Monday, October 1, 2012

The Hunger Games and Marketing Your Novel

by Stephanie Morrill

I haven't talked a ton about marketing on Go Teen Writers for a few reasons:

  • Writing is much more fun to talk about.
  • It's not applicable to many of you
  • I'm hardly an expert.
But apparently I've mentioned marketing enough to prompt an email from a writer saying, "What exactly is marketing and what is expected of novelists?" Which is a great question to be asking if you want to be a professional writer because marketing is part of the package.

Marketing is a hot button issue among novelists. In my few years in the industry, I've noticed none of us want to do it. We all feel guilty for not doing more, but we can't tell if our efforts are making much of a different, and we basically all agree that a well-written book is the best marketing tool we have to offer.

I've also heard a few professional writers say they're not doing any marketing other than media-related stuff that their publishing house has set up for them (book tours, magazine interviews, blog tours, etc.) They think it's ridiculous for a writer to be expected to market, and they're not going to put any effort into it.

Those writers, I've noticed, tend to be established authors with strong sales. Writers who actually collect royalty checks. Writers who - I'm venturing a guess here - haven't had conversations with their publishing houses about disappointing sales numbers or getting cut. Writers whose books have done well in the market; sometimes because the book is excellent and sometimes because of the timing, more often because of a combination of the two.

In The Hunger Games, one of my favorite scenes is when Katniss and Peeta are on the rooftop the night before the games begin. Peeta says he doesn't want them to change him, that if he's gonna die - which he assumes he is - he wants to be himself. Katniss says, "I just can't afford to think that way." And she can't. She has her mother and Prim to take care of, whereas Peeta doesn't. He has only himself to consider.

And when it comes to marketing, I encourage you to take a Katniss approach. Maybe your book will sell thousands of copies with no effort from you, and maybe you won't struggle to find your place among the crowded shelves and crowded lives of readers ... but if you want to keep writing and publishing novels, you can't afford to think that way.

Because I know wonderful writers who have written amazing books that for whatever reason didn't sell. Maybe it's the timing of the release or shelf placement or a sales team that simply couldn't figure out how to get bookstores to stock them. Maybe it's a cover that didn't appeal to the target audience or backcover copy that didn't do justice to the story. And as a writer you can choose to get bitter about that kind of stuff, or you can recognize that no one cares more about your book selling than you and you can learn to market it.

Here I am at my first book signing. Totally terrified and trying to smile my way through it!
This includes but is not limited to:
  • Going into bookstores and asking about doing a signing. Then doing everything in your power - sending out postcards, offerning bribes - to get people into the store.
  • Buying ads on Facebook or Google
  • Blogging ... but in a way that makes people want to buy your books. (The Pioneer Woman is an amazing example of this. She's posted more recipes on her site than I could cook in a year ... but I still own both her cookbooks.)
  • Blog tours.
  • Giving away books to people who will influence others to buy them.
  • Coming up with curriculum you can teach in schools or libraries or writers conferences. Also, letting your area schools know that you're available for Career Days.
  • Something shareable on-line. There's surely an industry term for this, but again - I'm not a marketing expert. When Jill Williamson's Replication was coming out, they released a "What's your expiration date?" widget thingamajig where you typed in your birthday and it told you when you would "expire." This creates curiosity and buzz about the books.
  • Book trailers. Which are like movie trailers, only for books.
  • Activity on Facebook or Twitter.
While expensive marketing efforts can't do much for a bad book, they can boost sales for a good book. Because what you really want to generate is word-of-mouth stuff, but that can only happen if your book is out there circulating.

I sat on a panel with Jeff Gerke, the publisher of Marcher Lord Press, at a conference, and he was asked if he thought marketing mattered. He shared that Jill Williamson (that's our Jill) is his author who promotes and markets the most, and that she's also his top selling author. He said his next bestselling author is also the author who promotes/markets the second most.

While your first priority absolutely should be writing the best book you can, investing the time in marketing when the book releases means getting to write and publish more books in the future.

When I was first published, my instinct was to bury my head in the sand and pray that the ugly marketing requirements would just go away. Eventually I learned to find marketing things that I enjoy, like blogging and school visits. And I learned to accept that being a professional writer required seasons of marketing.

I hope this is helpful to those of you who are looking down the road at what's required of today's novelist. If you have questions, I'll do my best to answer.

37 comments:

  1. Okay so I have a question :D What if you publish your story through Amazon.com and you can't do book signings/don't have a publishing house behind you? I know that twitter, blogs and telling friends is one way to get the word out, but are there other ways to spread the word of your book?

