By Danny Donovan
Now I have to admit something. Years ago, when I put the tag “writer at large and shameless self promoter” on my e-mail signature, it started off as a gag. Those that know me realize that I occasionally slip references or things where I don’t think people will notice it to amuse myself.
Over the years it’s almost become my calling card, and eventually made its way to my business card, which I have uploaded to my image gallery. I do have, as one editor so eloquently put it, “a font of enthusiasm” for what I do, and for the business itself. So it translates well into my zeal for promoting works I’ve done and things my friends and colleagues work on.
I have been in the business of arts & entertainment for coming on 10 years, beginning my career path at the tender age of 18 and coming up on the elderly age of 28 as of July ‘08. In that time I’ve been a retailer, a writer, a public relations official, a marketing guru, a distribution manager, and in short everything not drawing or art related short of owning my own publishing house.
It’s been a career of ‘learn by doing’, because I don’t think I’ve yet to run into a situation that I could be trained for as every one is different and has its own special circumstances and limitations that need to be worked around. (ie: shoestring budget, no budget, time constraints, etc)
The one constant however is that no matter who your publisher is, no one knows how to sell your story better than you. You have the insight on the themes you’re putting forward in the story and you know the audience you’re trying to reach.
When you are working with smaller publishers or your self publishing you don’t have access to an entire marketing department, or a public relations person so you kind of have to beat those bushes yourself. And it is in fact easier than you think.
The first thing you need to think about is branding, what your brand is, is it yourself? If you are a writer doing a number of different projects this is usually the case, like with (and I will be pulling these references out of thin air) Steven King, where it’s the fact it’s a “Steven King book” that sells it. Steven King is the brand, the current book is the product.
Or sometimes it’s the product that is the brand as well, in comics such examples like Batman, Spider-man, etc. Or in novel terms such as Doc Savage or Tarzan, where you have a property or a serial that is the selling factor. Once you decide how you are going to brand your property, and if you are going to go for the author-as-brand-paradigm you need to market the hell out of the product so you can build enough of a body of work to be a true brand.
The following tips are suggestions and ideas to work from, not stringent rules because for each and every project is different so you have to learn to think on your feet and think outside-the-box.
1. Know Thy Audience - Now, you really have to know what audience your playing to, as I’ve said previously, no one knows the ins and outs of your product better than you. But authors tend to have a hard time breaking down their audience. All of us want to believe we’re going to do a book everyone is going to want to read, but that’s just not the case.
Like Lincoln once said, “You can please some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.” You really can’t expect to have a book that will appeal to every carbon based life form in the galaxy, you need to focus on the markets. It’s not impossible to have crossover appeal to different demographics in fact it can be almost common, but you have to know your bread and butter.
If you’re doing a horror book, look at what the horror community responds to. Find out what kind of iconography really draws the readers interest to check out an unknown property. That way you can tailor your advertising and press releases that way.
Think of age groups, think of where you anticipate seeing this property sold, then tailor your attack to certain markets. (ie: You can get away with a much more gruesome ad campaign in the pages of Fangoria than you could at the checkout desk of Barnes & Noble)
Be aware of the people your writing to and what captures their imagination.
2. Get Viral - There is no better time than now for people with little to no budget to get the word out via grassroots means. Utilize places like Myspace, YouTube, Facebook, etc. to get your message out. Check out genre specific message boards with heavy traffic flow, and look for your local freebie art paper, (ie: The Village Voice in NY or Portfolio Weekly here in Hampton Roads)
The more your potential audience sees your work, the better chance they are to buy it. When I was helping my buddy Jim Ritchey, III during his relaunch of the 1940s character THE GREEN LAMA (on sale now from AC Comics!) I went crazy with the promotions.
The properties’ Myspace has yielded excellent returns on the time investment on it, and the YouTube Trailer (which I need to do a better one for , by the time issue 2 comes out) has over 1400 hits on it, taking a book the publishers were not overly optimistic over, selling over 3 times the anticipated mark, making the second issue a go.
I will admit, viral marketing takes awhile, it is a drip, drip, drip, approach so I would suggest that your best bet is to start the process as soon as the book get solicited with an in store date, so you have three months or so to do what you have to do… If done right, it can be a steady and valuable tool to keep interest going up to release date!
4. It’s The Economy Stupid - I just like that phrase. But it leads into the question of what if you want advertising materials for trade shows or such but have no budget for them?
Simple, you make do with what you got. I always swear by the fine folks over at http://www.iprint.com for cards, and magnets and things done extremely well at reasonably cheap. Also, http://www.zazzle.com to make t-shirts or other “hey look at me” things while doing signings or going to conventions/trade shows/conferences
Don’t be afraid to look like a walking billboard, have fun with it, make it stylish and you have a wearable piece of viral marketing. Also a $4 pack of photo paper can make great ad slicks you can take to local book stores, schools or things to hang in windows, or on bulletin boards.
5. Local _____ Does Good. - Local newspapers, stores, TV and radio stations are your friend. There’s only so much bad news people can take so often there’s a good chunk of time devoted to ‘fluff pieces’ like “The bravest kitten in Springfield!” or some other such thing.
They love doing the ‘local boy/girl done good’ stories because they get mileage out of it. Don’t be afraid to call or e-mail your local reporters and let them know what your working on because there might be a 5 minute spot they need to fill which will help you move product. The golden rule being ‘TV is golden, if you can get a few soundbytes here and there you become a local celeb and people start seeking your stuff out.”
I believe this is a good starter course for people looking to expand their base just a little further. As time goes on, I may do more red room exclusive articles about random things I have learned the hard way so that people can use the information for whatever good it will do them.
I hope you all have enjoyed this look at ways to utilize cheap or in some cases free manners to get the word about your projects.
Good luck on all your future endeavors!