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Allow potential readers to discover your book

I asked ten writers ten questions about their relationship with marketing

Although we’ve only met virtually, I first came across Bridget Whelan‘s work when I moved to the seaside because she is a founder member of Beach Hut Writers in Brighton. She must have marketed her book Back to Creative Writing School successfully because I bought it after seeing her tweet about it. Any book that helps Creative Writing tutors engage with their students is immediately going to attract me – in other words, because I teach Creative Writing I’m in exactly the right ‘niche’. In American English niche rhythms with stitch rather than quiche, so I have heard a couple of American marketers use the phrase ‘the riches are in the niches’ – it rhymes! – and although the way it was said was rather annoying, there is certainly some truth in it. If you’re marketing a book, you don’t need to sell it to everyone. As Bridget points out here, you need to find people who will be interested (in the case of Back to Creative Writing School, writing tutors like me, or writing students are in the right ‘niche’) and let them know about it. The power is in those connections. I find Back to Creative Writing School to be really useful tool. I like how it’s divided into terms – in a tongue-in-cheek way – and how each exercise starts with a quotation. It is also easy to work out what the exercise is all about – something you’ll appreciate if you’ve ever stood in front of a seminar room full of expectant faces. In marketing terms, both the cover and title are intriguing – making it stand out from other Creative Writing prompt books when browsing. Also, a disappointment for me: I thought I was the first person to call the dictionary exercise ‘bibliomancy’ and Bridget got there before me! Never mind. I will have to cite Back to Creative Writing School next time I use this one.

I asked Bridget my questions about book marketing earlier in the year.

Can you tell us a bit about you and your work? What are you working on at the moment?

I’m a writer, teacher of writing and mentor; freelance journalist; published novelist and prize-winning short story writer. I’m Chair and founder member of not-for-profit co-operative of professional writers running the annual Brighton writing conference Write by the Beach.

After a very long break I am currently working on my second novel. I have also self-published a popular guide to writing called Back to Creative Writing School.

Back to Creative Writing School cover

How do you approach marketing your work, on a practical level? For instance, do you schedule it for a particular day of the week, or use a different desk, or make time for it every afternoon?

That kind of timetable sounds like a good idea but the answer is no, not really. I count my blog at bridgetwhelan.com as part of my marketing strategy and I am pretty diligent about posting twice or three times a week, otherwise it’s pretty ad hoc.

Some creative people treat marketing as if it’s creation’s evil twin. Is there a way of making friends with it?

This may sound foolish, but I don’t think you should look on it as selling – it’s much more about allowing potential readers discover your book. If you’ve done your job properly by writing the best story you can write and then made sure that other important elements – such as copy editing – are done in a professional way you have every reason to feel proud of what you‘ve achieved, but no one is going to beat a path to your door and demand a copy unless you tell them it exists. And maybe you have to tempt them to give it a try; after all there are an awful lot of books out there.

Even if you’re a sales expert, it’s hard getting your message out to the people who might be interested and it is a real struggle for writers who have never been involved in any kind of marketing before. Research and seek advice before you do anything. And definitely before you spend any money. There is a lot of help and information available online from fellow writers who share their experiences online and that’s probably your single most important resources as a new writer. Writers may be an odd bunch but we are pretty generous .

Also think about would persuade you to buy a book written by an author you had never heard of and hadn’t been reviewed. Perhaps the subject matter appeals or there is something intriguing about the title, but even then a special offer or giveaway might well be the deciding factor.

Do you think about marketing before, during, or after writing, or is it ongoing?

I write the kind of story I want to write, but at some point long before I finished I do wonder about the kind of reader who would want to read it and that’s the start of a marketing plan. I also believe in playing it forward.

How do you tend to market your work?

I’ve been blogging for eight years and have a pretty steady following. It’s written for writers and emerging writers. It’s mainly about creative opportunities, industry news, sources of inspiration and quotes from other writers. It’s my platform, where people can find me and a means of making contact. I think it’s quite an understated form of marketing as generally it’s not about me or what I’m doing, but when I do need an online platform to announce a new book, conference or course there it is, ready and waiting. People who have first got to know me through my blog have bought my books, attended my courses and offered me jobs, so it does work.

I also run a Creative Writing Facebook page where I curate interesting newspaper articles and blogs that may appeal to writers. To be honest, I have no idea whether I get any benefit from doing it in terms of books sales.

Twitter is probably my favourite form of social media and I use it several times a day. The free versions of Buffer and Socailoomph are useful scheduling tools and I use it to signpost blog posts and as an information exchange. I occasionally use it as a direct sales pitch but it’s not good manners to do it too often – one sales tweet  for every ten non-sales tweets is the minimum I’d say (although I break that rule quite a lot when it is about our annual conference).

I have Instagram and Tumblr accounts and am completely ignorant about how to use them. I need help! There’s a lot to learn. I pick and choose what I use. I’m not that involved with Goodreads, although I have organised some giveaways in the past. Anything that gets your work out into the hands of readers is probably a good idea even if you can’t prove it with spreadsheets. The single most important marketing tool is the one you can’t buy – word of mouth recommendation – so the hopes is that someone who gets your book for free will tell friends how good it is. But…do any of us value something that is free as highly as something we paid for?

Would you spend a substantial amount of time on a piece even if you knew you wouldn’t or couldn’t publish and sell it?

Never mind the selling aspect, would I spend time on something that’s not going to be read? Probably not. I’m a writer therefore I need readers, but I suspect I would persuade myself that one day – somehow – it would be published and that hope would be enough to allow me to carry on.

Do you use any of these for marketing purposes: school visits, workshops, readings, video book trailers, seeking press coverage?

I have done everything listed with the exception of a video trailer. Writer friends also do podcasts and run huge closed Facebook groups which are also interesting. Another idea you haven’t mentioned is email newsletters. I have one which only comes out about three times a year. I’ve got about 700 subscribers but I haven’t been very active about marketing it.

Read the rest of the interviews here

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