This article appeared on Chuck Sambuchino's excellent site GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS May 16, 2010
Times are tough. Publishers are cutting back on just about everything: coop, author tours, marketing dollars—heck, their staffs. Newspapers are jettisoning their book sections. Magazines are going bankrupt, writing programs are being restructured, conferences are being cancelled. It is undeniably rough out there. So what’s an author to do in the face of all this adversity? Take advantage of the situation at hand, of course. There’s never been a better time to create your niche. The Internet is an overwhelmingly underused resource for authors who want to market themselves. And the best part? It’s free.
We’ve all seen the authors who are simply out there screaming "Me, me me!!!" They’re a big turnoff, right? So how do you go about getting your message out there, getting your book into the hands of loyal readers, without alienating possible friends and readers? Very carefully. Don't just push yourself on people; be a value-add author. Give them something back. Give them something they didn’t know they needed in the first place, and you’ve conquered what marketing is all about. Things to remember about marketing online include:
1. Respect your lists. If you send out too many notifications, people simply tune you out. My newsletter goes out quarterly. Publishing works slowly enough that you don’t need much more than that to get your news out. Everyone’s time is precious: If you treat them with respect, you’ll get respect.
2. What works for one won’t always work for others. As frustrating as this may be, it’s the truth. You can follow in every single step I took online and still not see the benefits. The trick is to be original, be open and willing, and be flexible. You never know where that next opportunity may come from.
3. Don’t compare or compete. Professional jealousy is an occupational hazard. Don’t fall into that trap. Each book, each author, is wildly different. Jealousy causes negative energy, which will trickle out in your attitude. Remember that comparing yourself to another author is like comparing apples and oranges—they don’t measure up properly.
4. Be polite. Always. Don’t engage, don’t be mean and spiteful, don’t gang up on people. Cyber-bullying isn’t just a problem in our schools. And especially don’t put your woes and frustrations online. Limit those conversations to your trusted friends. The Internet is not a giant group psychotherapy session, nor a group hug.
5. Don’t give up. When one door closes, a window opens. Things fall through. Media doesn’t get played, articles don’t get placed, short stories get bumped. Promises, sadly, do sometimes get broken, but if you can keep a healthy perspective on the industry, you’ll do fine.
6. Be open to new experiences. This is a foreign landscape for many people. If you limit yourself from the beginning, you may miss out on things. Read the writing magazines. Pay special attention to the Writer’s Digest segment on debut authors [called "Breaking In"]. Remember that this is your job, maybe even your second, or third. Things that are hard are usually worth it, you know? Very few authors can honestly say that their road to publication is easy, but there is a universal among them—they studied the market before submitting.
7. Be careful what you say online. Everything you say, everything, is recorded in perpetuity. Websites cache their material, which means even if you’ve gone back and deleted something, a version continues to live on. So be careful what you say. Think before you comment. Follow the adage your mom always taught: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. You never know what sort of impact even the most casual negative comment can have.
8. Don’t ever, ever engage a reviewer over a negative review. Yes, it sucks that you got a one-star on Amazon. That’s one person’s very subjective opinion. Unless the comments are slanderous or libelous (which is rarely the case) you need to let them go.
9. I know some authors feel that being a lightning rod gains them readers. I don’t agree. I think the way you gain a readership is by doing two things: one, writing the absolute best book you can possibly write, and two, being a value-add author.
10. Build momentum (and your platform) by joining organizations. My first manuscript didn’t sell, and my agent suggested I try writing a new book, which I did. During that time, though, I didn’t abandon my online efforts. I kept up with my group crime blog (Murderati), as well as DorothyL, and several other listserves. I continued my weekly book picks on Publishers Marketplace. I started writing short stories and placing them in e-zines, raising my profile even more. And I volunteered to be a book reviewer for an online site, which enabled me to read everything I could get my hands on, knowing that reading is the key to better writing. All of that paid off. When my agent took the second book out onto submission, I now had a solid online platform. I was a crime blogger, a reviewer, a participant. The editors at the houses knew I was plugged in to the crime fiction network, that I had built myself a base of followers even before I sold my first book. And it worked. My first deal was for three books. So was my second. And my third.
Momentum. In this industry, it means a lot.
Now go forth, and conquer!