In reviewing my list of 10 tips for self-publishing in 2017, one of the most intimidating tasks for me is the idea of creating a fan base. Where does one begin? What works, and what doesn’t? My head spins at the thought of accomplishing such a big task.
Despite my questions, I’ve been assured by several authors that it’s important to have this done well before the book comes out. From author websites and blogs to social media accounts and mail lists, we’re going to take a look at how to overcome this obstacle on the road to successful self-publishing.
It takes a long time to write a book. When the actual writing process is through, there are still several rounds of edits to get through before a manuscript is ready to be published. Once the first book is out, writers are encouraged to get to work on the next story because your readers will want more—and soon. Blogging is a great way to build your readership before the book launches and also maintain front-of-mind awareness so your followers don’t forget about you.
Gail Ingis, author of Indigo Sky, writes a blog post every week. “For those who want to market themselves through a blog, writing about the (novel’s) subject and sharing opinions and suggestions is probably wise,” she says. “My blog is purely entertainment. From time to time, I blog about writing, designing and historic events. I try to make the posts more personal rather than informative.”
Eric Vance Walton, a novelist, poet, and blogger, recommends blogging about your book’s characters as well as the behind-the-scenes process of writing a novel and your frustrations with the process. “People are fascinated by all of this, and it creates a lot of anticipation for your book,” he says.
When it comes to social media, author Nina Mizner advises that it’s never too early to create your social media accounts. You can use these accounts to promote your author website and your weekly blog posts, although Mizner warns that your content should be about more than just promotions for your book. She recommends doing some research on your favorite authors to see the different ways they utilize social media and the types of fresh content they share.
Ingis utilizes social media in addition to her weekly blog. She uses The Killion Group, a marketing company with experience in publishing, to post for her on Facebook and Twitter five days a week. From her experience, following those on social media who follow her also helps grow her reach.
When creating your social media accounts for promotional purposes, make sure you are using the sites that are popular with your targeted audience. For instance, if you write young adult novels, Instagram—NOT Facebook—is where you want to set up camp. This will require some research, but it’s something you definitely want to get right in order for your efforts to be worthwhile.
Mail lists are a great way to stay in touch with your readers, and Constant Contact and MailChimp are great sites that simplify this process. Both sites will manage your email database for you. Constant Contact has a monthly fee, but MailChimp is free once you reach a certain number of subscribers. Beware: when you use these sites, the subscribers must sign up. You cannot add whoever you want to the list without their permission.
Sandy Tritt, founder and CEO of Inspiration for Writers, uses Constant Contact for marketing and says creating a mail list is important because newsletters are a great way to keep your name in front of your followers. There is a link to a sign-up form on Inspiration for Writers’ website. “Whenever I set up at a book festival or some such thing, I often do a door prize drawing for those who fill out the subscription form at my booth,” she says.
Walton drives people to the subscription form on his website through links on his social media and blog posts. “This way, I can build my own lists for free, and I know the people on the lists have at least a mild interest because they signed up.” His newsletter offers exclusive content, such as updates on new releases, speaking engagements, and workshops and classes. He uses the newsletter to make this information available weeks before sharing it anywhere else so there is incentive for fans to subscribe.
Out of all of these marketing options there are bound to be things that work and things that don’t. Here are a few these authors have had good experience with.
Steemit: “Steemit has been the best for me by a long shot,” says Walton. “My target audience is on Facebook, but that platform has become too expensive to be viable. I recently paid to boost a post on Facebook so people who’ve already liked my page would see it, and it only got 47 clicks out of an audience of almost 3,000. On Steemit, not only do people who’ve followed me see my posts, but I get paid for writing there. There’s no comparison.”
Networking: According to Ingis, networking is a great way to build a fan base. While we all have one main group—family and friends—we need to expand our reach to writing groups, social groups, church groups, membership organizations and clubs.
Intended Audience: Author and editor Deborah Holmes says to always keep your intended audience in mind and be aware of which social media sites your readers use. “Make sure you always write with your intended audience in mind, which is critical to good reception whether you’re tweeting or penning an article for a peer-reviewed journal.”
As for what not to do, Walton weighs in on where he wouldn’t waste any more time. “Probably the least effective thing I tried was a live Q&A on Facebook a few years ago,” he says. “The other thing is trying to get physical books in brick and mortar bookstores. I don’t even focus on trying that anymore because there’s zero profit in it. All of my content is available exclusively online.”