Marketing 101: What has Changed for Novelists Selling their Books

Straight out of the comments from this previous post about writing unconventional fantasy settings, author Joe Cooke asked:

If we write stories that are outside the bounds of the tried-and-true, how do we get them to market?

Dear readers, that is the million dollar question and one that I have heard many, many times. It’s also the reason why I’ve been extraordinarily hesitant to make leaps and bounds into the foray of (what has been described by some) as “writer’s purgatory.”

How the Market Has Changed

Before I talk about how to bring an unconventional work to market, I’d like to first cover why and how much the market has changed. Simply, three factors have reshaped the industry forever; the internet, the rising costs of publishing, and new forms of electronic media like the eBook readers. No longer do publishing houses have hosts of “readers” who glance through slush piles; several have “closed” submissions to first-time authors and even more prefer “named” authors only. There are a few that still have an open door policy, and agents do still exist.

Just how much has the market changed? Talk to your local librarian and ask him (or her) how they plan on archiving eBooks and author’s internet content. I have a friend who works for a university in Northern Illinois, and that’s one of the biggest questions on her mind…

How Author Marketing Has Evolved

Two words: “self” and “published.” Many established authors may argue this point, saying that “self-publishing” your work is an automatic no-no. But is it? Several authors that I know of posted good, well-written works that landed them publishing contracts not only because they wrote a really great story, but because they were able to prove demand for their work by embracing the power of the web. Social media venues, online sites, and offering their novel for free were pieces that contributed to not only making their work more accessible but — and this is the big key here — offered publishers a no-nonsense, no-hassle way to access new talent without going through traditional venues. If you prove you have readers, someone will offer to publish your work, as many of these authors have proven. (I will follow up with a separate post, because there are just too many to list).

The other way that marketing has had to evolve, is because many of the traditional channels that were once accessible to up-and-coming authors are now closed, because publishers are trying to sell books based on the author’s name and not just the story. Licensed fiction is one doorway that used to be great for new authors to explore; now publishers look at it as a way to “oversell” and guarantee fans to buy the work. As such, the name of the writer has turned into a “brand,” which forces new (or unknown) authors to get their name out there, which is yet another reason why the internet can be pretty powerful for up-and-coming pros.

My Recommendations for Marketing Unconventional Work

First, let me say I am not in the same position as other authors are, because I am about to embark on an entirely different slant — I am working on a dark fantasy novel with the intent to give away a portion of whatever I make (via normal or self-published channels) to charity. I am not an advocate of agents for inexperienced authors, because I feel that there is WAY too much volatility in the industry to be able to a) find one that will do what you need them to and b) it’s really hard to connect with an agent who will stick around for an unpublished author for the same reasons why the “houses” stray from unknowns — it’s really hard to sell a work that they don’t know “will” sell.

Write What you’re Comfortable With

I highly recommend authors write what they feel the most comfortable with and market that. I have some friends who I would consider “veteran” authors. You may or may not have heard of James Lowder, but he is someone who’s worked right alongside names like Bob Salvatore and continues to write within his comfort zone. Other authors have chosen to make concessions based on what publishers want, and if that’s not apparent you have obviously not read anything within the “paranormal romance” genre now stacked neatly in the horror section.

Explore New Publishing Venues

If you feel you have a work that is unconventional, find the publisher that will work with you by reading similar, published authors and go through whatever channels you have to in order to submit your work. If you feel comfortable self-publishing or offering up samples, then maybe that’s the way to go for you.

Attend Seminars, Conventions, and Workshops

One of the best things you can do for your unpublished book is to get out there and sell it. Go to as many seminars, conventions and workshops as you can. Bring your fanbase with you by building your online persona. Get the word out in your local town or city by hosting “readings” at your local bookstore or library. Whatever you do, do NOT put the book back on the shelf and forget about it. The more you put it out there, the better off you’ll be.

So those are my suggestions on this difficult topic, but I know that there are other authors out there experiencing this same scenario from a completely different perspective. Feel free to comment and provide feedback; if we writers don’t support one another then who will?

One Response to Marketing 101: What has Changed for Novelists Selling their Books
  1. [...] fact that I work for an online marketing agency, I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that publis... writary.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/why-do-we-blog



Monica Valentinelli is a writer, editor, and game developer. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Firefly, Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

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