by Parul Macdonald
(ed. note) That feeling you get when you meet someone who energizes and inspires you. That’s what I felt when I met Parul Macdonald at the DBW (Digital Book World) Conference in New York City in January. Welcome, Parul. I am so pleased you are my guest today.
It was around 2009, I was an editor at Quercus, and a Young Adult author Cat Clarke was publishing her debut novel with us. We were still 6 months from publication, and my inbox was getting what I thought was a series of spam email.
Turns out I was getting emails from bloggers who wanted a copy of the proofs (review copies). These bloggers were from all over the world: Japan, China, Brazil, Greece, France, Spain. Places we might sell in, but certainly hadn’t publicized in yet. It was still another 6 MONTHS till the book was going to be published!
With this pre-launch buzz, Entangled, Cat’s first book, went on to sell a healthy number of copies. I think it sold around 20k in those first months but my memory is hazy. I just remember that the sales director was happy, (and it was a rare day that she was happy with the editorial team). For a small publisher, and a debut author, in the UK, we were thrilled.
Cat Clarke, who has since written many books, essentially taught me my first lesson in marketing: build a tribe.
NUMBER 1 BUILD A TRIBE
#Social Media, #Content Marketing
The moment Cat decided to write, she started a blog called Cat Writes YA, and engaged with reviewers, fans and bloggers in that niche.
Those requests I was getting? It was a result of her efforts to build a community.
Her approach, simple as it was, is roughly the advice that gurus like Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin, give out today.
Find and engage with your community.
But what does this mean in the 2017 social media crazy world?
Well, whether it’s Sci-Fi or Chick lit, or Children’s, find the reviewers and fans of these genres and talk to them. There are lots of platforms, and you don’t have to conquer them all, not just yet. Find 1-2 that you’re comfortable with and where your audience might be (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr).
Now you’ve probably heard this sort of advice before and I’m anticipating objections here, and here are my answers:
Objection 1: I know I ‘should be’ online but I hate the idea/ am doing it already & bored by the process or I’m frustrated by the small results.
My answer to you is to just keep at it steadily, consistently. Use the Tomato Timer and just spend 25 min a day to post, or chat to someone in your world. Slowly but surely you will gather a community. Your fanbase won’t be built overnight, but it won’t be built by inaction. I’ve watched aspiring authors like Candy Gourley and Nikesh Shukla start with small platforms, and build momentum as they published book and and later won awards.
Objection 2: I have nothing to say! What can I contribute online?
There is no prescription for success online, but there are many options.
– Review your favourite books in a blog
– Document the frustrations and joys of being a writer
– Interview your favourite writers
– Create inspiration photo posts for other writers
– Critique your favourite and least favourite covers on pinterest
– Post the music tracks you listen to every week when you write
Here are some real-life examples of what authors have done to stay relevant online.
Choose what suits your personality and try it consistently for at least 6 months. Whatever tricks you need to help you enjoy the process (music, chocolate, coffee) bring ’em out. Get your 25 min a day in.
Objection 3: I don’t have enough time
I hear you. Social media is a black hole for time.
So let’s get more efficient it. And also, don’t worry about your twitter numbers, focus on your engagement. As I said earlier, allocate time every day to respond. I’m a huge fan of the Pomodoro Technique (click for a link to an online timer) to keep you using time well. In the end it’s the quality of engagement rather than aimlessly scrolling through newsfeeds that matter. Don’t fall into the trap of using social media vacantly because you don’t want to write! Limit your time every day, but consistently engage. That’s what I tell my authors, and it’s what I’m starting to do myself, finally.
NUMBER 2 START EARLY & FOCUS –
Over the years, working with authors and startups I’ve learned the importance of starting now.
Starting before anyone else shows up, starting before you have approval.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb
Authors and entrepreneurs have also taught me that the best time saver is to focus on what matters.
Joanna Penn and Brian Cormack talk about the Long Term Launch, which is about creating a series of ‘windows’ of promotion, a better, smarter way to think of promoting your book. So for example you might set aside two-three weeks around your book launch and within this period you would concentrate all your interviews and posts.
You could then repeat this over a summer promotion and a Christmas promotion period etc. SO it’s not all year round, and it’s not a one hit attempt either.
When should you start thinking about strategy? I don’t think it’s ever too early to start – but if you haven’t finished writing your book yet, you shouldn’t focus on marketing and publicity. Sure, start formulating a rough plan, and start to tap into a community (a blog, social media platforms) you guard your writing time at the same time.
4-6 months before publication, get in contact with people in your community and involve them – perhaps on the book covers, ask them if they’ll be an early reviewer. Plan a series of guest posts, podcasts, interviews and articles around your subject area (I know this is a big ask) so that in your 2 weeks window of publicity, you are unavoidable.
NUMBER 3 BECOME UNAVOIDABLE IN SHORT BURSTS
Your aim during your publicity windows is to use the momentum of all the goodwill you’ve built so far (you started early remember!) to let your audience know your message, your personal story.
For non-fiction it could be: How to get the body you want in 4 hours
For fiction it might be: A Thriller better than Girl on a Train
The goal? To have people talking about you, recommending your book.
Which means you need lots of great, honest reviews, and a series of interviews, articles with you, the author.
Now, I don’t have a perfect one-size-fits all plan for you, everyone’s plan is different, but I spoke to my friend, who used to be the Marketing Director at Random House, and here is a rough guideline to how you might structure your launch plan (during the windows of promotion) although you have to tweak based on what you’re trying to achieve.
60% reaching out to bloggers & press
30% offline meeting potential readers (e.g. bloggers at conferences, writers at festivals, children in schools, bookshop signings)
10% Advertising spend
What I’ve seen work? Tim Ferriss’ approach to being ‘unavoidable’ in his publicity windows. Philip Ardagh the UK children’s writer, relentlessly doing events at schools, literary festivals. Gary Vaynerchuk’s documenting of his journey led to phenomenal sales of his book.
We’re in an era of change when old media is being overtaken by new channels Medium, Instagram, Snapchat…
So, cast your net wide during this period, be unavoidable.
To do this you might be reaching out 4-6 months in advance. Even as far as a year in advance you might attend conferences and spread the word.
If you can stretch to it, set a budget for Facebook Ads to help boost your profile during your publicity window, but again, you have to experiment with this and see if it delivers you the right results.
So, to recap…
- Build a Tribe – tap into the community who will be your early supporters
- Start this process earlier than you think but be strict with your time. Don’t use it as an excuse to procrastinate
- Plan your long term launch in good time so that when you do need to promote, you can be unavoidable in short burst
For inspiration on building Tribes & social media I suggest you watch wider Seth’s Talk on Tribes (at 10min 35 he mentions authors but I recommend you watch the whole video) and Gary Vee’s advice on promoting a book on social media.
Over to you – what have you used that has worked?
Parul Macdonald is a book junkie and tech-savvy editor with hands in both the tech & publishing world. For more views on indie-publishing and publishing best practices follow her on @parulmac or visit her new blog.