Guest blog by BETH JUSINO, a marketing consultant, editor, writer, and former literary agent.
“Writers are like farmers: The harvest comes, but only after you toil for a few seasons.” – Cheryl Strayed
Back in the day—that is, before Amazon—we used to tell writers that the best way to get a publisher’s attention and build their credentials was by publishing articles in magazines, short stories in literary journals, and (best of all) land regular magazine or newspaper columns. Publishing short pieces, after all, offered direct exposure to new audiences, and the two or three-line bio at the end of a piece introduced readers to an author’s website (if they had one) and any already-published books.
And that’s all still true. Writing articles and short stories to market yourself as an author is an idea that’s gotten a little lost in the online onslaught of blogs and pins and tweets. But whether you’re in the process of building your platform or marketing your already-released book, a single essay in Salon.com or Trout & Stream will expose you to more readers than most books reach in their lifetime. And that list of “has also published in” references in your author’s bio adds credibility to your future work. Readers trust authors with a track record.
Like all useful things, it’s not easy. In the grand scheme of platform building exercises, publishing short pieces is a time consuming and often frustrating process. If you’ve never tackled article or short story writing, be prepared for a cycle of querying that’s similar to the agent or publisher hunt (though usually, at least, faster). Every outlet has its own guidelines for how they consider essays or ideas. And every outlet has its own voice and style. You’ll need to do some homework to understand the specific voice of a publication (do they like humor? Do their articles use a lot of statistics? Are their short stories all about the same length?).
If that was all you got from your articles and short stories, you might be tempted to look for a different way. But there’s something else that makes publishing short pieces a valuable piece of your marketing puzzle:
It introduces you to the influencers who manage those outlets.
Influencers are the people who have gone into your chosen community before you and built substantial platforms of their own. They’re the magazine and journal editors, as well as radio hosts, popular authors, respected book reviewers, bloggers, community managers, journalists, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and anyone else who has a voice with your reader. Influencers matter, because building a relationship with a single influencer is often more valuable than acquiring the names of a hundred average readers. Every good author platform is supported by a few influencers, who can multiply a message and introduce it to even more people.
Influencers are people, too. If you build a positive relationship with an editor, meeting their deadlines and showing that you understand their audience and can relate to their issues, then you’ve earned the right to ask that editor to support your new book release with a review, an endorsement, or other coverage. And those personal requests matter. When I was a magazine editor for a fairly niche magazine, I received dozens of books every week from publishers, publicists, and authors. I couldn’t cover them in the magazine. Heck, I usually couldn’t even unpack them all from the boxes. So I triaged, and paid the most attention to the books that came from writers I’d worked with before, who’d written for me and my audience and who I liked.
So if you’re trying to build your platform and name recognition, don’t write off the tried-and-true articles. The opportunities here are more extensive than ever. Not only can you write for magazines, newsletters, and community papers, but the Internet is full of websites and blogs often eager for a (donated) submission.
Be strategic about this. Like everything else in marketing, start with the most important question: who is your reader? It doesn’t make sense to write for your local community paper—even if they ask you to—if it’s primarily read by senior citizens and you’re writing Young Adult romances. Or to write for a literary agent’s blog unless you’re publishing a book specifically for authors.
Yep. Write for the publications that reach your ideal reader. And maintain your relationships with the influencers who know how to reach them.
Beth Jusino is a marketing consultant, editor, writer, and former literary agent (she actually worked with Chip at Alive Communications for about six weeks before he left; she swears those two events weren’t related).
Her new book, The Author’s Guide to Marketing, releases in June 2014. You can pre-order your copy and get unique early-adopter rewards at http://theauthorsguidetomarketing.pubslush.com. Find Beth online at www.bethjusino.com or on Twitter @bethjusino.