Merchandise and marketing – two sides of the same worked-over page. Somehow as writers we’ve forgotten we’re running a business. Somehow it’s always been enough to have sweated out the wordage, expected publishers to turn out the cake and then tempt us off the shelf on high days and holidays to talk up the product.
It’s no longer correct to say that things are changing in publishing: They have changed. Due to the simultaneous but otherwise unrelated advances in technology and the introduction of creative writing courses into tired old arts courses, they changed fairly radically a decade or more ago. ‘Creative writing’ – a term I hate – is taught everywhere. At universities, TAFEs, by writers who can’t make a living from writing – and by various competition organisers, publishers and literary agents for much the same reason. There’s a ready market of hope to be mined by offering to teach the creators of 999 out of every 1000 manuscripts to write. With no guarantee of publication, mind you, but once you’ve put your heart into something – and then some – you’re willing to give it any chance you can at life.
So, yes, things have changed. Instead of submitting to one publisher at a time, writers now submit to multiple publishers simultaneously. You don’t need a pass in Marketing 101 to figure out the flooded market or to imagine the frustration of publishers crushed under an increasing slush pile or the angst of writers whose submissions often go unacknowledged. If you don’t hear back, you can assume rejection.
The downside of all this is for writers is not the increased competition – competition is a vital part of any vibrant marketplace – but getting the story read.
If I knew the answer I’d be richer than Rupert. But what I do know is that few of the courses mentioned above teach marketing along with writing skills. And I know you need both, never more so than now. I also know that no longer can we, as writers, get away with hiding behind our shy and retiring selves. Whether we aim to self-publish or publish in the traditional way through a publisher, we need to learn how to effectively promote ourselves and our product.
So maybe Marketing 101 isn’t such a bad idea after all. If we produce something – a manuscript – we have to step up to the mark and take responsibility for the marketing of that product – the short story, the book – either alongside our publisher or by ourselves. Like any professional or business owner that means figuring out our market niche, doing the sums, knocking on real or virtual doors. The three Marketing Ps of Product, Price and Placement are as relevant as ever, but to that mix I’d add my own three: Passion, Pride, Professionalism.
At the very least we need a shop front: a website or blog page, business cards, an active social media presence. Get help from the professionals; two I can personally recommend are digital website designer Kristy Haines at http://kristyhaines.com and for your personal branding, consumer psychologist Glennys Marsdon at www.glennysmarsdon.com. Writing is a business like any other.
Photo: nimu1956 iStock Photos