I signed my book contract in March 2016. Since then, my professional life has been a crash course in marketing, a mix of constant research and the ongoing leap of faith that I knew how to reach my audience.
A marketing primer
Marketing is how you tell your audience about your book. Because it’s a message, it can have creativity and artistry to it. Marketing is always a business act, however. It connects you with your audience so your audience wants to buy and share your book.
The huge changes brought by ebooks, independent publishing, social media, fan conventions and giant corporate media mergers have completely upended the publishing business. Whatever business structure helps you get your work out to the world, you are your best marketer, and you will be for years to come.
A marketing planWhen WordFire Press asked me for the full manuscript of The Demon in Business Class, they also asked for a marketing plan to describe how I would get word out about the book. I took it very seriously, examining my market, publisher, and novel, with an honest if enthusiastic eye. Never hide from the truth of your book. All lemons are potential lemonade.
Demon is a so-called hybrid-genre novel, with a fantasy story but corporate thriller and romance elements and a literary style. It has a forward-looking, niche audience, not in the mainstream of the fantasy genre. It is also an outlier in the WordFire Press stable, which tends to run to adventure genre stories for all ages. Mine is an urban fantasy, a hybrid thriller-romance, a book in stylized language, and written for a mature-reader demographic.
This gives a granular answer for where I find my audience: eager for novelty, happy with a relaxed approach to genre, wants good writing but also a plot. Comfortable with mature content, even pleased to have it. Interested in travel. It suggests their likes, their touchstones, how to reach them and with what kind of attitude. It also is clearly a market my publisher has yet to tap.
Plus, this audience spans genres. Romance readers, thriller readers, and people who care what the New Yorker reviews all have a subset with these same tastes. With a scenario that depends on magic, fantasy is my natural starting point, but modern shopping makes genre labels less prominent. Online purchases are usually searched or suggested. You don’t browse Amazon aisles the way you browse bookstore aisles. This means I should try getting the word out in other genres – after I make a solid pitch to my own.
Learning to Con
It took eight months from when I signed my contract to when my book could be bought by the greater public – and I was on the most aggressive timetable possible, to get to fall conventions before shopping season. The WordFire Press staff pushed tremendously hard to make a stylish, bold product in double-time. I needed to be ready to be its author!
One major outlet where an author can make a personal impact is at fan conventions. If you don’t think your niche has them, you haven’t looked hard enough! It’s a good idea to attend them before you have a book to sell, to see what works for you as a con-goer and what you need to do to make being a con-guest worth your while.
In the science-fiction and fantasy genres, cons fit two basic models. Festival cons, or comic cons, have tens of thousands of fans celebrating all fantastic genres, but emphasizing the visual. Though these cons have discussion panels and interviews with artists, they are foremost a huge marketplace, with the added draw of the costumed shoppers themselves.
You can find readers there – if you’re eye-catching and fast. They are budget-conscious and overwhelmed by sights, but they are eager for some new thing. If you have that thing, it’s a positive connection.
This inspired a banner and marketing materials narrowly tailored for my audience’s sensibility, with edge and wit and maturity level all quickly established.
So far it’s working. I see my title or cover or banner catch eyes and draw smiles, long enough at least for me to engage people. Readers with different tastes walk on by, which is just as good – better no sale than an angry bad review!
Literary cons are smaller, scholarly events, with a pronounced emphasis on readers and writers. Though the membership is only in the hundreds, these fans are deeply connected in the word-of-mouth fan communities, and eager to discuss their genre with creators and with other enthusiastic fans. The high writer-to-reader ratio makes for engaging discussions in hallways and at bars and suite parties. New writers will find both fellowship and validation.
You may get a reading slot or autograph table, but new writers get noticed on panels. Be courteous and knowledgeable. Engage questions creatively, and as positively as you can. You and the other panelists are together an event for the audience. Look for creative ways to turn questions around.
Involve the crowd. Remember – in each audience are likely readers of your book.
Curated corners of social media still feature long-form writing, but blogs are passing. If you look at social media as a marketing channel, you’re competing with many other voices – sometimes, your own friends! Make your posts image-driven, eye-catching and quick to read.
For a book release, YA paranormal writer Shannon A. Thompson develops book trailers with a character’s backstory and a clipart image. I saw them as a great way to create interest in the story. Not only were they vastly less expensive than a video trailer, each one could be shared on its own.
Keeping in mind my core audience, I wanted to share my style and my hybrid setting. One night, while drifting off to sleep, I remembered my old Star Wars trading cards.
Perhaps it was my dreamy state, but I imagined them as a kind of shattered and reassembled movie trailer, with important moments in random order, something familiar yet offbeat. Perhaps I could make the offbeat a path to the familiar.
I developed my own trading cards, online images with sly quotes from the book, and clip-art lookalikes of my characters that I made more expressive using the online Prisma app:
I made fifty-six, to release daily on social media in the two months spanning my release, my first readings and my four Fall 2016 cons. At first I was leery about making so many, but a friend reassured me, “Anything to keep the politics out of my feed!”
They were popular, and easier to share across multiple platforms. People told me the quotes and visuals gave a much better sense of my book than the title alone. I even printed the picture cards as a giveaway at cons. You can still see them on my Instagram, Twitter feed, and Facebook author page.
People crave original content, even if it’s commercial. If you can express your sensibility in small, steady streams of content, social media can send it far and wide.
Check your tech
Tablets and smartphones are still difficult devices for long-form writing, but they are absolutely essential for social media. Remember I mentioned the Prisma app for modifying stock photos to use on Instagram? Prisma is ONLY made for iOS and Android, not for computer desktops. While you can view an Instagram feed on a computer, you can’t post to it – handhelds only.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the hustle and flow of modern literary marketing. Each book has a different main and secondary audience, and a different publication path – giving a unique set of marketing opportunities that will let a book find its audience. In the end, finding our audience, and engaging them, is why we write.