Filed under: For Writers
In sharp contrast to the way things used to be just a decade ago, the power has completely shifted to you, the writer. You now have the power to go directly to your fans, with no middlemen in between. The tools are out there to create, connect, and monetize your writing, and here’s the amazing thing – most of these tools are free.
How do we make the most of this shift in power? It can require a difficult mindset shift. First of all, whether you think of yourself this way or not – you are an entrepreneur. You are running your own small business. You’re the CEO, and your books are the product. If you want to make money from your writing, you have to think like a businessperson.
That doesn’t mean that you’re going to “sell out” or compromise your values. It just means that you produce good work and you deserve to get paid for what you do. Your craft has taken years to perfect. You are good at it. You have a unique angle, and do things in a way that no one else can. That makes you a rarity, and scarcity is valuable.
But it does mean that you have to stop thinking that it will “all just work out on its own.” Writers who think this way, fail. None of us are going to just “get lucky.” We’re not going to get “discovered.” Banish those thoughts right now – they are poisonous. This may sound harsh, but as a businessperson – you can’t be satisfied with passivity. Hope is not a marketing plan.
Instead, we take action.
We build it, brick by brick. The overall strategy of how to market your book has five key stages:
Stage 1: Establish an Online Hub
In order to build an audience, we need a gathering point. This is our online hub – and it needs to be optimized to make these one-to-one connections at scale.
The foundation of any online hub has four pillars:
Pillar #1: Your website is the hub of your digital presence. Do not outsource this to a Facebook Author Page. You want to own your own property – not build on someone else’s land. This is your business, and you want to have full control over your virtual storefront.
If you’re just starting out, get your site up with these very basic elements: A simple, attractive front page to give visitors an immediate sense of what you do; an “about” page so they can learn more about you; a blog “posts” page where you will publish regular content; a contact/booking form; and a place where people can subscribe to your email list.
Pillar #2: Your social channels offer the chance to connect directly with your fans – and meet future fans. But you have to do it right. Just because you’re on Facebook doesn’t mean that you’ll succeed on Facebook. Every channel is different and not every one is going to be right for your business.
Each social platform is its own community, and each has its own rules and norms. You have to get the nuances right, or you’ll be seen as an impostor. Start by doing a “land grab” so that you own your handle in every outlet, but seek to get really good at one or two channels. Let your audience decide those channels.
Pillar #3: Your blog is where you’ll produce short, shareable pieces with the goal of connecting with your intended audience. Each piece is going to be focused on a narrow topic, and those pieces are going to work together in an orthogonal way.
Publishing regularly is going to help your site “refresh” with every new piece, which is really good for SEO (search engine optimization). Google likes to see a live, active site with frequent updates and really good content for those who are searching.
Pillar #4: Your email list is what we call your “conversion instrument.” Email is 40 times more effective than social in converting fans to buyers. It’s not that social media’s not important – it is. But when it comes time to convert, email is where the power lies.
Plus, email affords you the opportunity to get into marketing automation, which can really help you take your creative business to the next level. This can make you incredibly efficient and help manage your “funnel” at scale.
Get all this set up right now with this free checklist: A Guide to Marketing Your Creative Work.
Stage 2: Put Your Writing Out There
People gather around art, not the intention to do art. Nobody cares about your future plans, or what great project “you’re gonna do.” If you don’t give them something to react and respond to, it’s game over. You’ll never be recognized for your work if people can’t experience your work.
So, it’s time to hit publish. Maybe you’re already doing that – great. If not, time to get going. Put stuff on your site, since it’s your online hub. But also, try to get it into other outlets as well. While your goal is always to bring people “into the fold” on your site – and on your email list.
As a writer, you are the brand – just like any other artist. The audience accumulates around you. That means that your site needs to be more of a collection of projects, with you at the center. In other words, don’t make the mistake of having a separate “book site.”
