This past week I was teaching an online class to RWA’s Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter about the role of the literary agent in today’s digital publishing paradigm. And one of the areas I know a lot about (after 20-plus years as the founder and CEO of a public relations agency in the Silicon Valley during its heyday) is marketing.
When writers decide to self-publish eBooks and/or POD (print on demand) books, it quickly becomes clear what they are giving up by not going with a traditional publisher. Besides professional editing, cover design, distribution and sales effort, I think marketing might be the most important missing element in so many digital authors’ works. So I thought I’d share the final lesson I taught today about creating a digital marketing plan to promote and ultimately sell your self-published book.
Here are some ideas of how you can develop and implement a comprehensive digital marketing plan that you can refine over time depending on which elements work most effectively for you and your writing. I also wanted to share what your agent should be doing to help you with this critical task.
Digital Marketing Plan
1. Plan a Strategy Session with your agent to discuss how to integrate eBooks and digital publishing into your writing career.
By defining what you want now, you’ll both be on the same page moving forward. Now is the time to look over your contract and see if you want to amend it to hold out short fiction, back list, experimental fiction, articles, books made from blog posts, etc. These might do well as eBooks, but not so well with the traditional media who is publishing your other books. And if your agent does not want to be involved with initiatives that won’t make a lot of money up front, then you should do it yourself and not be limited by what large NY publishers think will sell well.
2. Develop your Author Brand.
During this initial strategy session, work with your agent to determine what your ideal, unique author brand is. This is especially important for online marketing endeavors. It’s not enough to say you are a writer of paranormal romance. You need to get more granular; dig deeper and get more unique and specific. Perhaps you specialize in answering the question, “What does it mean to be human?” if you’re writing about interspecies relationships. Or “the unique challenges of being a hybrid creature who does not really fit in anywhere.” If you can make it even more specific than that, do it. Then you’ll always know your game plan for your next book or series as well. And it will help you build an audience more quickly.
3. Prepare your eBook manuscript for posting on Smashwords, Amazon’s Kindle Publishing Platform and Barnes and Noble PubIt!
This will include the following steps that you could and should learn to do yourself, but your agent should help you with any problem areas by pointing out sites or books or resources that will help you achieve your goals (e.g. names of cover artists, names of indie authors to approach for endorsements, overall information about POD options, etc.) At minimum, you need to focus on these items:
- Formatting your eBook correctly for each eBook distributor
- Selection of eBook sites (mainly the three I mentioned earlier, but this landscape is changing so rapidly it is best to keep up with developments)
- POD copies (there are new options for printed books!)
- Cover art (find a good, cheap graphic designer or artist because your cover is too important to look like crap.)
- Cover and inside blurbs (write these yourself or find someone to do it for you)
- Endorsements (networking produces great results here!)
- Posting (actual posting can take hours or days, so be prepared with a lot of patience)
4. Use effective online and offline marketing tactics once you’ve posted your eBook, to increase its sales potential.
This is the biggest factor in determining the success of your online digital publishing efforts. I believe that authors such as Amanda Hocking, JA Konrath and Zoe Winters are successful as much because of their prolific online messaging as because of their writing quality and popularity. Sure, if they were hacks they’d get one book sale per reader, then the bad comments would sink them overall. They are good writers. But they are even better at marketing themselves and their author brand online using free or relatively cheap social media tools. You can tell they are enjoying themselves while tweeting and blogging and creating those YouTube book trailers. Plus, they are learning and evolving at a rapid pace to keep ahead of the curve. Here are some areas where you need to market yourself and your books.
- Your own blog and website (This is the number one way to market yourself and your work. Good thing you’re a writer, because you have an advantage here over non-writers.)
- Book reviews (online and offline…but mostly blog reviews online. Critical to your book’s success. Create a list and work it.)
- Guest Blogs (A must! Reciprocate with other indie authors.)
- Blog comments on other blogs (a great way to enter a community and get noticed. Each blog where you participate gains you new audience members. Kind of like a Ven diagram that is ever expanding.)
- Video Book trailers (Oh, yeah. This is a must. They give shape and action to your book and author brand. Shows off personality. And anyone with a video camera or basic knowledge of how to use clip art and music can build one.)
- Use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Linked In, etc.)
- Goodreads/Library Thing/Social Living: Books (Be an active part of these communities)
- Business Cards (you still need these for cons, signings and personal contact)
- Bookmarks (I think these are overdone, but they are a physical reminder of your digital book and author brand so in that respect they are useful)
- Postcards (nice to send to your fan base in advance of appearances…can be virtual too)
- Press Releases (old school, and I prefer HARO, but if the news is big enough…)
Okay…so this is a lot of work but you should try each of these ideas, see which ones work for you, discard or minimize the ones that don’t work so well, and move forward. This space is changing so much and so rapidly, what worked for you today may not work for you a year from now. So also be a student of digital publishing and remain involved in new developments. You’ll be shocked at the results (in a good way, I hope.)