In this post I want to address something most writers detest and don’t want anything to do with: selling their story.
I can’t blame them, I hate this too, but it’s crucial. Thankfully it isn’t hard, it’s more about understanding how we perceive ourselves, our work, know what we need to do, when, and where. I’m going to write out a guide for any writer to follow, successfully market, sell, and stay in touch with potential readers whether they buy, read, and/or review your book.
The three things a writer needs is to 1) remember to tell people you’re a writer, first, 2) have a mailing list link, 3) have some other writing to talk about and share.
With that in mind, I’ll explain how to do it, and how it all connects to give you the best chances of being as successful as possible.
Let’s get going…
Whether you have written a book, are writing one, or plan on finishing one, there are some basic, yet essential things you need to know about Marketing for authors, no matter if you’re publishing yourself or being published by a company: you will need to speak to people, inform them, and give them something to do.
First, let’s address the simple difference between sales and marketing.
Sales provides a solution to a problem. For writers and readers, the problem is: Someone wants your book. The solution is to give it to them (maybe in exchange for money).
I’m not joking. Sales is not complex. Here’s the scenario:
Customer: Hi, I would like to buy your book. Here’s the money.
You: (takes money) Thank you. Here’s your book.
Customer: Thank you.
Sales is simple. The trouble starts with Marketing, so let’s clear that up now:
Marketing is Sales when you’re not in the room.
Anything you do which could lead to a sale is marketing.
For sales to work when you’re not in the room, you need to think of ways to inform people about your book when you aren’t around. You need to think of ways to continually remind people that you’ve written a story because people rarely act on first instruction. It has been said that people need 6-7 reminders before they ‘trigger’ (do the thing you want them to do). This isn’t because people are uninterested in your book. It’s because they lead busy lives and forget. This is why people need a lot of nudging to remember to return that book you lent them. They don’t want to keep it: they just forget to bring it back. You’re helping them by reminding them. The secret is not to annoy. So reminders need to be gentle, consistent, and timely.
Traditional Marketing techniques have blurred and destorted what ‘informing’ or ‘reminding people’ involves, so I’m going to reset that word for you.
Imagine there’s lots of people in the world like you; those who’d love to read what you’ve written, however, they just don’t know about it yet. If only someone told them about your book, they’d buy it. Think of them as a coiled spring with a wallet full of money ready to throw it at you as soon as they hear the right phrase. Your job is to leave little reminders everywhere you go for the rest of your living days that you have this thing which those people should check out.
You need to remember to tell people via email, in person, and via any printed medium.
You need to tell them this very important thing (or a variation of it): “I’ve written a book and you should buy it here” (tell them where they can get it). We need to remember to tell people we’re a writer, first, at all given opportunities, and after informing them of the plot/story, ask something of them (be it, help/support/sharing/contacts or whatever you need).
So now your conversation goes like this (when asked, or even when you’re not asked):
‘I’m a writer.’
‘My story is about…’
‘… and you should buy it here (link to book/shop/address)’
If telling people where they can buy your book is difficult, it’s because you’re already letting your thoughts run away with you. I didn’t say ‘stand on a soap-box and shout it to the world’. Think smaller. Tell only the people who you know/trust, and believe would be interested. This can be 1, 2 or 10 people. It doesn’t matter at this stage. The only thing which matters is you tell them, with pride and confidence.
Here are a few other things you can ask:
Ask someone to tell their friends about your book (do this via: Email, a conversation, or any piece of paper)
Ask the above someone to ask their friends to tell their friends ‘Do you know anyone who reads a lot and might be interested in my book?’ ‘Please can you ask them for me?’
Ask someone write a review. People want to help, but they don’t know how unless you tell them. Ask for their email address and follow to remind them!
Ask someone to ask their friends to write a review (etc., etc.)
I’m not saying asking your friends friends to read and write a review will certainly work, but you do need to start thinking like this all the time.
To sell when we’re not in the room, we need to do two things:
- know where people are at all times
- talk to them (or reply if they have something to say to us)
How can we do that?
Well, sadly we can’t be everywhere at once, but if people write back, we need to respond in a timely way (all the time). If people email you, email them back, quickly. If someone leaves an on-line comment or message, respond quickly.
Returning to point 1 of my list above ‘know where people are at all times’: How can you do this?
