Many of my novel writing students take years to produce their polished draft. Others rush the manuscript to self-publishing. Both of these kinds of students face the same problem: How do I get my name known?
Writing Tip for Today: How can newer writers gain an audience and build their reputation?
Avoid Selling: Engage
Isn’t selling something we’d all love to avoid? So many say, “If only I could write up in my little room and never worry about marketing!” As inevitable as promotion is for today’s authors, I think the best path to building a readership is NOT to focus on selling. How many annoying tweets, posts or emails do you get by a writer hawking her wares? I even had one self-pubbed student who took out news ads and billboards in our community. Hard selling might attract a few takers, but in the long run, selling is the wrong approach. While it’s true that no one can buy a book they don’t know about, it’s also true that writers should strive for gaining dedicated readers, not just making sales. Find out what your typical reader is like. What are her concerns, pet peeves, likes and dislikes? Identify some themes, places or situations in your story that your ideal reader can relate to. If your story has a Dalmatian, appeal to Dalmatian lovers. If it’s set in Central Oregon, highlight that fact. If your story is about adoption, dealing with divorce, finding second love, etc., believe it or not there’s probably a Facebook group or other website about the topic. The point is, don’t sell, ENGAGE.
Write shorter pieces while you revise that draft, agent-shop or decide on self-publishing. Newspapers, anthologies, contests, blogs and magazines (even e-zines) all need material. While you may think you haven’t a chance against seasoned journalists, these pieces don’t have to be front-page material. Human interest stories, interesting trivia or other novel-related material can be the basis for a short article or essay. By writing and submitting short pieces, you are not only building that readership for any published piece, you’re getting a valuable education in how the business works. A few rejections can help you toughen and thicken that skin of yours and help you learn how to target what the periodical needs. Learn to read guidelines and send your stuff to the appropriate editor with a well-crafted cover or query letter. Yes, it’s work, but this is all part of the publishing game. Short pieces take much less time to produce than a book-length work, and writing more makes you a better writer.
One approach to writing shorter might be to produce material on the same themes and topics as your novel—thereby helping you to build that brand. We writers hate that branding stuff almost as much as marketing itself, but if you are seen as an expert on a subject, your credibility and name recognition will surely rise. At first you may not win the contest, or you may not get paid for your work, but you’ll be gaining vital experience and you’ll quickly see whether or not you really want to participate in this game. You’ll probably have to adapt your novel’s content to nonfiction, but personal experience essays are still in demand through anthologies such as Chicken Soup for the Soul. Fan fiction is another idea for getting your name out there and attracting readers. Start writing shorter pieces today in order to “go long” in the novel writing world.