As a writer, what are you selling? The obvious answer would be “my writing”. However, the obvious answer is wrong. As a writer, you are selling fantasy. The stories you sell and the image you present to the public are all part of that fantasy. No matter how enthralling your stories are or how good you are at your craft; the truth is no one will read your stories if they don’t know they are out there or, worst yet, if you can’t get them published.
Promotions is how authors traditionally sell their books.
The point of promotions is to make the public aware of your work and you as an author. Its main goal is to sell your books, workshops, etc… but, its secondary goal (which is critical and co-dependant on its primary goal) is to create a buzz about you and your work by getting you noticed—by the press who will do reviews of your books or interviews and stories about you and your work; by other authors who will want to include your work in their projects; by editors who will recognize your name when you send them your work; and by fans, i.e. readers, who will seek out you and your work.
Shameless Self Promotions is how authors sell themselves and their work.
In the current hard-knocks publishing environment, publishing houses are disappearing, shrinking, and, in general tightening their belts. Readers aren’t buying as many books. Potential readers aren’t becoming readers. Authors need an edge. Authors need to think of themselves (or, more correctly, some public version of themselves) as a commodity in order to be able to promote themselves and—by association—their books. Shameless Self Promotions will provide that edge.
In the famous words from the musical Gypsy: “You have got to have a gimmick”.
Shameless Self Promotions is about using gimmicks to promote yourself and your books. A gimmick isn’t necessarily a bad thing and need not be so over the top that it goes against your “true self”. Instead, it should organically come from your true self. It should be a part of you distilled into a sound bit. Something to draw attention to you and your work. Something you can package and use as a trademark, an attention getter.
I caution you that none of the tricks you will learn here will replace well-written words and quality writing. These tricks are for use after you have created your stories to make sure they, like thousands of other well-written stories, don’t get over looked or missed because they are at the bottom of a tall pile or aren’t backed by the big bucks of the big press houses.
This column will help you to focus outside of the traditional approach to the promotions and is by no means a perfect fit for everyone. Shameless Self Promotions forces you to think outside of the box. As such, the material presented here is just a guideline; you will need to come up with your own ideas that are designed for you and your work. Hopefully, the concepts behind the ideas that are presented here will inspire and guide you as you develop your own Shameless Self Promotion style and action plan.
A Word About Karma
Regardless of your religious belief, Karma is the word I use for balance. Remember, when you do something nice for someone else something nice will happen to you. Likewise, when you do something mean, you will be re-paid three fold. Keep that in mind when interacting with other folks.
Promotional Items You Cannot Leave Home Without
- Mailing list with a pen
- Something FREE for fans/audience to take home: flyer, pamphlet, free zine
¼ page flyers: Informational tidbits for you to leave at bookstores, on chairs at events, etc… Merchandise: They pay you to advertise your stuff
- Copies of your book(s)
- A pen, a really nice (don’t read that as expensive) pen you like to write with for signing books
- Business cards (Everyone needs business cards! Make them yourself.) Simple, clear, standard size cards with your name, email and phone number in an easy to read font.
- An envelop in your bag for “Follow ups” Place other’s cards or contact info in here for follow up after events.
- The notebook into which you can jot specific interaction details for use later
You need good head shots and PR photos so you will get Face Time. Good photos may encourage papers, magazines, conference program organizers to use them and thus give you more exposure.
How do you as a writer draw attention to your words without the help of a big publishing vehicle and/or unlimited cash flow? The answer to that is by drawing attention to your fantasy self or your public self.
Creating Your Public Self
Your public self is that condensed version of some part of yourself that can be presented to an audience that they can grab onto. It is the equivalent of a sound bite self. Pick something about yourself that is marketable and can stand in for you. Reinforce this public self in your bio, dress and presentation. Consider the following and what first thing that comes to mind:
Building Interest in the Product
- What makes you different from other writers who write erotica?
- What is your hook (that thing that will make people remember you)?
- What gimmick can you use to make people notice you and thus be interested in your writing?
- Think of yourself and your writing as a product. What can you do to sell your product? Advertise your product? Make your product stick out from the rest of the similar products on the shelf?
