Posts Tagged ‘marketing’

One of the best pieces of advice for a new (or any) author is: “Write what you love. Write the kind of story you would want to read.” The theory behind this is, if you’re going to pour the effort into a work, you might as well enjoy the process. What they don’t say is, you might as well enjoy the process, because the satisfaction of the work itself may well be the only reward you receive.

Let’s face it: No matter how good you are, and no matter how much you love your story, there are only so many outlets, and they are inundated with stories that somebody loves.* Added to the hurdles facing you is the fact that the stories you love may not be in vogue at the moment.

And therein lies the rub: What do you do when the stories you want to write are not the stories that are being published? Granted, there’s a good chance that the kind of stories you like are being published somewhere (and there’s always self-publishing), but let’s assume you actually want to make money and have people read your work–what do you do?

Beats me. I wish I had an easy answer, but there isn’t one. Your choices may be selling to lesser markets, waiting for your kind of story to return to the forefront, or writing things that you believe are more commercial. (Beware–writing to commercial tastes is a very chancy business. By the time you submit your story, the popular current may have changed and you’ve done all that work for nothing.)

In the end, I’d opt for writing the best story I can, even if it’s not what I’d truly love to write. After all, just because it isn’t in your preferred milieu, that doesn’t mean you can’t write a great story. One of the biggest problems with beginning genre story writers is that they concentrate on “genre” instead of “story.” While it’s true that the SF in an SF story has to be integral to the plot (although that rule can be broken later on in your career), the SF should aid the plot, not the other way around. For example, Star Trek is not popular because it’s cutting edge SF (or ever was, with a few notable exceptions), but because people love Kirk, Spock, McCoy, et al. It could have been a Western, or a cop show, so long as it had those relationships.

So write a strong enough story and people will read it. If it’s really strong, people will read it no matter the genre or setting. And at that point, as they say, you will be able to write your genre and read it, too.

*Pro tip: Watch for new markets and get something in quickly before the editor becomes jaded. It doesn’t always work, but it has for me.



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I’ve been scouring my sources lately for ideas on how to promote The Scent of Death and, incidentally, my other books. I mean, to hear the Gods of Self-publishing tell it, there’s no reason in the world that you can’t be living off of your writing after a half-dozen books. (And apparently they do, so more power to them.) But you know what? That’s not a lot of help to those of us struggling to find a readership.

Granted, they’re talking about half-a-dozen books in a series, which I haven’t reached. That’s why I’m looking to push TSD, because I’m hoping to turn these books into a series–which is only possible because I recently discovered that (if I give up eating and sleeping) I can produce three to four books a year (which apparently is critical), but I haven’t done it yet. So, again, maybe those people are right. But this post isn’t for them; it’s for all the indies in my league who are wondering just how to get ahead. I am here to share my wisdom.

So. In a rare flash of insight, I went to the successful self-publishers that I know through my various on-line communities, and I asked them: If you have no reader base to speak of, and you’re not already a famous author, and you’re not a Youtube star, how do you start? How do you get those first few hundred readers for a new series?

News flash: They don’t know. (Before I go on, let me stress that these are nice, helpful people who volunteered their time to pay it forward. They just didn’t have any answers.) Two pieces of advice were repeated often: Buy as good a cover as you can find, and start a mailing list. Other than that, your guess is as good as anyone’s.

Buying a good cover is problematic: First, what makes a good cover? (How long is a piece of string?) My research says a good cover is one that features decent artwork and says something about your story. Since you’re probably limited to artists who work in stock photos, however, it’s wise not to set your sights too high.

And start a mailing list. Everybody says this, so it must be true, but it seems to me if you haven’t been able to sell a lot of books because no one knows who you are, getting people to sign up for your mailing list may be tough as well. You’re supposed to offer incentives, like an unpublished short story, but who’s going to want an unpublished story from some guy they never heard of? I’m going to try it, but I’m skeptical. (Then again, I didn’t think I could write a novel in seven weeks, either…)

There is paid marketing, of course, but… Writing isn’t a good-paying gig in the first place, and you want me to throw money at it. Not to mention that there are at least a hundred ways to advertise out there, and a thousand different opinions from experienced people as to who you should use, how much you should pay, who you should target, and whether the whole idea of advertising actually works at all. (And that’s not counting free marketing, like Twitter, Facebook groups, Goodreads, and of course, blogging.)

