I’ve discovered, while participating in writer’s groups, that new and emerging writers often have questions about getting published and how to develop a readership who will buy their books. I’m sharing some of my knowledge and experience here. This knowledge and experience comes from being a “sometimes writer,” having had to overcome certain idiosyncrasies myself, and from having taught marketing courses.
Check back occasionally for updates, edits, etc.
For starters, being a good writer and a good promoter are not separate qualities or behaviors. In fact, they aren’t even opposite sides of the same coin. Some people – perhaps introverts most often – have a romantic notion that being a “writer” is a singularly solitary activity that doesn’t require engaging with other people. Not so. Being a writer requires having readers. Writing – unless it’s in the form of a personal diary, a shopping list, or a bookkeeping ledger for a small self-employment operation – is generally meant to be read. Potential readers don’t know that your writing is available to be read just because you wrote it. There’s no accidental serendipity that happens between writers and readers just because one wishes it so. You, as the writer, have to make it so. Your readers don’t know you exist – nor do they know where to find you – until you tell them. Which means you need to find your readers and get the word to them that you have words to be read. And cultivate a relationship with those readers. Otherwise, your written words will be – and remain – very lonely words whose pages are only visited by, well, you. The authors of lonely words are likewise lonely – and unpaid. Therefore a good writer isn’t just one who knows how to write; a good writer is also a writer who believes enough in their own writing to get their writing into the hands of readers. A good writer is, or becomes, a good marketer.
Now, for specific tips on being a book author self-marketer:
- Tip #1: If you don’t believe enough in your own writing to promote it, why should anyone else believe that your writing is worth even reading – let alone promoting? You can’t depend on a publisher to do your marketing, although the larger publishing houses will do some of your marketing. First of all, you typically have to market your writing to get a publisher to accept you (lucky the few who are asked to write). Then, even publishers expect you to participate in the marketing process.
- Tip #2: You can’t start promoting today and have readers tomorrow. Even in the digital age with insta-websites and insta-blogs, one can expect it to take ~two weeks for search engines to find and cache your website or blog! Then there’s the time it takes for people to string together a search query that will connect them to your site. Start marketing your book a few months before it’s ready to be published. If you don’t already have built-in access to your target market, start developing access to your market even earlier.
- Tip #3: You know how to write; apply that communication ability to written and spoken marketing. You like what you’ve written, but that doesn’t mean that anyone else automatically knows of your writing or knows what it is that makes your writing worth reading. Being witty and creative helps, of course, when you market your written material. But only if “witty and creative” are “icing” that you put on the cake. The basic ingredient of the “marketing cake mix” is this: “Here’s what I’m writing about” (be clear and specific) and here’s why YOU (the reader) are going to want to read it (not “here’s why I want you to read it”). If you’d like to explore this further, pick up two basic primers at your local library and study them: a journalists’ how-to-book (how to cover the basics of a story – who, what, when, why, where) and a marketer’s tool-kit (what’s your product, who’s your market, and how do you communicate your product – i.e., writing – to your target market in ways that matter to THEM. “They,” after all, are the ones who will be PAYING to read your book!).
- Tip #4: Who is your target audience? You need to fully understand this so you can plan a marketing campaign that reaches your book buying audience. Hardware stores and athletic gear shops aren’t the best place to sell Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling spent her time connecting with CHILDREN (although adults certainly joined in). Clearly define which demographic groups are going to be interested in your topic. Then, set out to connect with that audience wherever they congregate. If you are writing about fishing strategy, a fishing store might be a good place to arrange an “author event.” Since I wrote this tip when I was writing a book about my Irish great-great grandmother who was born in 1863, for example, I reached out to genealogical groups to interact with them. I also provide two types of informational pages on my blog to interest potential readers: a page about the biographies of women born between 1700 – 1900 and a page with useful genealogy links in Ireland to help readers of Irish descent (giving them additional sources of info of interest to them generates good will). I was careful to sprinkle relevant vocabulary throughout my blog that would help my most likely readers find my blog, thus helping them to find my book.
