Instead of writing another blog post about writing, I thought I’d share some marketing pearls of wisdom for a change, as I know many authors struggle in this area or simply don’t enjoy it, or they’re not sure what to do. In fact, at the RWA conference in Melbourne earlier this year, I think I was the only person in the room out of hundreds who raised their hand when Bob Mayer asked “Who enjoys self-promotion?”!
I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to marketing novels, but writing is a business. I have eight years experience in running a business and several years combined training in both online and offline marketing, selling skills, copywriting, and public speaking. I also won a marketing award in my industry in 2008 (health industry), and have self-published a non-fiction paperback book and several ebooks. Many marketing strategies are transferable across different industries, so I hope by sharing what I’ve learned in business you’ll pick up some useful tips on how to market yourself and your books.
Before I start, I want to address the issue of ‘self-promotion’. Many authors I’ve spoken to would prefer to hide under a blanket than tell the world how great their books are! They don’t want to come across as egotistical or feel like they are ‘selling’ something, and some hold a lot of self-doubt and are afraid of getting rejected or ridiculed. Without going into a long speech about how having false beliefs about yourself can limit your success and hold you back in all areas of your life, I’ll just say one thing: If you’ve written and published (self or traditionally) a book and hope that readers will buy it and enjoy it – then you are essentially a sales person as well as a writer, so get used to it! You are not selling your writing skills, you are selling entertainment and enjoyment, an escape from real life, and an experience that the reader will (hopefully) remember and recommend to others. Readers WANT to read, so by marketing your books in appropriate ways, you are providing a valuable service to readers by linking them to a book that will meet what they’re looking for. You’re not forcing them to open their wallets and hand over money, whether they do that or not is their choice, but how you market can influence their decision to buy or not to buy.
A big mistake I see a lot of business owners (including writers) make, is making it all about THEM. I this and I that…blah, blah, blah. When it comes to selling anything, you need to tune your radio to the station that customers, or in this case, readers, are listening to: WII FM. This stands for What’s In It For Me. If a person is considering buying something, they want to know what’s in it for them. What benefit will they get? How will this add value to their lives? In the case of novels, focus on the benefit or experience the reader will get out of reading your book. Will it make them laugh till their belly hurts? Will it give them chills and make them jump with fear or excitement? Will it take them on an emotional journey and leave them with a smile on their face at the end? Or maybe it will help them discover new and exciting places and cultures. So don’t say “I’ve written this book about this and that and you might like to read it”, say something along the lines of “This book will have you laughing out loud and… (insert other benefits here).” Of course, everyone reacts to a book differently so you can’t always ‘tell’ a person what they will feel, but hopefully you get my drift.
Another thing to think about is: ‘WHO are you marketing to?’ You could have an excellent website, compelling copy, and a fantastic book, but if your target market is not seeing it then it doesn’t matter. Take a piece of paper, or open a word document and write at the top of the page: ‘My ideal reader:’, and then make a list of all the qualities that your ideal reader may have. If you’ve written a book in a fairly clear-cut genre then this will be easier. You could list their age range, gender, what occupations/industries they might work in, whether they are parents, what area they live in, what hobbies they have, where they go for fun, what they do in their spare time, what magazines they might read…anything really. Now you might be thinking “How the heck am I supposed to know all these details?”, but you don’t have to know them exactly, you are just getting ideas that will help you in your marketing efforts. It is better than not knowing at all who your readers are or should be, and getting clear on your ideal reader can actually help you ‘attract’ those readers, as we tend to attract what we focus our attention on in life. Another thing you can do is send a survey to your current readers, and then see if there are any common traits among them. For example, if you find that many attend gyms or fitness centres quite regularly, you might think of arranging an author talk at some fitness centres. This is just an idea of course, a lot of people who aren’t your readers will also attend gyms, but again, I hope you get my drift!
When it comes to marketing your books, you are also marketing yourself. In business, this is all about positioning yourself as a trusted authority in your field, but as an author, it is more about connecting with readers and letting people learn more about you as a writer and a person. Don’t be afraid to get a little personal, but not too personal. Don’t go and tell them everything that’s going on in your life, or say things you might regret later. Keep professional, but be true to yourself and be authentic.
