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Marketing Mash-up

I’m in the throes this week of at long last putting the final, finishing touches on The Impossible Book [1] (insert huge, slightly crazy-eyed sigh of relief here) so my post this month is a bit of a mash-up.  Part news bulletin, part platform/marketing advice, part philosophical reflection.  Have I scared everyone off yet?  Well, if not (and I really don’t hold it against you if so!) a little background:

I think I’ve mentioned before on other WU posts that the relentless cries of Platform! Platform! Platform! in today’s publishing world more or less make me break out in a cold sweat.  I am  totally in sympathy with everything our own Robin LeFevers says about introverted writers on her Shrinking Violets blog [2].  Of course, part of my platform reluctance is just a simple time thing.  My kids are little (5 and 2) and I homeschool them.  I just plain do not have the time to both write books I’m proud of and devote huge (or even small to medium size) chunks of my workday to platform-building.  And (probably like most WU readers/authors here) when it comes to a choice between marketing and craft, I choose craft every time.  I just have to.

But in part it is just about me.  Jane Friedman  had a great post here awhile back about how any marketing/platform efforts have to be tailored to fit the individual, otherwise they won’t be authentic.  What is right for one author simply won’t work for another.   And for me . . . I blog here (which I love!) and I have my own website and (really infrequently updated) blog, but apart from that, I just hadn’t yet hit on any marketing strategies that felt both unique and right to me.

However–some of you may remember that about 6 months ago I went the indie-publishing route for my urban fantasy book Demon Hunter and Baby.  Which means, of course, that I’m totally responsible for any marketing efforts on its behalf.  Now, I’m not generally speaking a huge fan of love triangles, but one just sort of wrote itself into this book.  A particular character stepped up and suddenly my heroine–whom I’d thought was absolutely certain to end up with the love interest I’d picked out for her–was torn between two love interests.  And so was I.  I was starting to think about writing the next book in the series (and thank you so much to anyone who bought a copy of book 1 and made it a viable option to write book 2 in the series!) and trying to sketch out where the series was going and which of  the two men Aisling, my heroine, was ultimately going to choose.  I didn’t actually reach a conclusion (still haven’t), but one night while going to bed I looked at my husband and said, “You know what would be fun?  A survey on my website where readers could cast their votes about who THEY think Aisling should end up with.”

And because my husband happens to be a) my webmaster and b) AWESOME, by the next morning, I had my survey.  And my first responses.  Seriously.  I had no idea how popular the survey would be when I first floated the idea–it was just for fun, really, just a whim.  But literally from the first hour the survey was in place, the responses started flooding in.  And suddenly, too, sales on the book took off in a way they hadn’t in the 6 months the book had been out.  Which was pretty awesome.  Now, was the survey responsible?  I have no idea.  Does getting to voice their opinions make the book stick in people’s minds, and therefore they recommend it to friends more?  I can’t prove it, of course.  But the survey was the only factor that changed.

However–and this is where the philosophical reflection part of this blog comes in–the survey has also had an effect that I almost value more than the sales.  It’s one of those facts of being an author that I’ll never meet or even know the names of 99% of the readers who encounter my books. Which is cool in its way–I mean, once I release a story into the world, it’s no longer ‘mine’, it belongs to readers, not to me.  And sure, I get fan mail and reviews and all that.  But it’s only a tiny fraction of readers who do e-mail me or write up a review; I don’t get the chance to get feedback from most of my readers.   But the survey–based on the number of responses, a pretty high fraction of readers are filling it out, and I have had what may well be the most fun–and also the most thought-provoking–experiences of my whole writing career reading the answers people are providing.  First of all, it’s an almost even 50/50 split between Aisling’s two love interests.  On any given day, a response will come in with an impassioned (and very convincing) plea that Aisling is 100% ‘meant’ to be with one of the men.  And it will be followed by an equally impassioned, convincing answer that she is 100% ‘meant’ to be with the other.  Two readers read the exact same book and come up with absolutely opposite opinions of the characters.  It’s just fascinating to me.  And a reminder of why I love books so much.  Only half of the reading experience has anything to do with the author.  The other half comes from within the reader–and it depends so much on the readers life-experiences and inner life.  One of my (many) favorite survey responses was from a single mom, who advocated for the man who is not the father of Aisling’s baby, because she said she liked seeing that love was possible for women even if their relationship with their children’s father had fallen apart.

Anyway, in case there are other introverted, short-of-time writers out there, I just wanted to share my experience.  Not that a survey is necessarily going to be right for everyone, of course.  But what I really mean to say is that this whole experience has given my more confidence that there ARE marketing solutions out there that will not only work for me (and all of us shrinking-violet types!) but can also deepen and broaden my relationship with readers and my understanding of my craft.  And that’s just a total win.

What about you?  What marketing strategies have you tried/heard of/found effective?

About Anna Elliott [3]

Anna Elliott is an author of historical fiction and fantasy. Her first series, the Twilight of Avalon trilogy, is a retelling of the Trystan and Isolde legend. She wrote her second series, the Pride and Prejudice Chronicles, chiefly to satisfy her own curiosity about what might have happened to Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and all the other wonderful cast of characters after the official end of Jane Austen's classic work. She enjoys stories about strong women, and loves exploring the multitude of ways women can find their unique strengths. Anna lives in the Washington DC area with her husband and three children.