The other day I went to clean my kitchen table and I noticed a sticker on my bottle of Murphy’s.
“Derived from 98% Natural Ingredients” it said.
I’m not sure what this sticker was supposed to make me feel–or rather, I am pretty sure. I was supposed to feel like I was putting good, organic stuff down on the table (which my kids *are* willing to lick if a particularly appetizing tidbit falls off their fork). I was supposed to feel like I was doing my part for a greener planet.
I was supposed to feel like Murphy’s Oil Soap was something I wanted to buy.
What’s the problem with that? Well, first of all, none of it is true. “Natural” is a totally unregulated, if not meaningless, term. Cyanide is natural. So is uranium. That doesn’t mean I want them in my kitchen.
Second of all, between 98% and 100% lies a lot of space. If 2% of the ingredients *aren’t* natural, isn’t that an awful lot of unnatural muck I might be cleaning with? 2% of, say, red dye is a lot. Or cyanide.
But we don’t have to critique the oil soap advertizing industry. What matters for my purposes is the connection I saw to books.
I think that the oil soap people are trying to get us to buy Murphy’s by saying stuff that seems good, whether it’s really true or substantive or not, and I think that we writers are sometimes put in a similar position.
We all have to market these days. That is a given. (Except when it’s not–and kudos to self publishing pioneer, MJ Rose, for saying so).
But assuming that those of us without MJ’s confidence (or following) do plan to market in some way, shape, or form, how do we keep from promising something more than 98% naturally derived ingredients?
Well, there are a few things I figure we don’t want to do.
- Don’t send around a mass newsletter that masquerades as personal. You know the ones–they lead with a Hi [first name]! But if you’re not on a first name basis with the person who’s sending, you know it’s fake. Actually you know it’s fake for other reasons–the content is clearly intended for a mass mailing. I’m not saying don’t send a newsletter–some people write terrific ones. I’m saying if you do have a newsletter, be genuine about it. Open with something like “Hi Readers & Prospective Readers” and go on to say, “There’s a time for personal emails and a time for announcements. This will be an announcement…”
- Don’t put people on your email list without asking them first. ‘Nuff said. My addy has been harvested by dozens of people. In general, I’m glad to receive the updates and posts. But I still think it’s more polite to ask. (Maybe it wasn’t ’nuff said
- Once you have an email list, be careful what you use it for. If people get too many announcements and updates–no matter how dazzling–they’re going to become inured to seeing your name. So be careful. Maybe that awesome review in your hometown paper made you sing (I know it would me). But if a starred review from PW comes in next, that might be the one you want to send word of. On the other hand, it might not. So my final ‘don’t’ before turning to something more uplifting is–
- Don’t fall prey to the marketing machine. You know the one. It prioritizes things like starred PW reviews. And of course these are terrific things indeed–imagining one can make me see stars. But if what really tickles your fancy is seeing your photo in your hometown paper–the place where no one in high school was exactly voting you most likely to succeed–then share news of that.
- Oh, and here’s one more don’t. Don’t feel badly if you do or have done some of these things. First, they may work for you, based upon the readership you’ve built up or the particular ways in which you implement them. And second–who hasn’t hit the send button in an ecstatic burst when that first reader anointed you with 5 stars (who cares that it was Aunt Sally)? By the time my book is out, it will have been about 14 years since I started writing seriously. Watch me bug you with every word of praise *my* Aunt Sally offers
In my next post I’m going to focus on some ‘do’s’ of marketing. But I want to close with something less grim than the mistakes we writers sometimes fall prey to in our attempt to navigate through these woods. And it’s actually pretty simple.
Be true to yourself when you go to market your book. Speak in your genuine voice–that’s what readers want to hear, why they’ll be reading your book. If a strategy makes you uncomfortable, avoid it. If it’s not you, it will likely not work. And there are plenty of things to do that are you and will communicate to people that you have wonderful, wonderful news.
In the end, that’s what marketing is really all about.
Sharing some wonderful news.