There is one key thing about writing and publishing a book that many authors neglect or simply don’t think about: Publishing is a business and therefore needs to sell its product, which of course happens to be books. That said, getting the book written, getting the book published, that’s only half the battle. Now you have to sell the book. And the way you do that?
Marketing is perhaps one of Pat’s favorite topics to discuss here at SPI. There are a lot of tricks and strategies that can move the needle in your business marketing efforts and, yes, there are even some very targeted approaches that work specifically for books.
You know that your platform and your marketing efforts go hand-in-hand, so we talk about both in this chapter. If you’re an entrepreneur with a successful business the chances are that you already have an established platform, which is an awesome place to start. But—does that platform also identify you as an author, letting your audience know that you have (or may soon have) a book for them? If not, well, that’s something you’ll have to address. So let’s dig in, shall we? We’ll start with that author platform.
An author platform is a must-have for book authors these days, especially if you want to get a traditional book deal. But even if you’re self-publishing your book, you need a platform from which you can launch a book into the world.
Publishing expert and founder of an award-winning blog for writers Jane Friedman defines an author platform as “an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.” In this context, your author platform is about status and engagement: How much influence do you have in your genre or niche? How big is your social media reach and community? As in, how many Twitter followers do you have and how large is your existing audience? Basically, how many potential readers already exist who will be interested in buying your book? Remember, publishing is the business of selling books.
There are many ways to have a platform. Celebrities, of course, are well-known with thousands if not millions of followers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you ever wonder why celebrities get book deals―it’s because they have a built-in audience that gives them the ability to sell thousands of books. Publishers know that they will get a return on their investment.
Or, if you’re well-known in your field―say, an award-winning neurosurgeon who has been interviewed on NPR and featured in the New York Times―then you have a platform. Readers will recognize your name on the front cover of your book and be more likely to buy it.
If you have a personal blog that gets thousands of hits a day because your writing is just that hilarious or poignant, then you have a platform. Your blog readers will probably be more than willing to shell out $19.95 for your book because they already love the writing on your blog.
But for those of us who aren’t celebrities, aren’t well-known experts, and don’t have thousands of blog readers, don’t despair! It will take a bit of work to build your author platform. Keep in mind that building your platform isn’t just about the number of Twitter followers or Facebook page likes, it’s about being authentic, having a message, and truly wanting to connect with and help people. Let’s look at three ways to get started:
Build Authentic Connection
How do you connect with your audience, find common ground, share your story, and engage with them as authentically as you can muster?
There are many ways to connect with readers, but one must-have is a website. Your author platform starts there. It gives your readers a place to connect with you. It’s like your digital home base, a place you can direct your readers to learn everything they need to know about you.
Social media is also a must-have these days. Having a presence on at least two social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram give potential readers exposure to who you are and your message. But your website is the only place online where you have total control. Algorithms control what your followers see on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But you control what you put on your website.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you need to be authentic. This means you need to be passionate about your message and what you have to offer to the world. The best author platforms grow organically because people tend to flock to writers who have something important to say, who are passionate and vulnerable. If you’re just putting stuff on your website or on Instagram in order to grow your audience, your readers will sense your inauthenticity.
Building an author platform isn’t just connecting with your audience, it’s being visible in venues that get your message and writing noticed by a bigger audience and people in the publishing industry. Are people reading your writing? How is your writing shared? Where is it shared, and by whom? Are people responding to your writing, in blog post comments, on social media, in response to a monthly email newsletter you send?
Beyond your website, try to get articles and essays published in well-known publications, attend writers conferences and network with other writers, editors, and agents. Maybe you have an expertise and can land speaking gigs at conferences. Start a podcast, or a YouTube channel. You have many ways to gain visibility.
One author we know wrote an article for a small online publication. Her article, about how being the mother of biracial children was helping her to come to grips with her white privilege, hit a nerve and ended up going viral on social media and within a few days over 100,000 people had read the article. Bingo. Suddenly, she had gained visibility and she was able to use that to get an agent and a book contract.
It’s important that you show up. Think about where you can go to get your message out into the world.
Find and Grow Your Tribe
An author platform is also about knowing and growing your target audience. Or, as best-selling author Jeff Goins, who wrote the books The Art of Work and Real Artists Don’t Starve calls it, “your tribe.” A tribe is a group of people who you identify with―it could be a group of friends, people who you attend church with, or who have the same hobby. It’s a group of people who care about the same things you care about.
