ONLINE MARKETING FOR AUTHORS
This is the text of a talk I gave at the UK Meet 2011.
As I said at the event, I’m not a marketing expert, I don’t always follow my own advice (!) and there’s nothing here that’s unique or can’t be found in other useful blogs and publications. But I hope you might find some of it entertaining.
Today, we’re going to touch on the subject of an author’s Online Presence and Marketing.
I’m not a marketing expert – I may not do everything I could or should – the things I talk about today aren’t new by any means. But I love my genre and the fiction we all read and write, and I feel strongly about making the most of that, in a professional and effective way.
The internet and the growth of epublishing has opened up so many opportunities – plenty of us here have already benefitted from that by being published earlier than we might have been in mainstream print publishing, or maybe published at all!
I suspect we’re all online already, so this session is to look a little further. Open up some different avenues, suggest some ideas, build up some confidence.
I’ll preface it all with this advice: There’s no right answer, no one single way.
It’s what suits you, what you can handle, what works for you.
We need to keep our mind open, our approach flexible, and our enthusiasm and love for writing alive :).
WHAT’S IT ALL FOR?
Will it all bring fame, fortune or fun? Essentially, that depends on YOU. Your work is great, that’s your public face, but your career and marketing come down to YOU.
*Are you just starting out, facing your first submission? Want to take things slowly?
*Have you been published but this is the only book you ever wanted to write? You’re happy to keep a back seat and enjoy the achievement?
*Do you want to start a career with regular releases, a major commercial player in the market?
*Do you look at royalty income as a thrilling “extra” or a main income stream?
The chat today is all about the Online YOU. That’s the first thing people see, the first thing they reach for.
Your publisher will do plenty of work to get your book seen – it’s their business after all – but this varies from publisher to publisher.
Many people still like print books and aren’t interested in Amazon or ebooks, but that’s only part of the potential market. In Jan 2011 Amazon reported 115 ebooks sold for every 100 print. That’s our modern market – that’s our commercial context.
What’s great about the net? The access and immediacy and the astonishing breadth of exposure.
What’s intimidating about the net? You got it! The access and immediacy and the astonishing breadth of exposure.
It all seems overwhelming sometimes, but most of us are online already – it’s not something to be feared. Make it work for you.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
WHO ARE YOU?
This is the essential first stop. You thought the end product was writing the book, didn’t you? I’m afraid there’s more to it than that LOL.
You’ve chosen a pen name, you’re published: now you start to build a personal brand. It’s a trail. Help readers to find and follow that trail.
I can’t stress enough:
Make it easy for them.
WHERE ARE YOU?
The well-known and successful m/m authorJosh Lanyon says, your website is your online business card.
There’s not really any excuse or tolerance nowadays for people who don’t establish themselves on the web. Where’s one of the first places YOU turn when you search?
A website can be simple, can be a blog, can be one page. Mine’s entirely self-made from an online editor.
I was once criticised for my website being too fussy, not focussed enough. So obviously I sulked for a few days LOL. But then I looked at it again and trimmed out a lot. It’s more pleasant to visit nowadays, and to maintain.
People come initially to find you and what you do, not to know what flavour ice cream you like or the fact you once walked Everest (which I haven’t).
Always keep that objective in view. And watch the eye strain of garish colour schemes, the bandwidth-guzzling graphics.
No design skills? Copy! Ask help!
Other people have the skills and it’s quicker for them. Be prepared to offer something back, give them the chance to say no. But many people in the community are glad to help. My banners were all done by a fellow author and friend.
Keep it simple. Remember? Make it easy for readers to browse and buy.
And there’ll be more books, right? Make sure you have space and scope for them!
BRING ‘EM ALL HOME
Once the book’s out and that website’s set up, the web strands start spreading.
Oh, the immortality of the web cache!
I changed my website address after a year or so, and links still appear to the old address on Google. It’s no problem as all links lead back to the current address, but it’s a sobering thought.
All your links on that website – take them to where your book’s sold, then tempt them back again. Use links that open in a new window so the reader’s always anchored to the starting point, in case they want to browse some more.
Show them how to contact you: show them where you are on social media. Have an email address that refers back to you, The Author. Have a Facebook and Twitter ID that quotes your name every time.
And all that time you spend online, even if it’s just chatting or answering email? Have LINKS on all your correspondence!
KEEP THE BALL ROLLING!
Now keep those readers interested and SHARE!
Use the social media you’re happiest with. Things are changing daily and it’s all geared towards helping you out.
I run a blog because that’s the format I’m used to, I can prepare the posts as I like them, yet it’s quick and easy to update. It then feeds to Facebook, Twitter, Amazon Central, Goodreads. And I set *them* up to let me know if anyone comments.
