I’d say “writer’s tip o’ the week,” but I know myself too well.

The Tip: When dear, supportive, well-meaning friends and fellow writers tell you that you must enter this or that contest, you must because your book is so perfect and sure to win: Don’t. Especially if there’s a fee involved.

(And I have nothing against fair and reasonable fees, as long as they’re returned in the form of winnings and allow the contest to take place.)

But remember Hugh Howey’s advice in the previous post? Adjusting the order of the three sentences, it was this:  I didn’t waste time promoting my works until they were already selling. I kept writing. This was the best thing I ever did.

837127_question_markEntering contests falls into the promoting category. Many writers will enter. The more prestigious the contest, the more entries. You don’t know the agenda of the contest-runners. You don’t know the tastes of the judges. Unless you have a fortune to tap into for these fees, save your money and avoid the worry.

Keep writing instead.  After all, if you win, you’ll have to figure out a way to incorporate a badge or blurb onto your cover. What a pain!

Marketing is not for wimps or the lazy.

I’m a bit of both. I’m so screwed.

The Almighty Mailing List

I’ve read (and, admittedly, skimmed and half-read—lazy, remember?) a few books and several articles on marketing. They all agree that a mailing list is vital. That’s how you reach your customers. An author’s best marketing tool (other than a dynamite book) is her/his mailing list. Period.

mailing-list-iconBut how do you build that list? One book recommends pop-up ads on your website that can’t be ignored. Actually, more than one recommends that although they describe the process differently: generate giveaways, great incentives, videos, etc., so that people will want more and will join your mailing list–which pretty much implies the pop-up.

But there are a few steps before having and sending to a mailing list.

The first step is, of course, to create your mailing list on a service like MailChimp. MailChimp is free, up to 2,000 subscribers. So start that account and put your mother and best friend and your gmail address on it. You’ve got 1,997 spaces left before you have to pay, yippee!

What’s the second step?

Where do all those other names come from?

Remember, anyone who gets an email from you through MailChimp (or another service) can opt out. They can unsubscribe and will do so if you waste their time, so entering a bunch of names at random is probably not worth the effort.

How do you pack that list with people who actually want what you’re offering—i.e., your audience?miracle

That’s the fuzzy part. Like this cartoon.

Why don’t these marketing gurus tell you that part?

Well, there are a few reasons.

Everyone’s audience is different and will be found in different places.

The person who wrote a marketing book for authors has found his/her audience–you–but unless you’re also writing a marketing book for authors, your audience is hiding somewhere else.

And if you are writing a marketing book for authors, why are you reading this?

What did you write? A memoir or a zombie romance? Readers of those books are all over the place. Your job to figure out how to lure them to your website and make them want to sign up for more of what you’ve got to give, and only you can do that.

You must figure out where to reach your potential readers. It’s not obvious or easy. For example, when I managed to get the Historical Novel Society to review my book, I thought I had it made! Where else would readers of historical novels go, but to there?  The review was wonderful, exceeding my fondest hopes. But when it appeared, sales did not jump–not even a little.

trapWhat to do? Well, one idea is to take to social media. And that’s a suggestion, not a guarantee of anything. However, many of your readers will be on Twitter and Facebook, so it makes sense to connect with them there.

Think of social media–Facebook, your blog, Tweets, Pinterest, the works—as play. Fill your accounts with posts and pictures of fun things that your target audience would love. 1970s trivia for the memoir, for example. Photographs. Mini-reviews of books in the same genre. Share and Link to clever articles or merchandise on the topic. Follow everyone who follows you, and follow everyone posting on anything peripheral to your topic.

downloadYour website is your keystone. Use the other media accounts to entice readers there on occasion, so they can enjoy your blog post about mood rings or mid-century zombie films and be willing to sign up for more via the pop-up.

Why else don’t those marketing books tell you how to find your audience?

I’m gonna throw out two guesses here.

First, because the panorama of social media sites is constantly changing–just like the self-publishing industry—advice is going to be old by the time it’s tested. The tech-savvy (Hugh Howey comes to mind) have an enormous advantage, but luck plays a part too. Rather than rely on what worked a couple of years ago, you may be better off to poke around on your own. Try Googling “book marketing tips for Indies” to start with, just to get ideas.

The second guess is this: You will learn a lot—about yourself, your audience and about marketing–when you figure it out yourself.

character-buildingYou can’t have everything handed to you. You have to do some of the work, because it builds character.

Did I really write that? Even my Irish grandmother could not say such a phrase without sputtering with laughter.

Look, the marketing books tell you what the end product should be: a mailing list that you can use to reach your fans. They tell you how to use it. They tell you how important it is.

But where those addresses on the list come from is up to you. That’s the part you have to figure out, for the big reason above: each book is different and finding the audience is going to be different.

But in finding that audience, painstaking though it may be, you will connect with what works for you, and there is a lot of value in that.

837127_question_mark

Are there rules to creating great stories?

Of course there are!

They can be broken, mashed, and ignored at your peril. They exist because writers need them. Readers like stories best when those stories are well told.

100_7283Some of those rules–the best ones, and the shortest–have been collected by Joe Donatelli on his blog. None of these these rules deal with prepositions or story arcs or setting scenes…that would be dull. No, these rules are fun.

Rules like #19:  “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.”

Who made up these rules that Joe Donatelli collected? Pixar and Kurt Vonnegut. You can’t do better than that. So enjoy them and apply them to your latest story. Because–as rule #11 says, “Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it.”

Want more rules? The Guardian (UK) published some from famous authors a few months ago. Authors like Elmore Leonard, who said that  “Using adverbs is a mortal sin.”  And Neil Gaimon, who followed his rule #1 (“Write.”) with rule #2, “Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.”

Love Neil Gaimon.

And Flavorwire, purveyor of lists, can give you ten instances of Bad Writing Advice from Famous Authors. Such as “Don’t try,” from Charles Bukowski.

So if you follow the right rules, you get the payoff. And that’s the topic of the other story that writers were tweeting each other about this week–an article in Salon by Hugh Howey titled “Self-Publishing is the Future–and Great for Writers.”

Turns out its not so bleak out there. Howey had started a thread on Kindle Boards* called “The Self Published Authors I Want to Hear From.” and he asked  how many writers were making $100-$500 a month from their books. He suspected it was a lot, and he was correct.

“Every response I received started with a variation of: “I’m actually making a lot more than that.”” Howey goes on to list the sums writers that you’ve never heard of (probably) are making, for example, an educator earning $2000 a month and a government attorney earning $750 a month from her YA novel.

That’s just the beginning of the article. It’s quite thorough and goes into all the reasons for self-publishing (or not), and he predicts more and more successes for authors who find their relatively smaller audiences and sell directly to them.

And them’s the rewards for following rule #11, or Neil Gaimon’s advice.

* started a thread on Kindle Boards. . . .  Just for the record, I do not know what that means.