Book’s Aren’t Chainsaws

Opinions are totally my own and no one else’s 

This weekend I sat in a room with a whole lot of very successful, very romance smart writers discussing marketing and self-publishing. The entire time saw me hyperventilating over the intensity and savvy on display. As I frantically took notes, I realized I had a crap load to learn between now and September, when I release THE SUBURBS HAVE SECRETS.

I’m cool with the steep learning curve, intimidating though it may be. After all, with control comes the responsibility to know what you’re doing.

But then the conversation turned to discoverability and how to stand out in what’s become a very saturated marketplace.

Prevailing wisdom these days is that you must get your name and books in front of as many potential readers as possible as often as possible, be it through advertising or direct promotion. The hot tactic at the moment involves Instrafreebie and group author promotions to grow mailing lists, and then mail these new subscribers as often as once a week.

Now, I’ve got absolutely nothing against giving readers free content. In fact, I applaud it. Nor do I have a problem with writers promoting their work to grow their mailing lists. But emailing readers 3-4 times a month? That’s a heck of a lot of email.

Suddenly I realized why I’d been hyperventilating all day. All this talk about rapid releases and DRIP campaigns as though we were Home Depot selling chain saws.

Books aren’t chainsaws. They’re words wrung from our imagination to create something special. And yet here we are, treating them like they’re no different than any other commodity. It feels …cheap. I worry we’re giving our readers the message that our books are interchangeable rather than unique products of hard work.

Before you get out your pitch forks and run me off the reservation, let me be clear that I love that writers have choices and as someone earning basically pennies on the dollar with her traditional publisher, I really love that writers have the means to earn a decent wage.

This isn’t a rant for the return of the status quo.

It’s not a quality vs quantity rant either. We all know people who can churn out 6 amazing books in one year and a person who labored for 6 years creating one piece of dreck. Completion time isn’t a factor in a book’s superiority.

Nor is this a rant condemning direct marketing techniques – not really anyway. Constant contact and direct mail campaigns are proven marketing techniques. My fellow writers aren’t doing anything wrong or bad in selling to potential readers. It works for them.

Actually, this isn’t a rant at all so much as a lot of thinking out loud about the long-term ramifications of our hard-core marketing and how I want to approach growing my own career.

The market is indeed saturated with content. Free content. Serialized content. Published content. Our answer to this content glut has been to produce more content. How can this possibly be a good long-term strategy? At some point, readers are going to be overloaded and no amount of marketing is going to break through.

More than that, I worry that in our aggression to reach more and more potential readers, genre writers – and let’s face it, that really means romance writers — are going to self fulfill many of the criticisms we’ve spent years battling.

Many years ago I worked for a personal injury attorney who advertised on television. Strike that, I worked for one of the first personal injury attorneys to advertise on TV. A nationally-known ambulance chaser wo made a lot of money advertising and then referring cases to other law firms. We also had some wonderfully talented trial attorneys in house. Few people realized how talented, however, because their our marketing notoriety dwarfed their existence.

I’ll be honest. I sometimes worry that our genre will become more known for hawking itself than for its wonderful stories. I don’t want romance writing to be dwarfed by its marketing.

Then there’s our readers. Every day they’re getting bombarded with email advertising. (And that’s what those authors who are mailing 3-4 times a month to potential readers are doing. Direct mail advertising.) There is no way a person will read all those emails. For most people, they are nothing more than spam.

I don’t want to be spam. The small percentage of people who may open my email, and the even smaller percentage who may click through to try my release simply isn’t worth adding to the noise.

(As soon as I typed the above paragraph, my friend Selena Blake from Ecila Media’s head exploded. She’s of the opinion you need to keep your name in front of the public. For the record, I agree. A writer can’t stay silent any more than she should be the electronic equivalent of a robe-call. Surely, there’s a happy medium?)

I want to find better ways to cut through the noise. I’d rather reach fewer people and have them truly hear my message. That means using my blog and my other media to interact with readers in an authentic manner, and when I do email them, giving them something beyond an ad for my book.

In the end, I walked away from that marketing discussion with a few realizations. First, marketing isn’t one size fits all.  If you’re an author who believes in frequent email marketing, more power to you.  Every author has to find a strategy that fits their personality. Second, as an industry, we need to start thinking long term, and ask ourselves if there are consequences to gaining those few extra sales? If the answer is yes, are we, as a genre, prepared to accept them?

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