Marketing: How to Build a Better Book.

I sincerely hope you just threw up in your mouth a little. Chances are, if you give two bits about our blog about starting a publishing company you’re some kind of writer. Would you like me to tell you all about how you should start building your marketing plan before you write the book?

Sounds like a giant crock of junk, doesn’t it?

I’ve been through a whole slew of ‘marketing’ blogs lately, looking for tips and tricks I might have otherwise missed. A disturbing amount of them start with this little tidbit. Like somehow the marketing is a formula, and really what you should do is figure out the best-selling market you can appeal to and then write a book for that.

This is the same quasi-expert advice that says no author should ever change genre or subject matter because it will terrify and confuse the poor addled reader. I don’t buy it. Any of it. I don’t buy that the way to sell a book is to figure out how to sell the book before you’ve written it (because I am an actual writer and not a theoretical one, and my imagination takes great delight in startling me with plot twists at the last possible moment) and I don’t believe readers are passive, terrified, easily confused cows.

Or if they are it’s because some portion of mass publishing has made them that way. Because the only stories that see light are stories they know how to sell.

So, what have I got in the way of actual marketing advice?

First, STOP. Any kind of marketing you do is likely to happen on social media of some sort. No one in the universe wants 687 notifications from you attempting to sell your book/movie/diamond encrusted crochet-hook. A constant litany of the exact words “buy my book from here” will, I can nearly promise, get you absolutely nowhere. You’re a writer. Use those words. Shake it up, for every time you do a straight pitch, do something clever.

Second, develop a personality. Fun fact, the first sci-fi written series I actually devoured all of was because I’d spent ages laughing myself out of my chair over a man who put bacon on his cat. Thus, when it was book buying time, I figured someone who could baconate their cat to such hilarity was worth a try. This is the part you can do before the book is written, or while your writing it, or whatever else. My next big book buying run will be a series by a man who’s blog posts contain so many curse-words I wouldn’t read them in public. But he’s always entertaining and enlightening while he’s at it. He has voice, and that’s something that tends to transfer.

Third, ignore ignore ignore. “Don’t write in more than one genre, it confuses people,” they say. Tosh. Write whatever the crap you want. “Never give your work away for free,” they say. Screw it. Hold a contest, hand it out on the street corner if you want. Don’t break yourself financially, and I’m not sure what your plan is, but it’s your plan. Go to town. Every book is different, every author is different.

Fourth, breathe. There is an extreme amount of pressure wrapped up in marketing. Some things work and some things don’t, and I’ve long come to understand you should do anything you can manage with a straight face. Maybe pitching your book while hanging upside-down from the gutter will appeal to that one person in charge of their fall book group. And then you’ve sold ten copies, instead of just one.

Fifth, GO BACK TO WRITING. Literally every legitimate piece of marketing data I’ve ever seen has said that author’s with a catalog sell better than a one-off. Once that puppy hits shelves, give it a solid marketing push (I can’t tell you how long that is, two weeks or ten) and then go back to writing.

All of that seems obvious, but then I suppose I’m trying to remind myself just as much as I’m telling you.

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But but but…

I’m going to spare a second at the beginning of this long, pseudo-rant/whine post to say we had a wonderful time at the Book Lover’s Bazaar on Saturday and already I can’t wait until we have actual books to sell next year!

Alright, so, down to business. I spent a lot of time today searching around for something to post about on here tonight (if you follow my author blog you’re going to get a double dose tonight because of reasons and I am behind, I know, it’s a shock). I was going to do a lessons learned thing about the event this weekend–but this isn’t really the place for that, and I don’t wanna. I could talk about the slush pile again, but you’re probably about as sick of hearing about it as I am of looking at it (which isn’t near as much as I should be since I haven’t in ages).

I made a vaguely creepy tweet Monday night, and Kate mentioned our twitter feed sounds more like Night Vale or some other horror/comedy/art-house mix more than a business, and how we’re all more or less okay with that.

So tonight we’re going to talk about professionalism.

There are other reasons we’re talking about professionalism, but strangely apropos, they’re reasons I can’t/wont share.

So what marks a business–especially a small start-up like us–professional? I could give you a list. The ridiculous amount of paperwork we filed with the state/IRS. The website and official email signature and business cards and and and.

