Jane Friedman, former Writer’s Digest publisher and newly-appointed online editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review, talks about how writers can build an author platform, how to promote books without being pushy, and the future of publishing.
Imagine you’ve just been put in charge of one of the big publishers, and you have to come up with a new digital strategy. Day one: what do you do first?
1. Get rid of DRM on ebooks.
2. Create a pricing structure for ebooks based on demand. (New releases from hottest authors cost more than backlist from less well-known authors. Debut authors are priced competitively for their genre. And so on.)
3. Create bundle pricing for ebooks + print editions. No one should have to make two separate purchases if they intend to make use of both formats.
4. Evaluate direct-to-consumer strength, since that could be a big driver of marketing and promotion strategy.
5. Eliminate imprints that have no recognition or meaning for readers.
6. Create a private online community for the publishers’ authors. Inventory who is strongest and smartest online/digitally and study why. Create opportunities for authors to help each other market and promote when audiences overlap. Run free educational webinars for authors on marketing, promotion, and platform development. Dedicate one staffer to harness the power of authors’ reach online. Create financial reward pools for authors who drive sales.
What does it mean to live at electric speed?
To use tech & digital media to create the life experiences and opportunities we want … yet acknowledging sometimes we move so fast we don’t notice when the tools might be negatively influencing our experience and behavior. (Oops.)
Have you ever looked at someone and thought, “Boy, I wish I could tap the knowledge of that person or that person’s network?” Or, “I wish someone could tell me, in 1 page, the best articles that appeared today on publishing.”
That’s a good way of thinking of these two dailies. The Best Tweets for Writers Daily focuses on the best articles shared in the writing and publishing community. It’s geared to working writers/authors. Jane Friedman Daily focuses on the best articles/posts shared by media/tech insiders I admire and trust, mostly on the topic of digital media and publishing. Consider the latter my personal learning network—you’ll read the same stuff I read on a daily basis.
Most authors now have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, but do you think Pinterest is going to be a useful marketing tool for authors? What about Tumblr? And how do you draw together all these disparate platforms to create a cohesive online identity?
I’ll start from the top …
Pinterest is a useful tool for authors whose work lends itself to visuals that women enjoy. (Pinterest is mostly women at this point.) For instance, any author involved in cooking, travel, arts/crafts, shopping, fashion, or pop culture would probably be successful in finding their audience on Pinterest.
As far as novelists and memoirists? You might have a tougher time making an audience connection on Pinterest, but I can imagine creative uses. Let’s say you’re a romance author. Maybe you write a romance series that takes place in a bakery, and you post cupcake porn on Pinterest. You might find women who would enjoy your books. Maybe that’s a stretch, but when an author has fun with these tools, good things tend to happen.
Tumblr is strange. It’s a vibrant, active community, and it’s driven by visuals too, but you have to get it to be successful. For example, there’s a woman who assists NPR’s Terri Gross with social media, and she keeps up a Tumblr site for Fresh Air. It’s marvelous. Because she gets it. (Here’s a profile that describes her strategy, and here’s an example of one of her posts.)
Combining disparate platforms: Yes, quite important, otherwise the effort is wasted.
- First, you need your own site that sums up all the stuff you do online. I call it your hub.
- Wherever you’re active online (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc), you always completely fill out your profile/about/bio, which always includes a link back to your own website.
- When you’re active on any social network, occasionally you should post something about your own work—and you should link back to your site (or to your Amazon page, depending).
When you’re genuinely participating on any of these social media outposts, having fun, and entertaining/informing/serving, you’re building and opening yourself up to all kinds of relationships. But unless people can contact you, visit your homepage for more info, or otherwise become a more dedicated fan, it can seem like that effort does nothing for you. Which is sometimes the case.
To use a horrible marketing and sales term, it’s like building a “sales funnel.” Social media sites help you cast a wide net and get your content/message to a diverse audience. Some of those people will be casually interested and follow what you’re doing on one channel. That’s fine. A few will become die-hard fans—and your website should have tools for them to stay updated on what you’re doing, as well as find you across whatever range of networks they prefer.
Do you have to be an extrovert to market yourself online?
Quite the contrary—and I say this as an introvert myself. Before new technologies came along—when marketing and promotion involved more “getting out there,” networking at events and stores, or making phone calls—it was tough to be an introvert. (God knows I hate phone calls and would be a terrible marketer if that’s what marketing was all about.)
But given how things work today, with the increased effectiveness of online marketing, introverts should be over the moon at how lucky we are to live in an age when we can effectively market and promote by:
- staying at home
- using whatever tools suit our communication style best (e-mail, IM, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
- crafting and controlling messages to our own satisfaction
- limiting interaction when needed
If introverts can be described as bad at small talk (but not necessarily shy), better at small group conversation, and drained by huge social gatherings, such tendencies no longer significantly impact our ability to be effective at marketing.
