The idea of this series of articles is to make you the most effective marketer of your own work that it’s possible to be. Naturally, it follows that a) you must have a firm confidence in your work and its themes and messages, b) you must have a particular audience in mind and c) you are planning on communicating effectively to that audience over a period of time.
One, two or all three of those steps are missing for many writers: some lack confidence in their writing, have not quite figured out what they want to say or to whom, and expect that as soon as their book is published it will sell in huge, or at least reasonable, volume with no further work. If that sounds like you, it’s OK — it was me too, until I started looking into what was really happening.
Marketing — proper marketing, done organically over time — involves skill and preparation. You will need empathy and an open mind — though as a writer, you probably already have both.
But a successful marketing campaign is not necessarily easy to put together. First of all, how do you define ‘successful’? Individual writers may have their own aims for marketing, but the majority of writers simply have no goal at all beyond a vague idea of ‘selling some books’. So we’ll start with the reasonable (though hard to achieve) target of ‘selling a viable number of books’, or, in other words, enough books to generate a decent income over, let’s say, a year — enough to live on, or at least enough to substantially contribute to a reasonable lifestyle.
In the UK, that would be something between £10,000 and £20,000, without being greedy or totally unrealistic. On the basis that a writer might earn £1.00 per copy of a book sold (sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on a range of factors), that means selling between 10,000 and 20,000 books in a year.
That translates into having a sizeable audience, probably international, each of whom is willing to buy at least one copy. To keep things within the bounds of reason, let’s go for a purchasing readership of 10,000.
Traditional publishers consider that sales of 10,000 make a book a success commercially. Obviously, bestsellers number more than that; anything less than that, however, indicates a probably financial loss on the publisher’s part, especially if they have forwarded the author an advance at the beginning of the deal. Large publishing firms survive on the back of the one or two successes that they manage to pick during a year — the rest are considered ‘collateral damage’, risks that didn’t pay off. (It’s the same with the big Hollywood studios — one or two blockbusters a year make up for dozens of failed films. It’s the way the game works financially.)
So, off you go to try to acquire 10,000 readers.
What are the first two things you run into?
1. Your Own Existing Patterns
You’ve got your own life to live. You’ve got lots of stuff floating around in your head. Deadlines to meet, bills to pay, people to see. The world doesn’t necessarily re-arrange itself just because you decide your book needs to be marketed.
Plus, you’re a writer: your imagination is packed full of ideas, your own views, and your own opinions — and these things can affect you physically and emotionally. What you think and feel, the way you behave, the way you speak, and the way you perform, are all inter-related and all can act to hinder any new project.
Human lives are vacuum-driven, as we examined earlier — many of your thoughts and actions, perhaps most of them, are motivated by unknowns, gaps, needs, losses, threats, missing things, departures from the ideal.
If you understand this, you have already begun putting your campaign together — because everything that you’re running into mirrors what your potential 10,000 readers are running into too.
2. Your Readers’ Existing Patterns
Readers live broadly similar lives to your own. They are pushed and pulled in various directions by the same kinds of needs, wants, desires, emptinesses and so on as you are. Every time you recognise a push/pull factor in your life, you’re probably spotting something in theirs.
You have basic physical and health needs — so do they.
You need an income to pay bills — so do they.
They have family pressures, just like you; they may be mentally haunted by past decisions, anxious about the future, searching for meaning, just like you.
Earlier you roughly named an audience for your work — to put a successful marketing campaign together, you need to listen to what that audience is telling you and try to put yourself in their shoes. And the easiest way to do that is to start in your shoes and extrapolate outward.
Before you can help them reframe their assumptions, you have to some extent to reframe your own.
Organic marketing is based partly on understanding your chosen audience’s inner experiences and focusing exclusively on them, by listening – really listening – to what they’re saying. Starting with a basic understanding of what their lives are like — which is very much, probably, like your own life — you can start to note down the specific issues and even the words that they use in common parlance with you and with each other.
How do you find all this out?
You need a forum, a place where interaction is possible. If only we had some kind of system of communication where we could get to know each other over a period of time by interchanging messages and pictures frequently…
And of course we do. We didn’t, twenty years ago — but today we have ways of getting to know each other that earlier marketers would have died for.
The most effective method I have found of establishing enough data for a successful marketing campaign is a Facebook group. You may find, depending on your particular audience, that another forum is more appropriate: Instagram for younger people, Reddit, and various other social media sites can be explored and learned from until you find out where ‘your’ people are hanging out.
What are you seeking to do with this social media interaction?
You’re looking for common ground.
More on that later.
Some tips: when interacting with a potential audience on social media (or anywhere else for that matter) it’s important to keep in mind certain protocols:
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.
There’s a kind of code about this, but more on that a bit later too. Next time, we’re going to look at the seven steps of a successful marketing programme based on the above approach.