I don’t have time to Tweet, and to me FB seems full of arcane rituals, while Goodreads can seem worse than the Hampton Court Maze :). But this way I can connect to a lesser or greater degree without scaring the pants off myself.
Join some Groups: Yahoo, Goodreads, Facebook all run them, geared up for author promo and communication with readers.
Publisher ones are both obligatory and useful, they help you keep in touch and meet your fellow authors, even if you never go anywhere else.
I spread myself a bit thin over the first couple of years, joining up with 8 publishers at one time, but I met so many great people it was worth it. I also learned how different organisations behave, how they run their business, what’s standard practice, what’s outrageous nerve, what’s cute about a group, what sets my teeth on edge … you get the picture.
And even just lurking in the background of these Groups is GOOD! For a while, at least.
*Use the Groups for promotion. See which ones offer Excerpt Days, look at the amount of traffic. It’s not always the best thing to be in the large groups because you can get lost in the throng, but you also don’t want to be on a group that only has 6 members.
*Watch out for themed chats, set up for your genre. Don’t worry if you don’t fit *exactly*, so long as you have some overlap.
*Drop in and say hi. Once you know a couple of authors, you have a foot in the door. Watch how they post, see how people interact – then leap in yourself! But PLEASE always check the specific rules of a group before you post.
You’ve met people. Now introduce them to your books!
This is often the most difficult thing for people to do, but try to see it as introduction and information. Sharing the love, rather than a hard sell.
It’s the book itself in the end that will sell – but there are lots of great books out there. This is all about letting the Reader know yours is there, and making it easy for them to choose it.
I don’t send out much – though I like buying them! – but I do carry some about with me at all times.
Run contests: offer free copies. The loss of $1 royalty is worth it if 6 people enter your contest and may go buy the book if they don’t win. At the very least, it may spur some interest on review sites.
And while we’re on that topic…
Can’t avoid touching on this, can I? LOL
They can be great and they can be devastating. Most of us will get a mix at some time. I’ve been praised to the heavens and savaged elsewhere. And that’s on the same book.
Let’s not be hypocritical, I read and covet mine as much as the next person. But the attitude I’m trying now to cultivate is to use them solely as a marketing tool.
A review is not necessarily editorial comment. It’s not always the same as constructive feedback. What it IS, is attention.
While people are reviewing me, they’re reading me, which means other people may want to, as well. I have something to talk about!
KEEP IN TOUCH
Tell ’em what you’re going to do, tell ’em what you’re doing, tell ’em what you did, as the saying goes. Readers like to hear what’s in the pipeline.
It doesn’t have to be online chatting or daily blogging, just a notebook approach. I received criticism once from a reader, that I didn’t have a Coming Soon page on my website. I did a day later, even if some days there’s nothing on it :).
If we have product to offer but never emerge online, we may not sell much. However, if we spend all our time on the net, we’re unlikely to have any product to sell in the first place. “HELP”, I hear? There are plenty of shortcuts you can develop. A small amount of preparation can give a massive return. More in Store, Less Stress! And I’m in favour of anything that achieves that.
*Use the feeds for your ONLINE posts like I described.
*Set up excerpts in the standard format – watch the Groups to see what this is – and have them in a Word folder ready for a promo or chat day, or on your blog. A quick cut ‘n paste and it can be posted immediately.
*Make your signature standard – no links to books you have to keep changing. A short, snappy signature is all most people can deal with. Some groups don’t allow more than a certain number of lines anyway. I’ve been complimented on my email signature – it’s a banner plus my strapline and 2 links only.
*Do the same for your bio – when a publisher asks for it, they often just want something pithy in 150 words, not your full credentials. Look at the bios on the UK Meet site for examples!
*Stick your name on Google alerts. Not necessarily narcissistic, but if someone’s talking about you on the net, *they* will tell *you* all about it, without you having to go and search.
*Set up a blog reader so you can identify and “collect” links to useful and interesting blogs, for when you find the time to browse.
*Who keeps a note of plot bunnies and inspiration? Do the same for potential blog topics. Some publishers and genre groups like you to blog periodically. God knows I’ve thought up things the night before, but let’s not invite more stress :).
SICK TO THE BACK TEETH OF ME?
Readers are keen, but who can remember details when there’s so much on offer? Unless you have a strikingly different USP, they need reminding.
Won’t the readers get sick of you? Maybe! On different forums, with different people, I suggest you vary your approach a little.
But there are new people joining the community all the time. Turnover is high. I often read a comment from someone who’s just discovering a book “everyone raved about but I never got around to it” from years ago.
Remember that issue about reviews? Use them as prompts for new readers.
Make it easy for them!
LOVE MY BOOK, LOVE ME?
