Archive for category Book marketing
Sorry, but that’s the wrong way round.
Except in a very few cases, it doesn’t work.
You can build a platform with a non-fiction book. If you’re offering expertise, it’s easy to find the people who need it. If you write about a life experience, you can connect with readers who seek similar support. And there are far fewer of you – and more room to be heard.
Before you use your novel to launch your platform, go and look at Facebook. Goodreads. Twitter. Everyone is waving a novel.
The number of people you will reach by starting this way is negligible.
There are many examples, of course, of successful self-published fiction authors. Everyone has their favourites to brandish. I’m going to talk about Joanna Penn. She didn’t start with a novel. She started with a blog – The Creative Penn – and built a loyal following while she taught herself about the writing and publishing world. By the time she launched her first novel, Pentecost, she had a great relationship with a lot of people.
Relationships are what sell books, both fiction and non-fiction. That’s what a platform is.
So to build your platform, get out there and blog, tweet, Facebook or whatever. Be natural, be yourself and build relationships. It’s also much less of a strain if you’re not trying to sell something.
And since you’re not using your novel to build your platform, what are you going to do with it?
You might as well, um, query with it.
Stop grinding your teeth at the back there. We’re agreed that relationships sell books? Agents have relationships with publishers. Publishers have relationships with distributors, the press, the places you cannot get reviewed if you do it all yourself. Yes, agents and publishers take their cut, but that’s because they have a much bigger reach than one little writer on their own.
If you don’t like the way a deal adds up, you can always refuse it. Or negotiate. But if you never try, you don’t know what might have happened. If you want to have a publishing career (and why otherwise would you build a platform) it make sense to explore all the options.
‘But every agent has different taste…’
Good writing is good writing. All agents are able to spot it. If you target enough agents who are a good fit for you, you will find out whether you are ready to go into print (or pixels) – or whether you should develop more. It is worth knowing that, isn’t it?
‘But it takes time…’
You’re going to have to spend that time building your network anyway. And what’s the hurry? You can’t – or didn’t – learn to write overnight.
‘But everyone’s publishing…’
I understand you’re impatient to get out into the big publishing party. Really I do. When I first held a book that was filled with my words I felt the earth quiver.
But I’m now seeing a lot of people who have whizzed onto Kindle, are finding their novel doesn’t sell, and are getting dispirited. That’s a shame. That’s the sound of dreams shattering.
Please don’t mutter the name of Amanda, the lady my friend Porter Anderson dubbed Amanda Hocking [example of everything]. That’s exactly what she is – an example of anything you like, including holy amounts of luck (and I wish her plenty more luck, BTW). But will the law of probabilities allow that to happen to you?
Build the relationship first
Relationships sell books. Build the relationship first, in whatever way you like, partnering with whoever seems right. That may be conventional industry routes; it may be creative collectives. Then you will have a platform, and you will have readers.
Thanks for the pic, Scottnj
While we’re on the subject of being grown-up about platforms, I’m planning a newsletter! Add your name to the mailing list here.
So, agree? Disagree? Sending the lynch mob…? I’m sure you’ll have plenty to say in the comments
I tweeted this piece yesterday by agent Jenny Bent : ‘Why reader taste differs from publisher taste’. I urge you to read the whole article, but briefly, she’s talking about what’s wrong with the way the industry tries to second guess what readers should be offered – whether literature or popular fiction. A friend on Twitter came back to me and said ‘come come, surely it can’t be that bad?’
Jenny’s in the US, and I’m on the other side of the Atlantic. But here, it is indeed that bad.
I know a few agents, and they’re tearing their hair out. An agent recently told me ‘editors in big publishers are basically readers for marketing departments’. Another said in the past year she’d got more than 10 excellent books to editorial board, with all the editors staunchly behind them, but marketing vetoed them. An editor I know – very senior in terms of job title and the publisher she works for – laments that she is no longer allowed to accept the rich fiction she loves to read and has to publish shallow sure-fire supermarket titles.
Jenny says books are that too quirky or defy comparison don’t get a chance. Again, that’s the same here.