If I have any advice to give, it’s to do what you can afford. Start with the free stuff. It may work for you. (I’ve tried several venues. Some worked, most didn’t.) Create a mailing list (it’s one of the free things). If you want to spend a little money, there are lots of folks out there willing to help you do that.

But most of all, what you can afford is time to write. (If you can’t, you have other problems.) So write. Write as much as you can, get it out there, and write some more. At least then, even if you don’t sell, you’ll be doing what you love.

*Which means I’ll probably delete this before you ever see it.





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I like to focus on the positive aspects of writing and publishing here, not on the negative (despite my earlier protestations that only the insane and soon-to-be want to become writers; that was merely a public service), but occasionally I see something that just cries out for attention, and, well, writers gonna write. So here it is.

I was recently made aware, by paths both lengthy and arcane, of an Amazon review of a certain anthology of space opera stories by women. (For reasons which will become obvious, I’m not linking to the review.) I haven’t read this anthology, so I can’t speak to the quality of its contents, nor of the validity of any particular criticism this review might wish to levy. I can, however, speak to the general tenor and tone of the review, and boy, does it need to be spoken to. Forcefully.

This is how it starts: “I’m sorry to offend fifty percent of the population but it has to be said that when it comes to writing Science Fiction, it still remains a purely male domain.” And this is how it ends: “I applaud the ladies for giving it a try, but I would suggest they forget going any further. Leave the genre to those of us who know how to write scifi, being well versed in it’s many nuances…”

And then he compounds his error, not only by signing the review, but by including the tagline, “Author of [his book].”

In order to keep this post in the arena in which I like to play, i.e., writing and publishing, I will leave it to others to address the blatant sexism, condescension, and plainly wrongness of his sentiments. (If women can’t write space opera, then Andre Norton should’ve been a plumber. Or a plumber’s wife. And let’s just ignore that Bujold person, and C.L. Moore, who invented some of those “tropes” of yours. And do I even need to mention Leigh Brackett? You want to talk space opera? When she died, she was working on the script for a little movie called The Empire Strikes Back.) I shall confine myself to how he has flubbed his marketing opportunity and possibly short-circuited his entire career. To paraphrase, “How have I screwed myself? Let me count the ways.”

First, if you’re going to start a review with, “I’m sorry to offend fifty percent of the population…,” how about you don’t? I am 100% behind honest reviews and the freedom to give them, but there are ways to express an opinion that won’t alienate (in your own words) half the population of the planet. (In fact, it’s more than half, but I doubt that would have made a difference.) Yes, maybe you think women won’t buy your book anyway, but self-selecting your readership is a dumb marketing strategy. Your publisher sure won’t appreciate it.

Second, the Internet was made for anonymous commenting. I don’t favor it, but maybe you should (if you’re knowingly going to offend four billion people) use a name that can’t be traced to you. Oh, you meant it as a chance to push your own book? Yeah, you did that, all right. More like shoved it.

Finally, if you’re going to criticize people based on “nuances,” make sure of your own. When you use “its” as a possessive, there is no apostrophe. I mean, even if you intend to upset people, don’t show them you’re a bad writer, too.

Here’s the upshot: If you want to express an unpopular opinion, you’re free to do so, but consider the consequences, and maybe tone down your message. You seek to be a public figure. When you’re famous and established, go ahead and be a jerk. There are lots of famous jerks out there. But if you want to reach that point, you’ve got to watch yourself a little in the meantime. It’s isn’t fair, but that’s business.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, try reading some SF by the women I listed above. I hear each of them writes pretty well. You know, for a girl.


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