As an editor of fiction and nonfiction, here’s a question for you: how much time as a writer do you spend each week building your audience?
If your answer is, “Yeah…not much so far,” count yourself among the many hard-working writers I speak to who haven’t set themselves or their new ISBNs up for success. If you want your message to matter, make marketing and sales an early part of your writing journey. I’m talking years-before-publication early.
As a subject-matter expert, you can write a brilliant book from a unique angle. And, on the flip side, how many books will you sell if you don’t build a beloved community? An active website? A social media and multimedia presence? Even if a few hundred people know who you are, you need a plan to reach out to media opportunities that will help you build a bigger following.
Your Success Story Begins with a Plan
First-time writers often postpone self-promotion until their books are published. That’s one early trap many writers don’t realize they’re in until too late. Understand that every good publishing process begins with a marketing and PR strategy years before publication.
That’s how it was when I worked at 2 Park Street, Boston in the early ‘80s. That’s how it is today. Yes, a lot about publishing has changed. That part hasn’t.
Having a marketing strategy shows you want your book to be relevant to your audience and maintain longevity in the marketplace.
If creating a marketing strategy isn’t your thing, find a reputable and resourceful guide to help you explore publicity options and outlets that are right for you, your genre, your book. No matter what your know-how or budget, you have more local and online resources to help you than ever before.
Whether you work with a professional content marketer, your own editor, an advisor from your writers’ league, or a creative ally who thinks outside of the box and follows the trends in your field of expertise, connect early and often with those who can inform, support and propel your plans forward.
Early Efforts Ensure More Success
Experts, like Seth Godin, tend to agree that building a beloved community takes somewhere between 1-3 years. Begin by courting followers from your personal, professional and online communities. Think about the kind of ongoing stories, strategy and platforms that will motivate you to self-promote and attract a wider circle than the one you currently have. This takes a bit of brainstorming.
Brainstorming by yourself about almost anything is difficult. For a guided session, pick someone to work with who is knowledgeable about marketing and PR to challenge you with questions you haven’t considered. The point is to get started.
Open your mind to a new playground of ideas. Just before the holidays, I reconnected with author Jill Baker (who will be publishing a guest blog here soon) while she was sitting in a Boston movie theater, waiting to see the ad for her new book series flash on the big screen. I love that Jill is reaching a new group of potential buyers who already enjoy her genre of storytelling. Why not create a short book trailer, video or video blog?
The brainstorming process does a couple of things. First, it expands our perspective from traditional to out-of-the box ideas we never would have known about or considered viable. Second, brainstorming motivates us – admittedly sometimes shyly and uncomfortably – toward a list of to-dos and action items we must make time to complete.
An important part of the brainstorming process is playing as if the sky’s the limit. Of course, then, it’s a process of narrowing one list of priorities so you successfully schedule time to complete each worthwhile marketing idea before expanding into bigger marketing endeavors.
Begin by creating a doable to-do list and timeline around ideas that produce quick, consistent content on the platforms you know your followers follow. Post content to these platforms over and over to establish a stable presence and cultivate a wider following.
Discover Your Base
Even if you land a book deal with an established publisher, you will still do a major portion of the book’s marketing and publicity. Take time to build a bigger base by writing blogs and magazine articles on your favorite topics.
Think local. What radio stations, news or cable outlets and online forums might support you with an interview? Who’s tweeting and podcasting about similar subject matter? Connect with them.
Who’s looking for guest speakers? Speaking to small, local organizations gives you the practice you’ll need to speak to larger groups. Ask participants to post photos and recordings of your events. These efforts may not sell more books but will give you broader exposure.
One good way to build a beloved community is to begin your own blog and email list. Decide how often you can blog. Get people interested in following the journey you are taking. Ask them to like and share your posts so you start building your outer tiers of followers.
Speaking to community organizations, landing an invitation to guest blog and being interviewed for someone else’s podcast may not help you sell more books but will increase exposure. Additionally, they give you valuable hyperlinks to add new PR announcements to your website, email newsletter and social media – and to that of your followers.
Stay in front of a growing community by spreading good will. Both neighborhood and national organizations are likely to give a member in good standing the opportunity to write an article or guest blog.
The best way to do this is to offer good content – fresh insights on your topic. Be generous. Busy people may stop on a whim to read your blog or social media. They only return if they believe you will offer them that same value again and again.
One of my favorite bloggers, Robert Glazer, puts out a weekly post called Friday Forward. I cannot tell you how many times I have forwarded his blogs to clients and friends. He doesn’t know me and I don’t know him, but he writes thought-provoking posts I consistently enjoy and look forward to reading every Friday morning.
Build a Beloved Community
You might find a few good tips by searching “DIY Book Promotion” or “Book Marketing Ideas,” but be prepared for information overload. The tough part about well-intended ideas on search engines is that you have no guarantee the ideas will work for you.
You want to write content that matters as much as I want to edit it. At the same time, stay open to new experiences and look for ways to expand both your following and media presence several years in advance of publication. You need followers to create buzz and buy your book. Dorie Clark and Jeff Goins are two of many thought leaders who write about book publishing, have a lot to say on the subject and work hard to keep their media presence alive.
If you currently have 100 followers, take a year and build to 1,000. If you have 1,000, challenge yourself to build 10,000. Most first-time authors would be elated to see book sales break 3,000 copies. If you want to sell 30,000, more people need to know who you are and why they should buy whatever you’re selling – book, online training course, private coaching.
Frankly, I don’t care what anyone says, it’s gratifying when people read what you write and value it enough to buy what you sell. So, prepare a lengthy marketing timeline. Figure out your best outlets to build community and market your work.
Plan ahead, even if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing or where you’re going. Along the way, you’ll find allies and fans who will spread good word-of-mouth and post decisive reviews. While no guarantees exist, creating marketing plans in advance can increase your book’s chance of clearing a very real sales abyss.