Sunday 11 December 2011

Why I Suck At Marketing

I've been posting regularly to my Blunt Pencil for a while now, and after much thought, I've decided I don't want my blog to be nothing but flash fiction or posts about writing. I'd like to start sharing more about my experiences as a writer - you never know, maybe you'll be feeling the same way and we can all offer each other support. Plus, I think it's about time I starting admitting to a little vulnerability, don't you?

Well, I was at an event on Saturday night where I had an opportunity to try and sell a few copies of my pulp Western, The Guns of Retribution. A grand total of two were sold, and it's really made me examine just why I'm so appalling at self-promotion. I mean, who better to sell my story than me? The only person who knows it better than I do is the main character, and unless I get a ouija board out, Grey isn't going to be talking to anyone any time soon. I should be able to walk up to someone and start talking about my book...but it's not that easy, is it?

The first stumbling block is the fact that I'm abysmal at engaging strangers in conversation. I was never the most gregarious of folk to start with but seven years of living in London have conditioned me not to speak to those I don't know. I don't find myself to be in the best position to recommend myself, and the idea of randomly walking up to someone fills me with a small degree of alarm. Of course, it's all about context. Were I to be walk into a knitting group, and find myself among a group of film scholars, things would be different, but to walk up to someone with the intention of trying to sell something? Well, that just brings us onto the second stumbling block.

I'm not the type of person who likes to harrass people about what I do. I see some people in my Twitter stream who seemingly post nothing but tweets reminding us of the availability of their book, and after a while it becomes white noise. Sure, I'll post occasional links to my own stuff but I don't want my Twitter account to become the cyber equivalent of the incessant TV ads that go from "mildly annoying" to "downright abhorrent" due to the frequency with which they are aired. I like to talk to new people on Twitter because I like the conversational side of it, and if they happen to buy a book after chatting to me, then great. But to start talking to someone with the sole intention of selling something? Eek.

The problem is, I know it has to be done. The Guns of Retribution won't sell itself. I can tell you that it's a story about a young man named Grey O'Donnell, who flees his native Arizona after a run-in with the local heavies, only to return six years later as a fully-fledged bounty hunter on the trail of a murderer. His path crosses that of Jasper Roberts, his former adversary, who is now the crooked sheriff of his hometown, Retribution. Roberts has no intention of letting Grey get away from him for a second time, and a collision course is set between the two. I can tell you that it's got train robberies, shoot outs, hangings, fist fights and a femme fatale. I can ask you not to be put off by the fact it's a Western, and rather to view it as an action tale set in the Old West.

Or I can point you towards what others have said. Paul D Brazill described it as "a joy, containing all the action and adventure of an old school western", while Heath Lowrance called it "a strong Western full of action, honor, betrayal, and fast guns". Old West maestro Edward A. Grainger even said "If you buy one book today, make it The Guns of Retribution". Pulp Serenade gave me this wonderful review, the highlight being "The Guns of Retribution is at its best when the excitement runs high. There’s a visceral, tangible element to Sedgwick’s writing that gives the story added punch."

So why can't I market my own book? Obviously it's something I'll be working on in the New Year, particularly as I work on the sequel, but how about the rest of you? Anyone got any hints or tricks they use when promoting their work?


Anonymous said...

As I have yet to publish anything, this is a bridge I have yet to cross, but I feel your pain. I freeze up when it comes to promoting myself in anyway. At work, I can command a conversation, but about my writing? That's a whole other ball of fear. I guess like anything else in life, it's something you have to study and practice. As much as it sucks. Good luck with the marketing and with the books!

Scath said...

I'm in the same boat. I can engage anyone in conversation IRL in almost any situation, but the second they ask me what I do, after I say "I write", I start feeling awkward.

I was the same way with my artwork. Ran into an actual fan girl at our local library one afternoon. She gushed. I blushed and mumbled.

The funny thing? I have 16 years retail experience. Made a living selling people stuff!

Larry Kollar said...

