So, based on the information in Parts One and Two of those series, you want to start a snowball which, over time, will build up momentum and end up with you getting sales and more and more readers. How to do you get started?
Every snowball starts with something about the size of your fist - i.e. relatively small.
Jumping analogies for a moment, readers are a lot like rabbits – the more of them you have, the faster they multiply. As new readers discover your book, they tell their friends, sharing your story with more and more people — very often inside Facebook writing groups. But first, you need that one snowball (hopping back to the first analogy).
How do you build a readership from scratch?
Don’t fall for the conventional hype about the internet. There, size matters; there, numbers rule. ‘If I can only get my book onto Amazon…’ think many writers, because Amazon is big, so they think their sales will be big. Amazon is a technically advanced distribution machine, that’s all. The fact that it’s big can actually work against you: there are so many other writers trying to attract attention that unless you actively seek out your audience, nobody will be able to find your book.
So forget about size. Dismiss numbers. What you want are the three ‘V’s: vicinity, variety and vias.
Though you may have heard otherwise, the best place to start promoting your book is among people you already know. This is where your Facebook groups come in: your existing social media following includes your friends, your family, your work colleagues — and many of the members of your FB writing group. Offer copies of your book to friends and family for free – even an e-book can be a great gift.
I estimate that you have about ten people in your immediate vicinity — not necessarily geographic vicinity, but social vicinity — who are potential readers for your book. Sure, for some of them you will have to buy the book and give it to them as a gift; but some of them will fork out their own cash. List them out; try it. Don't go over the top - aim for about ten.
If you’re feeling brave, try getting your work into a local bookshop. See if you can get into the local paper or on local radio or TV. Get a local footprint. If you're not feeling brave, that's OK too.
Now the trick is to get these existing contacts to share your book with their friends. FB groups are good for this — just get the one or two members who have read your stuff to talk about it. They don’t even have to write a review, though it would be great if they would. Just have them comment, start a conversation, make a post. Now you’re edging slightly out of the local vicinity into wider territory.
If you want to speed this up a little, start a Facebook page for your book, and encourage all the people you contacted in the Vicinity step to follow it. Many will be more than happy to do so — it costs them nothing but a click or maybe a comment.
Now you have a fist-sized snowball.
The first step to encouraging your existing contacts to lend you more support is simply to make them feel valued and important, and present yourself as friendly and eager to chat. Setting up a page — and even a Facebook group dedicated to your book or books — will increase your visibility and make you appear more human and aproachable. Potential readers will already instinctively care more about you because you seem to be closer to them. This doesn’t take much effort to build on. Use social media to be open up about your life, your desires, your struggles as a writer, the background to your book. Be open, honest, and available to answer questions. Become a 'personality'. As readers slowly form a connection with you, they’ll become more interested in sharing your work with their friends. And the more they do, the more Variety increases.
‘But I don’t want to have to set these things up! They take too much time!’ is the same thing as saying ‘I don’t really understand how marketing works — I just want instant sales, like magic.’ Your potential readers are human beings: treat them as you would wish to be treated and you will get the responses you want, over time.
Here’s another ‘magic trick’, if you’re looking for magic:
Give your readers and potential readers a home.
Give them somewhere to go, to hang out. A Facebook group is perfect for this.
When I was growing up, Stan Lee, former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics and co-creator of superheroes such as Iron Man and Spider-Man, opened up a letters page in every Marvel comic. He named his fans the ‘True Believers’ and encouraged questions, comments and interactions decades before the internet came along to make the whole thing faster and more effective. But even back then, the effect was marked: Marvel readers developed a sense of identity, of ‘brand’, of affinity and community. Those same fans are now behind the multi-billion dollar success story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, drawing upon the same passions that Stan had fanned into flames back then.
As your readers feel included, valued and appreciated, they’ll naturally engage with other fans, invite their friends over, and interact — all without it costing you a penny (or a cent) and all on their own initiative, without you necessarily knowing anything about it. And that’s what you want.
It takes time.
People on the internet have a tendency to congregate in forums, Facebook groups and the like. If you don’t want to start your own groups, other groups are an excellent place to start promoting your stories. Look for online communities and groups that are interested in your book’s genre, or similar genres, or who like the works of authors that inspired you.
Don’t just join the community and instantly post links to your Amazon page — that’s another attempt to go for numbers, to short circuit Time. You’ll be ignored or, even worse, barred. Take the time to get involved in the group, post about things you enjoy, engage in discussions — make the group a home, and when the time is right, tell people about your book. They’ll be far more receptive if they trust you — and as we saw earlier, trust arises when you are seen consistently appearing in appropriate places.
What about the third ‘V’, vias?