Friday 30 July 2021

What Fresh Hell is this?#writing #crimefiction #fiction #irishwriting #irishdrimefiction #books #editing #marketingbooks

 So I used to think the main problem with writing novels was actually writing the damn thing. If I could get more disciplined, write more words, and generally do the adulting, then I will have a book. OK, obviously there would be pesky re-writes and editing but the most important thing would be accomplished. All I'd have to do then is send it to my publishers, a tiny micro publishing group, who would put it out into the world and the world, recognizing my genius*, would react in a suitably grateful manner.

But Independent publishing isn't that simple. I've published and edited poetry anthologies, and while there is a small audience for the same it's a loyal one. People who love poetry, love poetry books. They buy them, review them, and discuss them. There's an exponentially wider audience for novels, but they have a correspondingly wider choice in books. Genre fiction - in my case, crime fiction - is a popular and very well served category. It your book, like mine, isn't a Noir, with serial killers at large and women with tragic backstories dying in horrible ways, then it's dismissed by a lot of male readers. (Interestingly, of the men who have read it, the majority enjoyed it. It's a fun read. It's not going to haunt your sleeping hours but it will amuse your waking ones. Sometimes fun is what you need.) No matter how good your book is, standing out among the glut of choices is difficult. 

According to roughly half the gazillion emails in my inbox, the key to success as an author is building a mailing list of readers, each email promising to teach me how to do just that. There are offers to edit my book, promote my book, and in one rather bizarre case, make my book into a screenplay for the trifling fee of $10,000. Spoiler alert: if I had 10k to drop on vanity projects I'd spend it on yarn. YARN. 

There are some reliable steps on this murky and confusing road. The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLI) are the first stop for either self published or small imprint authors. From reviewing competitions and publishing tools to webinars on marketing the site is packed full of helpful services, and the Facebook Group is a lifesaver. Joining costs a small fee, but compared to what you'll waste trying to feel your way through all this unaided, it's well worth it. 

From there I learnt about how to offer content in order to attract the right people to my mailing list; how to recruit readers to preview my next book; how to utilize publishing services like print on demand, other than Amazon, I've been encouraged and helped, and while the learning curve has been steep, it's been productive.

But it all comes back to one thing; you need to get your hustle on. Create that content, or all the marketing seminars on the internet won't get you one single reader, one single sale of your book. At first I felt like it was an imposition; I'm the kind of author who hides in a corner and scribbles, so even online content making exposes little fragments of my soul in ways that make me uncomfortable.

But there are unexpected side effects to stretching oneself. Case in point: against my own inclinations, I took time away from writing Book 2 in the Caroline Jordan series. I wrote a short story, starring Caroline and some smaller characters from Book 1. Half way in, I had to admit I was enjoying myself and when I returned to writing the book, I had a deeper sense of the world I was writing and the characters. So my next projects will be approached in a less begrudging frame of mind, because I am now more open to the possible benefits.

Another piece of advice was to join Facebook groups and communities that like and read your genre. It sounds obvious, like a lot of good advice, but I had not realized just how useful it could be. A reader in one group pointed out an inconsistency in the text that had skipped past all eyes before his. I received criticism and praise in equal measures that have informed my writing of the sequel and made it a better book. Every plea for a review or advertisement of your book exposes you to criticism, and it can be daunting, but it will help you avoid mistakes in the next one.

I'm learning to talk to my readership in a different way. Now, they feel like collaborators rather than targets for a sale. There are things I can offer them, free content, fun rewards, rather than bothering them with unwanted marketing emails. Their feedback is as valuable as their cash and I feel as if they know they are valued and respond accordingly.

Still, despite my best efforts there are days that feel like I'm banging my head off a brick wall. Days go by and not a soul downloads the book. No one joins your mailing list. You send out content and it sinks. Anyone who tells you it's easy or you'll get thousands of subscribers in three easy steps, or promises you a best seller, is a liar. It's hard work, it takes time, you can't do it all at once, and you might never achieve your top goals. 

But it will help, and if you can approach marketing your book as a chance to learn, as an opportunity to say the things you want to say as an author, if your aim is quality rather than quantity or content for the sake of it, then you may well find it rewarding. And if you reach a few more readers who enjoy your work, then that's a bonus too. 

*for genius, read "adequacy" ;)


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