When I was ten, my parents gave me a telescope, and I formed an astronomy club.
Suburban Minneapolis had the benefit of many stars. As my four friends and I met one evening at sunset, ready for the blanket of stars, the full moon slipped up over the horizon and surprised us. The huge dish radiated bigness—bigger than the moon was normally—and one of us said, “Hey, it’s Mars, and it’s off its course. What if it crashes into us?”
We were convinced Mars had slipped out of line, and no one but us knew about it. We hopped on our bikes and rode toward this orb quickly as if we could get closer and examine it better. We pointed skyward. “Mars! It’s definitely Mars!”
This moment hangs as a symbol to me of what it is to be a writer today. One is that there are many misguided things to do that suck up your time, money, and attention. The second is that marketing definitely has its own gravity and is a giant moon in your life.
One of the joys of taking a creative writing class in college or elsewhere is that you’re focused on the creative process, not on marketing. You are building your skills. At that point, commerce may as well be Santa Claus—it doesn’t seem real and, if anything, will bring you the gift of a career. Don’t count on it. Readers search for great stories told well. They have to find your work, though, and that takes marketing. You need it.
Today’s writers, if they aim for sales, have to become practical and put aside the “fun, creative part” to promote what they have. What follows are some truths I’ve learned about the planet of creativity in harmony with the moon of marketing.
1) Don’t rush into marketing less-than-polished work. Everyone and her taxi driver are writing books. If you truly think your book has a place in the marketplace, engage your talented friends or hire a professional editor to get your book to be the best.
2) Book publishing is intimidating. That’s why agents and big publishers still exist—because if you’re talented, and you want to stay focused more on the writing than on the marketing, this traditional route still works. To get an agent requires writing a query letter—which has to be some of the best writing of your life. After all, you’re proving your worth in a page.
3) If you go the self-published route, know in advance that you have to become a master of marketing. You can hire services or people to help you with the self-publishing process, but beware of services that promise you the moon. You can spend thousands of dollars to little effect. If you didn’t seriously take my first point, polishing your work, no one is going to buy your book. An amateurish book design or less-than-stellar book description will hobble your book more.
4) Self-publishing can work. It takes dedication, starting with polishing your book. You learn that self-promotion isn’t singing “Buy my book” in a loud voice on social media, but rather, you do a lot of indirect things, such as joining the community of writers by writing a blog, writing book reviews, advertising, hiring a blog tour operator, and more. It’s all ever-changing, so keep reading about this stuff. The fact you’re reading this is a good sign.
5) The challenge of marketing can be addicting. It’s fun to watch something that you did sell a thousand books in a day. Don’t let it override your main goal, which is to write books with merit.
6) One less-obvious step to get you thinking and immersed in marketing is to attend a writing conference. To get a taste of one, see my previous post or click here.
May your planet and moon circle with success.
Before I wrote novels and plays, I was a journalist and reviewer (plays and books). I blogged on Red Room for five years before moving here.