Note: This is taken from a previously published document of mine and has been adapted to suit this site.
Promotion can be scary, rewarding, expensive, cheap—it is a fickle master.
Not everyone will agree with me, but I feel very strongly that your focus as an author should be to build your name recognition and your reader base. Does that mean you ignore the release of a new book? Of course not. But you utilize the reader base you’ve built from your work to build your name and let them know what you have available. Let me give you an example of what I mean.
Let’s say that you want to increase your readership base. What is the best way to do this? You’ll need to reach new readers and add them to your personal mailing list. (We’ll talk about utilizing newsletters in a bit.) But, why would they join your list? Unless you are a NY Times Bestselling Author who gets a lot of shelf space, bins at the front of the store, and reviews in USA Today, they may not have much incentive to try your book.
You need to draw them in. The best way to do this is to offer them something that will allow them to see what a great writer you are (or that you have something unique to offer with your stories). When I first started building my name and readership base, I was not yet published. I did several things. First, I wrote short stories and gave about 1 in 4 to my readers for free. I posted on loops I was on, I participated in chats as a moderator and log manager, I asked friends to post my note on their loops.
Pretty soon, I had a nice little list of about 100 people who liked my writing and wanted to read my stories. Second, I participated in several online things that would get my writing in front of readers. I didn’t get paid for doing these things, but I always asked for a blurb at the end about how the reader could join my list and get more free stories.
Some of the things I participated in are no longer available, but maybe they will trigger some ideas for you:
- I joined a round robin group on AOL where we each created a character in this fictional town and wrote that character’s story. The stories and characters were all tied to one another and we quickly had quite a following of readers.
- I entered some online contests to get my name out there and won a couple of them.
- I gave away the free stories.
- I began hosting a chat on AOL in the old Writer’s Club section and gained more people to my newsletter.
- I gave away articles to various websites and asked for the blurb about how they could join my list.
- I asked those on my list to recommend my list to others they knew.
Combined between my promotional groups, my personal readership list, and my workshop lists, I now have 30,000 people + on my mailing list. It took about 15 years to gather that many and they come and go as new people sign up and others leave or change their email and I lose track of them. I also have a snail mail list with about 500 names on it, but don’t utilize it as often because it is very costly to send out snail mail and I find it far less effective.
Today, we also have a lot of social media places we can market to. Let your followers and friends know about your work.
So, start thinking about how you can build your readership base. What can you offer them that is unique and they will appreciate? How can you entice the reader to sign up for your monthly newsletter? How can you get your writing in front of her so that she’ll want to buy your books when they come out?
BUT, I’M NOT PUBLISHED YET…
Notice that I started building my readership before I was published. I knew that in order to sell books you had to have readers. I also realized that if an editor recognized my name, she’d be more likely to consider my book.
It is never too early to start building your readership. For one thing, you can often utilize your list to ask for feedback. There have been many times when I’ve taken a new book to my readership and asked for a few people to give me feedback before I send it to my editor.
Readers have a unique perspective on my work that another writer doesn’t have. They read the story for enjoyment and will spot weaknesses in plot and characters that a professional might overlook. It’s just a different angle of looking at your story. Readers also let me know if I’ve left something out or worded it in a way that confuses them. This is invaluable.
Start building your name and your readership and keep them happy by sending them reading material.
BUT, I ALREADY HAVE A READERSHIP…
This is wonderful! When you start offering your free story (or whatever you choose to offer), email your list and tell them you are going to offer this item and to let their friends know to join the list by such-and-such date and they can receive it too. Referrals are one of your best tools to gain new readers. Post to your lists and seek out niche markets. For example, if you wrote a book set on a golf course, seek out golf enthusiasts. Look for as many angles, hooks and niches in your book as you can.
OFFLINE LIST BUILDING
What about those who have email but may not be on a reader’s list? When you have in person book signings and appearances, offer some sort of drawing. On the form you have them fill out, let them know that they can sign up for your newsletter by filling in their email address. I recommend that you ask them to print. I didn’t once and couldn’t read about half of the entries. They were just lost to me and many of them checked that they wanted to join the list. I also let various groups I belong to know that I’m a writer and how members can sign up for my list. Think of groups such as:
- Work (if you work outside the home as well)
- Volunteer organizations
- Alumni Associations
Also, don’t forget your family. If you have a large family like I do, they can add quite a few people to your list. Get them on the list first and then ask them to tell their friends. I have one aunt who has promoted me heavily and brought me quite a few readers. I never even asked her to do this—you can probably guess why she’s one of my favorites.
