guerilla marketing

On many writing websites and blogs I’ve seen exhortations for marketing our “brand” as writers. We’re told to have a blog, to tweet, to have a writerly presence on Facebook and Google Plus and Linked In and every social media platform we can find. We should have cards to hand out and we should keep a high profile at conventions and readings. And I’m sure there are more instructions for marketing ourselves, but I have turned my head away from all of that because it just feels unseemly to me.

Sure, I’ll concede that this kind of hustle might work for some writers in some cases. It might get them more read or better known at least. But does it improve the actual writing? How many of us can compartmentalize our creative selves, devoting a given fraction to writing and a given fraction to self promotion? How many of us are solitary, asocial types who are uncomfortable in the public sphere at all, much more so in the world of hustle and charm? I know I’m not the glad-handing type with a sparkle in my toothy smile and a not-so-hidden agenda to push my wares on the helpless and unsuspecting.

And yet, for years I have engaged in a kind of guerilla marketing of my stories, and this week was the first time I received actual confirmation that it worked (at least one time). I carry small strips of paper in my wallet that list my story title and the name of the online publication where it can be found. “Travel Light – read it online at Penduline Press.” I leave these in unlikely places where they may (or may not) be found later. Between the pages of library books. Between the pages of bookstore books (especially airport bookstores for some reason). Inside little jars and wooden boxes at craft fairs. (This is especially pertinent for my “Velvet Elvis” story.) Even pinned to public bulletin boards. I leave these notes and go on my way and never know if they reach a target.

Except that someone did find a note I’d left between the pages of a local travel guide in a bed and breakfast where I had stayed two years ago. The note referenced my story “Moron Saturday,” which is now no longer online, but the person reached the version of it I have posted on this blog and left a comment saying he or she had found my note.

I think it’s a benign sort of marketing ploy. It’s not crass or in-your-face. It’s not even all that arrogant since I don’t include my name on the note. A finder can pursue the link if interested or toss the note if not. I suppose the libraries and the bookstores and the crafters might object to my piggy-backing on their audience, but I don’t think they’d object too much.

No, I’m not a hustler, but I can do this kind of anonymous promotion of my stories and still respect myself.

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5 Comments on “guerilla marketing”

  1. I’m not a fan of Jonathan Franzen, but he recently wrote an essay about technology and an author’s expectation to be a “brand.” Regarding that, he said this:

    “The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world. But what happens to the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement? What happens to the people who want to communicate in depth, individual to individual, in the quiet and permanence of the printed word, and who were shaped by their love of writers who wrote when publication still assured some kind of quality control and literary reputations were more than a matter of self-promotional decibel levels?”

    I hate the thought that we’re “brands.” I like the Internet, so I’m comfortable with certain levels of promotion — if I can even call it that. I like doing presentations, so I’ll speak at conferences, and sure — mention that I write. But it’s stuff I do because I enjoy doing it — not because I feel I have to. I would rather have a handful of friends read what I write and call that as good as it gets than to be that loud person who’s always on and promoting.

    Volume might sell more books, but I don’t see it selling enough to make a living for the loudest writers I know. They sell more than I do, but there’s a desperation in it all that I find sad. Spending time slipping little slips of paper mentioning publications into hidden places seems much better, and it’s very cool that someone tracked you down from a piece of paper found in a bed and breakfast from years ago. That’s a much better story than: “BUY MY BOOK!!!”

    [A total side note: the agents I’ve heard at conferences all say the same thing: a “brand/platform” are nice, but they don’t care…they just want a great book that hooks them. I think those who shout the loudest about “brands” and online presence are those who make a living showing others how to boost their online presence. I’ve been to one writer’s conference in my life, and the talk about social media presence was packed, while a panel of agents talking about the industry had a quarter of the crowd. Almost everything I heard mentioned in the social media workshop was disputed by the agents.]

  2. Pete Says:

    I love that idea, Paul. I might try that myself soon.

  3. Averil Dean Says:

    I think it’s mostly writers who tell each other we need a massive social media presence; it gives us a false sense of being proactive. I’ve never heard that advice from anyone in publishing. Mostly they say, Do one thing, have some sort of presence so that readers can find you if they’d like. That’s it, and it’s not a big deal. Blogging once or twice a week is plenty. (Though the advice would be different, of course, for nonfiction. There you really do need a platform.)

    I like your guerilla scheme. It would probably work on me.

  4. donnaeve Says:

    I’ve heard the same thing as Averil – most recently on an agent’s website. And I wholeheartedly agree with you about the requirement to push ourselves out there to sell. I’m no sales person, that’s for sure. I had a one year stint of that back in the late 80’s and I quit that job – even though I had two kids to feed. I mean HATED it, and this idea some have of tweeting about their book fifty times a day is about as irritating as trying to run with a pebble in one’s shoe.

  5. I’m not sure a social media presence really makes a difference. I’m bombarded all day by tweets about people’s book releases and I have never bought a book because of one. BUT…finding information about an author and his/her books when I want it is essential. I’d say the most important thing a writer does is a) have a good website with information on his/her books and b) write a blog that engages readers enough to learn more about the author behind the blog.

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