The interesting and popular authors I like wouldn’t, I’m told, get published if they were starting today. Especially not with their most ambitious work. David Mitchell would be told to take Cloud Atlas away and keep it on his hard drive. Kingsley Amis wouldn’t be allowed to hop between genres. Michael Morpurgo wouldn’t be allowed to write a non-genre novel about horses. Holes by Louis Sachar? Forget it. And David Almond’s Skellig. Readers seem to like them, though. They still buy them.
It’s the big monolithic publishers I’m talking about here. They were a good model five years ago but they’re breaking down because they can’t take the interesting books. But the smaller boutique publishers are a different matter. They can – and are being – much more adventurous. The economist Tim Harford has in fact written an entire book on this subject (Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure), about how you cannot prevail in today’s business environment without a willingness to experiment and take risks.
One of the things that’s so nice about Jenny Bent’s piece is that she pays tribute to the self-published writers who are getting out and finding their readers. That’s something we’re not hearing enough of. Some self-published authors I know who’ve been to conferences recently felt like they were about to be chased away with pitchforks.
Reviewers, who you’d think were less restricted, haven’t yet caught up with the fact that quality, competent, worthwhile authors are self-publishing. The theory goes that this is because journalism is funded by advertising and indies don’t buy expensive adverts. Whatever the reason, this industry needs to find a way to give good self-published writers a fair chance at creating a decent and widespread reputation.
But there’s no point in negativity, and ending on a whinge. The other thing I’d like to say is that the agents, editors, and publisher sales forces I’ve met are all book lovers too. It’s just their end of the business that’s broken. Thankfully, as Jenny points out, we’re all now building a new one.
(Thanks for the picture, Frankh)
Rant over. Do continue in the comments if you feel so inclined…
I’ve had this question from Cindy Richard: I have been toying with starting a blog because I would like to have a platform when I finally finish my novel. I am worried about having the mental energy for it, since I have a full-time job and am deep into writing my first novel. I have a great idea for how to focus my blog and what to write, but I am worried about starting it and then having it fizzle out because I don’t have the energy to give my best. Do you have any suggestions for making it more manageable starting out?
Great question. Here are my tips to make sure your blogging resolution doesn’t end up a sad forgotten thing, like December’s festive trees blowing down a January pavement.
Treat blogging as part of your writing work
You’ve probably got a routine for your writing – or you wouldn’t have got so far with your novel. Carve a little of that off for blogging. You can’t possibly steal more hours from the other things you have to do, so take it from your writing time.
I designate a day a week on which I am allowed to do blogging tasks – including posts, guest posts elsewhere, scheduling Undercover Soundtrack pieces. Even though those are written by guests, they are fiddly to publish. This all takes time and you need to schedule it properly so you make a good job of it.
Write a ton of posts in advance?
It’s not a bad idea to have posts prepared, but some people schedule months of them and leave the blog to fend for itself. I wouldn’t recommend that because when they end you’ll have to interrupt your writing schedule to cue up a load more – and that’s painful. It’s better to get into a regular routine.
If you do cue in advance, be prepared to rejig if you spot a trend you could post about. Often these gain more hits, more readers and more discussion.
Whatever else you do, answer comments ASAP. Blogs have to look alive and responsive – readers like contact and conversations.
Keep blogging time in check
Blogging is addictive. I could spend endless hours on design fiddles, tweaking widgets – as is probably evident in my greedy number of blogs (you’ve already seen this red one, and there’s also my website). It’s even worse when your blog is oh-gosh shiny and new. Aside from answering comments, don’t let yourself do blog stuff on other days.
Prevent blogging burnout
Many people start a blog and then find they run out of ideas. Find something you can genuinely talk about forever and you’ll never run dry. But more importantly…
Short is better
A lot of new bloggers try to cram too much into one post. Posts don’t have to be the definitive, exhaustive essay, unlike articles or reports outside of the blogoverse.
Nor does that make blog posts superficial. You can still be brilliant, useful, provocative, evocative – whatever you like – in 500 words or so.
And computer screens aren’t the easiest medium for reading – another reason why shorter posts are better.
If you think you can split a post in two, nobody minds that. The more times people come back to your blog, the more familiar they get with your blog furniture, your writing voice. That’s why people have favourite newspapers – they know where to find what they want, quickly.
And as I’ve already gone on too long, I’m going to take my own advice. I’ve got a list of fledgling bloggers’ mistakes – but that’s for another post.
In the meantime, tell me – how do you make time for blogging?