The question posed to me by the talented gang at Chicks and Dicks was How To Stand Out in This Oversaturated Genre, and I had to bite back a facetious, Get here five years ago! That’s not even true. While some writers who began in M/M when I did are now peaking in their writing careers, others, who started out strong, are all but forgotten. So the answer is clearly more than keep hanging on! Though hanging on is certainly part of the gig.
My next thought was Write terrific books. But we all know there are many talented, even brilliant, writers out there who never find their audience. And, equally, godawful hacks who – bewilderingly! -- seem to appeal to our own perspicuous readers. So the answer is not simply to write fabulous books, though, again, writing fabulous books is certainly part of the gig.
That leaves the answer we all know is true though somehow, even to this very day, everyone hopes isn’t. Promotion.
You can write works of pure genius, but if no one is aware of you and your pure genius, you’re not going to sell books. You’re not going to be read, period.
At the word “promotion,” everyone starts thinking Twitter and Facebook and Goodreads and Blogs. Those tools are useful and necessary things, but promotion begins much earlier than that. As a matter of fact, it begins when you first decide how you will share your work with the world. It begins with publication.
If you’re going to begin your writing career by partnering with a publisher – and I strongly suggest that you do start out with a publisher – be choosy. Pick a quality publisher. Pick a publisher with a good reputation. Not just a reputation for paying on time, but a reputation for turning out first class work. In short, a publishing house that employs real editors. Content editors and copyeditors and proof editors. Good cover art is a must. So is good formatting. And an established chain of distribution. Finally, you’re going to be looking for a publisher who can and will utilize secondary rights like audio and translations. How do these things tie into promotion? The more attractive your product, the more people will buy it and – this is crucial – review and recommend it to others. As for secondary rights, every sales channel is a way of finding new readers.
Very simply, being published by a quality publisher is an endorsement of you and your work. The very act of being published by a reputable publisher is the first step toward promoting any work.
The other marketing advantage in signing with the right publishing house has to do with networking. Quality publishers have rosters filled with popular and bestselling authors, so when your work gets paired in an anthology, it will be paired with authors who have their own established readership and reputation. Their readers will buy the antho and perhaps discover they like your work too. Even if you don’t get paired in an anthology, you will have other popular and bestselling authors to approach for theme days and blog tours and street teams. In this business, as in all business, who you know matters.
One thing you must remember about promotion is that only three quarters of promotion is about the work – the product. The other quarter is about you – the brand. You must start thinking about your brand before your book ever sees the light of day. It’s one of the things to think about when you’re deciding which publishing house to target. There are quality publishers and quantity publishers. You need to think seriously about what kind of writer you are – and where you plan to be in three, five, and ten years. All roads don’t lead to
Or New York. They
don’t need to. You might not like Rome.
And winter in New York
I see many, many mistakes in branding from new and inexperienced writers (and even writers who should know better by now) with the most obvious error being trying to brand yourself as sexy and/or edgy in a genre that is defined by sex and edginess. You might as well brand yourself as imaginative and good with words. Not that these things aren’t true of your writing, but they are true of EVERY competent author’s writing. Imagine an advertising slogan that read Same as Everyone Else’s! Probably not that effective, right?
Consider what sets your work apart. Consider what you want readers to think when they see your author name pop up. Once you’ve got that clear in your own mind, make sure your author profile reflects that branding. If you’re all about the cerebral or the elegant, dispense with the half-nekkid torsos on your website. Keep your message clean and simple. And update. All the time. There’s no point having a website or a Twitter account or a Facebook page if you’re not going to use them. Out-of-date pages look worse than no pages at all. Out-of-date looks like you gave up.
But let’s say you aren’t the patient type, and you never gave any thought to your brand, and you accepted the first publishing house that would take you on. Are you doomed to obscurity? No. It’s never too late to fine tune your marketing strategy, and moving up the publishing food chain is a natural part of a writer’s evolution. It’ll take you a bit longer and you’re going to have to work harder because you won’t have the initial advantage of editors and support staff to help you on your way. You’re going to have to do a lot of the necessary ground work yourself. But if you wanted things to be easy, you wouldn’t have hit on the idea of becoming a writer in the first place!