Your target audience, your tribe, is composed of the people who will most likely benefit from your book; they are the people who want to read what you have to say, the people you want to read your book, the people you want to connect with and engage with.
Let’s say, for example, you wrote a book about DIY beekeeping. Obviously, your target audience is composed of people who are interested in starting their own beekeeping operation at home. You will need to find out where to connect with these people—is there a Facebook group you could join? A beekeeping magazine where you could pitch articles? A beekeeping conference where you could give a workshop? Knowing your target audience and how to reach them is critical, regardless of whether are self-publish or land a traditional book deal.
When you start writing about something you’re passionate about, you will probably, by default, start growing your tribe. Those are the people who will flock to your blog to learn more about whatever interest is bringing you together (whether it’s beekeeping, how to build an online business, parenting, etc.).
When you know who your tribe is, and how to connect with them, your platform will grow. It will also help you to focus on the topics and message on what your tribe will care about. And it will help you to be clear with a publisher exactly what target audience will be interested in your book.
Tools for Building Your Platform
If you’re an entrepreneur with an existing business, chances are that you already have a website and social media profiles to support that business. But if you’re starting out as an author without an existing business, where do you start to set up your author platform? Let’s look at the essentials.
Your author website is your online home base. As early as the idea stage, you should be thinking through where people will land when you share the concept of your book. An author website is where you can share more about who you are, why you write, where people can buy your book (or books!), and how people can get in touch with you. Entrepreneurs with websites branded for their business or product should consider starting a site dedicated solely to this new aspect of your online presence: your author persona. We recently did this here at SPI and Pat now has a site that differentiates him and his books from the SPI business as a brand.
Finding the Right URL (and How to Snag It)
The first step in building an author website is finding the right website address or URL. If you’re not building your own website using platforms like Squarespace or WordPress, you’ll want to use a third-party domain host to secure your URL. Domain hosts such as Bluehost are user-friendly and offer fairly inexpensive services. Once you choose the domain hosting service you feel best suits your needs, it’s time to start searching!
When it comes to URLs, many authors use their full names, but it’s important to keep your options open as you start your search. Many URLs with the .com suffix are taken, but if YourName.com is taken, you can opt for a domain like YourName.co or YourName.is. Or consider adding your middle name or middle initial. If you use your middle initial on your book cover, it is completely appropriate to add it to your URL. The goal, here, is to find a URL that people will easily find when they search for your name.
Including the Right Content on Your Website
When it comes to considering the types of content you’ll want to include on your author website, we always try to reiterate the concept of it being your home base for your persona as an author. Remember, this is different from your primary business website. From your homepage to your contact form, you’ll have the opportunity to share your story as an author.
- Homepage: Set the tone for what your readers can expect as they move throughout the site. Add a little content about who you are and what people can expect from your work, along with some visual elements like photos or graphics.
- About: This page is your bio page, where you give readers more detail about who you are. Let readers know any relevant experience you’ve had in your area of expertise. Give them a glimpse into your life and why they should read your book.
- Book Landing Pages: Book landing pages are crucial when it comes to selling your book, so we recommend focusing a decent amount of time here. The goal of a landing page is to get the reader to click to pre-order or buy the book.
- Blog: Keep your readers informed of things like book news, tour dates, and scheduled events.Use your blog to allow readers to get a glimpse into your process. Share stories about how and why you do what you do.
- Press: Creating a relationship with media contacts is incredibly valuable for authors. Keep that relationship going long after the interview ends by linking to the story on your website.
- Contact: Be specific about how people can contact you. More importantly, let readers know why they the should (or shouldn’t) be contacting you.
What to Include On Your Book Landing Page
A book landing page lives on your website and can be fairly simple, but it is a crucial element in directing your audience to all of the places your book is sold. Thanks to Amazon, it is easy to think that book landing pages have become obsolete. However, we are here to tell you that simply isn’t the case!
Book landing pages are an opportunity to let the reader in on the story of the book. Readers who end up on your landing page want to know more about your book. You can share more about why you’ve written the book, include a video trailer, cover images, reader-generated social media photos of your book out there in the world, reviews, and—most importantly—links to everywhere your book is sold.
