Thursday, June 4, 2015

1 The Market Value of Writing Retreats: A Guest Post by Natalie Parker and Courtney Stevens

Have you ever wondered how people get invited to writing retreats?

A lot like this: As of reading this sentence, you’re officially invited to a 3-night, craft and marketing intensive writing retreat in Camdenton, MO from August 27 – 30, 2015.

Voila! RSVP details at the end of this post!

In 2011, I attended my first writing retreat in Branson, MO. I was a last minute addition and will forever be thankful to the person who dropped out and the boss who let me go with very little warning. Though the focus was on writing, the retreat had a major impact on my career.

It’s a full 4 years later and I’m still discovering the ways in which the seeds planted at that event have become perennial crops. And every retreat I’ve organized since (that’s 6) has led to career shaping results -- from beta readers to blurbs to conference invitations. It may not seem like a writing retreat should offer anything but unscripted writing time surrounded by similarly creative minds, but they also have the potential to be a powerful if unconventional marketing tool. I’ve seen revisions mastered, anthologies created, the great mystery of royalty statements solved!

Last year I hosted 36 debut YA and MG authors on a retreat in the Smoky Mountains. At the time, I was toying with the idea of bringing the boon of writing retreats to even more writers, but I wasn’t quite sure how. That was when an author named Courtney Stevens appeared before me and without a blink of hesitation she laid out half a dozen concrete strategies for moving forward with my business.

She doesn’t know it (or at least, she didn’t until I sent this to her), but it was her words that tipped the balance for me. She had offered me what I didn’t know how to ask for: a plan for blending something I loved with the market savvy it would need to survive in the world.

That’s why the very first retreat from Madcap Retreats is with her and why I’ve asked her to answer three quick questions about marketing.

So, tell me, Courtney, person or product? Do we market ourselves or the books?

I’ve found the answer to most marketing questions is, “Well, that depends on your goals,” and it is certainly true here.

If you are Harper Lee, you primarily market the book.

If you’re me (a midlist contemporary writer), you play the long game and market the author.

Overall, there are several automatic gains to marketing the person rather than the product:

  1. Freedom to explore diverse content. When I toss out the name Robin Williams, we’re more likely to think “hilarious” than “One-Hour Photo.” Not to besmirch One Hour Photo, but in the grand scheme of Robin’s career it was arguably a failure. But that’s what a career of marketing the amazing Robin Williams earned him – the freedom to explore.
  2. Succinct marketing. Dollar per dollar, it’s cheaper to sell one brand rather than multiples. Over the coarse of a career, book topics may vary widely. The author is likely to have already arrived at their core values and therefore, will have less variance.
  3. Access. Social media is called social for a reason – it’s a great tool for people and a not-so-great tool for books. In a culture that has constructed careful walls—where we want to know the essence of others while hiding the essence of ourselves—having the opportunity to interact one-on-one with our target audience is incredibly appealing. We can only do that as people, not as our books. As Amanda Palmer so clearly explains in her Ted Talk, The Art of Asking, this dialogue that occurs between artist and consumer, is a true exchange. Personal connection is the one true-blue-always thing that sells books. Putting the person out there increases the odds of those connections. (Clearly, this can have a negative effect if the author is jerk. Pro Tip: don’t be a jerk.)

Let’s talk numbers. I know that you’ve worked long and hard to craft your marketing platform. Can you give us a few recent figures?

Before I give these numbers I should explain three things. One, I plan my year based on deadlines, and create month-blocks of time where I do little-to-no events. For the 2014-15 school year those times were August -- October and January -- March. Two, I have two additional jobs besides being an author. Three, I sit down every January and make tangible goals so I have a measurable trajectory. With those caveats in mind here are my nitty gritty numbers:

  • School Visits: 20
  • Promotional Mailings: 2 so far consisting of 1500 (ish) stamps
  • Joint-author events: 11
  • Conferences: 3
  • Book Festivals: 4
  • Retreats: 4
  • Miscellaneous (i.e. book clubs, lectures, etc.): 11

Not all marketing is for all writers. What’s one tip you have for writers pondering the wealth of marketing opportunities?

Only one? My first tip is to attend our retreat where there will be a multitude of suggestions, (because Natalie Parker throws the best retreats in the world. You guys, I wanted/bullied/encouraged her to start this business because I need to partake of Madcap’s fruits.)

Since I know that isn’t a reality for everyone, the number one thing I’ll leave you with is: set a realistic marketing goal based on your strengths and personality. If you’re looking for more info, check out this article on using the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator to discover your marketing style.

Thanks, Courtney!

The Anatopy of Publishing: Story & Marketing Retreat

This is just the tip of the iceberg. If you’d like to join us for The Anatomy of Publishing: Story & Marketing retreat this August, please visit this page. A retreat like this one brought Courtney and I together and it’s through retreats that we’d like to meet you, too!


Natalie C . Parker is the author of young adult novels Beware the Wild (HarperTeen, 2014), Behold the Bones (HarperTeen, 2016), as well as the editor of an forthcoming young adult anthology. Natalie has a BA in Literature from the University of Southern Mississippi where she graduated with honors, and an MA in Women's Studies from the University of Cincinnati. She has been teaching Critique Camp as an online short course since July 2013 and facilitates a local writers group in Kansas. She currently works for the University of Kansas where she is a project coordinator. As part of her work, she provides weekly writing workshops for tribal college students.

Find her online: Website | Twitter | Tumblr | Instagram

Courtney C. Stevens grew up in Kentucky and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She's an adjunct professor at Lindsey Wilson College, the author of Faking NormalThe Blue-Haired Boy (Novella), The Lies About Truth, and two forthcoming titles, as well as the Author-in-Residence for JKS Communications, a national book publicity firm. Faking Normal is a 2015-16 Georgia Peach nominee, 2016 Bluegrass Award nominee, 2016 Volunteer State Book Award nominee, and the recipient of a Crystal Kite. As an educator, author and marketer, Courtney visits schools, designs retreats, and teaches workshops on marketing, revision, character development, John Truby, and Channeling Your Brave.

Find her online: Website | Twitter

1 comment:

  1. I've never attended a writer's retreat, but I can see the benefits.
    It does make sense to market the author rather than the books. The books will always be different but the author remains the same.


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