Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Marketing Degree Came From a Crackerjack Box

New writer, just starting out? Word is, by the time you’re old enough to know everything, you’ll be senile but until then, you should just keep your mouth shut.

Where’s this coming from? NOT me. But it is an opinion amalgamated from several sources. There’s no one right way to market yourself or a book, but it seems that if you have three, two, one or zero books out and have any opinion at all, you get accused of standing on your soap box, saying that you’ve cornered the market on the best approach.

Anyone that’s read my blog certainly knows I don’t maintain I have all the answers. If you’re looking for the voice of reason, I don’t know how you wound up here!

But I find it…baffling to be slapped down by people, some of whom assert themselves with the credential of having published numerous books*, the inference being that since my first one isn’t out yet, uppity youngster still wet behind the ears that I am, I should just shush and sit in the corner.

There’s a long list of people who’ve attempted to put me in place, especially since I got my book deal. First thing, right off, people telling me I got lucky, that lots of better writers didn’t have deals, that I shouldn’t take the deal…

The old ego-insecurity thing goes into overdrive when a new girl starts working the corner, all the other working girls letting her know she’s the bottom bitch.^

This week JA Konrath posted in his comments section (near the bottom) about talking to an author who didn’t understand how to market - (Him is the other author – ‘ME’ is JA Konrath)

”Me: Do you do a lot of promotion?

Him: No. My publisher doesn't tour me. They rarely even buy ads. They don't do anything.

Me: My publisher didn't tour me for my last book, but I visited a hundred bookstores, a dozen conferences, and many libraries.

Him: That's insane. That's not your job. It's your publishers job to sell your books.

Me: (have to pause the conversation to sign books for three fans) But don't you think that you have a responsibility to help your publisher sell books?

Him: I'm here, aren't I? I could be home writing.

(Then someone came up to him with a hardcover of one of his early novels. This person was obviously excited to meet him. This is what Mr. Sci-Fi said, no joke)

Him: No personalization. I don't do that. You're lucky I'm signing this at all, because I hate autographing books.

(The fan looked like he'd been shot in the stomach...)”

As Joe said in the comment, this writer had been in the business for 30 years and had published a dozen books. Clearly, just because you’ve published a lot of books it doesn’t mean you know jack shit about marketing.

What have I been told is foolish? To name a few things:
- being published in an ezine
- critiquing
- blogging
- having a website
- replying to emails from people asking about my book
- working for an ezine
- writing for free
- not reading reviews

I don’t believe there is one right formula for self promotion. Having said that, I also don’t believe that the number of books you have out makes you any more or less qualified to offer opinions on marketing. Plenty of people write popular advertisements who've never written a book. Think about whoever marketed Pokemon...I hate them, but they're good.

Using the logic that if you don’t have 10+ books out you don’t know about marketing is simplistic, at best. Mark Billingham only has four books out in the US, and he’s an international bestseller. Maybe next we should qualify the experienced with a right to an opinion to those who sell six figures worth of a single book.

My aim here isn’t to attack, it’s actually to defend. New writers, new authors looking at having their first book come out, they’re trying to find their own way. Some won’t be doing a lot of book signings because they live in Timbuktu. Some won’t be able to make it to conferences because they have to keep the day job to pay the bills.

Some of us choose blogging, websites, as one way of communicating with people.

For me, it’s part of the package. I get frustrated if an author doesn’t have a website and I can’t find out the order of books (why oh why can’t lists all be oldest to newest so I have a clue when I’m looking at a new author?) or when they’re supposed to be coming on tour and I can’t find any information about the dates. So, I have a website.

Someone writes me and asks when the book will be out, you better believe I take the time to answer them personally. Writing for free? Maybe, but worth it. I’d move heaven and earth for the authors who wrote to me before I got my book deal if I could.

Nobody would be emailing me about the book at this point if it wasn’t for the website and blog. And I’ve gotten emails from people for the ezine publications as well, people who say they want to read my book now.

