How to Keep Your Fiction Marketing Lean and Focused

by | Mar 26, 2014

By Jason Kong

You can’t afford to waste your resources.

Finding a readership is a high priority, but your time and personal energy are both in limited supply. You’d like to make every marketing effort count.

This isn’t about knowing the best path (there isn’t one) or having a guarantee something will work (there isn’t any). What you need is to make consistent progress towards having an audience of your own. An approach that keeps nudging you in the right direction.

I’d like to share a few ideas to make your marketing less complicated and overwhelming. It’s a simple framework, designed to highlight some of the more important actions you can take, that increase your chances for success.

Ready? Let’s get started.

Understand the cycle for attention

Marketing can be a singular event, but it’s also the aggregation of activities that’s part of a longer process. This long-view perspective is embodied in the following strategy:

  1. Get attention for your work. This is trying to become known when you’re currently not. It’s about discoverability and getting a shot. You’re attempting to generate interest, whether’s it’s through your book cover, positive reviews, or personal recommendations. Standing out from the crowd is the first step for any budding author.
  2. Keep the attention of those people who care. The goal here is to hold onto the readers that already enjoy your fiction, so you can make them aware of your latest project. This is also an opportunity for you to reward your readership for their attention. Examples include engaging fans over social media and occasional book giveaways.
  3. Maintain the cycle. Find new readers, some of the new readers become older readers, and the older readers will help bring in new readers. Your audience grows along with your body of work.

This may all seem obvious. What’s important to realize is that treating everyone the same is a mistake. There’s a big difference between getting attention from a stranger and keeping attention of a supporter.

Keep this in mind as you read ahead.

Be aware of your timing

We have the tendency to view the effectiveness of marketing activities in a vacuum.

But when you decide to do something may matter as much as what you do. The timing of your execution can be the deciding factor between marketing that’s successful vs. wasteful.

Let’s look at an example.

Blogging has a lot of benefits. You get to express yourself, connect with other authors, and share what you learn. These are all good reasons to blog, yet many fiction writers become frustrated that it does little for their book marketing.

Why does that happen? Because they’re mostly attracting a following with only a tangental interest in the author’s work.

When it comes to a fiction readership, blogging is actually much better for keeping attention rather than getting it. It’s better to blog more once you have an audience for your stories, not in order to get an audience for your stories from ground zero.

A lot of times, preventing a misstep like this is just a matter of remembering the cycle for attention. Working hard to get noticed when you have no published stories makes little sense. Similarly, don’t over-invest in activities geared for keeping attention when you don’t have it yet (the classic social media trap).

Are you trying to get attention or keep attention? Mismatching the activity to the task results in a timing issue that waste your resources.

Stay connected with supporters

As you’re well aware, getting attention is hard.

This may cause you to become very open-mined about marketing tactics. If an approach sounds halfway reasonable, if another author uses a tool with a decent amount of success, you’ll have to at least consider giving it a go. If you live in obscurity your writing has no chance to flourish, after all.

So yes, each book you sell is a worthy achievement. You should be proud when your story connects with another reader. And yet, if this is a customer who now knows, likes, and trusts your work, having this relationship end with a just a single purchase would be a tragedy.

If someone wants more of what you offer, then it’s mutually beneficial to keep in touch. Online tools such as social media or an email marketing service are effective ways to do that. Once you have an established communication channel, it’s up to you to hold their interest with your future messages.

This is called permission marketing. The approach recognizes engaging people who care about what you do is more effective and profitable than engaging those who don’t. It works because keeping attention is much less expensive (in terms of effort, money, and time) than getting attention. And the kicker? It’s more fun to connect with supporters than strangers anyway.

An established author with a strong enough permission base can almost exclusively focus on the keeping attention step. Fans tend to attract other fans, and a loyal following will generate plenty of positive word-of-mouth for your fiction.

“The more supporters you’re connected with, the less marketing problems you’ll tend to have.”—Click to Tweet

Leave room for writing

You may think if your fiction marketing is lean and focused, you will have more time for writing.

While that may be true, in practice it could happen in reverse. There’s always more marketing you could do, and without clear boundaries your writing schedule could get squeezed.

I’m actually suggesting staying firm on your writing commitment, and leave a daily window for marketing. That way, you’ll zero in on the most effective marketing practices with your limited hours, and force your efforts to be lean and focused.

You shouldn’t neglect your art, the value you’re known for, the product customers spend money on.

And besides, good writing is your best marketing opportunity. The fiction you publish will both help you get attention and keep attention, by attracting new readers and delighting the current ones.

What strategies do you use to keep your marketing on track? Please share in the comments.

Jason KongJason 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.

Photo credit: tableatny via photopin cc

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  1. Kristen Steele

    The key is to understand your target audience. Where do they spend their time? Once you’ve captured their attention it’s necessary to retain it by staying in touch via newsletters, social media, and a blog.

  2. Beth Havey

    This discussion is very helpful. I’ve been blogging for five years, but it has taken a long time to get some followers. I think Twitter helps, but you have to be generous and follow other people and tweet what matters to them. As for email lists, I would love to see a future article concerning specific methods for using it. I feel I am headed in the right direction–once I publish, I have folks who have been reading my blog for a long time and they just might be interested in my fiction. Beth Havey

    • Jason Kong

      Beth: Thanks for the suggestion for the future article. We’ll see if we can’t cover that down the line.

      And thanks for chiming in. As always, I appreciate your feedback.

  3. Corina Koch MacLeod

    Jason, the distinction between getting and keeping attention really resonated with me. It’s made me step back and look at my efforts in a new way. Great post!

    A question: Do you think that some audiences have preferences for how they like to stay in touch with an author? For example, do email or blog newsletters work for some audiences better than others?

