Building the Buzz: Marketing Ourselves As Artists

This is a marketing resource list for writers/performers, particularly those of South Asian descent. It was created for the “Building Our Buzz” workshop at the Kriti Festival, organized by DesiLit in Chicago, June 10-14, 2009. I instigated this panel because, as I said in an email to the participants:

I would like to make this a really productive brainstorming session, as marketing is a huge issue that all of us work on all the time and I think we can really help each other as well as the attendees. I’m envisioning a session where people walk away jazzed about marketing their own work, with ideas on how to collaborate, knowledge to use and pass on to their own artistic communities, etc. I am assuming we all have a lot of ideas to share. Personally, I know I sometimes struggle with making the marketing part of being an artist feel fun and not “icky,” so I’m excited to share this conversation with you all.

We had a great conversation, which resulted in tons of ideas and resources. The list below reflects our collective wisdom and is divided into two parts: Resources and Strategies/Ideas.

If you want to join the brainstorming with other ideas and resources, please do so as a comment to this post! Thank you!

Building the Buzz:

Marketing Ourselves as Artists

PANEL DESCRIPTION: Writers and artists in a variety of genres brainstorm methods for marketing themselves and their work, from doing traditional events, to hiring help, to public speaking, headshots, Twittering, ‘virtual’ book touring, and more. With so many new South Asian American “creatives” emerging, how do you set yourself apart from the crowd — or collaborate to give everyone maximum exposure?

The panelists:

Minal Hajratwala (moderator), writer
Shilpa Agarwal, writer
Sonal Shah, actor
Farha Hasan, writer/librarian
Nitin Deckha, writer
Rachna Vohra, writer/spoken word artist

Resources

Publications

The Savvy Author’s Guide to Book Publicity by Lisa Warren

Guerrilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson

Poets & Writers magazine: extensive listings, calls for submission, all writing genres

Poetry Flash quarterly newspaper: extensive West Coast listings, calls for submission, mostly for poets

Websites

www.desilit.org:  US-based organization that works to build support for South Asian and diaspora writers

South Asian Journalists Association Forum: Recent S Asian authors blog about putting out their books

South Asian Artists Collective: Community where you can create a profile and share work

South Asian Women’s Creative Collective: active, NY-based community of artists of all disciplines

South Asian Sisters: SF Bay Area-based community of writers/performers, puts on annual Yoni Ki Baat show

Book sites: moorishgirl, maud newton, bookslut

Sampling of South Asian communities/sites: SepiaMutinyLiterarySafariSouth Asian Journalists Association, SiliconIndia.comLokvani.comSOUTHASIA-Online.comOutofIndia.netAsia Pacific Artsdesiparty.comdesiclub.comsulekha.comtrikone.orgIndiaAbroad.com

Social Networks

These are websites where you sign up, create a profile, get followers/friends, list events, etc:

goodreads.com: readers say what books they love; authors get special level of access to create profiles, offer book giveaways, etc

librarything.com: goes to librarians and library patrons

pw.org: Poets & Writers site, need certain # of publications to be listed

Amazon Author Central: for authors with books being sold thru Amazon to create profile, upload blog entry, etc

booktour.com: event listings that are then linked into local newspaper web listings and to your book’s Amazon.com page

kahanimovement.com: Indo-American video storytelling, good for posting book trailers, promo videos, personal videos

facebook: Read The Facebook Marketing Toolbox

twitter.com:  examples of how we’re using it: @desilit, @sonalbshah, @minalh

Strategies/Ideas

Establishing a web presence

• Have your own website and update it OFTEN. If you’re a performer, always have your upcoming shows; if you’re a writer, your latest published work; if you’re an artist, your latest pieces or gallery showings, etc.  Make sure the links track, i.e. links to other publications etc.
• Set up author’s pages in other sites – bookstores, writers’ organizations (see social networking resources above).
• Podcast or get yourself interviewed on someone else’s podcast.
• Publish in ezines or online literary journals: One of the benefit to this type of forum is that your name is more likely to come up in a google search than with a traditional hardcopy journal.
• Online Forms: I put a collection of short stories on the apple app store for iphone/ipod and within a couple months I got 30,000 downloads worldwide without any kind of marketing or promotion. Another online forum to showcase your work is Scribd. (Farha)
• Put up a short story or e-book on Kindle.
• Track stats such as “bounce rate” – how long does a person stay on your site before moving on?
• Change your outgoing email so that your website shows up in your signature line for everyone you communicate with.