I would think casual conversation would lead to at least a low-key marketing opportunity. Including the question "what do you do for a living?" seems to be a requirement on this side of the pond, anyway. At that point, one thing should lead to the next:

"I"m an author, just getting started. I teach Photoshop classes to pay the bills."

"Oh really? Anything I've read?"

"I have a Western called The Guns of Retribution out. You can order it at X, Y, and amaZon."


When the time comes, I've thought about doing an honest-to-God press release and sending it to local newspapers. (And the paper in the county where the story is set, since they do get a mention.) It might spark enough interest to get a reporter to call for an interview, and those pieces do usually conclude with a final repeat of the title and where it can be bought.

(Again, here, can't speak for UK) Even chain bookstores often have a "local authors" section. Get Pulp Press to give you contact info, and take it to the local chains. If you get the right people, it might get you on the local shelves… offering to do a book signing should help too.

Other than that, I have the same problem as you do: no further ideas, and an icky feeling about self-promotion. I'd probably try the whole agent/publisher thing if they took care of promotion beyond signings and appearances.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Danni - I can yatter on for hours about books I love, but when it's mine, it just feels like mindless self indulgence. I mean, I can't really be objective about it, and I'd hate to come across as arrogant.

Ms Drummond - I used to work in food retail so I was used to 'up selling' things, but there's a difference between trying to get someone to buy a slice of cake with their coffee and trying to sell them a book. If I was a musician, I could play them a small demo, but it's difficult to do it with a book in regular conversation!

FAR - Danny's already trying to get the book into the one bookstore we have in town. I've got a contact in a local college who wants to have it added to a reading list, and I've got no problem trying to sell the book to people who ask about it, it's just learning to prompt the right questions that's proving to be tricky...

Peter Newman said...

Marketing stuff is a completely different skill set to writing stuff. And I think the things that help get a book written (the ability to observe the world, retreat from society for prolonged periods, etc) often stand in the way of selling.

But it will get easier. Remember the very first stuff you wrote? I'm guessing it wasn't anywhere close to what you write now. You're self promotion skill probably just need practice.

Don't give up!

Cat Russell said...

I am not in a position to sell anything of my own work yet, but I can imagine what that would be like. people generally in my opinion don't respond to the hard sell, as a former salesperson I know people usually responded if I was genuinely trying to help them. for example, if I already noticed them looking at similar items. But just approaching someone out of the blue? I just don't think that works.

Maybe key is to either let them up approach you or position yourself near that genre section in the store.

Eric J. Krause said...

I hear you. I'm horrible at marketing my work, too. Not just the books I've self-published, but I find it hard in query letters, too. If only writing could be only about writing, but if you want anyone but family and close friends to read it, you have to market it. Sigh.

Morgan Drake Eckstein said...

I sometimes wonder how much of our difficulties promoting our own writing is our own baggage, and how much of it is societal programming that "real writers do not have to do promotion."

Anonymous said...

What if writers thought of themselves as musicians in regards to selling your work. Promotion is paramount, as is engaging with the people as you mentioned above. I've bought music because of the interactions with musos online.
But also like you, I'm an incoherent, shy mess. Think I need to adopt a persona, like an actor.
Adam B @revhappiness

Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Since my book is just in e-format so far, I haven't had any experience with face-to-face promotion, but I think I'd probably feel much the same way if I did. I'm not the best at talking to people I don't know well either. Online marketing is enough of a challenge! I've heard so much about not spamming your readers with advertisements that I feel a little guilty every time I do put up a Tweet about my book. :)

I've been gradually finding different promotional opportunities - spotlights and interviews on blogs, sites that offer free listings for indie authors, etc. I'm basically learning as I go, and hoping some of it will take effect.

PhilipMSr said...

I think the followers of The BookCase Project will like to read this so I will be posting it there.
When you are at the site, please click "Like" so I know that you visited.

Helen A. Howell said...

You know the one thing that stops me self publishing, is all the promotional work that has to go with it. I know what that's like, I ran a massage business for a few years and had to constantly sell myself. For every client I lost I needed to bring in another two. So dropping into conversations what I did and passing out cards if the person showed interest was exhausting but necessary.

