to run in fear when I heard the words "market" and "promotion" but a few classes have (almost) taken the edge off. LOL

Someone mentioned that marketing starts before the book comes out. How true.

Nerine Dorman said...

That is true about marketing starting beforehand. Problem with being a new author with the small presses is you've got to shout so much louder (or more inventively) to make yourself heard.

Never lose sight of the fact that you've had a good start but much of the work rests on your shoulders to take it further.

The books don't just jump off the shelf.