If you're not thinking of yourself as a salesperson and editors and readers as customers, then perhaps marketing mistakes are slowing you down.
What's stopping you from breaking into new markets? From attracting more lucrative deals? From graduating from hobby to business status IRS-wise? From parlaying one-shot deals into repeat sales? If you're not thinking of yourself as a salesperson and editors and readers as customers, then perhaps marketing mistakes are slowing you down.
Conquer marketing mistakes with these strategies.
Mistake #1: Failing to recognize customer interests.
Strategy: Writers with marketing smarts not only analyze publication content, they also analyze advertisements (at least six issues' worth). Ads are identikits for the audience a publisher is targeting. Content and ads together, then, mirror readers' age bracket, income levels, education, aspirations, marital status, pastimes, fantasies and fears.
A glossy food and wine digest advertising cooking classes in Tuscany taught by Chef Carluccio is unlikely to accept the manuscript "Ten Meals in Ten Minutes." Editors shove potluck queries and manuscripts to the back burner in favor of proposals and articles that satisfy readers' tastes.
Mistake #2: Getting customers' names wrong.
Strategy: Some publishing houses change editors as frequently as Julia Roberts dumps boyfriends. Do incumbents hold grudges when queries are addressed to the wrong editor or previous editors? "Instead of going to the top editor, these queries will go the lowest editor (the slush pile)," writes John Wood in his information-packed How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query and Cover Letters (Writer's Digest Books, 1996). Addressing queries to a former editor later than two or more issues after the new ed has taken the helm proves the writer isn't current with the magazine's style and content, let alone personnel.
Check recent editions at newsstands, libraries or websites for a publication's telephone number or e-mail address. Then call or e-mail for the editor's name. Find out if your article about a 90-year-old former Olympian goes to the sports or lifestyle editor. Get correct spelling, too. Kate Brown or Cate Browne? Find out where departed editors who'd bought your pieces before work now. Editors who know and trust you are as good as money in the bank.
Mistake #3: Focusing on sellers' concerns.
Strategy: Pore over ad copy. Notice how ads focus on customers instead of on companies pushing product. For example, would you rather buy a vehicle from a company whose advertisement shows a wrecked van with the statement "Dummies sustained fewer head injuries during crash tests," or from the company whose slogan states, "We hold all your precious cargo," and shows kids and Fido inside a van?
Shift gears from autos to prose. A query opening with "I'm a member of AACS and a freelance writer. I'd like to write for CEO Magazine" is writer focused and won't hook an editor's attention or confidence. A query opening with "CEO Magazine readers need to know corporate security breaches increased threefold last year. According to American Association for Corporate Security seventy-five percent of the cases involved company insiders. Most of the inside thefts were preventable" is customer focused and more apt to get an editorial green light.
Mistake #4: Ignoring opportunities for add-ons.
Strategy: Add-ons turn one-shot deals into repeat sales. A customer who paid for a product is a prime target for another sale, provided the original product was satisfactory. Think like electronic goods dealers who ("For only a few dollars more …") offer videotape re-winders to new VCR owners. Writers hunting for add-on sales should immediately acknowledge the customer's first purchase, express appreciation, and then offer a logical extension that will satisfy more of the customer's needs.
Case in point: After composing descriptions for artifacts to be displayed in the local history museum's upcoming exhibit, I offered an add-on product—press releases announcing the exhibition opening. The curator was pleased with my writing and had funding to support more work, so she accepted.
Mistake #5: Not using multiple marketing tools.
Strategy: Writers aiming to ramp up sales go beyond the ABCs of providing SASEs and IRCs. They use websites, business cards, pamphlets, free samples, compelling queries and add-on sales. They sell sets (i.e. a column) instead of one article, mention another product in the context of a current product, tell people what they do, (no more closet writers) and provide prospective customers with happy customers' names as references.
Mistake #6: Being hard to get.
Strategy: Market-aware writers conduct business during the hours their customers work. This means answering a newspaper editor's phone call during the climax of West Wing. (Dear editor is putting tomorrow morning's edition "to bed.") This means installing a telephone answering machine to record messages from customers while the writer is out, and this means accessing a host server to send and receive e-mails when the writer travels beyond the local ISP's (Internet Service Provider's) reach.
Considerate writers put their website links on e-mails, print e-mail addresses on business cards, and tuck business cards into snail-mail envelopes. Writers who include physical addresses, and phone, fax and e-mail numbers on correspondence—queries, cover letters, proposals, manuscripts, interim letters, photos and invoices—are easier to contact than writers who shrug and say, "They have my mobile phone number on file somewhere." Tip: Put your address on the upper left corner of SASEs. That way if the 34-cent S doesn't cover postage for mailing back a multi-paged contract the publisher popped into the E, the contract won't ricochet back to the publisher. It'll hit your mailbox.
