Marrying Craft and Commerce
Author Dave DiGrazie blogs about what he’s (still) learning.
Greetings, fellow underexposed literary geniuses who intend to write well and for a large audience. I bring news from the front.
When I joined the military, one expression used to describe people like me – freshly-minted officers straight from college – was “still wet behind the ears.” My first job was to identify old sergeants who bore goodwill toward “second louies” like me and wanted to teach us.
“C’mere, Lieutenant!” one of my sergeants would say, smiling good-naturedly as I prepared to share my latest challenge. “Come let me dry your head for you, Sir.”
Decades later, as I launch my journey as a professional author – wham! I’m wet behind the ears again.
In my last guest blog, I said that beyond great writing, we really need project management savvy if we’re to meet our publication goals in this Internet age. Well… would you believe that I’m learning that there’s a lot more to it? That I’m in need, once again, of trustworthy ‘sergeants’ who know the business and who want me to succeed?
Oh, I still think project management is important if we want to expand our reach and financially support certain daily habits not easily dropped, such as eating. But now I’ve clearly seen that literature is also (shudder) a business.
I hired sergeants. Their help, insight, and encouragement has been invaluable. In early June, my sergeants (book retail veterans from SuzyQ author promotion and retail development services) met me in New York City for Book Expo America (BEA), arguably the nation’s largest commercial book show, to help launch my second novel and to be my tour guides as I observed literary commerce.
(More shudders from the artists. Wait, don’t run! The Latin root commercium means “trade.” As in, “I’ll trade you this great literature I produced for money to feed my family.” I think some kinds of commerce are evil, but I do like the kind that allows me to keep feeding loved ones.)
Producing literature does not have to result in commerce; it can be therapeutic, self-revelational, or just a pleasant diversion. If you write for only those reasons, I applaud you. If you don’t want an audience outside of your critique group and a soulmate or two, forget commerce.
If your mission is to touch other people with your literature, it’s a good idea to understand the commercial aspects of literature. Take my case: in my nascent career, I’ve built a readership of over 7,000 people. But in eight out of nine cases, there was no commercial transaction. I looked for both “promotional copy” and “free e-book download” at the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference to check their nutritional value, but neither were listed. That’s not a problem, except for these existential realities:
- I must write several hours per week in order to remain sane
- I have a calling to touch others with my literature
- My wife and two kids also eat
So, I’m trying to get better at the commercial aspects of my literary calling. I’ve learned that literature is a retail business, and authors who think like retailers can expand their paying audience. To think like a retailer means to master the “4 P’s” – say them with me – Product, Place, Promotion, Pricing. The middle two – “Place” and “Promotion” – are what I’ve been learning most about in recent weeks.
Place: Your literature must be available where your audience hangs out – their favorite Internet sites, bookstores, or both. “Place” is more than a location; it’s also a time. As book biz veteran Anthony Wessel of Digital Book Today explained over coffee, most books are purchased a month either side of the December holidays with little seasonal spikes around Mother’s and Father’s Day. Don’t plan to sell very much at any other time of year.
Anthony pointed out that whether you are selling print books through bookstores or e-books on the Internet, you must buy your ads month in advance of these seasons, or you may be shut out of the available advertising and promotional space. The people who make ad space available also eat, so you need an advertising budget. All this is just as true for Internet ads as for traditional outlets.
Promotion: The very sound of “self-promotion” makes me cringe. Yet, some authors are making a fortune by selling inferior literature while you and I struggle to gain a small following. Why? They are masters of promotion. I want people to read good stuff, like yours and mine! So, why not beat these people at their own game? We can learn to promote ourselves without sacrificing our craft.
Here’s the “quick and dirty” of what I’ve learned about promotion: Don’t be quick and dirty. And smile a lot. Appearances, like book covers, are everything. Before my BEA signing event, my sergeants ensured that 1) I would have great interactions with all the people in my signing line; and 2) I invested in eye-catching visual props and giveaways. My pre-event panic (I’m an unknown! No one will come!) dissolved. For an entire hour, I had a blast meeting people in my steady line. You, too, can have fun with self-promotion if you can simply be yourself while meeting people.
One important caveat regarding promotion: I’m only able to enjoy promoting my book because I am genuinely proud of it. I don’t recommend that you risk the time, money, and emotional involvement needed for tackling the business of literature until your literature is worthy of your audience. That’s where your teachers, critique groups, and your own self-honesty and diligence are so critical. Wow! I’ve managed to take this discussion of the business of literature right back to the importance of craft. Time to quit while I’m ahead!
Dave DiGrazie’s second novel, See John Play, was released in May 2012. The book is about a gambler with a golfing problem, a woman’s determination, and a family on the verge. See John Play became the #1 drama downloaded from Amazon’s Kindle store as the result of a Father’s Day promotion. Dave lived in the shadows of Montgomery College’s Rockville campus in the 1980s, and he now calls Northern Virginia home. You can catch him at davedigrazie.com or follow him on Facebook.com/pizzaguydave.