Now that I've moderated two panels on social media for writers, I see that there are a lot of folks who are looking for practical and timely advice on how to promote their books. Not that I'm a marketing guru, but I spend a lot of time observing what other authors do and thinking about the impact of changes in technology on promotion, so I decided to start providing some tips on the blog.
The first one will be on the importance of mailing lists. I think if you asked writers a few years ago, as MySpace was growing, if mailing lists were important, a lot of people would've said 'no'. Why bother compiling names and email addresses when (1) people were moving to social sites like MySpace, Facebook, etc to reach people. After all, the point of social sites was that it had the potential to go viral when one person told their network of friends within the site? There was also some debate that (2) people weren't using their email as much to communicate, especially the under 30 crowd.
With the recent changes in both the publishing industry and Facebook, though, building a healthy mailing list seems like a smart idea.
Book sales are moving online. Various sources report that more books were sold through online outlets than brick-and-mortar stores this year. That's for both print and ebooks. It's sad, of course. We all love bookstores and want them to be around forever. But people are doing more of their purchasing online, whether for books or anything else, for both convenience and price. Couple that with the fact that consumers have come to expect convenience with our online purchases; we decide instantly and we want the purchase to be quick and painless. One click, two at the most. So you want to take advantage of that by getting the links to buy your books in front of your customers.
But doesn't Amazon do that for me? Well, yes, maybe, sometimes. Amazon can't flood their customers' mailboxes with ads for your books. And the algorithm for their recommendation engine can be changed at any time to push some other author's book rather than yours. Besides, what about your customers who don't like to buy from Amazon?
Isn't your Facebook page like a mailing list? I've got 7,000 FB friends--why do I need to bother with a mailing list? The truth is that you don't really have control over whether all your FB friends or 'likers' see your posts. The algorithm determines it. This is because Facebook is now too big to show every single person every single one of your posts (unless they 'subscribe' to your posts. But that's another battle and who knows if this feature will continue?) Unless you have very few FB friends, (and thusly fewer posts for FB to push to you) you're only seeing posts from the people you interact with most frequently. That's why on FB business pages you now have the option of paying $5 to 'promote' a particular post. The algorithm will push the post to more of your 'likers' for three days, so a higher percentage of your fans will see it. (Don't forget, the rules for personal FB pages and business pages are different.)
Direct marketing is important again for writers. Start collecting names and email addresses now. In my experience, building a mailing list is slow. One person at a time, just like building an audience. For a future column, I'll talk about some things you can do to build your mailing list more quickly. Before you do that, however, you want to think about how you're going to handle your mailings. Using an email service is the most convenient way and there are several free or practically free ones available: Vertical Response, Mail Chimp, and Emma are a few. There are more. I'm not endorsing any one over another, just giving you some ideas of where to start.
One key consideration is exportability of the mailing list, in case you decide at some point to switch email providers. None of these services will make it easy for you to move to another provider, of course. But since you might find yourself locked in to the provider for a while, you want to make sure you're going to happy with their services.
If you plan to draft your own newsletters or mailings, you'll want to check out each services' templates. Make sure it's at your comfort level--not too complicated or too simple--and that they have designs that you feel represent the image you want for your books. Ask your author friends which service they use and if they're happy with it.
The importance of studying exemplars: Another idea to consider as you think about your mailings is to subscribe to your favorite successful author's newsletter to study their technique. Is their newsletter heavy on graphics? (Unless you're pretty handy with Photoshop, you'll need a graphic designer to put stuff together for you and this gets expensive. Think about what simple yet effective graphics might work for you.) What features do they put in their newsletters--a contest? a quiz? links to new free content such as a short story? A newsy letter about what's going on in their lives? Think about what's realistic for you to maintain (if you're producing this yourself).
Here's my suggestion: sign up for MJ Rose's newsletter. She does a nice job. She doesn't mail too frequently; she includes interesting tidbits that tie back to her latest project; and she usually gives a shout-out to new releases she thinks would be of interest to her readers.
Got a favorite author newsletter? Please give us his or her name in the comments section below so we can all benefit.