Personally, I think a good three-quarters of what constitutes professionalism is dedication. Sure, our twitter feed is tongue in cheek and strange. Our Facebook banner is a photograph of our business creation paperwork instead of some slick graphic we contracted out. Our formal rejection letter is snarky and ridiculous (very few people have actually seen that). I don’t have much time for people who judge either people or a business entirely on aesthetics.

So, what makes us professional?

1)A good eighty percent of our rejection letters are written by an actual person, from a blank slate, after they’ve read the piece. I think that’s a professional dedication to respect and honesty and fingers crossed it’ll stay that way as long as we can conceivably manage it.

2)We accept submissions from absolutely anyone. And we look at all of them the same. This seems fairly self-evident, but apparently it’s a concern?

3)We have a ridiculously detailed, extended calendar. Yes, it’s going to change. It has to change. But the point is it’s there. It’s been there since the start. If you’d have asked me in July I could have told you the bare bones of what our catalog was going to look like in Spring 2017.

4)Entire redacted paragraph that’s basically me gritching about receiving business updates that contain no actual business updates and make me want to rage at people like a rabies infested flying monkey in such a way that makes it clear we will never do that. Rant that continues into the extreme unprofessionalism of having to chase someone down to get them to fulfill business obligations that are more than in their best interest. Finishing with tiny little letters about how frustrating it is that my professionalism means I can’t actually share any of this while it’s in process.

4)We’re here, and we have every intention toward pulling for the long haul. It’s not just something fun to occupy us while we’re bored, or an easy way out of the small-press/self-pub debate. It’s not a hobby.

Alright. Rant over. Come back Thursday or Friday where I’ll manage some more professionalism about marketing books that don’t fit neatly into genre lines.

Author Meetings and Other Fun Stuff

Or, my to-do list is trying to smother me.

Productivity experts try to tell you to write down everything you have to do and then categorize it as to importance.

That would 1) Give me writer’s cramp 2) Make me curl up in a ball sobbing 3) Be never-ending.

I do schedule important things. I even write little notes to myself.

On stickies.

That I can paste onto my forehead.

Sometimes, I write on the back of my hand. I’ve been doing that since high school and it’s the most effective tool in my arsenal.

I’ll be honest, I do have a list. It’s mostly endless and I just keep writing stuff down as I remember it – and cross them off as I remember to check it. It’s in a nifty little notebook that has other reminders like – this is your login name for the tax ID and a hint for the password. I don’t look at it every day.

But special things? Like meeting with our newest author Briane Pagel? Yeah, I write those down on my calendar. With big stars and lead-up reminders.

I think the call went well. We went over the Letter of Intent (a roadmap we send to each author that spells out what we do), any contract questions (there were none), a bit about marketing and social media, and some getting to know one another chatter. I’m thrilled to be working with someone who is motivated and has his mind already wrapped around some of the business end of things. His novel is hard-core sci-fi along the lines of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick. I think it’ll be a hit and hopefully the start of a long and profitable relationship.

What did I want him to do while he waited on the edit letter? Start up his social media on FB and Twitter. Start working on, or finishing his next project.

Honestly, that’s what I advise anyone getting into this business to do. Set up a fan page on Facebook. (This is easier than it seems.) Set up a “professional” Twitter account — you know, one with your name on it. Set up a blog and start writing posts. (Be yourself. Unless you’re being a unicorn, in which case, have at it.) Keep writing.

Like meditative practice, writing gets easier the more you keep on it.

Blogging, well, that gets easier too, I think. I mean, I’ve actually managed to be consistent on writing two posts on this blog every other week. Now I just have to get to writing consistently on my author blog.

*shakes head* As Alice (in Wonderland) once said, “I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.” I’m off, to change that habit right now.

Muddling through and relying on others

So, I’ve got this book up for pre-order. I’m chuffed about it, really I am.

But I’ve also got one heck of an event to balance this week, so I’m not necessarily giving the reviewers my full attention this week.

This week Jules and I are running The Book Lover’s Bazaar. It’s a charity event to support First Book-Northern Virginia and Nova Nano. That’s the easy part. It’s also got a ton of moving parts – including a mini-writer’s conference, a perfect your pitch event, children’s readings, a silent auction, authors for signings, crafters for interest, a book sale, and to top it all over – a last minute venue change and open slots for volunteers that need filling. By SATURDAY.

