sly : marketing

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 🙂 

Scott Bury

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

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