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    1. RandomThinker, I don't have any experience with marketing a digital-only title, so I don't know how helpful I can be, but I have a few thoughts.

      1. The cover remains super important. A lot of people forget that when it's only available in ebook, but when you write articles or do interviews, your cover typically gets featured.

      2. You'll have to promote extra hard on-line, so figure out where your target audience likes to hang out and go be with them.

      3. This one just popped into my head - Goodreads, the social networking site for book lovers, is an awesome place to connect with readers. By being an active Goodreads person - writing reviews, commenting, making book lists - you can make some good connections with people who like the kind of books you write.

      4. You can't do signings, of course, but you could still do school visits. And it seems like it'd be a good idea to print up business cards with one of those code thingies on them that people can scan with smart phones and have it go to your website or to where your book is sold.

      Others are welcome to chime in on this too!

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  2. Thanks for the helpful article! Like you said, I don't need to know this now, but being well-educated early can't hurt :)

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    1. One of my biggest regrets, Amanda, was that I wasn't more prepared for the business side of writing. I wouldn't want that to happen to any of you guys!

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  3. Thank you so much for this post Stephanie, really nice to read and helpful as well (if I will ever get that far :D) I am intrested in marketing in the first place (it is a part of my studies), so reading this is great. I do believe writers can do quite a lot to stimulate sales. I have found a big deal of authors I never heard of before, via blog tours and social media!

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  4. I LOVE The Hunger Games and that is my favourite scene out of the whole trilogy(On the training center roof the night before the games). I will definately be taking Katniss' way of things. Another thing I think is amazing about her is her determination to prove she's more than just a piece in their games, and you have to be determined to get some where with writing.(I'm just guessing...). I agree that I have also found a lot of amazing authors that I hadn't heard about without social media and blogger!!
    Sophie:)

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    1. Sophie, what I love most about that scene is that even though Peeta and Katniss have conflicting philosophies about the games, I somehow agree with both of them. Excellent job by Ms. Collins!

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  5. The more I learn about writing the more I believe that learning to write is also understanding how our brain works and how we learn most effectively. It'd seem the sa,e os true of marketing? We have to grasp what we're good at and what we're comfortable with to put ourself out there. I don't think marketing will be simple for me, I'm naturally quiet and keep to myself in groups. The whole set up your own book signing would be terrifying because I spend more time thinking people wouldn't show up or would see the advertisement and think I was being "showy"

    As far as marketing, which isn't all that about marketing, but the thought of blogging more has been on my heart. I have the hardest thing knowing what to blog about? It kind of drives me insane. I don't want to blog about myself, I'm very boring. And what else to blog about, sigh, I have no clue because I'm nit really good at anything and am pretty scatterbrained.

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    1. Tonya, it definitely takes some getting used to. I'm SUCH an introvert, but I know it was a real blessing to be able to do a book signing or to be on the morning news pumping my book, so I just had to fake it. And next time I'll be better about saying stuff like, "No, I'm not good at that so it's ineffective marketing for me."

      And I understand about blogging too. It took me awhile to figure out my niche in the blogging world, and it's something you have to figure out yourself :(

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    2. Why can't we just tale a quiz that says this is your niche?! Actually, I think I'm zeroing on what what my fiction platform would be if I'm an author. Maybe that'll help me figure out what to blog about in due time.

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    3. But when you figured it out, Stephanie, whoo-wee, watch out! :)

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    4. Oh, you're so sweet, Rachelle! Just needed to find fun people to hang out with :)

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  6. I'm currently rewriting my novel; I wrote the first draft last summer/fall, and I'm working on the second draft now. I'm hoping to get it in good enough shape to be published, and so while marketing doesn't apply to me quite yet, I appreciate this advice/information anyway!

    What I've read about marketing before has overwhelmed me, but this post definitely makes it seem manageable to me, so thank you!

    PS I love that photo of your first signing - don't worry, you look perfectly confident to me! :) I'm willing to bet I'll be just the same once I'm published - scared out of my wits and smiling through it! ;)

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  7. I think I'm one of the few creative people who also gets excited about the idea of marketing. I like the idea of shareable online thingies. Any other examples of those?

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  8. Thank you very much for this! I've often wondered about the different ways of marketing. It always sounded so foreign and scary to hide-in-imaginary-closet-and-never-comment-or-do-anything-online-that-would-attract-much-attention me. I find the idea very exciting, though!

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    1. What? Really, Ms. NG? Not attracting much attention, huh? I thought that was what Herbert was for...;)

      Besides, you're too awesome to not attract attention :)

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  9. Wow, the title really got me interested. It was a great post, Stephanie! It really helped me understand the bid scary-monster of marketing, in which I was so lost in :) Thanks again!

