Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How to Succeed in Writing Without Really Marketing

I know, this probably seems like a strange title for a post
on a blog called Murder Must Advertise.

But with all the discussion today of how many lines are too
many on a sig (and I am guilty of adding them one-by-one myself), and wondering
if it could possibly be in good taste to mention your novel at
great-great-great Uncle Freddy’s memorial service—after all, the book does
have a dead body in it—I thought I’d offer six pointers that nobody will ever

1)     Have a website. Note: this tip says
nothing about telling everyone you have a website. But you have to have
one. For one thing, people will go looking for you once you have a book out,
and Googling your name is the first thing they’ll do. For another, your
publisher will want you to have one, and if you’re independently published, the
many resources indie authors have at their disposal—yellow pages, forums,
review sites—will want a link available. And finally, building yourself a snazzy
website is something you can do while you’re not marketing!

2)     Join a writers organization. MWA or SinC or ITW for mystery and suspense. There
are groups for romance, speculative fiction, and fantasy. If you don’t write in
a specific genre, join ASJA. This may be
splitting a hair, but I would call this networking, not marketing. Networking
is all about building connections and a sense of community. If down the road,
one of the writers you meet invites you to be on a panel…or to guest on her
blog…well, you can meet new readers and sell books, all while telling yourself
you didn’t even have to market to do it.

3)     Join a listserv or two. Like this one.
Here you can learn about conferences and get out to them. Most of all, you can
participate in the threads, and offer any wisdom or advice you may have. When
people post about their various events, go to them if they are nearby. If your
book is relevant to the conversation, by all means mention it. But it won’t
even matter whether you do. How many times have I gone looking to the List to
find authors who write on a particular subject because I needed them for a
panel? If you become an active participant on a listserv, people will come
looking for you.

4)     Blog. But don’t blog about yourself and
your work, or at least not primarily about those things. Instead, try another
approach. Is there some element of your book that will specifically interest
people? Say you write mysteries that concern horse racing, as author Sasscer Hill does. There is a whole subset of the world that loves horses. You can blog about them without ever
once mentioning that you have a book. Your blog will do the work for you—if you
offer content that people appreciate, they will go looking for more work
by you. And what will they find? Mysteries set in a world they already love and
trust you to depict. This can work for books that involve maps, cooking, or a
specific region. Books that involve almost anything.

5)     Blog approach #2. Another way to blog
without constantly trying to come up with something new to say about your own
book—“And on page 316, I once had to cut a comma…”—is to offer a platform to
fellow authors. Emerging writer Karyne Corum is doing this splendidly with her
website, Jerseywise Fiction. Karyne gives NJ writers the chance to talk about how setting influences their writing and process and work. Are these writers talking about their books? Of
course. But they’re being asked to—by Karyne. And that makes a heckuva

6)     Get to know independent booksellers. As
many as you can. (Caution: This one will cost some money.) Start with your
local store or stores, then widen your driving radius. Then begin identifying
bookstores anytime you travel or go out of town. Spend time in these stores.
Say hello to whomever is at the register, ask the owner’s name. Attend author
events and always—always—support the people who appear. Sooner or later, you’ll
be the author appearing, and you won’t have to set up a thing. The bookstore
owner will know you and wonder why you haven’t yet come in to talk about your
own book. Come to think of it, you don’t have to spend a lot of extra money to
make use of this tip. Simply buy books any time a holiday or gift-giving
occasion is coming up. By frequenting bookstores, you are helping to keep healthy
an industry that gives health to authors. This isn’t marketing, it’s writers

I have the sense that this post could go on and on, but
hopefully these six tips will keep you busy for some time to come—busy not

Good luck! I bet I’ll hear about your book before too long.

Jenny Milchman teaches writing and publishing for New York
Writers Workshop. Last year she founded Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, a
holiday that went viral, enlisting 80 booksellers in 30 states, England, and
two Canadian provinces. She co-hosts the series Writing Matters, which draws
authors and publishing professionals from both coasts to standing-room-only
events held at a local bookstore. Jenny features Edgar winners, international
bestsellers, and independent authors in the Made It Moments forum on her blog,
Suspense Your Disbelief. Her short fiction has been published in a collection
called "Lunch Reads I" from Istoria Books that reached #19 on the
Amazon bestseller list of mystery anthologies.

Her first novel, a literary mystery called COVER OF SNOW set in a small
Adirondack town, is forthcoming from Ballantine.


  1. Excellent tips. Even if you can't go full on with these promotional ideas, every little bit helps! You'd be surprised how far a little can go.

  2. Great tips, Jenny. I especially love Uncle Freddy. I'm afraid I'm guilty of over marketing. I tell myself people are turned off by self absorbed writers, and immediately send off another tweet about my book. We writers would be good fodder for a new TV series "Desperate Authors."

  3. Wonderful advice...I know I absolutely talk too much about my books!

  4. Sooo helpful :) Thanks for the great advice. I just joined asja.

    I'm following.

  5. Great tips, Jenny! I totally agree that the advertising or promoting gets REALLY tiring--you need to network totally differently and then let your NETWORK advertise and promote. An author tooting their own horn is annoying the second time and gets worse from there. A DIFFERENT person tooting about a book is just enthusiasm and will raise interest.

  6. Great to see all of you here on Jeff's blog! Even Sasscer, who's actually *in* the post! And Hart, returned from afar, yay :) Nice to meet you, Elizabeth, Ashley, and VR!

  7. Nice post, Jenny! I've been stalking Mysterious Galaxy folks for a while now. 'Let me in, please!' I still need to join an organization. Ai, always more to do. Thanks!

  8. Go, Jenny. Keep that tongue in your cheek. Everything you've done for other writers is going to pay off when your book is published. If building good karma is the foundation for great promotion, then you have enough foundation laid down to support a promotional skyscraper. And I'll bet every writer you know will bring a brick to help build it.

  9. Jenny,

    This is great advice. Now I just have to take it!
    As a NJ author, I just guested on Karyn's JerseyWise Fiction site. Now for the rest of it!

  10. I have tried everything. I blog about writing because I'm writing. I wrote quirky satire type zombie blogs. It did well for awhile, but people are so easily bored. I don't have a book to sell yet, maybe one day. I may have publish the damn thing myself. I read a ton of blogs on writing, and I'm not any expert per say, so I don't blog about that. I see it more as a way for people to see who I am as a writer. I will stand on my head to get attention. I agree about the website, but was told to put one back up, even if it's free.