Okay, we have decided that we really want to receive more attention for the work we have created. It is what we want and we want it badly enough to do the work necessary. Good. That is the first (and perhaps hardest) part of solving the problem, acknowledging there is one and that it’s important enough to make the effort to correct it.
The next question is how, exactly, do we earn this attention? As distasteful as many may find it, the answer is marketing. (Remember last week when I asked whether we were willing to do whatever it took—distasteful or not—to gain attention for our work? Now it comes home to roost.) The only way to get anyone who doesn’t know you to pay attention to your work is to efficiently and effectively market it to them.
Yes, this means advertising. This means putting you and your work in front of as many potential customers as you possibly can. It means advertising and posting images to social media and signing up to appear at book fairs and signings. In order to gain the public’s attention we have to place our work where they can find it. Right?
But we can do all that and still not gain significant attention. Many of us do. We place memes in social media forums; we buy advertisement in various publications; we do readings and signings and spend hours sitting at book fairs, trying to convince someone to take a chance on our new book and nothing really seems to work. Oh, we sell a few here and there, but in the great scheme of things, no one really notices our work.
Because, at the most basic level, we’re doing it wrong. We’re trying to gain the world’s attention by using an invalid argument.
Think of your favorite car sales person (your favorite successful one anyway). How does she close all those sales? How does she move all those cars?
She probably doesn’t sell many cars by telling the customer who designed it. Nor will she go on about where the car was built, or where the designer went to school. Someone looking to purchase a car honestly doesn’t care about any of that. What they want is safe, dependable transportation that’s pleasing to the eye and practical for their lifestyle. The good salesperson will not waste time trying to sell an Italian sports car to a Wyoming cattle rancher, or a four-wheel-drive one ton pickup to a suburban soccer mom. The sports car is undoubtedly a fine product. So is the pickup truck. They just don’t meet the particular customer’s needs.
The successful sales person matches the customer with the product that best meets their needs. They don’t waste their time trying to sell anything—no matter how good they think it is—to someone who won’t want it.
Why would marketing our books (or paintings, or films, etc.) be any different?
Too much of the time, we (and this includes myself) spend years refining our work, then send it out into the world, expecting people to notice it simply because we did it. That thinking doesn’t work for cars. It won’t work for books.
As authors, we need to identify ways our work may satisfy a need out there in the world and sell that aspect of it. John Smith in Omaha, will have no idea who James Boyle is and really doesn’t care that I wrote a novel. However, John Smith in Omaha is a devout fan of mystery fiction. The fact that James Boyle wrote a mystery novel might just pique his interest.
How do we do this? I would suggest you examine your work and make a list of every aspect and feature you think might be of interest to someone out there. Start out with the big, obvious features like the genre and work your way down to the smallest. The object is not to make a list of everything you will use. It’s to make a list of everything you might possible be able to use.
I made one for my novel Deception Island as an example.
With some elements of an espionage thriller
Gold Beach/coastal Oregon/Oregon/Pacific northwest/United States
San Juan Islands/Puget Sound Area/Western Washington/Pacific Northwest/United States
Seattle/Western Washington/Pacific Northwest/United States
Male/Investigative Reporter/Print Journalist/U of Washington alum
Greedy Corporation/Security Department/Private Police
Themes and background
Corporate ethics/Unregulated Capitalism/Greed
Secret crimes/historical cover-ups
The internment of Japanese during WWII
The salmon fishing/canning industry in Puget Sound, WA
Life in a small town/life on an island in Puget Sound/maritime life
Returning to your hometown
Police/legal investigation versus journalistic/private investigation
Having to choose between your career and relationship
Good versus evil
Wealth and power versus justice
I was able to compile this list in about a half an hour. Now let’s see how we can boil these down into something we can use to get people to notice Deception Island.
First, of course, is the genre. Most people tend to have their favorite genre and read more of those than anything else. So Deception Island is a detective novel, featuring an investigative journalist against a wealthy and unethical corporation. At its heart, it’s a sometimes violent battle between truth and power.
The second thing that leaps to my eye is Puget Sound in Washington. The story takes place there and therefore much of the story background has to do with the location, culture, and history of the area. So the novel could be of interest to anyone who lives in the area, has visited the area, or is just interested in the area. That includes the history of the salmon fishing industry, the ecology, and what life is like in a small town in the area.
Third, a major feature of the novel has to do with the Japanese interment and how a crime committed during an episode much of the country would like to forget can return to affect lives two generations later. Though all of the novel takes place in modern times, the ties to history are strong and may be of interest to someone fascinated by U.S. history, Pacific Northwest history, World War II, or the history of civil rights.
Probably the weakest feature is the author. There will be a few who would be interested because they know me. There will be a few more who might be interested because of the “local boy makes good” aspect, but I wouldn’t count on such tribalism for much. In the long run, it will drum up more moral support than actual sales.
So now we’ve done our homework. How do we translate that into attention for our work? We use the promotional tools we already have to target those people most likely to find that our work will satisfy their needs.
For instance, were I to have a budget dedicated to buying print advertising in newspapers, I would ignore the larger markets back east, despite their massive readership, and spend most of my money on advertising in the communities around Puget Sound. Say from Vancouver, B.C. in the north, to the Cascades in the east, south to Portland, Oregon, west to the Pacific, and north to Victoria, B.C. This should encompass most of the people with an interest in the area.
I’m not going to try and convince a farmer in Nebraska that he should be reading this novel largely set in and involving issues about Puget Sound. I’m going to try and get people already interested in the Puget Sound area to see my novel as a work that will satisfy that interest.
As authors, as artists, this is what we need to be doing: finding people whose interests may be met by our work and introducing the two. If we are right, and the work does meet the buyer’s needs, they will be pleased. Not only will they recommend the work to others who share their interests, but they will (we hope) be more willing to take a chance on your next work.
And that’s how we start getting the world to pay attention to our work.