We're not an out-going, gregarious bunch of people as a rule. Writers, I mean. We work alone and talk to the computer screen a lot when things go wrong. The idea of encouraging other people to take notice of us fills many writers with horror, why would anyone want to do that? I'm no one, they say.
Actually, you're not. You are the creator of a story (plural if you're lucky) and all stories need audiences. Otherwise, what's the point?
The burning question every writer needs to ask themselves is this: how do people find out about me?
The writer as a product
It smacks of unbridled arrogance to think people out there, in the big wide world, might be interested in YOU as an author. After all, we've already established you are no one, right?
The best way to sell a book isn't with adverts, it's by word of mouth. It's when opinions are shared and recommendations are made. "Oh, you must read such-and-such! You'll love it!" Some of the time the recommendation will mention the book's title but as a writer, you need to get yourself established too. Even if you've only got one book on sale now, you'll have others in the future. That means establishing to the world at large - if you liked my first book, you're going to like the next one too!
This is how people like JK Rowling, Lee Child, Phillippa Gregory got established - we remember their names, they become the product. I've deliberately chosen those names because they represent specific genres, they're so well known we can do that, link the genre to them! Now, that might not be you, not yet! But when someone asks a friend for a recommendation in a particular genre, your writer's profile needs to be ready for them to find out more about you.
How do we buy anything these days? It involves product recognition. We associate various factors with the product itself. Take a look at the examples opposite. The Andrew puppy emphasizes a key quality, so does Hovis and its traditional baking values (along with Dvorak's largo from The New World symphony). If you're of a certain age you'll know the little aliens in the Smash advert retained its position as Favourite Advert for years. Ask yourself what springs to mind for the other three products.
Product recognition is vital. It boosts sales. Fact.
The same is true for the writer. You need to be clear who you are and what you represent.
Your profile should tell people not only the kind of books you write but clues that suggest more about those books. Product recognition needs to be simple and consistent. In this respect, you need a brand image. Something which links together everything you produce. This may seem false and too commercial for some people, you're a writer not a tin of beans! The fact is, this is the world in which we live. We are conditioned to think this way, to judge what we see in seconds and form an opinion. Unfair, yes! But that's life. For this reason, as a writer, you need to be recogniseable as a product.
Developing a media profile
We are a media obsessed society. Fact. You either work within the rules of the game or you sit outside it and watch. The latter will not get you known nor will it sell your books. Use the media to establish your profile. Here are some vital steps.
1. Build a website. It's not expensive these days and its not complicated. There are lots of platforms that let you do this, some of them for free (like WordPress). I like Wix because it's simple, reliable and has great support. You need a place on the internet where people can find you and your books. This is where your brand recognition starts. Get a landing page that defines you and your work. Provide the links to where people can buy your books, have a page that gives details about them, opening chapters they can read. Finally, maintain it! Keep it up to date so links don't break etc. but more on this coming up.
2. Drive traffic to your site. Sorry to go all techy on you here but get familiar with SEO - Search Engine Optimisation. Good platforms will help you do this (Wix are ace at this!). It means when people type in certain descriptions they will find your site. This is why your brand image is important, how do you define your books/writing? You need to know. Precisely! (Like specific words - that precise!). The more people you attract to your site, the more will find out about you and want to buy your books. An excellent way to do this is...
3. Start a blog. You're a writer, writing on a regular basis is good practice. Find topics that interest you and are linked to what you want to be known for. (I'm a fantasy writer, I blog about writing and speculative fiction in general). Posts don't need to be lengthy always but you do need them to be regular and sustained to encourage people to keep visiting your site. You might want to encourage visitors to provide their emails so you can send them newsletters about what you're doing - such as when a new book comes out. The regularity of your blog will support the growing relationship they have with you.
4. Get active on social media. This is a varied and complex topic so I'll keep this simple. Social media can be used to directly sell to people - you can buy adverts in Facebook (there are different views about the effectiveness here!) and you can use Twitter to show people your books. However, my suggestion - use social media to build a network of colleagues and friends. People who can help promote you obviously but also people who will share the same experiences you're having (the days of self-doubt, the search for a good cover artist or editor etc). Twitter especially has lots of wonderful writers who use it a lot. Hashtag #WritingCommunity and you'll find them easily. Have a Pinned Tweet which defines you and your work so others can Retweet it and spread the word.
5. Engage with bloggers. Look out for people who will review your work and post reviews. Be careful here. Check them out first, read their reviews. Make sure they are legitimate people who care about books, who understand your genre, who understand writing. Approach them politely and respectfully, they are doing you a favour remember! And be prepared for honest reaction. It's helpful to look for people who will say on their site that they won't post a review at all if it's 'not for them', rather than damage your reputation.
6. Look professional. Get photographs taken so you can appear everywhere in a way you're happy with. It's worth spending a bit of money to do this rather than use that photo of you at Roger's wedding! We want to know what kind of writer you are, not what kind of wedding guest. If you plan to go to conventions and book shop events, buy some banners to promote your work. Get business cards produced. Get yourself a professional, branded email account, not a personal one. You are a business person, look like one.
7. Establish yourself on the market if you're self-published. Get yourself an Amazon page that hosts your details and your books. Get a universal link which saves you having to list all the places with your books. The same is true for other online book stores. This is where branding counts a lot. Encourage people to post reviews on these sites so others get to know about you (remember the word-of-mouth topic earlier?). It's worth including a request to do this at the end of your novel, good reviews sell books.
8. Create sell sheets. If you plan on making appearances at events or you want your local newspaper to feature you (and include it on your website) a sell sheet provides all the pertinent facts. Book title, publisher, ISBN number, format (hardback, paperback, ebook), number of pages, genre, price, back page blurb, review quotes and availability (where will readers find it? bookstores? online?). Include an extract from the opening page as a hook, the book cover and your contact details. Journalists will like this especially.
All these things apply, regardless of whether you are traditionally or self-published. Publishers don't invest in authors much these days, you will need to do quite a lot of the legwork when it comes to selling you and your book. I appreciate many of these things will be daunting, like I said earlier, many of us don't find this easy or natural. But if you want to get established and sell your books, into which you have poured blood, sweat and tears - you must do it. It provides the respect you and your work requires. Don't undersell yourself. You have accomplished something extraordinary. Don't downplay its value!
If you've found this information helpful, feel free to share it but please include a reference to The Speculative Faction. Thanks!