As promised in my last post, today I’m excited to feature an article by Michael J. Martinez, SF/F author of the THE DAEDALUS INCIDENT (Skyhorse, 2013). In a starred review, Library Journal calls it “a triumph of genre-blending,” but my favorite is Fantasy Fiction’s alliterative take on it: “ballsy, brilliant and at times breathtaking.” I had the pleasure of working with Michael at NLA (his agent is Sara Megibow), and the praise came as no surprise–aside from his writing talent, he has a gift for marketing. Here, he shares his top tips for helping your book find its audience. Thank you so much, Mike!
Marketing: More Than a Necessary Evil
by Michael J. Martinez
Let’s get something out of the way here to start: Unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, you need to be out there marketing yourself and your book. Nobody can afford to pull a J.D. Salinger anymore. If Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin are blogging and Tweeting and showing up at signings and events – I briefly met George at WorldCon this year – you’re going to have to do all that, too.
That’s the reality. You can embrace it and make the most of the opportunities…or not. I recommend the former. Otherwise, all that hard work you put into your book will be for naught, because nobody will know it’s out there, and nobody will read it.
I often hear that marketing is time-consuming and difficult and a pain. I agree with only the first one. Yes, it can be time-consuming, and I think we’d all prefer to spend our time writing novels instead of marketing our books. That’s the nature of the beast, though; accept it as part of what it takes to find your audience.
If you’ve written a book, you’re a storyteller. Marketing is pretty much telling the story of you and your book. You can do this, because you already told a huge, book-length story. Furthermore, the story of you and your book has already happened – you just need to report on it. So I would argue that “difficult” isn’t in the picture. You got this.
If you look at it that way – and understand that better marketing can indeed result in better sales – then the “pain” part of it starts to fade as well.
So now that we’ve established that you can’t get away with not marketing yourself, and also that you have the ability to do so, here’s some idea as to how.
Get a website. You need a centralized presence on the Internet that you can use to promote yourself and your work. You need it to say exactly what you want, when you want. Thus, as much as you might like Google + or Facebook, nothing beats a good old-fashioned website.
I prefer WordPress, others prefer Blogger. Figure out which you like. It doesn’t matter whether you get super complex or keep things simple. The key thing is to get a custom URL, preferably your name. Don’t buy the domain to your first book, because ideally you’ll write more than one. Your authorial name is critical, because that’s where people will look for you.
My site (http://www.michaeljmartinez.net) is a basic WordPress template with the custom font package and a couple of art elements ginned up by my wife’s co-worker, who’s a graphic artist. All told, I paid a few hundred for the art and the setup, and less than a hundred per year for the maintenance, the custom fonts and the domain name and hosting. It’s an investment, and one that’s worked out very well so far.
So…what are you going to put on your site? You’ll need a bio, some info on your writing, a contact page to point toward your other social media outlets, and some sales information as well. If you’re doing guest posts and interviews (online or off), a page linking to those is great, too.
And finally…a blog. You want folks to come back every now and then to see what you’re up to. If they’re fans, then they want to know what you’re doing next; if they’re on the fence, you might be able to convince them. Fresh material helps.
How often should you blog, and about what? There’s no right answer there. Perhaps the most successful author blog out there is John Scalzi’s Whatever (http://whatever.scalzi.com), which he’s had up and running since 1998. John’s prolific and entertaining, which is the most ideal combination, especially since he can practically sneak his book marketing messages between the cats and the travels and the witticisms.
I’ve blogged about football, beer, writing, science fiction/fantasy conventions, getting an agent, and the various stages of getting my book published. I’ve averaged 5-6 posts per month, and that seems to work for me. Your mileage may vary. If you can’t be prolific, then be interesting. At the very least, tell people about your book and your story. That’s what it’s there for, after all.
Social media is great. In addition to blogging, I’m on Twitter. I also have a Google + account that’s basically an outlet for my blog. I’m a fan of Goodreads. I will never join Facebook, but that’s just me. You should have at least one preferred social media outlet, whatever it happens to be.
