A Snowball’s Chance in Marketing

I recently received an email from someone on my “official Michaelbrent Collings Facebook Fan Page” (which is still kinda weird to have, truth be known), asking in essence what he could do to sell his books to more than just his close personal friends and family… and promising me a kiss on the lips if I could help him out.

Now, first of all, please let me be clear: if you know a famous author, or a successful author, or even a semi-famous or semi-successful author, this is generally not the way to get help. It is considered “solicitation” in a lot of cases and is illegal in many states. However, because he and I have had a lot of previous interaction and he buys all my books and seems nice and has never (as yet) tried to make a lampshade out of my face-skin, I answered. And I thought the answer might be germane to others who have gotten over that huge first hurdle of getting a book published, but now face the surprisingly bigger hurdle of actually trying to sell the durn-dang-darn thing!

Rest easy. It never gets easy. I’m one of Amazon’s bestselling horror writers, nearly every book I write hits one of their major bestsellers lists and most of them stay there… and I still have to spend about 40 percent of my time doing PR work and getting the word out. So it’s always going to be a job, folks. But… well… here’s what I told my fan:

If you ever want to dissuade someone from helping you, promise them a kiss on the lips.

Seriously, the thing of it is that there’s no easy answer. It’s like rolling a snowball down a mountain, I suppose. The bad news is that at first… you have a snowball and it’s tiny and it rolls really freakin’ slow and you’re going to be coaxing it along every step of the way. Telling people you know about your book at parties, random gatherings, funerals. Telling people you DON’T know about it at bus stops, waiting in line at the supermarket, funerals. Carrying around business cards with your website on it. A great tactic I like to use is engaging people in conversation and then saying slyly, “So what kind of books do you like to read?” after they say anything I can use to segue into that. Like a statement about their baby, or the weather, or the fact that they hate reading. You basically have to hear everything as an invitation to talk about your writing.

This does not get you invited to the cool parties.

The bad news is, at the end of the day you still have to push that freakin’ snowball along constantly. The GOOD news is… the bigger it gets, the more surface area it has. And that means that eventually it will start picking up snow at a faster rate. Hopefully.

Again, there’s no easy answer. Talk to people you don’t know. Google book review sites, looking for folks that might be interested in reviewing your novel and offer to send them a free e-copy. Google podcasts and internet radio stations that might want to talk to authors of books like yours and send them your SHORT (like, three sentence) bio and offer to chat with them at their convenience. Push that snowball.

Patience. Work. Tenacity.


Now, again, this is not the fistful of flowers and sunshine that most people want to get when they ask about selling their books. But the reality is that the hardest work starts when you type “The End” and turn off the computer. The difference between a great author and a successful one is that the successful one knows how to get out and sell, to work the system and network and make contacts. Anyone can do it, I think, but precious few people really want to.

Be one of the ones that does.

Posted by in Writing Advice

I Love You I Love You Now PUBLISH ME

Some time ago I had a phone call. It went like this:

“Michaelbrent! Hey, it’s John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.*”

“Hey, JJJS,” said I. ‘Cause that’s how I roll, baby. “What’s up?”

“Not much,” he said. “Hey, I know we haven’t talked in about five years, but thanks for sending me an update every so often.”

“Welcome,” I said. I am pithy that way.

“We at ABCDEF Production Company* want to option a script you gave us five years ago. We’d also like to pay you a borderline-obscene amount of money to do rewrites on it.”

“Okay,” I said. I hung up, then ran through the office where I work screaming something like “I RULE!” over and over again. I may also have been nude. The details are hazy.

Okay, so did you catch the most important part of the above? No, it wasn’t the “obscene money” part (it’s my FAVORITE part, but not the most IMPORTANT part).

Anything? Anything? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

The most IMPORTANT part of the above was the part where JJJS mentioned my periodic updates.

Creative writing is a lot like dating: you never know who will turn out to be “the one.” The one publisher who puts your work in front of a million people. The one agent who will get your work in the right hands. The one producer who will call out of the blue to offer you a bucket o’ cash to do work on your own work. So, because you don’t know who will be “the one,” you treat them ALL like they are prospective life partners.
This doesn’t mean “be needy.” Nothing turns off “the one” like you – yes YOU – calling every day in the vain hope that he/she/it will realize that you are “the one” for them.

But everyone likes to know they are important. This is true as much in publishing and movie-writing as it is in dating. So you must walk that fine line between “needy” and “forgetful”: any time you make a significant contact – someone who loves your work (for real, not in the “I loved it but no thanks” kind of way you see in so many polite rejection letters) but who cannot, for outside reasons, help you or move forward with it right now. This could be a publisher who has his next two years of publications already mapped out, an agent with an extremely full dance card, or even a new friend you meet at a book convention who may someday provide a nice review of one of your books. In any of these types of situations, make sure you follow up your new contact with a personal note – email or the “old fashioned” kind.

The note should do three things:

1) Remind them who you are (e.g., “It was nice to meet you during the panel at ABC Book Conference the other day,” or “I had a hoot listening to your lecture at Barnes and Noble last Thursday,” or “Thanks for not pressing stalking charges in court over the weekend”). These people meet lots of folks, so say something to give them a gentle hint of where you met and who the heck you are.

2) Thank them for any advice or kind words they gave you. People like to hear gratitude. Be sincere, not fawning, but be appreciative. “I LOVED EVERYTHING YOU SAID AND DID FOR ME… IT CHANGED MY LIFE” is not as effective as “Thanks for reading my book Billy: Messenger of Powers – your kind words were appreciated, and even though we can’t work together right now because of your busy schedule, your courtesy and professionalism were wonderful to see.”

3) Let them know you will keep in contact. Not “I look forward to seeing you as I peep out from behind your closet door tonight” – this is definitely a turn-off to “the one.” But you might consider something like “If you don’t mind, I’d like to keep you in my list of contacts so I can drop you a line from time to time.”

Then, after you’ve sent the missive, schedule a follow-up for three months, six months, or even in a year. Just enough so that when they run out of work, or need some writing services that you would be great at providing, you will be there for them. You goal is not to consume their lives, but to position yourself as someone who is always on their “short list” of people who can do something for them at a moment’s notice.

Because folks, chance and fame only come a-knockin’ once in a while. So you better be home when it does.

And it also helps if, when fame looks at its schedule for the day and sees it has an opening or two, your name is the first one that pops into its head.

Make relationships. Then maintain them. Because you never know…you might have met “the one” already.

* The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Except mine. I ain’t innocent: I stole a candy bar in fifth grade, and the whisperings about me having something to do with the assassination of Darth Vader are entirely true.

Posted by in Writing Advice