The wide array of social media and online marketing options available these days is exciting, but it can be overwhelming if you’re an author. You may be wondering:
- Where do I start?
- What’s important to do and what can I skip?
- How much time should I devote to online marketing?
Today I interview digital branding expert Fauzia Burke, who gives authors straight answers to these and other questions in her fabulous new book, Online Marketing for Busy Authors: A Step-by-Step Guide (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, April 2016).
Fauzia is the founder and the president of FSB Associates, one of the first firms to specialize in online publicity and marketing for publishers and authors. Since 1995, FSB Associates has launched successful publicity campaigns for more than 2,000 books, many of them bestsellers and award winners. Fauzia started her career in the marketing departments of John Wiley & Sons and Henry Holt and has promoted books by authors such as Alan Alda, Arianna Huffington, Deepak Chopra, Melissa Francis, S. C. Gwynne, Mika Brzezinski, Charles Spencer, and many more.
You say that a primary goal is to “create meaningful interactions with your readers and build a long-term, successful personal brand online.” Many people are confused by the term “branding.” They understand that Campbell’s Soup is a brand, but they don’t see how branding applies to authors. How can Joan Smith, a writer, be a brand?
Branding is simply sharing stories and expertise while building trust. Solidifying your brand as an author couldn’t be more important in today’s marketplace. Your author brand or platform is your online reputation or an extension of your business card.
Building a platform or a brand takes time, consistency, and a long-term view. Branding is not something you do for a few weeks before your book comes out. If you want more control of your writing career, then you need to get serious about your personal branding strategy by committing to working on your brand for the long haul.
The most important element of a personal brand is that it helps you be yourself, stand out from the crowd, and carve out your niche. After all, there is no competition for you.
You’ve organized the book into three phases that correlate to the process authors can use to build their online presence and brand. Could you review those three phases for us?
Sure. The three phases are:
- Getting Organized
- Turning Your Thinking into Action
- Staying the Course
Getting Organized: In the first phase of my book, I help authors understand why personal branding and building a platform are so important and walk them through how to build a brand step-by-step. Another important aspect of online marketing is for authors to be able to identity their unique audience. Many authors are surprised to learn their book is not for everyone. I always say there is no everyone.com. When authors specifically identify their readers, they can much more effectively position themselves and spend time wisely online. This phase also helps authors identify their goals for writing a book and how those goals shape what they do online and where they spend their time. Worksheets are included to help with the process.
Turning Your Thinking into Action: The second phase is the meat of the book and helps authors come up with their online marketing plan. It explains why it’s so important for authors to have a professional website and a blog. We also dive into what authors will want to know about social media and social networking. I give advice on Google Analytics, Facebook advertising, ways to use Goodreads, and more. I’ve also included advice from publishers, agents, and published authors.
Staying the Course: A significant part of building a brand and community is to stay the course for the long haul. The third part of my book is about the importance of being consistent in your online marketing plan and using data to monitor and tweak what you do online.
It’s hard for busy authors to keep up with the fast-moving world of social media. What’s your advice to authors so they don’t get overwhelmed?
Well, it’s one part reality check and one part good news. We all complain about social media because it takes so much time, but there is nothing we can do about it. It’s the way the world has changed and we have to adapt. Here’s the good news: social media gives authors an unprecedented opportunity to build a brand and create a community—especially with a specific plan for their online marketing efforts. I tell authors:
- You don’t have to do everything.
- You don’t have to do the next shiny thing.
- Look at the data for feedback (your online footprint) and adjust accordingly.
- Know your audience.
- Don’t forget it’s a privilege to talk to people.
- Be authentic.
- Focus on engagement.
The few authors who have become huge bestselling successes without a digital or social strategy are anomalies. Most of us need to work on online branding every day for the success of our businesses, books, and careers. I encourage authors to develop their online brands. Online branding is not about selling; it’s about making buying easier. It’s about forming real connections.
If you are a little overwhelmed by the rapidly changing world of digital marketing, you are not alone. Remember that all of us, experts and novices, are learning as we go. You don’t have to become a social media strategist to be effective. By using the most important online marketing outlets in a targeted way, your book, brand, and bottom line can benefit.
Many of my clients have full-time careers (in business or medicine, for example) in addition to writing, so they ask if they should hire someone to do their online marketing for them. What would you recommend to them?
Today, every author needs a digital marketing advisor, or at least an experienced marketing advocate to protect his or her interests. This can be an agent, a marketing savvy friend, or a digital marketing consultant, but the need is unquestionable and the development of an author’s online brand is essential for a book’s success.
What about having someone write blog posts for them—what’s your advice about that situation?
Good question. Let me answer this in two parts.
