Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Horrors of Dark Marketing, part 5: The End?

Posted by LD Keach on Saturday, August 11, 2012

So, an unforgiving publishing wasteland stretches out before us. The only tools we have to survive are a busted hammer and a damp chocolate biscuit. And, we're being mobbed by mutant duck salesmen. Wait, what? I think part one through four are starting to pile up on each other.

Anyway, we have a book published, and now we need to do the marketing to gather an audience for it. Why an audience? Because an audience buys books. The more books we sell the more we get to eat. And more eating means more writing. But an audience is not an easy thing to gather—especially not with the hollow promises of social media, reviews and book signings.

Where does that leave us? Shining Jonathan Franzen's shoes until our bloody knuckles win us a spot in the NY Times Book Review? Hunger striking in front Locus Magazine's corporate offices? Forking out gazillions of dollars for pastel-flavored banners on CuteOverload? Facebook ads?!

Relax. Writing is a lot like getting stabbed with thousands of tiny needles; it just hurts more if you tense up.

There are lots great ways out there for writer to build an audience for their work. Online forums, book clubs, reader sites like Goodreads are all fantastic places to connect with people who like to read what people like us like to write. But this takes time and patience. There is no oasis pool of willing readers sitting out there in the desert, waiting for us to drop our book on them. A good audience is built one reader at a time.

And the best way to do that is to read. In this way. an audience is a lot like a friend; the best way to get one is to be one.

This may seem overly simplistic and pollyanna, but break it down into steps and you'll see that it works. If there's no mega-millions marketing campaign involved, then active reading is the next best thing. Active readers are people who hang out on forums and sites populated by other people who read similar stuff. If there isn't a book club in their town that showcases their favorite genre, they start one. Active readers post reviews of books they like, join newsgroups and mailing lists, and comment on blogs. Because of all of this jumping around and being involved, active readers meet a lot of people who read what they like to write. 

Eventually, when that active reader's book finally comes out—kaboosh! Instant audience. And they didn't even need to use any death threats or blackmail! (Although, blackmail is pretty effective...)

Anyway, the point is, an audience is not bought. It's built. Maybe if we manage to sign a contract for a hyper mega advance at a major publishing house through our shiny high-profile agent, then cash spent will be proportional to readers gained—but at that point, a writer certainly doesn't have to worry about doing any of the work themselves, do they? Or at least, they damn well shouldn't. Big box publishers should provide some service to writers aside from guarding the gates of literary taste. Let them have their advertising Thunderdome of mass market paperbacks battling it out for readers' wallets.

The rest of us will just have to be happy rebuilding a new horror fiction civilization in this apocalyptic wasteland. One duck at a time.