Ins and Outs of M/M Romance: Marketing by Jordan Castillo Price

Jordan Castillo Price is well-known to anyone who visits this site because she’s such a prolific writer and just about all of her books have been reviewed here. Although Jordan’s books have all been well received by readers, she’s probably always going to be most famous for her PsyCop stories. When I asked her to participate in this series she didn’t hesitate, and I’m pleased to present her post on Marketing, an area where many authors need a bit of help. If you’re interested, Jordan also has her own advice series at packingheat.net.

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Before I was able to devote myself full-time to writing, I coordinated design and marketing for a public library. In those nine years, I’ve learned a thing or two that are of use to me as an author and a publisher. Most people think of marketing as greedy, self-serving, and possibly deceptive—a way to trick people into buying something they don’t want or need. Hopefully marketing won’t sound quite so smarmy if I explain how I look at it.

What is Marketing?

Marketing is linked in our consciousness to sales, and can often be seen as an unsavory sort of business—but that’s not how I look at it. (And, by the way, I’ve always been a crappy salesperson. I figure it’s not my place to try to force someone to buy something they wouldn’t enjoy.)

When I set out to market a book, I’m not thinking, “Okay, how many people are going to buy it?” What I’m thinking is, “How can I make the type of reader who would love this book stop and check out the blurb and excerpt?” If I write a book, I intrigue a reader to take a closer look, and she buys the title and loves it, that’s a major win/win! We’re both happy! I think that the best thing authors can strive for is not to make a quick sale, but to gain a reader for the span of their career.

Marketing, to me, is about education—presenting my book to its potential customers in a way that they can tell what they’re getting, and make an educated decision about whether they might enjoy it enough to commit their money, attention and time to it.

Title
The first marketing decision you’ll make is the title of your book. Your title should convey something about the book, and should be different from what’s out there. It can be hard to make both of those conditions fit. But you need to run your title through Amazon and see if it already exists in your genre—it’s less painful than finding out you’ve muddied the waters by calling your book the same thing someone else has. (I’ve done this and it stinks.)

Sometimes twists on words or phrases can be helpful in being more original and memorable. Moolah and Moonshine, for instance, are two distinctive words that hadn’t yet been used together, they were also evocative of the era the book is set in as well as the plot points, and they were playful like the book was playful. So as a title, it worked.

Cover
Authors have varying levels of control of cover art. Usually you will at least be able to submit a cover art request. Few epublishers can afford to commission custom illustrations for every title, so these days, most covers are made from stock art. You probably won’t find two guys who look like your main characters—and even if you could find those individual guys, chances are the lighting and other photographic aspects will make them look ridiculous when they’re composited.

Look at big New York publishers. Their books typically do not feature a character on the cover unless they’re romance, fantasy or juvenile. My suggestion would be to find a movie poster or a professional book cover that conveys the mood of your book, and attach it to your cover art request. Pay particular attention to typography. If you see a movie poster or book cover that has a typographical style that represents the feel of your story, attach it and say, “I love these fonts.”

The idea is not to make your story look like something it isn’t. It’s to embrace the sort of artwork and typography that people who love your sort of story would pay attention to.

If you don’t give the publisher something to go on, chances are you’ll end up with a headless gym bunny torso, or two weirdly composited stock art models, and your title over the top in a random font with a few cheesy effects applied to it. So think about the mood and feel of your story and do your best to ask for something that matches that mood.

Blurb
I’m not sure why blurbs got their reputation for being so notoriously hard to write. Picture what the initial conflict of the book is, what the flavor of the book is, and go for it. If you have to write it ten times to get it right, so what? It’s only a few sentences long!

One common mistake I see in blurbs is backing up to far, and beginning with something like, “Life is good for Johnny.” You’re too far away from the conflict if you start way back there. It’s not the Old Testament!

Another tendency is to use empty cliché language. Readers skim over clichés. The words don’t engage people. If you see anything that even remotely smacks of cliché, highlight it and challenge yourself to rework that cliché into verbiage that conveys something that’s special about your book.

Social Networking
The key to effective social networking is being genuine. Yes, you may have a pen name, but readers can sense if you’re putting on a persona to try to sell them stuff, rather than connecting with them on a real level.

