THE ON/OFF SWITCH – PERSONAL USE, RECOMMENDATIONS
The post below has been sitting in my DRAFTS folder for months. As usual, when something is a bit controversial, I find myself not wanting to make waves – but some of these topics need discussing, because SPAs (self-published authors) don’t have teams at their publisher to KNOW what to DO.
The topics are ones I struggle with – not ones I’ve solved.
TAKE AS SUGGESTIONS AND QUESTIONS: RANDOM MARKETING THOUGHTS
What do you support?
I haven’t figured out yet how this works, so I’m asking myself how I would deal with some of these questions. And I have friends who are authors in different genres from what I like to read, so the question isn’t academic: Do I buy their books? Do I read them? Do I review? Do I recommend them? The answers are not obvious.
My writing support, except for my original writing partner from last century, Sandy, has always been online, but I have come to ‘know’ some of these writers rather well, mostly from long back-and-forth conversations (comment threads) about mutually interesting topics.
If a friend opened a restaurant, would you go?
If a friend opened a store, would you visit and possibly buy or commission something? Would you think of them when you needed something they sold?
If one of your children did an outstanding job in a play, would you be proud, tell people, and try to get people to go see the play?
If your child is now a mechanic, would you send customers to their workplace?
Family and friends
who don’t share or recommend, who seem more embarrassed by you than proud of what you’ve done. Would I be the same? I like to think I wouldn’t.
But we aren’t necessarily each other’s audience, just because we share DNA.
It seems to be an ON/OFF switch. I asked, for example, about a niece’s new business, only to be discouraged from trying to find something there because I am not in her target demographic. Not fancy enough, not thin enough, not rich enough…?
Asking for help and not getting it
Each ‘ask’ is making myself vulnerable – without some special reason, why would someone help you? So when I do that, open up a little bit of my diffidence, tell a stranger who seems potentially interested due to something THEY’VE written, something personal – and get the usual “Good luck!” back, instead of something more specific and more useful and more personal (such as actual help), my carapace hardens further, and it’s harder the next time.
Turning someone’s request for help down should be done gently, possibly with an actual usable suggestion as to where to get the help. So far the help rarely materializes; the help which does is small and within the obvious parameters and requires a lot of time and effort to ask for in the first place.
A lot of care, and research into what they’ve said before, goes into creating a request which MIGHT get a review, for example.
Best not to make implicit offers if you’re not open to carrying through, and just want to make yourself SOUND caring, open, and helpful.
Finding the RIGHT readers, being turned down – it happens
Many SPAs are introverts – not great at asking or marketing – but we try to do it, anyway. Sometimes we’re clumsy at it.
Not getting the readers who, by their reviews or comments, you think would really understand your work. Commenting is easy, agreeing to read and review requires a commitment of time, energy, and skills. I get that.
Replying to strangers who act as if they think they know you and your requirements – obviously difficult. Reviewers are used to getting many, and many completely unsuitable, requests for their time. But it’s still rare to find them actively seeking ‘good stuff’ among these requests. It’s more likely to run up against their fence-posts: ‘temporarily closed submissions’, ‘no longer reading…’, and my very personal favorite, ‘no self-publishing.’
Their statistics are probably accurate: most of what is offered isn’t as good as the submitter wants to imply it is. Most of the books offered are generic, and come with generic appeals.
But there often seems little room for the carefully-crafted appeal that takes into account more than just the submission guidelines, and shows a real effort by the requester to make sure this is the kind of material the reviewer likes – and earns a generic turndown. The worst? A generic turndown months later.
Those who substitute congratulations for support.
These are often people who congratulate you on publishing but never buy or read, much less review. Sort of the adult generations ‘participation trophy’ view of the world.
Instead of taking their trust in you as a person to imply that maybe, just maybe, you might have a little something special as a writer, and they are in a privileged position to participate in the launch.
And, since you know them, you might have actually taken that into account in writing – so they would find resonances and interesting bits in YOUR fiction they wouldn’t find in a random author’s fiction – because you’re, somehow, ‘one of us.’
The perfect term – thought experiment – for when doing actual experiments won’t work. For the writing/publishing field, with readers as independent data points you don’t know, unless you have a big marketing firm that can find a way to understand the individual points in the context of a whole, the experiments are not independent explorations of how a group of readers might respond, but instead an attempt to put oneself INTO the point of view of those individual readers, and figure out what is going on.
The clear first step is to let a bunch of readers of your kind of fiction know you exist. This is targeted advertising – but only studies those who would see your ads. You can’t make them change where they get their information, so if you can’t access those same information sources to provide yours, you’re out of luck. Example: if they only look at Kirkus reviews, they won’t even see your information unless you BUY a Kirkus review for your book, and not even that if the readers you crave have already trained themselves to scroll/look past the Kirkus indie reviews.
Using what’s special to market
Your book? Lots of ideas out there to market to various groups. Each one takes energy to develop for those different groups.
Yourself? A little tricky for fiction – and very hard to take back once you’re over-shared. And it can get you a label you can’t shake. And make you subject to being ‘inspiration porn’ – cute or interesting or laudable, but not really enough ‘good’ to succeed without being patted on the head.
ANSWERS? Go viral.
NO ONE knows how to make something become the next big thing – or how to capitalize on it if you happen to get that kick of karma.
Commercial PR firms do a lot of work, and charge a lot – and sometimes succeed at making it look effortless.
On your own, it’s very unlikely.
What you CAN do is to ask yourself, “Am I ready if it happens?” Can people find my books, can they buy them easily, is it easy to get them from the library? Is the front matter and back matter up to date wherever the books are sold? Will they know where to sign up to be informed when the next book comes out? Can they find my other books?
And the biggest: is the next book being created right now?
That’s it, in a nutshell: be ready – hope to get lucky.
And the perennial: write a VERY GOOD BOOK. Because if you don’t, all the publicity and virality in the world won’t keep the readers you snag.
If you know THE ANSWER, please send it privately – nothing spoils a secret like sharing it on the internet. I will be eternally grateful.