One important thing to consider is that every book deserves its own landing page—even if the books are part of a series or trilogy. You have written multiple books for a reason and each book should get treated as such! It is very likely that your readers are looking for information regarding a specific book and your best chance of selling them a book is by getting them directly to the information they need with as little friction as possible.
Social media can be an amazing opportunity to interact with your community, but it can also be a huge time commitment. Here are a few things to consider before diving in and finding yourself overwhelmed:
It’s crucial to find the right platform(s) for you and your readers. You may feel as though you need to have a presence everywhere and that’s not necessarily the case. Finding one or two platforms that are likely places for your audience to hang out and interacting regularly in those spaces is your best bet. Not only will you avoid social media burnout (it’s a real thing—trust us!), but you’ll also be able to better nurture your community. Let’s take a look at the three most popular platforms and how they might be useful to you:
- Twitter is great for having short conversations with your readers, fellow authors and others who might be interested in what you’re creating (like media outlets and personalities—we’ll get to that later in the chapter!).
- Instagram is perfect if you either have a visual story to tell or you have the ability to create visuals and relate them back to your brand. It’s also a great place to share photos of you and your life, giving readers another glimpse at who you are.
- Facebook is used by many authors to create public or private groups focused on their book topic or niche and, while those groups can take a great deal of time and energy to manage, they can be successful promotional tools and ways to connect with your ideal readers.
When it comes to building a social media presence, part of the challenge is managing that presence without spending every waking minute on social media, especially if you already have a presence for your business. So remember to employ your knowledge and skills from running your business to running your author identity: batch your work, use an automated scheduling tool, cross promote if you already have a successful brand, and limit your time for daily engagement.
Here are a few additional tips to define your author platform. No need to do everything, but start with a website and add things from there as you feel comfortable.
- Determine your message and what you’re passionate about
- Create a website that includes a blog
- Show up consistently, whether that’s on your blog, social media, or other outlet
- Pick two social media platforms to build your author following
- Start a podcast
- Write articles or essays for other publications
- Network with authors to learn as much as you can from them
- Get speaking engagements at conferences in your area of expertise
- Start sharing about your book to your email subscribers.
Ideally, it’s important to start building your platform long before you publish a book, and if you’re starting with a following from your business then you’re ahead of the game. By the time your book is published, you will need to start promoting it. And that’s what we’re going to talk about in the next section.
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Now that you know all about what it means to build an author platform, let’s talk about how you can leverage that platform when it’s time to market and sell your book. Your author platform, and promoting your book, go hand-in-hand.
Authors often find themselves either completely unsure of where to start or overwhelmed by the options available for book promotion. It’s easy to see why that might be the case. Authors, like yourself, have birthed a story of some sort. Perhaps you’ve created a fantastic work of fiction. Maybe you’re poised to put forth the book that will help others launch the next great business idea. Whatever the case may be, you’re proud of what you’ve created—protective of it, even. So protective that it’s hard to imagine putting it out into the world for others to read, review, and (gasp!) critique.
We know. You’ve worked hard to get this far. You’ve stayed up late into the night and woken before the sun and the rest of the world just to put pen to paper. That’s why it’s so important for you to get this right.
One caveat here is something you’ll want remember: we are all in control of our own story. Once your book is out there in the world, those words on the page are no longer just yours. Those words now also belong to the readers who purchase the book. However, the story you tell on your website, your social media accounts, through your launch activities, and via the media is all up to you.
The outreach you do for your book will be in the form of a pitch of some kind. You, as the author can do this work yourself, however, it can be time consuming. If you choose to hire a publicist to assist you with this part of your marketing plan, we highly recommend working with someone who understands book publicity and has done this type of work before.
Regardless of whether you will be hiring someone or doing the work yourself, it is important for you to understand the process.
Types of Media Outlets & How They Work
For the sake of simplification, we label any platform to which you might pitch your story as media. Gone are the days of media including only newspaper, magazine, television, and radio journalism. In today’s world, the media includes every type you could imagine, from glossy print magazines and local television news stations to bloggers and podcast hosts. Let’s break down how to find and work with each type of media to spread the word about your work.
Television news media outlets, both local and national, operate twenty-four hours a day due to the immediacy of information. As an author, you will likely be looking for news segments that either fit one or more themes found in your book or segments that allow you to position yourself as an expert. You will want to familiarize yourself with your local and national networks to get a better understanding of what segment opportunities you would like to pursue.