The best way is to ask for people’s email address. I can’t think of any other way of directly connecting with people more effectively. Emails are always actioned: either to see, open and action/read; see, open and close; or see and delete. The important part is that they see the email. Whether they read or delete it, is down to you, your relationship with them, and the content of the email.
It is common for writers start an email list, and you should have one too.
Question: How is having a mailing list different to me just having email??
Answer: Your email provider will block your account if you mass email people. Having a specific mailing list will prevent that.
How to start a mailing list:
Go to MailChimp.com and sign up, create your first ‘my book’ list, and click the link in the middle of the page to ‘Create a sign up form’. On the next page, choose the top row (General Forms), and click the ‘Select’ button. On this next page you have various options to customise and edit your form as much as you want. Note: the page auto-saves your changes, so don’t panic if you can’t find a ‘save’ button.
Have a play, but the important thing is the ‘Signup form URL’ link at the top. The one I created read: http://eepurl.com/ccq_Bb (don’t click this one as it doesn’t work). This is the link you send to people but it isn’t very memorable. Let’s change it.
- Open a new browser window and go to: http://bit.ly
- Create a new free account (I recommend logging in with Facebook as it’s easier).
- Up in the top right you’ll see a big red ‘Create Bitlink’ button – click it.
- In the box marked ‘long url’, paste in your MailChimp link: http://eepurl.com/ccq_Bb
- Then click the ‘create’ button at the bottom (though mine auto-clicked through the next screen).
- On this section you can edit the title ‘My New Book Title’ (which I didn’t change) and below it ‘customize’. My new bit.ly link was bit.ly/2bwfHMa – which isn’t very memorable either, so I changed it to read: bit.ly/mynewbooktitle. Edit your link to read whatever you need. When you’re done, click ‘save’.
You won’t need to visit bit.ly ever again unless you want to create a new link.
Now you will have created a short memorable email link to send people directly to your MailChimp form. Test it out, by placing it in a new browser window: bit.ly/mynewbooktitle – it should go straight to your form for people to sign up.
Taa-daa! You can now start emailing people to sign up to your book mailing list in order to stay uptodate with whatever you want them to know. Every ‘promotion’ or ‘marketing’ action you do should use that link (if people aren’t directly asking for a purchase link, that is).
Over time this list will grow and grow, as long as you remember to tell people about it, and you must assume, that everyone on it, is interested in your writing endevours. You must assume this, because they have an opportunity to unsubscribe from the list at any time, ergo: they want to hear from you because they are still on the list!
This is the same list the Wells Writers Group uses to keep everyone informed of our next meetings. If someone unsubscribes, I don’t know about it unless I log in to MailChimp and check the list.
Now you must use it. I can talk about this another time if people are interested, however, for now, just let it grow.
I also want to mention social media spaces such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogging, as you may have heard writers should be using them and want to know what to do.
- If you know of, and are interested in these spaces, it is likely you will have already explored and/or be using them. If they work for you, keep on using them!
- If you know about these social media tools, but haven’t started using them, you’re probably not really interested. So don’t bother starting.
I have met many people who start doing it because they have been told to, and don’t really have any real interest. The truth is it’s not a golden bullet. Unless you’re absolutely in love with the idea already, it’s very likely you will waste your time when you should be writing.
The best marketing a writer can do is to write more.
Be it a poem, a short, a novelette, a novella, or a book. Writing your next thing is far better than spending time in any of these other areas. You should talk about that new writing project with the people who join your mailing list, share snippets, ask for their feedback, see if anyone wants to read the whole thing in advance, and let them know when it’s available to buy. The more you engage with them, the more likely they’ll support you when you need it.
So, once you 1) remember to tell people you’re a writer, first, 2) have a mailing list link, 3) have some other writing to talk about and share is all you need to sell when you’re not in the room.
Things can become as indepth (or as complex) as you want, but if you don’t get these three fundamentals under your belt, you’re always going to struggle.
I hope you’ve found this useful, and if you like it, please share it with people who you think will benefit. They will love you for it.
MailChimp only allows 2000 email addresses on a Free account. This is plenty. If you exceed your 2000 subscribers, congrats, you’re probably well on your way to becoming an incredibly popular author.
If you only have one book or story to promote and aren’t planning on writing anything else, then you will need a marketing plan to shift those books! Only then will Facebook, Twitter, and Blogging really help you.
Mark Mapstone is a skateboarder, a writer, and author of the Ethan Wares Skateboard Series books.
Follow Mark on Instagram: @7plywood
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