I consider blogs (like websites) the foundation of an online strategy. Not only do blogs give authors the opportunity to stay connected with their readers, they also position an author as an expert. As authors continually write in their niche, they will connect with and identify their ideal audience. These authors will be positioning themselves to promote more books, as well as apps, conferences, videos, their website, and more. When an author becomes known as an expert in a field, that author also becomes more valuable to publishers and agents. Blogs are also the absolute best way to drive traffic to websites. For book authors in a competitive marketplace, the need to blog couldn’t be higher.
Although I tell authors to consider the time spent blogging as an extension of their job as a writer, sometimes authors need to outsource that work because they are busy running a business, traveling, or speaking. Many authors decide to hire a professional writer to compose blogs to save time. The key is to find a writer who can capture your voice, knows your message, can easily repurpose your content, and can provide you with content consistently. Many professional writers are accustomed to taking content you’ve already created—podcasts, videos, interviews, books, ebooks, webinars—and turning that content into blog posts. The most important advice I can offer is to always stay involved and make sure any content with your name on it is unique, sounds like you, and represents your brand.
Where and how can authors find an assistant to write or post for them?
If authors are working with a marketing advisor or a publicity firm, they will likely have established relationships with professional writers who can write blog posts. I’d also suggest reaching out to contacts in your circle for a recommendation. Most small business owners, entrepreneurs, web designers, and photographers have a connection with a professional writer or two.
You say that there’s never been a better time to be an author. Why is that?
Now, for the first time in the history of publishing, authors have direct access to their readers. Social media has changed the publishing landscape. While competition in the marketplace is greater today, authors also have more opportunities than ever before. With the new accessibility of social media that allows authors to reach their audience directly, a long-term strategy for building and growing an author brand is key to the success of an author. Taking an author’s knowledge and stories and packaging them into audio books, YouTube videos, documentaries, and movies has never been easier.
Your book provides some terrific questions to help authors identify their brand. Do those questions apply equally to nonfiction and fiction authors, or are there different questions for each?
It might be easier for nonfiction writers to identify their brand more quickly because typically nonfiction writers are trying to help people in some way with tips or tools (for example, improve their finances, have more success, be happier, enjoy life more). But the questions on branding remain the same for nonfiction and fiction writers alike because branding is about how an author wants to be known. For example, author Stephen King’s brand is as a horror/thriller writer. We all know his brand because of his obvious success and because he continually adds value to the marketplace aligned with his brand.
Authors can begin to formulate their brand by thinking about their unique messaging, themes, subject matter, values, interests, passion, and purpose. An author’s brand is what differentiates him or her in the marketplace—and this applies to every kind of author.
What’s the biggest surprise you’ve seen in online marketing in the last year?
Bigger is not always better! In my career, I have worked with many authors with large social followings, but what I have noticed most is the number of followers doesn’t seem to impact the sales as much as you might expect. In my experience, the most impactful thing you can do as an author is to connect with your audience in authentic and meaningful ways. Generosity and likability matter more than you think. (Since I am in the relationships business, this aspect doesn’t surprise me.) If an author’s message is going to resonate with an audience, that author has to know the audience well.
Authors have to understand an audience’s unique challenges and how the information they provide can be of value. When authors are generous and give solutions to their specific audience, they start forming a brand that’s more important than the number of followers.
What is the biggest mistake people make in online marketing?
There are several big mistakes:
- Having an unprofessional and outdated website.
- Ignoring social media.
- Not identifying their specific audience. Thinking there’s an everyone.com. Authors are so much more effective when they identify their niche audience.
- Not starting to build their audience and create buzz for their books soon enough. Authors should start as soon as they have an idea for a book.
You have been working in the online marketing arena for many years. Different people give different advice on this subject, and my clients ask me whom they should listen to. What’s the best way for them to evaluate the advice they’re being given?
I think authors should evaluate if the person offering advice has been there, done that. Experience matters. I have worked in book marketing and publicity all of my life, and while my desire to help authors led me to write my book, Online Marketing for Busy Authors, I love learning from other colleagues in my industry. Ultimately, I think authors can apply tips and strategies that resonate with them personally.
However, a lot of people give authors false hope and set unrealistic expectations. The truth is there is no shortcut. This is hard work and takes time. On our site, we share our recent results and successes with everyone as they happen. There should be transparency always.
To learn more about Fauzia and her book, visit www.fauziaburke.com.
Sharon Goldinger, owner of PeopleSpeak, is a book shepherd, editor, and publishing and marketing consultant specializing in nonfiction books. With an eye for details, she leads authors and publishers through the often-complicated publishing process (writing, editing, design, printing, marketing, distribution) to help produce and sell exceptional, award-winning books.
Sharon’s previous posts on The Book Designer: Sharon Goldinger