We often hear about how print is dying, but we are here to tell you—it is alive and well. As you pitch your story. It will be important for you to research each publication you want to approach as each newspaper or magazine will have their own publishing schedule. Newspapers are printed daily, alt-weekly publications are published weekly (and sometimes bi-weekly), and magazines can go to print monthly, every other month, quarterly, semi-annually and annually. You’ll want to get a good grasp on their lead times before pitching so that you don’t miss any print deadlines.
Online Publications & Blogs
Online publications and blogs tend to run the gamut—some operate similarly to print magazines with editorial calendars planned out months in advance while others write each post as it comes. The best bet for authors who are looking to be featured by these types of publications is to look for particular columns. Does the blog or publication run an interview series? Do they often tap people for their expertise on a certain topic? Do they regularly feature books in online book clubs or giveaways? One important thing to note is that these types of publications often run sponsored content alongside their other coverage, which is usually a pay-to-play scenario.
Many podcasts are weekly interview shows, like the SPI Podcast, and are broadcast across multiple platforms (web, mobile) and can be created in multiple mediums (video, audio). More often than not, podcasts are focused on a certain topic or industry and you’ll want to research exactly what the podcast host is looking for prior to pitching your story. We always recommend reading the description of a show (often on the show's website and in iTunes) and listening to several episodes to get a feel for how the show operates.
Building Media Relationships Before You Need Them
Just as it is important to get an understanding of the media outlets you want to approach, it is equally as important to research those who actually produce the stories. Whether we are talking about on-air reporters, podcast hosts, blog editors, or freelance writers, digging a little deeper will enable you to reach out to the people who can help you share your story through their respective media outlets.
The most obvious way to learn about the types of stories each person produces is read, watch, or listen to their work! You would be amazed what you can learn, once you start paying attention to more than just the story itself. When it comes to finding the best way to contact someone, oftentimes a simple Google search will lead to more information, but you can also check social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to try to find email addresses where you can send a press release or pitch.
One of the best tips we can offer when considering your media outreach plan is to start early and build relationships through interaction with the media contact’s work. This is best accomplished through social media, but a brief email regarding one of their recent stories isn’t a bad idea. The goal is to genuinely express interest in the writer, podcaster or editor’s work long before you ever ask them to do something for you. Treating your interaction with the media as a healthy relationship—one based on give and take—is always the best approach.
Pitching Yourself, Your Book, and Your Story
When it comes to reaching out to the media, there are many important things to keep in mind, but there are a few simple tips that will help you hit the ground running as soon as you’re ready to pitch.
- It’s not about you. Ouch! We know—it can be tough to remember this one—but you always want to pitch a blogger, journalist, or host in a way that makes them feel as though you completely understand their audience. Think about how your story and your book will help their audience members in some way.
- Sometimes it’s not about the book. Wait—what? You just wrote this amazing book and you want to tell everyone about it! Truth be told, most of the time the product itself isn’t what interests journalists. What’s more interesting is your story and how it will help the audience. Why did you write the book? How did you find the time to write it? What challenges have you faced in life that made this book worth writing? Those stories are interesting.
- Editorial calendars matter. It can be so tempting to type up a pitch email and send it out to your whole media contact list all at once. The problem with sending mass emails is that print magazines have much longer lead times than blogs, which have longer lead times than daily newspapers, which have longer lead times than most local TV news journalists. You get the idea. Think about when each specific person or media outlet will need your story. Then pitch accordingly!
- Keep media relationships strong. Regardless of whether or not a media outlet covers your story or features your book, it’s crucial to remember that members of the press are human beings just like you. Their job isn’t their life (most of the time) and they want to feel both valued and validated. Be sure to start connecting with media outlets and journalists long before you ask them for something. If your story does get featured, share the you-know-what out of it on social media. Journalists these days are judged not only by the quality of their work, but by the reach of their stories. Be sure to keep in touch with the contacts you make by staying engaged on social media!
Putting It All Together
So now that you know many of the outlets and ways you can promote your book, how do you put it all together? How do you know where to start? It’s a good idea to create a launch strategy. Here’s an example of a basic launch strategy for a hypothetical author who is the CEO of a successful online business. Notice how the plan supports the author’s identified goals for writing and publishing the book.
Book Launch Strategy Example
This book will be a platform and a jumping-off point for Jane to start and continue an important conversation that she wants to have about her industry. She would like to do more public speaking, develop workshops and trainings, and attend and host events for the industry. She would like to get out of client service work so that she can focus on building her business and community.
