22 Oct 2009
The Internet has the ability to turn a time-worn process on its head. Book marketing is a case in point.
For mainstream publishers, it's all about the book. They have all cottoned on to the fact that the web exists and that every author must have a site. But the book's the thing. Most publishers' websites are often little more than catalogues and a bit of blurb. It's the traditional publishing world thrust unwillingly into the new medium.
I've argued elsewhere that self-publishers may be most effective if they adopt an Internet-only model. But this is going to take a bit of effort. For a start, you need to alter your perspective.
For the net-based self-publisher, the website is the thing.
Here's how it has traditionally worked. You produce the book. You then need to raise awareness of its availability and desirability. So you send out press releases and review copies, advertise, get the author on radio, TV and in front of print journalists for interviews and organise a book tour. You employ reps to pester bookshops to take copies of the book and display them prominently. All this activity is essential because you're starting from scratch. If the book is by an established author, it's easier, but with a new or little-known writer, raising awareness is a difficult task.
The web turns that around if - and only if - you have an established site. Let's assume that you have a blog or website that is already attracting reasonable traffic. It's probably getting that traffic because you have good content on the site that is focused on a specific subject or theme. People visit the site because they know what to expect from it, enjoy what you write and because you update and add to the content frequently.
Most of your marketing job is already done. You already have awareness. You have a readership willing to come to you.
Bear in mind that, under the traditional model, most marketing and advertising falls on stony ground. The majority of people who see the ads or hear the interviews will have no interest in you or what you've written. This kind of marketing works only if you reach enough people so that the very small percentage who are interested and respond are enough to make the whole exercise worthwhile. It's risky (because it doesn't always work), it's wasteful, and it's expensive in terms of effort and money.
If you have a successful website, your audience is not only ready-made, it's self-selected. Assuming your book ties in with the subject and style of the site, then you know that everyone who reads about the book on your site is a likely buyer.
That's not to say you won't want to try the traditional marketing methods. You'll have to if you want serious book sales. But you're starting from a much stronger position. And you can use that marketing effort to push people to your site: not only will you sell books, you'll also increase traffic to the site, boosting ad revenue, improving search position and so on. It's a virtuous circle. And the people who seek out your site as a result of your marketing will be rewarded with more than an ad for the book and a bio of the author. There will be real content there for them to enjoy, making them far more disposed to buying the book.
I've seen comments in forums (mainly from publishers) effectively boasting about their marketing teams and how self-published authors can't hope to match them. The truth is, they don't need to. Remember that those marketing teams cost money. The marketing they do costs money. And the publisher is taking a cut from the resulting sales. The upshot is that you have to sell a significant number of books just to cover the cost of the marketing, before you start making any profit.
Self-published authors can work on far smaller margins.
Building the site
Ask any SEO expert or professional website developer what the three most important things are for a successful site and they will tell you, "content, content and … oh yeah, content".
t the very least, you're going to need a blog, and one you update frequently with posts worth reading (ie, not the "I'm so bored" or "10 cool pictures" variety that so infest the blogosphere). It needs to be relevant to your book. It needs to appeal to the same kind of reader.
Here are a few other things you could use:
That's just to get you started. The aim is to make the website work by itself. It should be a site that people want to visit regardless of the fact that you have a book to sell them.
And you should create the site first - before you write the book. If you can establish a flow of traffic to your site, you will create a ready-made market for the book.
Support the site using social networking - eg, create a page on Facebook, participate in WeRead.com. GoodReads.com, Feedbooks.com and their ilk. And take part in forums, remembering to include a link to your site in your 'sig'. But don't indulge in blatant spamming. You should participate, rather than advertise. And forget about forums aimed at writers. Everyone there wants to sell books, not buy. Focus on forums whose subject matter is relevant to your book.
If you create a successful site, your readers will find you.