And most importantly, keep producing – and keep sharing. Get it in front of people and let your work speak for itself. Don’t hold off on releasing something because it’s not absolutely “perfect.” Also, in the interest of drawing people in, share some work before it’s ready – true fans love behind-the-scenes stuff. Make this kind of thing exclusive ONLY to your subscribers as a lure to get them on your list. This part is really important – not just so that you can sell to them later, but in that it makes them feel really close to you. They feel invested.
Stage 3: Create Supporting Content
You’ll find this to be almost as important as sharing your writing. It helps give people some context about what you do, and offers the opportunity to go beyond your art in getting to know you. It also makes it easier for others to talk about you to their friends – which is key to enabling word-of-mouth marketing to flourish.
So, what should you produce? Supporting content can come in a variety of forms: A blog, serial fiction, YouTube videos, a podcast, Instagram stories, a “how-to” series, or Facebook Live sessions. There are dozens of ways to connect with people to draw them in.
There are only two things that are important:
- It has to be good content. If it’s not high-quality, engaging material – who’s going to pay attention? That doesn’t always mean that is has to be professionally produced – Snapchat Stories or Tik Tok videos, for instance, are very real-life and raw – and might be perfect for your brand.
- It has to be regular. You’ll never gain momentum if you don’t show up regularly to connect with your fans. Consistency is really important in making them feel like they’re on your journey with you. An important thing to consider is to pick a format you can commit to publishing frequently. Play the long game here.
As a writer, blogging is the “easiest” and most natural outlet. But don’t think of it as a blog, per se – think of it instead as a way to easily produce collections of content. So even if you produce a podcast or a YouTube show, you might still create a quick blog post for each new segment. That way you’re creating a portfolio right there in your online hub.
And again, blogs are very good for SEO (search engine optimization), which is how Google accumulates “authority” around you and your site. You want that to be very strong, as it contributes to people’s overall impression of you – not just fans, but even potential industry partners in the future.
This means that your site and every blog post needs to be optimized for SEO. In building your online hub as the foundation of your creative business, you want it to be bringing traffic in from searches as well – helping new people discover you.
Stage 4: Find & Activate Influencers
A key part of content marketing is to empower your fans to create more fans for you. This is so important because there’s no other way to scale without it. While you’re seeking to form deep connections, you can’t rely ONLY on one-to-one connections from you to each fan. Sure, it’s how you start, but your business will not get off the ground if it moves at the “speed of you.”
It doesn’t have to be a large audience for you to get the recognition you deserve. But it’s really important to help and support any fan who wants to talk about you to another potential fan. If they are not able to describe you and your work when advocating for you – that’s your fault, not theirs. Provide them with supporting content to make it frictionless for them.
The shortest path to making this happen is for you to identify the influencers in your audience. In the world of social media, influencers don’t have to be famous, or even have a large audience. And here’s the thing – they may not even be your potential customers. They serve one purpose, as it relates to you: To spread the word.
There’s one thing to look for: An influencer, by definition, has credibility. That’s the only requirement.
That means that even the influencers with relatively small audiences can impel an action. This is gold to you, because these folks will be way more effective at selling “you” than you can ever be. If one influencer can bring you even 10 new fans, including one new influencer – all you have to do is repeat that a few times to start seeing exponential growth.
In the digital world, credibility does not need to scale. It just need to travel from node to node in the hands of influencers. That makes you think differently about social media, doesn’t it? Social is not to “get the word out,” it’s to connect in this manner. Observe, listen, and treat it like research – look for the signs that others pay attention to what they say.
OK, so once you know who they are, how do you activate these influencers?
- Create remarkable work – otherwise, forget it. By definition, someone needs to remark on it to someone else if your message is going to travel.
- Create shareable content – remove the friction. It has to be valuable enough to share, surrounded by easy social share buttons.
- Shorten the decision path – provide lots of outlets and remove barriers. It’s easy to consume, and fun (or important) to share.
