Sunday, August 12, 2012

Marketing Concepts for Authors: All You Need to Know on One Page

Do you need an MBA to be an author? No, but applying basic marketing concepts may save some time in building your platform.

The basic strategy for online book marketing is to lure potential readers to your site with useful or interesting information, and then pitch them your book. (Yes, it's a little gross.) You do the hard-selling on your site to people who have already shown an interest in you or your work. Don't hard-sell people you barely know using social media. (More on this below)

Here are some other concepts to keep in mind.

1) Who Are Your Readers?

Some experts will tell you to imagine a single reader, the perfect reader, their age, job, family, house, car, favorite TV shows, which hand they wipe with.

This can be tricky, particularly for fiction writers. As I've mentioned previously, my novel-in-progress is about a never-married hypochondriac who takes a trip around the world looking to change his luck with love. The story has several potential types of readers, including people interested in travel, dating, and humor. I've further subdivided these groups as follows:

- Travel: adventure travel, around the world travel, people who like to complain about travel, and sex tourists.
- Dating: bitter single people over 35, smug married people, miserable married people, readers of erotica.
- Humor: raunchy humor, humorous erotica.

How am I going to go after each of these groups? One group at a time.

2) Where Do Your Readers Hang Out?

The usual suspects: Social media, Web sites dedicated to your topics, search engines

Join some groups, add some keywords to your site or most popular posts, see if your traffic increases. If not, try some others. 

After a couple of months on Twitter monitoring different travel hashtags and travel experts, I've found a few that appear to be useful and have produced either followers or clicks back to my site: #RTWnow (for people interested in planning trip around the world), #careerbreak (people considering a travel sabbatical), #bootsnall (a Web site for travelers.)

A tool like Hootsuite makes it easy to monitor and post to different groups and hashtags on Twitter. (click to enlarge).

Meet Up groups, lectures, organizations, trade shows, readings you give and attend, social events you attend.

To keep track of these people, I just started a simple monthly newsletter using a free service called MailChimp. I plan to collect cards and e-mail addresses from people I meet out and about who are interested in my book or my topics. When people ask what I'm doing with myself, I describe my book and what it's about. If they're interested, I'll ask for the order: "Would you like to be on my e-mail list?" Am I as shameless as a real-estate broker? Of course!

(Full disclosure: I just started this e-mail newsletter two week ago and only have three subscribers. Yes, I'm a knucklehead: I've been talking about my novel-in-progress at parties, giving readings, meeting people at lectures, and even giving occasional lectures -- for three years now -- and didn't collect a single card. Did I mention that I'm a knucklehead? But you have to start somewhere.)

Sample of a very basic newsletter I created using MailChimp. (It required a few hours of set-up and fiddling.) Click to enlarge.

3) How to Connect with Potential Readers

- Don't spend all your marketing time hanging out with other writers, unless they are your audience.
- Don't make bald pitches for your book. (Sorry to keep repeating this -- but it's like screaming, "Hey, look at me, I'm a douchebag!" Sending a direct message with a book pitch to a new Twitter follower is a great way to lose that follower.)
- Do answer other people's questions, comment on their comments, like their comments, follow them.
- Do offer tips, links to news items, links to stories you've written, links to Youtubes of you reading in public or audios of you reading at home.

(Audios are relatively easy to make using a microphone and a free audio editor, such as Audacity. Spend an afternoon reading book excerpts into the mic and editing them. Do a bunch and upload them to a free site, such as More on audio in a future post.)

- Pitch yourself as a reader at conferences, art festivals, literary open mics, folk-music open mics, story slams, poetry slams.

- But how can you pitch yourself as a reader if you don't have a published book or a book from a big publishing house? I don't have a published book; hell, I don't even have a finished book yet -- but these techniques have helped me get readings at decent venues:

*Read at a literary open mic over the course of a few months, do a good job, become a regular, graciously pay the $5 cover charge each time, buy some beers. Then ask the organizer if you can be a featured reader. Once you've been a feature, you can include that credential when pitching other events.

*Get a video. Some events and slams video-tape participants and will offer to sell you a video of yourself. Is it a rip off? Yes. Does it make you look like a pro? Possibly. Here's a video I've posted before that was taken at a story slam in Boston. It cost $10 to participate in the slam and I believe the video cost me about $35. Did I win the story slam? Of course, not. Would you consider me as a reader?

4) How Much Time Should You Spend on Book Marketing?

One well-know agent suggested that unpublished authors spend no more than 10 percent of their writing time on marketing.

I'm about six months away from finishing my book and circulating it to agents. Considering the long odds of finding an agent and a publisher, and the fact that agents and publishers want to see that an author can market his own books, I'm spending about 20 percent of my writing time on marketing. Is the marketing interfering with my writing? Damn straight. Would I spend this much time on marketing if I hated it? No way.

5) The Simplest Advice

One marketing consultant told me: "You don't have to do everything [online, offline, live readings]. Just pick something you like and become good at it."

My favorite marketing tip comes from U.K. author Jim Murdock: "Traditional marketing techniques don’t work very well online. Being a decent bloke who takes a genuine interest in other people and isn’t always selling at them does … but not quickly."

More Book Promotions Tips:
- Linked In Tips for Authors
- Tips for Reading Your Writing in Public

If you find my book marketing tips useful, sign up to have them delivered to your inbox each week:

Enter your email address: