The biggest challenge, after writing a great book, is letting people know it’s out there. As we all know, the market is flooded with an unprecedented number of books and many a worthy tale is drowning in obscurity.
It’s not enough just to release a book. You will need an author platform.
If you’re like me, marketing is not your natural forte. I wrote Gift of the Phoenix, released it, and then thought, “Hmm, wonder what I should do to market it?”
Don’t do that.
On top of doing things backwards from the start, I had to learn marketing on the fly. I’ve discovered marketing is less like addition (1+1 will always give you 2) and more like cooking (there’s more than one way to bake a cake, and it may or may not turn out edible in the end).
With some education and practice, I’m more comfortable with marketing than I used to be and have discovered my marketing personality.
So, keeping in mind that your marketing personality may be different from mine, and what works for me may not work for you, I still think there are a few essentials. A few things every author should include in their marketing plan. A few key steps to building your platform long before the book comes out (at least six months before).
I know you’re busy focusing on your manuscript. I get that. But take some time, in between writing sessions or while your manuscript is out with your editor, to get the basics done. You’ll be glad you did later.
Here’s my two cents on what marketing you should do before your book is even finished:
1. Secure your domains
Even if you aren’t ready to build your website yet, for the cost of a cup of coffee you can, and should, lock in your domains. At minimum, purchase your author domain. If YOURNAME.COM isn’t available, try a logical variation like YOURNAMEAUTHOR.COM or YOURNAMEBOOKS.COM.
You may or may not also want a domain for your book. I started out with giftofthephoenix.com and later launched donnacookauthor.com. In retrospect, it would have been easier to just have one site to build and promote, namely, my author site. After all, eventually you’re going to write more books, right?
While you’re at it, decide what your official email account is going to be. A clean email address is a bare minimum (AUTHORNAME@gmail.com). An account associated with your domain name is a nice, professional touch. MissSmartyPants175@msn.com is out of the question.
2. Secure your social media handles
Even if you don’t have time to build up your Twitter following or figure out Instagram or decide whether or not you want Pinterest to be part of your marketing campaign, you can at least register with the big social media sites and get the handles you want. I registered on Twitter and secured my @DonnaCookAuthor handle months before I gave Twitter my full attention.
3. Build your author website
Your website is your virtual business card. It’s a way to say, “Hey, here’s who I am and here’s how you can get a hold of me.”
It’s also the hub for your author platform. Every place you hang out online should lead people back to your website. Links to your website should be in your Twitter profile, your Facebook About blurb, your Google+ Info page. When your book comes out, your Amazon bio will link back to your website. When bloggers review your book or you contribute a guest blog post somewhere, these posts will include a link back to your website.
Your website is the home address of your future writing career.
Getting your site up now gives you time to tinker with it until it functions well for the user and puts forth a nice, professional image. On occasion you may stumble across an author’s website that gives you an idea for your own site. Maybe you like their smooth navigation layout, or the way they’ve integrated links to their social media profiles. Once you have a following, it can be frustrating for your readers if your website is constantly changing. At this early stage of your website’s life, feel free. No one’s paying much attention right now anyway.
4. Build up your blog
You may or may not want an author blog. That’s definitely a topic for another post. Or a Google search. Read up and do your homework before making that decision.
If you do want an author blog, now’s the time to start one. There are lots of benefits to this (including learning how to make your blog successful and developing the discipline to maintain a blog), but in my mind there is one key reason why it’s worth doing now.
You may or may not draw lots of people (and potential readers) to your blog. But any way you look at it, an established blog will give you more credibility when your book comes out. Let’s say you’ve just released your book and a potential reader/reviewer/agent decides to check out your website. Which is going to reflect well on you? A new blog with one post that says “Hello World!” or a blog with several months of content?
5. Build key social media accounts
Which social media accounts are “key” is going to depend on the your marketing personality, and the year. You may have a personal preference for Twitter over Facebook. The current trends may suggest you ditch your MySpace account for something with more leverage. Five years from now, who knows what the trends will be?
On top of that, we could talk all day about social media strategies as they apply to authors, but that’s a topic for another post. Some authors try to have a presence on as many social media platforms as possible, others focus on a few (that’s me). Again, do your homework and come up with what works for you.
Here’s my suggestion. Create a professional image on key social media accounts. As of this writing, that means Twitter and Facebook at a minimum. Depending on what your strategy is going to be, you may want to take a look at Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Goodreads, LinkedIn, and Tumblr.
What do I mean by professional image? It’s a blend of how you present yourself, how you interact with others on the site, and (like it or not) your numbers.
