Price alone doesn’t get attention anymore. Being an author isn’t so special. To really stand out and sell more books, you’re going to have to be you.
We in the brain tickle business have never had so much freedom and opportunity to talk directly to readers. We’ve also never been so invisible. The essence of our book marketing problem is that readers are flooded with noise but our signal isn’t getting through. A plethora of fractured choices leaves us catering to smaller niches. The world has exploded with feasts for the senses and books are not central to our cultural dining experience.
How do we help readers find us?
To figure out how to better reach our niches, let’s look at artists who successfully engage their fans: Hugh Howey, Scott Sigler, Weird Al Yankovic and Kevin Smith.
Be famous for something else first.
When director Kevin Smith’s Clerks hit, that movie was his introduction to his niche. He has described the film as as a handshake to America that said, “Hi, How are you? I’m Kevin Smith!” Being famous first isn’t helpful advice, but it’s so obvious, I had to get this one out of the way first.
Pioneer something new.
When Kevin Smith jumped on the podcast bandwagon, there weren’t many musicians in that band or on that wagon. He’s always up for something new or a twist on something old. He abandoned the big studio promotion model to take his movie, Red State, on tour to his fans. Now he’s taking his Super Groovy Cartoon Movie on the road.
The same willingness to adapt applies to Scott Sigler. When his manuscripts weren’t selling to publishers, he sat in his closet and recorded his books as podcasts. When he went back to the publishers, it was still so early in the game, the publishers replied, “What’s a podcast?” But Sigler’s readers found him through audio and ended up buying his work in digital and paper.
Think it’s too late to get into something new? Podcasting is still new. You probably write a blog, but there are millions of blogs vying for attention. There are only a few hundred thousand podcasts.
I have two podcasts and I sell the most books where my podcast is most popular. Also, I’m connecting with cool people on Vine. I don’t know what the next big thing will be, but I’m open to jumping into anything early if it makes sense to test it. Just don’t wait until the new social media platform makes sense to everyone.
Embrace Different and get noticed.
Hugh Howey has taken a contrarian approach to fan fiction. He’s embracing it. Instead of guarding the realm of Wool, he’s invited others to play in his sandbox. That one move has already gained him new fans and more publicity. The fact that Amazon decided to promote fan fic makes me think he’s on to something. (And before we get snotty about it, don’t forget fan fic is where the Fifty Shades of Gray‘s success sprang from.)
Kevin Smith just pressed a new album for his cult of rabid fans. That’s right. As in vinyl. They’ll buy it, too. They love him.
Scott Sigler appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience recently. Lots of fiction authors (like me!) would love to get on that show. He got there because he’s interesting, does tons of research for his books and he’s technologically innovative. Couldn’t happen to a smarter guy.
Meanwhile, Weird Al expanded his empire into our territory. He’s written a children’s book. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
Build a body of work.
After his many movies, Smith has a plethora of podcasts he’s begun, sponsored, abandoned and continued. His motto is, “Monetize.” He monetized conversation and found a way to keep his connection with his fan base between movies. Before podcasts, his ongoing conversation with fans happened through Twitter. Before that, his was one of the first message boards on the Internet. Keep up with innovation.
Weird Al has made music parodies for decades now (and weirdly, he does not appear to be aging.) It might surprise you to discover that half his songs are originals, not parodies of popular music. His fans know every lyric of his extensive musical inventory, though. Weird Al puts on an amazing show and, though many love him as a comedian, he doesn’t get the respect he deserves as a musician. He and his band have incredible range. They have to be great to convincingly parody so many artists of different styles. Keeping up with the music and being brilliant explain his staying power. His fan base renews so parents and their children have grown up loving Al. He didn’t get that status by being a one-hit wonder.
A bigger inventory is key to successful book marketing. Like I said repeatedly in Crack the Indie Author Code, your one sure, long-term strategy is to write plenty of good books. By occupying more digital real estate (like “Also boughts”), we send up a bigger flare to help readers find us.
