Readers, today we have installment number ten on Jason Henry Evans’ series on How to Write and Publish Historical Fiction. Today he shares marketing tips.
Wow. Ten months ago I said I wanted to do a series of basic how-to’s for historical fiction. While this was originally conceived as an eight part series, it has grown to ten – yes ten blogs – on how to write and publish your historical fiction.
Over this year we have covered:
So now what are we going to talk about? Cover art? How to handle your millions in royalties? Managing the paparazzi in three easy steps? Make-up techniques for television?
Nope. None of that. There is one area we have not covered. It’s the 800 pound gorilla in the room.
I know. I know. You think you don’t have to learn it. You say, “But when Harper-Collins offer’s me a contract, they will do all of the marketing.” Or, “I will let the quality of my book speak for itself! I shouldn’t have to market it!” Or, my favorite, “Marketing is sleazy. I feel dirty just talking about it.”
Look. I completely understand your fears. I get that this is a foreign topic for most writers. I also understand that most writers see themselves as artists. And artists, many times, believe that mucking around in the market place will sully their art and artistic vision.
There is a great documentary on Netflix about romance writing I highly recommend. It’s called Love Between the Covers. Look it up. It’s good! One of the writers they interviewed had a great quote.
“You’re an artist. You’re creating, and it’s exciting, and you’re making this thing that’s brand new and you pour your heart and soul into it. If you are going to take it to market, you are taking it from a work of art to a can of soup. And if you can’t make that transition, publishing is going to break your heart. It is still the book of your heart but you have to realize that it’s gonna be packaged and sold as a product because that’s what you wanted.” Part of that packaging process is learning how to sell your book.
It will be hard. But so is writing a book. Besides, here is the dirty little truth. If you are going to self-publish your book than you will need to self-market that book. There are no white knight marketing companies you can throw a couple of hundred dollars at and wipe your hands clean of the process.
Even if you do decide to go with a traditional publisher, even if you do get an advance and a book contract, the chances are that your publisher isn’t going to do much publicity anyway.
If you want your book to be discovered by the widest audience possible you will have to do the work yourself. Why? Let me explain. I know about a dozen contracted authors and I have heard their horror stories. Authors with ten plus books getting crappy advances. Debut authors ignored after their first book. Publishers who won’t pick up the phone after the contract is complete. What is going on?
OK. This is strictly my opinion. But I think its two things.
#1.) Most medium and large size publisher don’t know what sells any more.
Twenty five years ago a publisher could do a couple of TV commercials or radio ads, maybe schedule a book tour and a talk on the Today Show and then they had a best seller on their hands. There were several national book store chains and they all sold the same books. Today, most of those book chains are gone. Publishers are gun shy about publishing millions of books that they might have to buy back from a book store. So why spend money on an unknown? If it takes off, great! If it doesn’t, the publisher can minimize their losses by not going overboard on publicity.
#2.) Everyone wants lightning in a bottle.
I know an author that pulls down low six figure income every year. This author writes romance and has done so for 20+ years. The author in question is quite pragmatic and is easy to work with. The author has been known to write four books in a year. Yet this author is ignored by their publisher. Why?
Because the author is in their late forties. The chance of their next book going super nova, like Diana Gabaldon, or JK Rawlings, is very small. Even though this author brings in around three hundred thousand dollars gross to the publisher annually, they want millions. So instead of working with said author, and spending tens of thousands of dollars on a proven product, they scour the query emails for new authors, hoping one can turn into a mega star. It’s like the penny slot machine in Reno is advertising a 100 million dollar pay off. You’re gonna dump a LOT of pennies into that machine. Unfortunately, it’s the midlist author who suffers.
But if you dedicate yourself to learning the craft of marketing, you can take some of the chance out of your writing career. Here’s how.
First of all, differentiate between general marketing practices you should be doing on a daily basis and stuff you should do to celebrate a book launch.
For your daily or weekly marketing, you will want to consider the following outlets for social media.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, YouTube
I would not suggest you immediately start using all of these. Pick two, maybe three, and consistently post on them. All of them are free. Try not to get too political or controversial because you may turn off potential fans.
After you’ve set up your accounts, start making relationships by finding people you know or admire and follow them. Don’t be needy or pushy. Don’t be the desperate guy at the marketing event aggressively shoving his business card into everyone’s hand. Be that cool dude in the back of the room with the great big smile, listening attentively to what everyone is saying. That guy won’t have to push himself onto other people. People will come to him.
Now there are two final things you have to do. Start a website. Start an email list.
Both are free. You can start a free WordPress blog site pretty painlessly. It may take you a while to tool around the site, but it’s pretty self-explanatory. Don’t be afraid to goof off and experiment with your new site. (Although I would keep all of your most important writing in a separate file off of your website in case you accidentally delete anything.)
The same is true with your email list. You can go to MailChimp.com and start an email list. Once you get a little savvy, you can even add an opt in page on your website for people to join.
Consumers see the products they buy as part of a relationship. The readers who read your book are going to want to create a relationship with you. They are going to want to know all about you and your work. If you invite them into your life, they will be your biggest defenders and most voracious marketers.
One of my favorite local authors is Stant Litore. He writes Science Fiction and something he calls The Zombie Bible. These are stories of Bronze Age Old & New Testament figures trying to live by God’s laws while fighting off a zombie apocalypse. It scratches the itch I have as a horror fan while soothing my Christian soul. I have met Stant more times than I can count. He has answered questions, counseled me in the writing game, and even had me over to his house. I am a dedicated fan. I tell everyone who will listen about how awesome his books are. My friends are tired of me talking about the man.
You want fans like me. The only way you’re going to get them is if you have an email list and you use it regularly. So how do you get people to sign up? Ask. Create a one sentence script for yourself. Take the time to ask all of your friends on Facebook. If you’re like me, many of them aren’t close and personal friends, but acquaintances who you’ve picked up over the years. “Hi. I’m starting an email list for people interested in my writing and my journey to publication. Would you like to join it?”
If they say yes, ask for the email address. If they say no, tell them “No worries. Have a great day.” Move on and ask the next person.
Right now I have 550 friends on my Facebook page. I asked around 250 people and about 180 said yes. I was blown away! Whenever someone sends me a friend request that I accept, I ask if they want on my list. Most say yes, but some say no. I am up to 200 now. If you can do these things you can market your book.
We have run out of space here at Pikes Peak Writers. So come on over to my website and I’ll talk about other things you can do – for free – to promote yourself and your writing.
Jason Henry Evans: Life is funny. In 2004 I moved from Los Angeles to Denver, newly married with a desire to be a great teacher and husband. I dedicated myself to public education and realized my heart was not in it. So I moved on. At the same time I stumbled into a creative world of art and literature I now call home. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been worthwhile.
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