Once you know WHO you’re marketing to, WHAT they’re going to get out of your product, and you’re CONNECTING authentically with potential readers, you can start to implement some specific tips. I won’t go into detail about everything, because this topic could be a book in itself (hey, there’s an idea!), but here are ten tips and strategies to help you maximise your marketing efforts:
1. When tweeting, posting facebook updates, or emailing your followers, think in terms of one ‘promotional message’ for every two ‘content messages’ as a general rule. This means, don’t just tweet and post messages that try to sell or link to your book. Space these types of messages out with ‘non-selling’ messages that talk about you, what’s going on in your day, valuable info, helpful or interesting links that your followers might like, jokes, or ask questions to your followers…etc. If you just sell sell sell, your follower count will probably start to drop drop drop, along with your sales. Don’t appear desperate (see above picture), it is a turn-off. Check your tweet history or status updates and see how often you’re promoting compared to how often you’re providing value.
2. You MUST have a way to capture email addresses on your website and/or blog. Followers and fans are not enough, because not all your followers will see ALL of your updates, but they will always check their emails. They might not open every email, but at least your email subject will be seen, and then you can use copywriting skills that will make it more likely for them to open your email. When someone has given you their email address, you are legally allowed to keep emailing them until they unsubscribe. I see so many author websites that don’t have an ‘opt-in’ or subscription form, or it’s not easily visible, and they are probably missing out on HEAPS of potential readers/buyers. Often when I am looking at an author’s website, I might not be ready at that moment to buy one of their books, but if they have a subscription form I’ll fill in my details so that I don’t forget about them, and then when I’m ready, I might buy their book later on. When I first started online marketing in the health industry, I focused on building up a list of potential buyers in the niche I had chosen, and by the time I had created a saleable product, I had a list of hungry people to market to. This is now a five-figure list that continues to grow. I say this not to impress you, but to impress upon you how many future sales you could be missing out on by not setting up an email subscription form.
3. Offer an incentive for people who sign up to your mailing list. This is not essential as an author, but helps a lot. Think of something you can easily give away for free, and preferably something that the subscriber can receive automatically, like a download link inserted into an autoresponder/autoreply email, for an ebook or pdf copy of a short story, or an anthology, or even a non-fiction e-guide that relates to what you write about. For example, as one of my novels is called ‘The Life Makeover Club’, I will be giving ‘life makeover tips’. You could also record yourself reading an excerpt from your book and offer this as a free mp3 download.
4. Have the ‘Top 4’ when it comes to online presence: a website, a blog, a facebook page, and a twitter account. An additional option is a YouTube account, and there are of course other sites like Linked In and MySpace and the new Google one, but I’ll focus on the ones I have experience with.
Website: this means having your own domain name (website address) and hosting. Dot com’s are best. Yes you can get a free blog-type website but you do not own these sites, and sometimes technical things go wrong and you have no control over them. By getting a proper paid-for website hosting you are ensuring more stability, freedom, and control, and have tech people working behind the scenes to help if problems arise.
As mentioned before, have an opt-in form, an author bio, details of your books and links for where to buy them, what book is coming next, and contact details. It helps to have a photo so people can see the real person behind the books.
Blog: Use free blog sites like wordpress or blogger to quickly and easily set up a blog, where you can post your thoughts, articles, links, and competitions to interact with readers. Blogs are more ‘search-engine-friendly’, so it is easier to get visitors to a blog than a website. The more you blog, the more the search engines like you. I prefer wordpress as it makes it easy for people to comment, without needing certain online accounts and going through irritating procedures in order to leave a comment. Just a note, WordPress.com is for free blogs hosted by wordpress. WordPress.org is also free but you need your own hosting.
Facebook: Set up a personal account and also a ‘fan page’. Whether you just use a personal (friend) account or a page to reach people is up to you, but keep in mind that you can only have up to 5000 friends on a personal page, but can have unlimited fans on a ‘page’. Having a page relies on getting ‘likes’ from people though, and can take longer to build up than sending friend requests on a personal page. If you have a page, realise that everything you write is public, whereas if you post on a personal account, you can choose to share your status publically, or only among friends. It is also a good idea to have a fan page for each of your books.
Twitter: Set up a twitter username that is memorable, and use it to post tweets/messages that are 140 characters or less. Again, remember the 1 to 2 rule; one promo message for every two general messages, or even less in the case of twitter. Use hashtags (# followed by a keyword) to attract new followers interested in your topic. Eg: #romancenovels to attract readers and writers and bloggers of romance fiction, or if you’ve written a story based on the Titanic, add #titanic to your tweet. Be sure to reply to other’s tweets, and support other people by ‘retweeting’ their tweets. [Update! Read my post about Twitter Basics for Authors here.]