If all you do is shout “Buy my book! Buy my book!” people may not be too interested in hanging out with you online. If, however, you share valuable content (others as well as your own), casually chat with people about your industry or interests, and give people a glimpse into your personality (a visit to my Facebook author page will reveal my current obsessions with Downton Abbey and Sherlock Holmes), you may be more likely to draw a crowd. A crowd with similar interests. A crowd you enjoy interacting with.
On the subject of drawing a crowd, social media is definitely not all about numbers, but if you only have 18 likes on your Facebook page and 186 followers on Twitter, people aren’t going to take you seriously. Right or wrong, that’s the reality. You do need to build up a respectable following (please avoid those spammy shortcuts you hear so much about) and you need to be consistent enough that people don’t think you’re a fly-by-night act. Whether you Tweet 50 times a day or 5 is up to you, but if you haven’t posted anything for two weeks, that’s something to work on.
It takes time to build up decent followings on social media platforms. Do yourself a favor and start now.
As a bonus, your pre-publication activity on social media sites will give you good experience. It takes a bit of trial and error to learn the atmosphere of the different social media sites. I thought they’d all be the same (i.e. like Facebook). I was wrong.
The big surprise for me this year was discovering that, after avoiding Twitter like the plague for years, I actually like Twitter. I like it way better than Facebook. In my experience, Twitter is personable, fun, and laid back. I find it easy to make connections and be, well, social.
I’ve learned the etiquette for each site is different. I’ll put up a link to this blog post just once on my Facebook author page. I’ll tweet it several times (different times on different days) without raising any eyebrows on Twitter.
Get your feet wet, learn the ropes, and build up your following well ahead of releasing your book.
6. Build Your Email Subscriber List
I haven’t seen this brought up much in the author marketing strategies I’ve read. I’m not sure why. May I recommend a book that helped me understand why an email list is so important for authors and how to use it so it benefits both you and your readers? Back in November of 2013 I attended a book conference that introduced me to Authority by Nathan Barry. Email marketing is just one topic he covers in this book, and the other topics may or may not interest you.
However, for me personally, his discussion on why and how to use an email list was worth every dime spent on his book. Here are my two big take aways:
First, your email list is your best way to stay in touch with loyal readers.
I can’t email people who have bought my book on Amazon and tell them when the sequel is out. They could love Gift of the Phoenix and want to read the sequel, but by the time the sequel is released, will they magically know to come to my site or Amazon to look for it? Probably not.
I can use my email subscriber list to keep my fans informed.
Secondly, Nathan Barry helped me understand that every email I send out needs to be valuable to the recipient. This goes right along with my “I’m not a salesman and I’m not trying to be” mentality.
No one likes junk mail and we’re all busy. When someone opens my email, I want them to be glad they did so.
In my last email to subscribers, I gave them a free download to a short story I wrote (currently unavailable anywhere else), recommended my favorite reads from the year, mentioned the awards Gift of the Phoenix has won, and invited them to review the book on Amazon or Goodreads.
Based on all the stats people use to evaluate these sorts of things (click rates and what not), that email campaign was a big success. I hope that means I’m keeping my fans happy. I’m truly grateful they care enough about my book to subscribe. I want them to hang around.
So, what should you do right now? Read Nathan’s book for a more comprehensive approach to how incorporate your email list in your pre-launch campaign. Make it easy for people to sign up for your email list (put it on your website). Select and set up an email manager (like MailChimp).
FYI, anti-spam laws require you to include your mailing address at the bottom of all your email campaigns. If you don’t want people to have your home address, and don’t have any other legitimate options, you may want to get a PO Box. That’s something else you can take care of now, rather than later.
7. Get Educated
There is so much to learn about marketing, and things change all the time. Learn from people who have gone before you. Learn enough that you can feel confident in your decision making, in spite of conflicting advice and opinions.
Here are a couple of links to get you started:
Lindsay Buroker. This Indie author shares a wealth of information about marketing and the publishing industry on her blog. She’s a crackerjack writer, too.
The Creative Penn. If you’re not acquainted with Joanna Penn and the wealth of information you can find on her site, click on the link. You can thank me later.
Don’t stop there. Look around. Getting advice from different people will help you figure out what’s going to be right for you.
As a final note, all of this assumes you know how important it is to craft a great story, hire a skilled editor, and create a professional cover for your book. You do know that, right?
Because in the end, the story must sell itself.
But that’s not a problem to bemoan. It’s the challenge we writers love. It’s what gets our adrenaline going. It’s why we’re in this crazy business to start with.
And now, back to the sequel….