This week's Refresher Friday takes an updated look at marketing and some things we can do to promote ourselves and our books. Many asked about marketing recently, so this is a primer for things I'll talk about next week. Enjoy!
When I sold my first novel back in 2008, I knew I’d have to do some marketing to help promote it, but like many debut authors, I had no clue what I’d need to do. A website certainly, probably a blog, some kind of social network like Facebook or MySpace (yes, MySpace). Beyond that? I had no idea.
Jump ahead eight years, and authors doing their own promotion is expected, if not required. It's even more critical for indie published authors or those with smaller presses. The publishing business had changed and what worked a few years ago is less effective, or even a waste of time now. Even more annoying--what works changes almost on a monthly basis, for as soon as a good idea appears, everyone jumps on the bandwagon to copy it.
Here are a few basic things every writer needs:
A Great Website
This hasn't changed. A website is still a must in today’s publishing world. Many agents and editors Google potential authors, so having a website while querying indicates professionalism. Which means you want it to look professional as well.
Things to include:
- Your bio, photo, ways to contact you (email, Twitter handle, etc)
- A little about the book if you’d like (if you worry someone will steal your idea, it’s okay to leave it off and just mention your genre and/or market)
- Any credits or information that aids you in your agent quest and makes you look like a professional writer they’d want to work with. Organizations you belong to, etc
- Your book cover, blurb about the book, plus the ISBN number and publisher
- Your bio, photo, ways to contact you (email, Twitter handle, etc)
- Any good reviews you get. (Snippets are fine)
- Links to where people can buy the book
- Links so the media can download high and low resolution files of your photo and the cover
- A longer bio is not uncommon
- Trivia facts and a little bit of fun if your genre lends itself to that
- Contact information for your agent, publisher, and marketing and publicity people (your publisher will likely assign these folks to you, but you might hire some of your own)
- Your author or book tagline
A Fun Blog
Blogs and their uses have changed a little as more and more people are blogging. Current industry opinion: with so many blogs out there now, they're not as effective as they once were, and it's harder to stand out and get noticed. Once upon a time, the best advice said to blog and then comment on as many other blogs like yours as you could to get readers to come visit you. These days, no one has time for that, and comments overall are down. There's just not enough time to keep up with it all.
Blogs are great ways to interact and connect with readers, though, and you can set one up in a matter of minutes and be on your way (Blogger and WordPress are the most common sites). They can require a lot of upkeep to maintain, so consider how much time you can spend on one before you start.
Blogs were once a must-have, but no longer. If you think it will cut into your limited writing time or sap your energy, it might not be the best option for you. If you enjoy blogging, go for it, but if the thought of blogging makes your flesh crawl, just don’t do it. Put your efforts into something you enjoy.
If you do blog:
- Offer content readers want to read about
- Find something you can regularly blog about that would be of interest to the people you hope might buy your book. If you write historicals, perhaps blog about the period you write in. Or if you use recipes, talk about food and cooking. Write about something you love that has nothing to do with your book, but slip in book stuff from time to time
- Pick a blogging schedule that works for you. It doesn't have to be every day and slow blogging can be very effective (just ask Anne Allen)
- Blog to connect with readers, not to promote. It’s okay to promote your book once in a while, but no one wants to come back to read PR gunk all the time.
A Social Media Connection
Social media is where it's at these days. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, Google+. There are plenty of sites out there for both writers and readers, and they fit various time constraints and personality types.
Most sites are easy to set up, but like blogging, they can take maintenance to stay connected. They’re not as intensive as blogging though, so they could be a happy medium to staying connected without spending all your time doing it.
Sites like Facebook and Twitter are more interactive and require input on a regular basis to be effective. Google+ offers video hangouts, which adds another layer of social interaction. More passive sites like Goodreads allow you to connect with readers and don’t take as much upkeep (though there are ways to be more interactive if you want). These sites also all provide things for people to find when they Google you, which is always a bonus.
Social media tips:
- Social media is about connecting and being social, not spamming "buy my stuff"
- Be yourself, be professional, and be nice
- If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, don't say it online. The internet is forever
- It can take time to figure out which social media site fits your personality and style and how to be effective on it
- Use your author's name if possible. "WriterJay" might fit my personality, but it's not going to help me get my name out there or build my author brand
Join Forums and Online Groups
Writer’s forums like Absolute Write, Backspace and WANAtribe offer wonderful communities that can be both supportive, and lead to great opportunities down the road. However, you can’t just start posting and expect everyone to flock to you. You need to join before your books come out, get to know folks and become part of the community first. These are great sites for pre-published writers to get to know their fellow writers and start networking and building friends.
And mean it, don't just fake it. These groups can smell a poser a mile away, and no one is going to help someone who’s clearly there to market themselves or their book. But for those who make an effort to help others, and have done so long before they sold their book, many people are delighted to help. It can take time to stay involved, but if you don’t enjoy it, or feel you have nothing to offer, don’t frustrate yourself by trying.
GIVEAWAYS AND SWAG
There are pros and cons to printing business cards, bookmarks, and postcards. Some people love them, others say they wind up in the trash as soon as the event is over. It's easy (and cheap these days) to get materials printed, so the amount of PR stuff handed out at events is high, which makes it even harder to stand out.
These used to be optional, but now they're a must. Writers meet too many people and having something to hand them to remember you is a great marketing tool. Moo Cards (those smaller business cards) are also quite popular. A quick web search can find multiple printers and prices to fit your budget.
Bookmarks also get a lot of mixed feelings. I've done them, but I'm not sure how useful they are. They tend to be large and don't easily fit into pockets or conference badges, and I see a lot of bookmarks left behind or in the trash at events. On the pro side, bookmarks are larger than business cards and offer more information about you or the book. They can be fun swag for giveaways or signings as well.They're also easy to leave on freebie tables or in key locations.
If you have the budget for it, and like handing them out, go for it. If you need to trim back on costs, this is a good one to skip for now.
Postcards are like bookmarks in a lot of ways, but I like them a little better. They're nice for swag bags (the larger, more stable size means they hold up better), and during my school visits, students like them because they can get my autograph. If you have multiple books or also want to promote a blog, two-sided cards are also handy.
Swag can take many forms, from buttons to pencils, to key chains and wrist bands. One of my favorites was finding book-branded lip balm in my goodie bag at a conference. Very useful since cons tend to be dry. However, while I enjoyed it and used it, I couldn't tell you what book it was for. As nice as it was, it didn't make a book sale with me.
And that's the risk with all swag.
During an RWA marketing workshop several years ago, I heard an author say swag is more for the fans than new readers and I wholeheartedly agree. It's a treat to reward fans, but don't expect it to create a book sale. When you're brainstorming ideas, think about what the fans would enjoy and get a kick out of. For example, I love my Fiction University buttons, but if you've never heard of my site, odds are you won't wear one. But fans pins them right to their badges or bags at conferences.
With any swag, it's a good idea to weigh the cost per item versus the benefit gained. It's easy to spend the whole profit per book (or more) on swag, which doesn't make financial sense. You lose money per sale if the swag you hand out costs more than what you made on the book itself.
Branding has become vital for authors in today's crowded marketplace, so it's a good idea to consider how you want readers to identify with you and your books.
Taglines and Brief Promotional Copy
Taglines are the "Just Do It" slogan for a book or an author, those one line (or a series of short words) that sums up who you are as a author and what you write. You might also have slightly longer copy you use on your marketing pieces as well, or use your general pitch as promotional copy. The goal here is to have several options available and handy when you need them, so you're not spending a lot of time creating new material. It also keeps your marketing pieces consistent and reinforces that idea every time someone sees one.
Book Tag Lines and Pitches
My book pitch is: The Shifter is the story of Nya, a war orphan with the unique ability to shift pain from person to person, and when her little sister goes missing, it turns out to be the only weapon she has to save her.
My tagline copy: “Sister. Healer. Deadly Weapon. Nya has a secret she must never tell. A gift she must never use. A world she must never question. And a sister whose life depends on her doing all three.”
This is something I use on all my marketing pieces. It's longer than a basic tagline, but it's punchy and hopefully intrigues enough to grab attention.
Author Tag Lines
I've seen some fantastic author brands--my favorite was a erotic comedy writer who used "Kick with a wink." You know right away what she writes and what you're getting into when you pick up one of her books. However, coming up with something this perfect isn't easy, and after eight years, I still haven't done it (hopefully you guys have better luck).
Marketing Prep Work
Months before a book comes out, it's a good idea to start preparing. That way, you'll have lists of things to try and suggestions ready to implement if you're doing your own marketing, or hand to your publisher if you're assigned a publicist.
Research online sites you want to contact. If you're not sure who to look for, try Googling a book in your market like yours and see where it showed up. That will give you a good start on the places you might want to approach.
Make a list of all the bookstores in the area for possible signings. Remember that bookstores like having authors there because they draw in customers, so be careful not to have signings close to each other that would cannibalize off the same customer base. You want to help the bookstores, not rob them of customers.
If applicable, find schools and libraries that you could visit or join an event.
Prepare some guest blogs so if an opportunity arises, you're ready to go. Also try reading some author interviews and familiarize yourself with common questions so you'll have answers when you get asked for an interview. Often you'll get similar questions so think about different spins or details so each interview offers something new. That way readers won't get the same information every time.
New material added. Three times. Originally posted on Tall Tales & Short Stories