Friday, June 2, 2017

Golden Handcuffs

Does marketing your book feel oppressive or liberating?

by Paul D. Marks

So a guy walks into a store and buys a dozen pairs of handcuffs. Maybe he’s a cop. Maybe he’s kinky. Or maybe he has something else up his sleeve. We’ll find out later in this piece.

But the answer to this week’s question is neither really, marketing is not oppressive or liberating. It’s just something that has to be done. And knowing it will help sales helps motivate me. That said, the amount of time spent on marketing can sometimes seem draining or at least frustrating. Yes, I’d rather be writing. But part of writing, especially these days, is doing one’s own marketing or doing it in conjunction with the publisher.

It’s hard to go out there and toot your own horn. It seems inappropriate. On the other hand, as the saying goes, if you or I don’t do it who will? Still, I remember the old saw, “Fools names and faces are often seen in public places.” But isn’t that what we want to do – get our names and our books out in public places?

But now as I'm writing this, the more I think about it, the more I think that in a sense it’s actually liberating to do marketing. Why? Because you get to be in control. And while it would be nice to have enough money to buy a full page ad in the New York Review of Books there’s a lot you can do for a hell of a lot less money. And unless you’re one of the Chosen Few your publisher is probably pushing a dozen (or more) books at the same time they’re pushing you and yours…if they’re pushing you at all. So if you want to get noticed you gotta do it yourself in whole or in part, especially if you’re with a smaller publisher. But even if you’re with a big publisher you could end up being the little fish in the big pond and most likely it’ll be the big fish who get all their attention while you flounder.

Case in Point:

When I wrote White Heat I’d had a bunch of short stories published in various places but I certainly wasn’t a “name” writer and no one really knew who I was. So White Heat was an unknown novel by an unknown writer and an unknown quantity. It literally came out of nowhere. But it did pretty well, both in terms of sales and recognition. It got to #2 on Amazon’s paid Noir chart, did pretty good on other paid charts, and hit #5,892 overall for Kindle. And stuck around for a while. Paperback sales were good too, but admittedly not as good as the Kindle. And I think I owe its success to marketing of various kinds as we tried all kinds of things.

We also sent it out for reviews to as many places as we could think of. And overall, it got good reviews, including from Publishers Weekly and other respectable publications and reviewers. Word of mouth also helped. And ultimately it came in second place in the SouthWest Writers Annual Writing Contest and won a Shamus Award.

I’ve talked in other posts about different ways of promoting, so you can find those here: and here But one thing I don’t think I talked about in those other pieces are some of the gimmicks I tried in the early days in order to get noticed. When I was trying to break into Hollywood I was young and eager and pretty much willing to try anything. Hell, I would have baked myself into a cake and had it delivered to Barry Diller if I could have. But what I did do was try to get the attention of producers and other Hollywood types creatively. For example, I remember going to a toy store once and buying a bunch of plastic toy handcuffs and sending them to producers and others with my pitch letter for a thriller/crime story, hoping to grab their attention. And it worked. I got in to see some pretty big people. Marketing! But I wouldn’t try this today – today you’d probably get arrested. It’s a different world.

I didn’t try anything like that with White Heat or Vortex, but I did do a fair amount of marketing of one kind or another. And White Heat, in particular, kept bouncing into and out of the top 100 in Noir and other categories for about 3 years.

I’m not saying any of this to brag, I’m sure others have a lot better sales than I do. What I am saying is that for a book that came out of nowhere from a writer nobody’d ever heard of it did pretty well. And I think the reason for that is because we tried various marketing techniques, most of which we did on our own. So, in that sense marketing is very liberating. And it’s just part of the job these days. Marketing is like wearing golden handcuffs. They’re gold but they’re still handcuffs, liberating and oppressive at the same time 😉 .


And now for the usual BSP:

My story Twelve Angry Days is in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, on sale at newsstands. Or click here to buy online. If you like food and you like mysteries, I think you might like this story.


I'll be at the California Crime Writers Conference in Culver City, June 10th and 11th. I'm on a panel called "The Long and Short of It: Short Stories and Novellas vs. Novels" with William Kent Krueger, Kate Thornton and Travis Richardson, moderated by S.W. Lauden. Hope to see you there!


GBPool said...

"... marketing is not oppressive or liberating. It’s just something that has to be done." What great advice. It will make the job a little easier knowing it's just the way it is. Thanks, Paul.

Danny Gardner said...

Great post, Paul! Resonates as I rest my feet from a week at BEA.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Gayle. And you gotta admit, the handcuffs are quite fashionable ;)

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Danny. I hope it went good for you at Book Expo!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Paul,

You're right about the need for us to market our books. Publishers aren't willing to invest in promotion unless you're already a big name. I wish I were as good at it as you obviously are!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Jacqueline. And I'm not sure how good we are, but you throw enough stuff against the wall and something sticks. So just keep plugging.