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An uncertain writer on writing habits and building networks of readers

I asked ten writers ten questions about their relationship with marketing

I met Dominique De-Light when we did our MA in Creative Writing at UEA together, way back at the start of the 21st Century. I knew her then as a travel writer, because she had written about her experience of living in Trinidad and Tobago, and co-wrote the Rough Guide. After that she went on to co-found Creative Future, an organisation (based in Brighton) for marginalised writers and artists. She now runs her own yoga business. I asked Dominique my ‘ten questions about marketing’ and these are her answers.

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

I’m a very uncertain writer currently – which means I’m uncertain as to whether I’m a writer or not. For years I wrote daily and got little bits published here and there regularly. Then a big job and a small child took over my life and writing got pushed to one side. I’ve been working on and off on a novel for 10 years (!) – I intentionally took a five year break from it when my daughter was born but I’ve been rewriting half of it for a year now. I’m currently trying to write regularly in a journal to capture thoughts, descriptions etc in the hope that it will reignite my writing passion. The one writing I’m totally committed to is my diary, which I  write in weekly and have done ever since I was 13 years old.

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?

I don’t tend to market my writing, it’s more about making connections and building up your author ‘brand’. I hate that word – it just reminds me of Naomi Klein’s No Logo, where branding was talked about as an evil capitalist money spinner. However, as a writer you need an audience (unless you don’t want your work to be read by anyone) so it’s about building up a network of people who you think might be interested in your work. That could be because they’re interested in writing, but it’s more likely that it’s because they’re interested in you or the subjects you write about. I’ve not done this intentionally as I have no book to sell currently but I am aware of other authors who share writing advice, lifestyle conundrums, or life events online to build up their audiences. I think if it’s obvious to build an audience then it can put people off but if it’s done authentically it can really build a fanbase. (Another word I don’t like). When I do do marketing I keep it to the afternoon (a time I’m not very creative anyway) and restrict it to a couple of afternoons a month.

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

Contain it. Marketing (especially social media) can take over your whole life and reveal your whole life. Put boundaries round it. Allocate specific time to it, be clear about what you will and won’t share, ensure you rule it and it doesn’t rule you.

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

It’s ongoing. When choosing something to write about, I do think ‘will this get published?’ It’s important to be aware of the market but also not be slavish to it – if there’s a story I really want to write I’ll write it but it may not get published and that’s ok. If I want something to be published then I think more carefully how it will be marketed. Publishing is ruled by how easy something is to market so the more marketable your book, the easier it will be to find a publisher. As for self-publishing – marketing is even more important as you’ll be doing it all yourself.

How do you tend to market your work? (For instance, do you use social media? Do you blog?)

I have a website (which is currently very out of date) to let people know about me and the things I write about. I use Facebook and connect to people I think might be interested in my work, but also because I’m interested in theirs and also for personal reasons – so I’ve not been as boundaried about that as I should be. I am considering starting a blog.

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?

I’d just like to point out that I’ve worked on a novel for 5 years and I still don’t know whether it’ll ever be published! Hence my uncertainty as a writer, I started it convinced it would be published, after 50 rejection letters but over 10 very interested replies I thought maybe, now I really don’t know, but I’m still working on it…

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

Not currently – but I would do most if I had a book to sell.

I once heard someone dismiss a career in book marketing by saying ‘he might as well go and sell fridges’ – is selling books really the same as selling fridges?

I would hope not – because you’re selling ideas, alternative lives, education – though you could say all these are as essential as having fresh food – I’d question the snobbery of the person saying it rather than which is better, fridges or books – they all have their place after all.

There’s a lot of marketing jargon around, such as ‘find your niche’, ‘create a sales funnel’, ‘engage with your audience’, ‘create a platform’ – do beginning writers need to engage with it from the start? Has that changed since you started writing?

Not all writers need to engage with it but if you want to build your audience, build your sales and be part of the modern world then you’d be wise to. You’re more likely to be taken on by a publisher if you have ‘online presence’. Marketing budgets have been slashed at publishing houses so even if you get a deal there’s no guarantee that anyone will hear of your book – it’s up to the writer these days to sell their own books…

Any examples of book marketing you think worked really well?

I like Unbound’s method where by crowdfunding you already get buyers for your book – then word spreads by word of mouth.  I buy  books on the basis of reviews, recommendations and when they are mentioned by authors I love – books that win awards also get my attention. There’s nothing like a personal recommendation though so book groups would probably be a good target market.

Read the rest of the interviews here

 

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