Should You Market Your Book, Yourself or Both? (Part 2: Marketing Yourself)

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On Tuesday I looked at marketing your book and today I continue the theme by looking at ways to market yourself. It’s not everybody’s favourite task – in fact, I once asked a friend if she wanted to be the public face and name of my books because I was so afraid of the scrutiny (she declined) – but if you’re planning on publishing more than one book, establishing your identity as a writer can be just as important as establishing the quality of an individual book.

Find Your Angle
Everybody has an angle – they just have to discover what it is. John Grisham is a former lawyer so when he started writing crime books, it made total sense. Jeffrey Archer was conned out of a significant amount of money so when he wrote a book about characters trying to exact their revenge for the same thing and get their money back, it was a great selling point. When Lauren Conrad wrote a novel about a girl and her best friend appearing on a reality show, the fact that it was a thinly veiled autobiography and she had a guaranteed readership from the audience of the show she had appeared on helped to ring up the sales, even if the critical acclaim didn’t accompany it.

One of the hardest things about finding your angle is that it requires a certain amount of self-awareness and often it’s just easier if someone else can point out your angle to you rather than having to figure it out for yourself. I still don’t know what my angle is. I thought it might be that I’m a single, white, female writer (thus the name of my blog) but there are plenty of those going round. I’m not pretty or skinny or adventurous or confident or a genius or a survivor of a horrific event in my formative years. I’ve got big boobs, great organisational skills, a boatload of common sense and a sense of the importance of independence but only one of those things is sexy and being known for big boobs is a path I’d rather not go down, especially after spending more than two decades in the educational system graduating from primary school, secondary school, gaining two undergraduate qualifications and finally emerging with a master’s degree.

Yes, I have a tattoo and a pair of Doc Martens, I’m a Collingwood supporter and I once shaved all my hair off but these are things that I do or have done, not things that define who I am and certainly not things that have shown me my angle. I’m boring. So until someone tells me otherwise and clues me in on how I can differentiate myself from all the other writers out there, I’m a little stuck. I’ll keep writing in the meantime and maybe my angle will suddenly reveal itself. If not, maybe I can try a few of the following ideas.

Set Yourself Up as an Expert
Many people have other careers before they begin writing, very successful careers in which they establish reputations as experts in their fields. Nicholas J Johnson, the author of Chasing the Ace and Fast and Loose, was in the public eye long before he published his first novel in 2014. He is a magician and has been described as “an honest conman”. I can remember seeing and hearing him on morning shows and current affairs programs demonstrating the tricks of the pickpocket trade and how the average Joe and Jane can protect themselves from losing their watches and wallets. He is the go-to guy for comments when scams and conmen (or conwomen) become periodically newsworthy and when he publishes a book, those same morning shows and current affairs programs give him a little air time to promote them, a very cosy back scratching arrangement.

I’ve never had any career other than as a writer and editor – I briefly worked as a kitchenhand, an administrative assistant and an executive assistant to a conman film producer (maybe Nicholas and I can swap stories if we ever meet) – so it makes sense that I have “set myself up” as an expert on writing and editing by writing blog posts on the topics as well as publishing Project December: A Book about Writing and now Project January: Another Book about Writing. Nobody has ever asked for my expert opinion as a marketing exercise but I get plenty of requests from family, friends, acquaintances and co-workers who know I’m the go-to girl when they have questions about the English language, Microsoft Word and the best way to express themselves in writing.

If you can identify your area of expertise and use it to generate a little publicity for yourself, then it can go a long way towards your book sales and your ability to market yourself.

Generate a Little Controversy
The idea that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” has long been associated with Phineas T Barnum, a “circus owner” and “self-publicist of the first order”. And the inimitable Oscar Wilde proclaimed, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” So if you can stand the heat that it may bring along with the publicity, generating some controversy has proven plenty of times before to be a useful way of getting attention and building a public profile.

Your controversy might be your book itself – there have been plenty of writers who tackled controversial topics – or it might be an opinion on something entirely unrelated to your book. Lionel Shriver, the author of We Need to Talk about Kevin, Big Brother and The Mandibles, didn’t need the publicity but her keynote speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival on fiction and cultural identify certainly got everyone talking. Jennifer Weiner, the author of Good in Bed, In Her Shoes (which was adapted into a movie starring Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz) and 2016’s Hungry Heart, hasn’t been backwards in coming forwards about her feelings that white male writers receive what she refers to as “overcoverage” when Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom was published. That was back in 2010 and people are still talking about it – well, not so much her assertion but her. The publicity hasn’t all been flattering. Some people have agree with her but a lot of people have accused her of being simply resentful and jealous that more people aren’t reading her books. But the controversy is the only reason I even know who Jennifer Weiner is. I’ve never read any of her books (I’ve never read any of Jonathan Franzen’s books either) but because of the controversy I know who she is and often that’s half the battle. And the next time I come across one of her books, I might be more inclined to pick it up and give it a go simply on the basis of the familiarity her controversy has engendered.

Maintain a Little Mystery
So you’ll probably notice that the advice to maintain a little mystery is almost of the exact opposite of the advice to generate a little controversy. But there is also some similarity – because often the controversy of the mystery can drive readers and the publishing industry wild.

Elena Ferrante, the pseudonym of an Italian novelist, is the latest to do just that. First published in 1992, her books have been extremely well-received and in 2016, she was included in Time’s 100 Most Influential People list, perhaps coincidentally the same year in which her true identity was exposed without her consent. In her view, “books, once they are written, have no need of their authors” but for a lot of people, the not knowing is just unbearable. Out of respect for her wishes, I won’t mention her real name but for anyone who desperately needs to know, a simple Google search will fill you in.

EL James, later revealed as Erika Mitchell, is another example of maintaining a little mystery and she very definitely generated a little controversy at the same time. The overtones of S&M sex in her Fifty Shades series weren’t the first time such a topic had been explored in romance fiction but they were the first books to explode into the mainstream market in the way they did. And because of their origin as titillating Twilight fan fiction and her confession that her husband got a bit sick of being the person she experimented on as part of her research for the book, it makes sense that she would be a little media shy, although her agent has described her as “press shy” anyway.

The important thing is not to confuse mystery with antagonism of the reading public and press. Yes, there are some people out there who will want to know all about you as a means of engineering your downfall but most people want to read you, support you and feel a connection by knowing a little more about you. You need to find the right balance for you.

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