I like Twitter (I’m at @mikemartinez72) because it’s freeform. It takes a minimal amount of effort to share things, make a joke, point to an event, share a picture, whatever. Goodreads is great for interacting with fans now and then, and also sharing what you’re reading, if you’re so inclined. I can’t speak to Google + a lot because I log in rarely.
As for Facebook…I’ve heard some agents and publishers insist that it’s critically important, while others say it isn’t at all. I’ve never heard a strong opinion from an author, though. My advice there is that if you’re on it, then super – create a fan page for yourself and for your books. If not, my sense is that it’s not a massive loss so long as you’ve got at least one preferred social media outlet.
Social media works because it makes your news and events and writing not only accessible to a wide audience of followers, but also makes it easy for those followers to pass it along with the click of a button. A quick RT or Like brings your message to dozens, or even hundreds, of other potential readers.
Guest posts, interviews, excerpts, podcasts and reviews. Yes times five. For me, these have been the most important means of getting the word out about my book.
I write in science fiction and fantasy, and there are several dozen sites that offer space to upcoming writers in a variety of ways. There are plenty of fan sites for nearly every genre of book, so be sure you identify them early on; they’re a great source of news for fans, and most will be willing to interview you or offer you space for a guest post or excerpt. Same with the leading authors in your genre, because at least some of them are likely to offer guest posts as a way of paying it forward. Podcasts are fun because they’re usually free-ranging discussions-slash-interviews, and more of your personality can come forth.
Once you’ve identified potential outlets…ask nicely. If the site or the author has submissions guidelines, use them. If not, drop an e-mail and be super polite. They’re doing you a favor, and you owe it to them to be entertaining and informative in return. But mostly they’re doing you a favor. I can’t stress this enough: be nice, be professional, use your manners. If you do that, you’ll be surprised at the doors that will open for you.
All that said, the most important thing you can do is get your book in the hands of reviewers, large and small. Your publisher should have a list and should manage the distribution of books to the necessary people, but you should also look at the websites of other authors to see where they got reviewed, then cross-check what your publisher has and, if necessary, add to the reviewer list.
And when you get those reviews, publicize the heck out of them on your site, your social media, etc. Even a review from a smaller blog can be very worthwhile if they liked the book, and even a mediocre review from a major outlet can have something positive worth quoting. (I’m exceptionally lucky that The Daedalus Incident got great reviews. If I got one that was unsalvageable and very negative…I’d likely ignore it. I certainly wouldn’t link to it!)
Finally, be nice. I said this earlier, but it bears repeating. Be nice. Try to respond to your fans and followers on social media when you can, especially when they’re offering you praise or encouragement. Don’t use your marketing outlets to disrespect others. Be positive, constructive and upbeat. Be sure to thank people who have given you some digital space to promote yourself. You are now a professional novelist, so act like a professional.
You can certainly use your platform to write about potentially controversial topics, but recognize that eventually something you write will rub someone the wrong way. If that ends up being someone you respect, or someone who’s helped your marketing effort in the past, do your best to extricate yourself with all the grace you can muster. If you’re getting outright trolled by someone you don’t know, the block button is your friend. Do not, under any circumstances, get into a flame war. Be known for your writing, not for being that author.
And never, ever, ever respond to negative reviews. It’s completely, totally, utterly not worth it. You’re trying to establish yourself as both approachable and professional. Complaining about a poor review does neither.
Long story short, you need to do marketing, and you have a unique story to tell – the story of you and your book. Don’t be afraid to get it out there, to as many folks as will listen!
Michael J. Martinez has spent 20 years in journalism and communications writing other people’s stories. A few years ago, in a moment of blinding hubris, he thought he’d try to write one of his own. The Daedalus Incident is the result. Mike currently lives in northern New Jersey with his wonderful wife, amazing daughter and The Best Cat in the World. He’s an avid traveler and homebrewer, and since nobody has told him to stop yet, he continues to write fiction. He is a proud member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.