Sunday, 23 October 2011

Ten Things the Small Press Can Do As Well (Or Better) Than the Professional Press, Part 7: Publicity

More and more these days, writers are expected to take a hand in their own publicity.  Gone are the times - if they ever existed - where you could sit back while your publishers did the legwork.  The price of having the power to go out into the digiverse and connect with your potential audience is that, with so many people doing it, it's increasingly hard to be a writer and choose not to.  You have to have a website.  You have to blog.  You have to attend conferences and do interviews and attack perfect strangers in the street whilst wearing a sandwich board proclaiming that your book is the only thing between them and the coming apocalypse.

Okay, so maybe that last one isn't mandatory.  But it can't hurt, right?

So I'm always a bit astonished when I come across small press publishers who aren't doing this things - or are doing them so badly that they might as well not bother.  Because when it comes to promotion, it makes sense that the rules that apply to the learning writer should also apply to the learning editor.  You can't assume people will hear about what you're doing of their own accord.  Chances are, they won't.  Unless you push your work into people's faces, you're far more likely to disappear amidst the clutter.  It isn't a question of how good your product is - or not at first, at any rate.  The clutter is vast, and your product, however good it may be, is small.  Too small for word of mouth.  Too small for your audience to stumble over it by accident.

Now you may not want to judge your readership in terms of numbers.  Because it can be kind of cool to have a tiny readership, right?  You may only have a hundred readers, but that actually means a hundred fans who come back month after month.  This isn't a casual audience; this is people who love the hell out of what you're doing.  Aren't they worth more than a few thousand half-hearted readers who'll be drifting onto whatever the next shiny thing to attract their attention is before the week is out?

Possibly. Only, readers are only one side of the equation.  Readers come for any number of reasons, the quality of the fiction you're punting hopefully somewhere high on the list.  Writers have two main motivations: they want payment or they want exposure.  And since this article is aimed specifically at the small press, we can assume the first one wasn't their prime motivation in seeking you out.  Which means, that writer whose story you just accepted?  They want you to get people to read it.

Not only that.  They want people to talk about it.  They want reviews.  They want comments on your website or blog.  They want evidence that you haven't just dropped their work into a deep, dark electronic hole and are now sat listening to hear if it ever hits the bottom.  Mostly, they want their career to be a little stronger, their readership a little wider, because of you accepting their fiction.

Which still shouldn't translate to, aim your magazine at the lowest common denominator.  By all means, gun for that smart, informed, confrontational readership; chances are, those are exactly the kind of readers your writers want to see engaging with their work.  But these days, however small your niche may be, chances are there are still a few thousand people out there who'll find it interesting.  Just because you only accept haiku about space-faring rodents, doesn't mean it's okay to have a readership in single figures.

On to the ill-informed advice section of this wacky diatribe!  And I don't remember doing bullet points in a while, so let's have some of those...
  • Keep a website and a blog.  Keep them updated.  Few things are more off-putting in the online world than the blog that has seemingly gone dead.  If you've nothing to say, come up with an excuse for a lengthy and rambling series of posts and work it like an eight year old in a Victorian cotton mill.
  • Network.  Be it Facebook, Twitter or fliers at bus stops, hunt your readership.  With night vision goggles and rhino tranqs if need be.
  • Find out what sites review magazines and submit to them.  Then post their reviews on your blog, website and social networking venues of choice.
  • Offer your readers somewhere they can talk about the fiction you publish - be it a letters page, a forum, or the option to leave comments after each piece.  Encourage them to talk at you.
  • Do one of those irritating newsletters that everyone deletes the absolute instant it appears in their inbox.  
  • Or else maybe not that last one.

You want readers.  Your writers want readers.  Your readers want fiction by great writers, but those great writers are only going to submit if you can build your readership, and...

Oh.  wait.  Catch 22.

Promotion, eh?  It's a whole big contradictory bag of monkeys.  But that doesn't mean you can get away with not doing it.

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