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Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Distance learning: what independent e-tailers can teach writers about self-promotion

Etsy is a wonderful place. It’s the Candy Land of craft addicts, the homestyle version of Amazon—and in fact, Appazoogle has already had a couple of posts centering on how Etsy gets artsy with literary postcards and book sculptures.

But Etsy has more to offer than quaint bookish décor. In fact, Etsy could be the greatest thing that independent authors and small publishers haven’t thought of yet: a giant training ground for the art of self-promotion.

I’ll admit, I tried Etsy once. I didn’t quite get it. I thought, sure: build it and they will come. Not the case. While I saw Etsy as a small, quirky group of less-than-savvy crafsters, it is in fact a competitive and intense community of artists, experimenters, and very intelligent entrepreneurs. Granted, not everyone is brilliant and awesome—but there are certainly a good number of excellent examples.

I was one of the dunces. I opened a shop, tossed up some quilts that needed a home, and went about the rest of my hectic life without paying much more attention to my Etsy. Accordingly, nothing happened.

Pink and blue high-loft patchwork baby quilt

This quilt needs a home.

Well—that’s not quite true. I had no traffic and made no sales, but I did end up on the Etsy Success mailing list—a newsletter for Etsy sellers. And while I treated those emails as spam for a while, it suddenly hit me: I could learn from this. Etsy Success emails showcase top-selling products, so that sellers can get a feel for what’s hot in the craft market; the emails highlight successful sellers and offer tips for improving your own Etsy shop. They even offer events, like classes to help sellers optimize their shops and practice better self-promotion.

And while this is pretty Etsy-specific, there are still good lessons to take away. You may not be looking at literature, you are looking at styles, trends, and fashions—and I think there is an aspect of that (shall we say) zeitgeist that translates to what people will want to read, too. (Cute? Horrifying? Cultish? Vampires?) Plus, learning about how to make an Etsy shop appealing to customers could translate to designing an attractive personal website or interesting WordPress, blog, or profile on other networks. If nothing else, Etsy Success is teaching readers that the most important person isn’t really you. The important person is them. The reader. Er… customer.

I’m a publisher, but I’m also a writer. I want people to read what I write. But unfortunately, I tend to take the same approach that I gave Etsy: toss it up, maybe make a Facebook status, and let it be. But that’s not how things work anymore, whether you are an independent writer trying to get people to read your short stories on Scribd or whether you’ve published a novel with a publishing house. Self-promotion is critical. If you’re independent, no one is going to do it for you. If you’re with a publisher, they’re going to do their best—really, they are—but they are representing dozens of books at once. They can’t give you and your title the 24-hour attention that you want (and, on the Internet, kind of need. Ahem, Twitter. Neil Gaiman, *cough cough*).

So what should you take away from this? No, don’t rush out to buy a lacemaking manual. But do take a look at Etsy– and other independent etailing platforms– and see what resources they have to offer. Writers and publishers aren’t the only ones who have to adapt to the Internet; we’re just some of the more reluctant.

(To subscribe to the Etsy Success newsletter I’ve mentioned in this post, go here. Happy marketing!)

About Leah Thompson

Writing and publishing professional in the Boston area.

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This entry was posted on January 24, 2012 by in Business, Opinion and tagged , , .

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