Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office, CA
We’ve spent four/fifths of the week talking about the frustrations inherent in self-marketing our books–from the fact that we can’t just turn it over to the experts to the dearth of quantitative feedback. We’ve talked about what doesn’t work and tried to get a handle on what success might look like. Today we’ll put the frustrations behind us and talk about what does work.
I want to apologize in advance for the length of this blog. I could write a whole book on this subject and here I am trying to tackle it in one blog post. For now, we’ll just scratch the surface but hopefully it will start the creative juices flowing.
First Things First. Too many writers jump on the fun idea, the quirky promotion or the contest that worked for a friend. That’s starting at the wrong end. Those fun ideas need to develop organically– they need to grow out of the combination of three unique, interconnected elements— the author, the book and the reader. Long before we put details to our plan we need to answer a number of questions:
- Who am I as an author? One of my favorite books on this subject is Make a Name for Yourself : Eight Steps Every Woman Needs to Create a Personal Brand Strategy for Success by Robin Fisher Roffer. (It’s focused toward women but the concepts are universal.) The Five Faces of Genius by Annette Moser-Wellman is another book that offers assessments and tools to help discover who we are and how we can build on that. The reason we need to figure out who we are and how we are distinctive is that our marketing efforts will depend on that uniqueness.
- What are the distinctives of my book? Much of the detail in your PR plan is going to grow out of the content of your book. If you are writing fiction, the setting, plot elements, the vocation of the main character–all of these will be fodder for garnering attention. If you’re writing nonfiction it’s even easier. Once you add your one-of-a-kind author-self to your unique book content you have a focus that is like no one else’s.
- Who is my reader? Answering this question is paramount. Picture an author who writes to the senior population in mid-America worrying about enhanced ebooks. Think about it. Enhanced ebooks require a computer-like device–an iPad or the like. Is a senior reader on a fixed income likely to own a state-of-the-art device and embrace the learning curve needed to operate it? Wouldn’t this author be wise to spend his time and resources figuring how to get his books featured in nostalgia literature or advertised in the large-print edition of Guideposts? When we discover who our reader is, what he likes, what he buys, and how he spends his time, we can focus our efforts for maximum impact. The single most important thing you can do as an author is to build your reader list. Let me say that again: Single. Most. Important. Collect those names and that contact information–both physical addresses and email addresses. You’ll use this list of readers in many different ways over the years–notifications of new releases; regional invitations to signings, newsletters, focus groups. Don’t ever lose a single name. Publishers recognize this asset as pure gold.
So what about social media? Some of you were horrified yesterday when you thought I said social media doesn’t work. That’s not what I wrote. I was talking about marketing our books or covers on Twitter and/or FaceBook. It simply doesn’t work. It’s too blatant, too obviously self-promotional.You’ll notice I made an exception to that rule. “Exception: The writer who has a unique slant, celebrity or brand that lends itself to garnering readership.” Once we’ve answered the question above–Who am I as an author?–we need to find our brand and develop it, offering something unique and valuable. We talked about the drawbacks of Twitter yesterday. Do you know why it doesn’t work for most people? Because everyone sounds like everyone else. You have a distinctive voice as a writer. If you can somehow develop a Twitter voice that matches you’ll find great success with this social medium. (Follow @MaureenJohnson or @BonnieGrove if you want to see what I mean.)
The same with Facebook. It’s a community. You need to invest yourself there with as much give as take. If you can do that and do it with distinction, you’ll find that people will be drawn to you and eventually to your books.You don’t market to Facebook friends. You just live in community, so to speak. There’s no way to measure sales and no direct cause and effect but it is part of building your brand.
I also said blogging to promote books no longer works. Do you remember my exception? “Exception: The writer who blogs to his/her well-established readership and has something unique and valuable to offer.” Let’s continue our example above–the writer who writes to an aging population in mid-America. Let’s say he starts a blog that gathers information about adaptive devices for seniors–large button phones, simple CD players that don’t confuse our ancient ones, etc. Would that blog work for that demographic? No, because the average eighty-something reader reads a physical book, not online and not blogs. But guess who would be an avid reader of that blog? It would be the children who are caring for that generation. And wouldn’t they be the ones most like to buy the books for their parents? Something unique and valuable to offer. Bingo!
When it comes to social networking, we still need to focus on our three elements–the author, the book (the content or message) and the reader. If those three are applied, you’ll come up with a unique offering that could very well stand out in a crowded blogosphere. The book you’ll not want to miss if you are serious about building a significant presence in the online community is Tribes by Seth Godin.
Specifics. Okay, so all of that requires a huge investment of time and energy. For those of you who have a book coming out soon, let me cut to the chase with some concrete things you can do immediately while you are building your brand and your readership for the long haul. Consider this the cheat sheet.
- Work with your publisher. Be the most helpful author they’ve ever worked with. Lavish time on their marketing questionnaire giving them a veritable embarrassment of riches when it comes to possible resources. They’ll love you for honoring the hard work they do and the more you give them the more possibilities that will arise for you.
- Work hard on your influencer list. Don’t fill this list with your bowling pals, Aunt Mary and your barber. This is a list you will build over your whole career. As you meet people who command attention, people who set style or people with an avid following, ask them if you can add them to your influencer list. Explain that nothing will be expected but that you’ll send them a copy of your new books when they release. If they like it and care to mention it within their circles of influence or in reviews, you’ll appreciate it but if not, that’s okay as well. Make sure your influencer list is varied–not simply other writers. If you do a radio show and connect solidly with the interviewer, ask if you can add him to the list. Think strategically. This list will become invaluable as you grow your career.
- Get to know your local bookstores and your local media. We do this best by being their favorite customers, their treasured consumers. Many nationally acclaimed writers began by building a strong regional base. Figure out how you can help them and vice versa. When I did book signings for my own books, I’d always interview the store owner and write a great press release that combined info about the store and my appearance there. After all, I was the writer and this, which seemed practically impossible to the retailer, was easy for me. The local newspaper feature coverage that almost always resulted was my gift to the store, but it benefited both of us.
- Create great story angles about you and your book and feed them to the media. For fiction, where is your book set? You should be able to do an interesting feature-type press release about the time and setting that will appeal to the media in that location. You are a local author. Take advantage of that with your local media. You may have been born somewhere else. What about a hometown-boy-makes-good story? Maybe something happens in the news that has a tie-in to your book. Leverage that. With more and more cutbacks in the news industry, free content that’s compelling and well-written stands a better chance than ever of seeing print.
- Be creative about speaking opportunities. My brother is amazing when it comes to this. One of his books is San Francisco’s Lost Landmarks. Jim has become the expert on historical San Francisco. You’ll often hear him on the radio or television. He gives walking tours of The City. He talks at the library and lectures at area colleges. And his books continue to sell.
Remember–it is important to be fresh. Once everyone starts doing something it no longer stands out. When thinking about specifics, come up with the next big thing. This is not the time to copy other successes. You want to come up with the idea that causes other writers to say, “I wish I’d thought of that.”
Here’s the key to all your marketing efforts: Keep your focus on the three unique elements– the author, the book, and your reader. When you market using those three variables your efforts won’t look like anyone else’s efforts. You’ll avoid the dread same old-same old. Your marketing plan will be fresh and innovative and will garner real interest.