Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My Self-Promotion Journey Through American Title

Since learning I was a finalist in the American Title Contest, I definitely had to take a crash course in marketing and self-promotion. Luckily for me, I was already on that track prior to finaling. The contest just pushed me to speed the process up some.

The biggest promotional tool a writer should have is a website. It needs to be something that is clean, professional, and reflects your style and writing. It also needs to be kept up to date and should have all the necessary information: who you are, your writing, any writing accomplishments, and contact information. Being a web designer, I already had a website up that had enough content and readership to put me on the top of Google’s web search if you type in my name, “Mai Christy Thao”. That’s very important, by the way. You need to make sure you’re easily found on Google. Your website should make the number one slot – as mine does.

Another huge promotional tool a writer should have is either a blog or social networking page – or both – just something so you can easily connect and interact with your (potential) readers. I had to create a myspace page. In the spans of a month (the amount of time I had before voting started), I had up to 800 friends, I believe. These weren’t just any friend I accepted. These were targeted people who read and/or write books – and a few of my personal friends. Currently I’m at 4746 friends. It’s slowed down a great deal since the beginning of the year because I haven’t been as active on myspace as I was during the height of the competition. Again, this page needs to be professional, clean, and reflect your writing style.

The “secret tool” of my marketing strategy though has be the network of friends and writing acquaintances I’ve made over the course of my writing. This is something that can’t be achieved overnight. I spent years actively participating in workshops, chapters, writing loops, forums, contests, conferences – you name it, I did it. I met anyone I could meet and made it a point to really get to know them. I made friends and acquired name recognition because of the amount of time I spent helping out, volunteering, holding chapter positions, and mentoring newbies. This made it easier for me when the time came for me to ask for votes.

Some of the votes I received came from places I would have never considered before. My mom’s entire workplace gave me votes. My realtor sent out emails asking for votes to her network of friends and realtors in the Carolinas. I got in touch with former co-workers and they helped out with votes. I also had relatives I’ve never known before casting votes for me. Oh, I had an entire church vote for me, courtesy of my aunt who attends there.

One of the biggest promotions I did for the contest was the Sylvia Day blog. All it took was an email to Sylvia. She listened to my idea, proposed something I would have never dared propose, and promoted the heck out of the contest for all the finalists. The interviews conducted on her blog even made it into The Romantic Times Magazine! She is just one of the many writers and authors who’ve gone out of their way to help promote the contest. Pat Rice also was very gracious to host a dialogue chat on her blog for me. If I continued naming names, this post will never end.

One of the more unique approaches I took with promoting myself was contacting Asian forums and Asian magazines. I had two featured articles written about me as a rising Asian star. That was very exciting.

I’ve learned a couple of very valuable things from this process. Here, I’ll list the top ten.

1. It never hurts to ask. In fact, asking will only open more doors and create/strengthen relationships.
2. Always be gracious.
3. Remember and repay even the smallest of gestures.
4. No one said self-promotion was easy.
5. Develop the mantra, “It’s all about me.” – But be humble about it.
6. When there is no time, make time. Make time to write; make time to promote; make time to network; make time to learn; make time to help others.
7. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Grow thicker skin.
8. Having your work ripped to shreds in front of millions of viewers isn’t the end of the world. You pick yourself back up and come back stronger than before.
9. Don’t be afraid to take risks and step outside of your comfort zone. Only then will you be able to grow.
10. Winning isn’t important.

Oh, and most importantly – Have fun and enjoy the ride!


Helen Scott Taylor said...

All great points, Mai. We'll add some more suggestions tomorrow!

Savanna Kougar said...

Mai, what a spectacular campaign and fantastic suggestions. I'm in downright awe! Hey, I never had a shot against you. Actually, that makes me feel better, strange as that sounds.
What's next for you?

Mai Christy Thao said...

Can't wait to see everyone else's suggestion tomorrow, Helen.

Savanna, I had to laugh at this. See, going into this, I KNEW I never had a chance against Trish and Helen. Trish, because she's a marketing machine. And Helen, because I've known her longer and know that not only is she talented and gracious and kind and helpful and all of the above, but dang it, she wins every contest she's finaled in!! I'm always falling second or third. So I figured that'll be the case here, and what d'ya know? =)

BTW, Helen, I knew you would make it! So proud of you!! Of ALL of us, for coming this far and surviving the contest, lol.

Writing-wise, I'm putting that on hold for the time being. Have too much on my plate to juggle. Maybe closer to the end of year, or early next year, I can start back up with writing again.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Great post, Mai! I kinda stumbled my way through some of your suggestions and like you I found help in some amazing places. And truly, it never hurts to simply ask. Most people couldn't wait to help!

Savanna Kougar said...

Mai, gee, I'm glad I didn't realize what I was truly up against. I had a good idea, and knew I was out-classed, which was one reason I decided on a different route. Hey, if you're not a race horse, maybe you're hunter.
But, really, it's a big relief to know what occurred in more concrete terms! I mean, I gave it my absolute best, but most first graders don't do algebra. Crummy analogy, but that's all I could think of...
Yeah, just take it easy as you can. Take care of your life. And when the right time comes, you'll be ready to write/submit your manuscripts.
Are you submitting? If you don't want to say, don't. Just thought I'd lend some support. Like a yippee!

Mel Hiers said...

Wow, Mai! You really have this self promotion thing dialed in!

Savanna, your comments really resonated with me. Only I was a complete noob in the romance community when the contest started - still am, really - and I didn't have a clue who I was up against.

I'm actually glad I didn't, because I don't know that I would have worked as hard. If that makes any sense. And now that I know you guys, your work, and the community better I'm totally amazed I got as far as I did.

You ladies rock!

Savanna Kougar said...

Yay! Mel!
I know what you mean, about working as hard. I'm glad I did as much as I could, 'cause then I know I gave it my best. If nothing else.
I think, the fact, that you haven't been in the romance community could work to your advantage. A new voice. And I think the market is expanding to include all sorts of genres and voices.

Mai Christy Thao said...

Savanna, Mel, Anitra, and all--

I think each of you are fantastic. To stick it out as long as you have, to be a finalist and promote your work, and to receive less-than-pleasant critiques for the whole world to see -- that takes guts, lots of courage, and a tub of ice cream and tissues on hand. I'm in very good company with you.

And I couldn't agree more with you, Savanna, in terms of giving it your best shot and with the benefit of being a new voice in the romance community. Like Mels says, your words resonate with me too. Oh, no, I haven't been submitting, although I'm still getting requests and rejections from my brief round of submissions back in February.

Lexie O'Neill said...

Great post--which seems to be the case, at least half of the time! So, you might not even see this--but I'm very glad you posted this, in case I ever need to self-promote again.
I'm with Mel and Savanna, I didn't know what I was up against--thank God! I found out pretty fast, I have lots more writing to do!