A waste of time? Again, I think not. As far as I'm concerned, every time people see my name out there, that's one more exposure. "She's a writer." I know how it is for me - I keep hearing about somebody, sooner or later I'm going to check out their stuff.

I plan to do signings. I’m self-funding my trips to Harrogate and Bouchercon. I’m invested in promoting my book, in person and on the internet, and however else I can. That’s part of my job. A year from now, I might have some opinions about what worked best in the first year, but for now, I know I’m getting email off the blog. And potential interest from people who’ve asked about the book. A year from now, maybe I’ll say the blog generates the fewest sales.

But I don’t care, because it’s a helluva lot of fun, and you all make it worthwhile.

My harshest criticism has been for my involvement with Spinetingler. I can only shake my head in amazement. I get emails from authors of international best-sellers, referencing the magazine. Simon Kernick, Mark Billingham, Cornelia Read, Laura Lippman, Duane Swierczynski– not one of these authors blew off an interview request. Every author whose work I’ve reviewed has commented to me on it.

These are people who seem, like me, to think that every avenue of promotion you get helps. That nothing should be dismissed out of hand.


I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on promotion. Not just writers. What works for you? What turns you off? Clever marketing strategies you think really worked well?

I’m a bit frustrated by all of this, honestly, because my husband and I have devoted so much of our free time and money to Spinetingler. We do it to promote emerging and established authors. We’ve published a 17-year-old Canadian girl, and we’re publishing short stories by authors. The line-up so far for Summer, Canadian Issue and Fall is amazing.

And more than that, we do author interviews and profiles. Reviews. We’re amassing a huge review site that people contribute to. We’ve offered to put up links for any author who wants them – our free time invested, as well as the editors who invest so much energy in helping us with each issue.

So many great people have encouraged us and applauded our efforts.

And others have called us idiots.

Are we fools? Should we chuck it in and kick ourselves for wasting our time?

No. We generate thousands of downloads each issue. We have more submissions than we could hope to take. People are sending me arc’s and review copies of books and asking if I’ll consider doing an interview. I used to just be really picky and muster courage to ask whoever I was reading at the time or knew.

And a year ago, nobody had heard of me. Not like I’m anybody special or anything. Just a booklover who will shamelessly promote her favourite authors as long as anyone’s around to listen, who also happens to be about to put her first book out there for the vultures to shred.

So, what do you think? Is online marketing pointless?

I’m still pretty firmly of the belief that this is a wonderful way to communicate with other authors, with readers, and for me, it’s been great.

Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark: you know what you are doing, but nobody else does. - Edgar Watson Howe, American writer

*What I find particularly incredible is when I’ve never heard of the author saying this or their books. I’m not saying that to be rude. It’s simply a point – obviously something in the current marketing strategy isn’t working or I’d know who they are…right? I mean, I spend into the thousands each year on books. I love to buy books. Just got Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories and Duane’s The Wheelman, to name a few. I've added FIVE new novels, plus a research book, to my shelves in the past week. If a person makes a good impression on me, they get bumped up the reading and purchasing lists. I’m going to be ordering David Terrenoire’s book in so I can read it. My only regret is I won’t be at Thrillerfest this year to meet him.
^ This is a term for new prostitutes – they’re the bottom bitch.

Used Car Dealer
It was a small town and the patrolman was making his evening rounds. As he was checking a used car lot, he came upon two little old ladies sitting in a used car. He stopped and asked them if they were stealing the car.

They said "Heavens no, we bought it."

He said, "Then why don't you drive it away".

They said, "We can't drive.”
He said "Then why did you buy it?"

They answered, "We were told if we bought a car here, we'd get screwed, so we are just waiting.


Steve Allan said...

I do think you are crazy...but I think all of your work in getting your name out there (and helping others) is fantastic. You're everywhere and people know who you are. This will only help you, I can see no downside - other than no sleep.

And holy shit, you put my name up. I'm getting a little teary eyed *sniff*

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well Steve, if I'm crazy, I'm in good company, eh?

I was thinking of putting up a new section - approach only when they're handcuffed. You and Terrenoire seem like ideal candidates...

