Most writers barely think beyond the writing. That creative step is what has drawn us to writing in the first place. Writing in itself presents enough vulnerability for us to fill our platters. So it’s no wonder we typically pay little attention to publishing or marketing until we have to.
We may opt to delve into self-publishing ourselves but we can also consider transferring most publishing tasks to traditional or hybrid publishers. However, book marketing falls squarely upon the author, regardless of how we may choose to publish. Unless you are most famous, traditional publishers won’t lift a hand to help you market besides perhaps offering some tips or direction. In fact, agents and publishers want to see a detailed Marketing Plan before they consider signing you so they can be confident they will receive a return on their investment in you.
This presents quite a predicament because often creatives (writers, artists, etc.) are not only novices at marketing, but many despise the thought of marketing - of putting ourselves out there and talking up our works. But unless your goal is merely to create a piece of work for family posterity, if you want to sell books you must market. I prefer not to call it "marketing" but "outreach" or "engagement," either of which seem to remove the overwhelming stigma of "marketing" and make it more about connecting with your reader community. "Marketing" feels like high-pitch sales which, I for one, am not into. I'd rather share my material and message through engagement and outreach and let the audience decide.
So How Do I Do This?
Oftentimes authors, especially new authors, suffer from Imposter’s syndrome. Most of us didn’t go to school for creative writing. We just wanted to get a story or advice out of our heads and onto paper either to help others or entertain. But throughout the long writing process, we may feel we are really not qualified to write. Why would others buy our books above the millions of others on the market? This sense of discomfort contributes to writer’s block and the difficulty of finishing a project, and especially rears its head when we begin marketing. If we don’t feel confident in our work, we are likely quite reticent to share with the world much less pitch our work in front of others. I lived this battle through my first book and some of my second before I changed my paradigm.
It’s time to inflate our ego. Everyone has a story. Yours is a unique story. Although there are millions of books published every year, there are tens of millions of stories that never get told. You have managed to carve out time from your hectic day and pushed through to complete the writing. This is no small feat and you should be quite proud. Others may write about similar subjects, but each is unique. You are developing your own engaging writing style and hopefully have leveraged your authenticity and vulnerability to make your story enticing. No, not everyone will read your book, but your target audience...your community, will be interested in your book. That’s why we talked about identifying that community and typical reader early on. Now, it’s time to be proud of your accomplishment, grow a bit of a thick skin for those naysayers, and share your work with your community.
So How Do I Reach My Community?
Generally, I’d focus on 4 strategies to engage with your community. We will describe each below. The most critical approach for all 4 is to do it YOUR way. There are hundreds of book marketing books, blogs, and podcasts that swear if you do X you will sell thousands of books. But they can’t guarantee that and some of these approaches just don’t fit your skills, moral compass, time availability, or comfort zone. Listen and learn from these sources but utilize your own filter to select the strategy that works for you.
1) Website: We talked about websites in May, not only because it is a critical “home base” for your community, but because it is likely the most comfortable way to connect with your community. You can build the website and employ your passion for writing to create blogs and stories that strengthen your connection with your target audience. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but a website and blog are important tools that work for you. Ideally, create the website early in your project. It does take a while to grow your subscribers so be patient and diligent. Some will unsubscribe, but your members are the ones that really get your message. They will share comments and feedback, forward your blogs to others, and are the prime audience to buy your book.
2) Social Media: But how do I get people to my website? Social Media is a mainstay of the 21st century. Some love it and some don’t. I consider it a necessary evil. I’d probably be barely present on social media if it weren’t for my book. Social media presents a broader, new audience that I can connect to via writing and steer them toward my website. If you create a post, share it with your subscribers but also share it with social media groups (Facebook, LinkedIn, X, Instagram, TikTok, etc.) that might be interested in your topic. Those who want more will click your website link and may become loyal followers. If you have the inclination and time, start engaging with others on social media. Pose questions or comments to start dialogues. This is not intended to be a hard pitch. Build those relationships, eventually introducing your expertise, website, blog, and book to the conversation if/when it feels appropriate.