(Y’all are invited if you’re in Northern Virginia by the way. Hey, you could even volunteer!)

But the biggest lesson, and something I’m actually starting to be able to do, is relying on others to get things done. This has been one long, amazing journey of asking for help from people. And this time – every time I ask for help, I’ve gotten it.

Our first venue fell through. So, I got the suggestion to post a request in the local writer’s group on Facebook. And not even three hours later, we had a place.

We needed tables and chairs – Jules’ husband asked his work and we have tables and chairs to use.

We needed silent auction items – they appeared.

The only thing we need more of it staff-bodies, but we’re arm-twisting a few of those into place as well.

It’s been amazing. Really it has. Things have come together in spite of the roadblocks and growing pains of any event. And all the things we’ve learned this year will make next year even better.

I have to put out a huge thank you to everyone involved and all of the authors and vendors who have been so patient with me.

And I have to say, this is one of the few times that giving up control of the pieces has worked out. I’ve finally found people that I can trust not to drop all the balls in the middle of the juggling act.

That’s rare.

And beautiful.

Thank you.

Everybody likes a good train story, right?

CBE cover 3

It is, officially, up for pre-orders! I am super excited about this, and I could gush like crazy and possibly embarrass Kate something fierce, but it would be wasted words. Obviously I love it. The amount of effort poured in when you publish a book, even as a publisher, requires a serious amount of love.

I’ll leave the back-blurb down here, just in case the cover didn’t snag you…

Trapped on the Cherry Blossom Express; speeding toward Boston, Iko Maynard’s life has taken a turn for the weird.
The train is missing stops. The passengers around her are disappearing. 
The crew is polite but unhelpful.

Iko can only rely on herself and the other handful of passengers who are still awake.
But there’s only one way to survive this trip.
Can Iko make the ultimate leap of faith?

Some days it’s just another four letter word.

I’m out of serious blog topics for now, and today the entire concept of work is just another four letter word. So instead I’m going to give you my top five ways to procrastinate.

1) Reading comments on the internet.
I wouldn’t suggest this. It’s basically like digitized crack. I know better, I really do, but I just keep doing it.

2) Pinterest.
Fandom. Funnies. Octopi wearing top-hats. What’s not to love?

3)Anything on Netflix.
I have an unreasonable crush on Shelby Foote. This might have come up before.

4)Yarn.
I am a master at fiber-themed work avoidance, and I have the pictures to prove it. I’m thinking of making this next.

5)Work.
I know, that seems strange doesn’t it. I’m talking about the things I do to avoid work, and there’s work. I’d claim this as a talent, but I think all writers are probably adept at this. It’s when you clean your entire house, repaint your gutters, and plan a ten stop blog tour rather than doing the chapter of edits you agreed to do for the day.

I should get back to that, I’m halfway through the gutters.

A Hundred Ways Not to Make a Light-bulb.

That’s the famous quote about failure right? Whether Mr Edison said it or not, it’s one of those things that gets passed around, when we’re telling each other not to give up.

Edison’s never been in favor in our house, so I’ll give you a better one.

I didn’t bother to check and make sure Mr Churchill said this, either. That’s not the point.

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

Which is sort of a backwards aspiration to have, at this point. We didn’t make our Kickstarter goal, but does that count as a failure? How do you count failure in a publishing market, or in any artistic endeavor? I read something, weeks ago that I wish I could find again, where a filmmaker was talking about getting work twenty years down the pipeline over something that everyone had considered a failure when it came out.

Every day, in this business venture I get smacked by some maxim I learned writing that suddenly, inexplicably–to my thinking anyway–applies. This week’s was a sudden realization that plans and schedules are like outlines. They’re fine until you actually start moving. You can’t get attached to the outline, because once you do it’s all downhill from there. You can’t get attached to the plan. Not universally.

We’re not a twenty-year behemoth, a big juggernaut of publishing that can dig it’s wheels in and keep going in exactly the direction it started in, whether the rest of the world wants to go there or not. We’re small, and we have to be fleet of foot, we’ve got no choice. We have to grow in the directions that present themselves, and look for opportunities where we can. We have to look at the things that don’t work, and then move on to the next project.

If Churchill managed Gallipoli, I think we’re alright.

I’ll share another Churchill quote I’m much more fond of, just because I’ve got you here and I can.

“All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.”