Can a novelist market herself?
A woman I met at a conference wrote and asked, “Is it really possible to market yourself as a novelist?”
I definitely think it’s possible for a novelist to market himself or herself. Over the past couple years, I’ve tried to share some thoughts on how novelists can market themselves, so you may find it helpful to meander back through my posts in order to look for ideas. But here’s the big picture: In my opinion, a novelist has to begin seeing herself not just as an artist (which you, as a writer, most certainly are), but also as a brand name or commodity that deserves marketing. And that means creating a well-thought-out plan for marketing yourself and your work. (Okay, I’ll admit that part of me hates writing that. I don’t like talking about words as “commodities,” and treating the writing arts as though they were cans of corn. But let’s face facts — I’m talking with writers who want to make a living writing, and that translates to selling books.)
Non-fiction writers find it easier to do some basic marketing, since they have a topic or hot-button issue that is clearly discernable. If you were to write a book on losing weight or making money or raising kids, the potential audience for such a topic is easy to recognize. You can go onto radio programs and talk about the problem and the solutions you’re offering, or write articles for magazines and e-zines that explore your particular approach to the issue. With fiction, it’s tougher. Good stories are not about one topic, but explore numerous threads. And no radio or TV program wants to invite you on to re-tell your novel. So instead of focusing on the story, most fiction writers find they have to focus on the author or the genre. In other words, you and your voice becomes the focus of your marketing. This is why it’s essential that a novelist has a clear style.
Or, sometimes, the focus of marketing is on the issues or topics raised in the novel. Think of the marketing of successful novelists — it’s not always the story that is the focus, but the fact that there is another great book from John Grisham or Elizabeth George or Janet Evanovich. Or it’s about the fact that someone has written a novel that deals with identify or spirituality or suicide or… whatever. Sometimes the focus is a bit more on the genre — the publisher wants readers to know this is an Amish story, or a techno-thriller, or a cross-cultural adventure story. But that’s much less frequent than focusing on the author or issues. Again, great literature springs from a story that explores the great questions of life. Those questions reflect our own lives, and the characters make choices about them. We, as the readers, may like or hate the choices, but at least we get to see what someone else would do with those choices. So in many ways, a novel offers us a vicarious exploration of the great questions of life. We learn, we are moved, we grow. The greatest novels I’ve read have changed me.
Looking at today’s market, what’s the lesson for novelists? Discover your voice. Write a great novel. Market yourself hard.
What advice would you add?
(This is a repeat blog — I posted this a couple years ago, and wanted to say it again.)
As I see it, people pay novelists to entertain. This is the same reason they’re willing to pay $40 per ticket to see a singer or a guy hit a baseball. The more those folks sing and hit baseballs, the more fans they get and the more money they make. So we need to keep writing books. Lots and lots of books. I challenged myself to hit 3 books this year and am on track. The faith that goes with this, of course, is that those books will start to sell sometime next year after all the editing, beta reading, etc. (I’m assuming I’ll begin self-publishing but will still attempt to sell in the trad market). Whether they sell or not, though, is beside the point. Once you take the title of “Author” upon yourself, you’ve announced to all those fans-to-be that you will write like a maniac to appease their ravenous appetite. So you keep writing and writing until you start selling, then keep writing some more. Social networking is nice, but a .300 batting average trumps that all day long.