by Maria J. Estrada
Please welcome Jesú Estrada to the Writers Journey Blog this week with an insightful article on marketing your work.
What I Wish I Had Known about Marketing, Four Years Ago
Before I started publishing in 2018, I knew a reader base was important and that social media was key to growing that base. I started a blog in 2016 in anticipation of my novel publication (which I am still working on) and then moved on to connect with writing groups on Facebook. Of course, writing my best work is paramount and will be the driving reason for my writing, but I wanted my work to reach a broad audience. I am still seeking to reach that broad audience. But, here are some of the key lessons I have learned about marketing.
Focus on a few key social media outlets. I use primarily Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. I advertise my books and publications daily, but I will say that I have made the most sales on Facebook. However, it is easy to get caught up in the social media vortex, so focusing on these three platforms makes sense for my productivity.
I am in a number of groups on Facebook, but owning a group is important. I administer a group called Penned in the City, where we have contests and calls for submissions for group members; the first publication from Barrio Blues Press, a small charity press that I own, was Nation which was based on a contest from Penned in the City.
At first, the group focused on writers, but it has grown since to include artists, musicians, and readers. Members are free to promote their books and publications and seek help.
Within those social media outlets, I don’t just advertise my books, (honestly, that can get annoying and narcissistic) so I always uplift the work of other writers. Always.
For example, on my YouTube channel “Radical Books and Activists,” I interview authors about their publications or have them share their work if they are not published. Likewise, I enjoy reviewing books by independent writers. Of course, I promote my own books with short book ads or larger reading events, but I prefer to have guests on the show.
What about Twitter? It has connected me to numerous writers. Some of whom I have featured on my YouTube channel. I have over 3,000 followers, but here is lesson 1.5: A lot of followers don’t equal a reader base. If the followers are following you for your work that is a different story. But don’t expect to sell a lot of books because you have a lot of followers. For now, Twitter offers a great writing community. Through Twitter, I have made great writer friends like Ross Jeffery, Joseph Sale, and have even made connections with some of my heroes like Josh Malerman and even friended others like Tongo Eisen-Martin.
Don’t waste your money on ads. I have tried them all, Amazon, Twitter, and Facebook (and others), and these have not led to increased sales (or book reviews). What has led to purchases is making personal connections with people, like those writers I mentioned earlier whose work I uplift. The bottom line is to save your money. For what?
Spend your money on covers and editing. I design my own books, so I don’t have to spend money on that. However, when I first started writing, I was going to do it all alone. That was a huge mistake. A professionally designed cover matters. Having a great editor matters. Yes, I have three degrees in English, but an editor is objective and will guide your work and improve it in ways you just will not see.
You may have to price out and negotiate with designers and editors, but spending money on these two aspects is important. And 3.5 Never pay without signing a contract first.
Whether you are traditionally published or not, you have to hustle. The JK Rowlings of the world are few. Most of the professional writers I know have jobs. Yes, you heard right, jobs. That should not deter you from writing, but you will have to hustle. I have made more sales at events and selling hard copies than selling on Amazon.
That requires that you sit at tables for hours, and if you are not shy, have readings. The pandemic has put a damper on that, but whenever the opportunity arises, I try to sell my books by tabling at a conference or convention or sell books to people who I know will appreciate them. (I often give my books to people too because what matters to me is that they get read.)
Don’t assume some books will be better received than others. Readers, like the market, can be unpredictable. My bestseller and most popular book is a short read called La Bruja in the Orchard. It was one of the first books I published, and something about that story captivates readers. Other times, I have been certain my books would be received with tremendous success, but that work continues to be a favorite.
Have fun and experiment. Instead of agonizing over sales, enjoy putting your work out there. Get creative with reaching your readers, and don’t be afraid to fail. Learn from your mistakes and move on to the next project.
Writing your best work is what matters most. I knew this before I started writing, but it is the truth that I return to. Writing my best work is what matters most. Ground yourself in your truth that won’t rely on metrics or profits. That doesn’t mean you can’t have financial or reader goals, but remember why you love the craft and keep on.
No matter what, keep writing.
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Biography: MARIA J. ESTRADA is an English college professor of Composition, Literature, and her favorite, Creative Writing. She grew up in the desert outside of Yuma, Arizona in the real Barrio de Los Locos, a barrio comprised of new Mexican immigrants and first-generation Chicanos. Drawing from this setting and experiences, she writes like a loca every minute she can—all while magically balancing her work and family obligations. She lives in Chicago’s south side with her wonderfully supportive husband, two remarkable children, and a menagerie of animals.