I've sold jewellery I've made too, again always having to push it under peoples noses, not what I liked to do. Can I cope with doing that with a book as well - I don't know—I guess it's the necessary evil if you want to sell something.

You book is a great read and I wish you every success with it. and the marketing - get out and get going! You have a great product, tell the world about it. ^_^

Tony Noland said...

Online promotion for published works has always been an afterthought for me. "I already told you about this book once, haven't I? Remember? Back in April?" I fear becoming even more annoying by adding a heavy dose of promotion to whatever it is I'm doing. Promotion for blog posts or stories online or whatever is different, since it's for (at most) a couple of days.

It takes a certain level of confidence in the product and in one's self to assume that everyone sees promotional efforts as a public service, ala "I know you all are dying to know where you can buy my book. Let me help by sending you this link."

Long story short, I don't know what I'm doing.

On a different note, the focus of my blog has always been broader than just fiction, poetry and writing craft. I've always wanted to share the writer's journey part. Sometimes this is amusing or interesting, but unfortunately, lately this has just been depressing. Not exactly the way to attract and retain readers, is it?

Icy Sedgwick said...

Peter - Marketing is a different skill set, true. I've done it in a work capacity and always found it straightforward, but then I haven't been selling me, and that's the difference. But I'll keep learning!

Cathy - I guess I'll keep offering my writing advice and so on, and keep chatting to someone, and work on the social connections rather than the overt sell.

Eric - I've never written a query letter but if they're anything like academic proposals...then I never want to.

Morgan - See, it's weird, because almost anyone who runs their own business nowadays has to engage in marketing, so why should writers be any different? I think writers SHOULD promote, it's just difficult when you're not entirely sure where to start, or when it's massively outside your comfort zone.

Adam - Think I might stick to my conversing with anyone I come across. Makes it easier to talk about my book...and I often buy books after I've started chatting to someone!

Elisabeth - I think one tweet a day about your book (or several spread across time zones) is long as you tweet about other things as well!

Helen - I'll try!

Tony - I know what you mean, you don't want to irritate your existing circle with what they already know, but then you need to keep tweeting about it to make sure new followers are informed. And I think your blog is just fine - it lets readers get to know YOU, something I don't think mine does (though it'd be weird if they read mine to get to know you :p)

Unknown said...

I'm having a similar problem with the promotion side of it. I mean, I can get some promo going on my blog and Twitter - mainly because it's just me hiding behind a computer screen - but when it comes to doing it face to face, actually trying to convince a real, living person, to buy something I've done, it's a whole different ball game.

But, I'm coming around to accepting that it's "part of the job", maybe not a part I like, but, as you said, it's something that has to be done. I think - and I'm probably wrong - that it's just a case of making peace with how uncomfortable you are with that side of things. Well, it's something I'm trying, anyway. :)

Tim VanSant Writes said...

Count me among those uncomfortable with self-promotion. I'm working on a post that deals in part with the same issues. I think you nailed it with your reply to Morgan: "...almost anyone who runs their own business nowadays has to engage in marketing, so why should writers be any different?" Except, I would delete the word "almost."

One promotional idea I read recently is for your book to have its own business card. It can include a short blurb and a link to the book's website. If you find yourself in conversation with someone who may be interested you can simply hand them a card and not derail the conversation. Or in a bolder move, you might use it to start a conversation.

Jen said...

I think you're probably just fine, and actually marketing your own stuff is way harder than marketing someone else's. I think people automatically distrust you if you try to sell them something YOU did, whereas a second opinion seems more reliable. The way of the world.

Anyway, *I've* been pushing your book too. I think the design of it is perfect for a stocking. Really pulpy and awesome looking.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Lee - I think, like everything else, it's just a question of practice. Perhaps we need to start off with friends and family, get used to talking about our work with them, and then start talking to others!

Tim - It's funny you say that, I'm actually in the process of trying to design some business cards but I'm tempted to actually put up a Grey O'Donnell site (as there is a series planned) and do cards specifically for the series (so I can use them once I get onto book 2)

Jen - Yeah but you're awesome and I appreciate all the plugging I can get!

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