Marketing: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

By Alison Baverstock 

Just before Christmas I attended the SCBWI conference in Winchester and yesterday I went to another conference in Cambridge.

On the way back I was daydreaming on the train (a favourite thing to do) about the experience.
I always enjoy the sense of the world being temporarily joined up – gaining a sense of commitment, purpose, and what’s going on, and I suppose the reassurance of knowing that I am reading the pulse of the market correctly.

I was a publisher, became an author and now both write about the industry/parenting, and teach an MA in Publishing at Kingston University, so it’s vital that I test out my ideas and understanding at regular intervals.

Authors who are also parents interest me particularly! I have to say that right now the plot for authors and illustrators seems to me to be both depressing and yet at the same time exciting.

While the news from the industry seems to go from bad to worse, there are glimpses of possibilities just around the corner that look pretty heartening to me.

To start with the depressing bit. Publishers are exceptionally nervous about what the move to digital content will do to their business. The demise of Borders and the transmutation of large numbers of consumers towards buying most things online means that there is less time for browsing, less time to explain a book’s specific qualities in 30 words (or however many Amazon allows), and hence the confusion and fear.

So many products, nowhere to browse and buy them.

Libraries’ budgets, if not their very existence, are under threat, and the vast mass of the population seems to have no time for reading – we heard yesterday of ‘screenagers’ who have failed to acquire a book habit at all.

Marketing is important - but have you made a product worth marketing?

And yet, and yet...the one person who does emerge with some degree of power in this hugely difficult situation is the author.

As creators of the content that publishers turn into books, they also need our networks – our connectedness – to help it all sell.

Ten years ago you would have been given leaflets to circulate. Today they want us to blog, twitter and Facebook interest in our titles. Of course many authors are uncomfortable doing this and, even for those willing to take part, you have to make a decision about how much time you are going to spend communicating if you are to have time to produce anything to talk about.

For this reason although I do blog occasionally (I rather enjoy sharpening a couple of paragraphs for instant dissemination) I don’t Twitter, and my teenage children would be horrified if I joined Facebook.

I think the secret is to think  about what you belong to, or where you could sow a seed of interest in your work at times when you could not be working on it – like walking to school or in the bath.

Friends tell me that dog walking is good for this purpose. For me exercise always clears my head and I come back from a run with a cleared brain and several good ideas. As for the optimistic bit, it does seem to me that new horizons are opening up.

You can set up a website and display your work, or consider self-publishing which, having been a sad admission of failure for so long, now suddenly seems to be a form of creativity or self-actualisation; parking a project in a finished format and so allowing you to move on with something else rather than experience endless rejection.

Polishing a piece of work for permanent keeping is an uplifting thing to do, and in six months’ time you may review it and either decide that now’s the time to try and get it published – or maybe that your work has developed an increased maturity since (which is always encouraging).

The key to it all is marketing, and I was reflecting yesterday how far this has come.

When I became a publisher in 1980, marketing was a dirty word and editors were totally dominant. Today the author who can imagine why the rest of the world might be interested in their work, and explain this to a publisher, is further down the road to finding one.

One final caveat. There is a rather worrying trend emerging in writing about writing: an undue emphasis on marketing that somehow implies that this is the most important thing of all. It’s not; the work always matters more.

Whether you are writing/illustrating for self-publication or external investment, the writing you preserve has to be as good as you can make it – or it’s simply not worth marketing.

To save reinventing the wheel, Alison Baverstock’s book on author marketing is available to you at a special price of 10% off plus free postage and packing. To order see Marketing your book, an author’s guide

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