[DISCLAIMER]: This blog post might not be the most interesting to read, unless you have aspirations to be a writer (then AWESOME! Let me know if I can be helpful in any way), are a small business owner, or are really into business concepts. I apologize for it being so loooooooong, I am just really passionate about the idea. We will return to our regularly scheduled mayhem and chicanery next week!
As an independent and self-published author, I have found that there is a lot of benefit in being active in the writing communities across social media platforms. It may seem like an innocuous congregation of creative people communicating with kindred spirits, but it’s also a crucial business concept otherwise known as “networking.” Writers come together to discuss matters of style, mechanics of grammar, storytelling approaches, and how to get people to know about your work. Apply that description to a business application: people are coming together to talk about materializing an idea, the process of assembling the product, and marketing the product. Two seemingly different worlds, but identical concepts.
I sent the following tweet recently:
@Millerverse: Think about this: if a brand new band who is about to play their first show isn’t afraid to ask you to come see them, then why should you be afraid to tell people to read your work? #WritingCommunity #Marketing #OnwardToVictoryTweet
I sent that post because “marketing” is an ugly word amongst the independent writing community and I wanted to introduce a new perspective to make the idea a little more digestible. A lot of creative people don’t want to ask people to buy their work, for many reasons, they just aren’t fond of it. After reading over that post, it gave me an idea: the way that garage bands get the word out about their releases and shows is actually effective marketing without realizing that it is marketing. That kind of grassroots, DIY (Do It Yourself) approach translates incredibly well to the independent author and small business platforms.
Before I can explain the idea, we need to mutually understand a few things:
- Marketing is not always advertising, but advertising is marketing. Confusing, right? Marketing is the entire strategy of bringing awareness to your work; advertising is one of the vehicles of delivering your message
- As an independent author, embracing the idea that you are a defacto small business owner will help adopt the right mindset to conquer apprehension of marketing, and understanding that it is a very necessary activity. How are you a small business owner? You are creating a product, preparing it for consumption by the public at large, and you are hoping to make money from it. You are trying to generate revenue — money in exchange for goods and services is business.
Picture it: a group of young musicians are crammed into a garage, they’ve been playing their instruments until their fingers bleed, risking hearing loss through prolonged exposure to the rebellious wattage of rock and roll amplifiers. They’ve just booked their first show and they are on their way to the big time! This is a big deal and they need to get all their friends to come, right? In order for that to happen, they need to let their friends know where the show is, when the show is, and how they can buy tickets. Lord have mercy, now they are marketing!
In order to pack that venue, that band (Let’s call the band “The Bookmarks”) has to effectively answer three questions without the questions ever being asked:
- Where is the event?
- When is the event?
- How do they give you money to take part in the event?
How your marketing message answers those three questions will determine how effective your marketing strategy is. The more clear and concise the obvious answer means the more easily potential fans (or readers) can pull the trigger if they feel the impulse to consume your work. Getting them interested is another matter entirely, but that’s what we’re going to talk about.
How do you let fans (readers) know that you have work available and get them interested? First, we need to accept that writing is art, art is subjective, and not everyone is going to fall in love with your work. I know, that’s harsh, but it’s true. It’s easy for our feelings to get hurt because we pour so much of ourselves into that work. When someone doesn’t like it, it almost feels like a personal insight. That’s why it is so important to target your energy into getting your work in front of people who will most likely like it! (If there is enough interest, I can get into how you can narrow down who to reach out to.)
Here are some easy things that garage bands do to tell people about their show that you can apply to your writing career:
Make a flyer or handbill – this is rock band 101! This is one of the easiest and most simple marketing vehicles that you can put to use. Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and tons of applications online have templates that you can just drop your information into. Print, copy, distribute! Your flyer or handbill should have an image that is attention grabbing (and for the love of God, appropriate!) and clearly answers the three message questions we discussed earlier. Make sure you have a shareable image file of the flyer, because you will want to share that image online, as your social outlets are a great avenue. We’re all insecure about our creative work, but your friends and family really do want to support you and they can’t do that unless you tell them how. You will want to place these flyers and handbills where people who buy books see them — a community board at your local library is a great place to start!