BUYING A LIST/BORROWING/STEALING/COPYING
- Buying A List
Save your money. Many companies offer lists you can buy, but these people are often either inundated with spam or not truly interested in what you have to offer.
- Borrowing/Stealing A List
Ever been tempted to just skim a few names off some of the lists you’re on and add them to your newsletter? Don’t do this. It’s spam and people won’t appreciate it. I never add anyone to my lists that haven’t sent me an email or signed up directly. Every once in a great while, I still have someone question it, but I can tell them honestly that I don’t add people who do not request it in some way and I remove them immediately if they wish me to do so. Why would I want to target my efforts toward someone who isn’t interested? It’s a waste of both our time. My mailing lists have a double signup feature. The person has to go to the form and then confirm an email that is sent.
Same thing if a friend offers to share her list. Unless her subscribers have been notified and agreed to be added to your list, I wouldn’t do this. It isn’t very ethical and the list members probably won’t appreciate it. Why not, instead, send her a short blurb for her newsletter letting the subscribers know about your own list and let her announce it? Then, those who are interested can sign up. Just be sure you return the favor for her.
I want to say something here. I have several group lists that I or I and those I work with have spent YEARS building. These lists have a very specific purpose. Occasionally, we get people who join the list and try to repeat or copy what we do and then target our list members and basically “steal” them away.
This is very tacky and you won’t find success doing something like this. For one thing, you need to be unique. In the time it takes someone to steal one of my ideas, I’ve come up with 80 new ones. They can’t possibly keep up if they try to repeat what I’m doing.
It is only through being creative and having your own brainstorming process that you can make a unique and profitable list. You aren’t doing yourself any favors unless you learn to create something fresh on your own. Sure, you can ask for suggestions from others—in fact this course is the result of someone asking me questions about promotion. Since most of you are writers, I suspect that you have a ton of innovative ideas.
If you have a website (more about this later too), make sure you have a box or info on each and every page on how they can subscribe to your list. It does you little good to have someone visit your website if you don’t have a way to stay in contact with them.
Did you know that there is an old rule of thumb PR people go by? That a concept or product has to be presented to the consumer 7 different times before they truly pay attention or think about buying. Think about the commercials you see over and over and over and over.
One example that comes to mind is the Vonage commercial. That little “oooh ew, Ooooo-oooo, ew,” drives me insane. It gets stuck in my head and I hum it for days on end. I hate that commercial. But after seeing it about 100 times, I started thinking that it was a really great idea and made a visit to their website.
They hooked me. You have to do this too (just don’t play an irritating song, or I might have to hurt you) with your list. Offer freebies regularly, have the sign up info on the web pages, and in your signature line. Eventually, people will start to sign up. There is power in numbers.
Divas of Romance was one of the first co-operative promotional groups out there and we went strong for many years before it morphed into a few clients I still maintain websites and do some promotional work for. I’ve branched out and work with businesses, too,now, but I still love my author clients.
When Divas and All Stars was going strong, I tried to keep things fresh and interesting and while many similar groups have sprung up (see comments above about the 80 ideas remark), I know I was one of the first and I can smile at being a pioneer for them.
It is an inexpensive way for authors to get their name out there and start gaining readers. One thing I did through both DivasofRomance.com and AllStarScribes.com is to offer events about 4 times a year. We used a portion of our pooled promotional dollars and buy banner ads at targeted sites, static ads in various small publications, and we promoted to both the email list and snail list.
Many of the authors placed banners about the event on their sites and let their groups know. I also have some other, targeted places where I promoted these events, but they are a trade secret I don’t give up easily. I did tell one person but now she’s missing (just kidding).
My point is that group promotions can work because you all benefit from one another’s readers.
I hope you see how building your name and your readership base will help you sell books now and later. If you have that base, then they are a targeted audience. They are much more likely to buy your books than someone who stumbles across your book but doesn’t really have a connection with you.