Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
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by MaryJanice Davidson
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When my current release, Escaping the Slush Pile, was nearing publication, I told all my lists (EPIC, RW-L, etc.) that I was offering a free chapter from it on queries. Later, when the RWA National Conference neared, I offered a free chapter on how to pitch book ideas to editors. The result? Hundreds of e-mail requests for my chapter.
Was it a lot of work? You have no idea. I had no idea. If I'd had half a brain, I... well, my life would be a lot easier but, even better, I would have put the sample chapters up on my website instead of e-mailing chapters person by person. It took days to get everyone their chapters. Still, I'd do it again in about half a nanosecond, because when my book finally came out, quite a few of those people who got their free chapter wanted to read the rest of the book. The result was a surge in sales and greater name recognition for me.
The Writers' Journal recently contacted me asking if they could review Escaping. Naturally my first thought was, "Which one of my jerk friends is playing a cruel practical joke?" Because this was the first time a national magazine had contacted me for a review. How did The Writers' Journal find out about me? How'd they hear about Escaping? I have no idea. The only thing I know for certain is, one of the things I did to promote Escaping reached the right pair of ears. So remember: tell everyone you can about your book(s). Never stop promoting yourself. It's like a rock rolling downhill; through no apparent effort on your part, the rock speeds up, and by the time it's at the bottom of the hill, it's going at a good clip.
How About the Whole Thing?
Another thing to consider is giving away your entire book, not just a chapter or two. I'm pretty free and easy with my books, both paperback and electronic. It's worked out really well, and really hasn't cost me as much as you might think. First, with paperbacks you get a heck of a discount on your author's copies, so it's not such a big deal to give ten or twenty away in contests or just for fun. Second, it costs me nothing to forward a copy of my e-book to a fan.
A few weeks ago I got a nice e-mail from a fan taking me up on my offer for a free chapter. She jokingly mentioned that she's been dropping hints to her husband to buy her my book for Mother's Day.
What the heck, I sent her the whole thing. Sure, I lost...what? A $2 royalty? Meanwhile, this woman has been telling the world not only how fabulous I am, but how great my book is. Well worth the loss of a royalty.
Last week I sent another aspiring author a copy of Escaping; she had just finished her first book and was ready to shop it around to publishers. I had originally intended to send her a free chapter on writing queries and synopses, luring her close with a whiff of my book and then pulling her in like a trout (I'm writing this the weekend of fishing opener, can you tell?). At the last second, though, I sent her the whole book on a whim. No real reason; I just felt like it and didn't mind giving up the royalty. Turns out this "newbie" author helps run a publishing business. She offered to run a free ad for Escaping in her newsletter and put my book cover, press release, and photo up at her website. For nothing. As a thank you. Because I gave up two bucks (hey, a good deed really is its own reward!).
Remember the underlying theme of good book promotion: you're trying to get your name out there. The book didn't write itself, didn't burst from your forehead like Athena on uppers. It's not about the work, it's about who thought it up and did the work. It's a lot easier to pitch and sell a second (or third, or seventh) book to a publisher who has already heard of you.
So give away whole books. A small royalty loss will reap enormous dividends in word-of-mouth publicity, which is the very best kind.
How Does the Day Job Tie In?
You're a writer, which means women adore you and men fear you. Or the other way around. Okay, possibly a small exaggeration, but be honest: aren't people amazed when they hear you can write? Amazed and a little surprised? My day job is Operations Manager at a small brokerage firm, and they're constantly using my skills to update ad copy, to help write and edit the newsletter...hardly anything goes out the door unless I've proofed it. Hey, great salesmen aren't necessarily great writers; everyone at work understands that. So turn that enviable skill into a marketing tool. (And speaking of day jobs, although I work in business, I have all my books and articles and such listed at the end of my resume. Remember: take every chance to promote yourself and your books. I've gotten book sales from people who haven't hired me.)
You might, like me, try to keep your writing separate from your day job, but if there are ways they can overlap, go for it. If you helped someone at the day job with their resume, with the company newsletter, if you updated literature copy or whatever, make sure you get copies of anything you had a hand in. It's great if you want to write fiction, but it's even better if you're able to prove you can do business writing, too. At home I've got a small business portfolio filled with literature, brochures, a business plan, an employee handbook, and the like.
How does this tie in to writing for free? You might not get paid for the writing per se at work (I certainly don't; I get a flat salary and if I want to edit the company newsletter, that's fine with them, but they ain't paying extra for it, and remind me to get a new job, willya?), but you'll have clips and professional writing samples, which every professional writer needs.
What Else Can I Give Away?
Anything you can think of! Write an article for a writers' website. They can't pay you? Ask if your article can be on the home page for at least a week, with a link back to your website or to your publisher. I wrote an article on book promotion ("Becoming a Somebody When You're a Nobody") for an up-and-coming website. Twenty bucks for 800 words. The money was fine, but even better was the top billing; when you click on that site's home page my article is practically the first thing you see this month. In my opinion, that goes even further than the twenty bucks.
Giving away pieces of your work might sound like financial suicide, but you'll be amazed at the flood of interest this will generate in your book. Try it and see.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
MaryJanice Davidson is a New York Times and USA Today best-selling and prolific writer who is published primarily in paranormal romance (including the popular "Undead and..." series, beginning with Undead and Unwed) but also young adult and non-fiction. Her novella, Love's Prisoner (Secrets 6), was the 2000 winner of the Sapphire Award for excellence in Science Fiction Romance. Her day job is Operations Manager at a brokerage firm. In the evenings she slaves over a hot take-out menu for her husband, two children, and dog. Visit her website at http://www.maryjanicedavidson.net/.