    • Jason Kong

      Corina: I do think individuals have preferences for what social media they use, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the solution for a content creator is to have a presence on every platform out there.

      Email stands out for me (and many others feel the same) because it’s so universal and the attention from sign-ups is so much higher.

      Blogs are obviously great for writers as a creation medium, and sharing plugins make it easy to spread content across the social media of the reader’s choice.

      But from the author’s perspective, *what* she shares is much more important than *how* she shares. If readers are motivated to see the updates of a certain author, they’ll figure out the right tool to use to stay in touch.

      Thanks for your question!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Just to jump in here, but I think there’s a big distinction between blog articles and email, and it’s this:

      When I write an article, I’m writing for publication and for the archives into which all articles go.

      When I write an email, I’m writing a correspondence to one person, often ephemeral, but which has virtually no lifespan.

      The personal nature of correspondence encourages me to use email as the primary means to increase long-term engagement. People may not read the blog all the time, but they continue (through the magic of *autoresponders*) to get correspondence from me for months to come.

  4. Frances Caballo

    Jason, you are so right when you said that what’s needed is consistency. Too often, writers can become frustrated with the low engagement they see on their Facebook page or Twitter account and they sometimes give up before they’ve barely begun. It really takes diligence to keep showing up, curating the best information you can find, writing the best blog posts you can, and of course, making time to be social on social media. Perseverance eventually pays off.

    • Jason Kong

      Frances: I’m sure you see this all the time in your line of work, where writers giving up shortly after starting, because their content isn’t getting re-shared or no one seems to care about their updates.

      The process of learning what works takes time, and experience is one of the best teachers. You can’t expect to figure everything out just by reading blog posts. :)

  5. M.M. Justus

    I second Rod. That’s what I need to know, too. Very specifically.

    I can do all sorts of things to my website, but if no one is actually *going* there, they’re a waste of time.

    • Jason Kong

      Meg: See my response to Rod, above, for one strategy. I plan to get more specific, fleshing out the steps, but that will be better suited for another article instead of the comments section.

  6. Rod Kackley

    How do you get attention? I would love to see the answer to that question.

    • Jason Kong

      Rod: Great question.

      The completely unsatisfying but truthful answer is that there are many different ways to get attention. Being loud, obnoxious, and controversial on social media can get tons of attention, but probably not the kind of attention that helps sell your novel or story.

      What kind of attention does help? The type that’s driven by the interest in your writing. As a simple example, if your friend (with similar reading tastes as you) recommends a mystery, that’s attention that can propel you to give the book a try. That kind of attention is very different than seeing an ad on some random website.

      Does that mean ads can’t for you? Of course not. If no one has read your book yet, positive word-of-mouth isn’t available to you.

      So in the beginning, if you have no readers, your first priority is just to get a shot at being read. Maybe that means starting with a free eBook, or sharing short stories on your blog. Increase your odds matching an existing audience on someone else’s platform that might like your work (i.e. book bloggers in your specific genre). Observe what others have done, and be willing to experiment.

      Once you find someone who really likes your writing, do what you can to keep in touch using permission. This is absolutely critical. Getting more attention is *so* much easier when you have an existing following that’s loyal to your work.

      Trying to get traction when you’re starting from scratch is tough. I’m not trying to gloss over that. But I think we can agree that what ends up working for one author may not not work for another.

      If you’d like, share what you’ve tried so far and let’s see if someone can jump in with some helpful feedback.

    • Rod Kackley

      Hi. Thanks for the quick follow-up on my comment. I have been offering free material on my website and on my blog, along with using Twitter, Facebook, Google + and Linked In.
      I have seen regular traffic to my website and my blog, so now I have published a couple of short stories and a novella under the St.Isidore Collection label.
      I will also be offering a softcover version of the first novella, Sometimes Things Break. When that is ready, I am going to start offering free ebooks through KDP.
      I am also going to start a mail chimp newsletter. I have a mailing list of more than 1,000 addresses.

      • Joel Friedlander

        Rod, you’ve done very well in growing your email list, which will be increasingly important as you continue to publish (see Monday’s article on Why Building an Email List is Essential for Authors. Mail Chimp is a great choice and will give you the opportunity to start a regular dialog with readers. Use an “incentive” of some kind to boost list signups, and then encourage your followers from your social media “outposts” to go to your website to take advantage of your offer. Your list can also reciprocate by stimulating traffic to your site if you mail when you have a significant article or announcement to make there. Exploring the synergies you can discover among social media activities, blog content, and email contact will yield many marketing opportunities.

      • Jason Kong

        Rod: Seems like you’ve done well with your setup. You have a social media presence, website, and plan to start an email list via MailChimp. You have published fiction and plans to have your novella available with a digital format.

        My suggestion is to start finding audiences, organized groups of people with high potential interest in reading the kind of stuff you write. This is big challenge #1, because no clear path for this. You could start with finding book bloggers/reviewers that have an audience for the genre/sub-genre you write in. You could locate people organized around your subject matter, that might like reading fiction. Maybe you can even find existing book clubs that read the kind of stories you write.

        Once you’ve identified a group, challenge #2 is figuring out how to get your stories in front of them. Reviewers are busy, BookBub costs money, and so forth. Sometimes you just have to pay the price (whatever it is), sometimes there’s a less obvious alternative.

        Assuming any work you share has links that direct readers to your website, you now have the opportunity to connect with those that have more interest. Challenge #3 is to make it as easy as possible for someone is know, like, and trust what you do, and keep in touch because they want more. You seem to have plenty of free samples on your site, which will definitely help.

        Keep in mind that what I’ve described isn’t *the* way to do things, it’s just one approach with the reasons why.

        Good luck, Rod!


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