I'm a writer. There, I've admitted it. I wonder if there's a 12-Step program for folks like me...

Most of this blog will be about writing for a living. Or maybe about trying to earn a living as a writer. Or maybe about trying to have a life while you write.

And maybe I'll be able to avoid the driving temptation to write about politics. But I'm not very good around temptation, so all I can promise is that I'll try to avoid writing about politics.

But I will write about the software I use, and the software I try out, and what I think about it. I actually spent lots of years in software testing - as a tester and as a manager of testing departments. I actually started work in software development in 1971, so I have a bit of experience with computers to back up what I have to say on this subject.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Give a Little, Get a Little – On the Cheap


You’re a writer; you’ve published one or more novels/poetry chapbooks/articles/screenplays etc., and you live in the requisite cold, draughty garret along with a few pigeons and mice, or perhaps in your parents basement with just a few mice and maybe a cat who does not really appreciate your company as much as you’d like.

And you’d really prefer an upgrade to your life. Maybe a nice beachfront condo in Maui, or at least Coral Gables. I mean, come on already. You’ve paid your dues. You’ve got all this stuff written and you know from your readers (along with your mother) just how good you are. You just don’t have all that many readers, yet.

You’re on FaceBook and MySpace, you’ve got your very own web site and you keep your blog up to date (pretty much, anyway). But the readers aren’t lining up to buy your stuff in sufficient numbers for that lifestyle upgrade to which you’d just love to become accustomed.

What’s a boy/girl/other supposed to do?

Learn. You have to become much more than  just a writer. No matter how good you are as a writer, no matter how many of your readers have taken the time to tell you (along with your mother) just how very much they enjoy reading whatever it is that you write (and I’m assuming that you aren’t paying them to tell you this stuff), being a great writer is not, in and of itself, enough to get you out of that garret (or your parents basement, for that matter).

You have to learn; about your place in the market, about how to make your potential readers aware of you and your product, about how to add value to your product for those potential readers, and about how to encourage them to take some of their hard-earned cash and put it directly into your pocket instead of mine.

Did I just say that?

Sadly, that’s exactly what I said. You, Dear Reader, are one of my many competitors in the marketplace. One of several hundred thousand, in fact. I go into bookstores, and I browse through the book pages on Amazon and I see competition (I also see lots and lots of books I’d love to read). Every one of those books was written by someone just like you. Or me.

And we, each of us, compete for every dollar any reader will ever spend on another book in his or her entire life.

There really are hundreds of thousands of writers in this world, boys and girls, and tens of thousands of books/articles/screenplays/chapbooks published every year. What makes you so special? What is it about you that a reader would want to buy your book instead of mine? How is he or she supposed to find you, or see one of your book covers as opposed to me, or one of mine?

And who in the heck is he (or she) anyway?

But I’m just a itty-bitty little ol’/young/middle-aged writer person – how am I supposed to do that when I can’t even buy myself a cup of coffee at Starbucks?

Good questions. Let’s get some answers.

First, we have to define our terms. These two definitions are from:





1. the act of buying or selling in a market.

2. the total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling.




1. advancement in rank or position.

2. furtherance or encouragement.

3. the act of promoting.

4.the state of being promoted.

5. something devised to publicize or advertise a product,cause, institution, etc., as a brochure, free sample, poster,television or radio commercial, or personal appearance.

So “Marketing” is any activity that enables you as a business person to get your products into the hands of consumers. As noted above that can (and probably should) include advertising, selling and delivering your products.

“Promotion”, then, includes advertising (getting yourself and your products before the eyes of your potential customers) and giving them a good reason to purchase your product.

Let’s start with ‘Marketing’. You really can’t sell into a market until you know what your market is.

Identify your market. Who reads your stuff now? How old are they, what kind of education do they have, what are their likes and dislikes? What do your readers have in common? Where do they live? How do they earn their living? Do they go to church/synagogue/mosque? Are they tradesmen/women? Educators?

Once you have identified the groups into which your readership (or potential readership) falls, you need to figure out how to reach them.

