Good luck with that. Who wants to buy a rock? Well, maybe you remember when there was a "pet rock" craze in this fair country of ours. Everybody was buying their own pet rocks, taking them home, painting them, putting them in a hamster cage. Walking their rocks. (I don't know who came up that idea. Somebody help them, please.)
It was quite a fad for a while. And let's face it, it had nothing to do with the rock. It had everything to do with the way it was marketed. Under normal circumstances, no (halfway) sane person will pay five bucks for a rock that they could pick up on the side of the highway for free. But if you know how to market that rock, you just might be a millionaire tomorrow.
But let's forget the rocks.
Let's talk about novels.
Marketing a novel can sometimes feel like trying to get people to buy a rock. There are millions already on the market, and honestly, how are you going to convince people to drop a couple of bucks for yours? What makes your book better than anybody else's? Well, once you answer this question, you'll have the beginning of a comprehensive marketing plan. Like so:
- Ask yourself, "What makes my book unique?" Don't turn into an egomaniac over it. Just ask yourself this honest question. What makes your book different than all the rest? Is it the story? The characters? The research? Your voice? Find the element that is yours alone and write it down.
- Look ahead. It can be helpful to see what kinds of books have sold in the past, but it can also be detrimental. Remember that the publishing industry literally shifts every few hours, and peoples' tastes and preferences are changing with it. Find a surefire genre or category you believe in and write the story that you want to write.
- Don't cram your story into a mold. Did anybody ever tell you that following the crowd isn't a smart thing to do? Maybe they did. Maybe they didn't. I'm here to tell you it's not. If you have a story that's historical but science-fiction is what's selling right now, don't sacrifice the dignity or original idea of your plot to fit into the market. Remember that the market will come back to you, and if your story is good enough, people will buy your book regardless of categorization.
- Don't "go with the flow." Over the years I've seen books change. YA novels have become substantially grittier, and the subject matter is oftentimes X-rated material. I'm not here to preach, but I'm telling you now: Don't put that kind of stuff into your novel just because you want to fit in with everybody else. I'll often read books that have a random sex scene thrown into the story, and it doesn't even fit the mood of the book. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call killing the dignity of your storyline. Keep it real; don't succumb to the pressure.
- Stay positive. I don't care if you sold one copy or one thousand copies. You need to stay positive. Nobody wants to be associated with a loser, so don't jump on Twitter and start complaining about lousy book sales. Everything should always be eternally rosy, regardless of whether or not you feel like doing a happy dance all the time.
- Market Yourself. You are as much of a product as your book. Your name as an author is a selling point, so stay professional. No creepy bathroom self portraits off your cellphone. No vulgarity. No political rants. Nobody wants to see that kind of stuff. People these days want to smile and laugh. They want to be impressed. So...impress them.
Marketing yourself isn't easy. Next week I'll talk about the technical details of marketing your novel, but it's always good to start with a little common sense. Examine your novel and yourself. Get your image together before you start selling your wares, and your chances of success will rise substantially.