by Rachelle Ayala (@AyalaRachelle)
I met Rachelle at the recent Fremont Writers Self-Publishing Conference. After finding out that she has spent quite a bit of time marketing her fiction, I asked her to share with you what she’s found that works for fiction authors when it comes time to dive into book marketing. Here’s her response.
- Fiction Marketing is Hard.
No one HAS to read fiction, period. Unlike readers of non-fiction, who have a concrete objective to search out a book, fiction readers browse and graze. They are not under a deadline to learn about a specific topic, or figure out how to fix a whatchamacallit. Reading fiction is a pastime, an optional activity. It competes with other sources of entertainment or doing nothing at all.
What to do: Fiction readers are looking for excitement or escape. Your job as a writer of fiction is to promise the reader an excellent emotional experience. The first impression may be the only one you’ll get. Your cover must be worth a second look, and your summary has to grab and spark curiosity. Story problem, dilemma, and question begging to be answered—the big “what if.” Short and sweet. Internet attention span is only a few simple sentences long.
- Finding a Target Audience is Hard.
Publishers have sliced and diced fiction into genres and subgenres and sub-subgenres. The goal is to classify books so that prospective readers know what to expect. Unfortunately, all of these designations are subjective. Your idea of an urban fantasy involving shape-shifting thunderbirds may be my idea of a fantasy romance with psychologically disturbed teenagers.
What to do: Be honest with your genre. You’ve heard people suggest finding obscure non-fiction genres to put their fiction books in to gain a high category ranking. Don’t do it. Disappointed readers do not hesitate to leave bad reviews. It is okay to experiment with genre slices and see what resonates, however the first two categories you choose must match conventional wisdom.
- Getting Discovered is Hard.
With the advent of self-publishing, ebookstores are awash with free and inexpensive e-books clamoring for attention. Unless you already have name recognition, you are going to be yet another anonymous author vying to have your story read.
What to do: Exposure, exposure, exposure. Literally your book must be everywhere prospective readers gather, from online forums to offline venues such as book clubs. Studies have shown that the average reader has to see your book three to seven times before buying it. They are also much more likely to buy your book if their friends are talking about it. Going free is an excellent way to increase exposure. Many websites list free books and many people download free books, increasing the chance someone will read your book and talk about it. Buying ads will help only if the site has readers actively engaging with it. Do your research on Alexa rankings and Page Rank and observe the percentage of fans “talking about” a Facebook page before plunking down your money for an ad.
- Branding is Hard.
If you’re reading this, you’re most likely not a well known author with a huge brand, you know, the household name whose books dominate the shelves in physical bookstores. But if you’re in this business for more than one book, you must develop your brand and leverage your image.
What to do: Your name is your brand. Aim for consistency that is uniquely yours. This means being true to your own writing style and interests. Some writers stick to the same genre, whereas others don’t hesitate to mix, blend or hop genres. The key is to manage reader expectation between your books, even if it means expecting the unexpected. While you don’t have to stick to the same script, your voice and level of drama and heat should be recognizably yours. When readers buy your next book, they are trusting that you will deliver the same or higher level of satisfaction as the last book they read.
- Keeping Readers Engaged is Hard.
Readers can read faster than writers can write, and today they have a multitude of choices. Gone are the days when readers patiently waited every year for the new Agatha Christie. Readers can disappear faster than a jackrabbit on a date if you don’t keep them engaged between book releases.
What to do: The opportunities with social networking are greater today than ever. Encourage your readers to talk back to you, whether in writing reviews, or commenting on your Facebook page. Run contests or games, post missing chapters or inside secrets on your blog and above all, be accessible. Don’t bombard readers with promotional e-mails and posts. Instead, listen and answer questions. Above all, be authentic. Show who you are as a human being and don’t be afraid to go off-message and post something personal every once in a while. Once the reader is interested in you, he’ll be interested in what your next book has to say.
Rachelle Ayala was a software engineer until she discovered storytelling works better in fiction than real code. She has over thirty years of writing experience and has always lived in a multi-cultural environment. Rachelle is an active member of online critique group, Critique Circle, and a volunteer for the World Literary Cafe. She is a very happy woman and lives in California with her husband. She has three children and has taught violin and made mountain dulcimers. Visit her at: http://www.rachelleayala.com or follow @AyalaRachelle on Twitter.