Branding Yourself as an Author as a Way to Market Yourself
Do you do book promotion?
Marketing and promotion is tough, especially if you're a writer. You'll hear many things by many people about promotion. One camp says to promote the heck out of your book. Another camp says to write and let your publisher take care of promoting. Which is right?
First, I don't subscribe to what many old timers will tell you, and that is let marketing do their job. Quite honestly, that worked well in the past; not so well now -- especially if you're published with a small press. People with big names don't have to market because quite frankly, they're there already. They tell people that your first job is to write and ignore the rest.
Poppycock, I say.
Your first job is to write, yes. After all, that's what you are: a writer, author--whatever. But the second job is to promote yourself.
Oh, you did you notice, I haven't mentioned "your book" yet?
A new author who is going to be in this business a long time needs to promote themselves as a brand. You've heard of Starbucks and Nike as brands, yes? You need to develop yourself as a brand. You don't believe me? Look at Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Michael Crichton, or J.K. Rowling. Those names are brands, just like Nike. They're known as close to household words. You may not own a book by Tom Clancy, but you've probably seen a move or two based on his books or even played a video game. Who hasn't heard of The Andromedia Strain or Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton). And what about that Harry Potter kid?
Yeah, you can argue that the books made the author, but the author became a brand.
Now, let's look at me. So far, I've sold about 7 pieces of book-length fiction. They do pretty well for a small press author, but let's look at reality here -- I'm looking at hitting it big. How do I do this? By becoming a brand.
That's all well and good, but how do you promote yourself as a brand? Well, first there's a matter of getting the work into people's hands -- and getting people to know you. Think about the first time you met an author (any author). What was your impression of him/her? My guess is how they treated you made a huge difference in your opinion of them. As an author, this is of utmost importance. You must understand the number 1 rule: once you sell your work, you have an obligation to the fans. They are the ones who will put money in your pocket. You treat people like cow dung and they really don't care about you or your work. You treat people well, and while they may not buy your book, they learn who you are. They like you. They are nice to you because you are nice back. They will help you in ways you can't imagine.
Now, this is not some conniving ploy of mine -- and I don't sit and plot to be nice just so I can take people's money. But I feel that as an author, you have a duty to your readers and other writers to be accessible whenever possible. The writer who hands the bookseller their $16 has trusted me to tell them the type of story they want to read. If somehow I've touched the person in some way to where they want to write to me and tell me how wonderful my story was, then I feel it is my obligation to thank them. It's common courtesy, really, but it has become so uncommon to where it stands out.
My point is a fellow podcaster I know has hit it big by becoming a brand. He's a brand because he writes stories people like, but he is also very accessible. He and I have chatted quite a bit, but one thing he did really touched me. Of all the folks on this one podcast site, he sent me an email with get well wishes when he heard about my husband. No one else in that group bothered. Who do you think has my vote for books? Kindness matters.
This is why I will always offer to blurb people's books. When I can't sell my own books, I recommend other people's books. I don't stomp on other authors when I'm trying to promote my own. (It's just bad form to tell people to not buy certain people's books over yours). I try to help other writers out. It just makes sense.
So, that's my "big secret." My second big secret is coming up with a way to build a community. I blog here. I use Twitter. I chat. I have websites. I podcast. And I think of new ways to promote my books. I'm not above "stealing" someone's ideas for promotion. I keep an eye out for them where I can. I've given away free disks with samples. I've held contests.
When I'm at conventions, I make it a point to hit the parties and talk about my books. When I was Guest of Honor at a science fiction convention, I gave the convention folks copies of Lachlei. I carry my books around and if anyone asks me about them, I'm glad to let them look at them and talk about them. At Worldcon, I worked the Dealer's Room when I wasn't busy. I had volunteered to moderate, and that got me in front of a gazillion fans of Larry Niven, Louis McMaster Bujold, Fred Saberhagen and Elizabeth Moon. (And moderating panels gets you in front of big names. People who come to see the big names want to listen to them, but you can certainly interject your own humor and charming personality without being overbearing.