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How to Promote Your Books Online

I came upon this piece of golden information on Twitter two weeks ago, and I'm sad to say I promptly forgot who wrote it. But this is the secret to selling books in four mandatory stages:

  1. Write a damn good book
  2. Wrap it nicely (that includes editing, typesetting, and illustrations)
  3. Make it available to your potential customers
  4. Tell your potential customers it's there

Since I'll cover #4 here, and I'm thinking about online marketing, the natural way to start this piece was to ask online what people do to promote their books. The advice fell into two categories: The ones you don't control...

  • Reader references
  • Media exposure
  • Reviews

… and the ones you're in control of.

  • Know your target market
  • Promo sites (free kindle e-books)
  • Goodreads giveaway
  • Promote your work but don't spam people
  • Don't promote - write more. Content is king

...and finally the show-don't-tell answer to rule them all:

  • "I've written a book about that - buy it on Amazon"

Thoughts about Marketing Strategies

When you decide to go into marketing, it's important that you consider whether to market a brand or a product. You can do both, but it's a good idea to make a choice. If you have one very specific product, you should probably market that. If you're going to expand your product portfolio, your company's brand may be the better choice.

Book and Brand

The book is your product - your name is the brand.

Take George R.R. Martin: He's famous for A Song of Ice and Fire, but he's written a lot of other books, and edited the Wild Cards series. On his blog he writes about A Song of Ice and Fire, of course, but he doesn't promote that series exclusively, even with all the media attention that comes with the TV-series. Instead he makes it well known that there are other George R.R. Martin books out there. And that he's a football fan, and that he does other things than write.

The reason author brands are important: Once the series comes to an end, the author's brand lives on.

Some authors, like Martin or J.K. Rowlings, will forever be branded on book covers as "The author of...", but that is a boon/curse that will happen to relatively few writers. For the rest of us, our name is what will appeal most to readers, simply because they're more likely to run into our name than any bestselling series we happened to write.

What to Brand

There are two (and ONLY two!!!) kinds of authors marketing their books on the web: Those who are selling one book (their product), and those who are selling their authorship (their brand).

Those in the first category pin their hopes of success on that one book. If it sells, they feel like a success. If it flops, they'll never write another word. With ebook readers selling like cold beer at a chili festival it has become possible for almost any author to sell their book. Therefore it may not actually be impossible to sell a single title--and if you have a book out, you might want to market it.

The second category promotes their authorship instead of one book. There are several good reasons to market your authorship instead, and this is what the second kind of author does: They're in it for the long run.

  • Having more books out will likely make your backlist sell better
  • Promoting your name as an author enables you to find more readers. Maybe the premise of one book doesn't appeal to a reader, while the second does. Maybe your latest short story makes a reader buy an old novel of yours instead of the one you've got out now. It's the reader's decision to make, and you can't push them by spamming a specific product. 
  • You have the chance to talk about a lot of other stuff than just one book -- a topic that people will tire of sooner rather than later. Instead, you can talk about your life--and your writing as it progresses. Maybe you're researching a new book and have come across an interesting detail about life in Portugal anno 1765. Or slavery in West Africa. Or life on the International Space Station. And that will make YOU -- and, by extension, all your books -- interesting.

How to approach online promotion

Online promotion is free, and it's even a way to meet interesting new people. But that online presence thing can be tricky stuff. Because what do you talk about? What will grab your readers, and what will bore them?

You should probably watch the web for wisdom on what to write. You can go by the many brilliant examples found in blogs and other venues. However, a few suggestions about your approach wouldn't go amiss here:

  • Talk about writing. Talk about marketing. Talk about what you want. You're a writer, and you probably have interesting things to share. It's called content!
  • Content that helps others is generally more interesting than content hyping your own work. Instead, be interesting. Let people make up their own minds. Let them refer readers to your site.
  • Show an interest in what other people are saying, writing, and publishing. That way you'll have first-hand knowledge of the industry, and what is on other people's minds. (Some even say that writing is about people, and online media is a way of familiarizing yourself with the minds of other people.)
  • Help other writers improve their manuscripts by giving professional critiques. That way you'll likely have someone willing to help you promote your authorship. This is very much like real life networking -- 'start sharing, stop hoarding' will get you a long way.
  • I don't do reviews (though I'll recommend books if I like them) but some authors build a great network with other authors through reviews of each other's works.
  • Show who you are. The press and public is constantly interested in the personalities of various stars. It's not enough to watch the Euro 2012 soccer players when there's a story to be told about the men kicking the ball. So don't be afraid to tell a few of your secrets, but decide which parts of your life are private. Then show us all what you're made of.
  • Mingle with other writers online. Talk writing with authors on your own level, with those starting out, with those pros who are looking for feedback. If you write short stories or non-fiction, then aim for publication in genre magazines.
  • Be a pioneer in some way.
    • Joe Konrath and Kristine Kathryn Rusch write a lot about self-publishing and the publishing industry, and they gain a lot of readers that way.
    • Write great movie reviews, lend your space to other writers, and share your industry knowledge (like John Scalzi). 
    • Write about the latest technological developments in various sciences, technologies, politics or surveillance (David Brin, Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow).
    • Be the blogosphere's resident expert on costumes and dresses (glvalentine Genevieve Valentine)
    • In short: Stand out by sharing the stuff you find interesting and important.

