QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Standing Out In a Crowded Market: Guest Post by Joanna Penn

Do you stand out in a crowded market?
This is a guest post from Joanna Penn of TheCreativePenn.com: Adventures in Writing, Publishing and Book Marketing. Joanna's website, podcasts, and publishing and marketing tips are fantastic resources for writers!

Three years ago I self-published my first book. It sold about twenty copies in six months despite making it onto national TV, radio and newspapers. It was utterly depressing but I knew I wanted to write more books so I needed to learn about marketing. At the time, I didn't really understand what marketing actually meant, but I knew that if no one knows who you are, no one will buy your book, regardless of how you are published.

So I began the journey of learning all about internet marketing as well as new publishing technologies. I wanted to share my lessons with other authors in order to save them time, money and heartache so I started TheCreativePenn.com as a place to share the journey and also as the basis of my own author platform. Here’s some of my lessons learned along the way.

1) Go multi-media in order to stand out.

I started to write text based articles for my brand new blog but soon discovered that I learned more myself if I interviewed experts, plus it would help more people and make my blog stand out in an increasingly crowded market. So I started The Creative Penn podcast which goes out on iTunes and also on the blog. It’s currently at 90 episodes, all freely available for anyone to listen to and has over 2000 downloads per month. The episodes are all interviews with experts in areas relating to writing, publishing and book marketing and some now feature video as well. QueryTracker’s own Carolyn Kaufman was recently on the show.

An audio interview isn’t much effort for the interviewees plus they appreciate the promotion and you get valuable content. Most people will also link back to their featured interview and share it on social networks so you get incoming links which boost your traffic and search engine ranking. Plus, if an audience listen to your voice for thirty minutes per week, they will come to know, like and trust you which means they may buy your book when the time comes for you to launch. The technology is easy to use now - here’s how you can create your own podcast. In recent months, I’ve moved into doing video interviews which have proved popular and are also unusual for the author niche as most shy from technology. Seeing an author’s body language is brilliant as generally they are hidden behind words. So the multi-media aspect will make your blog memorable, help you and others learn and also be a great way to network in the publishing eco-system.

2) Write what you love.

Many of the podcast interviews are with authors from all different genres of writing, from romance to fantasy, horror to thriller to crime and more. Each of the authors can articulate why they write what they do. It’s not for market reasons, it’s because that’s what they love to read and the experience of writing is fun if you write what you love. Listening to them gave me the confidence to write what I love - action-adventure thrillers with religious themes. You don’t have to write a Booker prize-winning literary fiction novel. Write what you love and that will sell to an audience just like you.

3) It’s ok for your first draft to suck.

This advice from Mur Lafferty of I Should Be Writing is also the basis of NaNoWriMo when I started my own first novel. It frees you from feeling inadequate as you write. So what if your characters are wooden and the dialogue is basic? So what if you repeat the same phrase over and over again? It doesn’t matter in the first draft because you can fix it later with editing. You can’t edit a blank page. The word count does matter in that first draft because you just have to get black on white. I found that Write Or Die software was the best way to get initial word count down. It just doesn’t allow any distractions. Once you have the basic material, you can then begin to work it through multiple drafts into your masterpiece.

4) Building a platform is critical and can get you a book deal.

NY Times bestselling author Scott Sigler outlined his career in one interview and emphasized the importance of building an audience in order to attract an agent and publishing deal which he did by podcasting his novels. He also noted that there is no balance in living a successful author’s life - you have to write, you have to market. His hard work motivated me immensely to continue the journey. Another group of authors stormed the Amazon charts last December with “Machine of Death” and I interviewed David Malki! on how they did it. Basically, they used the audience they had been building for years with online comics and blogs to propel them to the top of the charts. The success drew offers from publishing houses which they rejected in favor of self-publishing - their platform means they can do it themselves.

5) Publishing success can be under your control.

I interview a lot of independent (indie) authors who have self-published to sales success and who love the process and the control they have in doing it themselves. You see these authors in the Kindle charts every day now. Check out Zoe Winters, paranormal romance writer, Scott Nicholson, thriller writer or LJ Sellers, mystery-suspense author. You will have heard of Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath but there are plenty of other indie authors making money with self-publishing now. If you still dream of a traditional book deal, you can even attract one by selling incredibly well on the Kindle store. Publishing is a business, they want to sell books so if you have proven sales success, they will be far more interested in you than someone with no platform and no sales. Publishing is changing world but it’s much easier for authors to take control of their own writing careers now.

6) Build your platform from your passion.

TheCreativePenn.com is my third blog. I started the others out of a need to promote specific books, but soon gave them up because I wasn’t interested in the topics. To have a blog with decent traffic and subscribers, you need to blog consistently and well for at least six months and then with an ongoing investment of time and energy. There are no shortcuts to creating an authentic author platform and yes, it takes up valuable time, but if you enjoy it, it’s not a chore. As writers, we have an advantage in that we love to write. Blogging is a different kind of writing, but it’s still expression. The best way to build a great blog that you love is to blog your passion. I wanted to share what I learned so TheCreativePenn.com is aimed at author education and networking. But I also have MysteryThriller.tv which has video book reviews on genres I love, and yes, I also happen to write in the thriller genre too. What do you write? What do you love? Find a blog that intersects with those topics and you’ll find your blog becomes an important and rewarding part of your life.

So has all this actually made a difference?

In the first week of my action-adventure thriller novel Pentecost being released, it made the Amazon bestseller rank in four categories, including Crime, Thriller & Mystery and Religious Fiction as well as making it to #1 on Movers & Shakers. It has sold over 1000 copies in the first month and remains in the bestseller rank six weeks after launch. For all the details of my launch process, check out this article as there are some methods you can use too. This is a long way from the sad tale of my first book launch, and I’m still learning but clearly the exercise of platform building and marketing has made a huge difference to me.

Readers -- What have you learned about writing, publishing and book marketing that has made a difference to you?

Joanna Penn is the author of Pentecost, an action-adventure thriller and 3 non-fiction books. Joanna’s blog TheCreativePenn.com is one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers. Connect with Joanna on twitter @thecreativepenn

Top Image: Flickr Creative Commons Sweet Colors by Rogilde


Brigitte said...

The more I learn from writers' blogs, the more I see how similar writing is to what I learn in film college. If you don't do what you love in both those industries, it reflects through your work and, well, it just sucks. Not to mention, the competition is extremely tight, as well.

Thanks for the third point, too. I've been dreading over this draft for months! Now I feel a little more comfortable to continue with it. :)

Mart Ramirez said...

Great tips! Thanks for sharing.

Claire Merle said...

Hi Jo,

I'm already familiar with your blog and there is some fantastic marketing suggestions and advice on there. Thanks! I will keep going back for tips and inspiration!

antsaint said...

Great tips, Joanna, thank you. I recently attended a panel discussion on how to get and stay published, and one of the panel members made a great point: Yes there's a lot of work to do building a platform, but you still can do it along with the writing.

And the key to that is just as you said: if your writing and your platform are based out of what you care about, you'll be all the more able to make the time.