It’s a good idea to have multiple channels of social networking, but avoid the drive-by. When you show up only if you have something to sell, readers know—and they don’t appreciate it. (They’re particularly vicious about it on Amazon blogs!)

My personal preference has been to cull my Yahoo groups, because they turned into a wall of noise, just a bunch of writers going, “Buy my book! Buy my book!” to other writers, and no real interaction.

It’s the little things, the genuine things, that readers react to. A dumb little post on Facebook about finding an earwig recently brought a lot more interaction than huge essays and newsletters. I think sometimes the small, human things are more relatable than a big monologue.

Newsletter
You need a newsletter! It’s called “permission based marketing,” and I guarantee you, it is the single most important thing you can do. I work 4 to 5 days per month—you read that right, about 40 hours—on my newsletter. That’s how important I think it is.

Most of the newsletters I read give dates of upcoming releases, have a contest, and that’s about it. Come on, you’re a creative! I know it takes time, but you’ve got to do better than that to make someone want to open your email.

Content is the key. Anecdotes, quizzes, surveys, drabbles, serialized stories. That’s the stuff that gets your newsletter opened. I started my newsletter with only 42 subscribers. Now I have over 700, and my open-rates are astronomical. I consider how many ‘opens’ I get to be far more important than how many subscribers I have—because what good is a newsletter that no one reads?

Be sure to go through a newsletter service, rather than just gathering names and sending from your email programs. Not only do services allow you to make pretty emails and gather statistics, but they stop your message from ending up in the spam folder, and more importantly, from getting blocked.

That’s a lot of what I know about marketing. If the gracious and illustrious Wave will have me back, we can dig deeper into some of these topics in the future!

Jordan will definitely be back authors!!! 🙂

If you would like to sign up for her newsletter here’s the link

signup – http://tinyurl.com/jcpnews
archive – http://psycop.com/NL

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Contact Information

Jordan’s website: http://www.jordancastilloprice.com/
JCP Books: jcpbooks.com
Jordan’s email: jcp.heat@gmail.com

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

38 comments

  • Thanks for shedding some light on a vexing topic. It’s been hard to know where to devote the effort.

    I had one of those designed-by-toddlers sites and ended up reskinning it; while it’s not perfect, it’s better. This site: http://kateinthecloset.blogspot.com/ had some really good advice.

    There probably is a way to add an RSS feed widget to your existing site, depending on what you built it with. But there should be some canned code that could be edited in.

    Torquere does have the option to be notified when a particular author has a new release — it’s an “add your email” form on the author’s bio page, so finding it means going down a few layers.

    Reply
    • I just peeked at your site–wow, it looks really slick. I’ll be sure to check out your series of Guide to Author Websites posts when I redesign the PsyCop site, which has become sprawlly and too complicated.

      With skinnable sites (blogs with themes), there’s no need for anyone to have that amateur look anymore. That’s exciting. It makes for a level playing field, if a new author’s site can look as clean and professional as the site of an author from a big publisher with a marketing budget.

      I had researched the RSS widget idea and come up with nothing. It was a matter of how many hours I wanted to spend in implementation. I knew a quick Blogger blog would take 15 minutes, if I even decide it’s necessary.

      Thanks for sharing your site!

      Reply
    • I’m really pleased you encouraged me to figure out a better way to do an RSS feed of my JCP Books sales than to start a whole blog for it; it turns out I was able to do an RSS to point to a single LiveJournal tag. YAY! I love simple solutions.

      Reply
  • Wow! What a fantastic post, Jordan. Thank-you so much for taking the time to provide such great hints, tips and information. And thank-you too to everyone who had added things along the way via comments. We have such an amazing online community!

    Reply
    • I love talking about stuff like this, Jade. It makes me happy that it can help some people out. It sounds like the newsletter process, philosophy, etc. piques people’s interest the most, so I’ll focus on that in greater detail next time.

      Reply
  • Great article Jordan. Your newsletter is an excellent example of how to keep readers engaged and entertained between book releases. I look forward to opening each issue.

