This is not to say that it’s a good idea to throw just anything out there to the reader, who is really the only reason the rest of us in publishing exist at all. They deserve the best we have to offer, and too many flaws can distract the reader and detract from the reader’s experience. However, it behooves a writer, as well as those who would advise writers, to remember that books are like people. Each one of them will have its own imperfections, whether it’s slightly odd cover design, that scene that could have been deleted to up the pacing, too high of a retail price, slightly uneven characterization, etc.
So what do you do if the final product you end up with has cover art that looks like artistic renderings of a frog mating with a washing machine, or has an extra space between all the words on page 177 in chapter 23?
Let me give you an example of what not to do: Forego marketing the book out of embarrassment. I’ve known authors who’ve done this. The book wasn’t perfect or wasn’t what they thought it would be, so they just went on to the next book and didn’t even try to market their current product. What they didn’t understand is that without any sales numbers, editors weren’t going to be interested in their next book, and readers weren’t going to know their books exist.
At cocktail parties, instead of giving a tantalizing one-line sentence about their stories when asked about their work, they spent precious moments explaining how the publisher marketed the book with a fantasy angle when the fantasy was only a minor plot point or why the potential reader—whose eyes had by then glazed over—might not like the book because the main character’s name was changed from Edwina to Nimzi, which curtailed certain heroic implications in the subtext.
I’ve also seen other authors take a flawed book and market the hell out of it and sell it like crazy. To them, their book is an amazing read, regardless of the fact the pages fall out when the copies are just sitting still on a table. They think of what the reader is going to get out of the story, not whether the reader cares about the fact that on page 2 the appositive was not set off correctly by commas. These are Ugly Baby Marketers, otherwise known as successful authors.
Yes, you might get some readers who make remarks about the “quality” of your book, possibly in reviews. In most cases, the reader who chooses to point out misspellings in your romance about two wild lemur experts falling in love during the great lemming migration of ’62 (or is that lemming experts during the lemur migration?) is usually a writer as well, one smugly thinking that when his/her book gets published by a major, it’ll certainly be perfect. Most readers ignore these reviews because they’re not helpful unless they indicate the production or text is somehow so distracting that the book is impossible to read. Most of the time, this is not the case.
This is where we come to Ugly Baby Marketing. Think of it this way: What would you do if you had an ugly baby? A baby that when you look at it you think, “Well, gratefully, it looks like neither me nor my spouse.” An unattractive bundle of joy that you are responsible for producing and contributing to the world. Or what if the child itself isn’t unpleasant in appearance, but due to family pressure or simply bad but well-meaning fashion advice, it’s always dressed in chartreuse diapers, T-shirts with reality TV personalities emblazoned across them, and floppy baby hats appliqued with tapirs cavorting with badgers? Do you go around apologizing for your child’s ugliness or hide it away so that others are not repulsed by its neon-colored bib overalls and animal finery?
No, you certainly do not, nor should you. You talk up its cute giggle and the way its eyes cross when it sees a sparkly thing. Or you talk about the way it learned to walk before any of the other kids because it clung to the family dog wherever it went like a leech. Or how its cute little fangs drop when it’s hungry. Or you point out that while other babies are busy urping up in boring doctor’s offices, yours usually urps at very important writing functions, usually on editors or some other literary type. Because even if it’s an ugly baby, it’s still your ugly baby, and you can’t just cover its horns, buck teeth, and elven ears with a blanket and pretend that it never existed while you go on to create what might become another ugly—or even uglier—baby.
If you can’t market your ugly baby, you most likely can’t market anything, and that may be the larger issue. Just because a publisher or your own unpolished skills or a lack of business acumen hands you a loaded gun in the form of a flawed book doesn’t mean you have to shoot yourself in the foot with it. Readers want a great story, a story that makes them glad that they read your book and took the time to do so for the amount of money they paid. Give them that, and you have done your job as a writer. Beating yourself up because your book isn’t perfect is what an unpublished writer does, not a successful author.
For every book, there is a reader. Don’t hide your ugly baby because your sensitive writer soul is embarrassed by some small aspect of the final product that most readers won’t even notice or care about. When you decided to go for publication, you decided to share the fruit of your literary loins with the rest of the world, ugly or not, so your marketing strategy should reflect that. You set the tone for how your book will be received initially, just like parents set the tone for how the world receives their offspring. After that, the story will have to carry it, but for the story to do its job, you’ve got to get the book into the hands of your audience.
And that, potential best-selling authors, is what Ugly Baby Marketing is all about.