- Consider a marketing agent (like PussyWhipped Productions) to package and promote you.
Know Your Audience or Do You Know Your Audience?
- Who is the obvious audience for your work?
- Who are the secondary audiences for your work?
- Who would be interested in your work, but doesn’t know it yet, or the obscure audience member?
Packaging and Merchandising Your Product
You can merchandize your product (your book) in a number of basic ways. What the book is about and your budget will help you to determine the particulars of the merchandise. These are basic guidelines. Use your imagination to personalize them. But consider the usability of the item. If you want people to hang onto the items consider: magnets; pins; T-shirts; pens, water bottles; sponges; book marks, etc…with the title, your name, and ISBN #. Just recently I saw a book advertised on the spare wheel cover on the back of a jeep. Sell merchandise at readings for cost. The point of the merchandise is to get the book sold. Give merchandise away. Free is always good.
News of a literary nature does not happen. It is made.
Getting Your Book Reviewed
Send a copy of the book along with something to catch the reviewer’s eye. Always invite reviewers from local papers to your readings. Send them a formal invitation (including the venue/event information, bios and publication histories of all the readers and photos if you have them), two to three weeks in advance, and followed up by a reminder email four and two days in advance. Reserve a table upfront for them.
Send PR packets to local writers who cover arts and request they do a feature on you. If you win an award, get something published, or speak at a conference, hire someone (or do it yourself under a pen name) to write a story on you. Send it to your local papers. Send event listings to all event calendars. Include event information (see above), photos, and suggested listing text (about 50 words). Create a media database for press releases and listings.
“Always ask for what you want. They can only say no, but they just might say yes.” (Princess Amie of The Princesses of Porn with The Dukes of Dykedom)
General Networking Advice
Like much in life, who you know is critical in the publishing business. This doesn’t mean that a lone writer in Idaho cannot drop his manuscript off to a big house and end up published and on the NYT Best Seller list. However, I believe more in using all of the tools available to you then relying on luck to achieve your goals. Who you know will not get you published; only well written prose will do that. Who you know, however, will help you to get your work read by editors and agents and houses, will get you face time, will get you included at reading venues, and onto the private calls of submissions. In short, who you know will make your writing life easier and will open doors for you. Networking (making business contacts) will create opportunities for you as a writer. Networking is not the same as friendship. I have friends who are business contacts, but if I stopped writing tomorrow, I’d continue the relationship with them. Don’t confuse contacts with friends or, for that matter, friends with contacts.
Writing Conferences are the easiest place to meet writing industry folks in high concentrations. Authors, editors, agents, publishing house reps, and instructors will all be at conferences. There are also writing sub-communities in every major and most minor cities/towns. Writing classes, workshops, reading venues, and book lectures are all great places to network.
- If attending a conference or event with a program take two highlighters. Mark those you want to meet with one color and after you meet them mark them with another color. Never let anyone see you doing this.
- Distribute your flyers to all and your business cards to people you want to work with.
- Everyone is a potential contact.
- Networking should be done up, down, horizontally.
- Honey catches more flies than vinegar. Say nothing mean about anyone ever. You have no idea how small the (writing, performing, poetry, publishing, etc…) community is.
How to Network
Networking means meeting other writers/editors/publishing house representatives at readings/conferences/classes and (1) making a good lasting impression on them, (2) establishing an opportunity to follow up later, (3) not making a bad impression or a pain of yourself. It is opening doors and windows for yourself. Networking works both ways. When you network, you will be expected to offer something to the other person, not just get something from them.
- Introduce yourself and your connection to writing.
- Flatter them if it is true or at least show insight into the fact that you know something about them.
- Let them talk. Listen and be interested in what they have to say. No one likes to be yakked at.
- Make a connection between yourself and them. How is your writing similar, what do you have in common, are you from the same hometown, do you both like bowling? Don’t force it or over step your boundaries.
- Be brief. Don’t consume vast amounts of their time or over stay your welcome.
- Offer them contact information(your business card) and ask for theirs in return.
- Do not ask them for anything else during this contact.
