Most people have accepted advertising as a necessary evil in the modern world, or at least something that must be tolerated. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t piss them off sometimes.
We actually tune out most ads. When we read a magazine, we skip past all the glossy pages to get to the content. It’s almost automatic. Personally, I only really get annoyed when an ad is forced on me.
I can look away from a billboard, I can ignore the ads on Google, I can change channel. But when I’m browsing and I get an annoying pop-up, or when I’m in the cinema and I’m forced to sit through a bunch of ads before the movie starts, then I get a little peeved.
The digital revolution has unleashed an army of writers for whom some form of self-promotion is a necessity. Most, I think, do it subtly or with some taste. However, a noisy minority seem to think that the best marketing strategy is to tweet a link to their book every hour, automated of course, AND IN ALL CAPS SO YOU CAN’T MISS IT.
Out of morbid curiosity, I sometimes check the Amazon pages they are pushing. The book is never doing well. Maybe they should send out the message every thirty minutes instead. With more hashtags.
There is another way, of course. You can’t automate it, but if you are willing to put in the sweat, you will get a lot more out of it (and feel less like a snake oil salesman). There’s no formula and it’s no big secret; you just have to reach out to readers.
The importance of word-of-mouth is well understood. What’s more of a mystery is how you get to the point of having a bunch of people spreading that word.
Indie writer Michael J. Sullivan had a huge boost in sales around this time last year and racked up some amazing numbers over Christmas, ultimately leading to a six-figure deal with Orion.
In a recent blog post he explained how he built his audience. It’s simple: one reader at a time. Now, you might consider that answer either annoying or useless, but think about it; there is no other way to do it.
All readers are precious and should be treated as such. After all, without them we would be nothing. But those that can really give your career a boost are the passionate ones who will run around all their friends and colleagues insisting they read your book. How do you find those guys? Well, the first step is to make it easy for them to find you.
I’m assuming that you are at least doing all the basics: you have a blog and/or a website, your books are uploaded at all the major retailers, you are priced competitively (and that doesn’t mean 99c only), you have a professional product, and you are at least somewhat active in social media: Twitter, Facebook and so on.
You should also have an active Amazon Author page which is automatically linked up to your blog/website and your Twitter account. And you should at least have a minimal presence on Goodreads too.
All of these things should be pointing back to the same place – your social media anchor. For me that’s my blog. It’s my home and where I feel most comfortable. Everything else is designed to bring people there. For you it could be something else, like your Facebook Page.
Whatever you choose, you must have your contact information and links to your books clearly visible. If you look at the sidebar on my blog, you will see I have a blog subscription link, clickable book covers, my email address, and a newsletter sign-up all clearly visible. If you make readers work to find this information, you will lose them.
You also have to think about the content of your blog. Like many writers, mine is focused on the book business. And I hate to break to you, but most readers don’t care about that stuff. It’s something I love writing about, it helped build a great platform for Let’s Get Digital, and it’s great for networking, but it’s never going to attract significant fiction readers for me.
To find those readers, I need to reach out to them, find our common interests, and talk about them. To that end, I’ve started a new blog: South Americana. It only took a few hours to set up and write the first post and it cost me nothing. It still needs a bit of work – book covers, contact links, layout etc. – but it’s open for business.
It’s quite a niche subject: South American culture and history. But the people it will attract are the target audience for my next book (and the next three after that). I fully expect blog readership numbers to be small. But if I can connect with those readers, if I can engage with them, they could be the passionate ones who will not just buy my book, but spread the word too.
So, instead of racing around trying to find readers, maybe you should help them find you. If you write romance novels set in Italy, why not blog about Italian food or travel? Or if you write police procedurals, maybe you could talk about famous trials or serial killers. The only limit is your imagination and, as a writer, you should have that in spades.
If you are not big on blogging, there is no reason why you can’t do the same thing on Facebook or on various forums.
Just remember to meet your readers half-way. Don’t approach it as an opportunity to shill, instead engage them at their level on the topics you are mutually passionate about. That’s how you build relationships in the real world and social media is no different.
In short, leave the “writer” hat at home, talk about your shared passions, and you will reap the rewards.
David Gaughran is the author of If You Go Into The Woods, Transfection, and Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should. You can catch him at http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com