Steve Allan said...

Nice. I like it. :)
But, I think the fact that I use emoticons may dimish my street cred.

Steve Allan said...

I mean diminish. I can't spell.

M. G. Tarquini said...

I love how Very Famous you are, Sandra Ruttan... because I can drop your name and people google you and find me. I call that 'off-hand' marketing. It's like Guerilla marketing but a lot more lay back.

Lisa Hunter said...

Um, the writers who are criticizing you? They have to have HEARD of you to be able to make these comments. So you must be doing something right.

Sandra Ruttan said...

And here I thought you were looking a bit dimish, Steve!

Mindy, LOL! And I get people on my blog looking for horsefucking and Sandra Oh Sex.

Yes, Lisa, exactly. It's also baffling to me that people who criticize blogs do it on author forums and listserves or via email...

angie said...

All this talk of marketing crap makes me ill. I understand it's one of those necessary evils, but as someone still in the aspiring place, I have to say my head will explode if I spend too much time worrying about this now. I think it's just silly to start working on a marketing plan for a novel that hasn't been finished, much less published. So I sit back and listen, but it doesn't mean I'm buying all of it.

Having said that, I couldn't help but giggle (not very grown-up of me, but true nonetheless) at the image of you as an "uppity youngster still wet behind the ears" being told to "just shush and sit in the corner." As if that's going to happen.

If what you're doing is working for you, why should you give a freaky-deaky-chunky-monkey what anyone else says? Seems like a lot of folks know who you are and are inclined to check in and see what you're "blathering" about, so why worry about what others think does or doesn't work?

Just my two copper pennies.

Sandra Ruttan said...

LOL Angie! Hilarious!

I agree, you shouldn't think about marketing too soon in the game, and you're wise to put the writing first.

I never started my blog for marketing purposes to begin with. It's my space, sure, people read my ramblings, whether I'm talking about sex, writing or whatever.

And I see you've got my personality pegged. If I seriously thought I should listen to these people, I'd never have made this post. A few people told me not to. My husband said I should, read it and approved it as not blatantly bashing anyone over the head. It's just my opinion on the issue, and since I'm being skinned elsewhere and can't really speak in my defense there, I've blown steam here.

Which is all good until somebody decides to claim it as a personal attack and starts sending hate mail... If I want to have a go at someone, I name them. Just ask JA Konrath!

Brett Battles said...

If someone is skinning you, then they are complete idiots. There, I've said it. IDIOTS. The publishing world we living in today is flooded with books. If an author just sits back and expects the publisher to do all the heavy lifting 99.875% of the time (scientifically messured), then that author will get exactly what they should...a book on the shelf with their name on it and a short lived career.

My book isn't even coming out until next year. A month or two ago, no one even knew who I was. Now, I'm getting emails from people I don't even know who've either read my blog, or a post I made, or the short story I have on Flashing in the Gutters (sorry, little plug there). It's all about building the connections and the buzz.

This morning I received an email from my agent. I'd sent her a link to my story and filled her in on what I've been doing. Here's what she said:

"The short story is great! You're smart to do all the early networking you can, since it can pay off big-time later. Once the book is out, it's generally too late."

While the first part was a nice stroke to my ego, it's the last two sentences that are important.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Brett, plug away! In fact, if anyone cues me in to stuff going up on FITG or ezines, I usually try to post links. Lately I've been remiss.

You're right to be promoting yourself, and it's funny, because I'd see your name around the blogs and think, "I've heard of him, must check him out."* And your agent makes a very good point about marketing. Advance buzz is huge. Really, truly huge.

And I'm glad your agent appreciates what you do.

* Not in any inappropriate way

Erik Ivan James said...

Good post!

Eileen said...

I find it amusing how marketing is considered a bit dirty. I suspect this is due to the idea of writers being "artists" and as a result above the crude, crass, commerical aspects.

