First and foremost, let’s dispense with the “I’m an artist. I don’t do marketing.” That’s fine and dandy if you don’t want to get paid or don’t want to get your work out into the public eye. If you want to write poetry in a journal and keep it in a lock-box in your attic, more power to you. But if you want to get a book deal, if you want to get your poetry in a literary journal, if you want your essay to appear in Atlantic Monthly, if you want to get paid, then you might be an artist, but you’re also a business person, and business people do marketing.
That being said, the first step to marketing is market research: Who are your customers/clients? Where are they found? How do you reach them? What do they want? When is the best time to reach out to them? Why should they consider your product?
For writers, your customers/clients are agents and publishers. More specifically, agents and publishers that promote and publish what you write. So you want to be very clear what specific genre(s) our work falls into and not just start approaching your customers willy-nilly. A publisher of business-to-business non-fiction directories is not going to consider an epic 100k-word Tolkienesque fantasy. It’s a waste of time, energy, and postage to even send such a thing in that direction. So take the time and find agents and publishers that actually want what you’re selling.
It’s summertime. In many publishing houses (particularly the Big 5) that means “summer hours,” which is one of the benefits of working in publishing: staff works an extra hour Monday through Thursday, and they get a half- or full-day off on Friday. So if you’re planning on calling publishers directly, good luck getting through on Friday. If anyone’s actually in the office, they’re probably trying to catch up on paperwork and not taking calls or answering emails.
Also, most publishers have an editorial calendar set up for months or years in advance. And they may already have projects under contract and committed to that calendar. If so, they might not be accepting any new queries or submissions. If they’re not accepting new material, then you’re wasting time and postage again by pitching to them.
How do you reach them? Above all, don’t cold-call. These are busy professional people with busy professional things to do. If you haven’t got a name to drop or an appointment, they’ll either let your call go to voice mail, pass you off to an underling, or make some polite excuse and hang up on you (if they’re nice). There are plenty of resources available publicly regarding whether a publisher takes electronic submissions by email or through an online submission management system, or if they prefer a snail-mail query, or only consider submissions from agents. Use those resources.
What do they want? A three-hundred page manuscript, single-spaced on heavy bond parchment in 9-point pink calligraphy font with a cute kitten watermark on every page? Not likely. There are standards for manuscripts: 12-point Times New Roman or Courier New font, double-spaced, one inch margins. Specific publishers might have more specific standards. Some will only accept a query letter and a sample chapter. Others will be willing to look at a whole manuscript. Most will only accept agented submissions. Again, there are publicly available resources where publishers make this information known. Do your research. If you know what format your publisher prefers for their submissions, and you format your work accordingly, your chances of getting noticed increase exponentially. Think of manuscript formatting as the packaging for your product. If the packaging appeals to the customer, the customer is much more likely to consider buying the product.
Why should they consider your product? Because you’ve shown them that you’ve taken the time to understand their needs, you’ve put effort into creating the highest quality product of which you are capable, and you’ve made it available to them when they need it and in a format they can use right now.
So where can you find this kind of information? It used to be that you waited for tomes like Writer’s Digest’s annual Writers’ Market to appear on book shelves. But now, of course, you have the magic of the internet. Reach out to resources available publicly and for free, such as Live to Write – Write to Live, where professional writers talk about the business and challenges of writing for a living. Learn as much as you can about the industry. Because knowledge is your best ally in the struggle to get paid.