My experience in marketing

This is a guest post by Scott Bury. He writes about marketing books, and that’s a topic I am very interested in :) 

I admit it: I am a terrible salesman, and not much of a marketer, either.

I know communication, and that’s an essential part of marketing. I know how to research an audience, to find out what that audience is interested in. I know how to focus the message to appeal to a specific audience, and I know how to gain their attention and cause a reaction.

But selling books is a struggle. Where other authors blog about how their sales go up or down, mine stay consistently … slow.

Once, I succeeded in marketing

Years ago, I made the terrifying leap from full-time employment to full-time freelancing.

I embarked on a marketing campaign. First, I identified my strengths: I was a good writer and an experienced journalist. That meant I knew how to do research, how to find facts and people to talk to. I knew how to make complex concepts clear to audiences unfamiliar with them.

As for subject matter, in the 90s I had something of a reputation — in Canada, at least — of knowing the graphic arts (printing) industry, especially the computerization of it. I knew something about digital photography and had learned about what was called, at the time, “pre-press” and “desktop publishing.”

Next, I had to figure out the market for that set of skills — in other words, who needed them and were willing to pay for them. I made a list of about a half-dozen magazines (remember them?) in Canada and the U.S. that covered the printing and graphic arts industry; magazine with titles like Graphic Arts Monthly (now cancelled), Publish (cancelled), Desktop Publishers’ Journal (now cancelled), Electronic Publishing (cancelled), Studio (a different magazine from the current one of that name), American Printer, Canadian Printer (cancelled) and Applied Arts.

I studied their editorial calendars and media kits, which told me the subjects each magazine planned to cover over the coming year. It also listed the key personnel at the magazine, such as the publisher and the chief editor. This was crucial. Even a marketing newbie like me knew that you had to send your message to the person who can make the buying decision.

I sent all of the magazines samples of my work with what I thought was a great cover letter — one that not only outlined what I could do for them, but also proposed a couple of ideas for articles, based on their editorial calendars. For example, if a magazine promised its advertisers that it would have an article on color proofing in August, I would propose an article about calibrating color in proofing systems.

After sending off my samples and cover letter, I followed up by phone. I began with the editors, the people who could make decisions about assigning articles to freelance journalists. Most of the time, it took two or three phone calls to get to the right person. I remember in one case, the magazine that I most wanted to sell an article to was Publish. It had the best reputation among the magazines that covered the “desktop publishing” field (remember that?) at the time. Probably for that reason, the editor was the hardest to reach. But I kept calling, leaving messages and emails.

It took weeks, but eventually we connected. He was gracious, even apologetic for being so difficult to reach, but he listened to my pitch, promised to look at my material and consider it.

I did not let him go, but kept talking until I had a better commitment from him about the idea of writing an article for Publish magazine. I talked about specific story ideas and asked his opinion. A month or so and four drafts later, I delivered my first story to Publish. It was the beginning of a long relationship.

I used the same approach to other magazines, as well. At several points, I found that I had bylined feature articles in four different magazines on printing, publishing or graphic arts at the same time. Yes, I was busy.

The next step in the marketing campaign was to broaden my market (my goodness, I’m using jargon already!) With articles in several U.S. trade magazines, I tried to move into consumer publications. I began with related publications: Macworld and MacUser magazines (remember them?) Again, I sent samples, and followed up by phone. After a month or so, I got an assignment with Macworld. A couple of months later, I got an assignment for MacUser.

The first assignment for Macworld required some capital outlay. I proposed an article about how you could run Windows on your Macintosh computer. Apple had just released a Mac that had an optional Windows-compatible motherboard — which meant I had to buy that computer. At the time, a mid-level Macintosh desktop computer cost about $2,600 CDN.

Fortunately, what with the relatively generous freelancing rates that US magazines paid at the time, I was able to recoup that after two or three assignments. I wrote the first one about that very computer, and the next about running graphics programs — which required the up-to-date computer (at least, that’s what I told my wife).

After that, I expanded into more consumer-level computer magazines, such as The Net (Now Business 2.0), Applied Arts and even to a couple of daily newspapers.

Lessons learned

First, you have to do your research. As with any product or service, you have to identify its strengths. Who uses it? What specifically does this market need?

Next, you have to narrow your appeal as much as possible. If you can contact each potential customer individually, that’s a much more powerful message.

You have to follow up, and keep following up, until you sell a product or service. From there, you can get repeat sales, and you can expand into other markets.

On the down side, I also learned that you cannot depend on your past successes. I was a successful magazine writer for a number of years. After a while, editors and publishers started to call me for articles.

But when a market dries up due to broad economic forces, you have to move on. Nearly every magazine I used to write for has ceased publication, and online publications don’t pay nearly as well as their long-departed paper forebears.

The next challenge

Problem is, I don’t know how to apply this to selling my novel. This is more of a mass-market product, or at least a small-market product. I’m not trying to sell the story to a publisher, I’m trying to bypass the publisher to sell directly to readers.

I know that I need to identify the kind of reader who is interested in the story I have to tell, and then find channels to reach them. It sounds so simple.

Fortunately, Jens-Petter has some great advice on marketing fiction in his guest post on my blog. I wish I had read it months ago! I’m going to try implementing as many of Jens-Petter’s ideas as I can.

In the meantime, both Jens-Petter and I would love to hear from readers about your experiences in marketing your words. What worked, and what did not?

About Scott Bury

Scott Bury is an author, editor and journalist living in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, with an orange cat, two tall sons and a loving wife who puts up with a lot. His first novel is The Bones of the Earth. Visit his blog, Written Words, to read more about his novel and what he is up to.

Follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter

Comments

  1. says


    Twitter:
    Hi Scott, how wonderful to meet you here at Jens’ place! You’re right, marketing can be challenging and marketing yourself has to be the most challenging assignment.

    I loved Jens’ ideas over at your blog. I also like how Scott Sigler markets his books. They’re available for free, if you’re willing to wait for each chapter. Most people aren’t so he has sold plenty of his books. Perhaps you could make the first chapter available on your blog and then you could link to it? People love free samples!

    Best of luck with your novel!
    Carolyn invites you to read.. IFTTT- Tech to Make Your Life Easier!My Profile

    • says


      Twitter:
      Hi Carolyn,

      That’s great advice. And this is like a free trial. I always end up buying software after I’ve tried them, if I like them. And I would think that I would do the same with books. If I read one chapter and I enjoy reading it, I would pay for the rest two seconds after I finished the chapter :)

      Great advice.

  2. says

    Nice to meet you Scott. I love Carolyn’s idea about publishing the first chapter free. Just never give up and spread yourself out there on social media. Have you also done some pay per click or any form of advertisements? How about YouTube video on the book?

    • says

      Thanks to both of you, Carolyn and Lisa. I’m intrigued by Scott Sigler’s approach.

      Unfortunately, no, I haven’t done a lot of the marketing ideas that you’ve mentioned. Time is the biggest issue. Scott Sigler has an interesting approach, but I find his style something of a turn-off. It’s just a little too abrasive for me.

      I know I need to do more, but I just get so discouraged when I look at the length of the list of steps! What I am working on, though, is a collective organization of independent authors who cooperate in things like cross-promotion. Watch for announcements from iAi, independent Authors international.

  3. says


    Twitter:
    Hey Scott, welcome to Jens’ place… I know this is a topic he is very passionate about.

    Wow, thanks for sharing with us your experience. I can’t even imagine being a freelancer and having to go through all those hoops to get work. But I know so many people who enjoy it so much so I’m sure it’s very rewarding.

    I’ll also pipe in about the free chapter. I’ve always enjoyed reading them and I’ve had plenty of them grab my attention so that I wanted to buy the book. Better then reading about it on the back cover in my opinion. Giving them some of the inside scoop.

    Whichever way you chose I’m sure you’ll have success. There are plenty of people online to help you with your promotions and of course, with your marketing skills I have no doubt you’ll do well.

    Hope you two enjoy your week.

    ~Adrienne
    Adrienne invites you to read.. Why Network Marketing Gets Such A Bad RapMy Profile

  4. says

    Hi Scott,

    Its very interesting to know about your journey. I have written three ebooks myself and I faced similar kind of problem.
    In my opinion, internet is a great way to reach out the customer base we are looking for. I have offered my latest ebook free( which took me four months to write). I received a very good response for my still small blog :). I think the most important thing is to establish a readership because people hardly know a new writer.
    Best wishes for your future endeavour.

    • says


      Twitter:
      Hey Ashvini,

      You’re absolutely right. I love the feedback I have received from the ebooks I have written. And giving things away for free is a powerful way to build an audience and a community. Every writer should start out by building the audience, and when you have the audience you should publish the books (not the other way around) – awesome thoughts :)
      Jens-Petter Berget invites you to read.. The New Guy and the Tiny Details in MarketingMy Profile

      • says

        I actually have given away two stories, which are still available for free downloads from my website: Dark Clouds (chapter 1 from Book One of the planned series, The Witch’s Son), and a later chapter in the same work, What Made Me Love You?

        Both are also available for free from Smashwords. You can check them out on my blog, scottswrittenwords.blogspot.com.

        Let me know if you think this is a viable method for promoting the paid book.

  5. says

    You’re absolutely right. I love the feedback I have received from the ebooks I have written. And giving things away for free is a powerful way to build an audience and a community.

  6. says

    You can’t improve upon what you can’t measure. Analytics provide a tremendous amount of incredibly useful data, such as where your website visitors come from, how long they stay, and what they do on your site. Google analytics is free and pretty darn good, and we recommend it.

  7. says

    I’ve really appreciated the feedback I’ve got from my free e-book. I know that each person who signs up for it is a potential lead. It also gives them a quick primer on my area of expertise and what they have been missing out on – using testimonials properly.

    When prospects want to talk to me after reading the e-book, I know that I don’t have to explain the fundamentals to them. They’re already pre-qualified and want more.

    • says


      Twitter:
      Hi Simon,

      That’s awesome and that’s what my experience is like as well. I’m giving away two free ebooks when people sign up for my newsletter and I’ve received lots of great feedback and by reading them before receiving my newsletter they understand who I am and what I’m talking about – they’re like introduction to the things I “preach” :)

  8. says

    Brilliant first post, Scott. I really got sucked into your story there and managed to learn a thing or two that, despite having worked in the field of Public Relations myself at one stage, hadn’t given much thought to since in terms of my marketing efforts moving forward.

    Touching on things like editorial calendars are subjects that many of us wouldn’t even have a clue about so to hear a man speak in such an articulate way about his own experiences in marketing was a genuine treat.

    I hope this isn’t your first and last post and I’d look forward to reading more, much sooner than later. Thanks for taking the time!

    BJ

  9. says

    A really enjoyable read, Scott. You’ve got a real, user-friendly writing style. I struggle to read a lot of marketing blogs because, well to be honest, most of them bore me to tears. You’ve written in a really engaging way that is miles from the ‘dry’ marketing stuff you’ll find on other blogs. Thank you for your imput!

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