‘Viral marketing’and local success

Last night at a local Women’s Institute meeting I heard a young man talk about how he and his wife have developed a plant nursery over the past seven years or so. Dull? It was rivetting, a saga of enthusiasm, aspiration, challenge, set-backs, perseverance, commitment, hard work, adverse weather and current growth – both commercial and horticultural. What kind of promotion and marketing has worked for you, he was asked. ‘Word of mouth’ he said. ‘If two people find us, a mile off the main highway and on the road to nowhere, and if those two people have a good time and each tell two, or three or ten people about it, then the business grows, and it costs us nothing that we wouldn’t be doing anyway, ie giving our customers a good experience.’My words, perhaps, not his, but that was the inference.

These people are BUSY, running a seven day a week outfit, developing the site, growing and selling their own plants and raising two young children. They won’t have time for sitting at the laptop, doing all the internet-based social media marketing stuff that we are told is the only way forward for a new business. And they are successful, doing what they love and are good at.

So what did I gather from all this, as someone trying to write and publish one novel a year, which is also pretty time-consuming? Tom Attwood’s story about the¬†Halecat Nursery¬†confirmed what I’ve been learning myself about the relative ‘efficiency’ of different forms of ‘promotion and marketing. We’ve learned that meeting people matters, and that nothing spreads sales faster than word of mouth. The most successful bookshop for sales of my book is the one where the person who owns and runs it tells each customer how popular my books are, that they are set in places they know, and that I live just minutes away and bring in the books myself. The single largest income stream in my book sales is the thousands of pounds I make every year through direct sales. I’ll do a talk somewhere, explain about how I write my books, the research, the stories, the challenges, and then I sell copies to people who are interested in them. It’s ‘book signing plus’, and it works.

In rural areas like ours there are many opportunities for people to come together and listen to a speaker, and an author like myself can gain an audience by simply making yourself available, and being prepared to plan as far ahead as these organisations do. Numbers may not be great, but there were forty or so people listening to Tom last night and he did a really good job. He brought lots of plants with him, made a fair amount of money from sales, garnered a small fee, and – more importantly – encouraged everyone there to come and visit the nursery, tell their friends, check the website. I’ve no doubt that the impact of his personal presence was far more effective than seeing a Tweet or an advertisement somewhere. People love plants grown locally for local conditions. People love books written locally with local stories and locations. If that’s the niche in this crowded market, then it pays both of us to address it.

That’s not to say that a writer like me can ignore all the internet-driven routes to market, but it’s clear to me that ‘viral marketing’ inspired by personal contact works really well, and it’s much more enjoyable than sitting at a keyboard.

 

 

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The power of reading aloud

Following the kerfuffle (great word isn’t it?) about the typos in ‘Cruel Tide’ I decided to take more care with editing each chapter of the new book as I’m writing it, and leave fewer errors to picked up in proof reading later. I’ve found the best way to do that, if I can take the time, is to read the words out loud.

I guessed that this might help with the dialogue, giving it an air of authenticity as spoken rather than written words. But I’m finding that it helps all the text, not just the dialogue. Every sentence needs to have a shape and a flow, like poetry. Reading aloud brings better choices of words, and better decisions about the length of the sentence, and when, if and how to include subsidiary clauses. Sometimes a more complex sentence works, sometimes it doesn’t, and it’s reading aloud is really helpful.

With someone who writes as fast as I do, editing by reading aloud slows the process down, which I don’t always enjoy. But I’m sure that it’s my main contribution to the improvement of the quality of the text, and I must make myself do it. That’s a resolution to be returned to when I return home after a couple of weeks away in Sicily. While I’m here, I’m reading the Montelbano novels for the first time having seen most of the TV episodes. While I’m reading Camilleri’s rolling multi-clause sentences, Mick is reading Elmore Leonard. Both great story tellers but their styles couldn’t be more different: try them.