Make Friends. It's Good For Business.

Note: This post originally appeared on the website WriterUnboxed. This is the one of several WU guest posts I’ll reprint here on my site.

President_and_King

There comes a point in the life of your Work In Progress when -- hot dog! -- it's no longer a Work In Progress. The sucker's done, you did it ... heck, you frickin' nailed it, and the time has come to query agents, or present it to your agent or editor, or self-publish. The rest of this essay assumes that your work will resonate with the appropriate gatekeepers, and soon soar beyond your grasp, off into the world, to be consumed by an audience.

This distribution could come in the form of a big-name publisher, an indie press, DIY-fueled print on demand, self-recorded audio podcast, home-brewed blog serialization ... whatever. Point is, it'll be out there. But unless you're blessed with an existing audience (fancy-pants publishers call this a "platform," though I prefer the term "wicked awesome fans"), few people are going to know about it. Your brilliant tale is bobbing in a sea of other brilliant tales. Your signal is lost in all that noise.

To leave the success of your work completely in the hands of a publisher publicist is foolish; that professional may be talented, but he's pimping at least 20 other books this month, and is spread so thin, he gives Silly Putty a run for its money. To believe that random word of mouth alone will differentiate your stuff from other novelists' is equally wrongheaded; how can people gab about something they don't know exists? You're a writer, which means you're probably broke, so self-funded ads are out of the question. And doggone it, Oprah isn't returning your calls.

There's a dozen-dozen ways to combat the great enemy Obscurity -- but I recommend making friends. It's good for business.

Cranking out that novel (or other creative work) was a solitary act: It was just you and the words. Now that it's in the wild, you're personally, ethically obligated to give it every chance to succeed. Reaching out to published peers and influencers can help. By contacting fellow players in the industry, you can earn the attention of colleagues, share your content across multiple fan-bases, and increase awareness for your work.

Now remember, making friends is good for business. And business is what you should be most concerned about, now that you're staring down the howitzer barrel of earning out that advance. Make-believe time is over. You're no longer a wordsmith; you're a businessperson. It's time to strategize. You gotta move books, man.

So make friends. Do some research. Find online-savvy authors in your genre -- or compatible genres -- who like to blog, are on Facebook or Twitter, or release content in other interesting ways (like podcasting). Examine what they're talking about in these spaces, especially if they're talking about other authors. This is a good thing, particularly if you're already a fan of their work. This is an opportunity to make friends.

Reach out to these authors with a respectful email that gently flatters and then gets down to business: You'd like to engage their audiences in a creative way that helps boost awareness for your work ... and in exchange, you'll promote the authors' works via your online outlets. It's a mutually-beneficial opportunity for you, the person you're pitching, and both audiences.

I'm all about making such offers, often with creators who've never heard of my work. Despite the seemingly impossible odds, I have found it to be particularly effective in not only forming win-win alliances with fellow creators, but making true friendships. Those are also good for business.

For instance: I'm a writer who released his novels online as free serialized audiobooks. Each week, new chapters of my novel (which I record myself) were released on my site and on iTunes as a podcast. I was part of a small-but-growing subculture of authors who use this content-powered "loss leader" strategy to build an audience for our stuff.

Scott Sigler is another popular podcast novelist. A few years ago, Scott and I got to talking. We're both thriller writers. (Scott writes brilliant sci-fi horror; I roll with technothrillers.) We were releasing our then-unpublished podcast novels at the same time, and we both craved larger audiences. What if we combined our efforts and promoted each other’s work in an innovative way? Since our manuscripts weren't yet published anywhere in "ink," we could alter the manuscripts, and make references to each other's novels within our own work. Better still, we'd host a contest for our listeners: They'd have to listen to both books to catch these "crossover" references. Those who spotted all six crossovers could win a prize.

The cross-promotion worked. Our audiences grew exponentially, and we still share a great many fans. We consistently promoted each other's work on our podcasts and websites. We found common ground, discovered an untapped opportunity to cross-promote, and ran with it.

Your cross-promotional pitches need not be so ambitious. You could scheme on something as simple as a series of mutually beneficial Twitter tweets, a blog post, mentions on your Facebook pages, an ad swap, a one-minute audio commercial to play on a podcast ... the low-impact list goes on and on.

