When my daughter Amber was seven years old, she wanted a kitten, and we decided to seek one out at the SPCA in Johannesburg. Any visit to a shelter is always heart wrenching because there are so many animals worthy of adoption, and their survival depends on their ability to connect with us. Most seem to understand this, and will do their best to put on a show, either clamoring for attention or quietly peering out at us with big, soulful eyes.
That day, around eleven years ago, Amber and I had a purpose. We made our way through the maze of cages and stepped into an enclosure where litters of kittens lay in the sun or huddled together in baskets. The moment I set foot in that cage, a tiny black one latched onto the hem of my jeans and, mewling at the top of her lungs, scampered up my leg. I tried to lift her away gently, but she’d have none of that. She sank her nebulous little claws into my sleeve and scuttled up my arm, all the way to my neck, where she clung to my collar and shrieked in my ear. I noticed how ugly she was–dull black fur with strands of gray sticking up, everything about her runtish and terribly small. The rest of the litter cowered behind a jungle gym, their eyes wide and terrified, and I realized they’d been removed from their mother too soon. As the tiny thing on my shoulder continued to nuzzle, I knew we’d found our kitten. She simply insisted.
Across the way, Amber had chosen a handsome boy who looked like a miniature dairy cow, sleek and white with black markings. He paid no attention to us, but was so pretty that Amber refused to leave him behind.
We left the enclosure and I looked up, trying without success to steel myself against the hordes of dogs that yelped or barked at us as we passed. My distraught gaze rested on a small white dog who sat alone at the door to her cage, quietly looking out. She drew me to her like a magnet, and when I got to her, she placed her already flat face against the wire and snuffled at my hand.
We came away that day with two kittens and a dog, who live with us still. We brought them to America, and they’re part of our family. Their names are Ming, Mulan and Fifi, and it often occurs to me how lucky we all were that day. Would I have chosen Mulan if she hadn’t demanded my attention? Would I have found Fifi if she’d slept at the back of her cage? Ming knew how gorgeous he was; he somehow sensed he’d be okay.
Mulan needed a lot of care, while Ming settled in more easily. Fifi kept running away, in search perhaps of her previous owner from whom she’d been stolen. But we were tenacious in our care and commitment to our pets, and they in turn have enriched our lives beyond measure.
Now, as I prepare to market my book, I realize how much they have to teach me, Mulan especially. But I’m not like her–I don’t have that uninhibited will, drive and insistence that’s impossible to ignore. In many ways I’m more like Fifi, gazing out hopefully but doing little in the way of self promotion. I’d like to be like Ming, and bask in the glow of certain discovery. He has the backing of one of the big five traditional publishers. Mulan is self published, and so am I, perhaps a strange choice for someone who’s an agent, but that’s for another post. Fifi is more independent.
All writers have to find a way to appeal to a readership. Most of us would most likely prefer to be Ming. But today Mulan is just as sleek and beautiful, and although I’m prejudiced because I love her, I would find her so even had she kept her odd gray hairs.
Marketing challenges most of us because so much depends on the extent to which we’re able to project and brand ourselves. In a previous post, Drown or Swim in a Saturated Book Market, I explored the transition from the interior world of the writer in which we create our books, to the marketing and sales boffins we must become to ensure exposure. Let’s take a look at three qualities or characteristics that will help us navigate our marketing journey:
- Package your product. Whether you’re approaching agents, publishers or readers directly, develop a killer pitch, something Caryn has explored in her post Strike Three You’re Out! Throwing the Perfect Pitch. Make sure your book is in the best shape it can be, workshopping or having it professionally edited before you submit it anywhere. Mulan packaged her voice and attitude, and got noticed. Make a book trailer…yourself, or ask me to do it for you. Visualize a cover, even if a publisher is involved, and if you don’t have a publisher, make one that stands out from all the rest.
- Brand yourself and your product. What kind of writer are you? What type of books do you write? If you look at celebrities today, especially in Hollywood, the ones whom we keenly follow are no longer just stars, they’re brands. Um…bankable brands. Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lawrence and Charlize Theron all honed their craft, chose their roles carefully and no matter their age, continue to work in an industry known for its competitive, fickle and relentlessly commercial nature. Become known as a writer, someone committed to your craft, someone whose voice must be heard, and that means contributing in any way to your industry through blogging, submitting short fiction and articles, and engaging with other writers. LinkedIn is a place to start, where there are any number of groups to join and have your say. Get brave and get out there (like Mulan). Those you support will return the favor.
- Target your audience. Both Ming and Mulan were unashamedly kittens, and they didn’t attempt to bark or moo. I know that Mulan targeted me, as there were other people in the enclosure with us, and she got it right. Astute targeting means knowing what you offer and accurately identifying your readership and network. Facebook and Twitter have their place, but also their limits. There are only so many posts your family, friends and acquaintances will tolerate before deciding to hide you from their newsfeeds. Access your lists of email addresses and LinkedIn connections to see who’d be likely to buy your book. If you’re approaching agents or publishers, choose them carefully. Matching what you offer with what someone is looking for is 90% of the battle won.
It turns out that animals have much to teach us, and who would have thought that we could learn from their uninhibited enthusiasm and desire to connect and play? As Mulan yells at me to feed her, Ming demands a change of litter and Fifi flings herself at me when I get home, I wonder whether they know a lot more about strategy than I do.
Next up from Jenn…The choice to self publish.