Marketing yourself

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Recently a colleague asked me how I marketed my books since I “seem to be quite fabulous at it!” Well, *cough* I don’t know about “fabulous,” especially compared to authors like Diane Duane, Warren Ellis, Scott Westerfeld, and especially John Scalzi, all of whom kick my ass in that department. But I do have some ideas, and they do seem to work. So here we go.

First off, I’d love to say that promoting yourself all comes down to being authentic, but that’s not true. We all probably know people who are really authentic who aren’t popular – either because their true love is obscure, or because they’re abrasive, or because, in the end, they’re not really interested in being popular.

So what I really mean by being authentic is not promoting yourself for the point of promoting yourself. Little is more irritating than someone producing an enormous amount of hot air trying to market nothing more than thin air. Ideally, you should do good work, produce it regularly, and then, and only then, try to help people find it.

But even helping people find it can backfire. Most forums, whether online or in person, aren’t meant for selling products or services – so marketing language is simply unwanted. So my philosophy for promoting myself is to honestly contribute to the conversation – to do good work online, to produce it regularly, and then, and only then, to help people find my work.

So how do you do that? Well, by blogging and tweeting and Facebooking and plussing, of course. My hope is that I contribute enough to the conversation to make people intrinsically interested in what I say. Once that happens, the work I’m trying to sell to people are my books. Here are the things I do to promote them, as told to my colleague, with light editing:

  • Have a website and keep it updated – My colleague did this already, so good for her! From a book marketing perspective, my own websites are nowhere near as updated as they should be (as of early August 2012) because I have too much writing to do and I’m using Facebook more, but you can’t use Facebook for everything.
  • Have an individual page for each book – The page for each book should link to everyplace your book is available (again, I’ve let myself down here, that’s out of date on my own Dakota Frost site! Argh!). This is important not just so people can find out what you’re doing, but because it also enables …
  • Take out a Google ad for each book – The Google ad needs to point to something and you can’t point to Amazon or Audible because you don’t own those sites. So you have to have a landing page for each book. This has a cost – depending on how much you want to do over the course of the year you could spend a thousand dollars plus on advertising. But it lands people on pages about your book, and then from there to buying it.
  • Consider blogging – Not just a web site, but an active blog listing the things that you’re doing and involved in. More permanent than the other social media that I list below, and something that can refer to as a “master” page for media. My Library of Dresan site is my master site, where hopefully anyone who really wants to know more about what I’m doing can find anything they need to know.
  • Have a Facebook page for yourself – I actually have one for each series, http://facebook.com/dakotafrost, http://facebook.com/jeremiahwillstone, http://facebook.com/serendipitythecentaur – and update this as often as you can stand without becoming repetitive. Consider setting up your blog so it crossposts to Facebook, but be willing to engage Facebook conversations too.
  • Take out a Facebook ad for your page – Not as effective as a Google ad, but it slow and steady builds your fanbase. I’ve found that this builds your fanbase more than anything else you can do, and that Facebook fans are more engaged than anyone else I find in any other medium.
  • Treat your fans right – Don’t just post what opportunities your fans have to buy your stuff, but engage them in the conversation and care about what they say. Your fan count can go down, not just up. People will desert you if you are an irritating toad or only talk to market or even if you just don’t ever respond (or produce).
  • Get on other social networking services – as many as you can stand and still do each one justice. Twitter is a service that doesn’t completely overlap Facebook and you can plug it into Facebook or WordPress on your blog. Google+ is another service that seems to have less traction but I’ve seen a LOT of content on there so it’s coming. Consider Pinterest as it seems to have a lot of clickthrough to web sites.
  • Do everything your publisher asks you to do – My publisher and her team work hard to get my name out there and I accept as many of these appearances as I can. This may not apply to you and what you want to market, but if you have something to market, getting a publicist of your own might not be a bad idea (if you haven’t already).
  • Participate in online and offline communities – science fiction conventions, radio shows, writer’s conferences, be a guest at a con, go on a blogtour, give a talk, etc., etc. … it all adds up. I got published because I took my laptop into the corner of Dragon*Con writer’s track year after year, writing away … and got noticed.

The big thing that you should be trying to do with all the above is:

  • Create an online presence which is genuine and has enough content for someone who’s interested in you to find out more about you, within safety and reason in this crazy Internet stalker age
  • Use this platform to show people what you have to offer – sending them, via ads and posts and links to pages you control describing the books you’ve written or the comics you’ve done or …
  • Make it easy for people to then buy what you have to offer – routing people from the pages you control to the places where people can actually buy the books, like Amazon or Etsy or Ebay or Audible or …
  • Then produce more great stuff on a regular basis so people are always interested! This is actually more important than the first three. If you really do produce great work all the time, it will serve as its own publicity.

Basically, that’s it. I’d love to do more than that (I axually NEED to do more than that because actually part of my writer/developer schtick is that I’m the writer-designer-coder-maintainer of my own websites) but I work for a living and write in all the rest of my free time and still have a wife, friends and cats, so I can only do what I have time to do, and that’s it.
Then I go collapse into blissful unconsciousness.

There are some blogs out there which talk about marketing. Bob Mayer talks about it from an indie publishing perspective. My buddy Andy Fossett has written some articles on it from time to time and apparently had some success. Seth Godin has some interesting stuff to say about it. But in the end I just feed my head with those articles. I don’t really have a marketing plan.

I do know I need to market myself, and I do by creating a number of sites online where people can read what I write, by working hard to create interesting content on those, and then by hoping people get lost in the content I’ve produced. That’s why I wrote this article – because my colleague found the email that spawned it interesting, so I hope you will too.

That’s not enough, of course. There are billions of pages on the web. I make mine visible by advertising them. I’m fortunate that I can afford to do that, but I’m also taking a very long view towards my career – I advertised FROST MOON a year or so before it came out, and it paid off. But beyond a bare minimum of advertising, I don’t push it. I sit back and hope people like what I have.

Really, I don’t have time to do more – I have to write, so I’ve produced something people have a chance to like.

Hope this helps!

-the Centaur