Guest post by Alycia Ripley.
Marketing a written product is a challenge. An album can be experienced in an hour, a movie in two. A visual piece of art in minutes. Books require a high level of investment which is, in itself, a tougher sell in today's “Insta-story” world. Increasing your sales, brand awareness, and exposure requires creativity and organization. I've found several modes of marketing to be worthwhile if the author is willing to be proactive and exit his or her comfort zone. These methods have helped me since the release of my first novel in 2006 and continued to bring positive results for the three books that followed, including my latest novel Wind over Tide. Here are some helpful, low to no-cost techniques to aid any stage of your publishing journey.
Create Those Events
The most important goal is to establish a personal connection with potential readers. The easiest and most effective means to achieve this is through in-person events. Whether my events were at Barnes and Noble, libraries, or a university, nothing beats the connection made by readers hearing your story and asking questions about the publishing process or your books themselves.
The secret of in-person events is preparation. Events fall into two categories: those where you are the highlighted feature, and those in which you are part of a group. If seeing you and/or buying your book is the attendees' main reason for coming, they usually have a good feel for your work. If seated within a group event, you'll most likely have to “sell” your brand. Practice your smile—people will approach more frequently if they feel it will lead to a nice conversation. Have a fifteen-second elevator synopsis of your book(s) ready for the inevitable question of “What are these about?” It's my least favorite conversation starter but you'll make a positive impression if well prepared to answer. Feel no shame about keeping a notecard for reference and adjust the synopsis to who approaches your table. Is the reader a college student/English major? Perhaps play up how themes of your work lend themselves to fun analysis. Overhear a sports discussion? Play up an athletic character or an action-oriented plot. Table events only allow for a few moments of interaction—make them count.
Making It Personal
If you lack experience with public speaking, this is the time to practice. Enroll in a community class or find a mentor to help determine your speaking strengths. For some, it's a soothing voice, for others, it's an improvisational style. If eye contact with strangers makes you nervous, look at their foreheads as you speak. Speaking in front of a group can be an integral factor to selling books and spreading word of your brand. I often contact my local library, bookstore, or even a unique venue that somehow links with my books, and ask about holding an event. In my experience, they are most excited to be contacted by the author versus a manager or publicist, and will do their best to accommodate your request. Audience questions are spur of the moment but it doesn't hurt to prepare answers to common questions. The more personal your answers, the more helpful your tips, the more the attendees will invest in you. Live speaking allows your brand to come alive. If your event is online, this advice still holds true. Once readers feel connected to a real life author, they become excited to dive into his/her written work. To ensure your best, most relaxed engagement, familiarize yourself with these commonly asked questions.
1) What inspired you to become a writer?
2) Do you feel education (such as an MFA) helped your journey to publication?
3) What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
4) Do you feel having an agent or manager is necessary?
The more self-assured and engaging the interaction, the greater the chance that people will buy into your work and spread the word and the next thing you know, you've gained loyal social media followers and excited readers purchasing your books.
The Reach Out
Authors must create opportunities for themselves. Stores or venues will sometimes hear of your work and contact you but more often than not, you must make the first move.
Book clubs are a fantastic means to connect with readers and spread word of your work. Put the word out that if any book clubs are interested in using your book, you're more than happy to answer questions when they've finished. No one knows your work better than you, so ask yourself, why is this book special? What do I hope people discuss after reading it? From those answers, create a worksheet for the group that includes questions about the plot or themes that may aid their discussion and illustrate the depth of material. Few book club members have the chance to speak with the actual author! This in-person connection encourages the group to tell their friends, family, and so on. You may have a request coming in from another book club before you know it!
Keeping your media social
Frustration emerges when authors place more emphasis on numbers and followers than engagement. In book marketing, authenticity is the key to the relationship between readers and fellow writers. This is formed through common interests and true interactions. The same engagement born from events, book club appearances, and signings carries over to social media. Your unique brand and personality creates a connection and helps to spread the word. There have been events where I've sold eighty books and some where I've sold four, but those four people looked forward to my next project and spread word of mouth to friends and co-workers. I've had social media posts garnering hundreds of likes and those amassing only thirty, but the less “popular” posts often have the most comments, questions, and likes by loyal followers who actually read my books.
Don't obsess over numbers. Focus on ways to increase the unique feel of your brand. Many authors fail to recognize that a brand has little to do with algorithms or photos tinted the same shade. Of course you want to include crisp, colorful photos (not thirteen grainy photos of your dog or your Christmas tree) but they mean nothing without a great corresponding caption. Don't add hashtags and call it a day. The combination of an interesting photo and caption IS your brand. Should every photo be of your books? Please, no. Think of it like a pattern. Perhaps for every 5th photo, place copies of your books somewhere fun, maybe outside, near a statue, any pose that shows humor or a unique perspective. Post visually interesting photos but tie the captions into your books or life as a writer. I like to incorporate commentary about creativity because it's a topic everyone seems to enjoy, relate to, need help with, or respond to. By creating an attachment to your unique perspective, your followers will want to learn more. Entice people to follow because of how your photos and captions make them feel. Pose questions, inform your audience about an event they might want to attend, and tie it to writing or creativity. Sell without selling. Put your personality out there. As authors, we have no band. We are the lead singers, bassists, guitar players, and drummers. Not to mention the sound mixers and producers. We are a one-man show. In order to entice people to get lost in our stories, they must become lost in OUR story. Pick up that phone, inquire about an author panel at your local library. Ask your favorite bookstore if they'd procure copies of your books and have you in to sign copies. Inquire about local book clubs and speaking engagements. Make social media work by tying in thought-provoking photos with captions that grab an audience. Respond to likes, comments, and messages. Check out other author pages and like, comment, and message. Create a community of people who care about you, your work, and will support and promote your events.
Book marketing relies on authenticity. By reaching out, becoming more visible through events and speaking engagements, and providing your unique brand on social media, you increase word of your work, entice audiences to your brand, and sell more books. Results won't come overnight. It takes time to set up events and create a community of followers but you will reap rewards if you remind yourself why you began writing in the first place. Increasing revenue is a goal, but it's not the best frame for your journey. Focus on sharing your imagination with readers, answering their questions, engaging, watching them connect with your characters. An authentic connection is what brings you closer to your revenue goals and makes your journey as an author much more rewarding.
Alycia Ripley received her MFA in Creative Writing from New York University and is the author of three novels and one memoir, all sold in bookstores and online. She is a contributing writer to several publications, retains a monthly lifestyle and human interest column, and serves as a brand/public relations and social media consultant for various clients and events. Learn more by following her on Instagram and Facebook.