By Jason Kong
Just about anyone can become a self-published author. Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone will become a well-read author. A book needs to be paired with the right audience.
Good marketing matters more than ever. These days, connecting the proper readers with your fiction is part of being a writer, as much as the craft of storytelling itself.
The good news is there’s plenty of advice out there. The bad news? There’s plenty of bad advice masquerading as good advice.
Sure, you’ll be able to figure out the difference, eventually. Most of those pitfalls aren’t fatal. But why waste months or even years of your life if you don’t have to?
Today we’re going to examine five marketing missteps that newbie fiction writers make. Become familiar with them, and you’ll avoid some unnecessary pain in your writing career.
- Overestimating the importance of book launches
Once the publishing process ends, the marketing process needs to kick into high gear.
A book launch represents a promotional opportunity, the chance to create buzz and awareness to your latest work. When done properly, you’ll get a spike in new readers and sales.
Unfortunately, the momentum tends to be short-lived. It’s not easy to meet your hopeful expectations (much less the dream scenario) and often the marketing high is over all too quickly. If this is really your best shot to get traction, are you in trouble if the results seem disappointing?
You may have a legitimate concern if you had to validate market interest to stay on the shelves. That may be true within the realm of traditional publishing and physical bookstores. But in the digital world, where virtual space is limitless, the reality is much different.
Big splashes are overrated because it’s near impossible to reach the majority in any given area. That’s okay. You not only can afford to build a readership gradually, it’s preferable. Overspending for a make-or-break marketing opportunity isn’t smart if it takes you out of the game.
Play for the long haul. Focus on your target audience and keep in touch with those interested in your storytelling. Have patience and more patience.
Because that’s what it will take.
- Underestimating the importance of publishing more fiction
Writing more stories may sound like an overly simplistic tactic to get noticed. After all, getting more books out there increases your chances of being found, right?
While there may be some truth to that, I’m not advocating quantity over quality. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand — creating more books will likely result in better stories. Each pass through the publishing cycle means you’ll gain experience and skill. You’ll know what pitfalls to avoid and what activities deserve your focus. You’re a better writer going forward, able to produce better work. So you should.
But the other reason you should keep publishing fiction has to do with your readership. It’s much easier to have an existing reader consume your next book than to have a new reader give you your first shot. The trust you’ve earned from a fan carries over to your future projects.
So once your first book hits the market, don’t wait too long before starting the next. If you’re a passionate writer, this is advice you can embrace.
- Maintaining a blog to attract new readers
There are many legitimate reasons to have your own blog. Trying to generate traffic that converts into customers shouldn’t be the primary one.
Yes, it’s true that blogs are very useful for non-fiction writers building authority and connections in their respective fields. And yes, many established writers do attract new readers through their blogs. But I’m assuming neither case applies to you.
You’re a beginning fiction writer, and you absolutely need attention. But it’s a specific kind of attention — the people you’re trying to attract are the kind of people that would be potentially interested in your storytelling.
That’s a much harder challenge than it sounds.
If your blog is new, then you have no audience. The act of blogging alone doesn’t get you visitors; you need to publish something worthwhile and be able to connect the right people to the post. In other words, it’s the same process as finding readers for your books.
So if you’re faced with the dilemma of getting more readers for your books, why are you expending valuable time and effort getting more readers for your blog?
To be clear, I happen to agree that every writer can benefit from blogging. What I’m suggesting is that you don’t treat your blog as a pure marketing tool, with the singular goal of getting new readers for your books.
Because if that’s your motivation, you’re likely to be disappointed.
- Dismissing free as a marketing tactic
The idea of giving away your stories without charge is often misunderstood, even today.
There’s nothing inherently magical about the act of free. People won’t read your fiction just because they don’t have to pay, nor will they like it more because there’s no fee. There has to be other compelling reasons for readers to act, just like always.
Well-designed covers undoubtedly help. So does having existing readers acknowledge the quality of your book, through favorable reviews and positive word-of-mouth. Wonderful presentation and social proof goes a long way to building traction.
Free is simply an approach to accelerate your progress. By removing the friction of price, you have a chance to push past obscurity sooner.
And remember, you don’t have to do free forever. It’s up to you to decide what makes sense for your situation. All you’re deciding now is that you want your work known and validated. That’s the part that can’t wait.
- Focusing on numbers instead of relationships
Now that we can track everything, we pretty much do.
You always know how many Twitter followers you have, or the subscriber count to your email newsletter. You can easily assess the traffic to any page on your website or your blog. You are able to break down your sales, per book, per distributor, for any period of time you want.
I’m not saying knowing those figures aren’t important. I’m going to suggest that when you’re starting out, they’re distracting.
In the beginning, your numbers will be close to zero. You’re going to be tempted to check them, constantly. Resist.
Instead, spend your energies on the relationships in your writing world. For example:
- Suggest to a fellow fiction writer a way to collaborate.
- Get to know some reviewers in your genre way before your books are published.
- Thank anyone showing genuine interest in what you do.
Be human. Help out your peers just because you can. Support those in your network without asking for anything in return. The stats will still be there at the end of the day for you to review.
And who knows, by focusing on relationships you may find that you’ll eventually get the numbers you wanted all along.
Over to you
Have you experienced any of these marketing mistakes? What else would you share with a beginning fiction writer?
Jason Kong is a Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He also runs Storyrally, an email-based subscription that helps fiction writers with their online marketing.
You can learn more about Jason here.