The Real Reason You’re Not Marketing

The Real Reason You're Not Marketing -- Rock Your Writing

How much marketing are you doing, really?

How much “platform building“?

Being honest: probably not that much. Am I right?

If you’re published, you may only send out a newsletter just before a release date.  If you’re unpublished, you may blog and then mention it on the three social media accounts you opened… although that’s hit or miss, as well.

Of course, your argument may be: too much is pushy.  You don’t want to be sleazy.  You certainly don’t want to be one of those asshats that posts something about their book every single day in scheduled bursts.

But that’s not the real reason.

I could make all sorts of arguments why marketing isn’t sleazy. Why it’s useful, even necessary, if you’re going to make any sort of income as a novelist. That marketing is, in fact, more than simply saying “buy my book” — it’s a part of every choice you make in your writing career, and is integral in every element of your stories, whether you’re conscious of it or not.

But I’m not.

If you’re here, I’m going to assume that, at some point, you’d like to make a living with your fiction.  So you know marketing is necessary, and we can just go from there.

The real reason you’re not marketing is simple:  fear.

Like most fears, it doesn’t matter if it’s rational or irrational: it has power. Enough to stop you in your tracks, if it grows large enough.

What are you afraid of?

Well, the three main ones, in a nutshell, are:

1.  That you’ll do it wrong, leading to poor (or no) sales, a ruined brand, and your writing career ending in a big, fiery DOOM.

2. That you’ll be seen as a spammy, pushy, tone-deaf loser and the few readers you do have will leave you, taking your few measly current earnings with them… leading to your writing reputation being ruined, your career utterly failing, and DOOM.

3. That you’ll sell out, turning into a parody of your true self just to make a few bucks, leading to your friends hating you, you hating yourself, career burnout, and ultimately complete failure. And, of course, DOOM.

You may notice a pattern here.

How to address these fears.

We’re going to dip into metaphysics here for a minute.  Bear with me.

To change something — a habit, a fear, whatever — takes effort. Havi Brooks of The Fluent Self says there are five levels where change occurs.

  • Intellectual
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Energetic
  • Spiritual

I’m not going to address those last two here, because they’re tricky and not my strong suit to discuss.  But change can start and be nudged along at any level, so we’re going to address the first three.

Change on the Intellectual Level.

This is where you use logic.  When your subconscious starts to give you reasons why you’re doomed to failure if you try marketing, here are some counter-arguments you can point out:

  • If the fear is “you’re going to do it wrong”, remember that you are going to research, use resources and learn, so you’re not marketing completely blind. Beyond that, you’re going to do it wrong — everyone does, at first. It’s an iterative process.  Besides, at this level, the danger isn’t ostracism for “being pushy.”  It’s obscurity — not being recognized at all.
  • If the fear is you’ll be seen as “spammy”, marketing done properly is absolutely not pushy, relentless, or distasteful.  Think of marketing you actually appreciate getting.  Maybe there’s an author whose social media you follow because she’s entertaining, and you look forward to hearing from her.  Maybe you just get a free coffee on your birthday from Starbucks because you have a frequent buyer card.  Those are both examples of marketing, and you like them.  Ergo, there can be positive marketing… and you can do it, too.
  • If you’re afraid you’re turning yourself into a big phony with this “branding” stuff, remind your fear that the most sales you’re going to make will be a result of your authenticity.  You have something no other author can offer: your voice, your creativity.  (That’s a whole different fear — self-doubt — but you get where I’m going here.)

Change on the Physical Level.

Fear leaves clues.

When you’re afraid, how do you feel?  Do your shoulders tense?  Do you take short, shallow breaths?  Does your heart pound?  Maybe your stomach knots?  Do you have muscle aches?  Or maybe just a wave of fatigue?

Addressing physical aspects can address the psychological ones, as well.  Think of it as reverse engineering — you’re addressing symptoms as a way to work towards the underlying problem.

The first and easiest solution for this:  mindful breathing.  Yup, just regulated deep breathing will take the edge off the worst of your fear, allowing you to work on another level because you get an edge on it.

Likewise, taking a hot bath or shower (for muscle aches and tension), drinking a big glass of water or possibly mint tea (stomach issues), or getting more sleep will also give you an advantage over your fear symptoms. If you can afford it, getting a massage will help your physical, mental, and emotional states.

Change on the Emotional Level.

Again, rational or not, fear is fear.  Sometimes, the logical arguments don’t work.  Simply saying to yourself  “but I shouldn’t be afraid” is just creating more anxiety, and adding a heaping side of guilt, as well.

The key to emotional change, then, is acceptance.

Recognize exactly what you’re afraid of, and then own it.  You can do that by saying to yourself (out loud, if need be):  “I’m afraid of (whatever it is), and that’s okay.  I may not like that I’m afraid of it, but right now, that’s all right.  This is just the situation I’m in. I’m allowed to be afraid. Just because I’m afraid now doesn’t mean I will be forever.  Even though I hate feeling guilty about being stuck in this, this is where I am.”

Strangely, just acknowledging what’s going on without judgment is enough to, again, give you that edge — something to work on, a way to start climbing out of the pit of inertia and fear.

Action is the game changer.

Naomi Dunsford has this great analogy about fear. She says it’s a monster that feeds on your inaction and paralysis.  The less you do, the more it bullies you — and the more it feeds, making it grow larger, with an even bigger voice.

You don’t want to kill it, because it’s a part of you.  But you do want to shrink  it.

How?  By taking tiny actions, every day, and moving forward.  The more actions you do, the smaller the monster becomes.

Small actions beget bigger ones.  It doesn’t even matter if you have a plan to start. You’ve got a vague idea of what you should be doing.  Take one small step, and then another.  Build the fire of your momentum, one twig at a time.

Fear is the foundation of courage.

You’re always going to have fears.  That’s okay.  Courage isn’t the absence of fear.  (As they say, the absence of fear is insanity!)  

But you don’t have to let it stop you, either.  Marketing, writing — any goal you might have — will have fears attached.

Learn how to manage your fear, and you’ll find yourself marketing more effectively, and more regularly. More than that, you’ll find yourself moving closer to your dreams in all areas.  It’s a skill worth learning.

To increase your odds of marketing more effectively, you might also try my new ebook —  Painless Promotion:  Strategy.  I wrote it to help authors simplify their choices and come up with a big picture plan, instead of panicking that they’re not doing enough.

(See?  See what I did there?  Marketing. <g>)


How to Figure Out Your Book’s Genre

colorfiles“How do I know what genre my novel fits into?”

I see this question a lot.

It’s not that authors aren’t familiar with genres — although with the proliferation of sub-genres cropping up daily, it’s hard to keep up — but often it’s because they feel their books could fit more than one genre.  They don’t want to be pigeon-holed.  They don’t want to miss a potential audience.  At the same time, picking a genre is expected.  What to do?

First:  get familiar with what’s out there.

One of the easiest ways is to look at a bookstore, whether it’s online or bricks-and-mortar, and see how they classify fiction.  This changes a bit over time.  (Anybody else remember when they had a “Chick Lit” section at Borders?  Hell, anybody remember Borders?)

Here are some of the most common umbrella genres.

  • Action/Adventure — stories including epic journeys, lots of conflict, high stakes, some violence.
  • Erotica — stories of sexual exploration.
  • Fantasy — stories usually involving magic, other worlds, mythological/mystical figures.
  • Horror — stories that invoke fear.
  • Literary Fiction — stories with a focus on the quality of the prose over the narrative arc.
  • Mystery — stories that involve solving a crime, usually a murder. 
  • Thriller/Suspense — stories of high tension that can involve either action or mystery.
  • Romance — stories about love/intimacy.
  • Sci-fi — stories usually involving technology, aliens, science-related alternative worlds.
  • Westerns — stories taking place in America’s “Old West,” often with focus on justice. 
  • Women’s fiction — stories about women experiencing emotional growth.  Primary emotion:  hope.

There are obviously lots of sub-genres for most of these categories. Also, I’ve left out Children’s/YA/New Adult fiction, simply because you can have these same umbrella genres within those categories — it’s more about the age of the protagonists rather than the subject matter, and the targeted age of the reader.  So you can have YA paranormal romance, or Middle Grade sci-fi, or what have you.

Next, look at the “genre qualities” of your book.

Did you have a genre in mind when you wrote it?  If not, given what you’ve just learned about the genres, and what readers expect from each genre, where might it possibly fit?

Most importantly, which of the above audiences would be the most happy with what you’ve written?

Example:  Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation

It’s a book about two sisters who go to a small town to make a film.  It involves a love story. There is also a mystery.  There is also a decent amount of sex.

