by Christina Lay
There’s no shortage of people who want to give writers marketing advice. The problem is that given the ever shifting reality of the publishing world AND the world of marketing, what is true today might not be true tomorrow. What works for one person might prove worthless for the next. And then there are simply a lot of ideas out there based on guesses, conjecture, what worked for that guy, and advertising hokum. We have to remember that from the e-mag mavins who sell ad space to the speaker/gurus who sell workshops, advertising is a business, and we are the target audience. They worked out an angle or pitch and then try hard to convince us theirs is a sure fire path to the bestseller list. The bottom line is the bottom line; buy my book so you can convince other people to buy your book.
The particular pitch that caught my eye and then made me slightly queasy was about turning readers into “fans”. Fans are the super-readers who will buy every release, write glowing reviews, tweet about your appearances, and possibly stalk you at conferences. Every writer dreams of having a few. In this particular workshop, they promise you will “learn how to serve them (fans) better” and also learn how to love “providing content and service”. This is where my introvert writer self reaches for the antacid. I love how writing a novel is now “providing content”, lumped in right along with all those endless bog posts, interviews, how-to articles, timely newsletters, fascinating tweets, friendly Facebook posts, eye-catching Pinterest pins, on-trend tumbler shares, and so on, and so on.
Without a marketing budget in the thousands, it’s true that all of these outlets are the best avenues open to writers to get the word out and let readers know you exist. But how effective are they? This is the question that no one really has an answer to. I do most of these things, and I do know without a doubt that it is better than doing nothing. Writers can no longer rely on their publisher (if they have one) to do much of anything. So yes, providing content beyond the books is pretty much a have-to if you want readers to know you exist.
About this business of “serving” your readers, I have to ask; do readers really want more than a good book? I’m no more of a guru than any of the people claiming the title, so I decided to look at my own habits as a reader, because I’ve been a reader longer than I’ve been a writer. And I polled some friends. Do we really want to be served by the writers we read? If so, how?
The most overwhelmingly common way a reader finds a new book is through recommendations by friends. And, as far as I can tell through my very unscientific study this is still mostly done via face-to-face chats (in the three-dimensional world known as “reality”) and occasionally, through book clubs. So one way an author can serve readers is to be willing to make appearances at book clubs. This is something many gurus will poo-poo because instead of creating “thunder claps” with thousands of shares you might create a friendly murmur among dozens. I’d argue, however, that the murmur ends up having a much more significant impact than the tweet that is lost among a sea of pointless twittering.
So what about friends’ recommendations via Facebook? I honestly can’t remember ever following up on a post about a book, but I have had friends comment that they were interested in a book that I shared.
I’ve also never taken note of a book recommendation on Twitter. I do follow a lot of writers on Twitter, but it is only as a fellow writer, not a reader. I get the impression that some fans do track their favorite authors this way, but I also sense that they are looking for giveaways more than book recommendations. The nice thing about Twitter is that it is free and relatively painless. If you’re blogging anyway, automatically posting on Twitter is a no brainer.
And what about blogging? This is the most time-consuming, content-providing marketing activity a writer can engage in, but is anyone reading your posts? This one is harder to untangle, because I am constantly reading blogs as part of my activities online as a writer. Would I be reading them if I wasn’t a writer looking for info and connections? I don’t know. I can say this is the main way I’ve found new-to-me writers. Specifically, an engaging excerpt is by far the most effective “content” as far as getting me to click that Amazon buy link. I participate in a lot of blog hops and so end up reading a lot of short excerpts. So what makes a writer stand out? Simple— excellent writing. It helps to have a professional looking website and easy to follow links to book blurbs and buy links. It is also essential to always come across as a nice person. If you go this route, you’ll find that most of your visitors in the beginning are other writers looking for connections, so be responsive, be helpful and whatever you do, don’t hide any weird viruses in your website that automatically sign people up for your newsletter, or any other creepy reverse stalking cyber-tricks (yes, this is based on actual experiences).
According to my survey, one of the most popular ways to find a new book is via the dreaded Amazon recommendation widget. Dreaded because it is based on an indecipherable-to-the-common-human algorithm of great mystery and awe. Skipping over that whole morass of conjecture and hoodoo, let’s just say your book actually makes it onto the line up of recommended books; what then? The cover is very important—make sure it’s professional and eye-catching. Nothing turns me off quicker than an amateurish cover. And then, once again the most important thing you can do is make a sample easily available, make sure it is perfectly edited and once again, excellent. The definition of excellent is of course up to you and the reader, but you know what I mean.
What this all boils down to is that while you can bury fans in all sorts of giveaways, FB parties, chatty tweets, photos of your hunky heroes and on and on, what it really comes down to, in this reader’s opinion anyway, is–prove to me you can write. All the social networking might catch a reader’s eye, but once the eye is caught, have an intriguing excerpt or sample chapter available for them to enjoy.
To wrap up, I’d say when faced with the overwhelming landslide of “Must Do” marketing activities, channel your inner reader and ask yourself what you want from a writer, and how you find them. Then put your most excellent face out there, and keep on writing.