There’s a wise post here by author Robison Wells (the brother of author Dan Wells, one of the co-creators of the Writing Excuses podcast and BFF of Epic Fantasy superstar Brandon Sanderson) on the subject of Author Marketing, written in response to a post here that is basically a wave of authors getting rather vitriolic about doing anything that smacks of putting effort into their marketing. And that second post was really just the comment stream for this post, wherein a few marketing types offer a few suggestions to writers on some basic things they can be doing to market their book.
Now, I’ve written about marketing before (here and here and here). Unlike Robison, I have not worked on marketing or branding campaigns for major national product brands, nor have I ever worked directly in a marketing capacity. (My business career took a turn in a decidedly number-crunching direction, and so some of my work has supported marketers but was not in itself marketing.) So all of my education on the topic has been mostly theoretical – that is to say I took a fair number of classes on marketing throughout my business education, and made it one of my areas of focus in getting my MBA. It’s not hands-on knowledge or experience, which is perhaps the best kind, but it’s still worth something.
The thing is… what’s missing from all of these posts and counter-posts and epic-whining on the subject of author marketing and author branding and so on and so forth is… well… there are two things missing.
Thing the first: Writing a Book and investing time and effort into marketing and branding are not mutually exclusive. A lot of the whining on the Passive Voice blog about marketing has mostly to do with some petulant would-be-authors whining about not having the time to both market and write. And heck, I’ll be the first to admit, not having time for something is tough. When you’ve got a day job, and kid(s), and a life, and responsibilities, and so on… it can be hard just to find the time to write. Finding the time to market? That way surely lies madness. So the whiners like to trot out this idea that the best marketing is writing more books as if some magical marketing fairy will then sprinkle some marketing dust on the voluminous output and they will all instantly sell tons of copies. But where, may I ask, are those tons of readers going to come from? How are they going to discover this endless font of beatific literature?
The thing I’m driving at: the marketing is useless without good content to drive readers toward. If you don’t have something to sell, all the marketing in the world isn’t going to sell it. If the thing you have to sell is a steaming pile of horse manure? Well… there’s a limited market for horse manure, so you might sell a little, but you won’t sell a lot. And again, all the marketing in the world won’t sell it. But the converse is also true. The world of information (especially the internet) is subject to Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything out there isn’t worth a reader’s time. And 90% of everything is a lot of crap to wade through to find the 10% that’s golden. So even if you’ve written a novel of pure and utter perfection… even if you’ve written ten volumes of pure and utter perfection… it will drown in the Sturgeonesque cesspool of too much crap unless there’s some way for readers to find you.
Well… find you is a poor choice of words. It’s not finding you that’s important. I’m easy to find on the internet. This blog features fairly prominently in search rankings when you search for my name. But that’s not the point. Finding my blog doesn’t mean a thing unless a reader knows to be looking for my blog. And that’s the secret of marketing. Readers need to know you exist and to have some reason to believe that the work you’ve created will scratch their particular reading itch. And there are no easy push-button answers for how to do this. But Robison’s point on the subject is spot on: if you’ve got something worth a reader’s time, then maybe it should be worth your time to invest in some marketing to try to get the word out.
Thing the second: Not all audiences are the same. The reading public is not some single, simple, monolithic thing to be engaged by authors. There is no one switch that will effectively reach them all and tickle them the same way. As I said above, there are no easy push-button answers. Marketing takes time and effort. It’s as simple as that, and as oh-so-complicated, because there are a thousand-million-billion different ways you could divide and subdivide your time and effort to try to reach your audience. It is significant to note that not every way you can do this will reach every potential audience member and impact every one in the right way. Some things you can do might actually turn off some potential audience members. Some will endear you most gratifyingly to others. I don’t have a paint-by-numbers that will perfectly align you with the audience you’re seeking, and I strongly suspect that anyone who tells you they do is not being entirely ingenuous with you. And that goes back, once again, to the time-investment thing. It will take time to build your platform and time to figure out what works and what doesn’t and how you can best reach out to and engage with your audience.
If you’re like me… the best thing you can be doing, at this stage of the game, is probably writing. As I said above, if you haven’t got something to sell, no amount of marketing will help you sell it. So I’m writing, and I don’t worry too much about marketing (except that seeing a lot of people who clearly know nothing about marketing trying to peddle a lot of hoodoo mumbo jumbo kind of sometimes gets my goat). And for the immediate and medium-term future, that’s where my focus will stay. Like… at least the next five to ten years, I don’t figure on spending much of any time actively marketing myself or my work (at least not in the context of being a writer). At some future point, though… I’ll maybe possibly have something worth reading. By then… I’ll have been blogging for years. So I’ll have a good base to start from when I try to kick up my marketing game.