Today, I’m going to decipher some of that marketing advice that’s thrown at authors in much the same way as farmers throw slop to pigs. Just toss it in there and they’ll gobble it up. Why? Because if there’s one thing all authors crave, it’s help selling books.
Let’s talk slop, er, shop. There are several pieces of advice I see as fairly predominant. These are the ones we read most frequently, the ones we are supposed to take to heart. The bits of information we are supposed to actually act on. But how many of us really know how to act? How to follow all this sage advice?
That’s what I’m going to go over today. Ready? Good. Let’s do this.
- Forsake all else and write another book.
Okay, maybe that’s not literally what “they” say. Usually “they” say it much more eloquently, in order to ensure authors believe their fabulous advice. Write a damn book. And another. And another. What I hear when I see this bit of advice thrown at me over and over again is: Forget marketing. Forget the world. Forget Amazon rankings. Just write the damn book.
Let me translate what “they” really mean. When you aren’t working the day job (because everyone has bills to pay), and you aren’t paying attention to your family (because they sort of expect it once in a while), and you aren’t flapping your arms on social media, trying to get somebody’s attention, and you aren’t managing your street team and seven hundred other Facebook groups, and you aren’t throwing spaghetti at the wall on Twitter, and you aren’t editing, and you aren’t updating your website, and you aren’t designing eye-catching graphics to announce that next book promo… In those seventeen minutes before you pass out cold at two a.m. – yeah, that’s when you should write the damn book. Because readers like books, the more the better.
- Authors must blog. Blogging draws readers.
Oh the irony that I’m writing a blog that is about to trash blogging. Okay, not really. I enjoy blogging. I do it probably more frequently than I ought to, given the next book isn’t yet done. And yes, I believe people enjoy reading blogs. I do. I read a lot of them. I share them, I post them, I take them to heart. I especially like the funny ones. It’s just, I notice most of them dole advice about how to be a better author or sell more books.
…which I’m not convinced are things readers want to read about. So if my blog posts are aimed at other authors, how is blogging going to help me sell books? Yeah, I know authors are readers, too. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: Yes, we read each other’s books, but often for free. It’s called beta reading or critique partners or reviewers. So while my author friends may very well read my books and (hopefully) enjoy them and therefore tell their fans about them, those aren’t exactly sales. Organic or strategic marketing, sure. But it’s not a direct sale. And I’m not convinced talking to authors about marketing advice is going to draw readers to my blog. I’d be thrilled if I’m wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.
- Brand yourself as an author – not as your books
This one is pretty straightforward, so I don’t think I need to explain much. But I will anyway. What’s a blog post without words, right?
So here’s how it works: You wanna be an author. You write a book, you take all the right steps (editing, quality cover, marketing, maybe even secure an agent and/or a contract with a publisher). You are so damn excited about that book that you start telling the world, before it’s even finished the first round of edits. You create a Facebook page using the book’s title. And a Twitter account. You design your website around the book. Use the cover as your profile pic on all your social media accounts – maybe even your personal Facebook page. That book is everywhere.
And then it finally releases. And then it’s time to write the next one. Now what? You’ve branded yourself as that book, so how in the world are you going to convince the world to read your next one, or the next after that?
Yeah, so this bit of advice has merit. But then again, many authors, famous authors, really, really famous authors, are known by their book series. The first one to pop into my head is JK Rowling. Then there’s that chic who wrote the Twilight series and the one who wrote Hunger Games. Oh yeah, and the Stephanie Plum series. And Game of Thrones – no, wait, everybody knows who GOT author, George, I-have-two-middle-initials Martin is. Anyway, I think you get my point. Which is…
Brand yourself and your books. Websites can be (and should be) updated regularly. Cover photos can be changed. Taglines and logos and Twitter handles are a little harder – so brand those as you and update your pics and website every time you release another book. And then when your series starts picking up steam (or, really, before that point), add a page to your website or a second Twitter handle (if you can handle the extra work. Don’t take on more than you’re capable of juggling. Remember, you’re still supposed to be writing the next book.). Why not be known as an author and by your book series?
