Posts Tagged how to market literary fiction

Building readership: a quiet rebellion against three pieces of conventional marketing wisdom

I’ll readily admit that book marketing is not my expertise, but some commonly accepted maxims really chafe for me. Indeed, my gut tells me I should do the opposite. So here they are, for better or perverse.

Rebellion 1: Social media – use pictures and videos for greater engagement

We all know the equation. A picture is worth a thousand words. Facebook certainly thinks so, and constantly reminds me with helpful messages. ‘Increase reader engagement with pictures! And videos!’

This is because most of my posts – on my page and my personal space – are text.

I love pictures and I’m not shy to use them, but my medium is words, not images.

As a user of Facebook, the people I cleave to most are those who write thoughtfully, beguilingly, provokingly. Though pictures might attract my eye, I take more notice of the accompanying caption or story. I tune out most of the videos because they are not made by the user. I have never made or posted a gif.

This probably makes me an unsporting FB citizen, but for me the joy of the platform is people’s voices, preoccupations, the way they speak their minds or sing their souls and the conversations that follow. Words. Because I want to meet people who like reading.

More successful with whom? (Here’s my page, BTW.)

Rebellion 2: Newsletters – keep readers keen with special offers and deals

I was a late starter with newsletters because I didn’t know what I’d put in them. I don’t produce books fast so I don’t have many new launches to write about. I have a small catalogue and can’t keep up a pace of constant special offers.

This sale-sale-sale mentality suits some writers, but it’s unsustainable for people like me. Besides, I would never subscribe to a newsletter with bargain mentality, so how would I write one?

It’s taken me a while to realise I could do something else. Although the books take shape slowly and there might be little progress from issue to issue, I am a full time wordperson.

I write about other work I’m doing. Adventures that arise from books past, present and future. I wrote about a highway that had been returned to nature – continuing the spirit of my travel memoir Not Quite Lost. I wrote about meeting a friend from my teen years and discovering how we had both turned into professional creators. I write a diary of what’s mattered to me in a month, as a human whose main delight is storytelling (and, yes, taking pictures).

Rebellion 3: Find out what your readers want

This is excellent advice in most types of commercial life. If you make running shoes, coffee, pens. It’s good for writers of how-to books – and yes, I have a list of Nail Your Novel book requests that I’ve not yet tackled because I don’t have a clone.

Researching reader preferences might be good for certain kinds of fiction writers. To find out which series characters to write about next; or which locations or historical situations might be popular. There are plenty of writers for whom this advice makes good sense.

But not for writers like me. You can’t tell me what you want to read from me. It’s my job to invent a book that only I could think of. Here’s Husband Dave, dreaming up his next one.

So this is the Roz manifesto for book marketing

1 Social media – to find people who enjoy reading … try text-only posts

2 Newsletters – invite readers into your creative life and share its milestones

3 Don’t ask others what you should write; follow your own star

But does it work, Roz?

Good question. I can’t produce evidence that this marvellously maverick approach is helping people discover my work. And without such evidence, articles like this can sound smug and insubstantial. Here are a few observations:

Facebook regularly hints that I should post more pictures, but the stats tell a different story. Posts that are pure text actually get better engagement.

My newsletter is not to everyone’s taste, but whose is? Some of the new subscribers fall away, but my list is slowly growing and some of the recipients reply to me by email or Twitter, continuing the conversation or just saying hello. (PS My latest is here.)

Most of all, I don’t find any of this to be a chore. It feels honest and genuine. As a sustainable policy, that seems like a good one.

Do you have any quiet rebellions, either in the writing/publishing life or elsewhere? Let’s discuss!

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Marketing literary fiction – ‘There are readers who need these stories…’ an interview

Laura Stanfill

This week I’m interviewing Laura Stanfill, author, all-round literary citizen and founder of the literary imprint Forest Avenue Press in Portland, Oregon. Part 1 is here. This is Part 2. Find her on Twitter as @ForestAvePress

Roz There’s no getting away from the fact that literary fiction is trickiest to market.

Laura Oh it’s so hard! Every time I create marketing plans and metadata for a new novel, I am envious of publishers putting out subject-based nonfiction books, because it’s so much easier to identify and connect with a target audience.

Novels are tools to build empathy, they are self-care objects, they are escapes and escapades and circuses to entertain your mind. There are readers out there for them, readers who need these stories, who deserve to find themselves in books and those who deserve to escape by reading about people completely unlike them. But if I were doing, say, a paleo cookbook, with a few clicks I could find statistics on the number of people eating that way, do a price comparison and fit my book into a hole I’ve identified in the market.

Literary fiction is trickier. And so many people I meet on my travels say, “How do you find time to read?”

“How can you survive without reading?” I want to ask them, but instead I shrug, and say that I make time.

Roz You’ve found readers, though. I’d guess that’s by building a reputation in the right places?

Laura Yes – the reputation of Forest Ave and our authors. A lot of that, especially after we went national, was connecting with booksellers in other parts of the country, so they could become fans and handsellers of our authors’ titles. Then I started going to national conferences where I could meet more book-related media and other mover-and-shaker types who might choose one of our titles to review, feature, or list in an article.

Forest Ave has gotten a phenomenal amount of press in the past year or two, but we still don’t get a lot of reviews from the established trade journals. That’s frustrating; we make it into these journals as a press, but our books aren’t consistently picked up for reviews.

Roz I’m surprised by that. And I shouldn’t be, if I think about the sheer number of titles being published. I guess this shows how much time it takes to get on reviewers’ radar.

Laura I’m not sure if that’s because we aren’t having New York lunches all the time or if the literary fiction slots are reserved generally for small presses with larger catalogs or what. But I treasure the publications that regularly cover our titles, especially Foreword Reviews, which amplifies new titles by many small presses. And I’m going to keep showing up on the scene and publishing great books.

Roz Slow and steady. Another reminder – as if we needed it – that this is such a long game.

You’ve said that getting word out about your books is essential so that you aren’t swamped with returns and the business remains viable. How do you do that?

Renee Macalino Rutledge launches The Hour of Daydreams

Laura We definitely had a sales lag last year, and in brainstorming with other US fiction publishers, we have theorised it’s due to the 2016 election. Many readers started anxiously following the news instead of picking up another book. Book Riot named one of our titles from 2017, Renee Macalino Rutledge’s The Hour of Daydreams, one of 9 Debut Novels You Might Have Missed Because the World Is on Fire.

Roz You have a distribution deal – how does that work?

Laura Getting distribution totally changed my business—increasing its national and international reach, helping me grow my brand, and allowing me to fulfill my mission of urging readers to buy at indie bookstores. My field sales reps at Publishers Group West do an excellent job getting us shelf space across the US, and that allows me to say ‘find this novel at your local bookstore’. Our titles are also available online, but I want readers to go to their local bookstores, have conversations with authors and other readers, and shop locally. Without distribution, it’d be much harder to make our books available in those channels.

Roz I’m going to say a few words here as an author who’s so far been indie. With Forest Ave you’ve got something that few indie authors can. Availability is one thing – a line in a catalogue, on paper or on line. But you’ve got champions talking about your titles to booksellers, who then recommend them to customers who’ll love them. We’ll talk about this more in later posts, but I wanted to emphasise this. Certain kinds of books thrive with this personal touch; ambassadors do better for them than algorithms.

Coming next time: a week in the life of a small press

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