- Tip #5: You can’t just do one book promotion and then wait for readers to show up. One of the basic principles taught in marketing courses is that most customers don’t buy something the first time they hear about it. The first time they hear about something typically serves as “awareness building” (“oh, this product exists”). Subsequent marketing efforts (i.e., “touches” – meaning marketing efforts that reach a customer) then work to further interest an individual book buyer in your book. So if you advertise so little that a potential book buyer only ever sees one advertisement for your book on one occasion, the only buyers you’re likely to get are “serious/avid readers.” Plus, not every potential book buyer is going to see any one ad or promotion that you do – it takes multiple marketing efforts to reach potential readers (an author event in Los Angeles won’t reach potential buyers in Chicago, an online ad on Facebook or an online book club such as Goodreads will only reach people who have accounts with Facebook or Goodreads, etc.). Most people have to be “touched” two to five times before they make a purchase – meaning some combination of “seeing two advertisements,” hearing about the book from word of mouth, seeing or hearing a book review done about the book, seeing it on the shelf at the library, hearing about it on the radio, etc. and etc. That principle is somewhat less true with book buyers than for other products; book buyers are more likely to buy books from word of mouth or hearing it mentioned on NPR, but there’s still some truth to the idea of needing to reach general readers more than once. If you’d like specific instructions on individual book marketing activities (author events, media publicity, etc.), one option would be to read the book titled The Frugal Book Promoter (no, I’m not the author!).
- Tip #6: Coordinate your marketing efforts for maximum combined effect. If you reach potential book buyers several time in a short time period, that reinforces their thinking about your book (“Oh yes, I saw an ad last week about that book. Maybe it’s interesting.”). If you are going to do an author event at a local bookstore or library, put up flyers in advance so people know about your event. Combine any advertising to coincide with your author event in an effort to reach potential readers twice (an interview with a local radio station, a book review in your local newspaper, a Facebook ad targeted to reach people in your city, etc.).
- Tip #7: Tit for tat. If you want local bookstores to be nice to you and carry your book, be nice to them. The book store market is tough these days. Online book sales are cutting into sales at bricks-and-mortars bookstores and those book stores are feeling the pinch. How are they going to sell books if few people go into their stores? That, of course, includes the increased difficulty of a bricks-and-mortar bookstore selling your book. So, go in and BUY books at your local bookstore. You are helping them AND helping another author. They”ll notice. That will matter when you want to sell your book.
Want an example of how to create a well-developed advertisement for a book? There are many venues, of course for promoting your book, as mentioned above (author events, advertisements, book reviews, etc.). Here is an example on developing a Facebook advertisement for a book:
When you create a Facebook ad (which requires setting up an advertiser account), set up your ad to reach your book’s intended audience. Facebook has features that allow you to target your audience in very specific ways. You can specify which countries to advertise in so that the ad only appears on the timeline of people with accounts based in that country. You can further specify your audience by various demographics: age, gender, Facebook behaviors (for example, only show the ad to people who shop online), etc. Target your advertisement to the types of people who are most likely to read your book. Which means, of course, that you have to think ahead of time who your audience is (advertisements for Harry Potter books would be targeted to children, books on gardening would advertised to homeowners, etc.). While this targeting strategy won’t allow you to reach every possible book buyer, it has the effect of reaching ONLY potential book buyers. If you have written a book on a gardening for gardeners who live in northern climates, there’s no point running a general Facebook ad that runs nationally to everyone – that ad may get shown to teenagers living in Florida instead of adult homeowners living in northern states. Also, there’s a little-known feature in Facebook advertising that allows you to reach specific audiences. You can specify that your ad ONLY be shown to people who already “like” a certain Facebook page. If you have written a book about the history of rock music, run your Facebook ad to only be shown to Facebook users who are over the age of 40 who have liked the Facebook page for a popular rock musician (Rolling Stones, Elton John, etc.). Yes, you can be that specific in your ads. Facebook won’t tell you the names of who will see advertisements, but you can certainly be that specific about the demographics of which groups of people will see your advertisements). Finally, think about what day and time to run your advertisement. You choose that when you set up your Facebook advertisement. If you have written a book about Christian spirituality, Sunday morning at 10:00 am would be bad time to run your Facebook advertisement because your potential book buyers are going to be at church – which means that they won’t be on Facebook at the time of day when your ad is running. Finally, take into consideration whether Facebook is the right place to even reach your audience. I once was asked to help set up a website to sell a product to a particular demographic audience. I told the potential client that setting up a website wasn’t a good move because people buying his particular product were unlikely to have internet access – which means they would never visit his website. In his case, in person sales was most likely to be an effective sales strategy. Are your potential readers likely to be on Facebook? Many people are on Facebook, but not everyone. If you’ve written a children’s book for ten-year-olds, they won’t be on Facebook since Facebook restricts their service to people aged thirteen or older. However, the parents of ten-year-olds may see your Facebook ad. In that instance, you might run a Facebook ad designed to inform parents about why they would want to buy your book for their children – which would be an ad written differently than an advertisement designed for a ten-year-old child.