Marketing. I hate it. I’m no salesman, and even when face to face with potential readers, I struggle with it. Online stuff is even more difficult. There’s the time involved, for one thing, not to mention the mountain of advice both good and bad to sift through. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for the “sign up to our newsletter for a free marketing PDF” malarkey.
I spent this morning decluttering my Gmail. I must have unsubscribed from eight of those lists just today. I dare say a few more will slip through the net over the next week or so. One thing I’ve noticed is how similar a lot of the guidance is. And I mean a LOT. As in, I’m very suspicious as to how many are recycling others’ received wisdom without having tried or lived it themselves. As in, if it was that easy we’d all be doing it. As in, how can everybody get ahead by following the same advice and doing the same thing? It reminds me of the idiot Gove’s announcement that every pupil in Britain should be able to reach the average attainment – a statement that sums up the state of Britain and its politics, when the Education Secretary, an over-educated meatsack of a man with little life experience and no classroom experience, publicly demonstrates that he doesn’t understand what how averages work. But that’s a whole other rant...
I travel around quite a bit. Not a Richard Branson “which continent shall I take my private jet to” kind of travel. Not an Iron Maiden “we’ve a world tour itinerary for the next six months” kind of travel either. More a “Christ, am I sick of looking at the bloody M5” kind of travel.
Anyway, I’d stopped at Exeter services. Though it could have been anywhere; they really do all look the same. It was packed. Streams of people entered and left. After queuing for Starbucks (I don’t normally support amoral tax dodging corporations, but I’d begun caffeine cold turkey at this point. My options were limited to ‘drink’ or ‘kill’. As ever when there’s a crowd involved, it was a close call), queuing for a pasty (one mystery-meat with extra gristle please!), and queuing to pee (I can only assume the ‘wellies only beyond this point’ sign had corroded to nothing in the ammonia infused air), I was seconds from going postal.
To get in and out you have to pass through two sets of doors. Whether this is to create a homely porch effect, to keep out the worst of the South West’s drizzle, or just to toy with the easily baffled, I don’t know. Some of the people were quite polite, holding the door for others and shuffling awkwardly into the Zombie horde tramping towards them. This created a traffic jam in both directions, particularly in the pointless porch-cum-people trap. Step by tiny step I made my way to the doors, mustering all my willpower to not turn and scream at whoever kept stepping on my heels. Then I eased out into the car park. No holdup in the porch for me. Why?
I opened the other door.
That’s right. The external and internal doors causing the jam were double doors. Yet everybody was content to take turns edging and apologising their way through one half. Because nobody in front had opened the left door, each subsequent person thought it must be locked, and didn’t bother to try it.
Build an email list. Have a Facebook page. Work Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat. Blog. Engage in forums. Etc, etc, etc. Countless experts offering the same advice which gets passed on and on down the chain, without anyone asking why. Like people waiting at closed doors without even trying the adjacent entrance.
I’m not saying these things can’t work. I’m saying they can’t work for everyone. At some point, social media as a sales tool will suffer from over saturation. We can’t all reach the average. I’m not sure how many people follow me or how many I follow (I’ve recently deleted a load), but I do see a hell of a lot of authors trying to sell their books through Twitter. Have you ever sold a book through Twitter? Or bought a book because of it?
So I’m going to take a different approach. I’ll still use social media and I’ll still blog. I enjoy doing those things. And I’ll continue to maintain my website. I get a lot of traffic, and again I enjoy it. All three can also be useful ways to build awareness of who I am and what I do.
But they won’t be my main tools to build a following. I know, that word sounds like I’m starting a cult rather than writing books. What was it L Ron Hubbard said? “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.” But anyway, that’s another tangent.
The point is, I’m starting to think beyond mailing lists and the like. I’m not here to sell horror. I’m interested in cultivating relationships with those who are interested in my style of writing, curious readers able to follow me across flash fiction, short stories, novellas and novels. People who will follow me across genres because they’re interested in what I have to say and how I choose to say it, not because they’re following a particular genre and I happen to have written a book in that genre. It’s about talking to people and finding common ground, not simply flogging a product. Follow me, not my books.
There are authors who’ve eschewed all forms of electronic promotion and focus exclusively on book fairs and workshops. Not many, but they’re there.
I’m not saying either approach should be used to the exclusion of the other. The Kindle has disrupted the publishing market beyond recognition. The Internet itself continues to do so, albeit now by degrees. I’m in the process of rethinking how I use media to promote what I do. I’ll not be looking to mimic the well-worn processes sold by others. I’ve got a few ideas for my YouTube channel, and a few offline ideas I want to try.
So what about you? How have you found the advice from online experts? What out-of-the-box ideas have you tried?