Why Personal Marketing Matters, Even if You’re Unpublished
Grub instructor and marketing expert Allison Hoch on why personal marketing for writers is important even before the book launch--even before the book sale, for that matter. You can catch Allison in person on Saturday, October 12th, in her one-day class, Marketing and Platform Building for Writers - Whether You're Published or Not.
Writing is a deeply personal and deeply creative endeavor, which is probably why many writers cringe at the thought of marketing—an activity that can seem very public and businesslike. There are many misconceptions about book marketing that can be hard to shake. But I hold the firm belief that your skills as a writer can make you just as creative in marketing your stories and poems as you are in crafting them.
Marketing, at its core, is about showing others why what you make should matter to them. Which means that marketing doesn’t have to wait until you’ve published a book. In fact, the marketing you do when you’re unpublished can help pave the way for more successful publicity once you are. You aren’t just marketing a single product or work; you’re marketing yourself as a creator and a curator. So, when you’re ready to put writing into the world for your readers and fans, they’ll already perceive your work as valuable because it’s coming from you.
Not only is it important to understand the role that marketing plays in your writing career, but the more educated you are about the publishing marketing engine, the better you’ll be able to advocate for yourself. And if you’re self-publishing or self-promoting, you’ll have the language to connect fluently with promotional partners.
Personal marketing—the marketing that authors can do for themselves—is about engagement, both with current audiences and potential audiences. It’s about finding outlets that will amplify your voice and your work.
But how do I market myself when I’m nobody? The first step is to recognize that you are somebody: someone with expertise, areas of interest, and the ability to participate in the writing and reading community. I teach courses and coach authors on marketing, but I’m also a fledgling novelist. However, I don’t see these occupations as mutually exclusive. Much of the non-novel-writing work I’m doing now (teaching courses, writing blog posts, attending conferences, being active on social media) will fuel my publicity efforts once my novel begins its road to publication.
Author and journalist Nichole Bernier (The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D) laid the ground work for her book marketing by making direct connections in her community. She is an unflinching advocate and patron of her local independent bookstore, where she shops, attends events, and knew all the booksellers by name. I was one of those booksellers when I met her; she was first introduced to me as “a dear friend of the store.” She also supported the writing community at large by hosting private author events in her own home, ordering and selling the books through the bookstore as well.
Online, she developed an extensive network by forming a literary blog with her critique group. On the cusp of querying their novels, Nichole and her partners sought to develop an audience, research the publishing business, promote fellow writers, and connect with editors and agents. “Was it a lot of work? Sure. But I loved it,” she says. “It felt like we were curating our own literary magazine, and I suppose in a way we were. It also gave us a presence on Twitter, promoting literature and news and the writing of others—it’s so important to be talking about something other than YOURSELF.”
So, of course, when her beautiful novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D was published, Nichole had a ready and willing cheering squad lined up to support her. Regular readers and participants of her blog were already invested in her writing and ready to buy her novel. Her local bookstore was more than happy to host her launch event, support her at off-site events, and put piles of her book on prominent display. Knowing Nichole, as well as the quality of her work, made it easy to recommend and hand-sell her book. Not only were we selling her novel but we were also selling her, as a creator and a member of the community.
Author Josh Funk (How to Code a Rollercoaster) found that in-person connections were critical to his break-out as a picture book author as well. He’s a board member of the Writer’s Loft in Sherborn, MA, and has been an active member and organizer for the New England Regional SCBWI conference. Leading up to the publication of his first book, Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, Josh visited, patronized, and attended author events at regional bookstores, allowing him to build a network of local booksellers, fellow authors, and educators. When Lady Pancake released, he already had a built-in audience ready to invest in his work. “If you support other authors, stores, and educators, you never know where they’ll lead,” he advises. “Plant lots of seeds and see what grows.”
Josh also uses social media to his advantage. He has a robust website with resources for readers and educators, plus over 10,000 followers on Twitter. He actively promotes and retweets his fellow authors. This online networking has led to Skype visits, events, and most importantly, new readers. “Twitter allowed me to connect with educators across the country and globe,” he says. “All of these personal connections led to more exposure for my books, more ease in setting up store and school visits, and got the book in front of more faces than I would have had I relied solely on a publisher’s sales, marketing, and publicity.” Josh has published over 10 books in four years and has two more being released in 2020.
Personal connection, like the kinds Nichole and Josh have fostered, is the strongest tool in an author’s marketing toolkit. That connection can be to the content or to you. For new authors, content can be a hard sell—they don’t know the quality of your work. But they can know your quality—through your participation in social media, the book world at large, or your local community. That’s why genuine book recommendations sell books and Twitter-spam-bot ME ME ME BUY MY BOOK posts don’t—one is fostering connection, while the other negates it by being pushy and impersonal.
On Saturday, October 12th, I’ll be at Grub, teaching a short seminar on marketing for writers, published and unpublished alike. Because I believe you can begin cultivating connection at any point in your writing career. Whether it’s through social media, op-eds, blog posts, podcasts, or in-person networking through conferences, writing courses, and author events, you can be a present and active participant in your areas of expertise right now.
Allison Pottern Hoch is a writer and event coach with over a decade of experience in marketing, publicity, sales, and event planning. She spent four years promoting academic titles at The MIT Press before she went to work for Wellesley Books as a bookseller and event coordinator. She organized, hosted, and promoted over 150 events during her tenure, ranging in size from intimate workshops and lunches to multi-media events with over 700 attendees. She worked with veteran authors, celebrities, and debut authors alike. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University where she coordinated the Adamson Visiting Writers series. Allison is currently working on her second novel and teaching courses on writing and marketing at Grub Street and The Writer's Loft. For more information on her workshops and coaching services, visit http://www.pottern.comSee other articles by Allison Hoch