Friday, February 18, 2011

The Marketplace

How does a writer proceed with a marketing plan?

A friend of mine sold several novels to numerous small presses. All well and good. However, most of these titles have not seen distribution through any major outlet, and therefore his ratings are slim. These ratings don't relate to the quality of his work, but rather how well he sells, how much of a brand his name may be or stand a chance of becoming. It's difficult to sell well if one doesn't promote one's work, or if that work isn't on display somewhere for the casual or not-so-casual shopper.

A few folk have waved away this concern. "It doesn't matter where you're published, as long as you're published," some say. "If you're good enough, you'll shine through. Persistence will pay off. Eventually, the larger publishers who pay more will recognize you and be forced to buy your manuscripts and market you."

Others may comment,  "There's always the electronic publication path. Sell your book on Amazon." Or, "I don't care about the corporations. They don't care about me. I know I can do well self-publishing and be my own boss."  Hmmm.

With the business in such flux, the choir of discordant voices is understandable. Look at how many titles are being cut by publishing houses, look at Border's current bankruptcy and the recent celebration of the rise of the ebook. Look at the drop in actual readership, and especially the drop in young readers. Look too at the manufactured author, the one chosen by a multinational corporation and promoted to godhood even before a book is released (not that I'm blaming Justin Cronin for jumping at the opportunity).

In the end, what is the unknown and unloved author to do? My personal belief, for what it is worth, is to have a marketing plan, one which is adaptable and comfortable. Study your market, look at the call for submissions; if you haven't been published, then turn to the net and seek publication there. If you are published, then (my opinion) be careful of the ratings. If you have a novel, try and sell it where there is distribution. If there isn't distribution, your ratings drop and it will become harder for a publisher to interest a distributor to push your book through the chains. If you're an author who had ratings and saw them plummet two or three books in, then perhaps its time for a name change and reboot of a career. Or not.

There's no one path. But I believe stumbling into the marketplace without some knowledge and foresight is a guarantee of failure. The author who writes without a marketing plan is the author who would do well to buy a lottery ticket each time he or she sends out a submission. Actually, that might be a good practice for anyone sending out submission.


Lee Thompson said...

Great post, Stewart!

...There's no one path. But I believe stumbling into the marketplace without some knowledge and foresight is a guarantee of failure...

Totally agree.

Joe Ponepinto said...

I agree, Stewart, but it's so difficult, when one is unpublished, to envision which marketing path will open. I tried the agent/big publisher route, but it didn't happen. I'm looking now at smaller presses. Maybe later at some form of self-pub. At best my marketing "plan" is a series of if/then statements. If a publisher wants to take me on, I'll do the marketing things that are expected in that branch of the industry.

For the moment, I'm still trying to learn to write stuff that readers like.

Charles Gramlich said...

If you're published in the small press, I'm not sure there are very many marketing plans that will break your name out to larger audiences. You can build slowly, write more. but getting big may be a very large component of luck.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Lee, thanks.
Joe, it is difficult. And with the current economic conditions and behavior of corporate institutions controlling the majority of the media, it just doesn't look bright. I think you are right about luck, but sometimes luck is also about making yourself the largest target possible for good fortune to strike. I don't have any good answers, I'm just posting questions. I think the electronic book is probably the path I'll take for some short stories, maybe even make up a mini short story collection and sell it on kindle.

Charles, I think a small press opens a door and begins a process. I don't know. It's hard. Of course, when you consider how elite the group of writers is who receive any promotion or distribution, it sometimes becomes overwhelming

JR's Thumbprints said...

So, my spitball approach is doomed? If I can get one spitball to stick I think I'm doing fairly well. If I can get enough readers to take notice then maybe I'll land a good agent and make one great big spitball.

AvDB said...

I'm a fan of the "my future is a pinata" approach. Just slap on a blindfold, spin and start swinging.

Seriously, I think for small press and indie authors a main key is backlist. I could be wrong, but I'm putting a good deal of money on that horse (which is currently plodding out of the gate like a thirty-four-year-old arthritic nag).

Whatever the answer is, you're right in that there is no quick or magical way.

Cody said...

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