Thursday, January 15, 2009

1001 Ways to Promote Science Fiction Romance, Part V: Build It and They Will Come

1001 Ways To Market SFR, Day 5

Day 5 arrives with the conclusion of this special 5-part series on promoting and marketing science fiction romance. We’ve covered substantial territory:

* Niche markets and their (often) untouched profits
* The current strengths and weaknesses of e-readers
* The business models of other entertainment industries
* How all of this can help SFR readers, authors, and publishers

Now it’s time to address you creative folk out there.

If you’re interested in writing books that fall under a niche market category, there’s a strong chance that others wants to read it, too—and probably in greater numbers than you may think. Just ask Hideshi Hino and Norman Spinrad.

Niche genres have birthed many a bizarre, eccentric tale (and that’s one reason we love them!), which demonstrates that artistically they can offer tremendous freedom to stretch one’s creative wings. Because a niche genre often represents unexplored territory, authors can experiment with all kinds of plots and characters and push envelopes—unapologetically so. And it offers content providers a chance to gauge where tastes are shifting and still earn money.

As with anything, niche markets ebb and flow. Sometimes they explode into the mainstream, or simply fly the niche market banner with pride. But no matter how long they last, one of the most important strategies for survival is to become queen of the niche market instead of a pawn at the bottom of the slush pile.

The creative constraints may be few, but the risks are higher. However, if you’re writing for a niche market, you already know it’s going to be a long haul. So below I’m brainstorming a few strategies that might help mitigate the risk—and increase the reward.

The 50% Rule

Books may be art, but marketing is 50% of the equation. For some, it can be a cold splash of reality to accept that even HAMLET sits on department store shelves with a price tag and SKU number, just like any mundane can of hair spray or Hannah Montana tchotchke. Big business concentrates on moving units, not patronizing the arts.

If you’re planning on a career in science fiction romance (or any other niche genre), there are a number of benefits in allocating 50% of your efforts toward marketing. No author can afford to wait for someone else to do it for her, especially with publisher layoffs left and right.

Publishers vary in the level of marketing support they provide. Regardless of publisher, these days it seems unrealistic to depend on them for a marketing push, especially if you’re not above midlist author status. Even for midlist authors, it’s a matter relegated to chance. For a niche market product, a small to zero amount of marketing support is par for the course.

Therefore, it behooves SFR authors to prioritize the development of a formidable online presence, now more than ever. And I’m not just talking a Web site and/or blog. It’s time to get a spitfire marketing vehicle in motion.

As advised in the book PUNK MARKETING, gurus Richard Laermer and Mark Simmons enjoin: “It pays to act small while continuing to think in the biggest possible way. That may sound obvious, but people forget that image matters most” (page 59). Too true, and the Internet makes it possible for you to hone that image—all you need is a little (or a lot) of elbow grease.

Blogs Are the New Hand-Sell

Bookseller Chick often mentions the importance of hand-selling (to wit: Entering the SciFi Zone). Her post got me to thinking: how would that translate to online interactions?

Why, blogs of course! It’s been happening for some time now, so my revelation isn’t new. However, it’s important to emphasize that blogs should be the de rigueur promotional vehicle for science fiction romance books (whether print or ebook).

And not just because I run one. Think about it: blogs are operated by devout readers. They are committed to spreading the word about good books and take much time doing so. It’s a labor of love, given freely, and the only thing an author has to spend is time (and said commodity can be precious little, I understand, but wouldn’t it be more cost effective than paying a publicist?).

Not only that, but a blogger’s efforts can multiply exponentially by way of networking and other opportunities. Authors can end up with twice or three times the exposure than originally projected. Another advantage is that authors can more readily interact with bloggers, whereas interacting with customers in brick and mortars across the country is prohibitive. No one can blog in a bookstore, either.

Frankly, I’m amazed at the number of authors that don’t take advantage of this strategy. Now, I understand that life happens. Priorities should be given to matters like family emergencies, illness, or job demands.

Or maybe sales are great for those authors, and the promotion is unnecessary (power to them!).

For everyone else, blogs (e.g., blogging on your own site, commenting, interviews, doing guest posts on other blogs, giveaways) are a terrific way to repeatedly get your name and book information circulating through the SFR community. For debut authors or established authors breaking into the subgenre, it’s a must. Don’t wait for the book’s release date, either. In fact, don’t even wait for the ink to dry on the contract—let fans know something’s in the pipeline, even if you can’t spill all the details.

Bloggers can’t blog about books we don’t know about.

Where There’s a Will…

Whether you’re an author with a print or an epublisher, online marketing will become increasingly important. Think about all the eight year olds already involved in online social networks like Club Penguin. In a decade or so, they’ll have money of their own to spend, and these Web savvy customers will spend it online. Downloadable content is now the norm to them, and for many of their teenage siblings.

