It’s time for the harsh reality. Your novel is a product. In publishing, it’s competing with a million other titles. If you’re lucky beyond your wildest dreams, you’ll hit a homerun your first time at bat like J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter, or achieve the success Brian Keene did with The Rising and establish a wide following with your first novel. More than likely, as with the vast majority of authors, you will have to struggle to build your reputation. You will have to make the readers aware that your book is out on the market, convince them to purchase a copy, and hope that they like it enough to come back for more and/or talk about you on their blog or Facebook/Twitter. Up until now you’ve spent all your time writing that first book. Now you have to spend just as much time marketing it if you ever hope to see your second book published. Trust me on this one – I’m speaking from experience.
Publishing is an industry that has undergone radical changes in the past decade. Gone are the days when a publishing house had a small but reliable cache of authors and would devote its time and resources to making them successful. As noted earlier, the expansion of electronic publishing and the dominance of Amazon has drastically cut into the profits of most publishers and, by extension, a writer's royalties. The industry closely tracks book sales. If your book doesn’t sell well, for whatever reason, it will be increasingly difficult to place your manuscript with other publishers. Even if a writer self publishes, they must find a way to be heard above the background noise of a million other writers out their clamoring to sell their books. It’s a fact of life within the industry today.
The good news is, marketing yourself and your book is neither costly nor difficult, although it does require a considerable commitment of your time and some imagination.
Since you have a product to sell, you need a place to market it, so begin by setting up a blog. Don’t be too elaborate. The goal is to provide a forum to make readers aware of what you are doing (new releases, upcoming contests, attendance at conventions and book signings). As a new writer, there is no need to go out and spend hundreds of dollars setting up an elaborate webpage. A blog will do just fine. Keep it simple: a photo and brief bio, links to your social media and where to purchase your books, and links to other websites such as your publisher(s). One note of caution: put a lot of thought into the URL you use since this will be your brand name for the rest of your career. I opted to use my writing name. The down side to this is that unless someone is looking for me in particular, what are the chances they are going to type my name in the URL field? Others will set up a blog dedicated to their genre with a keyword like "zombie" or "vampire" in the text. The down side to this, of course, is that there are thousands of other URLs with those words in them.
Once you spend the time to create your blog, keep up with it. Try to post on your blog at least three days a week. If a potential fan clicks on your site and sees that it hasn’t been updated since the Cubs won the last World Series, they won’t bother following you. It takes half a day at most to set one up and only a few hours a week to maintain it. Also, be sure to keep the content interesting. While the blog's main intent is to keep readers updated on your writing, don't make the blog only about you how great you are, you’ll bore readers and lose followers.
“So that’s it? I set up a blog and I’m done marketing my book?"
In addition to a blog page, you will also need to establish an author’s account on some of the various social networking sites (SNS) available on the Internet. At the moment, Facebook and Twitter are the most common ones, although there are dozens of SNSs available.
“Cool. I love Facebook. I have a couple of dozen animals on Farmville that I’m taking care of.”
You’re missing the point. Your goal is to market your book, not to ask your friends for hay or create photo albums of your last trip to Europe.
Do not establish your web presence in a shot gun manner, joining every writing and genre-related blog you come across. I'll explain why in a minute. For now, join a few select groups to make your name known throughout the community. Begin with Goodreads. This site is dedicated to writers and readers and maintains numerous chat groups that span all genres. Beyond that, do your research and check out various blogs and forums/chat groups. You'll want to do the same on Facebook, liking or joining those that are specific to you. There are three important factors to keep in mind when researching this. One, make certain they are active, with people posting and/or commenting every day. Two, make sure that they're specific to what you're writing. If you write erotic vampire novels that are hardcore and violent in content, you will only be wasting your time on sites dedicated to those who read Stephanie Meyers. Finally, make sure you feel comfortable with the other members of the group and that you enjoy the discussions.
The reason for this is simple. To make a success in this industry, you are going to need to spend on average two hours a day marketing yourself and your books. The best way to accomplish that is to establish a reputation as an expert in your genre. And this is important, don’t use these sites just to talk about yourself and update people on your latest writing project. Discuss the latest books and movies in your genre, provide links to other sites that are of interest to you and may be of interest to your readers. When responding to others' comments, be respectful, Avoid controversial subjects and flame wars with fans and colleagues. This is one of those instances when bad publicity is worse than no publicity. If you take sides on political issues, militantly support certain causes, or publicly and consistently lambast a colleague as a hack who can’t write, you run the risk of losing major portions of your fan base. And don’t get discouraged if you don’t have a thousand followers at the end of the first week. This is an agonizingly slow process, so be patient. If you market yourself correctly and give it time, slowly but surely you’ll build up a following of fans who will want to read your book, who will tell their friends to read it, and who will eagerly await your next novel.
One final thought on marketing. Look for every opportunity you can find to get your name out there. Book signings and conventions are the typical mainstay of writers, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. Convince your local radio and television stations or newspapers to interview you as a hometown celebrity. Arrange virtual book tours (which is especially important if you’re an e-book author) where you have chat room discussions on various forums. Engage in Goodread giveaways. When your second book in the series is about to be released, give away the e-book version of the first book for a week to get people hooked and clamoring to buy the sequel. There are dozens of things you can do to publicize your book, all of which inevitably increase sales. Nothing is off the table. Quirk Books promoted their book Night of the Living Trekkies by creating a Hollywood-quality book trailer that went viral.
Well, that wraps up my blog series on how to get published. Any questions?
“Yeah. You just described a lot of work to go through to be a mid-list author. Why would anyone in their right mind want to write for a living?”
Good question. Let me answer that… next week.
FINAL BLOG: Why Would Anyone in Their Right Mind Want To Write for a Living?