Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thinking About Publicity

I made lots of writing progress yesterday, though I think I still need to tinker with the scenes. Odd things that I didn't plan keep happening, which is good, but it's making me feel a little out of control. Today will likely be a less productive day, as I have to go grocery shopping and have choir practice, but since I'm in the middle of a scene I've more or less written in my head, I may still be able to churn out some words. Meanwhile, the combination of vine pulling, watermelon hauling and a particularly tough ballet class means I'm moving more or less like Frankenstein today.

Today's writing topic came out of a recent convention panel I moderated. As usual, I came up with my best points in the days after the convention, so I thought I'd share them this way. The topic is self-promotion and publicity, and it's something that affects both published writers and writers who hope to become published (I refuse to use the term "pre-published" except in cases where a book has been contracted but it's not yet in print. If you think "unpublished" sounds too negative and doesn't fit in with your The Secret affirmations, use the term "aspiring."). In fact, writers who hope to become published can lay a lot of groundwork that can really help them when they do get a book out there.

The number one thing to do before you start doing any kind of promotion or publicity activity is THINK. Don't just rush out there and do all the promotional activities you see other authors doing. What works for one author may not work for another, and what those other authors are doing may not even be effective for them. They may be doing those things just because they've seen other authors do them. The most important part of any publicity campaign is the planning. Good planning ensures that you're making the most of your resources and hitting the targets you want to hit.

First, think about who is most likely to want to read the kind of book you've written or plan to write. What are these people like? Are they male, female, or a good mix of both? How old are they? What kind of jobs would they have? Where do they live? What else might they enjoy -- other books/authors, TV shows, movies, etc.? Where do they go for information about the things they enjoy? What are their favorite web sites? How do they learn about books? Where/how do they buy their books?

If you were working on a multi-million dollar account at a major public relations or advertising firm, you'd probably commission expensive research to get the answers to these questions. Unless you're independently wealthy and are writing books for fun, you probably aren't going to be able to afford to get hard data to answer these questions in order to market your book, but you can make some reasonable guesses and assumptions.

To start with, you should probably fit into your target market. If you aren't the kind of person who'd want to read the kind of book you're writing, then why are you writing it? Think about the other things you enjoy, how you get information on those things and where you go to discuss those things. Think about how you find out about books, what influences your book purchases and where you buy books. Before you do a promotional activity, think about how you would react to that sort of thing if another author did it. Would it make you curious about the book? Would it influence your purchase decisions? Or would it annoy you and turn you off?

You can also do informal research among your friends or the members of the communities you belong to. Those people are also likely to be in your target market, if they enjoy the same kinds of things you do. Talk to these people or conduct an informal poll. Eventually you'll want to move beyond this initial cluster of people, but it's good to have a core group to focus on when you're getting started. Under that 80/20 rule, these are the 20 percent of the market that you should focus 80 percent of your efforts on.

This step alone may eliminate a lot of potential publicity activities, saving you a lot of time and money. If you find out that these people never pay attention to book ads in genre magazines, then save your money. If you learn that they don't care about entering contests to win stuff from authors or hate getting e-mail newsletters from authors, then that's something to consider.

It may also give you ideas about places where you could go to spread your message, and that's something you can start before you sell a book. You can join communities of people who share your interests and begin participating as a member. You can comment on blogs or message boards that discuss the kind of books you write. If you do this just as an ordinary person who's not selling anything, that builds you some trust for when you do want to mention that, by the way, you've got a book out there (you have to be very careful not to come across as an obnoxious self-promoter when you do this). Those same places may be good spots for ads when you have a book coming out.

Meanwhile, you should also be thinking about what you want to say to your target audiences. What is your author brand? In other words, what do you want people to think about when they think about you and your books? Are your books dark and mysterious, funny and quirky, hot and sexy, spooky, twisted, romantic, etc.? You'll want to convey that in your promotional activities. If you write dark and mysterious, you probably don't want to put cute cartoons or kitten pictures all over your web site, for example. You don't have to take this all the way -- slinking around conventions in sexy clothes if you write sexy books -- but some authors do take it pretty far, creating a public persona that goes with their writing. It's up to you and your comfort level with that kind of thing. Your author persona probably has a lot to do with the way you naturally are or, again, why are you writing something that's so unlike you, unless it's a facet of your personality that you usually keep hidden. It is, however, a good idea for most of your marketing communication to reinforce your "brand" in some way. For instance, I'm known for quirky humor in my books, so I try to use a bit of quirky humor in my blog posts and in my public persona. My branding statement is "Fairy Tales for Modern Times," which sums up the kinds of things I write, and the logo I use on my web site, bookmarks and other items captures this brand as well as a bit of the quirkiness.

But the number one message in all of this is to really think before you do something. Think about how it will reach and affect the people you want to reach, and then think about the message you're sending.

I noticed that the sf/fantasy/horror blog on the Publishers Weekly web site has been asking for names of urban fantasy authors who might be good interview subjects, and my name hasn't come up once, so it looks like there's a target market out there that I haven't reached at all. I suppose I need to think about that.

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