- Create a story around your work – stories are in our DNA as humans, and they travel.
Go at this with a soft touch. You can’t force it, but you can influence it if you do all of the above.
Stage 5: Collaborate and Share Audiences
Creativity is not a zero-sum game. You might think of other writers as your competition, when in fact, they might just be your biggest source of new fans. You can’t “own” a fan exclusively, so there’s no harm in sharing.
Especially in the early stages of developing your audience, support from other artists – and not only writers! – can provide a big boost to you. And you can provide a big boost to them as well. It’s much easier for you to tap into a ready-made audience than it is to find an audience one at a time on your own.
These other artists might be people you already know or work with – or they could be pulled from the audience you’re trying to develop. Maybe you find someone you’ve met via Instagram who posts great travel photos. Maybe it’s one of the influencers in your audience whom you’ve identified from above.
But like anything in running your business, let’s be strategic about it:
- Match by similar interests. First, identify people other artists with fans who might like what you do. What other artists do you know who do similar work to you? What kind of audience do they have? Go to their shows or readings or gallery events. Do the same in the virtual world. What can you learn by looking at their social stream and websites?
- Find opportunities in the unrelated. The obvious thing is to find folks in the same discipline. In other words, if you write graphic novels, find other graphic novel writers. But don’t be afraid to think outside the box here – musicians can support writers. Writers can support musicians. Many creatives do more than one thing, too!
- Become a part of their community. It really helps your credibility if you are a part of the community you hope to serve – and hopefully sell to in the future. This can be an online or offline community. But don’t just be there “in show,” become a valuable member and give back to the community as much as you can.
- Support other artists generously. Don’t just post your work on social and log off – participate. Comment on other artist’s work. Ask questions. Share their work with others. Let them know of opportunities that might be valuable to them. There are a variety of ways to show your support.
- Build a network or informal guild. Especially if this becomes a small group of creatives, start a Slack channel to communicate or use software like Meetup or a Facebook Group to manage your interactions. This will help you all get strategic together – focused on your specific community.
- Create something together. Take it to the next level and actually collaborate on a project together. For instance, musicians might perform a cover song together or write an original song together and release it on YouTube. Writers could write a short story together in blog form, maybe as a conversation between two separate characters.
Now of course, this is all just a starting point. You have to show up every day and put the work in. Build your hub, produce good content, connect with the right people, and form a supportive community. Yes, it’s a lot of work – but you don’t have to do it all at once. Little by little, all you are doing is conversing and working with people who share similar passions and care about the same things that you do.
But if you do all these things, you can see a path to where you’re earning the recognition you deserve for your work. People will start to take you more seriously, and will start to anticipate your next book. They’ll tell others about you because of how great your writing is. And who knows – maybe you’ll even get approached by an agent or publisher. That will be the topic of my next post.
All this opportunity is out there for you – it’s just up to you to construct a strategy and execute it!
Get started today on Stages 1, 2, and 3 with this mini-course I developed specifically for writers:
Building Your Author Platform: Creating a Pathway to Purchase
Building your author platform is the single most important thing you can do for your business as a writer. In fact, it’s almost impossible to achieve any measurable success without it. This mini-course helps you set up all the elements of this pathway: Your website, blog, social, email, and online store.
Or go deeper with the comprehensive course called Content Marketing for Creatives, which is available in three focused versions so you can learn the specific skills and strategies that you need to learn.
- Foundations: Build Your Website. Build a basic website to promote your creative work – and get your blog, social media, and email marketing strategy set up too.
- Outreach: Connect with Your Audience. Learn how to do the outreach necessary to find new fans – using a blog, social media, and email marketing (including automation).
- Workflows: Get Focused and Efficient. Intermediate-level strategies for how to integrate your blog, email, and social into systematic workflows so you can get more efficient.
Photo credit: Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash. Changed from original: Cropped, added tint and text overlays.
David J Grotewohl says