- Build relationships with readers
This one makes me chuckle. First, this is a virtual world in which we live. In-person, intimate author events are practically non-existent. Author events are now large cons, and how the hell do you develop relationships when you’re competing with seven thousand other authors? Additionally, while I can be a social butterfly, it usually requires either wine or for me to be in my comfort zone, or more likely, a combination of the two. And building relationships with strangers (no offense, readers!) is not in my comfort zone. I don’t imagine readers want to curl up on the couch with me while I’m in my pajamas drinking a lovely rosé.
So what does this really mean? Well, it means be yourself. Yep. Be… you. The person who wills the clock to tick past noon so she doesn’t feel guilty for pouring that first glass of wine. The person who nearly wept when her laptop had to go to the shop for a few days. The person who would rather stay home and write the next book (or hang out on social media, posting funny memes about writing that next book) instead of go to an actual, literal, in-person social event. The person who considers her dog to be an additional child, and sometimes her husband too. The person who has a day job but likes to pretend she doesn’t because she would much rather be a fulltime author.
Yeah… you got it. Be yourself, even when you’re on your author social media sites. Make it personal. Pretend you’re a movie star or rock star. Tell me you don’t love it when movie stars or rock stars post pics of their new puppies or babies. Makes you feel like you got a glimpse into their lives, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what readers want. From you.
- Organic marketing
I confess, I bought into the organic marketing concept, mostly because it works. But dear God, it is a phrase I. Am. Sick. Of. I’ve worked in nonprofit, in public relations, as an event planner, in sales, in fundraising. I get organic marketing.
But it is one of those overused corporate terms that makes me want to grab the nearest fork and stab somebody in the eye. Repeatedly. It ranks up there with, “It is what it is” – a phrase that, whenever I hear it, I also hear nails on a chalkboard, and I cringe accordingly. Also, “cascade down” is pretty high on that list, because no phrase can make someone feel like a peon more succinctly than that one—and even if we are peons, we don’t want to be reminded of that fact every damn time we get a corporate email. Come on, leaders.
True confession: My hatred of the term, “It is what it is,” is quite personal, actually. Once upon a time, during the Great Recession of the Early Two-Thousands, I worked in hotel sales, for a general manager who was the world’s cockiest son of a bitch (without much justification) and a director of sales who never, ever ceased to look out for number one. When cuts had to be made—because I live in Detroit and nobody was traveling to Detroit back then—I was the lucky one to get put on the chopping block. When the director of sales informed me of my imminent demise within the hotel sales industry, she gave me a saccharin smile and said, “It is what it is.”
Which is complete and utter bullshit. “It is what it is” is an excuse to not try harder or find another route or seek out a goddamn solution to your problem.
While I sound bitter, I’m actually not. To tell you the truth, getting laid off was without question one of the best things to have happened to me. Since there was a recession and I couldn’t find another job in Corporate America, that’s when I started writing with a vengeance. Because I got laid off, I’m here today, blogging to you all. So maybe I should love that phrase, instead of loathe it…Nah. I still hate it. It’s a cop out.
Anyway, back to deciphering organic marketing. As I see it, organic marketing is the same thing as building relationships with readers. It means thinking long-term, always think long-term. Few authors will be successful overnight or even in ten days or ten weeks or ten months or, well, let’s not go the ten-years route just yet.
If you stick to it, if you continue to write, continue to put out quality (big emphasis here on that “Q” word) books, continue to market them, continue to build your relationships with readers, then yeah, you’ll make it. Maybe not JK Rowling make it, but you’ll develop an audience, have readers who eagerly anticipate your next book. And, frankly, in today’s publishing world, that’s pretty damn impressive all on its own.
So just keep at it. Don’t stop. Don’t give up. Don’t ever utter the phrase, “It is what it is…” Sorry, that one’s personal. Let’s try this again…
I could go on and on, but you’d get bored or your lunch break is gonna end, and I personally hate really long blog posts, so let me stop here and quickly recap today’s lesson:
- Write the next book
- Market yourself – and your books
- Blog because you like it and maybe you’ll get lucky and someone will actually read it
- Be yourself on social media
- Don’t expect overnight success, but don’t give up, either. It’ll happen. Probably later, but it will.
Tami Lund is an author, award winner, wine drinker, and blogger, not necessarily in that order. She tends to dole out advice while drinking copious amounts of wine, so you should probably take whatever she says with a grain of salt … or another glass of wine.