    Another suggestion for authors/publishers… when someone orders a book in a series, provide a little check box so the person can get an alert when a new installment in that series is released. It seems so intuitive, but I don’t think anyone is doing it.

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    • Thanks, Diane! That makes me happy to hear it!

      I’m trying to think of the way that checkbox would work, and my guess is that it would take some really advanced programming to make it happen. More than most small presses have at their disposal.

      The segmenting of my mailing list that I’m trying to do is even more ungainly than I want it to be. But I don’t want to pester someone in Canada if I see a good sale on my paperbacks in Germany.

      Reply
  • Jordan
    Since Marketing is also my business, I must emphasize that one of the things that authors neglect to do is to have a website which is constantly updated. This has been said here by some readers and I can’t stress it enough.

    Readers don’t have the time to go searching for your latest book authors, as well as information on your upcoming novels. You have to make the information accessible and do it in an attractive package. There’s nothing that turns readers off like a website that looks like something put together by a 3 year old. Your website must be focused on your books and not on what the cat caught that morning 🙂 – that latter bit of information is for your blog.

    Reply
    • I wonder if some writers can’t be objective about their own websites–like they’re looking at it through rose-colored glasses and they don’t see the rasterized graphics or weird color schemes. Much in the way many publishers think their awful covers are just fine when clearly they’re not.

      I think it’s critical to invest in your business and bring in professionals when necessary. I don’t know Spanish, for instance, so if I wanted to translate one of my stories, I wouldn’t just run it through Google translator and call it good. I’d hire a translator (or maybe a bilingual writer who was game to give it a try) and try to pay and barter with her to do it right.

      Heck, I also wouldn’t dream of doing my own taxes. I have a CPA.

      But too many people treat the tools of their writing career like a Do-it-Yourself project that they probably shouldn’t.

      Reply
  • Hi, Jordan. First order of business: a fangirl squeal! Long before I was a writer, I was a reader, and your fan. Second order of business: you have a newsletter? *rushes off to subscribe* Okay, back now. Your post makes so much sense. As a reader I once became frustrated because I couldn’t find a favorite author on the internet. I wanted more info! What was the next book? When would it be out? I had my money all ready to go and….nothing. When I finally did reach them I never heard back. Now I can’t even remember who they were. On the other hand, I received an immediate response from another author, a response I still have in my ‘treasured emails’ folders. Not only do I remember them, I snap their books up the first chance I get.

    Thanks for sharing your insight. I look forward to your post on newsletters. Gotta run now, my blog needs updating!

    Reply
    • I can’t wait for you to see the newsletter. It’s chock full of good stuff to read.

      I’m right there with you on reasonably up-to-date web content being available. I mean, I don’t expect authors to update their stuff every day, but at least every book. And I think you’re right, it really makes a big difference to have a little contact with a content creator you’re enjoying. I’m still giddy over a tweet an Adobe Illustrator guru sent me after I mentioned I was loving his class on Lynda.com.

      Reply
  • Excellent advice, Jordan! Thanks for sharing with us. I’m with you on the marketing – I actually work full time doing graphic design in a marketing department, and do fine at home when not writing. I have a clear idea of how I’ll want my covers to look when I finally get published (being optimistic here. 😉 ) – and could do the creative myself. Alas, publishers probably won’t let me, right. At least I can give a clear example of what I’m after.
    The biggest problem I have is the social marketing thing. I run a few blogs for writing and art, but keeping up with all the rest overwhelms me at times. How do you keep up with it all?

    🙂
    LC

    Reply
    • Hi LC – Very few publishers let you do your own cover. That’s a shame…or maybe not. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that some authors are driven to self-publish for reasons like wanting control over cover art and editorial decisions.

      I agree that the social thing is overwhelming. I think if you have inherent interest in one of the venues, you’ll be able to keep up with it. And if you’re “forcing yourself” to be somewhere because you “should” but your heart isn’t in it, those are the venues that become a chore more than a joy. Just cut ’em.

      Alternately, you could create a promotion with several different landing pages connected to different venues so you could really track how much traffic you’re getting from where. That’ll give you a good idea where to focus your face time. You might have a marketing channel that seems sleepy, but it turns out half your traffic is coming from there.

      Reply

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