This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

So What's Your Angle?

            When I self-published my first mystery novel, The McHenry Inheritance, nearly two years ago, I had to figure out a marketing plan. And I have to say that doing my own marketing for the book gave me a better understanding of why no agent wanted to touch it.
            Modern publishing, for better or worse, is mostly about the big score. Fifty years ago, a publishing house would be willing to nurture a writer whose first book sold five thousand copies; whose second book sold ten thousand; whose third book sold twenty thousand; and whose fourth had a breakout and sold forty to fifty thousand, plus drove readers to buy the earlier books.
            That sort of investment in an author is all but unheard-of these days. Agents and publishers are looking for a book that will sell in six-figure numbers straightaway. And in order to do that, there has to be an easily explained, highly exploitable angle for promoting it. Call it the book’s elevator speech, if you will.

A Good Story Is Not Enough

            Saying you have a good, compelling story is not enough. The marketing question is what makes the book stand out from its competitors; what makes it new and fresh and promotable.
            My angle was to promote the fly-fishing aspect of the book. Quill Gordon, my protagonist, is a man of independent means who can go fishing whenever he wants. The stories in the Quill Gordon Mystery series occur and will occur when he goes on a fishing trip and gets caught up in the local drama. So promoting the fly-fishing angle seemed logical — except that I’m starting to think it wasn’t.
            From the standpoint of selling books, there are two problems with that approach. The first is that there aren’t that many fly fishermen and women out there, so the appeal is being made to a small market niche to begin with. The second is that a lot of people who fly fish don’t read fiction. And I am rapidly coming to the belief that people who don’t read fiction are rarely going to change their ways because a certain work of fiction happens to be about their hobby or area of enthusiasm.

Free Advice and Worth Every Penny

            Well-meaning friends are always offering suggestions for selling the book by connecting with the fly fishing market, but I have grave doubts. Amazon already links my books with other fly-fishing-themed mysteries, and that probably serves to put it in front of most of the mystery readers who are looking for that kind of book.
            With the second Gordon novel, Wash Her Guilt Away, I’ve tried to take a broader approach to marketing the book — stressing the character tensions, the locked-room mystery, the witches’ coven and other aspects. I do believe I have a good story here, and I’m trying to promote it as such in a way that will attract readers who don’t necessarily care about fly fishing.
            The ones who do care about fly fishing will probably get more out of it, in the same way that people who love horses and horse racing get a bit more out of a Dick Francis novel than a horseless guy like me. But the point is, I like Dick Francis and I believe readers can like my books without caring about fishing.
            The ongoing marketing of my mystery series will undoubtedly be a matter of trial and error, trying a bunch of ideas and discarding the ones that don’t work. It will take time to reach an audience, if I ever do, but that’s all right. When you self-publish, you have a boss who can take the long view.