Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Surprising Joys of Marketing

This was the part I was dreading.

The writing I could do. Editing--no problem. Creating a web site? Been there, done that. A little research on self-publishing was all that was needed to fill in the gaps to get Rising Shadow printed and out the door.

But when it came to marketing the book, I was sure it was going to be horrible. I hate asking my closest friends and family for favors--how much more awful would it be to ask complete strangers to take the time to read my book and write something about it?

What I discovered was that marketing is different from selling, and if you focus on that distinction, you can end up having a lot of fun. Here's what I mean: the point of marketing is to bring a product to the marketplace, to make people aware of it. The key is to do targeted marketing--you wouldn't go door-to-door asking people to read your book. Instead, you want to get the word out to people who would be interested in it and actually want to hear about it. This is actually easier than it sounds.

The first thing I did was to start a fan page for The Soterians on Facebook, and then I created a couple of display ads that are shown only to people I believe fit into my target audience. I started getting fans right away, and then the fun part began: every day, I post a status update or a link to something that's related to my books, writing, music, heroes, or just anything I think my readers might be interested in, and I get to see their reactions. The first time a fan clicked the "Like" link on one of my updates, I was so excited I literally jumped out of my chair.

Next, I started emailing young-adult bloggers. This was fun, because you can't find a more targeted audience than people who subscribe to a blog about the genre of your book. The amazing thing was that almost everyone I emailed was very receptive to reviewing the book. I sent them review copies and sometimes a second copy to use as a giveaway (having good giveaways drives more traffic to their blog), and the reviews are starting to be posted (the first is on one of my favorite blogs, Coffee for the Brain). Similarly, I did a giveaway on goodreads, and over five hundred people signed up. I got some very good reviews and ratings that way.

I've also written a couple of press releases and sent information about Rising Shadow to publications whose audience would have something in common with the characters in the book. Since the story takes place at UCSB and the protagonist is a vegetarian, I sent an email to the Santa Barbara Independent, the UCSB Nexus, Vegetarian Times, and a couple of local vegetarian mailing lists. All but Vegetarian Times replied and ran articles or info about Rising Shadow. The beautiful thing is that all of this has felt very's not about trying to find the right angle to get on Oprah or in the New York Review of Books. It's about looking for publications that will be glad to know about the book because it would interest their readers and give them something to write about. Once I really focused on it from that perspective, marketing became much easier.

One of the amazing things that happened when I started the marketing process was how people came out of nowhere to help me. My friend Christi, a VP of Marketing in software, wrote up a whole marketing plan for me. A friend of my mom's reached out to me and spent an hour on the phone talking about her experience and suggesting strategies. My friend Ginny put me in touch with an author friend of hers, who gave me some great suggestions. Friends I hadn't seen in years came forward, buying copies of the book to give to friends, posting about it on Facebook, and so on. And my friend Meghan posted an interview with me on her awesome blog, Writerland. It's been a truly humbling and joyful experience to watch people step up to help get my book out there.

But without question, the part that has surprised me the most has been the incredible people I'm meeting as a result of marketing. Writing is a somewhat lonely and isolating endeavor, but when it comes to marketing, suddenly you're in touch with people all over the world. In addition to meeting friends of friends, I've had wonderful exchanges with bloggers, readers on goodreads, fans on The Soterians Facebook page, and people who read this blog.

Case in point: the Coffee for the Brain blog is written by a teacher to promote reading amongst his students. I was blown away that a teacher would go to all the effort of creating a blog with great content and funny video posts just to help his students. I exchanged several emails with him, and I was just as amazed at how excited he was to work with me. He wrote a review of Rising Shadow, interviewed me, and set up a book giveaway for his students. I love his blog, and I never would have known about it if I hadn't been "marketing" Rising Shadow. Meeting people like him who donate their time, skills, and humor to improve other people's lives brings me so much joy and helps balance all the negative stories we hear about people every day.

So don't be afraid of marketing your book. Don't decide you're going to do "just one more editing pass" because you're afraid of what comes next after you publish it. You might find that the marketing process is just as rewarding as the writing itself. The only danger is that you might get so carried away with marketing that you forget to write your next book.

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