Probably the one question we get on this blog more than any other is, “How do I market my book(s)?” In the upcoming weeks, we’ll be doing a series of posts on this topic. Today, I want to talk about the book. Marketing actually starts with the book.
1. Be a storyteller first.
In my years of writing and publishing, I’m convinced that the first element of marketing is writing a compelling book. Now, when I say “compelling”, I mean compelling to your target audience. It doesn’t matter what someone outside your target audience thinks. No matter how engaging your book is, if you wrote a romance and are trying to pitch it to die-hard sci-fi fans, I doubt they’ll find your book compelling.
How do you become a compelling storyteller? My advice is to write the book you are most passionate about. What is the story that keeps you up at night? What are the ideas that give you that spark of energy that makes you run to your computer to type it? What book are you dying to read? If you were to walk into a bookstore or library, what would be the dream book you’d buy in a heartbeat?
What books are you drawn to? Why? What did you like that authors did? What didn’t you like? Do you prefer certain traits in your characters? Do you prefer certain settings for your book? Do you prefer a certain time period? Go with things that intrigue you. Don’t worry about someone else’s vision of your book is. The truth is, you can’t successfully write a story that is someone else’s vision. Well, you can if you’re a ghostwriter. But I’m assuming that you’re not being hired to write someone else’s book.
Take that passion and start writing. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You might write more than you’ll ever need to include in the book. Some people write chapters that later get tossed out but posted on a blog as “extra” scenes. No writing is wasted, so write as you’re led. At this stage, don’t worry about polishing your book. All you’re doing is getting the story down.
This book is open to whatever you want. So let the door to your imagination wide open and explore all the possibilities that are before you. Let the story go in the direction it’s meant to by letting the characters take over. This is the fun part so enjoy it.
By the way, as you become aware people are reading yours books, it gets harder to get to “just you” when you’re writing. You might have to push out all the outside voices telling you what to do. It’s easier said than done to get into the zone of just you and your story and some days are better than others, but I find making a playlist for each book and listening to it or going somewhere quiet and free from distractions help.
2. Once you finish the story, get a fresh pair of eyes to look at it.
At this stage, you’re looking at the overall book. Does the plot work? Are all loose ends tied up (unless it’s a series with a cliffhanger)? Does the character stay true to form. A character changing for the better or worse is plausible, but did you make the case for it so it naturally flows with the story? Do you repeat things to the point where you’re hitting your reader over the head with it? Are there any glaring inconsistencies (like eye color changing or name changes)? Do you have something in the book that wasn’t invented yet in a certain time period? Are there any parts that are boring? Are there any parts that need to be tightened up with some telling or are there parts that are better off being shown? This is the stuff you want to look at and correct before you worry about the mechanics of writing.
I don’t recommend a family or friend unless you happen to have one who is not afraid to tell you stuff you don’t want to hear. You can find an editor or a critique partner. Ideally, you’ll find someone who is familiar with and enjoys your genre because there are elements that go into a romance that aren’t in a thriller and vice versa.
Also, you don’t have to pay someone. I hear a lot of writers saying they can’t afford to pay someone to look over their story, but you can barter services. You can swap books or while the person reads your book, you can make their cover. Be creative. It doesn’t have to cost you anything to get help, but I highly recommend you return the favor by doing something for that person so no one ends up using someone else.
3. Revise the book as needed.
Delete scenes, add scenes, tighten up lagging parts, modify characters as needed, etc. You want to do this before you look at the mechanics in your writing. Why? Because if you polish up the typos before you polish up the storytelling, you’ll just have to do the whole proofing stage all over again, and I see no reason to torture myself by doing the same stage twice. Just focus on getting the story into the best shape it can be first.
4. Now get to the mechanics of writing.
I use a different person for this one than the one who looked at the overall story. Actually, I think it’s best to have two or three people at this stage because what one misses, the other might find. A quick note here: Even with two to three proofreaders and going over my books again, a typo can still slip through. I tell you this because even if you do everything you can to make a book perfect, mistakes still happen. When I become aware of the typo, I do correct it. But it’s okay to be human. Just do your best and pick people you trust who are great at nitpicking the details to polish up the typos, punctuation errors, way the sentence is worded, etc. I get tired of authors getting 1 or 2-star reviews for one typo in a 70,000-word book. It happens. You might get the red-pen book reviewer who will find one thing wrong in your book and claim you suck at writing. All you can do is fix the typo and move on. Don’t argue with the person.
Back to topic…
You don’t have to pay these people either. You can barter. You want at least one person who knows when to use a comma, the difference between the tricky words that spell cheker won’t catch (ex. effect vs. affect), etc. So really, what you’re looking for are the surface elements to help make the sentences of your story clear. I wouldn’t stress words like “was” or “walk” or some other no-no words they tell you to avoid in some writing groups. The key to writing is to make reading easy for your reader. The words should disappear as the movie in their mind begins. The reader should forget they’re even reading a book. Have you ever been so engrossed in a book or movie that you felt as if you were right in it? I remember a couple of great movies where I got so involved in it that when it was over, I blinked and thought, “Oh yeah. I’m in a theater.” That’s the kind of experience you should aim for when polishing up the contents of your book.
That is the first part of marketing. Does anyone have anything to add to this stage of the process?