These are the future blog readers and consumers of books, and their numbers will grow, and grow, and keep on growing.

When they start looking for books, you’ll want to be ready. With a little creativity you can create your own “endcaps” and other promotions using blogs or Web sites. The beauty of online promotion is that you can track your efforts and get instantaneous feedback (e.g., Google Analytics).

Of course, consistent, extensive use of online marketing strategies will cost money, time, or both. Time is a given, but what about the knowledge it takes to be Web savvy? If you can’t afford to pay someone to build and maintain a Web site, it might be time to learn some new skills. Remember, publishers aren’t going to do it for you.

Before you write that book, it might very well be in your best interest to take a few weeks (or months) to live the DIY edict. For those who can’t afford to drop several hundred dollars on Photoshop, there’s GIMP. It can take care of most—if not all—of your imaging needs, and did I mention it’s completely free? Many Web hosting companies, such as 1 and 1, also provide free WYSIWYG software. No HTML knowledge is required. Shop around for the best deal for you.

Of course, learning all of this doesn’t equal hiring a good designer with years of experience, but it’s an entryway. What you lack in CSS finesse can be ameliorated by sheer tenacity. No one will ever work harder for your book than you will.

And there’s another angle here for you, unclaimed and untapped.

A Match Made in Cosmic Heaven: Science Fiction Romance and Epublishers

It’s important to acknowledge that technology hasn’t made e-readers an affordable option yet, and much of the reading public isn’t accustomed to ebooks. Then there’s the fact that currently, most revenue is still generated by B&M bookstores.

There’s also an image/respect issue. Epublishers aren’t accorded the same amount of respect as print publishers. It’s not viewed as the same kind of “hurdle” as getting a book released by a mainstream print publisher.

That last part is true in some cases, but a fallacy in others. It depends on the epublisher. That’s why it’s important to do one’s homework (and for a free epublishing 101, visit Romance Divas. The site hosted a workshop January 13-15, 2009, on epublishing, run by Samhain Publishing Executive Editor Angela James. Free registration required).

But might all this change within a few years, as both ebook demand and advances in e-reader technology drive prices down? I think it’s important to think not just in terms of current customers, but future ones as well. These next few years may continue to be a time of struggle and reorganization, but it’s also an opportunity to prepare for the oncoming changes.

Epublishing may be just learning to walk, but SFR isn’t exactly on the New York publishing radar either. There are less than a handful of debut SFR authors each year. Perhaps even fewer than that. Statistically, the numbers represent a very low chance of breaking into this market with a mainstream print publisher. And even published SFR authors face immense odds involving a variety of issues related to writing these cross genre novels.

Where does that leave the stories yet to be told? Should aspiring authors even bother trying to crack the New York barrier with their SFR manuscripts right now?

The Promise of Ebooks…

Now is not the time for the industry to rest on their laurels. No one said it was going to be easy. These are developments years in the making. Years. But as technology improves, options will increase, leading to a more vibrant market.

Not only that, but ebooks are creating opportunities for niche genres such as science fiction romance. Ebooks can potentially offer not only more product but also increased story experimentation—for example, m/m SFR. Many readers expect more daring, different, and adventurous tales from science fiction romance. I know I do.

Ebooks also present an opportunity for mainstream print authors to write stories (even shorts and novellas) that their mainstream print publishers can’t support right now (barring option clause limitations). And lucky for them, a few epublishers accept agented submissions!

It might be worth taking a page from the erotica/erotic romance “book” on achieving mainstream status. Those authors took advantage of epublishing years ago, and after a lot of hard work from everyone involved, many benefited. This is a business, after all, and one way New York sits up and takes notice is a steady profit.

Consider this scenario: What if a wave of aspiring science fiction romance authors became published with reputable epublishers first?

This group of authors could build a history of collective sales and engage in a collective marketing campaign alongside authors whose books are currently in print. Wouldn’t it make sense to start building a backlist now, while the market’s wide open, in preparation for the day when e-readers are affordable and all of the technology has been ironed out?

So, the final equation looks something like this: SFR print/ebooks + affordable technology + niche market queen + time + strong online marketing campaign=The Next Big Thing.

It’s not a matter of can it be done—of course it can. Therefore, the only question remaining is, who’s with me?

Thanks for reading. It’s been a blast assembling and researching these posts for you, my dedicated passengers. Now let me hear your ideas!

Joyfully yours,


Other links of interest courtesy of Dear Author:

Don’t Let Fear of Piracy Rob You of Profits

The Good News Is DRM-Free Is Pirated at Lower Rate Than DRM Pirating—Numbers Still High

Harper Collins Has Paid an Expert Hacker to Develop Pirating Software for 10 Years

From BookEnds, LLC: Can You Do Better?