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Crack Your Marketing: Opening a Portal

What’s the exact process by which you turn a casual browser into a customer?

That’s the 48 million pound question, of course.

Well, it’s not as complicated, mystical or elusive as you might first think: but it is precise.

Businesses have products or services and they get leads in one way or another who then have to be ‘converted’ into paying customers. Whether they’re selling insurance or cars or pizzas or advice, they all need to get leads and make them into customers.

Writers are one-person businesses, especially these days in the age of self-publishing — so where do writers get their leads and how exactly do they transform those leads into paying readers?

For writers of fiction, whose product is stories, this needs some thought.

I’ve covered earlier how, using the principles of organic marketing, writers can cultivate their own audiences using social media and the Marketing Mantra

Attract generally; attract specifically; engage fully; provide more.

Writers can use the technology available to them to draw in a potential readership, a group of ‘warm prospects’, who can then be attracted further using the standard marketing tools of cover designs, blurbs and positioning until they become specifically interested in the book that a particular writer wants to sell. But this process needs a closer look.

A sales process is a series of steps that turns leads into clients.

Many businesses today use a range of techniques to get leads to pay for something. You will have seen or experienced some of these yourself: webinars, free gifts, courses, special offers, and so on — they are the commonplace tools of the conventional marketer.

As a writer, you may have tried some of them in some way: the ‘free Kindle offer’ is very widespread, or the heavily discounted book, or the author’s page on social media, and so forth. They don’t quite close the gap though, do they? They especially fail if you’re approaching ‘cold’ readers with them, perhaps bombarding Facebook or other channels with ads in the forlorn hope of using the specialised tools of cover designs and blurbs to drag indifferent people into making a purchase.

The point is that a sales process is a series of steps. It’s not just one magic step, a fabulous ad which ‘works every time’ or some kind of magical cover which sells the book as soon as it is seen; nor is it a whole bunch of steps tried at random.

A sales process is a series of steps.

I know, I just said that: but if you could get the concept fully and apply it, you would start selling books.

First, you have to attract a body of warm prospects. Forget about cold advertising, or even general advertising of any kind — instead, concentrate your efforts on building your own group of people who have expressed some general interest in the kind of thing you offer.

Second, keep them sticking around. I’ve gone into how to do this in detail earlier.

Third, start to present your work to this group in a carefully positioned way.

Now, here’s where an additional step fits in, something I haven’t talked about yet, something that can shorten the time from lead to sale, or from potential reader to fan, without needing some of the steps in between.

You need to have a portal.

What is a portal, in this sense?

It’s the piece of work which, as soon as a reader picks it up, will tell them what you are all about and what you can do for them.

It could be called the first actual step of your sales process: the first thing which is overtly trying to sell them something.

As an example, my own portal is the non-fiction book How Stories Really Work. If a reader picks that up and reads it, they immediately know where I’m coming from and what the rest of my work might have to offer them.

It’s a little more difficult with fiction. After all, what as a purveyor of stories are you actually ‘offering’a reader? But some examples might help.

For instance, if you wanted to introduce a reader to the hundreds of thousands of words of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work, what book would you pick? Perhaps The Hobbit, because it’s short — but because The Hobbit was written as a children’s book, it might give some readers the wrong impression about what to expect from the rest of Tolkien’s opus. So Tolkien’s ‘portal’ is probably The Lord of the Rings. Reading that opens the door to the rest of Middle-earth — you know what kind of things you might find there.

Dickens’ ‘key work’ might be A Christmas Carol. Why? Because it introduces the reader to Dickens’ style while also touching on his major themes of social justice and morality. Having read A Christmas Carol, a reader could go on to explore and enjoy other Dickensian masterpieces. You might choose another of Dickens’ novels as an introduction — there is no right and wrong here. The point is that every major author has a portal, or more than one, through which readers can progress smoothly into the created world or worlds within.

Often these portals for fiction writers are shorter works or short stories. A portal into Thomas Hardy’s works, for example, is the short story The Withered Arm or the short story collection Wessex Tales.

What does this have to do with you and your works?

Well, firstly, you need actual ‘works’. One book is unlikely a career to make, something that remains true no matter how many times people quote Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird at me. Works means more than one book. For the Marketing Mantra to operate successfully in creating a viable career for you, you need to fulfil the final step, ‘Provide more’.

But assuming that you have a body of work available to readers, you make a portal like this:

Take a representative work from your opus, revitalise it and refresh its look, and make it available for a relatively low price.

Then focus your marketing efforts on that one book.

This has the potential to completely transform the way you talk about your writing business, and how you sell books. It has many advantages.

First, a portal makes it very clear to all interested readers what the first step is to becoming a reader of your work more generally. Instead of long, drawn-out advertising campaigns or conversations (which expend a lot of time and energy) spread over all kinds of things that you’ve written, you prompt all potential readers to buy this one product.

This saves tons of time and energy. It turns the sales process into one relatively short step. You get paid to deliver a piece of work that then works to elevate your credibility in the mind of the reader.

Secondly, portals make you easy to talk about and share with others, which creates an organic marketing campaign (formerly known as ‘word of mouth’).

Having a portal is like educating your fans on something simple and interesting to say about you.

Thirdly, portals take the pressure off. The writer has already delivered value (the book may have been written years ago) without the pressure of having to turn each individual reader into a fan with every single piece of writing that they have produced.

Furthermore, portals demonstrate that your work is valuable. And because the reader paid for it, they will value it more highly than the free books they got from elsewhere. When you give your books away, you undermine your own value and credibility. People simply don’t value free things as much as things that they have paid for.

A paying reader is already a more committed reader.

Those that buy this portal product are buying into you. Once they’ve made that commitment psychologically, they are much more likely to go on and read more of your stuff.

So — what’s your portal? Out of all the work you’ve produced and published, what is the best introduction to you and your writing?

It bears careful thought.

More soon.


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