If I were to list personal predictions for 2016, they wouldn’t include an email from an agent or publisher with a contract for one of my books. 2015 looked pretty hopeful for Carbon Run, with encouraging words from one agent, who suggested stronger interest if I’d only have a professional editor go over the manuscript. I’ve done that—twice—and the agent has gone silent, even after a couple of pings. Subsequent submissions to other agents have resulted in rejections or more silence. That means I’m facing a choice to keep submitting it to agents and publishers or self-publish the novel myself. I’d rather do the former, but I’m ready to do the latter.
Either way, I’ll need to build a marketing platform. Do I have to do it even if a publisher buys the novel? Yes. There’s a persistent myth among aspiring authors that once a publisher picks up your work, all you have to do is sit back and watch the royalties roll in. That may be true with the top 1 percent of revenue-generating authors, but for the 99 percent like you and me, you’re on your own as far as marketing is concerned. The main things that publishers bring to the table these days are distribution to bookstores, access to top-tier reviewers (really a marketing tactic), and the imprimatur of a brand in the case of the major publishers. In the case of independent authors, well, you have to do EVERYTHING except run the press.
In 2016, the social media planks of a marketing platform are more important than ever. Once I realized that indie publishing was a growing possibility, I started thinking about building my brand so far. Until about a week ago, I had a blog, a desultory Facebook page, an active Twitter account, an okey-dokey Pinterest account, and a few odds and ends, such an Ello account I didn’t maintain. That’s not enough, I concluded. Before doing anything, I wrote a branding statement, which is evolving into a marketing plan. I’m not waiting, though, to complete the plan before demolishing the platform in order to save it from failure.
My social media remodel began with the realization that creating memes was a way for me to make my blog more interesting. They also mean more shareable visual content in social media. In a medium where images are paramount, the ones I used on my blog were perfunctory and boring. That had to change. I also needed to ratchet the likeability variable, a key piece of the all-important shareability equation. I started making memes focused on my writing themes of climate change, as well as the writing process itself. It’s early days, but making memes is fun, and I’ve received some early positive feedback.
My consideration of memes led me to re-evaluate my entire social media presence. My blog is the core content creation and delivery tool, and all my social media accounts take their cues from it. For example, the majority of social media services, such as Facebook and Twitter, let you set a customized header image, in my case, a map of Antarctica while I work on the first draft of Antarctica 2261. I’ve updated all my accounts with this feature to include the same map, visually connecting the blog to everything else. Accomplishing this goal meant a new WordPress theme for the blog, which I’ve installed.
As it turns out, WordPress offers a feature allowing automated posting of new posts to most major social media services, which provides a convenient structure for thinking about a social media strategy. I’ve switched on all but one of these automated options (the exception being an online store, which is too much for me now). I also created a Tumblr blog, one of the WordPress “publicity” options, something I hadn’t considered until now. In my marketing plan, I noted the audience and purpose of each account to guide how I post to each. Even using the automated update features available through WordPress and the individual services, I’ll have to spend more time managing these accounts, but that’s the price authors pay these days to reach their goals. The writerly life is no longer just about writing stories, if it ever was.
Here’s a list of my accounts and links thereto: Ello, Facebook (page), Goodreads, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and Wattpad. You’ll notice that Instagram is not on this list. I live in front of my laptop, and as of this writing, there’s no brain-dead way to update Instagram accounts via the web. (If you know of one, comment below.)
Marketing is an art, not a science, though the results are measurable. I won’t know if my remodel, like a house remodel, will increase my value to a publisher or show up in terms of book sales until my sci-fi novels go on the market. However, I’ve done what feels right, and my instincts generally serve me well. Wish me luck!
What do you think of my new WordPress theme?