That said, it’s not really a mystery, despite the dead body and various machinations as the murderer is discovered. It’s not that difficult to solve, and it’s not the primary focus.  Mystery readers, who are driven to figure out “who did it?” will not be satisfied at the dilution of the mystery with elements that they’d see as secondary: the love story takes up way too much real estate.

It’s also not an erotica.  While the sex is steamy, the focus is more on falling in love and emotional intimacy than sex as a vehicle of character development: there are character development scenes with the heroine and the hero’s child, for example, or the sisters discussing their past.  For someone looking to read erotica, this would seem extraneous, and possibly slow-paced or boring.

It is definitely a love story.  The mystery elements and the sex both serve to reinforce the growth of the love between the protagonists.  So the genre that makes the most sense is romance.

Another example:  Jim Butcher’s Dresden File series.

The protagonist, Harry Dresden, is a detective, solving cases that usually involve murder on the mean streets of Chicago.  He tackles a lot of epic adventures, giving it elements of Action/Adventure.

That said, he is also a Wizard.

They are definitely mysteries, taking a page out of the classic noir novels.  It would definitely satisfy a lot of mystery readers… if they were also amenable to the magical/mystical features of Fantasy, which many might not be.  Same with the action/adventure reader set.

Fantasy readers — specifically Urban Fantasy readers — would be very satisfied by the other-worldly aspects, the world building, and the magic and mystical figures.  The action, adventure and mystery all work with the fantasy element.  Harry shoots things with fireballs and magic spells as well as shotguns.  He solves mysteries that may or may not involve fairies, necromancers, or mythological gods.  It’s immersive, with world building so thorough that you are completely drawn in.  Urban Fantasy is the best fit.

Finally:  identify why you want to know.

There’s a difference between choosing a genre for a potential agent, for example, and choosing a category for a self-publishing listing.

When you’re writing a query, you want to show the agent that you have a sense of who your target audience is and where your book would most likely sell.

You might think “but isn’t that the agent’s job?”  and indeed, said agent may have some opinions on how to better position your work.  But if you don’t have any clue, and you just dump a book in his/her lap with the expectation that they will read through it and glean the positioning, it’s a harbinger of things to come.  Tacitly saying “but that isn’t my job” when it comes to something as relatively simple as genre choice suggests that you’re really going to balk when it comes time to actually  market and promote the thing.

For an agent, choose the most likely readership. 

As I mentioned, mystery readers could enjoy Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. But they aren’t the most likely readership.  An agent will want to know what’s the most likely readership — who is the mostly likely to seek out this particular type of book, buy this type of book, and enjoy this type of book.  Not someone who stumbles across this book and decides to give it a try on a whim, enjoying it more than he expected.

For self-publishing, you’re looking for the most likely category, and the least populated fit.

When uploading a digital self-published release, you’re allowed to choose several categories/genres for your novel.  These are pretty fluid: bookstores like Amazon change their listings of sub-genres all the time, so it’s a bit of a moving target.  But what you want is to choose a broad genre that fits your right reader’s expectations, just like you’d choose for targeting an agent.  Then, you’re also going to choose a niche, preferably one that isn’t heavily populated, that also fits your novel.

If you have a mystery that involves a police detective, you could pick “Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense” as a category.  Looking it up under Kindle Books, however, you will notice that it has 107,974 results offered — that’s how many ebooks use the same category.

The odds of you getting in the top 100, where many readers look for new authors, or anywhere near a “category bestseller” that will kick on the Amazon Recommendation Engine, is pretty paltry.

Look at the sub-category “Police procedurals” and  the number of books specifically categorized as such drops to 4,844.

To really get specific, if you had a “cat sleuth”?  The number of books drops to 23.  You’d be in the top 100 by default!  (Remember, if you don’t have a cat sleuth, don’t select it just to get a better category ranking.  Getting bad reviews from dedicated niche readers who feel mislead isn’t worth the ranking boost, in my opinion.)

Remember, you can generally pick two categories.  Try to hit one broad category, and one narrow niche.

It’s more art than science.

There isn’t a hard-and-fast way to figure this out, but hopefully these tips will give you a simplified approach to looking at what emotional satisfaction your work provides for genre audiences, and how to move forward.  Don’t be afraid to take a stand — and don’t worry if you have to amend your stance later!

What do you think about the genre listings?  How would you categorize your work?

Please leave a comment — I’d love to hear what you think!