Spend even a short time looking for guidance on marketing, and you’ll start to hear people using the word “should”. Occasionally, “must”. A friend was told recently that she really should set up a landing page for her forthcoming novel (more on that in a moment). Another, that she should look for opportunities for guest-blogging, and another, that she should think about launching a podcast. In a city, as I said last week, you’re never more than three metres away from somebody who thinks that collecting email addresses by offering an email newsletter is an absolute must.
Let’s have some bold side-heads. Behind every Should is a Could. These are activities you could take on, if they came naturally. But a person telling you that newsletters work is actually telling you that newsletters have worked in the past. History doesn’t subscribe to the podcasts that fizzle out after a few weeks. Yes, having a landing page is a good idea, but if you don’t know the term and you look it up (and you’re an author who dislikes, et cetera), I think you’ll come away confused. Even Wikipedia rabbits on about “lead capture” and “directed sales copy”. All of which is fine if you like that kind of thing, but not much use for the rest of us.
So let’s take the term “landing page” as our digression for today. Suppose that you’ve researched marketing exhaustively (as, let’s say, you research the technical background of your novels). As a result of all this research, you’ve turned yourself from somebody who writes words, into a one-person multimedia empire, pumping out blogs, podcasts, video series and commentaries – and The Cloud above your head is full of other people’s willingly given email addresses. [You’re now too busy to write novels – we’ll come to that.]
They liven up the text, apparently. At some point in all this frantic activity, a social-media-consuming potential reader is going to think: “I have developed such a set of positive associations with this person that I would like to know more and possibly even buy the book.” Your name gets clicked*. And that click takes your potential reader to – ta-daaa! – your landing page. Or to a great long list of your social-media connections if you don’t have one. Now, it’s common sense to have a landing page, and it’s not difficult to work out what the term means. But my intelligent and creative friend was flummoxed. Her problem was, approximately: if there’s a term for it, surely there must me more to it than that? Am I missing something?
No, it’s just a page. On a website. People click on your name, they see it. You’ve got one already, actually. The term did need to be invented, because telling people to set themselves up with a landing page is quicker than running through that rigmarole of an explanation every time. But it’s descriptive. It doesn’t hint at depths of insight and expertise and secret wisdom known only to marketing folk**. They can tell you what’s worked for authors in the past, and they can tell you what’s working for authors now. They can’t tell you what will work specifically for you in the future. I’m not saying: ignore them. But I am saying: don’t be flummoxed.
Break it up in a good way. And do run the occasional reality check. Not so long ago, you could go to seminars for small-businesses and self-employed eccentrics (me and a couple of others who regularly turned up) and count on being told that Content was key. That’s right. There were graphs and charts to prove that the Content – they meant the words and pictures – mattered. But that never quite meant that we (the writers present) could go home and write our own stuff. SEO, you know. Hire us to write words that search engines will find. Most marketing people aren’t trying to impress you with faux-science. Most.
Like I said. Run the occasional reality check. Yes, I have been told, more than once, by marketing people, to leave the writing to them. In the specific context of marketing, to be fair, in circumstances where I knew what they meant – with one exception (an idiot), the point at issue was Search Engine Optimisation. I’ve also been to one recent seminar given by a marketing professional that featured a PowerPoint presentation of SEO done badly by professionals. And I’ve also been told (I don’t know if this is true) that if you don’t do your own SEO, Google will do it for you.
They can be quite useful. But I don’t care about any of that. Let the professionals do their job. This is a blog post about what authors can do. As I said: do your job. So here goes. We’ll continue to use the word “marketing” to refer to “the online marketing of fiction for authors who dislike the word ‘marketing’”, but this is our word now. It means what we need it to mean.
Marketing is making people feel good about you. Feel good in a particular way. They’re interested by you, and they like what you write. They want to get to the point of sale, and when they get there, they’ll be interested enough, positive enough, to buy your book. A potential reader (buyer) who finds you online will be given everything she needs to work up an enthusiasm for you and your work – given all that by whatever marketing you do. Even before she gets to your landing page, she will have a strong impression that you’re the author for her. [If you’re followed by a lot of people with those feelings, marketing people will want to back you, but that’s another subject.]
