Thursday, July 21, 2011

How Does a Writer Market Their Books?

How Does a Writer Market Their Book? That is the question everyone is asking. It seems as though in order to be successful today, a writer has to be part public relations specialist, part marketing guru, and part social network dweeb in order to keep up with changes in the industry. With all that, where does a writer find time to do what we all have a passion for—actually write?

In today’s market a writer is forced to promote themselves and their books in order to succeed and thus get another contract to write more books. Publishers want people (good writers or not) who have larger and more varied platforms from which to sell their books. That’s why even marginally talented pastors from big churches seem to get published with ease. Personally, I find self-promotion to be very uncomfortable. Unless you’re a narcissist it is often difficult to self-promote and still maintain your integrity (and not be annoying). I’d gladly do my craft and ministry for free if I could figure out how to pay the bills. But, our culture today values image over substance and notoriety over content. I know many agents and editors say that good writing is the key to getting published, and maybe so. But, good writing does not appear to successfully sell books. At least I have read many wonderfully written books that languished in obscurity while other books that weren’t worth the paper they were written on have sold millions of copies.

So here are some strategies that I have used (with varying degrees of success) to promote my ministry and writing. Like nearly all small businesses (which you are as a writer) I am underfunded and overworked. My challenge is to efficiently find ways to utilize the little amount of time I have effectively and economically. There are a plethora of great ideas I would like to and should do if I only had the time, money, and resources available (for instance I would love to do a daily or weekly radio program).

When I signed my first book contract, I was a completely unknown, na├»ve, and inexperienced writer. Literally, God put me in that circumstance. One thing I was smart enough to vow was that I would do absolutely everything in my power to develop positive relationships with everyone associated with the publishing of my book. I treated everyone I interacted with the respect and dignity that I would want to be treated—from editors, to graphic designers, to sales and marketing personnel. I truly believe that because the people at my publisher enjoy working with me that perhaps they give just a little extra for my cause than they might for other, less agreeable authors.

Perhaps the biggest (and most obvious) key to selling books is garnering exposure for the book and the author personally. Regardless of what one thinks of Rob Bell’s new book, it was a stroke of genius to get everyone’s panties in a bunch about its “controversial” content and thus garner millions of dollars of free publicity. Another way of getting exposure for a writer is to speak in front of audiences (the bigger the better—although any is better than none). This develops intimacy with your audience and gives you instant credibility (provided you are a half-way decent speaker). At conferences I sell a ton of books after speaking, and very few before I speak. Speaking and selling books seems to have a symbiotic relationship. The more I speak the more books I sell, and the more books I sell the more speaking engagements I get. Unfortunately, publishers do not seem to recognize this or (with very few exceptions) are at least reluctant to help their authors get speaking engagements (even though they know this relationship exists).

Everyone tells me that social media is the newest and best way to get exposure, and they are probably right. For someone of my age and gender though I am a bit challenged with social media. While I do have a significant Facebook presence, as a male I probably am not very good at developing the “chatty” kinds of relationships that seem to breed success through this venue. I do see many female writers however, who utilize this application very successfully (yes that probably sounds sexist—but true nonetheless). Of more importance from my perspective is developing actual relationships with my readers. Since I honestly care about my readers I go out of my way to make their experience a “personal” one any way I can. For instance, I always answer all my emails personally, and have even been known to speak with readers on the phone from time to time. That relationship then inspires them to want to help promote my books to their friends and family.

Also, I’m not sure I “get” Twitter. It seems like a monumental waste of time to me. I find it hard to believe that people as busy as Rick Warren or Mark Driscoll have the time to send out dozens of “twits” every day like I get from them. They must have assistants doing this for them. Either that or I am totally misusing my time. And I don’t often have the time to create a consistent, compelling blog to send out frequently (of which Rachelle Gardner’s and Michael Hyatt’s are two of the best). All that to say, I often pray for a young, techno-savvy administrative assistant to (inexpensively) come along and help drag me kicking and screaming into the blogasphere. I recently bit the bullet and hired a social networking consultant and she paid for herself almost instantly.

I’ve found that video blogs work pretty well to attract consumers’ attention, as do book trailers. They generate a more personal connection with the audience than just words on a computer screen. Again though, as a one-man company, it requires a lot of time, money, and energy to create, edit, and post even simple videos on sites like God Tube, You Tube, and Vimeo (and however many new ones have cropped up since I wrote this). And once posted how do you get people to actually watch them?

One area that seems to have worked well for me, even though it is somewhat difficult to track, is performing large numbers of radio and TV interviews. I worked very hard to develop a good radio presence and to have an interesting and compelling story when I appear on radio shows. This means I get asked back frequently. This exposure, combined with all the other areas mentioned above, provides multiple opportunities and venues for people to be exposed to my name, books, and message.

All that to say writing the book is the easy part. Marketing and selling your book is an entirely different and much more difficult endeavor. I think the key is to understand your strengths and spend your time and resources in those areas. For me personally, speaking to live audiences, doing radio and TV interviews, writing articles for magazines and blogs, and utilizing video clips as often as possible seems to work best. For others that may mean effectively using social networking, blogging, and e-book giveaways. Either way it’s imperative to develop a strong platform if you expect to get published (and re-published) in today’s competitive environment.