Offline Marketing: How To Promote Yourself Without A Computer
I follow a lot of literary journals and independent bloggers, so about three or four times a week I’m hit with that update regarding so-and-so’s top however-many tips on social networking—typically, a litany of how-to’s in relation to Twitter hash tags and Goodreads book giveaways. They never tend to be anything particularly enlightening (read enough of these and you start to see the same ones crop up), however, these posts seem to be contributing to a prevailing trend in literature that is: getting people to pay attention to you/your work without getting away from the computer, as if your literary breakthrough is only 10,000 Twitter followers away or your talent is based on the amount of Facebook fans you’re packing.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe these aspects to be important from a marketing standpoint. In fact, they’re almost a requirement if you want to compete in this game. However, it’s undeniable that there’s this California gold rush of sorts happening when it comes to authors and their online platforms. We’re all building one. We’re all following the same “tips” and “tricks” in an attempt to crack the code that is social networking. Somewhere along the line we got some serious tunnel vision, so I’m here today to present you with some ideas that you haven’t heard in a while. Or perhaps you’ve never heard them.
Regardless, we’re going to attempt to get you a little less dependent on your computers (keeping in mind the irony that you’re reading this online).
For the sake of argument, we’re going to pretend that you go outside every once in a while to go hang out with friends that aren’t avatar-based or commonly addressed with an “@” symbol. Maybe this gathering is at a bar or a dinner party, and because people in social situations typically talk about what they’re interested in, more than likely you’ll bring up your writing at some point. This is a conversation you could potentially have many times throughout the course of the night. So what do you do when these people you’re speaking with take an interest and actually want to read your work? Do you get their number and text them your Blogspot URL? Or do you ask for a Twitter follow?
Maybe you should carry something on you that has all your pertinent information on it. In the vein of keeping it simple, a business card usually does the trick. Fairly easy and straightforward, I know, but you’d be surprised how many so-called authors have four or five mediums of social networking, yet don’t possess anything they can physically hand you. The point here is that you’re an author, a writer, at all times—not just when you’re sitting down at your computer.
Also keep in mind that a business card doesn’t even have to be a card anymore. It can be a condom, a razor blade, a book of matches, or a fortune cookie. It can be wood, aluminum, or plastic. A sticker. A flash drive with sample chapters. It can be pretty much anything you can print your name on. The point is: have something.
If you’ve ever chased down a literary agent, then you already know it’s damn hard. First, you need to find the right one. No use wasting anyone’s time pitching your American Psycho meets Calvin & Hobbes project to someone who specializes in Christian lit. Then there’s the query letter, which for some reason tends to be harder to write than the novel you just spent two years on. You pitch. You wait. And somewhere down the line, you get that form rejection letter that makes you wonder if they even took the paper clip off your sample work. It’s a daunting process in which you, the writer, try to look more promising on paper than the thousands of other potential applicants. Twitter and Facebook have made this even more difficult, as you’re now having to fight through the electronic rubble that is everyone else’s comments and replies—not to mention, a shameless amount of ass kissing:
“I’ve got your next #bestseller right here @agent-I’m-twitter-stalking. We’ll be the Batman & Robin of literature. Huzzah!”
Just like the social networking thing, you’ll spend countless hours trying to crack the code of getting an agent to pay attention to you: querying, tweeting, commenting. Your approach is direct, but perhaps it needs to be more direct, like a face-to-face conversation. So how do you arrange that?
The best course of action is to attend a writers’ conference. Not only will you be able to meet these agents in person, but editors, authors, and publishers as well. Ask them questions. Find out what they’re looking for or why they reject 98% of the query letters they get. Learn about the industry from their perspective. These conversations should illustrate the difference between simply having a contact and making a connection you can build upon. You also have to understand that a lot of these agents and publishing figures are still old school. They use social media because they feel that they have to, but a lot of them prefer the more traditional mode of communication that is sitting down and talking.
Although attending a conference will likely be an investment of time and travel, a face-to-face interaction usually trumps one restricted to social networking. Also, beginning your query letter with a reference to when and where you met an agent automatically gives you an edge over the online-only crowd.
Currently, I see a lot of links to blog posts and books on Amazon. Some authors FB update or tweet their more memorable lines. These are simple online tactics that anyone can use, and because of that, they’re done to death. They can even backfire sometimes when you get unfollowed or defriended for supposedly “spamming.” Even though that wasn’t your intention, essentially what we have here is the problem of you trying to promote your work without it coming off as annoying. That can be tough, especially if you don’t actually have a book out and are still in the “platform-building” stage of things.
One surefire way to amass some material is to have a live reading. Now before we get into the exactitudes of how you go about that and the resulting benefits, we need to address why. Quite simply: you need to know how to do this. It’s expected. If you’re an author and you want people to take you seriously, you need to have public speaking/live reading in your skill set. This is the kind of thing that Random House and Doubleday expect their authors to be able to do. Same goes for smaller publishers, so the sooner you learn it, the better.
The actual setting it up portion of this is easier than you’d think. Most cities have venues where readings are hosted on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. Check your local independent bookstores or do a search that cross-references “readings” with wherever you live. Odds are there’s something happening that you can jump in on. Of course, you can set up your own event, but then you’re taking on all the legwork that comes with it. Starting off with a pre-established series might be better if you’re new to being in front of an audience.
Reading live, as I mentioned before, is not only a required skill, but it’s also a good example of back-end marketing, i.e. – photos, video, audio. The material you get from that can later be shared on your social networking sites and uploaded to YouTube or turned into a podcast. This gives you a different kind of material beyond the “buy my book” tweets and Blogspot reviews other authors are pushing.
Publish, and publish often, and in keeping with our “offline marketing” theme, I can tell you right now that a print publication outshines a web-only one any day of the week. Understandably, we all have to start somewhere. Few can brag about having The Paris Review as one of their first publications, but there comes a point where you, as a writer, will need to step up your game and try to get your story in The Missouri Review or something akin to that.
Much like networking and marketing, the online crutch of finding new web publications that have a 90%+ acceptance rate are becoming commonplace, adding a certain invalidity to what it means to be published. This was more or less the complaint that people had about self-publishing and vanity presses: that it flooded the market with crappy books. Much the same can be said for online publication with every new Wordpress or Blogspot touting open submissions but can only “pay in notoriety,” as they put it.
Move on from the web-only stuff and get some real ink. Not only is this the medium that actually pays the author, but also the type of credential that agents and publishers like to see.
This article isn’t meant to dissuade anyone from their online campaigns. It’s important to have at least some kind of online presence. No disputing that. What I’ve noticed with writers—especially the younger ones just starting out- is that they tend to treat their computers as their only resource when it should be one of many. That is to say, if I cut your Internet access off would you really have no marketing capability? Do you really think a certain amount of followers equals a publishing contract?
Yes, have an online platform, but keep the actual writing part the priority. Don’t get caught up in some trivial numbers game of “following” and “friending” when you could be adding another credential with a publication or doing a reading. Try to make some face-to-face connections amongst your legion of online ones.
Just get out of the damn chair every once in a while.
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