Blogging tips

• Blogging can be useful either as an addition to a website or an alternative to one. But if you use a blog to replace a website, then you should have your information on a panel to the side, not just postings about your thought of the day. Use it to advertise your work, not just to chat to whoever’s reading!
• Go on a “virtual” book tour by guest-blogging for 30 days; see amazing example from Shaila Abdullah
• Pull people to your site by interviewing other authors on your blog; see examples at http://www.shailaabdullah.com/blog.html
• I was an electronic writer-in-residence at www.openbooktoronto.com for the month of October 2008 – I kept a blog on this, literary and interesting, before my book came out (Nitin).
• Keeping up a blog of events/reviews/interviews: http://shilpaagarwal.com/blog/
• Set up RSS and Share links to your blog so that others can follow you easily: http://www.minalhajratwala.com/blog (see the Share buttons to the right)
• Feed your blog directly into Facebook, Amazon, etc.  Once you set it up, it updates automatically each time you post a new blog entry.
• Post portions of work in progress etc. (beware of copyright issues, some publishers may not want to publish if it’s been already published, even on your own blog.)
• Use keywords to draw folks in w/current events, organizations, etc if you are blogging on timely information.
• Link from your website to blog and vice versa.
• Reach out to the big South Asian blogs such as Sepia Mutiny, etc.; read their submission/suggestion guidelines.

Media

• college/university radio: not so much in the summer, but in the fall/winter – there’s usually someone who likes to interview writers in his/her spoken word program.
• ethnic media – they are often hungry for stories to cover; there is growing interest in authors/writers. It’s easy to place an article especially if you will write for free.
• don’t forget the aunties and uncles: an uncle who edits a religious newsletter included an extensive blurb about my book in a recent issue – it’s distributed free (in my case) at mandirs around Toronto. (Nitin)
• Get on a morning talk show, especially on a controversial topic.
• Press releases: Become your own publicist, set up gmail account as your own publicist to email press release to various press address. Blogs, newspapers, morning shows, call/pretend you’re a publicist, finding out contact name and who to email, be persistent.
• PERSISTENCE: Sending a hard copy, then calling, then emailing, then repeating that process again and again.  One every week until they call.  Pick 10 newspapers and submit to them every week to get an article.
• BE SEEN: Continue to perform at open mics, do as many red carpets (with press) as possible, do staged readings, go see plays/improv/sketch all of the time.  Snail Mail: People are using internet more and more and while that is convenient, snail mailing is still a great (yes more expensive) method (less people are doing).
• Write op-eds and/or let people know you are available as an expert source on timely news stories related to your book— or not. Any article you get published should have your book title and website link in the credit line.

EVENTS

• Driving up the west coast (on my own dime) and doing readings (Shilpa)
• Have my publisher give away marketing copies to orgs I’m involved with for silent auctions, banquet raffles, etc (Minal)
• Co-promoting with another (artistic) event: for example, I am doing a reading and book signing as part of a launch of contemporary Indian art in a gallery space later in the summer (Nitin)
• Mixers: I partnered with a South Asian web-based entity in Toronto and did a reading, Q and A at a local restaurant. I ‘donated’ books which were sold to attendees, almost all of whom would not necessarily have attended a traditional launch …  There are a lot of people who don’t necessarily read but who could read; readers & future readers. (Nitin)
• “melas” – these abound all over the place, especially in the summer. Some have artistic performances that even pay its performers!
• setting up readings in places where you’re already planning to visit for fun/family
• Joint readings with other authors
• Cross-collaborate – readings with singers/dancers

Book clubs

• book clubs: offer to come do an author’s visit – this is a potentially good audience because they actually buy books
• putting together a reading guide for book clubs and making myself available to phone in for discussions (Shilpa): http://hauntingbombay.com/reading-guide.htm