And that’s where “Promotion” comes in.

Write articles or get interviewed in trade magazines your readers buy. Offer to do personal appearances at libraries and book clubs, become a guest blogger on blogs that you know cater to the readers you have targeted. Redesign your web site and modify the keywords and meta tags for each page you have on your site to improve your search engine ranking. Make sure the book reviewers for your local newspapers know you’re alive and writing. Take them to lunch if you have to.

You need to get yourself and your product up out of the muck where people can see you. You have to make yourself ‘Special’. I know your mother already thinks you are and probably tells you that every day, but it’s not enough. You have to make sure potential readers think you’re special – someone they want to pay attention to – someone who’s work they know and trust and enjoy.

You need to convince those potential readers to buy any book that has your name on it because it has your name on it.

Do that, and that lifestyle upgrade you’re looking for is within your reach.

Sell yourself. You; not your books so much, but you. Everybody knows the names of Joan Collins and Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Heinlein and John Grisham, Carl Hiaasen and Randy Wayne White and John D. MacDonald. Most people could not name more than one or two titles these folks have written, but they know their names.

But they don’t know yours.

And who’s fault is that?

The titles of your books are nowhere near as important as YOUR NAME, and what thoughts and feelings people associate with your name. You need to tell people who you are and why they should prefer your work product to that of other writers in your genre. You need to convince them they have a reason – added value to them – to give you their hard-earned money.

You need to “Brand” yourself.

Here’s another definition from the nice people at Dictionary.Com (http://dictionary.reference.com)



1. kind, grade, or make, as indicated by a stamp, trademark, or the like: the best brand of coffee.

2. a mark made by burning or otherwise, to indicate kind,grade, make, ownership, etc.

3. a mark formerly put upon criminals with a hot iron.

4. any mark of disgrace; stigma.

5. branding iron

verb (used with object)

9. to label or mark with or as if with a brand.

10. to mark with disgrace or infamy; stigmatize.

11. to impress indelibly: The plane crash was branded on her mind.

12. to give a brand name to: branded merchandise.

13. to promote as a brand name.

For purposes of this article, let’s consider #’s 1,9, 11 & 13.

Send out an email blast to your readers and maybe even post these questions on your web site:

  • “what phrase would you use to describe me as an author/writer?”
  • “What other authors or writers would you compare me to?”
  • “What separates me and my work from other authors you have read recently?”

Take those results and come up with a few short phrases – say, two phrases, and turn them into a signature for every email you send out, every press release you send out and make sure it appears at the top of every page on your web site and even on your blog page. Make sure it appears on your business cards, as well.

That is your brand, and do not ever change it (unless your sales drop off dramatically, in which case you have to go back and do a bit more research).

It can take months or years to build a good brand and a good readership. This isn’t something that happens overnight – at least, not without a great deal of money, and I’m pretty sure nobody reading this has THAT kind of money laying around to invest in things like marketing, promotion and branding.

So take it slow. Do your research, and take your chances. Take small steps, study the results, note your failures and learn from them, and take yourself out to dinner when your decisions put a bit more cash in your pocket. Celebrate your victories and learn from your failures.

Just don’t quit on yourself. Ever.

I know full well what it means to go to bed hungry; I know what it means to find yourself in your car on your last tank of gas driving toward a Salvation Army shelter with a  very bleak future ahead of you. I know exactly how it feels to know that you have no job prospects in our future. My entire life has been and continues to be a hazardous experience filled with ups and downs.

I certainly can’t recommend it to anyone. But it’s what I’ve got to work with, and I’m no quitter.

I am, in fact, a writer. And a salesman, and a bit of a philosopher (it’s somewhat embarrassing at times, but you have to take the good with the bad).

I did mention this a bit earlier, but it bears repeating; being a good writer isn’t enough. You have to become a very good marketing agent and you have to become responsible for your own promotion. Promote yourself. Sell yourself. Do that, and your customers will buy your books; you won’t have to sell them once you sell yourself.

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