As we’re getting ready to launch a new book--The Clear Blue Line by Al Sprague--we’re re-reading the marketing advice we’ve collected for months. At first, it all sounds good and we’re sure it must be the way to go since everyone seems to say the same things.
But. When we take time to think about it . . .
Stress the value
Let’s start with the admonition to tell people the benefits, the what’s in it for them, the value proposition. Here’s the thing. What are the benefits of a novel? For us it’s part of our lives. It's getting lost in other places and other lives. It’s a good way to spend a weekend or a rainy day. It’s better than the 11 o’clock news. But do we really have to tell people that? Don’t most people have their own reasons for why they’ll spend their time on fiction?
Create an Email List
Then there’s the advice to create an email list. Yes. This is a very good way to let people know that we’re launching a new book. But to be honest, at this point we regret at least half the mailing lists we’ve signed up for. We don’t want emails every day or once a week or maybe at all from all these experts saying the same thing, and then sneaking in a way to sell us something. To be honest, we don’t have enough to report every week or even every month.
Give Something Away
We're not all that keen on give aways either. It's nice to get something free. But we've got so many free marketing guides and lists that they're just not worth much.
Get Active on Social Media
No list would be complete without the constant instruction to get active on social media. To post on Facebook, for example, once or twice a day, on Twitter five times a day, on LinkedIn whenever possible. And so on. But like the emails that arrive too often, so do all those posts. They don’t make us feel all that connected to the people posting.
Clearly, we’re suffering from information overload. But experts need to keep giving advice, otherwise they’re out of business. When they get tired of saying the same tired things, there are the infographics that prove email lists are better than social media. Or that the best time to post on Twitter is the weekend. Or that people like posts with photos and videos. Ho-hum.
Use a Call to Action
The last, and maybe most repeated, is that every post, tweet, blog, whatever needs a call to action. Buy my book, like my page, join my network. Which seems to run counter to what sophisticated advertisers are doing these days. Sure, there are still the mattress guys who shout at us to hurry on down. But we don’t because we think those guys are obnoxious.
And yet all of us eager to find the real secret to generating interest in a new book, are being told to act like it’s the 50s again, when consumers were innocent enough to believe advertisers had our best interests in mind.
The Take Away
The truth is a book is not the same kind of commodity. Reading is personal, no matter how much book groups or social sharing sites want to pretend it isn’t. If you like erotic vampire thrillers you may not go for classic dystopian westerns.
Our new book is about three friends who are crazy about free diving and spearfishing. It’s set in Panama in the 70s. There’s lots of action and adventure, romance, sex, sharks, and pirates.
We don’t need an email list, a social media presence, a brand and a platform to tell you whether or not this is for you. You already know what you like.
There’s a lot to get used to in this new world of indie publishing.
Take interviews. They used to be part of the daydream of getting published. One day, after you’d received glowing reviews on your third or fourth book, after you’d been accepted into the elite circle of known and accomplished writers, someone, maybe a newspaper reporter, would call you for an interview.
You’d be on guard, of course, because you’d heard they could trick you or twist your words. And if you met over breakfast or lunch, you’d be careful not to order something messy.
A few weeks later, there you’d be, in the Style or Entertainment Section, below the fold, with a photo in front of your bookshelves holding your cat. A writer.
But the point was, you’d earned the interview. Through your work. Either several well-written books or one breakthrough, debut novel that was breathtaking.
In other words, an interview meant something. It not only meant you’d achieved something in your writing, it also meant that people would be interested in learning more about you. Readers who’d loved your book, other authors who hoped to achieve the same success.
The Selfie Interview
Cut to today’s world and it’s a whole different story. You can interview yourself on your blog or on Smashwords or in your press release that you send out yourself. Or you can answer pat interview questions on hundreds of book-promoting websites.
It doesn’t matter if this is your first book, if you’re only beginning to gain readers, if your book, to be honest, isn’t all that great--you get an interview. And your interview gets published.
You get to reveal your inspiration. Your favorite books. Your thoughts on life and literature, even philosophy and the economy if you want.
Years ago I read an excellent article in Esquire and unfortunately never saved it. It was about the difference between being serious about yourself and taking yourself too seriously. The writer said it better than I can, but the gist was that it’s okay to be serious about your work, to set aside time to write, to keep on improving, but not so much to take yourself as a “Writer” too seriously. Self-inflation gets in the way of being creative.
When I read through these current “interviews,” I keep thinking about that article. So many writers taking themselves so seriously so soon in their careers. So eager to talk about their influences and where they came up with titles for their books, what they like best about writing, and what writers they admire. As if there’s an audience.
Much as I love most of what’s happening in publishing today, there are aspects of it that give me pause. How can a writer keep on improving if he or she is already granted the privileges that used to come from really learning what it takes to write a really good book?
To answer my own question, building a platform isn’t the same as honing your craft. Maybe it’s not serving anyone--readers, writers, publishers--to place so much emphasis on marketing so soon in a writer’s career. Good books are still worth much more than great platforms.
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