Want to upgrade that cross-promotion? Consider a short fiction collaboration, serialized at your websites. (Part 1 would be at your site, Part 2 at your collaborator's site, and so on.) Team up for appearances at conventions, and promote this "twofer" appearance to your audiences. (This increases the number of attendees, and widens your net for new customers.) Same goes for book signings, if geography and budget permits. You're limited only by your imagination, and the interest level of your cross-promotional partners.

Of course, the more successful the creator you're pitching, the more likely they are to either ignore your request, or reject it. That's cool. But don't let the fear of rejection stop you from pursuing an alliance. Heck, it didn't stop you from writing your book or querying agents, so why should the possibility of "no" stop you now?

In fact, my mantra is "All they can say is no." I've pitched popular podcasters, bestselling novelists, film actors and directors on my fiction, often asking them to lend a hand (or credibility) to my projects. This crazy-ass breed of chutzpah has scored endorsements from the creators of Friday the 13th, The Blair Witch Project, Final Destination, several movie stars, cameo podcast appearances by cast members of Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, and more. Their assistance either dazzled my fans -- which is also good for business -- or helped move the needle with the promotion of my work.

I share these successes not to brag, but to prove that this strategy is extremely viable, and that it gets people talking about your work ... which is the whole point, right?

By approaching influential creators -- and equally important, creators on the same influential "level" as you -- and asking them to help evangelize your work, you're offering them an opportunity to provide something of value to their audiences. They'll be talking about something cool and interesting. People love to read or hear about cool and interesting things. Plus, these creators benefit by your cross-promotional love via your online outlets. Every fan counts, and new fans are precious indeed, whether you're a noob or a veteran.

By making friends, you'll also form meaningful bonds with fellow authors. Cross-promotional potential will become more evident, the more you correspond. These professional alliances become personal ones -- and even more opportunities can spring from these relationships. I've referred colleagues for freelance fiction writing work, and they've opened doors for me. It's not a magic bullet to a love-in, but goodness, does it make book promotion easier and fun.

So make friends, whenever you can. Target colleagues in your genre and reach out. They'll likely be flattered to know that you want to help tell the world about their work ... and may very well respond in kind.

--J.C.

SuicideGirls.com and J.C. Hutchins cross-promote "Personal Effects: Dark Art"

SuicideGirls.com, Thriller Author Team Up To Release Groundbreaking Online Promotion Of A Very 'Novel' Novel June 8, 2009 For immediate release Press contact: J.C. Hutchins -- 7thSonNovel@gmail.com For high-resolution photos: Nicole Powers -- nicole@suicidegirls.com

In an innovative cross-promotion never seen in publishing, alternative pin-up website SuicideGirls.com has partnered with St. Martin's Press and thriller novelists J.C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman to prove that paper and ink can transcend the two dimensional printed page in surprising and sexy ways.

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To celebrate the June 9 release of Hutchins' and Weisman's groundbreaking supernatural thriller novel Personal Effects: Dark Art, SuicideGirls will debut several multimedia-fueled experiences on its popular site, including videos, an interactive scavenger hunt for readers, and a steamy Personal Effects-themed pin-up photo set featuring Suicide Girls Annika and Lumi. Hutchins will release and/or link to this content at his website, JCHutchins.net.

It's a saucy, unconventional way to promote an equally unconventional book. Personal Effects: Dark Art chronicles the life of Zach Taylor, an enthusiastic art therapist who uses patients' personal effects to treat their psychoses. In a thrilling twist, these personal effects actually come with the book, propelling readers into novel-enhancing narratives told via email, phone, and on the Web. Readers can investigate the novel's dangerous mystery, and discover plot twists that hero Zach Taylor may never experience.

SuicideGirls/Personal Effects image 2

Further blurring the lines between reality and fiction, Personal Effects character Rachael Webster is now guest blogging at SuicideGirls, writing its "Hit Play" gaming column, which has garnered a loyal following.  Rachael also has her own blog at PixelVixen707.com.

"Personal Effects blurs the lines between reality and fiction in an interesting way. It's a compulsive, page-turning mystery with characters that leap off the page and  compel the reader to seek answers beyond the confines of the book's covers. We're very excited to be a part of J.C.'s paper and pixilated vision, which is unique, smart, sexy, geeky and creative -- like those in our community," says SuicideGirls' co-founder, Missy.

