Right — so we’re engaged in the project of gathering your audience, and we’ve had a look at exactly what kind of process a potential reader goes through when looking for a new book to read (and we put a pretty convincing argument together by using you as a test case).
How does this all fit together?
You gather an audience together using social media — I particularly recommend Facebook groups, but something else may better suit you. In the past, this wasn’t possible — authors used to either have to write for a pre-existing audience, or just write and take a chance that there was an audience out there that would eventually find the book. These days, it’s different.
What does that mean, in practical terms? It means starting a Facebook group (or other similar group), which is technically a very simple thing to do. But here’s the rub: it most definitely should NOT be a group about your latest book or even (initially) about you or anything to do with you.
Because opening up a group about you or your latest book sort of presumes that you have already found an audience. It’s premature. Later, when you have made a name for yourself, by all means open up a group for each and every book you write, if you wish — your thousands of loyal fans will want to join each and every one, probably. But at the beginning, you’re an unknown. What you want is a much wider group, what might be called a ‘catchment area’ for potential readers of your work.
Need an example? Let’s say that you write a kind of science fantasy adventure story along the lines of Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars/Barsoom tales. Your book, called ‘John Sword, Warrior of Titan’ is all published and ready to sell. But what you don’t do at that point is try to sell it directly (unless you want to waste time and possibly money). What you do do is open up a ‘Science fantasy group’ and make posts about Burroughs and all the other golden age great authors, finding articles and images and other posts from strangers and plonking them into your group feed on a regular basis. This is very easy and not time-consuming, if it’s done right.
What happens? The material you’re posting, like blood in the ocean, attracts the sharks — readers who love Burroughs and the rest swim towards the group and join. Keep feeding the group with generalised material; don’t mention your book yet, though you can put a link to it in the ‘About this group’ section if you wish. Just flow more stuff into the group and start chatting with members, building communication and affinity. Remember the three protocols of interacting in a social media group:
i) Stay positive and enthusiastic
ii) Don’t enter into any kind of polarised argument about anything
iii) Listen and acknowledge more than you speak.
As the group grows both in numbers and activity, you can slip an occasional ad in for your book. Hopefully, you’ve absorbed the earlier lessons in this series and had a cover designed which indicates both that your book definitely belongs to this genre but also has something different or special about it.
Remember, the cover grabs enough attention for them to read the blurb; and the blurb (NOT a story summary) grabs enough attention for them to investigate further. Your ad copy is like the blurb — don’t ‘tell the story’, pull the attention. Make sure that your ad contains a link direct to your book, somewhere where it can be bought with a click.
Then go back to feeding the group with general articles, snippets, images and so forth, about the general area of science fantasy, Burroughs etc etc.
What will happen?
You’ll get a few sales over time.
Then, if your book is good enough, you’ll get positive feedback. Entice those who have purchased it into reviewing it both in the group and on the sales sites where it’s available. That adds punch to your presentation and will draw more people along.
Yes, there’s a little bit of work involved — but far less work than pumping ads out to people who aren’t listening. Plus, if you’ve written a book called ‘John Sword, Warrior of Titan’, I assume that you love Edgar Rice Burroughs and his ilk and don’t at all mind interacting with a group of rabid fans, discussing the genre, the adventures of particular heroes, the artwork, and so forth.
Marketing becomes fun — two words you never expected in the same sentence, probably.
Seven Aims of a Social Media Group
If you need more guidance on this, here are some specific things you should be focusing on inside your group:
1. Build Rapport
By following the protocols, you want to build affinity and respect. Demonstrate that you are a fan of the genre too, that you are listening, that you are present. You can do this on less than an hour a day, spread throughout the day — visitors to your group will assume that you are on social media all day long, when actually you’re just popping in once in a while (between writing your next book, of course).
2. Target The Passion
Find out what your audience’s real passions are. There’ll be a range of them, probably: some will like the style of science fantasy writers, others will admire the world-building involved, while yet others will want to know more behind-the-scenes stuff about the authors and their lives. Then work out connections between those passions and your own book.
For example, let’s say a group of readers loves the way in which science fantasy tends to use convincing-sounding gobbledegook terms in place of any hard science. Your book does the same. Drop into a conversation thread how you have developed a few terms of your own.
Or maybe there’s a discussion about the tropes of the genre and how muscular swordsmen are always rescuing beautiful females from monsters. Mention casually your take on that in your book.
You’re planting seeds, name-dropping, positioning yourself amongst the books that they love.
Be careful though — too much emphasis on your book will start to sound ‘salesy’ and some people will back away. Just drop in a reference or two then change subject and move on. Think of yourself as a farmer, sowing a field — but in this case it’s a fertile field, made fertile by your actions of drawing in a suitable public.
3. Identify Any Blocks
What is your audience missing? What don’t they like about this genre that they love? Are they irked by certain conventions? Gently discover these blocks and complaints and find ways of dropping into the discussion how your book deals with these matters.
4. Start Positioning
Actually, you have already started this just by doing the above. If you do these things gently enough, members of your group will already have positioned you and your work alongside Burroughs and the other favourites in that field. You won’t be the equal of Burroughs etc in their heads, but you will have managed to inveigle yourself into the same mental space as those other, much more well-known authors. Major triumph.
5. Keep Posting
Continue asking questions, holding polls, posting images and so on to build up a complete affinity between your audience and its beloved genre. The stronger your empathy with your group, the easier it will be for you to present your own work to them.
6. Follow Your Instincts
When you can truly identify with what your audience is looking for, choose an appropriate moment to mention your book. Don’t try to ‘sell’ it, but instead go with the flow of the conversation — ‘softly, softly’ will definitely produce the best results.
7. Test Your Work
Once you’ve gotten a few of your audience to buy your book, engage them in group conversations about it. You can garner reviews this way, but you can also learn a lot about your own writing for future work. What did they like? What did they dislike? What compared to the greats in your genre? What fell short?
Repeat all of this again and again over time. Sales will occur. As you do the above, things will get easier — the feedback will make you a better, more confident writer, and the positive reviews will add to your campaign strength. You will have noticed that at no point have you engaged in ‘selling’ your book, which is as it should be — and probably feels a lot more comfortable for you.
Are you likely to be raking in huge money? No, you’re probably only going to make a few sales each month. But I can virtually guarantee that you will make more sales than you would have made if you don't do the above and instead try the ‘mass marketing’ approach.
Note: obviously, the same principles apply whatever your genre: romance, Western, science fiction, gritty drama, etc etc.
More on how to develop all this further soon.