Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love that Marketing
Like most writers, I used to assume that my marketing responsibilities were concluded once I sold a publisher on the idea of sending me a contract. After all, once I write a piece, it's the publisher's responsibility to sell it to its readers. Isn't it?
Well, yes and no. The truth of the matter is that, while virtually no magazines and even fewer newspapers have in-house (and rarely even freelance) marketing directors whose job is to promote readership of the features they publish, most larger book publishers do. But even those marketing specialists are often so overburdened with titles to market that they rarely give all their publisher's books even a small percentage of the marketing time and expertise they deserve. That's where the author comes in.
An author can often promote his own work more effectively--and at far less cost--than the most skilled marketing director. Here's why.
The marketing director does not exist who knows everything the author knows about his subject. Whereas a creative promoter will come up with dozens of concepts for getting word out when it comes to marketing a new book, a creative author will come up with even more--and usually (except in the case of mammoth-budget marketing campaigns) do a more effective job. How? I thought you'd never ask.
Spread the Word
Authors can generate interest in their work simply by word-of-mouth. One example: I recently wrote a travel piece for a newspaper I'd never written for before. The piece ran in the Sunday travel section of my new home-town daily. I happened to mention the fact to a neighbor, who told three other neighbors, all of whom read and loved the article. Two of them called the newspaper and told the managing editor so. Within the next two months, the paper bought four more pieces from me ... and word of the paper's new, really good travel writer spread through town.
Of course, word-of-mouth takes many forms. Besides dropping hints with the neighbors, you can take out free ads in the local classified papers and the local e-classifieds, telling people to watch for your upcoming articles, stories, or book. You can post notices on the bulletin board at local supermarkets and libraries. You can write local schools and colleges or submit notices to their school papers. You can run posts on various e-boards. The trick here is to be creative.
Share Your Expertise
Do you write how-to articles in a certain area of expertise, such as gardening, home decorating, or collecting? Considering donating an occasional freebie to some smaller, regional print magazines and newspapers whose budgets are too limited to pay. Or offer something to an e-zine that specializes in running articles in your area of expertise. Include a short statement in the "About the Author" section at the end or your submission, notifying your readers of where else your writing may be appearing or of any up-and-coming special pieces in the works. Invite your readers to contact you with any questions they may have about what you've written or your area of expertise in general, and then answer them promptly. You'll be amazed at how that can boost your literary following.
Book Some Time
Have you just brought out a book but worry that it's going to get lost among the publisher's shuffle of titles? Write or e-mail your local newspaper with an announcement and volunteer to do an interview with a book reviewer or even with a general-interest features reporter--either in person or by telephone or e-mail. Most local publications are glad to run exclusive pieces on successful local talent.
Reach out farther from home with autographed copies of books sent to newspaper and magazine book reviewers.
Write a Letter to the Editor
Pick up some copies of high-circulation daily newspapers and monthly magazines. Thumb through the articles. Then tie-in your book or short feature in a letter to the editor. You have to be careful, here. Editors don't mind plugging an ambitious author, but it can't look like a shameless promo. That's where the tie-in comes in.
For example: I wrote a book on the Soviet-Afghan War way back in 1990. The mere fact that I'd written on so complex a topic made me something of an expert (or at least more of one than the average American). That gave me the perfect opportunity to respond to something in the news pertaining to the war while plugging my book.
Sometimes, I'd start off my letter like this: "As author of a book on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (The Afghan Rebels, Franklin Watts Publisher, 1990), I've done quite a bit of research on what the Soviets hope to accomplish in invading their neighbor to the South. It seems that the invasion was no fluke ..."
On other occasions, I would voice my opinion, then include the book title with my signature block, like this: "D. J., author of The Afghan Rebels, Franklin Watts Publisher." Either way, it worked quite nicely, and I was able to contribute some useful information to the newspapers' Op/Ed pages.
Okay, you might not be ready yet to make the circuit: Oprah, The Today Show, and David Letterman. But you can offer to speak at your local bookstores, schools, church gatherings, social clubs, ladies' auxiliaries, gardening clubs, Chamber of Commerce luncheons, gift shops, and libraries. And if you just happen to have a few copies of your book along with you (I've even seen authors sell autographed copies of magazines containing their articles or short stories), well, all the better.
Set Up a Web Site
It may sound like a given, but you'd be amazed at how few writers actually have a Web site of their own. Yet, a Web site gives people a place to come to buy your writing or to learn more about you, to request your literary services, or simply to become more familiar with your work--past, present, and future. It needn't be a sprawling affair, and you don't necessarily have to hire someone to set it up and keep it running. Chances are you already know somebody who would be more than happy to teach you the basics of transferring your MS Word documents to a site of your own and perhaps even enough html coding to keep things up and running (html, or Hyper Text Markup Language, is a set of instructions that tell a browser how to "read" the material on a Web page so that others can see it in their browsers).
Join a Literary Group
Not just any group will do. Join the most prestigious literary group that will have you. The reason is that, while listing AmSAW or ASJA or the Writers' Guild of America on your resume looks damned impressive, listing the Peoria Writer's Exchange doesn't.
There are dozens of literary groups around, of course--fewer prestigious ones. But it's worth trying to get in. And, if one turns you down, try another. Some are pickier than others about membership requirements. All have writers as a basis for their existence, and many bend the rules a bit for someone who comes recommended by an existing member or who seems very enthusiastic about joining.