Here's the thing. I've got a book coming out next year. I want to write and sell more and more. What I want is tied to have some degree of success with the first book. Why wouldn't I do everything in my power to promote it? At the risk of horn tooting- I think it's a pretty good book. It's not like I'm trying to hoist something bad onto people. If I don't think it's worth spreading the news for- why would I assume anyone else would bother? Great Post

Sandra Ruttan said...

Eileen, shout it from the rooftops! And let me know when it's coming out so I can announce it too. I mean, of course, authors think their book is good and want people to read it. Authors don't write so their work can be locked away unseen for eternity.

Thanks Erik!

For The Trees said...

Sandra: Let's get down to brass tacks as soon as possible:

Your joke today REALLY sucks.

I had to wipe my monitor screen clean TWICE - once when I read it and once when I got the coffee off the screen over the words and my eyes picked up the punch line a second time.


I'm in a dilemma. I now have five novels written, three of which are in print - through, a Print On Demand free printer - which means there's no NO NOOOO promotion whatsoever. Sort of a super cheapo vanity publisher but I'm working on that.

Anyway, I realized I had NO WAY to market these stories. And I don't. But I DO like to write, I like to post blog entries, and I'm trying to find a way to get enough money together to get a website - which looks like it MIGHT happen in 2008 or so, if I sell enough books to get an advance big enough. I mean, right now $25 looks big to me.

I've read Maya Reynolds as she talked about "vertical marketing" and "targeted marketing" and new publishing paradigms and e-publishing and e-marketing and all that kind of variation on the old submit-and-be-damned model. I've seen POD books (POD-dy Mouth) get awards and lots of publicity. I've heard about author web sites and blogs and marketing gimmicks and pronostication and prestigiation and one or two other archaic terms I can't remember how to spell but would love to use to convey the thought that all this marketing mumbo-jumbo is all hot air and wild imaginations run amok - shit, sounds like my writing - and my buddy Jim who holds a Master's Degree in Marketing from a Chicago university said that all marketing - "ALL marketing is merely getting your name out there, plus a few unique things you MAY think up. Otherwise it's all repetition." - is just bullshit.

Well, we KNOW marketing ISN'T bullshit, it works, and it does the job, over and over, and the question is, what? combined with how?

So everything's legal, everything's open, everything works. Just like the 70s mantra: "Enlightenment: Try everything, everything works." What they meant was, just keep trying, sooner or later you'll find the magic means to get your message across. Being that you try until you get enlightened, then you see that all the ways you tried and didn't get there, all were part of the process.

So I'm taking all that discussion to heart and relaxing and am just going to do what I can afford to do on a Social Security Disability check: damn little, but it's all on the Internet. I may never have an author web site, but I got a GREAT blog! And in the words of famous French actress Marie Antoinette, "Let them eat cake!"

So: have you heard about new moist and delightfully crunchy Marie's Frito Cake? It's a Revolutionary Taste Treat!!

I gotta quit posting complete posts on other people's comments sections. My apologies, I'm talking and I can't shut up. Please don't hate me.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Forrest, I don't hate you! In fact, you bring a fresh perspective to the discussion because of your experience with POD, and it would make for the subject of a great blog post over at For the Trees - link on the side bar people.

Seriously, you should do that.

Sorry about the joke. Man, my bank of jokes is getting thin.

Part of the reason I have a website is I designed it myself. That helps a lot!

Tania said...

I don't think that online marketing is pointless at all. Like any kind of marketing, it will reach a specific audience. Does online promotion influence the buying habits of my grandmother? No way, but they absolutely influence mine.

Online promotion can have both positive and negative effects, though. I've purchased tons of books by authors I've only heard of or 'met' online, but the opposite holds true. There are some authors who personally don't appeal to me for some reason, and I'm not about to rush out and spend my money on their work when there are so many other choices.

I don't think there's any one right or wrong answer when it comes to promotion, and each author has to decide what works for them, regardless of how many books they've published (or not published).

anne frasier said...

sandra, i've never been convinced that self-promotion does anything but make a poor writer much poorer. but this is my year for whoring myself. i did absolutely nothing in the past, and decided to do everything this year because i didn't feel doing one thing would be a strong enough test. of course if my sales do go up in september i won't know what worked for me, although i'd have to guess it would be a combination of everything.

jamie ford said...

