Every year I attend ClexaCon as press and a panelist for the MaeBerry Cosplay blog. This year, I was especially excited as I have completed my LGBTQI+ American Gothic Novella and there were multiple publishing panels being given as well as some marketing panels. I am always interested in professional development opportunities, but having some that are queer themed is impossibly perfect.
Marketing & Selling Lesbian Fiction
There was only one panel on the first day relating to writing, but it was good. They talked about the audience for lesbian fiction being majority queer women (obviously), but went more in depth into this audience’s motives for the fiction they buy/like. Representation, of course, is center stage at this convention and this was certainly the case in this panel. They discussed how readers like to see themselves represented authentically, but positively. The ‘bury your gays’ trope is to be avoided at all costs as a queer writer. Romance is the top selling genre for this audience so having a romantic plot as the focal point of your story allows for exploration of all of those factors that make it queer fiction.
Once you’ve gotten past the hard part (i.e. getting published) getting your book into the hands of readers is the goal. In this respect the panelists emphasized the importance of online reviews. It makes sense that queer women likely trust word of mouth marketing from fellow queer women than more traditional forms. If you can get well known queer women to read your book and write about it, you’re living large! “Net Gallery is your friend,” was the key piece of advice I walked away with from this slide.
As an author you are the face of your book and, therefore, your personal brand is what sells your book. Establishing yourself as an author surprisingly follows the marketing funnel quite well. You must create a tagline which at first glance describes what you’re about while also showing off your mastery of words. Creating that killer hook may be harder than writing your novel. Whatever type of writer you are (yes even the brooding and cynical English major cliche of which ilk I belong) write in that fashion everywhere; your social media being the main one here as we’re talking about self marketing.
Networking is important in every field, but perhaps never more so than as a novelist. Getting a booth and doing the convention circuit is an essential part of the industry. There is no one who knows your book better than you so only you can talk people into buying it. Part of winning at conventions is to guest, figure out the schedule for the conventions you want to attend and submit panels when they have open submission. Other writers are your friends, if they have a blog offer to guest write for them, cross-promotion on social media is another great way to get in front of new audiences and having a variety of swag at your table if attendees aren’t interested in your genre perhaps they are interested in a writer friend of yours.
#SocialMediaBoss: How to Run Social Media Like a Pro
As a social media marketer by trade, I think this panel was the one I was most excited about for professional development. I was certainly not disappointed with the information and new ideas I walked away with, along with a couple new Instagram follows.
One of the main suggestions that came out of this panel was differentiating content on each platform. This could be by restricting the release of specific photos or other special content to one platform while promoting it on the other platforms to draw traffic to a platform you may be having trouble getting engagement on. By posting different and unique content that makes sense for each platform you play to the strengths of that medium.
They indicated that GIFs gain more traction on Twitter. As far as hashtags go they suggest a strategy of 2 hashtags max when posting on Twitter and to use a trending one if possible. For posting on Instagram, they limit their posts to 11-30 hashtags per post. This includes at least 5 branded hashtags, 5 hashtags with 5,000 posts or fewer, 5 hashtags with 1,000 posts or fewer and 2 with 100,000 posts or fewer. For a topic hashtag search they suggested checking out all-hashtag.com. To avoid your hashtags being lost google the shadow banned hashtag list and stay away from all those listed. On all platforms, including Facebook Groups, they suggest asking questions with polls as it almost always increases engagement.
For managing social media, these influencers use a Google Calendar and schedule out one week in advance. Other programs they suggest are Buffer for Instagram, Crowdfire for searching relevant topics, and the Hootsuite blog for downloadable scheduling templates.
For community management it is always recommended if possible to message and thank followers as soon as they follow or comment.
Breaking into Book Publishing for the Aspiring Writer
This panel had a wealth of already published queer authors who all boasted a different journey to publishing. Picking their brains was possibly the most valuable panel of the convention for the aspiring writer. Even as the rest of ClexaCon attendees had fled to enjoy the last of the Vegas strip for the weekend, the die-hard queer writers closed down the convention.
While sipping champagne from a bottle one of them spread around, the panel spoke about the 4 Pathways to Publishing which, in their estimation are; Social, Hybrid, Small to Large Press, and the Big 5. They suggest finding an editor who saves money and does not rob your book out from under you. A good editor will likely ask for a keynote speaker stipend and a portion of book sales. This editor must understand your voice as a writer. They must be honest and sometimes even harsh, A.K.A the worlds’ most ruthless Grammar Nazi. Still, they must be able to determine story versus punctuation. Sometimes it is even best if these are two people, one editor for story and one for the technicalities of sentence structure. It is not their job to make you happy, would you rather have a better book or your ego stroked? Your editor must have permission to rip your book apart so that they can help you create the best work. This editor must be communicative of the process of publishing, totally transparent so you can understand the ups and downs of where your book is in that process. It helps if they are local or close to home. Finally, your dream editor must be a supportive cheerleader. The panel even went so far as to say that “a good editor is like a good therapist.”
The journey of an author is not an easy one, but the panel had some great suggestions for educating oneself about the process. They suggested going to a bookstore and looking at books like yours to see who published them. Some of the panelists were members of the Alliance of Independent Authors and highly recommended joining. There are podcasts, and blogs—their favorite of which is thecreativepen.com/blog. They were members of the 20BooksTo50K® Facebook Group for fiction writers and encouraged joining. They further suggested finding online communities of people who you view as the ideal audience for your book and asking the individuals in them where else the spent time online so you can widen your audience there.
As for making money as an author these panelists dropped some hard truth on the crowd, relating that it took 4-6 books before they started to see any sizable profit. They even suggested writing your next book while querying agents for your current manuscript.