The more shots you take, the more chances you have to hit. Once one book hits, all your sales rise. Do not bet it all on one spin of the wheel.
Quite often you will read complaints about social media, particularly from authors. How many more blog posts will bleat, “But I just want to concentrate on writing my book…”? That’s not social media’s problem. That’s your time management problem. Figure it out and do what you enjoy when you can. (For instance, Vine’s a blast, it goes to my Facebook and Twitter, and it takes six seconds.)
Don’t complain about social media. Complaining about having to talk to readers makes you sound like someone potential fans don’t want to know, love and support. Whining doesn’t make you a diva or an auteur. It makes you a pain in the ass.
Hugh Howey bubbles over with success, but he’s definitely not churlish. He’s friendly and nice. When I asked him about appearing on the Cool People Podcast, he got back to me right away even though he was on the road. (I’m interviewing him for the show next week! Can’t wait! If you have questions you want me to ask him, submit them to expartepress [AT] gmail [DOT] com.)
Be available where readers congregate.
Smith and Weird Al tour. Scott Sigler is as close as your earbuds for free and when I sent him a tweet, he got back to me. Hugh Howey’s YouTube channel is plenty busy. If you aren’t talking where people are, you’re either praying or talking to yourself. Whether it’s social media or speaking events, go meet new people.
But it’s not just about sending signals out.
You don’t get much love hiding in a hole. To engage people, be responsive when you can. For instance, Weird Al found himself waiting for a plane. He tweeted a phone number. “Anybody want to chat? I’ve got five minutes to boarding.” All his fans who couldn’t get through undoubtedly appreciated the gesture. It speaks to the sort of person he is (i.e. someone you want to know, love and support.)
When I met Kevin Smith, he couldn’t have been nicer to me. (Same with comedian Mike Schmidt, who has the same knack for remembering the name of everyone he meets and putting them at ease.)
Here’s the key: Be nice and listen to what they’re saying.
When you’re talking to someone, speak to that person as if, for that moment, he or she is the only person in the world. It sounds easy, which is why it’s so crazy more people don’t do it. (I’m confident divulging this open secret because, if you aren’t already genuinely nice, you won’t be able to fake it.) Also, successful authors are always interesting, intelligent people with diverse interests. To be interesting, be interested in your world and in others.
Social media isn’t working for everyone.
Maybe that’s because we aren’t loveable, helpful or engaged enough. I’m not saying you have to engage “everyone”. That way madness lies. Besides, the writing has to come first and getting everyone on board isn’t the point. The point is to engage with people who get you and your work. I don’t need millions of readers who can take me or leave me. I need a few thousand die-hard cultists who call themselves an army, build fan clubs, buy books, leave happy reviews and don’t hate. That seems achievable. At least it’s easier than attempting to appeal to everyone (which too many people try to do.)
To the naysayers, I ask, “If social media is a lost cause, what is the alternative? Smoke signals?”
And are you being Weird Al enough?
~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I’ve written the Hit Man Series, writing and publishing guides and most recently, This Plague of Days. TPOD is about a flu pandemic that turns into a zombie apocalypse as seen through the eyes of an autistic boy. It’s a serial, so you can gamble 99 cents on Episode One and buy the episodes a bit at a time, or grab the discount and get all of Season One for just $3.99. And by the way, when I’m nice to you, I’m not faking it. I only fake orgasms. In supermarkets.
- Kevin Smith presses ‘Plus One’ LP (catywhomp.wordpress.com)
- Weird Al charms fans at Naperville book signing (dailyherald.com)
- Wool by Hugh Howey [book review] (mithrilwisdom.com)
- conversation over at Hugh Howey: people stealing your ideas (morlockpublishing.com)
- You must read Hugh Howey’s novel, Wool (writeontheworld.wordpress.com)
- Author Hugh Howey on the future of self-publishing (salon.com)
- What I Read this Week – Great Scott Sigler Reads on iBooks! (iphonelife.com)
- My New Teacher and Me!, A Children’s Book by Weird Al Yankovic (laughingsquid.com)