To foreshadow what comes next, for example. What this means for you is: be yourself, but more so. Be yourself across social media. I pretty much said that last week, but here’s this week’s angle on it. Being yourself is not a distinct activity from your writing. You write in, say, Word and/or Scrivener, and now you also write in Facebook and Twitter. You’re an author – show it. Use social media in whatever creative way you feel might work for you. [Now you do have time to write your novels because the marketing is a kind of extension of that – at least to the extent that you don’t switch off the writing part of your brain and switch on the marketing half; it all comes from the same place now.] Let the writing overflow.
Note the “connect” here. If you write fantasy, post about fantasy. Don’t post views on the Venezuelan economy, or Jeremy Corbyn, or the Trump presidency, and expect the people who click on your name to buy your children’s books. Get rid of any lingering fear that what you’re doing is “marketing” as defined by somebody else, and make it up as you go along. Finally, be nice. Be generous. Pay it forward, backward, sideways; be known for your generosity and deserving nature. Thank people. Compliment people. Market them, even. If you’re a truly unpleasant person and you know it, work on your “brand image”, which is to say, pretend to be nice. Common sense, right? And don’t forget to be original***. Below the picture, I’ll give you an example of originality.
Mongolian Death Worm. Turned on Freeview the other night to find that I’d just missed a film called Mongolian Death Worm (2010). A truly magnificent title, deserving of further research. It’s a TV film, scoring 3.3/10 on IMdb. I’ve now watched the trailer on YouTube – the blonde woman’s truck has broken down in the middle of nowhere, and back at the drilling site people are starting to disappear – and something that came after it called Mongolian Death Worm: Kill Count, which lives up to its title. The Death Worms reminded me of Predator (1987) somehow, and perhaps there’s a little Dune (1984 again; yes, there’s fresh talk of a remake) influence in there too. Remember the bad guy’s jaws at the end of Blade: Trinity (2004)? Neither do I; I’m far too highbrow to admit to watching anything like that.
No, I haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War yet. Yes, I suppose I will. Remember what I said about originality?
*Or your book’s name. People talk about having a landing page for a book. Not un-adjacent to your author website. And/or Facebook page. All closely connected together, in fact.
**I was talking about this once, saying something about Facebook posts I think, and a friend in the marketing business interrupted me. “That’s not social media!” he said. “That’s social-media marketing!” Apparently, there’s a difference. Do feel free to go ahead and work out what it is. I’ll wait here.
***I’m glad you’re doing all the conventional stuff, but here’s the thing: so’s everybody else. Doing all that gets you into the game. What gives you a winning hand is your originality.
Anyway, Noelle Nichols contributed to a couple of stories at Falmouth Storytellers, and I read her contributions, and I thought: I could do with something to read. So I clicked on her name. Her first novel, coming out in June this year, is Shadow’s Hand, and it’s the first in the projected Shadow’s Creed Saga. Fantasy. Okay. If it’s well-written. Pre-ordering already live on Kindle, paperback edition coming shortly … and I like the front cover. I made a mental note to find Shadow’s Hand on Kindle when it comes out and download the free sample. Buy it if I like it.
Then Noelle Nichols really got my attention. She posted on Facebook a short video clip of her computer screen, on which she was doing some not-quite-final edits to the first couple of pages of Shadow’s Hand. Editing, live on camera. I think that counts as original. She read the story out loud as she edited it, and there was a (to me, anyway) nail-biting section in which she dealt with a repetitive passage on the second page. Two dogs and a cat intervened towards the end, and there was a cut-away to the room. You know that thing with author photographs? You try to read the titles of the books of the shelf behind? A bit like that.
My first point in writing about Noelle Nichols’ Facebook post, obviously, is that it fits so well into an argument for originality in the marketing of fiction by authors who don’t like the word ‘marketing’. I have no idea what this particular author thinks about the word ‘marketing’, but she seems to know how to do it with a pleasing degree of originality. And my second point is even simpler. In the opening pages of Shadow’s Hand, a woman with a stick (a staff) attacks a man with a sword. Now that I’ve seen that Facebook post, and thus read the opening pages, I want to know what happens next.
I’ll let you know. I realise that I don't represent the precise target demographic for a book written by a young woman that starts with a young woman attacking an older man with a stick, but I’ve pre-ordered the book, and it arrives on 30th June. Watch this space.