Or in other words: Build an audience. It's hard work, and some of you are more cut out for it than others of us. I've seen it called 'Mandatory extroversion'. It means, go and do it.

Media/platforms for your messages:

Content is king, but where do you post your content?

  • Blog(s)
  • Facebook, Twitter, G+, Pinterest, Reddit
  • Empire Avenue (social networking game)
  • LinkedIn - for professional relations
  • Online forums - (WotF, Your Favorite Magazine, Your Critique Group)
  • SFWA
  • Goodreads
  • Amazon boards
  • YouTube

Don't Stay at Home

It's all well and good to have your message all over your own sites, but you probably want your name to appear in other venues than your own. Especially if you want to reach a new audience, which is kind of the whole point about marketing. Please note that I'm a guest appearance virgin, but at least I know of a few venues that you might aim for.

  • Guestblogging - you get the chance to write about writing, publishing, movies... It would probably be a good idea to not spam the readers with stuff about your own book.
  • Podcasts (e.g. 'I Should be Writing', 'Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing') have a large audience, and getting interviewed there would get your name to a new audience.
  • Interviews - on blogs, for magazines, YouTube, or at a convention. 

Needless to say, you'll be more likely to get invitations if you've published stories people like and take note of. But any new trick that hasn't been tried before might catch the interest of an editor somewhere. Especially if your friends tell the editors.

And of course, you can always starting by inviting people to an interview on your own site. New people will follow you there.

Success happens (sometimes)

You'll have more options then:

  • Public appearances and book signings
  • Speaker or Guest of Honor at conventions
  • Thanking your readers when you receive the Hugo Award
  • Interviews in media with many recipients
  • Writing movie/game tie-ins
  • Word of mouth
  • Bigger clout in the bookstores -- piles of books, 'bestseller', special offers, special display
  • Bigger budget at the publisher

Should you be so lucky, it's your job is to manage your public profile and expand into the new niches and tools you're given.

This is not to say you won't have those options as a beginning author, and you'll know when to grab those opportunities when you see them. The difference is volume -- once you've had success at sales, people will find you more interesting, and you'll have more invitations.

But I am not one to tell you how that works ;-)

Share Your Secret

I realize there are as many ways of promoting books as there are writers, so please chime in and share your secret to success!

Thanks

I couldn't have written this without the input from Linda Framke (@lindaframke), Mette Markert, Jeppe Vilstrup Holm (@jeppeVH), Jan Bear (@janvbear), j_cheneyjongibbs, and bogwitch64. Thanks to all of you!


Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
j_cheney
Jun. 11th, 2012 03:45 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. I've marked this in my favorites so I can use it as a resource ;o)
jakobdrud
Jun. 11th, 2012 03:49 pm (UTC)
In that case I better add a lengthy disclaimer ;-)
bogwitch64
Jun. 11th, 2012 08:46 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! And thanks for putting this all together in one place. What a great resource!
(Deleted comment)
jakobdrud
Jun. 15th, 2012 09:20 am (UTC)
Thanks, Jennifer!

I honestly didn't think of writing groups as a marketing ressource, but of course you're right. After all, we invest a lot of time and energy in making each other's writing the best it possibly can. Why shouldn't we help promote it too? (And yes, I absolutely love my writing group as well :-) I've been a member of Critters.org too, and that was also a good experience.)
jongibbs
Jun. 13th, 2012 02:00 pm (UTC)
Nice one, Jakob :)
jakobdrud
Jun. 15th, 2012 09:18 am (UTC)
Thanks, Jon!
rippatton
Jun. 15th, 2012 07:57 pm (UTC)
Excellent blog post. Fabulous, useful content. I hath tweeted it for all my writerly friends.
jakobdrud
Jun. 17th, 2012 10:17 am (UTC)
Hi, well met on the net, and thank you for the retweet :-) Now, if I had followed my own advice, I'd have responded right away, but that's the way it sometimes goes with my online life. But nice to meet you!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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