If an introvert dislikes talking about himself (which I think is true), then all introverts have the makings of superlative online marketers. These days, there’s far too much BAD marketing and self-promotion (that amounts to talking, in a very uninteresting way, about oneself), and not enough GOOD marketing and self-promotion, which is about serving an audience.
Knowing your audience, reaching your audience, and engaging effectively with your audience is more about listening, understanding, curiosity, and good communication skills—not extroversion or introversion.
What’s the difference between being ‘engaged’ with an audience and being pushy? It seems there’s a fine line sometimes, and it’s so easy to misinterpret tone and intent online.
It’s true. I think being pushy looks something like this:
- Being noisy—which means posting a LOT of updates, like a little kid arguing or screaming and hoping to get everyone’s attention by being loudest
- What Ira Glass calls having a “terrible personality.” That basically means being interested in nothing but yourself, and using social media as your personal bullhorn.
- Pushing yourself on strangers, that is, people who haven’t given you permission to send messages their way. This often happens when people skim every possible e-mail address off LinkedIn or their contact list, and start sending unsolicited messages.
Being personal with every post/message helps remove the pushiness factor. Being interested in what other people are doing also helps. Most of all, being a curious and multi-faceted human being helps. If you’re only online to market your crap, people can tell, and they’ll tune you out.
What is an author platform? How can someone build their platform from scratch?
People ask me so often to define platform that I created a post that gives a full definition. In fewer than 10 words, platform is someone with visibility and proven reach to a target audience.
Platform starts with any publishing credits you have and continue to build, your professional credentials (if any), and the people you know. If you have a website, blog, and/or social media presence, that forms the baseline for your platform, too.
It’s tough to give advice about platform building because so much depends on the nature of your work, your existing network, and what your strengths are. However, I recommend people first focus on putting out quality work through outlets they want to be identified with, and that reach and/or grow their target audience.
The next step after that: Establish your own website, and strengthen it over time. It helps all other efforts become that much more powerful and meaningful. I’ll reiterate what I said before, because it’s critical. If someone reads your work somewhere, or sees your tweets or whatever, they may fall in love—or just be curious—and want to read more from you. The most natural place for them to find out is to visit your website. If you don’t have a website, where are your readers supposed to find out this information? Are they supposed to dig for it? What if they want updates from you when a new work is released? Should they just kind of intuit when or where your new stuff appears? Or remember to look for it? I think that’s a lot to expect. Plus I don’t recommend authors rely solely on Facebook, LinkedIn, or some other network you can’t control to spread the word. Those networks come and go very quickly in the grand scheme of an author’s career.
When it comes to marketing, many people want a checklist of things to do. But beyond the basics, doesn’t it have to be a more organic process, and perhaps one that develops over time as an author learns his or her strengths and weaknesses?
Absolutely, yes. That’s true of marketing and platform building alike. This is a game that you have to play for the long haul. You’re not going to go home tonight, go through your checklist, and be done with it. You do little things every day. And eventually, efforts snowball. You need patience as well as faith that your efforts mean something.
There seems to be some bad blood brewing so far this year in the publishing industry. For example, Amazon has been criticised by people who worry about a monopoly situation. Do you think Amazon is getting too powerful, or are publishers and authors biting the hand that feeds them?
Amazon is powerful, but I don’t know if I’d call them too powerful. People far smarter than I have made some good arguments that verge on saying that, but without demonizing them. There are steps that publishers could take to lessen the power of Amazon, like dropping DRM (as the article I’ve linked to points out), and paying better ebook royalties to authors. But publishing companies aren’t run or structured in such a way to compete well with Amazon. What corporation is going to say, “Why, yes, let’s lose a huge chunk of our profit this year by giving our authors a bigger piece of the pie”? Until publishers feel dramatic pain, and take a hit to their bottom line, change will not happen.
Also, when I think of Amazon and the future of publishing, I also immediately think of Apple, Google, and Facebook. These companies dramatically affect how, where, and when we find content and engage with content. Yeah, Amazon’s important, but they’re just one player among many that impact publishing’s future.
How can an author increase the chance that their book will be a breakout hit?
1. Have an excellent relationship with your publisher, assuming you have one (including your editor, marketing team, and publicist). Make sure to the best of your ability you have their full support and that you’re giving them everything they need.
2. Set aside a budget for marketing and promotion. Even a few hundred dollars is helpful.
3. Hire a publicist for about 3-6 months to assist you in areas where your publisher will fail to do so, and to help you get media mentions.
4. Start your marketing and promotion plan 1 year before the book releases. Figure out where your target audience is active both online and offline. Start being known to that audience about a year before your book releases.
5. Identify all the major influencers/gatekeepers to your target audience. If it makes sense, personally approach them via e-mail with a guest post, marketing partnership, or something else that would be a win-win. If you can’t or shouldn’t approach them, talk with a publicist about how to do it.
Finally, imagine you meet an aspiring writer who thinks he or she can write a wonderful book, sell it to a big publisher, and make millions. What would you say to this writer?
I wish you the best of luck.