Marketing, as various eminences have reasonably pointed out, is relationship-building with people who might buy your book. It starts long before they reach the <buy> button and it continues long after they’ve bought the book. It does if you’re planning to make a career out of book-writing, anyway. The word <Marketing> is not scary. See below the picture.
You have three objectives.
One. To alert potential book-buyers to your existence.
Two. To give them the idea that you write books they want to read.
Three. To give them a positive attitude to you and your writing.
[You can do all of these without reference to your publisher, if you have one. It's your career. You're an item on their list. The more you do, the more they have that they can support.]
So far, marketing is two-thirds giving and one-third alerting. That’ll do for now. To work through those three objectives in reverse order:
Three. To give potential book-buyers a positive attitude to you and your writing, you need to project yourself online as a writer. That means more than just project yourself online. People can like you, chat with you, feel good about you, agree with you, want to know you, without for a moment connecting any of that to the idea of spending money on books written by you.
So use social media to write about what you write about – characters, subject matter, perhaps writing in general – and to project yourself as a person who writes books and is entertaining, writes books and is interesting, and so on. A writer of fantasy novels will be a writer of fantasy-related social-media posts, for example.** Social media is a first-person narrative in which you are your main character. Who do you want to be?
Two. To give potential book buyers the idea that you write books they want to read, write original stand-alone posts, tweets, stories. No particular length, but by you. Yes, you can publish samples of your work, sell books at reduced prices (and/or free), discuss characters and plot developments, and all that is worth doing, but as a writer, you have the enormous opportunity that everything you write shows off your skill.
I would say: the various social-media platforms are full of second-hand (pre-loved, ha!) material that people are sending round because they like it. Pictures of cats, memes, political opinions. Don’t do that; write words of your own that might be liked and shared and eventually read by book-buyers. If [insert Deity here] wanted writers to find Marketing difficult, [insert gender here] wouldn’t have given them words. Yes, sure, buy a camera. Learn how to use it.
Yes, I am aware that Three and Two are very similar to each other. You’re a writer. You want people to know that. What do you do? No, you don’t share a newspaper article with a clickbait headline that was written by somebody else and came to you from somebody else. At least half – I’d prefer more – of what you post online should start with you. Be written by you, I mean. Originate with you. Okay, add a photograph. And it shouldn’t be too difficult for anybody who reads it to work out that you’re a writer worth reading, who has written books that might also be worth reading. Make your subject matter your own. Post about it. See above.
One. How do you alert book-buyers to your existence? First, you decide who they are. Seriously. Yes, I know you want everybody to buy your books. But that doesn’t tell you anything. Narrow it down to one or more identifiable groups. The narrower the better. The more you narrow down your definition of a target reader, the more likely it is that they’ll cluster together. There are discussion groups online – forums – for people who like their fantasy novels to have dragons in them. If your book has – they’re all there in one place. Talking about books and looking for writers to read.
The narrower your idea of who your ideal readers – book-buyers – would be, the higher the probability that they all belong to one or more special-interest groups on their chosen social-media platforms (as you may have noticed, I’m deliberately not mentioning any by name). Chances are, they want to find you almost as much as you want to find them. Bearing in mind that marketing is all about building up long-term relationships with readers and potential readers, I’d suggest not blundering in with a “buy my books” message, but rather, joining in the conversation(s) over time. If you’re interesting, and let’s assume you are, potential book-buyers who like your comments will look you up and – you guessed it – buy your books.
So far, the definition of marketing for writers might as well be: do what you like doing, only more so, and more publicly, over time. There’s more to be said – you need to give potential buyers ready access to the buying opportunity; you need to have a coherent online presence that delivers all the information you want to deliver and in the process, projects your “brand” (sorry; I was doing so well) – and there’s probably also scope for a sequel on marketing a specific book, but right now, it’s tea time, so I’m off. Be generous. People like to be liked, shared and thanked in the comments. They return such favours.
One film, before I go. For reasons best left unexplored***, I sat in on a watching of The Last Witch Hunter (2015) in which Vin Diesel plays an immortal witch-hunter (the last one, although I’m not clear why there couldn’t be others) and Michael Caine plays his sidekick. [If there can be successive Dolans, why can’t there be…?] Not bad, actually. I came away liking the greenery in one witch’s apartment, liking the imagined world, but struck by one detail in particular. In the story, Vin Diesel (now aged 50 in real life) was an 800-year-old immortal, and Michael Caine (now 85 ditto) had been working for him all his mortal life. I liked the detail that throughout the film, Diesel addressed Caine as “Kid”. Nice touch.
Oh, and I liked what they did with the Witch Queen’s hair. And costume. Julie Engelbrecht. If you don't know, watch the extras to see what she looks like with the make-up off. Watch them anyway. Interesting comments. For a really effective villain, you have to be able to see their point of view. Discuss.
*This is almost true. I did once have the experience of stepping out of a lift, to be met by my editor with the words, “Your book’s a bestseller.” But that was another time, another place, another life.
**It goes without saying (not) that any potential book-buyer should be never be more than one or two clicks away from a buying opportunity. Make it very easy for potential buyers to find out more about you – and buy your books.
***Funnily enough, I wrote my short story Life Elsewhere, which you can find on Medium, before I knew about The Last Witch Hunter, possibly before it was made. Haven't checked the timing - just amused by the slight echo.
In a fit of wild excitement I posted this comment of my own into a discussion on a writing-related Facebook page. All in one long paragraph. Sorry to butt in like that, people; here it is again on my own turf. Film after.
“We talk about marketing like some people talk about writing. It's more like learning to dance than learning a new language. What matters is the doing, not the learning the big words. It's become this big capital-M thing, but even the term "marketing" was just invented as a catch-all word to describe all the things you can do to get the attention of people who might buy your books. Write blog and FB posts as samples of your writing that people can like and share, and in marketing-speak, you're "creating shareable assets". Enlist the help of friends who might help to promote your book, and you are "recruiting a launch team". Marketing is writing and being seen to write, while making a positive impression on potential book-buyers and ensuring that all the "buy" buttons are in plain sight. And when I said "all the things you can do" earlier, I did mean to imply that clever and original ideas and initiatives are better than following the same textbook as everybody else. That should give us an advantage, surely?”
Enough of that. In this week’s second dose of film news, multiple-spoiler alert, stop reading now, I’m pleased to report the discovery that Kong: Skull Island (2017) delivers on its title. It does exactly what it says on the plastic DVD box. H. Rider Haggard’s Horace Holly would be right at home, and I suppose Ayesha might have found a constituency. And the Witch Queen probably - there's an extensive cave system, apparently. [And isn’t the great thing about the internet that you don’t always have to provide explanations and links? If you don’t know Holly and She Who Must Be Obeyed, enjoy the search.] Endearingly efficient film. And yes, of course there’s an extra scene right at the end of the credits – and know what? The revelation is: There’s More Out There! Somehow, I knew there would be.
But I noticed something else. At one point, the female “anti-war photographer”, played by Brie Larson, falls into a lake. And it’s deep. She sinks. Very deep. All water in action movies is deeper than it could possibly be. Think of the river into which Franka Potente’s character, Marie, sinks after being shot in The Bourne Supremacy (2004). She goes down. And down. And I thought: these films do grab their opportunities to show us the subconscious, don’t they? I'm currently reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell (1949, Pantheon Books), so I suppose I would be thinking along those lines, but ... there's a blog post in those depths somewhere. A very deep one.