So now you know — if you’ve been studying the earlier articles in this series — how to build a marketing machine which will step by step take complete strangers through a process and turn them into fans and superfans of your work, people who will not only buy one of your books, but everything that you write. It’s not easy, it’s not magic, there are plenty of places to get the machine wrong along the way so that it doesn’t quite work, but there is a blueprint and, when it’s constructed properly, it works.
Time to answer a few frequently asked questions.
‘Should I offer my book(s) for free? Will it help to accelerate the process?'
I would almost never suggest offering your work for free; it weakens your reputation, and cuts into your overall profitability. As a writer, you should learn to think of yourself as a business, offering products and services — your products are your stories and books, your services are the pleasure, enlightenment, and/or entertainment value contained in them. As you gain experience and credibility in the minds and hearts of your readers, you should begin to value what you do highly. In fact, there’s a kind of counter-intuitive law that comes into play here: better to have fewer readers who value your work and pay for it, than a lot of readers who obtain it for free (but from whom you never hear again).
A confident, established writer who has built the machine described above knows what he or she is worth, and doesn’t like wasting time with those that don’t.
This perhaps sounds scary at first — surely you just want lots of lots of readers? I told you it was counter-intuitive: ‘numbers of readers’ doesn’t equal commercial success; readers who value what you write mean a future for you as a writer.
Having said all of that, there is a role for free products: a free gift of some kind can act to keep your warm prospects interested and ‘glued’ to you. If it’s at all feasible given your kind of writing, it might be a good idea to offer some kind of free product that is associated with your ‘portal’ work.
(A ‘portal’ is your key book, your central piece, the first thing you promote to potential readers, the one story or book which will open their eyes to what you do and encourage them to read more.)
For example, if you had written a Western portal, you could put together a map of your characters’ adventures, and offer it for free. This offers something to existing fans of your work, but also entices and intrigues those on the edge of buying your portal.
Or you could write a short story featuring the lead character from your portal, and put that out there for nothing.
Or have someone draw a portrait, or paint a landscape connected with your portal.
Anything to draw in attention and keep your warm prospects looking in the direction of that key book or item.
Tip: don’t make the free item completely free — by which I mean, ask for someone’s email address as an exchange for downloading it. This builds a list of names of those among your potential followers who are slightly ‘warmer’ than others.
‘How do I put together a portal?’
The truth is, if you’re a writer who has been working away for some time at your vocation, you probably already have a portal product, or at least something that could be turned into one fairly easily.
Your portal is likely to be your best work; it will be the piece of writing, either a short story or novella or full-length book, which says ‘You’ all over it; the part of your writing of which you are the most proud, or which you enjoyed writing the most.
Keep in mind that this is the piece which you want a reader to absorb most completely, engage with most fully and love most dearly. If you write in a particular genre or sub-genre, this is the piece which has to resonate most with the elements of that genre or sub-genre while also being unique to itself. This is the bit of writing which demonstrates your expertise to the reader.
i) it should be a standalone product. The reader should be able to get the drift of where you are coming from as a writer by buying this book alone; they should complete the book feeling as though they have gained value from it, without having to buy a sequel or anything else.
ii) it should have a real impact on the reader. The irony is that, although it should be a standalone and self-contained thing, the first thing the reader should feel upon finishing it is that they want more like it. They should be sad that it is self-contained, in other words; by being so good, it should leave them craving for more of the same.
iii) it should be available for a fixed and fairly low price.
iv) ideally, it should have a unique name, so that it stands out and doesn’t sound at all like anything else in its field, while at the same time clearly belonging to that field. Example: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was unique-sounding at the time of its release. It’s spawned so many imitators since that that achievement now blurs a little. It’s J. K. Rowling’s portal book because you can read it on its own and get a complete idea of what to expect from Rowling. Yes, it has sequels, but you don’t have to read those to appreciate what the first book has to offer.
Same with The Lord of the Rings: nothing like it existed before it appeared, though the genre it invented became flooded with similar titles in the years and decades since. Reading it gives the reader a complete Tolkien experience, while also leaving them hungry for more.
If your portal doesn’t fit all of the points above, it will either be hard to sell or won’t help you acquire the readers you want.
‘Tell me again — what’s the purpose of a portal?’
Remember, you’re most definitely NOT going to be trying to sell this to complete strangers on the internet. You’re not even going to be ‘trying to sell it’ at all. It exists like a honeypot, drawing from your warm prospect pool exactly those people who need it the most. It gives them something that on some level they know they need, and then allows them to glimpse all the benefits they could gain from reading your other books.
But it has another, highly significant purpose: it simplifies your marketing campaigns enormously. If you’re a writer with several books on the market, you’ve probably been dispersed across most or all of them, trying to get reader to buy, buy, buy each and every one. If you have a well-crafted and effective portal, you can virtually drop the rest — you don’t even have to mention them, except in passing, on occasion. Focus all your efforts on the one product, your portal, and let it do all the work for you.
The secret: if your portal engages your readers fully, they themselves will reach for more without you having do anything additional.
‘What should I be saying about myself in marketing campaigns?’
As writers, we know a lot more than our readers about what we have offer. But many writers mistakenly try to explain who they are in various ways to try to get readers interested in their books. It’s too hard, too dispersing and too much work. It’s much easier and more powerful to have the reader experience the best of your work firsthand. In other words, show, don’t tell: show through your portal.
Would you rather (1) read twenty interviews with a writer talking about their books or (2) read ONE key book from that author which emotionally affected you?
A portal allows you to make money while showing how good you are. That unique reading experience is more effective than pitches, prices, testimonials, interviews, web appearances and so forth. Now that they have experienced your writing, you suddenly become valuable on an entirely different level.
Do you see how this changes your focus and saves you loads of time and energy?
You don’t have to give away so much of your time in order to get readers. You’ve already written the portal — you don’t have to re-write it each time it gets purchased. Of course, you have to spend some time running your social media group or groups, keeping your warm prospects simmering — but that’s all. And that’s usually fun, light-hearted and constitutes ‘live’ interaction with potential readers rather than mindless spamming.
OK, so you have a ‘pot’ of warm prospects bubbling away, and a tremendous portal for them purchase which engages them fully. Sales should be occurring in small amounts, fairly frequently.
Is that all?
No — now you have to do the last part of the Marketing Mantra: provide more.
More on that next time.