This is an interesting topic I often debate with fellow authors. I call it:
PERSON vs PERSONA
It’s a big and definite step, moving from a personal online persona to a professional one. You can do both, but I personally find it easier now to settle as my professional name.
It’s all about BALANCE. I don’t want to inflict my weekly shopping trip on followers of my fiction, and I don’t want to send writing promo all the time to my family and non-community friends.
You can decide YOURS.
You like chatting, Tweeting, blogging? Go for it!
You prefer lurking and/or commenting on other people’s blogs? Well, that’ll certainly earn you plenty of love and respect, I tell you!
You don’t like online life at all? You just want to write, well, there’s a novelty! Seriously, it’s ok. Creativity doesn’t always = chattability.
There are more passive ways to be noticed. Invite guests to your blog where all you have to do is post their chat; offer freebies on other people’s blogs; follow a busy Group chat one day and just comment on a few of your favourite authors. (If I’m there, don’t forget to say hi!)
Indirectly, you’ll still be seen as contributing, but in your own way.
Some people don’t want – or can’t afford – their “real” persona to be available to all and sundry. Remember YOU’RE in charge of what you tell people.
Don’t lie deliberately – you’ll inevitably be found out *one* day – but you don’t have to share your shoe size or your childrens’ names if you don’t want to. Or you *can* share your love of chocolate ice cream and the fact you once climbed Everest LOL. I believe you can be friendly and cautious.
WATCH YOUR STEP
THE SNOWBALL EFFECT
The first book is great. You set up your website, join the publisher’s group, promote yourself. Then you write another one. And maybe get a story in an anthology. And maybe a short for Xmas. Or your publisher asks for a sequel. And that’s the snowball effect!
Now you have to promote current releases *and* backlist. There’s no question that nothing sells a book like another book. And it’ll only get worse. Or is that BETTER?
But when is that extra work balanced by extra hours in the day?
Go back to CHEATS. Be ahead of the game. Get ready for that day you have a portfolio of 20 books and more to come!
You started off in this business to write and to share.
Just try not to overdo things or forget to write. I’m not really the best example of this, as I regularly overdo things and exhaust my stamina :). But writing requires as much energy and enthusiasm as any job.
Be civil, be generous, in everything. Or at least try your best.
Praise friends, encourage newbies, we were all there once.
I’ve been on chats and complimented fellow authors’ books which I haven’t read. I don’t lie and say I have, but I’ll comment on something I liked in the excerpt. And often go on to read it with new enthusiasm.
Don’t discount other genres – with my first publisher, I was the only m/m writer for a while, so all our chats were dominated by m/f romance. But I made some friends in those early days that have remained close, and I learned almost everything from them about how to behave and make the most of chats.
God forbid you should have enough hours in the day to be online AND write! So … Little and often is ok.
Be honest with yourself. If you need a break, allow it to yourself.
I’ve found passing readers don’t notice that you *haven’t* been online if you’re busy/ill/distracted. That’s maybe not very flattering! but there’s too much going on out there for them to care individually.
Avoid like the plague – unless you feel up to the fight! I know that’s difficult, I can get drawn in myself. But online, things can escalate fast and furiously, and suddenly it’s not about the minor topic that you had an opinion on, but a fully-fledged session of abuse and attack that you’re afraid and/or reluctant to be associated with. Nowadays I try to watch my initial response to issues until I’ve got the measure of the parties involved.
Overall, I like to be nice, I like to enjoy life, I like to feel good and help others feel good. Ms Pollyanna, I know LOL. But I’m not daft enough to believe someone will buy my book just because I’m pleasant. However, I do believe if I act like an aggressive, confrontational Diva, they probably WON’T buy my book! I know, because I’ve reacted that way myself.
IN CONCLUSION …
You’re into your stride, you think you can see light at the end of the tunnel, so how are you doing? Well, who knows? LOL Unfortunately, there’s often no measurable, direct correlation between promo activity and sales. It’s all part of the jigsaw – but we don’t necessarily have all the other pieces.
I find I make more sales overall when I’ve had a new release out. And I find the hits to my website increase after I’ve made an online appearance of some kind.
But otherwise, the scattered jigsaw is all the more reason to keep your sanity intact…
And write more!
So how did I start? By saying there’s no right answer, no one single way.
Reconsider as you go. For example, I’ve had to drop some of the avenues over the years as Real Life pressures stepped in. And as my output varies, so my presence mirrors that.
Don’t beat yourself up, and hang on to your sense of humour and your nerve!
Do what you can, where you can. Watch, learn, step carefully but firmly, and ENJOY!
I’ve met some of the very best friends, learned a hell of a lot about publishing, expanded my life horizons like nobody’s business, and garnered plenty of writing inspiration.
Long may it continue, and many thanks for your attention.