As less than an avid social media user, I would suggest you narrow your social media outlets to 1-3. More is not better. It deflates your efforts and can be exhausting. Each social media tends to cater to certain demographics so consider the age/background/geography etc. of your target reader as well as your comfort and interests and focus on those few social media outlets. Better to be comfortable and known in 1-3 outlets than to be spread so thin that it’s a waste of time.
3) Podcasts & Webinars: These provide a great way to build engagement. They generally don’t require any financial investment or travel. Though many may watch or listen, it can feel like you are only talking to one. There are thousands of podcasts on nearly any topic. There are a lot of author podcasts that provide a platform for authors to share their stories and experiences. You can Google or use iTunes to find podcasts in your genre. Listen to them. Pick the ones you think might connect with your audience and in which the host(s) appear relaxed and great facilitators. Send them an email briefly sharing your background and project and why you think you and your topic would be great material for their podcast listeners. Expect to pitch to many and schedule few, but it does build on itself. Be sure to share your website with the audience and post the podcast on your website as well.
Webinars are basically classes that you can create on YouTube or others. You can do this from your own home with notecards etc and then post to YouTube, your website, other social media groups, etc. Some people charge for webinars but free webinars are a great way to connect and build followers early on.
4) In-Person: Some people love the opportunity to talk to others about their book. For others, it involves a level of fear. You may choose to pass on this approach altogether. This was one of my greatest fears, but I decided I wanted to stretch my comfort zone and try. I started slow with podcasts and then progressed to small group talks and now I’m in the midst of book tour roadshows, national convention panels, and keynote speaking. I never thought I’d be doing this. While it does help with book sales, I do it to engage with others, to receive feedback, and perhaps to provide information to others that may change their lives.
Here are a few in-person engagements to consider:
Bookstore talk: this may be a good place to start but there are more stories of frustration at the small audience and passersby that are apprehensive to stop for a marketing pitch.
Kiwanis, Chambers, etc: these groups often are looking for speakers within their community. You may not sell a lot of books in the back afterward, but you will make some community connections that may prove quite valuable in building your network.
Book Clubs: check out local book clubs (online or via your library etc.). Many are looking for a great read. You could offer your books at a discount and join them periodically or at the end to talk about your writing process.
Organizations: identify target audiences for your book and pitch to talk to them. For my books on introversion, I’ve talked to corporations and colleges about the challenges and tips for leveraging one’s introversion. For my latest book, The Essential Guide for Families with Down Syndrome, I’ve pitched to national conventions and local Down syndrome associations that dot the map across the country. Some audiences may be less obvious but ponder where your target reader lives, where they work, and what groups they may be members of. A word of caution, this certainly takes time to pitch and often requires some travel money beyond your hometown. This approach is typically quite personal and your sales rate may be higher than the other strategies, but you may still struggle to recoup your travel expenses. You can seek to be paid or have travel expenses covered, but they are less common for relatively new authors and speakers. Consider bulk sales with these groups. Perhaps they will buy a book for all attendees? We are sharing independence workshops for families with Down syndrome. We tend to identify a city or region we want to visit either for vacation or to see family and then consider places in that city/region or along the way that we may stop at to talk. This may help reduce some costs and include some fun time too. I’ve grown to love these engagements even though I struggle to break even. Writing can be a very solo/lonely endeavor. I do enjoy that but I also find some balance through these tours. I learn a lot and it’s great to be sharing on the road with my family.
In any case, build your own marketing plan. It has to be a strategy you believe in to be successful. Marketing doesn’t have to be scary and overwhelming. It can be a surprisingly fulfilling addition to your writing project.
Keys to Success:
Recognize you will be doing the marketing regardless of your publishing path.
Consider these and other marketing options. Read some books and listen to some podcasts to get more ideas.
Filter all these ideas so you pick the one(s) right for you.
It’s a journey. I started with a website/ blog and stretched to podcasts, and then to In-Person over about a 3-year period. If I had leaped directly to in-person, I don’t think I would have been able to do it. Take your time and think long-term.
Consider your objectives (build website subscribers, market your business, engage with readers, and/or sell books). Have realistic expectations regarding audience size and financial costs/benefits.
Finally, it's time for your book launch! We'll cover all aspects of your launch in October's Writing blog.
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