In Part One in this series, we learned roughly what to expect — and what NOT to expect — from Facebook writing groups in terms of actual sales. A quick recap: by far the bulk of the group will be composed of people who are totally inactive, rarely active, or who just visit to socialise; only a tiny percentage are going to be potential customers, even when you might hope, because of the Likes and Comments you see, that there might be more of them.
So is showing and talking about your work on Facebook and in Facebook writing groups a complete waste of your time?
As with most things, this depends very much upon your aims and expectations. If you’re viewing an FB writing group as a kind of ‘shop’, in which all you have to do is display your work to get sales, then you’re probably going to be very disappointed. If you view your membership as a prized opportunity to interact with other writers to glean information and to generally chat and exchange ideas, you will probably be very pleased, because that’s what they’re for.
So how do you sell your books?
It’s usually a good idea to use yourself as a template for answering questions like this. Do you possess a superpower that alerts you to a book you’ll enjoy? If so, lucky you. I know that in my life I have very occasionally had subtle inklings that I will enjoy a book just by hearing its name spoken; more often, I have to come across it in some way, be drawn in by its cover to read the blurb, then be attracted by the blurb to look inside — and if all seems good to that point, and I have enough money, I might ‘go to checkout’, either physically or online. Something like that probably happens with you, too.
Something like that happens with just about every single potential book-buyer across the planet.
So how do you go about getting your book cover and blurb in front of potential buyers? That doesn’t mean ‘in front of everyone’, note. That would be probably involve a lot of money spent on ads, and would be largely fruitless.
You want your cover and blurb to appear where they are most likely to provoke interest.
Finding an audience is one of the most frustrating and misunderstood parts of publication. To help you feel less frustrated, to assist you in understanding the marketplace, and to maybe even help you sell some books, here are some key points to keep in mind:
1. Your readers are scattered — but they gather at particular ‘watering holes’…
Your potential readers don’t know that they are your potential readers. They are scattered all over the world, all over the internet, going about their lives and business in ignorance of you. It would be great if one website somewhere held the key to a sudden, mass audience for your work, but sadly this is unlikely to be the case.
You can spend a fortune splattering the web with ads designed to hoover up these potential readers wherever they are - or you can be slightly cleverer about it.
How do Facebook writing groups fit into this?
Writing groups are usually made up of people much like yourself; many of them have books of their own to sell. One of the primary functions of such groups is to help members do that, as mentioned already, and they do it through a friendly exchange of information, tips, and experiences.
It’s also quite possible that, if the group is healthy enough, some of your potential readers will be lurking in there too. If you post about your book from time to time (if the group allows it) you might well attract a lot of traffic, and even get sales and reviews. But in any case, only a small percentage of people who see your work mentioned will go on to find more about it, with only a few of them going on to purchase. That’s a truth in any kind of marketing. Again, you are the primary template for this: if you bought everything based on an advert you’d seen for it you would soon run out of money. You are selective about what you buy. Other people are the same.
Of course, you can increase your advertising and try to appear in as many places as possible. Remember, the potential audience for your book is probably spread all over the world. There’s no single site that will get you an immediate audience, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. However, if your budget is limited — and most writers’ budgets are — you need to think smart and long-term rather than wide, if you see what I mean. One of the most important things you need to keep in mind is the following point.
2. There’s no magic bullet
You may well have been bombarded by posts and ads suggesting that there is a magical new way of getting thousands of conversions —sales— overnight. These are usually from marketers who have put together a course or system that they want you to buy. That’s their product: if they hook you in, you are their sale.
Most of these things don’t work — at least not as fast or as effectively as they promise. That’s because they leave out the biggest factor involved in success.
Conversion is a process that happens over time; sales occur over time; viability is achieved over time.
Anything that promises instant success is probably trying to ‘short-circuit’ Time.
When it comes to fiction, as with many other products for sale, a lot of potential customers need a degree of familiarity before they decide to make a move. It may be that they glimpse your book advertised through an ad but think nothing about it; then, a month later, your book might pop up as a recommendation in a writing group, or be mentioned by a friend, or be reviewed on a blog. That might pique the potential reader’s curiosity enough for them to look at more of your reader reviews or blog posts. Eventually, they see your cover and read your blurb. If they then buy your book, it’s often the last item on this chain of events that gets the credit — but really it’s the cumulative effect of many different encounters with your book over a period of time.
It’s called ‘brand awareness’. The more consistently you can place your book in the right places, it gains legitimacy until it becomes familiar enough for a reader to trust. That’s just how the human mind works: people tend to trust things that they have seen appear appropriately over periods of time.
Your mind works like this: as a child, you saw more or less the same things when you woke up each day and your environment gradually became more and more familiar to you until you felt confident enough to interact with it. You as a potential reader respond in this same way: you see a book you like, then see it again, then later again, then in a slightly different context recommended by someone else, then again, and finally you decide to look into it.
Here’s a secret law about this: the more a book is mentioned by various different sources over a protracted period, the more likely the potential reader is to reach for it.
That’s why reviews work, for example.
This doesn’t have to cost money: things like book giveaways, listings on promotional sites, reviews, guest posts, and interviews can all work both individually and as part of an interdependent brand awareness campaign and can be done for no or very little cash. The more widespread your targets, the more effective each individual appearance becomes.
The key thing is Time.
If you give up after a couple of days, weeks, months, then the slow cumulative effect disappears and is wasted. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but the good news is that it works.
Your potential reader, like a child opening its eyes to see the same kind of thing each day, grows in confidence and affinity, and, if your book is worthwhile and something that is of interest to them, they will buy it.
Everything you gain with all this hard work doesn’t go away —unless you stop doing it. Cumulative promotion works: people will remember your book for a long time after seeing it around for a while. Even those who buy your book and don’t especially enjoy it will know you as an author and your brand, your work. Being a ‘name’ will get you more readers, and more readers will further increase your brand recognition.
How does a Facebook writing group play its part?
The group should only be one place that your book, or reviews about it, or discussions around it, are appearing. But the members of the group who lean your way in the first place — your potential readers within that group — are more likely to move to checkout stage the more they see your name.
Selling yourself and your work, reaching out to new groups in every way possible, increases your legitimacy markedly. Posts in which someone recognises your name, or the name of your book, as in a Facebook conversation or something like an advertised giveaway, catches attention; each small unit of attention is like a raindrop. Raindrops gather into streams and converge into rivers, which equate to cash flow; rivers end in the sea, which (in this tortuous analogy) represents viability for you.
Expecting an immediate audience? Expect to be disheartened. Feed Time into the equation and you’ll be thrilled by every Like, every Comment, every mention, every review, every recommendation. The internet holds all of them and the algorithms remember them. Your brand name is ever-growing and constantly recommending you just by existing. You’re always moving forward; momentum doesn’t slow, as long as you keep pushing.
You’ll see results in the long run. One day, you’ll look back and realise you’ve gathered a respectable audience; a little later, you’ll look back and recognise that you have made it to the sea.