By Laura Baumbach
An experienced author will tell you writing your story – devising intricate plotting, creating three dimensional characters (both heroes and villains) that readers will be affected by, motivation, setting the mood, building atmosphere, maybe even creating an entire new world - as daunting as it may be, is the easier part of your job.
Once the story is done, finished with edits, polished to within an inch of the author's patience and ability, the marketing, the job of telling readers and book buyers your novel is the next book they are dying to read, has just begun. And that can be a the most challenging task of all. I've spent the last seven years, eight novels and over 25 short stories trying to make that road a little easier to travel.
In all likelihood, you probably don't know my name. I am Laura Baumbach. I've been a published author for ten years with over seven different print and ebook publishers. I write primarily M/M erotic romance in many different sub-genres. I've won EPIC awards for my erotic romances and romantic suspense novels, RWA Chapters awards, been a Lambda Finalist for best gay romance, received numerous romance review site awards, top picks and recommended reads. I regularly present or sit on conference panels at writers events such as Saints & Sinner, Romantic Times and RWA conferences. I'm considered a bestselling, award author by some sources. Last October, Rolling Stone Magazine named me 'a pioneer of the M/M romance' in their What's Hot in Books for 2010 List. The road to earning that extraordinary compliment was part good writing and part creative promotional work.
When I started my career I learned quickly that writing in the M/M erotic romance genre limited my access to a lot of promotional avenues. Presently, this is one of the largest growing genre in romance with hundreds of authors writing it. Ten years ago that wasn't the case. It's hard to believe now, but then very few sites would even accept my work for review. Contests wouldn't accept my titles because they didn't have a category for it. RWA's official definition of romance didn't extend past 'one man and one woman' at that time. When I attended professional events within the romance community, it was clear both my work and I were considered to be the ugly stepchild. I was denied access to reviews when they were granted other authors joining the same groups I had paid to be part of, my books weren't ordered for autographing sessions and my promotional materials were removed from public access purely because they were mine, not because of any indecent covers or images. It was a fight just to be given the routine marketing advantages others took for granted.
I need to find a way to promote effectively outside the roadblocks I was encountering, I studied my readership through my fan mail and the market opportunities available. Some I could afford alone, some I could not. I determined my target audience was made of both straight women and gay men and looked for ways to reach them. Romance readers, made up of mainly straight women, could be reached through online ads with review sites. While the review sites wouldn't review my work they would accept ads for it. That let me reach the existing romance audience but I wanted to go a step further.
To reach gay readers I began looking into events that were aimed just at gay men. I found small expos, magazines and pride events. If I couldn't afford an ad in a gay magazine but they ran short stories, I submitted one to them and more often than not, they were accepted. The stories had to be more erotica than erotic romance but it still got my name out in front of the readers. Plus I got paid a very nice amount for the story. Most asked that I use my initials instead of my first name but that was small even of a concession since my last name is distinctive. It's not a far reach for a reader to Google L. Baumbach and find Laura Baumbach an author of gay erotic romance and know they are the same person.
Most Pride events allow for sponsorships, so you can send them promo for a small fee (some are free) and they will hand out your promo or you can run an ad in their program or on their website for a reasonable cost. I also attend Pride events that are local, hosting a booth to sell my press's titles and make our name known out in the community.
Even though few writing contests had GLBT categories to start with, each year a few contests would add them. I enter every one I can from RWA to Lambda. Even if I don't win, my work gets read by people who had never considered reading it before. Often times, new fans are born. When you enter, your name is on websites, nomination committees, and if you win, broadcast over the Internet. You get to use the win for marketing all your work. You become an Award-winning Author. Or a Nominee. Or a Finalist. All for the cost of the entry fee. You were going to write that story anyway. Get all the mileage from it you can.
When I looked into expos and events I found the cost prohibitive for one person. A booth at Book Expo America costs $2000 in the very cheap seats plus hotel and airfare to attend and man the booth. A slightly better booth nearer the main traffic runs $5000 plus expenses. Small Gay Erotic Expos were more reasonable in the $500 range but they still include expenses and reach far fewer readers.
The only answer to affording these events was to have more disposable promotional funds and the only way to obtain more funds was to join forces with more authors. That's when I decided to create the Manloveromance.com advertising co-op for authors of gay erotic romance and fiction. Http://www.manloveromance.com
The idea was a simple one. Gather together like minded authors who are looking to reach the same audience and pool funds to afford the things we couldn't afford on our own. Not only do you increase your buying power but the variety of talent within the group becomes a marketing tool as well. I organized the first group of around thirty authors by just asking who wanted to join with me in the effort. I had access to a webmaster at no cost (my programer husband), the domain name was inexpensive, the server my own, and had friends with professional artistic talent who designed the website.
Within the group of authors we had a member who did documents for a living who helped create our monthly newsletter. A free private yahoo group let us communicate with each other effectively and a second public one became our announcement only newsletter. We now have over 770 members on this newsletter to date.
One of our authors works in film in RL and she created an outstanding video for us for the cost of the stock photos which runs on Youtube and has been seen over 72,000 times. Our own little commercial for our writing. I've even used videos like this to run as a 30 second commercial on a gay cable station with our increased buying power. The RL talents of our author pool became one of our biggest marketing tools.
As a trauma nurse, teamwork and organization is my strength I brought to the group. I set up a list of basic ground rules everyone agrees to on joining and collect a set fee from each member three times a year. That took our marketing power from one person's $100 to 30 times that amount for each advertising campaign. Suddenly we could do group ads in Publishers Weekly, purchased booths at events like the ALA and BEA, buy package advertising on reviews sites at reduced cost, purchase things like custom chapstick with our logo and url on it as a giveaway at events, buy and burn cds of excerpts from each author on the co-op to hand out, and run ads on pricier mainstream sites.
I'm always on the look out for a new avenue to market in. The state of publishing is changing rapidly. More online avenues need to be explored. Group blogging is a great inexpensive way to show case yourself and your current work without the burden of being responsible for blogging everyday yourself.
Set up year long ads with high traffic review site. Schedule monthly chats on popular loops. Do it alone or with a few friends. Some loops have over 3000 members. Spend the money on a well designed website and keep it updated. It's an author's face to their readers. Make the impression last. Donate gift baskets to reputable sites that put out calls for giveaways for readers. I found one of my most loyal reader that way. She just happened to own a major bookstore and started carrying my titles because of the gift basket she won at an RT conference.
Think out side the box. Look at where your audience is and find new ways to reach it. Pool your talents with like minded authors. Use the resources each author brings to the group. Be on the look out for unconventional avenues and don't be afraid to take chances. Promoting yourself doesn't have to be a budget breaker or a lonely road to travel.