Marketing and advertising is like telling a joke. You can nail it, but there's also the risk of screwing up the delivery and looking like an idiot.

It's that fear, along with plain ol' ignorance that keeps a lot of author on the sidelines when it comes to self-promotion.

Is it any surprise that James Patterson markets himself as a brand? He was the CEO of a global ad agency.

TL Hines has a whole section of his website devoted to the promotion of his first hardcover release this summer. If you want to see a first-time author working his fanny off in a good way, check it out:

He has a "Be my publicist" promotion which sounds a little cheeky, but so far he has 300 people signed up. Not too shabby.

Then again, Tony (TL) is works for an ad agency by day. "Do not try this at home, we are trained professionals!"

Sandra Ruttan said...

tania, I agree - no one right way. And I agree about personality as well. That holds true for me both online and in person. I've met people I thought were so intelligent and interesting, I had to go get their book. Same online.

Welcome to whore corner, anne! I think it'll be very interesting to see how it works for you come fall. I have my fingers crossed for a very strong release.

jamie, good point about fear. I do think authors have to find their own way, within reason. I mean, there are certain things you pretty much have to do, like interviews, that can't be shaken because you'd rather not. But beyond that - forums, blogs, readings - well, some will do different things, and within them, some will do them differently. It's their call. Some might be more successful for it, but then Ian Rankin doesn't blog or have a forum, and it isn't hurting his sales any.

Thanks for that link!

E. Ann Bardawill said...

I tell people I'm totally fabulous all the time.

Either they coimprehend my fabulousness immediately, or I have to keep repeating it until they eventually believe me, or they just don't get me, in which case I have no interest in them.

Self promotion is like a really good bra. It attacts attention without being obvious there might be a bit of padding in there.

I'll shut up now.

Lori G. Armstrong said...

Sandra, great post! Loved your story at Demolition, excellent work.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks Lori, that's so nice to hear!

Bardawill! Have you ever thought of writing a story from the perspective of a bra? You could pull that off...

Um, no double meaning intended.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Sandra I think you are incredibily shrewd and craftly....I predict that you will be a phenomenal success! And you're great at marketing...I think you could give JA a run for his money!...LOL1

James Goodman said...

lol at the used car dealer.

as for promotion...I'm for whatever it takes to get your book in front of as many people as possible. Anything short of going into peoples homes and threatening their life if they don't buy (mulitiple copie of) the book.

For The Trees said...

I wouldn't tell E. Ann Bardawill to write a story from the POV of a bra...she might make a clean breast of things and there'd be messy monitors all OVER Creation!! She has this way of taking a perfectly normal run of words and padding it out to a fare-thee-well - and it shows! And it's not always things that go bump in the night! Ka-boomp. It's a Miracle! ka-boomp. I gotta stop. I've run out of clean breast jokes. Ka-boomp.

Sandra Ruttan said...

LOL Forrest!

Mary said...

Maybe some of the people who have made those comments feel threatened by the "uppity youngster still wet behind the ears"!

I think that in this day and age you need to be commercially savvy to get yourself known and noticed. You are doing a fine job and I hope that you reap the rewards.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks Mary! From your lips to God's ears.

Amra Pajalic said...

It sounds like you started Spinetingler because of a personal passion and since then it's become a promotional tool. That's the only way you can achieve success I believe. If you do things you love and for no other reason than that. The people dissing you seem to be doing it because they've got a serious case of the greens.

I do think that today writers have to be able to promote their work and that it's good to start before you're published (and therefore have more eyes on you). I started my blog too because I wanted to express myself and I've struggled finding a voice and what I do and don't want to talk about.

I'm also slowly getting a bit of traffic (like five readers lol) and while that's gratifying, it's not the point. When I have a book deal I'll be doing a big push but for now I'm taking every opportunity to learn so I can apply to that task when appropriate.