SuicideGirls/Personal Effects image 3

Hutchins agrees. "It's a perfect match, from an audience perspective," he says. "SuicideGirls' readership is edgy, well-educated, progressive and online-savvy. Further, SuicideGirls has a lot to offer my current fans -- killer interviews, exceptionally-crafted columns on culture and Internet life."

In addition to Rachael Webster's "Hit Play" column, SuicideGirls and Hutchins have several special Personal Effects-themed promotions planned for release at their sites, including:

  • An innovative, sexy photo shoot featuring Suicide Girls Annika and Lumi, and the trailblazing personal effects that accompany the novel, such as business and ID cards, photographs and legal documents. Several clues are also embedded in the photoset.
  • SG will release video blog posts, mentioning its friend Rachael Webster (who is also tattooed, pierced and geeky), and her "Hit Play" column
  • SG personalities will be "committed" to Brinkvale Psychiatric (the spooky setting for Personal Effects), and share their authentic-looking patient paperwork with SG readers...
  • ...they will blog about their stay at "The Brink"...
  • ...clues in their blog posts and patient paperwork will propel SG readers to Brinkvale's website (BrinkvalePsychiatric.com)...
  • ...and there, fans can "hack" into a doctor's profile page, and learn more about the staffers' incarceration via additional SG-exclusive content.
  • SG Managing Editor Nicole Powers will provide a video testimonial, endorsing the novel

"SuicideGirls truly 'gets' the reality-blurring intent powering the Personal Effects experience, and is fully embracing it," Hutchins says. "The staff loves the book, and wants to integrate that 'out of book' experience into the website for their readers. I think SuicideGirls fans, and fans of my work, will get a kick out of this cross-promotion."

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About J.C. Hutchins – JCHutchins.net Since 2006, J.C. Hutchins has released free serialized audiobook thrillers, using the Internet and unique "zero budget" promotions to build his audience, reaching nearly 4 million episode downloads to date. The first of these novels (titled 7th Son: Descent) will be published this fall; the series has been optioned by Warner Bros.  Hutchins' work has been covered in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time.com, Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, and on the BBC. Personal Effects: Dark Art is his print novel debut.

About SuicideGirls – SuicideGirls.com With a vibrant, sex positive community of women (and men), SuicideGirls was founded on the belief that creativity, personality and intelligence are not incompatible with sexy, compelling entertainment, and millions of people agree. The site mixes the smarts, enthusiasm and DIY attitude of the best music and alternative culture sites with an unapologetic, grassroots approach to sexuality. In the same way Playboy Magazine became a beacon and guide to the swinging bachelor of the 1960s, SuicideGirls is at the forefront of a generation of young women and men whose ideals about sexuality do not conform with what mainstream media is reporting.

SuicideGirls features the hottest modern pin-up pictures of tattooed and pierced women who challenge and redefine notions of beauty. Similarly, SuicideGuirls champions freethinkers and those with an alternative perspective. Featured interviews include Leonard Nimoy, Larry Charles, Sofia Coppola, Chuck Palahniuk, Dennis Hopper, Marilyn Manson, Joan Jett, and Twitter CEO Evan Willaims, to name but a few. Celebrity and guest columnists include Steal Back Your Vote's Greg Palast, Star Trek's Wil Wheaton (who writes a monthly Geek In Review column), Anthrax's Scott Ian (Food Coma), Rob Corddry and Margaret Cho.

Although started as a two person operation out of a loft in downtown Portland, OR in 2001, in five short years SuicideGirls grew its audience to over 5 million unique visitors a month, becoming a cultural phenomenon along the way. Today, SuicideGirls has hundreds of thousands of subscribers, over a thousand models, a successful book, several TV specials, a clothing line and two DVDs in stores (with a third on its way). SuicideGirls has also just released Flip Strip, which became the fourth most popular free iPhone App at the iTunes store, garnering more than 1 million downloads in a matter of days following its release.

About St. Martin's Press – StMartins.com St. Martin's Press is a book publisher headquartered in the iconic Flatiron Building in New York City. Currently, St. Martin's Press is one of the United States' largest publishers, bringing to the public some 700 titles a year under eight imprints, which include St. Martin's Press (mainstream and bestseller books), St. Martin's Griffin (mainstream paperback books, including science fiction and romance), St. Martin's Minotaur (mystery, suspense, and thrillers), Picador (specialty books), Thomas Dunne Books (suspense and mainstream), and Truman Talley Books (business and specialty books).