March 19, 2012

The Dirty Truth of Writing: How to Market Yourself. Written by David

First of all, if you stopped by Friday expecting a post from me, I apologize. I'm going to stop promising posts except on the days that they are due, which is Monday. Anything after that is a nice little treat.

But I will give you that talk about running a booth at the AWP convention in Chicago this year. Alongside a talk of that, I'm going to talk about one of the most underrated but most important aspects of going into any career, writing or otherwise. Marketing.

Running a booth at AWP comes down to marketing, and if you attend the conference, you may notice that there are three main types of marketing going on. I'll list them all, the type that myself and my colleagues employed last.

The first type of marketing is name recognition. You'll see this type of marketing from magazines and literary presses that are large enough that if you hadn't heard of them, they still have a large enough booth that you'll probably recognize they are big names in the publishing biz. These are generally large college/university presses, or your time established literary journals. These booths and tables don't generally have people who will come out and talk to you. They don't have to. They also don't generally have free stuff. Again, they don't have to. Odds are you want to get published by them whether you fit their aesthetic or not, and odds are unless they've heard of you they're not going to publish you.

I don't mean that as a slight, but it's similar to cold calling The New Yorker and expecting to get published. Unless you are either A. amazing, or more likely B. already established, odds are you're not going to get your first work published here. But I'm going to let you in on a secret that every press, every journal, every publisher will in all likelihood tell you. Even us (in some ways).

Without having seen your work, they will probably tell you that they want you to submit, especially if they have a contest going on. From big to small press, it doesn't matter, because if you're submitting, it means you might be subscribing. One of the things journals will tell you, and the reason that Obsession began in the first place, is that a journal has no aesthetic and publishes everything. But if you're a smart submitter, and you read the journal you're submitting to, in all likelihood you'll see that they do have an aesthetic and they don't publish everything. Even Obsession, which subscribes to a very clear aesthetic doesn't publish everything. Because even if you meet the style of the journal it still has to be good writing.

Don't buy into the talk. Every person has an aesthetic, every journal knows what it publishes, find journals that will publish your work. Which leads us to type of booth/table number two.

The small press/journal. This type of marketing is a lack of marketing whatsoever. It depends on you to approach the booth (generally lured by the promise of a free journal or reduced cost full manuscripts.) You then will have to engage them in conversation, have them explain to you (or as I just described above not explain to you) what their aesthetic is, what they're trying to publish, and generally what they're all about.

Now, I don't mean for this to be a slight when I describe these presses or journals this way. These are not marketing people because they haven't yet been broken of their inhibitions towards talking to strangers. They're writers and college students. Editors and publishers. A training in marketing doesn't come with the territory.

But it is important, and not just here. One of the reasons I skipped out on posting on Friday is that the day before I attended a job fair for teachers and you know what I did all day? Stood in line and marketed myself. What do we do in job interviews? Market ourselves. Dating? Market ourselves. Even when you write you are in many ways marketing your character or your plot. Generally both.

So this leads to the third and rarest of AWP booth managers, and the kind that Obsession employed. Marketing. Unabashed selling of yourself to anyone and everyone who will listen. Now I don't want you to think that this is your general type of marketing that you'll see if you've ever been accosted by a telemarketer or a door to door salesman. Obsession wasn't selling anything, and generally the booths that do employ marketing aren't selling much either. I managed to encounter two tables that had marketers and only one tried to sell something to me (to which I suggest you never carry cash on you, scout out what you want to purchase and make a second sweep to purchase.)

But in marketing your goal is to get your name out there and get people to listen. So let me give you the rundown of what marketing entails. Develop a pitch, nail it down, figure out how to deliver it, and find any opportunity to do so (keeping in mind that you'll still have to talk to people. Don't be one of those people who delivers the pitch when someone is not listening at all. Then you're just annoying.) So what was Obsession's pitch? Pretend for a moment that you're a conference attendee walking past an unobtrusive booth and suddenly you hear this.

"Free literary magazine?"

Who can turn down free right? Well some people could and they missed out on a fantastic sampling of what Obsession has published, but that's besides the point. For the 920 people (give or take) who did take the press they were then treated to this.

"Obsession literary magazine, the only literary magazine that publishes works solely based on people's obsessions."

Right there I have delivered our name, our aesthetic, and handed them a sample of what the journal is about without inconveniencing them (a lot of the time I was delivering this to people who were still walking on) so that later when they sit down and read the short pieces we've given them, they remember what we're about and since our submission guidelines were included, if they decide to submit they immediately know how.

Now what did we do if this little spiel caught their attention? Flesh out the details. I would then go on to explain when we publish, why we publish what we do, what we're looking for. A great tactic is to make them laugh (for instance, I probably propositioned at least half the people I spoke with for a bread sculpture. Why? Because a sculpture out of bread sounded funny and caught peoples attention) and appeal to things you notice about the person. Are they wearing a specific shirt? Talk about it. Style? Talk about it.

But I think most importantly, have fun. A great marketer is a person who is having fun. Most of the booths and tables don't have great strategies because they don't look like they're having fun, they look like they're working. But what other jobs let you talk to hundreds of people about what you should already be passionate about?

What will I talk about next time? Well next week I'd like to take a break from discussing literature and take a moment to talk about teaching. I think you'll be surprised how you can relate teaching to writing. And if not, then you might learn something about what it means to be a teacher.

David is the main contributor to the Obsession Literary Magazine blog as well as one of the co-founders and editors of the magazine. He is a recently published author in Marathon Literary Review and has a publication forthcoming in Apiary magazine.

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