Send an email or letter with a reminder of when you met and who you are. It is extremely important that you follow up with in two weeks of the meeting. I strongly suggest with in one week. Make a comment about something they said during the meeting. Request what it is you want. Can I send you my manuscript? And offer to be of service to them. If you are coming to Boston, could I in some way be of service to you?
If you meet them face to face again, reintroduce yourself and remind them of where you first met. Never assume they will remember you. Never bring up that you sent them a letter and they didn’t reply. Do not expect them to remember you or do anything for you.
Repeat as needed.
Do not stalk anyone. If you email them twice and they don’t reply, drop it. Be pleasant the next time you meet them. Sometimes you need to meet someone face-to-face a few times before a network connection is made.
Reading Your Work
Reading your work aloud to audiences is the single most important way of marketing your work, especially when you first start. It is important that you develop a reading style and become a good reader.
Traditional venues such as readings at bookstores, colleges, bars, coffee shops, and open mics are a great way to spread knowledge about your work and to get exposure and experience. Some venues require an invitation to read. Others allow you to show up and sign up to read.
If you are in an anthology always try to be part of the readings being set up by the editor. If none are being set up; set some up yourself. This goes for your own collection or novel. Ask other erotic writers to read at a general erotica reading. This is also a great way to network. You are offering a service by organizing a reading.
Non-traditional venues are endless and only limited to your imagination. Examples of these are Art Galleries; an opening act to a band, drag troupe, or a performance group. You might read as free entertainment at a local business or restaurant. Use your imagination and always make a connection as to why your work is right for the venue.
If you write stories about a carpenter, Home Depot might agree to do a reading, but consider the physical reality of a Home Depot (large vaulted ceiling, tons of kids and shopping folk, announcements over a loud speaker). Maybe Joe’s Hardware with a wine and cheese reception is a better venue. Big is not always better.
All Welcome Here
Open Mics are a great place to get exposure to specific audiences. No invite needed. Check the venue’s announcements for the type of audience that will be there and always follow venue time and theme rules. Also remember that erotica isn’t always appropriate for every venue. Select a part of your story with care when reading at open mics or non-traditional venues.
By Invitation Only
If you want to read at an event, ask to be included. If you are told no, ask to volunteer at the event. Volunteer enough times and you will most likely be asked to read.
Get Asked Back
Always leave the place better than you found it. This is a good life rule.
Offer the promoter help and mean it. Offer help to the hostess/host/promoter then do what they ask. Follow the rules. Time rules, topic rules, other rules. Actively listen to the other readers read. Don’t be a Diva with other writers or performers. Avoid the temptation, just don’t do it with anyone. Always send a thank you email/note after the performance. Point out something the hostess/host did that was funny, moving, really great, and thank them for including you and offer them your help for future events. Make yourself easy to work with. Another good life rule.
How To Get Your Own Venue
- Expect to do all the work. If you propose a reading to a venue don’t expect the venue to do anything at all to promote it. You should take responsibility for flyers, elists, ads, and all the details involved.
- Expect to not make money. When invited to read expect it to be a non-paying gig. Most venues do not pay and those that do are difficult to get into when you first start out.
- If you do make a little money, pay the readers. Even a $10 or $15 payment is appreciated.
Volunteer. Great exposure can be had by volunteering to read at benefits for nonprofit groups. Again, maximize your exposure by selecting groups who have an obvious interest in your subject area. The best way to win over a promoter is to volunteer. More established writers and promoters who can help you get exposure always need help with typing, phone calls, flyering, and other tasks. Conferences always need help.
Donate. Donate copies of your book or merchandise to local causes. Try to be on hand for the raffle or auction to present the items personally and to meet fans or potential fans.
Join. Be on a committee. Poetry Awards, contest judge, conferences etc… Looks good on your resume and will help you to network.
Always do what you say you will do. And do it with a smile. Avoid at all cost canceling or letting people down.
Let the Shameless Self Promotions Begin!
NEXT TIME: Dealing with Writers Block
Amie M. Evans
“Two Girls Kissing: Writing Lesbian Literary Erotica” © 2007 Amie M. Evans. All rights reserved.