Mistake #7: Giving up on a particular market too soon.
Strategy: Persistence can pay off. Editors decline to publish articles for reasons having nothing to do with quality or suitability. Let's say you've submitted an award-worthy article detailing the therapeutic value of animal companions to a regional magazine aimed at nursing home administrators. The editor shoots back a form letter along the lines of "While we've given your article serious consideration, it doesn't meet our editorial needs at this time."
What's wrong? Maybe animals starred in a five-page splash less than two years ago and the editor isn't ready to revisit furry friends, or headquarters revamped the magazine to cover administrative topics exclusively, or budget shrinkage prevents compensating freelance journalists, or the editor's parrot crunched its final cracker so reading about comfort creatures is distressing. Persistent writers try again later.
Mistake #8: Being a one-trick dog.
Strategy: Every writer's forte is a springboard to other products and services customers will buy. No matter what stage of your career you're in, take these cues from Anne Lamott.
Anne's first novel, Hard Laughter, was published in 1980. More published novels and memoirs followed. She wrote columns for magazines and then "Someone offered me a gig teaching a writing workshop, and I've been teaching writing classes ever since." And writing still.
Don't wait passively for "someone" to offer you a gig. Actively market your skills. When offers come, don't confess that you've never edited a technical manual (or whatever) before. Accept the job and get to work! Success arrives when opportunity meets preparation.
Mistake #9: Lacking a marketing plan.
Strategy: Dynamic planning leads to dynamic results. A wordsmith's marketing plan can comprise an income goal for the year, a milestone goal (e.g. Get published in ByLine), and a quantity goal. Overall goals are buttressed with concrete activities to keep customers delighted and to discover and develop new customers. A system for tracking queries sent, accepted and rejected; manuscripts sent, accepted and rejected; money spent, money owed to you, and money earned belongs in the market planning toolbox.
Mistake #10: Haphazard production.
Strategy: Novelist Wilbur Smith says, "If you just let it happen, then it's not going to happen." To make it happen, Wilbur gives himself a date on which to start producing a new bestseller.
A production schedule supporting the goal "Get published in ByLine" resembles a "to do" list with due dates for analyzing past issues, query writing, manuscript writing, editing, recruiting a writer to critique the draft, re-writing, proofreading and so on. Coordinate production schedules with other writing projects (and other facets of life) to avoid bottlenecks, backlogs and missed deadlines.
Mistake #11: Blending in with the herd.
Strategy: Marketing wizards bandy USP around when brainstorming ad campaigns. Writers, who tend toward introversion, sometimes shy away from announcing their Unique Selling Points. Mavericks break away from the herd by suggesting unconventional angles, having access to meaty sources for quotes, enclosing relevant clips, listing publishing credits germane to the proposal, and highlighting qualifications and experience promising an insider's view. Delivering product on time and according to submission guidelines establish USP, too. Not every hopeful writer does so, you know.
Mistake #12: Not negotiating.
Strategy: "Everything's negotiable," negotiation gurus declare.
Don't automatically freeze out non-paying publications. Ask for a free advert to be published in the issue with your article. The addendum "Contact the author at 555-2345 to find out about writers' workshops" is fair consideration in lieu of bucks, as is "This short story is excerpted from the novel of the same title." Use editors' and experts' positive comments in your marketing kit. Their bravos pave the way to paying markets.
When a hot prospect asks, "How much do you charge for such-and-such?" respond, "I recently received X amount for an article of similar length" or cite fees listed in Writer's Market as a guideline or tell the editor you'll get back to her. In the meantime, find out what that publication and its competitors pay freelancers. Ask about additional pay for photos. Keep as many rights as possible. Make sure copyright reverts back to you after publication so you may legally sell second rights in the same country and first rights in other countries. Did you know that publications must pay authors for material published as hard copy and for electronic rights to use the same material on ancillary websites?
Mistake #13: Going off duty.
Strategy: Pounce on marketing opportunities 'round the clock, 'round the block.
My massage therapist's musings about writing a book became an editing job for me, an animal shelter keeper's chatter was the basis for an article I sold to a pet-lovers' magazine, writers' meetings provided a venue for my travel writing workshops, a business owner's gripes about staff became a stint writing an employees' handbook, volunteering at the library provided inspiration for articles submitted to library journals, corresponding with a Chinese author led to…Got the picture? On-duty writers get more commissions than off-duty writers do.
Mistake #14: Continuing to make marketing mistakes.
Strategy: Change seems daunting. Pick one mistake to conquer. As the strategy becomes habit, select another. Enjoy the rewards of victory: increased sales.
(Fowler's new environmental thriller, The Universal Solvent, is available now in bookstores or visit authorsden.com/bethfowler)