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Seth Godin, whom I mentioned in “Speaking of Faith,” emphasizes the importance of identifying and appealing to your niche. Just today, I received an e-mail blog post from him urging his followers not to waste time trying to go viral, because chances are the effort will fail. Instead, he said, find a small community and focus your energies on that. Eventually, the word will spread, but it takes patience.
Patience I have in abundance, but with the current deluge of books published by authors, small presses, and independent presses I’m less convinced than ever that time alone will lift my books above the surge. Nonetheless, I have noticed the importance of “local,” whether we use that term to mean the independent bookstore that just opened up ten miles from my house or the Goodreads groups where I spend much of my time talking about books other than my own. The talk at the town library, the presentation at the Rotary Club down the street, the friends who recommend my novels to their book clubs—these are the venues where I have sold books. Even New Books in Historical Fiction has generated a sale or two. Altogether, the result resembles a trickle more than a flood, but it’s a reasonably steady trickle—enough that I can hope it will become a streamlet one day.
There’s more I could do, I’m sure, but that’s not the point of this post. Marketing has a learning curve, just like writing—and one I’m far less motivated to master. If Five Directions Press could afford it, we’d hire a publicist. Until then, each author has to do the best she can with help from the others.
But if we can’t control word of mouth, except in the obvious way of producing books worth talking about, we do have a say in how we present ourselves. Improving that presentation has been my focus this week.
The appearance of this blog has pleased me from the beginning. My website, not so much. I’ve tried half a dozen designs, and the best I’ve been able to say is that each one seemed marginally less putrid than the one before. But as the host of New Books in Historical Fiction, I do spend a lot of time looking at other writers’ sites. Finally, this week, I came up with a theory of why theirs looked so much better than mine.
Fixing the problem took more than a little trial and error, with help from Photoshop and somewhat less help from Google Apps—which seems to assume that people have nothing better to do with their time than figure out where the controls governing various elements have hidden themselves this month. Still, I think I’ve come up with a design I can live with for a while, or at least until the next gorgeous site has me feeling like an amateur again. If you’d like to take a look, you’ll find the redesigned home page at http://www.cplesley.com.
And if you happen to stumble over the horizontal navigation controls, do drop me a line. (Joke: I did find them. Otherwise the site would refer to pages that no longer exist.)