SCHMOOZING/COLLABORATION

• Business card: It may sound funny for an artist or writer to have a business card, but you’d be surprised – that’s how people will remember you. Especially when you’re meeting non-South Asians who may have a hard time remembering your name (Rachna… could you repeat that? Rachna… oh.)
• Proactivity: If you’re at an event, take people’s contact information and follow up with them instead of waiting for them to follow up with you.
• Attending launches and book readings of other writers, especially ones that you do not know – usually in the milling around people after a reading, you  can mingle with other readers who may be interested, meet someone in the media who hasn’t heard about your work…
• Talking to other authors and exchanging ideas
• Networking outside the literary community: Mainstream networking groups especially women or South Asian women have been a tremendous source of leads
• Networks: Use what you are. If you are a woman, go to women-centered events; if you are South Asian, tap into South Asian networking events; if you have a poem about rape, bring it to rape-prevention organizations/meetings; etc. Everything you are and everything you write/paint/dance about can be used.
• Have a signup list at your events, get email addresses so people can join your mailing list.

THINGS YOU CAN PAY FOR

(or try to learn yourself or get someone to do for free)

• Web design
• Postcards/bookmarks for your book.
• Video book trailer: samples: Haunting Bombay (fiction), Leaving India: My Family’s Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents (nonfiction), Sky Train: Tibetan Women on the Edge of History (nonfiction)
• Publicist
• Speaking agent/agency
• http://www.cyberprbooks.com/ : An online marketing service that connects bloggers with books (has a South Asian staff member)
• Constant Contact e-newsletter : stores addresses and gives you templates for creating your own mailings. Free option and monthly paid service option.

FOR ACTORS/PERFORMERS  (from Sonal Shah)

• An actor is/should always be marketing.
• Headshots-What makes a good headshot
• Marketing to theatres: In my situation, at first it was checking all chicago publications (performink, The Reader, An Actor’s Guide to Chicago) to find theatres to send my headshot to- marketing to theatres.
• Marketing to agents: marketing to agents to get an agent.
• LA Connection: marketing to an agent that has connections in LA.
• SAG: Get a sag card before moving to LA.
• LA Casting Directors/managers: arriving in Los Angeles and marketing to Casting Directors (mailings, emails, workshops, dropping off materials in person).
• Websites: Registering/creating accounts for all actor-related websites (Casting Networks, Casting Frontier, Actors Access/Breakdown Services, Now Casting, iactor, etc).
• Current Marketing: Now (post “Scrubs”) my marketing has changed to be geared towards Casting Directors as well as PRESS.
• Comedians should go through program at UCB, IO, Second City, or Groundlings

MARKETING GENERAL

• BRANDING:  Finding your niche (i.e. Sonal Shah, female Indian comedian) and market yourself from that perspective.
• Hard Materials to always have- Business Cards, Headshots, Cover Letters, Postcards/Fliers
• Key to a good headshot: Find a good photographer, get a photo where your eyes are the most important detail, you’re connecting with whoever is looking at your photo, natural, organic, honest. Convey you and your truth and honesty through your portrait.
• Be a photography model for students, look on craigslist for listings to get  cheap/free headshots.
*
Late addition: Instructions for a Do-It-Yourself Book Tour

2 thoughts on “Building the Buzz: Marketing Ourselves As Artists

  1. Wow! Wow! Wow! What an amazing resource you have built in this one post. Sounds like a great conversation, and I’m so grateful to you for sharing it with cyberspace.

    I have one thought to add to the blog section:
    The blog trend, at its best, is about participating in a discourse. So, I think there is more to blogging than just putting yourself out there. Just as in conversation, there needs to be sharing and listening. So, read blogs. Read any topic that interests you. Find a writer that inspires you. Follow somebody’s personal story. Comment. Let other writers know you are out there and reading. It’s not only good for the experience of blogging, but it’s actually another opportunity to get your name and your website or blog link out there.

    Minal, you rock. I love reading your blog. Thanks for all the creativity and wisdom you share here.

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