Book Marketing as Watering Holes

career indie author

career indie author introduction

Words are important. Finding the right words to express your thoughts clearly is vital. But finding the right words that your audience gets is paramount.

Here’s what I mean as it pertains to thinking of book marketing as watering holes. A common subject for writers and book marketers is the “don’t be afraid to market your book” blog post. It aims to overcome most writers’ reluctance to self-promote. They recommend changing your thinking, like “it’s not door-to-door selling, it’s meeting the needs of readers who will want your book if they know about it.” Or, “you’re not the one selling the book, it’s your book selling the book.”

In other words, these posts find different ways to reach the same end: To get you motivated to promote your book (or in the case of book marketers, to buy their products that they say will help you promote your book).

What they’re doing is recasting the negative thought (“selling is icky”) into a positive to change your thinking.

Once you understand Recasting, it shows up everywhere:

* Remember second mortgages? That was something you took out on your home to get money for a serious big-ticket project, such as starting a new business or sending your child to college. Now, it’s a home-equity line of credit and you use it to go to Disney World and forget that it means you’ll be working until you’re 70 because you didn’t pay off your home.

* If you saw “GalaxyQuest,” you saw the ideal Recasting. A member of the TV crew, played by the awesome Sam Rockwell, realizes as they’re about to land on a real, honest-to-god alien planet that he’s fated to die:

Guy Fleegman: I changed my mind. I wanna go back.

Sir Alexander Dane: After the fuss you made about getting left behind?

Guy Fleegman: Yeah, but that’s when I thought I was the crewman that stays on the ship, and something is up there, and it kills me. But now I’m thinking I’m the guy who gets killed by some monster five minutes after we land on the planet.

Jason Nesmith: You’re not gonna die on the planet, Guy.

Guy Fleegman: I’m not? Then what’s my last name?

Jason Nesmith: It’s, uh, uh – -I don’t know.

Guy Fleegman: Nobody knows. Do you know why? Because my character isn’t important enough for a last name, because I’m gonna die five minutes in.

Gwen DeMarco: Guy, you have a last name.

Guy Fleegman: DO I? DO I? For all you know, I’m “Crewman Number Six”! Mommy… mommy…

Sir Alexander Dane: Are we there yet?

Then, when shit got real, he’s saved by Recasting.

Guy Fleegman: I’m just a glorified extra, Fred. I’m a dead man anyway. If I’m gonna die, I’d rather go out a hero than a coward.

Fred Kwan: Guy, Guy, maybe you’re the plucky comic relief. You ever think about that?

Guy Fleegman: Plucky?

Quoting that wonderful, funny, heartfelt movie doesn’t quite convey the character’s arc (although YouTube can help).

Anyway, Recasting. How does this apply to book marketing as I see it?

It means finding the right word to teach an important lesson on how to find your audience.

It’s a difficult task, because it seems like some people get a handle on it. One group that hasn’t are book publishers. One group that has are the small percentage of indie authors who either acquire the knowledge or who are already experienced marketers (and then there are the mainstream writers like James Patterson, who came from an advertising background).

Some Words Don’t Help

A few years back, Seth Godin published a book called “Tribes” that used a tribal metaphor as a way to describe the best way to market your product. I didn’t particularly like the book. It may have described people who gather regularly somewhere, but there are people who like that thing but show up every once in awhile.

For example, I love “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock.” Love love love love them. But I don’t belong to any particular group. I don’t haunt their message boards. I don’t attend conventions. I don’t even buy the knickknacks.

It also seemed like it was better at marketing Seth Godin rather than anything I could use.

While talking this over with my wife, she drew on her military background to suggest targeted marketing. When you have a target, she explained, you can apply your firepower there. That was a little more accurate, but limited.

Then it occurred to me: a metaphor for marketing that is flexible enough to accommodate meatspace and the digital world.

Welcome to the Watering Hole

When I was a kid the family watched a nature show called “Wild Kingdom.” Marlon Perkins, a grey-haired authority figure with a pleasant voice, like the Mr. Rogers of the animal world, would narrate nature footage, usually set in Africa, and sometimes the drama revolved around a watering hole. All kinds of animals would gather there: birds, alligators, hippos, gazelles. They were all there for the same purpose. Well, except for the lions, cheetahs, and panthers; they were there to feed on the other animals, played out before the cameras, followed by a Mutual of Omaha insurance commercial.

I wouldn’t want readers to feel like they’re gazelles taking a drink and wondering if they’re going to be pounced on, but I do like the watering-hole metaphor. It can represent anyplace where like-minded people gather that you can visit. It can be a Doctor Who Tumblr, church groups, regional magazines, craft shows, Facebook.

If you think of those places as gathering spots, then you have a target for your marketing, which can take the form of ads, a table, posts, or simply visiting and being present (without obviously attending just because you want to sell them something).

This dovetails neatly with my previous post on Paul Bishop, the retired police officer who found a number of tribes that he could market his book to. His approach was limited to areas that he was personally interested in, such as police officers, cocktail music, and noir movies.

But it’s not just a question of finding watering holes to stop by, it’s also thinking about the best way to approach them. It’s a two-part question: finding them and reaching out to them.

Take the difference between Twitter and Facebook. Both are social media services. Both have huge numbers of people signed up. Which would be easier to market to.

I think Facebook. This is partly because I’ve heard more successful stories about authors reaching out to them. Secondly because Facebook encourages members to define themselves according to their interests. You’re asked to “Like” pages. You get to choose particular interests in movies, music, the arts, businesses. They know where I live. Facebook takes that information, plus whatever else they scrape from your posts and your visits to other websites, and presents them to advertisers who can target their ads to reach the people who might be interested in their products.

That’s the secret sauce. I don’t think Twitter knows as much about me as Facebook can.

book marketing and watering holes

When I think of book marketing on Twitter, this is what I see

So, for my upcoming comic space shuttle novel “Ride of My Life,” I can have Facebook target NASA geeks who read, people who liked “The Martian,” fans of science-fiction time travel books, or any combination of the above.

I don’t think I can do that with Twitter. At least I haven’t heard of anyone successfully doing so.

Watering holes can take any shape or form. Last year, Otto Penzler at the Mysterious Bookshop reached out to me when he heard I am publishing collections of Sherlockian parodies and pastiches. His bookstore carries signed copies of the line, and the result has been gratifying to my bottom line last year. This year, I’m reaching out to Powell’s Books in Portland because I heard they have a Sherlockian section as well.

Last year, I’ve found watering holes at my website by offering Sherlockian parodies and a page annotating “Murder on the Orient Express,” not to mention the Wimsey Annotations. I’ve done talks on television, at the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookshop, and before a group of Agatha Christie fans. Peschel Press has appeared at the Winter Arts and Crafts Festival in Hershey and the York Book Expo.

Each of them required a different approach, and all of them reached fans who wanted to buy my books, or at least accept a flyer.

That’s the nuts and bolts of the business last year, and this year we’ll be looking for more watering holes. Because like Marlon Perkins, you have to go into the jungle to bag the trophies.