Jane’s goals for publishing a book, in order of priority, are:
- To get paid more for speaking engagements so that 100 percent of her salary comes from speaking. The book will establish Jane as an authority and leader in the industry.
- To help as many people as possible. Jane doesn’t expect to make money from the book; she would rather give it away so that people can get to know her and invite her to speak at their events. She does not have a list to sell to, and so she understands that it may be a slow burn on making money.
- To publish the book by the end of the year. Her business gets a lot of inquiries at the beginning of a new year, and Jane would like to maximize the impetus that people have for seeking help.
The following strategies will help to bring awareness to Jane and her new book.
Jane should set up a website for herself, which can be dedicated to promoting and selling the book as well as establishing herself as an author and speaker, and ultimately as a leader in her industry. Initial thoughts for a simple author website architecture:
- Buy buttons
- Speaking reel
Add a homepage treatment to promote the book, linking directly to Jane’s author website. Update the about page and Jane’s bio to include the book info, linking to author website and where to buy.
Every existing client should get a copy of the book as a gift as soon as it is available. Send it with a personalized note, and ask them to leave a review on Amazon.
When new clients are signed, send them a copy of the book with a personalized note (asking for the Amazon review) as part of a welcome package.
Send a copy of the book to Jane’s network, both personal and professional (including the company’s team), again with a personalized note asking for an Amazon review.
Conduct a podcast tour, in which Jane appears as a guest on as many podcast shows as possible. It is ideal if as many episodes on which Jess appears go live around the same time. Here’s an example ideal schedule:
- Month 1: Jane (or someone on her team) pitches podcast shows to secure guest appearances
- Month 2: Jane conducts as many interviews as possible
- Month 3: Book is published
- Month 4: Shows publish Jane episode
Select five to ten strategic partners in complementary industries with established audiences and invite them to host joint webinars. Choose one specific aspect from the book to present or teach that would be tailored to the audience and give them a quick win. Collaborate with each partner to give away prizes such as copies of the book, copies of webinar host’s book, a one-hour consultation with the author, etc. Make a list of ten potential webinar partners.
Select five strategic blogs and write value-driven guest posts. Make a list of five potential guest posting opportunities.
Social media promotion can get overwhelming with so many different outlets. We recommend choosing two or three main channels and focusing efforts there. Some suggestions include:
- Update bio to include book title
- Update header image to include photo of book
- Establish a hashtag for the book
- Pre-write and schedule promotional tweets to align with podcast tour, webinar tour, blog tour, launch party
- Reply, like, and RT everything on the hashtag
- Update bio to include book title and book hashtag
- Update bio to also include author website url
- Use the same Twitter hashtag with every book post
- Plan and schedule promotional posts to align with podcast tour, webinar tour, blog tour, launch party
- Encourage followers to post pics of the book, using hashtag; comment and like everything on the hashtag. Reshare posts from the hashtag
- As soon as book is available, add it to Goodreads and complete the book page
- Jane should then claim her author page by identifying herself as the book’s author via the book page
- Message your Goodreads friends ask them to add the book to their “to-read” shelf, and to write a review
- Follow groups in the book genre; befriend the moderator
Inquire about an Author Chat with group moderators
Potential event opportunities include:
- Launch party
- Bring the company team together
- Bring clients together, if they are local and able to attend
- Announce and promote the book, with copies available to give away and to sell, if clients want more copies to give their colleagues and friends
- Create content for sharing later on with a video or livestream of event on IG, FB, or YouTube
- Future industry events, conferences, holiday parties, have book available to sell or give away
- Speaking engagements; inquire about a book table for speakers
The final thing to keep in mind as you plan to promote your book is to get creative. Marketing and selling your book can be hard work, but it can also be a lot of fun! (Launch party, anyone?) To make it sustainable, try to put your efforts into outlets that you enjoy. If you don’t like public speaking, maybe put more of your energy into a blog tour or promoting your book on social media. If public speaking is one of your strengths, then by all means, try to schedule speaking events or start a podcast. While promoting you book may force you to go out of your comfort zone at times, you’ll find that you will be more successful if you focus more on the things you love doing and that you’re good at. Now go out there and let the world know about your book!
Next up, let’s take a closer look at marketing strategies for two of Pat’s books, Will It Fly? and Superfans.