How not to shill, er, sell your book
Regular readers of this column know about my annual Valentine’s Day mailbag, in which I answer questions from readers concerning writer-related romance. And although I pretty much know everything about love and women, my day job is in marketing, so I figured I should do a marketing mailbag as well.
One note: my day job in marketing isn’t book marketing. Book marketing is its own beast, and no one really has it figured out. I certainly haven’t. All I can tell you is what’s worked for other writers. You have to be smart, you have to be persistent (without being terrible), and you need a little luck.
And money. Money helps.
I hate marketing my books. I don’t have a question. I just hate marketing SO MUCH. ~ Sheila J., Silver Spring
I get that. You come across a lot of marketing advice for writers, and some people tell you to spend as much time marketing as you do writing. Other people tell you that writing the book is the easy part; marketing’s where the work is. I hate those stupid people and their stupid advice. If someone’s book was the easy part, then their book isn’t worth reading.
You have to market your book, but the marketing doesn’t have to be awful. I didn’t want to spend my days cluttering up Facebook feeds or tweetin’ every hour. So I wrote. I wrote guest posts wherever I could, gave and conducted interviews, had some fun with short stories. One of the guest columns I wrote was for the Independent, and that ended up turning into a monthly gig.
Yeah, it’s marketing, but it’s also writing.
It’s always better to put out something in public that you love, rather than a “buy my book PLEASE” tweet. Those are the worst. Well, technically, the list of worsts goes: Nazis, DC street cyclists, people who talk on their phone in public restrooms, and then desperate writers tweeting. But they’re pretty high on the list.
Why doesn’t anyone retweet me or like my Facebook statuses or pay attention to me on Instagram? God, I’m lonely. ~ Mark E., Fairfax
Social-media popularity comes down to a lot of factors — who you know, when you post, what you write, your voice. So I can’t give a blanket answer to your question. What I can tell you is that you’re spreading yourself thin. You need to be everywhere, but chances are you’re not good at every single social media platform. Stick to the one you enjoy most. I love Facebook, but I’m just okay at Twitter, and I’m not sure what happened to my Instagram account. So I Facebook most things, and connect with more people there than on any other platform.
You’re going to come across occasional reports that say millennials don’t use Facebook anymore because their parents are on it, it’s uncool, etc. That doesn’t affect us. We’re writers and readers; obviously, we’re uncool. Even the coolest writers are huge nerds who are happiest when they’re reading a book. And old. We’re all old. That’s why the New Yorker does an annual “best writers under 40 list,” and not “best under 30s.” I turned forty last year and sitting down in my chair became a three-point turn. Getting old sucks. Don’t do it.
I get new followers every day. I have no idea who they are. Am I cool? ~ Bill G., Washington, DC
Probably not. One thing you discover when you step into publishing is that there’s a lot of “I scratch your back, you scratch mine,” and there are all sorts of sketchy sites dedicated to boosting your fan numbers on Facebook and Twitter. I remember getting all these followers on Twitter and I had no idea who they were and I was really excited, and then I did some research and learned they’d paid a service that finds and follows people with similar interests. If you don’t return the favor within a week, they automatically stop following you. Chances are, if someone has 13,000 followers and also follows 13,000 people, they’re using ones of these sketchy services. Ignore ‘em. They’re spam.
And you thought it was love.
If I want to make friends with an influential writer, do I have to read his or her work? ~ Claire W., Annapolis
Lots of writers are climbers. They suck up and make friends solely for a helping hand. I sort of get that, but it’s gross. Don’t be that guy. I made a comment in a column a while ago – I try to talk more about other’s people books than my own. And when I do that, I do it with the same attitude I have if I loan someone money; I don’t expect anything back. I just get really excited by good writers. I probably go overboard and half these people think I want to sleep with them, but that’s certainly not entirely true.
Good writers are rare, especially nowadays when it seems like everyone’s a writer and any book they write needs to be published. Trust me, every good writer has written 1-2 books that aren’t worth being read and, subsequently, never were; it’s the process, dude. Writing a book isn’t an accomplishment; writing a good book is. Make that your goal, immerse yourself completely in your work and your genre, and some of this marketing stuff will unfold naturally when you’re done. You’ll know your niche. Even better, you’ll be a part of it.
(Speaking of marketing and books, my new book is coming out on June 13 and is available for preorder now! You can order your copy here. And follow me on Facebook or Twitter to watch me flail about as I market it and clumsily contradict everything I just recommended.)