Fishing has been my lifelong pastime since I was 3 years old. I would go with my parents with a cane pole and a bobber. We fished in lakes before we moved to the river where I learned how to fish on the bottom. I would play with the worms while I watched for my pole to bounce. Needless to say I know a lot about fishing.
When I was young, I had my first brushes with marketing in general. It was traumatizing. I was already shy, so trying to get people to buy something they don’t want was just torture. Just approaching a person is scary. Anyway, my first dose of marketing was school fund raisers. UGH! I HATED them, and dreaded them. I loved (sarcastically) how the teachers and the organizers would get us psyched up to win those cheesy gifts by trying to push us to sell that expensive wrapping paper and candy. I hardly sold anything. I just asked my parents to do it for me. This was elementary school.
In middle school I had to sell candy…by the case. After I sell my case, I’m done right? Wrong. You have to sell another one. UGH! It was all I could do to sell one! Here they had a contest to win something, and the popular rich kid always won. Most of the sales I made were because we bought and ate some of the candy or Dad took it to work, and his coworkers would grab a quick snack and chip in for the cause. One day we went door to door at our 4 or 5 neighbors. I hated to ask them. I had to have my mom there to help me. I was scared. I was shy. I was embarrassed. I knew I wouldn’t make a good salesman.
I also heard my parents hang up on or yell at the telemarketers or the salesman who came to the door. I didn’t want that done to me, so I immediately felt I wouldn’t do it to someone else or lest I get cussed out.
One day I finish my publishing journey, and I have to find ways to become the thing I always dreaded…a salesman. What irony! How funny, but I am not laughing. I suck at selling ANYTHING. What have I done?! However, after a while I found that marketing a book is much different than selling Kirby vacuum cleaners, candy, overpriced wrapping paper, or used cars. The books almost sell themselves. All I usually have to do is talk about the book in general and let people know that it exists. I can do that well, and I talk about something I know a lot about. Other things don’t sell themselves well; you have to lie to get people to buy that used car off the lot. I don’t want to be irritating so I don’t. Someone says no; I move on. I haven’t been cussed out yet (knock on wood). I just talk about it if someone asks, and I put the info out there or find ways to propel that info. That’s it, end of story.
One day I sat down and thought how much book marketing is like my longest lived pastime (I haven’t quit): fishing. The similarities are so similar that it is uncanny. Here they are in no particular order:
I. Knowing your target audience. Knowing you perspective reader is like knowing what you are fishing for or your target species. If you are fishing for catfish, then your gear and bait must be for catfish. If you are fishing for big catfish you don’t want a little pole or it will break. There is no bait that attracts every fish. Worms is the most versatile bait, but striped bass will not eat worms; they eat minnows or shad. There is no book for everybody. Some baits are versatile; others are narrowly focused. Worms are versatlile; spinnerbaits normally catch largemouth bass.
II. Where to find your target reader. People know that fish live in the water, but to go fishing, you don’t just throw a naked hook in the middle of the water just anywhere. You may catch a bait fish if your lucky, but more than likely nothing at all. Fish like to hide. They are also in different parts of the water at different times of the year. Catfish are bottom dwellers. Bream like to congregate in submerged stumps and trees. Largemouth bass can be midwater or topwater and like to hit things that are moving or splashing. You have to think like a fish or in the author to reader’s case, the reader.
III. Know and feel the market. After you have exhausted your local waters, you may want to try a new lake or river for a change or a vacation. You may want to ask the locals where and what the fish are biting. They may be the same species, but something can be different. For example, when I fished for years at the Broad River, the catfish ate worms, but when we moved to Rome, GA and fished the Etowah, the worms didn’t work. Why? The locals said the catfish liked chicken livers instead, and that made all the difference. Navigating the book market is like fishing in that you can’t see the quarry. You have to go by trial and error to find the good holes. Some places you go and catch fish just about every time. Other, a few now and then, but nothing great.
IV. Patience. This is the tough one, even for me. Part of the game of fishing is helping the fish find you with the bait, but you still have to sort of ‘look’ for them. Don’t sit in one spot if you don’t get a nibble or a fish. You have two legs and/or a boat, so move to a new spot. You may be amazed at what you may find there. Again, this is trial and error. Sometimes bringing a different set of baits can help. Sometimes you may catch what you’re not fishing for, but a fish is a fish. A reader is a reader. If you have a versatile book you may get different kinds of readers, but still fish for your target audience.
V. Bait the hook. You can throw a naked hook in an ideal place where a catfish may lurking. He won’t bite it. It’s just a foreign metal, shiny thing that he doesn’t recognize. That’s how a reader will respond if you just plop your book on them. What makes it interesting to them? Why would they ‘eat’ it? You have to get into the fish’s/reader’s mind. Fishing is a science in it’s own rite. Let’s stick with the catfish for this example. The bait disguises the hook and makes it look tasty. This type of fish doesn’t go by eyesight; it can see but not well. The barbels, or whiskers, are not for decoration only–they have a function: to smell. You put a worm on the hook. It looks and smells like something it wants to eat. The fish comes out and starts nibbling. Putting interesting info about your book will make the reader come out and nibble on it. You must do everything you can to make it as appealing to the reader’s senses as possible! Make them want to EAT it (figuratively speaking).
VI. Know when to pull! This is tricky, but it is the big moment and the whole point of the entire thing. Pulling the pole too soon will ruin the gig. The fish may nibble and nibble, and then the pole bows over. That’s when you pull. That’s what you have been waiting for. When you got him, it’s the highest high I just can’t explain. It’s a rush–human vs. animal. Finding an interested reader that wants to read the book I had written feels just like trying to reel in that 20 pound catfish. The same.
VII. When the fish aren’t biting, are not hungry, or steal my bait. This is the opposite end of fishing, and the most frustrating, but you have to keep doing it or never catch anything. You never know, that reader who nibbled and wasn’t interested the first time may come back and take the bait and run with it.
These thoughts have made it a bit easier, and I take the fisherman’s approach in any marketing thing I do. I set the stuff out, and I talk to the nibblers. I usually don’t approach anyone unless it’s someone I MUST approach like a reviewer.