As I said last time in this series, the most effective method I have found of establishing enough data for a successful book marketing campaign is a Facebook group. Another forum may be more appropriate for you, depending on what you write: what you need to find out is where ‘your’ people are hanging out. Once you find them — or at least some of them — you can begin to make real marketing progress that can convert into sales. Until you find them, it’s almost inevitable that you will waste a lot of time and build up immense frustration, largely because you are trying to reach the wrong people in the wrong way.
Social media interaction with a set of ‘warm prospects’ — people who share a common interest with your work — yields you the valuable information you need to create relationships not only with them, but with people like them whom you don’t even vaguely know yet.
‘But why can’t I just sell my book? Why do I need to “develop relationships”?’ says a voice at the back. It’s a fair question: all you probably want to do is write and sell your books. All this talk of getting into communication with potential readers and finding out more about them sounds both difficult and time-consuming. I understand that. But my point is that there really is no other way, unless you depend on a luck factor — that somehow, by some good fortune, a book that you write and publish just happens to strike the right note at the right time and become a bestseller, like J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, or just about any other bestseller that you see out there. That could happen, to be fair; by far the majority of the bestsellers you see were ‘lucky strikes’. It’s probably less than a one in a million chance that it will happen for you that way, but it could — and you are welcome to try that approach if you wish.
But if you’d like more control over the process, and a little more understanding of what’s actually happening, you’ll need to read on, learn some things and then apply them to your individual circumstances.
What You’re Trying To Do
There are three basic approaches, as I’ve said elsewhere:
1. You can write a book and hope it finds an audience (what might be called ‘the old-fashioned way’)
2. You can find an audience and write a book for that particular audience (all the rage at the moment with the availability of self-publishing platforms and the internet)
or (and this is the one we’re interested in)
3. You can write a book and then find the audience for it.
The third option wasn’t really possible before the age of social media and the internet. These technologies empower the author to pro-actively seek out people who might be interested in his or her book. What you’re trying to do is connect as-yet-unknown readers with material that will satisfy possibly as-yet-unknown needs that they have. If you want to go down this route, it follows that you need to
a) find those as-yet-unknown readers, and
b) unearth those as-yet-unknown needs.
How do you do this?
You want to draw a group of potential readers together, bringing them into an affinity with you and your work (and with each other, possibly, though that’s just a pleasant side-effect); then you want to expand upon the common ground between them, their needs as readers, and your work.
You the Reader
Right now, you probably need an example, just to see how this works. But to make it sink in even more, I’m going to switch things around and make you the reader — that way, you will get a much better idea of the kinds of things that are operating here.
As a reader, you have certain tastes, preferences, needs and wants. You have favourite genres and favourite authors. And you have a certain amount of time and attention free to shop for new books (or let’s imagine that you do). You set out to find a new book to read — and let’s assume that you are willing to forgo your usual authors and try something fresh.
1. Where do you look?
First of all, where do you go to find a new read? In the old days, we used to go to libraries, perhaps, and browse shelves; we could go to a bookshop; these days we are more likely to browse a website like Amazon, maybe taking a look through their ‘Customers who bought this also bought…’ recommendations, or asking Google for ‘Any authors like [add name of a liked author]’. Frequently, we are open to recommendations from friends because we might be familiar with their tastes or perhaps they have made a good recommendation in the past. Remember, your potential readers are doing much the same thing.
It’s probably worth pausing to ask yourself which of the above you are most likely to respond to: an ad that appears in your newsfeed? A book listed on ‘Recommended for you’? Or a personal recommendation from a trusted friend? In most cases, it’s the last option that gets the most action. But there are other things coming into play.
And that leads us to step 2. 2. What catches your eye?
This is where an author’s marketing begins as far as ‘real time’ is concerned. You are actively looking for a book and your eyes are drawn to three things in particular: i) the book’s cover — this has to have a precise appeal: a cover has to be genre-suitable (romance novels don’t tend to have flying unicorns on the cover; science fiction novels tend not to have pictures of flowers, etc etc) but also has to have something different about it, something that pulls in your attention.
ii) the blurb — as I’ve written about extensively elsewhere, a book’s blurb is most emphatically NOT about summarising a story in a few words, as many authors seem to think — a blurb is a key marketing tool. It’s function is to grab attention. It does this by presenting core elements of a story in an exciting and open-ended way (which is why blurbs often finish with a question: ‘Will Sam ever see his wife again?’ ‘Will the bomb go off?’ etc) After glancing at the cover, a potential reader will usually skim-read the blurb. The cover snatches enough attention to compel the reader to read the blurb; the blurb has to be good enough to hook enough attention for the reader to proceed further. iii) the reviews — most of us then scroll down to read the reviews. If they are rave, we are much more likely to press ‘Add to cart’; if they are mediocre or mixed, chances are we will move on. We’re always only a finger-click from moving on, aren’t we?
So are your readers.
So it goes without saying that your original work has to be good enough to elicit fabulous reviews. That’s up to you as a writer. (We’ll touch on how to get fabulous reviews a little later.)
OK, so we switched this around and made you the reader, just to see how it works. Feel free to disagree with anything in the above, but it is the pattern followed by most readers looking for books.
Next time, we’ll switch things back and look at how you can use this self-orientated experience to get more readers for your own work.