YouTube: Worth a mention, because YouTube gets a HUGE amount of visitors each day. Don’t think you have to have fancy videos of your own to use YouTube, you don’t even need videos! You can use an account to comment on other videos and book trailers, ‘friend’ other users, and subscribe to channels. You can also mark videos as favourites. If you do want to have videos on your channel, it is fairly easy for non-techy’s to learn how to make a simple video. My son showed me how to make one in only a few minutes using windows movie maker. However, when it comes to promoting a book in this way, quality is more important than say, if you were giving how-to advice for making a bookcase. With most non-fiction, people are looking for ‘solutions’ or ‘tips’, whereas with fiction, people are looking for entertainment, so quality counts in this case. Another idea is to use your webcam or get someone to shoot a video of you reading an excerpt from your novel. Or, you could film an interesting tour of where your book is set, if it is based on a real place.
5. Have a new book coming out? Don’t wait till it’s out before you start promoting, create a marketing frenzy in the weeks leading up to the release date! A six-week time frame is a good amount of time. If you have an email database, email them once every week until the book is released, saying how many weeks to go. Eg: 6 weeks to go, 5 weeks to go…etc. And with each email, have some kind of value to provide to your subscribers. It may be an excerpt, a useful tip, a journal-style letter, or a weekly competition. Be creative and generate some excitement around your release. I have used this in business with great results. When the book is released, you might want to offer something as a bonus for everyone who buys the book from Amazon in a specific 24-hour period. That way you can be in with a chance of rising up the Amazon top sellers list. Simply get the reader to email you their receipt so you can forward them the bonus.
6. Increase traffic to your site or blog by having guest posts by other authors. This is a win-win situation, because not only are you getting more visitors to your site, the guest is getting more publicity for themselves.
7. List signed copies of your books on eBay. eBay is often underused, as people think you use it mostly to sell household items, but you can sell pretty much ANYTHING on eBay! I have seen listing for things such as ‘spells’ for sale… yes, witchcraft spells! If you’re traditionally published you probably sell most of your books through bookstores rather than directly from yourself, but make sure you always have some signed copies available to give away or sell yourself. And if you list your book on eBay, try including some other bonus with it, such as a promotional item, a small gift, another book, or even a ten minute phone conversation for the reader to ask you questions! You can also sell gift vouchers so that the recipient can choose which of your books they would like.
8. When linking to online bookstores to sell your book, use an affiliate link. Many online stores have affiliate programs, whereby you can earn a percentage of each sale that comes through your unique affiliate link. Rather than just getting your royalty payment, you can increase the amount earned for each book through an affiliate commission. It may not be much, but it all adds up! Amazon and The Book Depository are two such websites that offer affiliate programs.
9. Create a live webinar to invite potential readers to. This one is getting on the techy-side, but might be worth considering. A webinar is basically a seminar, presentation, or talk that is done via the internet using special software. We all know that author talks and signings are a popular form of marketing, but what about all those people who live too far away to attend? A webinar is a leveraged way to reach a lot of people by replicating what you would do at a live talk, only online instead. Of course you can’t meet them face to face or sign their book, but you can still present a talk, and even use your webcam, or just use your voice with various pictures and photos on the screen as you talk. Webinars also offer the option for live attendees to type in questions, which you can then answer. If exploring the use of webinars seems too tricky or expensive (as you need to pay for a subscription), consider approaching business owners who use webinars and ask to be a featured guest.
10. Think beyond the book. It can be tricky to earn large amounts of money just from books. Many authors do of course, but many still need a day job. Think about what else you could offer readers apart from the book. Maybe there’s some other product or service that is related to the book or to your specific skills that you can offer, or maybe there’s a ‘club’ you could create for a select group of people that certain fans would be willing to pay for in exchange for the value you provide them. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a way to ‘rip anyone off’, this is just about thinking outside the box and seeing if there’s an untapped market or idea you could explore. When in doubt, ask your readers what they want!
Whoaa… that’s the longest blog post I’ve ever written, you’d think I was a writer or something! I hope you’ve found some gems among the waffle, and if you’d like more detail on any tips in particular, feel free to comment and I may just do a separate blog post.
And… if you like this post, make sure you share it with others, and subscribe to my blog by filling in your email address on the right side of the page so you don’t miss out on other blog posts! (another little tip there!)