My Method for Marketing Fiction
by Stanislav Fritz
On the surface, most advice about book promotion for small publishers and authors seems geared toward nonfiction. It assumes that the author is an expert on some subject so that cross-marketing between the expertise and the book itself will work.
What is the unknown fiction author to do, with or without a publisher’s support?
New Libri Press started at the end of 2011 and currently has a small cadre of 13 authors. This makes New Libri a micropress by most definitions. As a micropress, we depend heavily on authors for marketing, and the authors depend on advice from New Libri.
I suspected when I started publishing fiction that there was quite a bit of overlap between nonfiction and fiction marketing. Although the similarities are not always articulated, it comes down to basics.
Authors and small publishers have at their core a quality that most people do not have: persistence. One of the most important basics of writing, persistence is also at the core of marketing books. It should not be confused with the oft-repeated definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Persist, but learn along the way.
Even in the age of social media, the Internet, and e-books, the statistics on book sales show that books sell through recommendations, usually by someone the reader knows or trusts. Put another way, books still sell through word of mouth.
For most authors, persistence does not mean: Sell the same book year after year over many years. It means: Keep releasing books and marketing them so that, over time, your audience builds. For Amanda Hocking, one of the many self-publishing poster children, the formula was persistence in releasing books and persistence in marketing them.
John Kremer, the author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Book, often raises the subject of persistence, making it clear that it does not mean: Try something and immediately move on. It means: Try something persistently and give it a chance. If you are going to focus on new reviewers and online reviewing, stick with that. Don’t spread yourself thin.
Other marketing basics in today’s world are well known and include social media, author Websites, increasingly diverse reviewer options, and the whole spectrum of presentations and signings. But the key to success is not just having the basics down cold; it is getting beyond the basics to “do it.”
What do you do with the basic marketing pieces?
For fiction, just as for nonfiction, you cross-market.
Tying Into Issues
The core message presented in nonfiction marketing programs is, Build a book’s audience through cross-marketing and promotion of the author’s special qualifications. If this seems difficult for fiction, take a step back. One of a fiction writer’s special qualifications is imagination and the ability to write, persistently.
This means that novelists’ Websites can be dynamic. Novelists can write interesting blogs and powerful short stories to use as giveaways, and they can otherwise create an “expertise” connected to their novels by getting involved in related issues they are passionate about and promoting them.
The author of a novel about a drunk-driving accident, for instance, probably has, and certainly could have, important and valuable information about the consequences of driving drunk that can be featured on one or more Websites. Other things the author could do? Raise money for families affected by drunk drivers. Have contests that highlight their needs. Stay on message: become known for being an advocate in this area. Make sure everyone understands that this isn’t about profits; it’s about a cause.
For a novel that takes place in Hawaii, the author might feature a stream of interesting, perhaps including obscure, information about the state every week, or month, on an author Website. If a novel includes artwork or deals with tattoos or model trains or ballet dancers, or anything else that occurs in the real world, its author can have some appropriate promo items made and sell those on a Website, and a novel’s independent publisher can do the same.
This litany of ideas boils down to: Market fiction with a dynamic, consistent theme and use long-term thinking to build a following.
Cases in Point
For an example of this type of long-term marketing, we can look at Matthew Inman and his online fiction in the form of cartoon series, which Time magazine recently covered. Inman has an interest in Nikola Tesla, “the Father of the Electric Age.” He did some cartoons about Tesla and helped raise a million dollars (in nine days) for the Tesla Science Center.
Now, Inman was already famous within his audience, but the point is that he is always doing these things. He also sells merchandise. In the end, more than 75 percent of his revenue comes from sources related to his cartoons rather than from the cartoons directly, but one would not be possible without the other. Cross-marketing. Just as a nonfiction author does it.
Deb Borys, one of our authors, has a passion for the homeless, especially young homeless. Her books (we are editing her second) take place in Chicago and revolve around the homeless. She has been persistently contacting homeless shelters and staying active in volunteering. She donates both her time and her proceeds to the causes. She promotes those causes in her blogs, Websites, and tweets.
Deb will be the first to tell you the process is frustrating, and the cause and effect of her efforts is hard to trace down. However, there is no doubt that over time this is keeping her book sales steady, versus the common spike at the release of a book, followed by a crash.
What Makes It Work
This kind of cross-marketing will work if and only if authors make it work. Publishers who realize that it is the crucial building block for long-term growth should make sure that it is in place well before any sort of publicity and advertising dollars are spent. Good marketing prepares for when publicity hits, whether today or five years from now.
Persistence, unfortunately, demands time. This is what many authors and publishers lack. But serious authors (and publishers) will realize that they have to carve out the time. Amanda Hocking eventually embraced traditional publishing because marketing was taking up too much of her time. This does not mean that she does not spend some time marketing, nor does it mean that a large publisher picked her book up solely because of her writing. The publisher picked it up because marketing has long-lasting effects and snowballs. The publisher was buying market share and the brand the author had established.
I urge you to find the time. Your persistence will pay off.
Stanislav Kasl Fritz is co-founder of New Libri Press, a micropress based in greater Seattle. He has been an executive at small and large companies and has extensive product management and technology experience, including a stint at Amazon. He recently augmented his first two master’s degrees with a MFA in creative writing.