Make a fan page, website, and/or a blog. It’s not enough to simply say “here is my song or book, buy it.” You have to communicate why people should consume your work and a big part of that is having substantial information about you as a creator and details about your work readily available to be researched. You are a unique creator, so you need to let people know about your unique personality and perspective. A blog should be a no-brainer, that is a collection of writing samples — if someone likes your blog, why wouldn’t they love your novels or short stories?
Have previews of your work available for anyone to check out immediately. One of the most brilliant marketing tactics I have ever seen from an independent band came from New Jersey horror punk rockers Mister Monster. There was so much hype and so much interest amongst fans about their upcoming album release, I have to wonder if the band didn’t hire a marketing strategist to help them. The hook that got me to buy was a 4 minute MP3 file that was nothing more than little selections of each song on the album, little peeks into the melodies that had been recorded. It was the most perfect musical appetizer I’d ever seen, even 19 years later. Having a chapter or two, or an interesting interaction that occurs in your work, as a free preview would be a useful tool to snagging someone’s attention. Once they are interested, have you communicated where, when, and how they can give you money for your book? Note: you need to be careful here. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing has certain incentives to enroll in their marketing platforms and one of the conditions is that you cannot have samples of your work available online. Please read the fine print and be certain of the conditions.
Create a Facebook event / send invitations. You are going to release your book, you’ve written, revised, and edited the work until it’s polished to a bright shine — your written work is going to be available for purchase. This is a big deal and deserves to be revered as a big deal. Your novel, or other written work, is about to come into the world for the first time and it should be special! Email the announcement to friends and family, or release it through your mailing list. No one is going to think of your book release as a big deal unless you make a big deal out of it. Create a Facebook and invite everyone you know! There is good news to be shared!
One of the unintended benefits of a Facebook event is that everyone you invite is notified of updates posted in the event. As long as you are being tasteful, timed, and consistent, you can post an update (like a flyer or sample of your work, see how that all comes together?) and your invitees will be reminded. That kind of consistent reminder is an excellent way to build immediate recall and keeping people interested in your work. The blowback on this is if you are too frequent, you will annoy people and they will spend their money on anything other than your book.
Become part of “the scene.” Through various phases of my life, I’ve been a performing musician. When I was seventeen, I played in a band and we played shows with other bands. We were smart enough to become friendly with these other bands, and when they were playing shows and the promoter needed another band, those bands would recommend ours (at least, I think that’s how it happened). Contributing to the writing communities isn’t going to directly result in sales, but it will help create a network and give you an opportunity to become familiar to other writers.
One of the best social networkers in all of Twitterdom is Renée Gendron (@ReneeGendron); daily, she is platforming conversations about writing and literature, facilitating discussions that benefit writers in HUGE ways! She will welcome new writers to Twitter and expose them to her twelve thousand followers. You can’t buy that kind of organic exposure and she does it out of the kindness of her heart as well as her dedication to the community. In addition to being an extremely talented writer, Renée is also an incredibly adept businesswoman. I’m not sure how many other writers have recognized it, but Renée has a genius networking technique that is so subtle that it is razor sharp. When Renée is cruising through her Twitter feed, if she comes across a question being asked, she will tag another writer that may have the answer. In one tweet she has given value to three connections: one between her and the original Tweeter, one between the writer that she has tagged, and one between the original Tweeter and the writer that she has tagged. A three to one return on a single message? Brilliant.
Becoming an effective marketer of your own work is not going to happen overnight. The process itself is a lot of trial and error, experimenting with what works, reevaluating the strategy and making adjustments where necessary.
Let me leave you with parting wisdom: you could have the most complex, autonomous marketing strategy on the planet, but it will not serve you unless you are consistent. If you deliver content, deliver it consistently. If you have a writing & business routine, be consistent with it. It’s my hope that I might have made marketing for independent writers a little less scary.
Until your next trip across the Millerverse!