We met Cynthia Hartwig in Seattle at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. Cynthia teaches writing and storytelling at the Richard Hugo House and The School of Visual Concepts, and we learned right away that she had a knack for tackling topics writers find daunting. She joins us today to demystify what some consider to be the scariest task new authors face: marketing their titles.
We need to talk. Yes, I’m talking to you, friend. I get that you’re a writer, a word nut, a lover of deep, heartfelt tales, more conversant in character arcs than target markets and audience splits.
Stop shaking in your boots. I’ve narrowed the marketing tasks down to the top five most effective steps for authors new to the marketing conundrum. If you’re stultified by the thousand things you’ve heard other experts telling you to DO RIGHT THIS MINUTE, start here and you’ll do better than fine.
Understand that a marketing hat is not a dunce cap, a cone of shame or a dog collar.
Writers are strange animals. They write books and they want people to read them. And yet when someone says, “be a marketer” they get all shamefaced and embarrassed.
If you can’t admit to the idea that marketing = sales, try thinking of marketing as an honorable way to find readers. Assuming you’ve got a great story, an inviting cover and a hook-‘em-hard title, this list of marketing priorities will get your book sales moving.
1. Fill out your Amazon Author Central profile to help readers find you.
It seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many new authors forget this basic task. Filling out your Amazon Author Central page is far more effective than paying for a sexy web site at the early stage of your author career. This is because Amazon attracts millions of readers to its site—and all of them have no idea who you are or why they should look for you UNLESS your book comes up in their search bar.
You have no real brand identity (yet), so it makes sense to help Amazon direct readers to your e-books and audio version(s). Amazon is the online mega-store equivalent, so naturally you want to be front-and-center, as close to as many reader “buy” buttons as you can get. Your author profile page is there to help you.
2. Give out free copies like candy in exchange for reviews.
Deborah Reed, pictured right, is a very successful writer of both literary novels (much harder to sell than genre books) and thrillers (written under the pseudonym, Audrey Braun). Deb recommends sending lots of free copies of your book to bloggers for review. “Be incredibly generous and polite to said bloggers,” she says. “Also give free copies to other writers and readers, including people you know, in exchange for an honest review.” Don’t worry that giving your book away will steal sales away from you; while it seems counter-intuitive, free sampling is a proven way to build an audience. Once you hook a listener, they will clamor for more. (ACX gives you 25 free download codes that you can use as Cynthia recommends. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org to request them. – Ed.)
3. Reviews are worth mowing the neighbor’s lawn, changing diapers, and washing cars.
Reviews are social proof that your book is worth spending hard cash for. We’re herd animals and believe me, the more you can herd friends, hair cutters, garage mechanics, yard people and yes, even family members, to write a paragraph of honest copy about your book, the better your sales will be.
Your goal is to hand-sell 20-25 reviews. Call in every favor, every chit, every IOU or marker you have outstanding from people in exchange for a review. Do not worry one whit about whether the reviews or good or bad; in fact, I believe bad reviews have a positive effect because people are so cynical they will distrust you if all the reviews are glowing.
4. Build an email list of 1000+ and mail an e-newsletter once a month.
Books have always been sold hand-to-hand until the marketing snowball gets rolling. I hope you started an email list a long time ago but if you didn’t, immediately start collecting names and email addresses of everybody you come in contact with. My list includes business associates, past clients, social club members, PTA committee volunteers, neighborhood watch folks and a host of people I meet in a busy social life. You want to track everyone you meet because people who know you are more likely buy your book than people who don’t. It’s been said that an email list is the one marketing tool that traditional publishers most want to get their hands on. So it makes sense as a “self-marketer”, that you’d build your list into a marketing asset of at least 1000 names.
Next, create an e-newsletter and mail it once a month. More often than that is annoying; any less and people will forget why they are getting a message from you and will unsubscribe. If you happen to blog, the best things to put in your e-newsletter are interesting and informative posts—just don’t make them posts about writing (most of your friends and associates don’t care a whit about the writing, just the reading). Always include a clear, simple call-to-action asking the recipient (nicely) to buy your audiobook. Show your cover with its short sales blurb and make sure they can click a link to buy on Audible, Amazon, or iTunes. If the e-news is informative and doesn’t bludgeon them over the head with a buy-Buy!-BUY! message, your newsletter will be the closest thing you have to your own storefront.
5. Create a blog that doubles as your web site (and isn’t about writing).
You won’t find social media on my “top five absolutely, positively must-dos” for a self-published author right out of the gate. Even though I’m a huge social media fan.
I believe a new author is better off creating a blog that will build credibility in a specific area and will later become the hub for social media. Instead of randomly tweeting or posting “Buy my book!” on Facebook (which doesn’t work and annoys people), create a strong blog designed to build both platform (aka who you are online) and proves your authority (why readers should care).
Don’t make your blog about writing, because the field is saturated. Instead of writing about writing thrillers, blog about weapons the good and bad guys use against each other; don’t write a blog about writing Regency romances, write a blog about the amazing fabrics (duppioni, muslin, jacquard, white weave, slub, satin!) of Regency-era fashions. Once you’ve got yourself established in the blogosphere, then links to your posts become the “there there” that all your tweets, Facebook posts, Goodreads comments, and Pinterest boards lead to. I use WordPress as my blog and website platform and by far, the Two Pens blog aimed at business readers is one of the most important marketing component I use.
6. Once You’ve Written a Book, Record It
I know, I said there would be five tips. But here’s a bonus. You’d expect that the ACX blog would recommend having your book produced in audio. But don’t do it just because ACX says so. Do it for selfish (i.e. marketing) reasons: people who buy audiobooks are way different than the people who buy e-books or print books—and the market is growing. Audiobook listeners are multi-tasking in some way: they’re driving to or from work, they’re riding the subway, enjoying a sunny day in the park – doing a hundred and one things you can’t do with your eyes glued to a page. A basic tenet of marketing is to be everywhere your buyers are. Why not expand your readership beyond books to listeners of audiobooks since ACX has made it so easy to have your words professionally recorded?
Have you tried any of Cynthia’s marketing tactics? Which have worked best for you? Tell us about it in the comments!