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  10. Thank you for the post!
    Even though it'll be a while before I have to really worry about it, marketing has always been confusing to me. I'm not a very outgoing person, but I think online marketing could work for me someday when I need it.
    And I liked the Hunger Games reference :)

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  11. This was extremely helpful :) I'll have to learn more about marketing, I believe it will help me in the long run when I get published and it might make my editors, publishers and stuff like me that much more lol.

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  12. As I have gotten older, the expectation may have been the opposite, but, I have become a more private person. It's harder to get out of my comfort zone. It's silly, but after signing all my contracts (when the time comes), can't I just hire someone to do the marketing for me?
    Being shy doesn't even begin to define ...

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    1. From Amo Libros:
      You're not alone Debby!! I went through a stage like that. Part of the secret is being comfortable with who you are/what your goal in life is.
      Also, finding a good group of friends who are only mostly introverts helps a lot - it lets you do things out of your comfort zone while still having a comfort zone.

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  13. This is a really helpful post - having a list of marketing ideas makes the concept a lot less scary. :-)

    Having taken a marketing class last semester and an advertising one this semester (but not related to the publishing industry, unfortunately), I can actually provide the technical term for the "something shareable online," lol. :-) The expiration date counter you mentioned, and things similar, are types of guerilla marketing or guerilla advertising (guerilla as in sneaky soldiers who jump out at people, not gorillas as in giant primates) - the idea is to come up with some way to advertise that people simply won't think of as an advertisement, and will think it's so cool and original that they'll mention it to their friends. For example, a while back, McDonalds paid NYC to let them paint a cross-walk yellow like French fries and then paint a McDonald's fry holder on the street below it. But obviously, online ones are way cheaper - all it takes is a really original idea. ^_^

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    1. Oh, thank you, Sapphire! I had heard the term guerilla marketing but hadn't applied it to the shareable online thingies :)

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  14. Great post, thanks! Is it strange to see all of this and think, "Whoa! That sounds so scary! I can't wait to try it all out!" ??? ;)

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    1. Not at all, Anna! That's the way I feel when I look at it too :)

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  15. Thank you so much for this post. I just have one question. You know how you walk into a bookstore and all of the books, in the YA section at least, have New York Times Bestseller on the front? Have those books been out for a while or have the authors already made a name for themselves by that point? Because I feel like I never hear of most books until they already are bestsellers, and I was wondering who made them bestsellers. I'm not really sure if this makes any sense, but I'm not really sure how to phrase this question. Thanks!

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    1. That's a tricky question to answer, but I'll share what little info I know. For one thing, the NYT list is based on "sell-in" numbers, not "sell-through" numbers. Which means they're tracking how many books get sold to bookstores and they don't factor in how many books get sold to customers. So it's always possible that a bunch of those books will get returned to the publisher. But this is why that pre-release buzz is so vital and why you want people going into bookstores and pre-ordering your book. That's huge for creating those numbers.

      Sometimes the books have already been in hardback and these are the paperback versions, so they've already been floating around for awhile. But if you're like me, sometimes they're authors you just hadn't been aware of. That happened to me with Sarah Dessen about 8 years ago when I happened to pick up This Lullaby at Barnes and Noble. I thought I had totally discovered her. And then I learned they'd already made a movie out of a couple of her books ... and then her next release, The Truth About Forever, hit the NYT list.

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    2. From Amo Libros:
      Something I noticed: ever since Harry Potter became a big deal, NOT telling people what a book is about/main plot while still leaving little clues and/or sprinkles of information around seems to make everybody go nuts over it...

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  16. That sounds like fun. But, uh, first -- to publish the book. ;)

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    1. True, true. :) I've heard that might be a bit tricky, in a few cases or so . . . For me, I also need to finish writing and revising the book. I'm looking forward to it, though.

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    2. And apparently Australia doesn't really do the agent thing... well we can all help eachother out. Maybe put all our money together and start our own publishing house ahaha!

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    3. From Amo Libros:
      Yeah, finishing my first draft would be good. Research wouldn't hurt either...
      A publishing house by teens for teens? I would totally support that, whether I'm still a teen by then or not!

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  17. And of course anything mentioning The Hunger Games is an epically awesome post. :P

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  18. I think marketing can be fun! Book tours, YouTube videos, signs...I can't wait to start. I'll admit I used to be really shy and hated talking to strangers but I can't wait until my book is published so I can go to bookstores to ask if they'd be interested in a signing!

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  19. Katniss never actually said that in the book. It was said in the movie :)

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    1. That's true, it is just in the movie. Though the sentiment is implied in the rooftop scene in the book as well.

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