I promised some posts on marketing and today we have Karen Chase, author of Brand the Author (Not the Book), who brings a wealth of experience to this topic. Her first historical novel about the signing of the Declaration is Carrying Independence, chosen as number 12 of the top 100 indie novels by Shelf Magazine in 2019. Welcome, Karen.
Writing can be a rather solitary business. Publishing, however, is not. Editors, proofers, designers, and more, join us in getting a book to market. But once the jubilation of our book launch is over, we historical novelists —whether self- or traditionally-published—often find ourselves alone again and suffering from PPMB.
What is PPMB?
Post-Publishing Marketing Blues. It’s that moment when most authors realize all those book marketing tasks—writing blogs, newsletters, book talks, advertising, giveaways, publicity, etc.—are our responsibility, and if we don’t handle it book sales will trickle to a drip. Call it disappointment. Call it confusion. Call it the “I wanted to be a writer, but I don’t know squat about marketing” blues. Marketing has been my day-job for twenty-five years, yet quite frankly even I curl into the fetal position at the notion of Amazon advertising keywords.
What is a solution to PPMB?
We need to look at marketing as a collective task. Just as psychologists will tell you about depression, one method to combat PPMB is to create a supportive social network. For historical novelists in particular, I suggest other authors found on our own historical novel shelves. Therein is a marketing collective, but it requires us to reframe the way we describe authors and books similar to us/ours.
Authors and books are not competitive
Agents and publishers love for authors to provide “comparative” or “competitive” book titles. While that’s helpful in knowing where our book might sit on shelves, it is entirely unhelpful when it comes to marketing. Why? Readers aren’t combative about books. “Competitive” assumes readers will always choose one book or author over another, but not likely choose both. Yet readers can be both loyal and exploratory. Consequently, we need to be both loyal and exploratory, too. And that begins by putting our fellow historical novelists into two new categories.
Authors who are “complementary”
A complementary author is more often a big-deal writer who inhabits your same era or themes. Do you write Tudor-era historical fiction? So does Phillipa Gregory. She is similar in some (or many) ways, but you don’t know her, and especially because of her status, you likely can’t connect with her. And yet, you absolutely want her readers to pick up your books. You want her followers to fall in love with you, too. Consequently, you need to watch her and her followers (no, not stalk) and then mimic (no, not steal) the methods of her marketing resonating most with those readers. Is her biggest engagement in Instagram or on Facebook? Does she attend conferences where you might one day speak? Are more of her followers in America or the US? You wanna do just like she do. Fish in the same water. It’s plentiful.
Authors who are “cooperative”
Cooperative authors, however, are the type you can easily connect with who share the same readers. Lars Hedbor and I both write Revolutionary War fiction, so we can —and have—worked together in order to expand our individual readership. Along with other historical novelists, we’ve done giveaways together. He provided a blurb for my latest book, and we’ve been on a panel together. I refer readers to him all the time, and we’ve even shared ideas about marketing—what’s working, what isn’t. Even though we have truly “worked together” on marketing tasks a few times, his insights and our sharing have impact. They reduce some of our efforts to grow our readership while together we expand the size of our collective fishing pond.
Where to find cooperative historical authors
Within the historical novelist world there are easy methods for finding like-minded authors. I’m a member of the Historical Novel Society, and it’s through them I’ve met some truly amazing and gracious authors willing to share resources. Literary societies like HNS and also my local James River Writers have been fertile ground via their conferences, online groups, and even their newsletters and book announcements. The key is to not be shy, and to politely ask for a chat to start things off. Ask for a phone call or zoom chat. Be authentic.
How to work with cooperative authors
Definitely, we must recognize a cooperative relationship is not built on give-and-take. It’s built on graciously walking the marketing road together. After my first novel, Carrying Independence launched, I reached out to an author I thought might be cooperative. While she quickly outlined how to help her launch her latest book, which I did, she was non-responsive when my shoe was on her foot. To avoid such disappointments, I’d recommend having that good old fashioned adult conversation first. Clearly state what you’re offering to do for them, and ask what they in return might do. And if someone offers something—like a space in their newsletter—offer something in return of equal or greater value. A shared ad on social media. Or perhaps give away a copy of their book to your readers.
A final word on marketing for historical novelists
While writing conferences bolster our writing chops and networks, keep in mind that other authors aren’t our best readers. (Ahem, we’re all writing here!) Our best readers are super fans of the era. Consequently, we need to go to events outside of writing-related conferences, and plop ourselves smack dab in the middle of where those super fans get all moony. Renaissance fairs. Regency balls. Reenactments. War memorial events. You may find other authors at such events, or you might propose panels and events at these conferences with your cooperative authors. Split table costs. Share newsletter sign-ups. Create book bundles to sell together. Be creative. Be generous to your fans.
The outcomes of all this cooperative marketing
Surely an outcome is more readers who find you and fall love with your books. Although quite honestly, I think that’s the second best outcome. The first is that you find a group of like-minded cooperative authors who make this whole marketing thing a little less painful and a whole lot more fun. For that, we can all say a big Huzzah!
Many thanks for sharing these helpful insights, Karen. Being with like-minded authors who are prepared for some ‘quid pro quo’ as well as friendship is a real joy.
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FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.