Friday, December 21, 2012

Traditional Marketing in the Digital Age of Publishing

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Image: Xandert
As a traditionally published writer, I’ve felt guilty for years for my approach toward promo.

I’m extremely uncomfortable with direct sales, so I never fully embraced it.  I’ve done only a handful of book signings, gone to just a few conferences, and stopped sending promo postcards out after the first batch.  I haven’t purchased business cards or bookmarks in ages.  With the advent of e-readers…I just wasn’t sure if readers needed bookmarks.

Besides being uncomfortable with direct sales, I also have a tough time fitting travel into a schedule that’s jam-packed—and leaving my children to pursue marketing.

My third problem with traditional marketing is that it’s expensive.  You can reduce your costs using low-budget printers,  sharing costs with other book-touring authors,  etc., but it’s still going to be high.  If you attend conferences and travel for signings, you’re talking about gasoline costs, airfare, hotel bills…the works.

I feel like my sales with traditional publishing are too modest to justify that kind of expense. 
I was vastly relieved on a number of levels when the book promotion trend favored social media.  That was the perfect way for me to promote—it’s worldwide, it’s basically free with your internet connection, and you can do it from home. 

What’s more, social media was immediately embraced by the publishing industry as a great way to promote.  This helped me feel less-guilty about turning down invitations from my publisher for dinners they were hosting at conferences. Now this doesn’t mean the publishers were embracing social media—they just wanted the writers to.  I think the publishers are now still playing catch-up a little.

Are we reaching readers with our efforts?  I think so.  What’s more important, though, is that our readers are able to reach us.  I hear from readers with astonishing regularity—primarily through Facebook and email.  They know how to find me and they do.  This is something that’s harder to accomplish if we’re focused solely on traditional marketing….it means readers have to hang onto our business card or bookmark.  But if we’re on social media…if we have a website, or a blog, or we’re on various platforms…they can find us when they feel they need to.

One thing that worries me about the authors I know on my various email loops (all traditionally published) is that the ones who continue to focus on old-fashioned marketing techniques are missing out on the global market.

It is a global economy as Apple and Amazon have both reminded us lately as they’ve opened up markets/online bookstores in many new countries.  Increasing our reach online is likely a sounder approach than filling up with expensive gas and driving as far as we can to visit bookstores and conferences. Maybe we should schedule tweets and updates during off-hours to engage people in other time zones.

But what is online promotion?  I know what gives it a bad rap--all the folks who beg us to buy their books or talk about their books ad nauseum online.

Although I was happy with the advent of social media, I was still unhappy about doing direct promo. So my efforts at making a name for myself as a writer were completely focused on platform-building. How indirect could I go? I settled on blogging (which I enjoy and consider a great way to network with other writers...and I could just stick book info discretely in the sidebar), a website (which I offer information on purchasing my books...if someone is looking for that type of information), a Twitter account where I share writing links (and frequently forget to tweet my own blog posts), and various Facebook pages, which rarely get updated.

When I graduated from college in the early 90s, there was a recession going on. I held my nose and ended up with a sales job--where I constantly got in trouble for not asking for the sale. I figured that if someone wanted the thing, they'd buy it. Why ask for the sale?  Asking for the sale only agitated me and distressed the customer.

Yes, I made a lousy salesperson and stayed in the job for mere months. I quit before I was fired and I never tried to find a job in sales again.  But really, I have that same mentality now. If the reader wants the book, by golly, they'll buy the book. My begging them to buy the book will likely just run them off.

So I decided that a presence was a good way to promote myself. Not a book. Me. It was a way to put myself out there, a way for me to rise in the Google rankings of other Elizabeth Craigs and Riley Adamses so that readers could find me, contact me, and be tempted by my book covers.

I saw a post by author Dean Wesley Smith recently that I truly enjoyed.  He said that writers shouldn't promote.  Now, if they were self-publishing, then they could put their publisher hat on and very carefully promote in a business-oriented way.  But they shouldn't just hawk their wares as a writer.  As Dean puts it in an October 9th post titled  The New World of Publishing: Promotion:

"Write the next book. That is the best thing you can do for your last book. Turn around, face the future, become a writer, and write the next book, and then the next, and then the next… get it to a publisher or your own publishing company and then go back to writing."

Ultimately, this is the best way to promote our writing.  Write, improve, publish more books, have a bigger footprint in those online bookstores.  It means discoverability.

How do you feel about promotion?  How do you approach it?