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A Double-Barreled Marketing


by Chris Roerden


I had no intention of writing
another book. Certainly not one for “everyone.” I know the value of target
marketing—I’ve been a full-time editor in niche publishing more than 40
years. My 10th book was to be my last: advice to writers based on a lifetime of
turning promising manuscripts into publishable books. Along the way I helped
authors win 21 awards, including two Benjamin Franklins and an Agatha, and
picked up a few awards of my own.


After four years of market
research, writing, peer review, rewriting, editing, rewriting, and more market
research (you know the drill), 2006 saw the small-press release of a 304-page
trade paperback called Don’t
Murder Your Mystery: 24 Fiction-Writing Techniques to Save Your Manuscript from
Turning Up D.O.A.


Plan A


I planned to market this book via
my workshops for writers, promote it as a reference to libraries and teachers
of writing, and adapt selected chapters for articles. All the while, I would
continue my day job of editing books for others. Although all 10 of my books
have been financially profitable (I ghosted most of them for clients), I was
tired of multiyear writing projects.


Then the reviews of <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Don’t Murder Your Mystery

started coming in. All recommended the book highly and praised the many
examples of effective writing techniques I’d selected from published mysteries.


I ate up the praise, but my
marketing plan remained the same, even when Catherine Chant of <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Futures Mystery Anthology
wrote, “Don’t let the title fool you. This book is not
just for mystery writers. All fiction writers can benefit.”


Nor did I catch on when <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>ForeWord Magazine

ran a full-page Spotlight review by Kate Flora, a respected novelist, recent
Edgar Award finalist, and former international president of Sisters in Crime.
She recommended the book not only for beginners but also for experienced and
mainstream authors.


Not until <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Midwest Book Review

predicted that my book would be “invaluable to fiction writers of all genres”
did I get the message. All genres? Hmmmm.


The Transformation


What if I reissued the book with a
different title and less emphasis on mystery? I could keep some of the mystery
examples and replace the rest with examples from other genres. But I wondered
how a book would be received if the advice it put forth was the same<a
name=”OLE_LINK15″> as its predecessor’s—if the book was, in part,


Permissions would not be an issue,
because all 150 extracts featured in the first book are quoted in the context
of a review. Each illustrates its author’s successful use of a specific
technique I analyze. As for negative examples, I created all of them, because I
have no wish to embarrass anyone. They were easy to fabricate, since the
identical flaws pervade nearly all unpublished manuscripts, most self-published
fiction, and some much-ridiculed megahits.


To explore the idea of cloning <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Don’t Murder Your Mystery

for a wider audience, I sought advice on one of the email lists I subscribe to
for successfully published authors. The support I received included
encouragement from Connie Shelton, who founded Intrigue Press and successfully
branded her Charlie
series (Obsessions Can Be Murder, <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Vacations Can Be Murder
—10 titles,
so far). Connie said she’d already read my book and had been using its ideas
with her writing students. She pointed to the power of the <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Chicken Soup
and the Dummies
books, described the benefits of branding, and cited Robert Kiyosaki’s <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Rich Dad, Poor Dad
series, which repurposes content for different markets.


Things began looking up for a
possible Don’t Murder
series—or at least for a mini-<span
series. One problem remained. Over
the course of four years I had read 500 mystery novels to find the best 150
examples to feature. It would take at least the next four to read enough
romance, fantasy, science fiction, historical, adventure, Western, chick lit,
and mainstream to find the 100 best examples I’d want for an all-genre
successor. I would not slap just anything into a Swiss-cheese template.


Plan B


Here’s where my marketing
experiment comes in. I decided to open submissions to the folks who know
exactly where the examples I need can be found—in the pages of their own
fiction. I’m gambling that enough writers will review the submission guidelines
on my Web site at www.tinyurl.com/yclawc,
make the effort to look at what they’ve already written for good examples of
the techniques I analyze, and identify specific passages quoted in my current
book that theirs can replace in my next book.


Granted, finding an example to
send me is more work for the writer than sending copies of books to a busy
reviewer. I offer better odds, though—plus, my review of that author’s
skill will have a longer shelf life because each volume in the <span
is a work of reference.


By now you probably realize that
my experiment to save myself years of research for the second book looks a lot
like a strategy to get people to read the first one. You catch on fast. It’s
the same strategy advocated by magazines that advise writers to study several
issues before submitting articles.


While building readership, am I
not expecting to also build sales? Yes, indirectly: I’m telling writers to
borrow my book from their libraries and to ask the libraries that don’t already
have it to order it. After all (see above), it’s a reference. Writers pay nada,
unless they want to scribble in the margins of their own copies.


So far, only one gatekeeper for a
writers’ newsletter has balked at announcing my call for submissions. He
believes “his” authors should receive royalties for being quoted in a review.
You might say he’s protecting them from the chance to be praised for
exemplifying good technique. Interesting, because in researching how others
structure their guidelines, I saw numerous publications that require every
submission to include its author’s name—on a check.


As part of my marketing experiment
I also created a contest to come up with the best title for the next book. To
my surprise, almost all the titles entered have shown no awareness of either
branding or audience. Late this year, after the results of my experiment are
in, I’ll let you know how it worked. Maybe someone will have offered to buy my
series franchise so I can retire. Meanwhile, don’t murder any manuscripts.


Chris Roerden, an
award-winning editor/author, is past president of MidAmerica Publishers
Association, served on the southeast board of Mystery Writers of America for
six years, and will be speaking at PMA University. Her clients are published by
small presses and by major houses including Berkley Prime Crime, Rodale, and
St. Martin’s. For more information: bellarosabooks.com/titles.com.




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