Rachel, writing

All things novelling-related as I embark on my self-publishing adventure

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Products, Marketing and the Bad Sex Awards

There is something disconcerting about referring to your novel – 100,000 words of soul-baring – as ‘product,’ as if it were one of a million identikit widgets rolling off a conveyor belt. But, if you want to engage with readers, then they are your market and your book is your product. The challenge is to know and understand something of your potential readers and to deliver what they want.

A novel, like any product, has benefits and features. Its benefits are the core reasons that people might want to buy and read it, and central to this is entertainment. Features deliver the entertainment and include length, format, genre, language, style of writing and plot. The difficulty lies in trying to match these features to the benefit sought by a particular group of readers.

I’ll give you some examples from my own work-in-progress novel (more details here). I love music and know quite a lot about it, and my characters are working in music-related fields. Reading extracts out at the writers’ group I’ve joined generates enthusiasm from the other music obsessives there, but the group members I need to pay most attention to are the ones who don’t fall into this category. Have they heard of the bands that I mention? Do they understand the technical jargon? If not, then I may have gone too ‘niche’ and will need to do some rewriting.

Another dilemma for me is how explicit my novel should be. If you look up the erotic Shades of Grey trilogy on Amazon, you can see that its readers also bought The Hunger Games, a young adult novel where there is no intimacy beyond kissing, and Me Before You, an intense love story without any actual sexual activity. We can conclude that raunch isn’t obligatory for these readers, but they aren’t averse to it in an appropriate context.

In my almost-finished novel, lust and love are central themes of my plot; the characters’ emotional fulfilment relates to what’s happening in the bedroom. Do readers want the detail? And if they do, is it because they enjoy the escapism and some titillation, or because it makes the characters more vivid and helps the plot make sense? There is, of course, the added risk of writing something akin to a Bad Sex Award winner.

There isn’t a right answer, but there are ways of exploring options:
– Take your work to a writers’ group: Other members can give constructive feedback based on their own experiences. You’ll also learn from others’ work and the feedback they receive.
– Recruit beta readers: When your novel is as good as you can make it (your ‘beta’ version), your beta readers will be able to tell you what’s working and what isn’t. Then you edit some more.
– Read bestsellers: What do people like about them? And where are criticisms aimed? How do they work for you?
– Talk to your friends, family and colleagues: What do they love and hate in a book?

Ultimately, you need to make a decision as to where your novel fits then write for those readers. You can’t please everyone. If you can accept that some people will hate what you’ve written, then you have a much better chance of finding readers who will love it.

This blog is the second in a series on marketing for writers: for the first, see 18 May. In the next blog, I’ll be tackling pricing, costs and all things wonga-related.

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Is Marketing Your Nemesis?

Marketing is often perceived to be a bit like the picture above: lots of samey-looking offers, all competing to shout the loudest. It’s those people on Twitter that you unfollow. Those emails you unsubscribe from. The Facebook contacts you unfriend. That probably tells you something, and it’s hardly surprising to see comments from writers that they aren’t going to do any marketing. Unfortunately, a lot of ‘marketing’ that comes to our attention is from the shouty crew, and it’s not very good!

The idea of marketing seems to split writers into two camps: those who embrace it, and those who run away screaming. I’ve read a few comments from writers this week that definitely fall into the second category. As a writer who used to work in marketing, I thought it was time to put together some information that might help other writers. This will form a series of blogs as my debut novel, The Syndrome Diaries, gets ready to fly the nest. You’ll be able to follow me as I apply my marketing knowledge and see what works for me and what doesn’t. As a newbie self-publisher, I’m bound to drop a few clangers that you can learn from. Enjoy!

What is marketing?

At the most basic level, it’s about identifying a need and meeting that need. As writers and readers, we have a hunch that people need fiction for enjoyment, escapism, entertainment, to pass time on the train and lots of other reasons too numerous to list. They can cope without it, but they’d prefer not to. My market is the people who, if they knew about my book, would want to read it and would turn the last page having enjoyed the journey my story took them on.

If you’re engaging with the writing community, you’ll no doubt be hearing a lot about platform-building, but that’s only a small part of marketing, and it’s also the part that the shouties get a bit too enthusiastic about. To market effectively, you need to think more broadly. You don’t have to be a business expert, just apply some common sense across what marketers call the 7 P’s. I’ll be covering these in forthcoming blogs; in the meantime, here’s a summary:

Product – your book. What kind of book is it? What kind of need is it meeting? Who is it for? What does it do?
Price – if you’re self-publishing, what sort of return do you want to make? What costs do you need to recoup?
Place – this is what sometimes gets called the sales channel. These days it’s whether to go traditional or self publish, and whether to produce an e-book, a hard copy or both
Promotion – any activity that raises awareness of your book
Packaging – your cover design, fonts and format
Positioning – how you and your book are perceived (what’s your brand?)
People – all those involved with getting your book to its audience, including beta readers, reading groups, editors, designers, agents, your mates, your family and anyone else who’s helping out

These factors all tie in with each other. Some of them will tickle your creative tastebuds, others will seem pretty dull in comparison, but they’re all worth thinking about.

Next time: more about the #1 P – product – and my ‘raunch’ dilemma!

What’s in a name?

“As soon as you said her name, I could picture her.” That was a comment at my writer’s group, to one of the published writers there who has a gift for painting characters not just with physical description but with their names.

Names are a fundamental of story-writing. If I told you my protagonist was called Brenda, or Roxanne, or Lucy, or Kaz, then you’d probably form quite different images in your mind for each one. For a few years in my late teens and twenties, I switched to using my middle name, Justine: there were four Rachels in my class at school and I was fed up with the confusion. I never really felt like a Justine, though, and when I was persuaded to revert back to Rachel, I realised how integral that name was to my identity.

When I’ve started work on a novel for NaNoWriMo, I haven’t focused on names, but by the end of the draft I’ve often felt that characters needed re-labelling. The Syndrome Diaries is no exception: Rebecca started out as Carly, then became Edith, which didn’t suit her either. It was as if she was in a milliner’s, trying on hats, but couldn’t find the one that captured her essence. Rebecca seems right for her; it fits her socio-demographically and offers several variants – Rebecca, Becky, Beck – that the other characters know her by according to the relationship they have with her.

My next novel is already taking shape in my head, and this time, I knew the protagonist’s name almost from the outset of planning. Gillian Jeffries arrived in my head one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, and her story is taking shape there now, ready for NaNo 2012. I’d be interested to know at what stage other writers find their characters’ names. Are they the first part of your planning process, or do the names change during rewrites and edits?

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