There’s a hard truth awaiting some who write in hopes of publishing. Far too many don’t discover this truth until they’ve finished a book and put it on the market. So let me give it to you up front: for the great majority of writers, books are hard to sell. Really, seriously, hard to sell.
If you’re a professional athlete, a well-known politician, or a celebrity ax murderer, you will have already established an audience. All the publishers know this, and because of it, they know they’ll reach a fairly decent level of sales automatically. The publicity you’ve already received guarantees it. The rest of us, however, must build our readership, or as it’s called these days, our “platform.”
The first thing to do is secure your name as a web address. If your name is Joe Doe, you need to grab the rights to the domain name: JoeDoe.com. If you’re name is Harry Beefsteak, go get HarryBeefsteak.com. If you intend to write under a pen name, get the domain name that captures it. Just search the web for “domain names.” You’ll find a ton of places which can do the job for you at very little cost. It’s easy, but it’s important. If you can’t get your own name, work out a variation of it, and try for that. More on this later.
Whether you intend to produce your book independently or via a traditional publisher, you will need to establish a base readership, folks you can count on to either buy your work or tell people they know about it, preferably both. Where and how does one do that?
Start by building an email list of the folks you know–people who can be counted on to support your efforts. Friends, family, and close associates will fill that list, of course. Then what? Assuming you have a thousand or so names listed, you’ve got a great start. But even then, you still need more. So review all the social connections you have: church membership, civic clubs, professional associations, etc. Track down those addresses, too. You’ll need ’em all.
Sadly, it still won’t be enough. Where to next? Social media, whether you’re already active or not. It’s time to reconnect with old school chums, former neighbors, anyone and everyone you can find from your past who might be a potential reader. At this stage your main concern is volume. The more connections you can make, the better. Not everyone on your list will buy your book, obviously, but because they know you, they might. Or they might mention it to someone else.
Building your platform further will require extra effort, and this is where your domain name comes into play. You’re going to need a website where people can go to find out more about you and your book(s). And, you’ll have to opportunity to sell your books there, simply by linking your titles to the on-line retailers who carry them. You can even become an Amazon Associate, and earn a commission on any sales which result from someone clicking on the link you provide.
If you’re really serious, you may want to start a blog. If you have or can present some expertise on a subject, make that your focus. Otherwise pick something you can write about for a long, long time. My own blog, which focuses on writing, has grown steadily since I started it a few years ago.
Writing and maintaining a blog is a huge commitment. I update mine every week, but I know others who post every other day. Posting less than once a week is unlikely to result in much of a following. You’re building readership, right? To do that you must provide something to read. If possible, you’ll want to establish two-way communication with your readers.
Soliciting feedback is a great way to do that. Sponsoring contests and encouraging use of the remarks feature will give your readers the means to do it. It’ll also give them a sense of ownership, and they’ll be more receptive when your next book comes out. You’re not just building an audience; you’ll be building relationships.
This doesn’t mean you should hammer your readers with one sales pitch after another. In fact, the opposite is more effective. Save your announcements for when they’ll be most effective, post them, and then go back to business as usual.
Here’s another way to build your platform: public speaking. By the time you start thinking of this alternative, you probably will be an expert, so why not take advantage of it? There must be a million clubs and organizations who are looking for dynamic speakers to liven up their meetings. That could be you! It is the proverbial double-edged sword, however. If you’re just simply a horrible, boring speaker, you run the risk of chasing folks away. So, be charming, clever, and above all, humorous. And don’t forget to make your books available for sale afterwards. That’s a perfect time to collect still more names and email addresses.
If you find you actually enjoy standing in front of people and sharing your wisdom, consider teaching a class at one of the senior centers in your area. Most cites have at least one college with a continuing education department. See what you might be able to do there. Good teachers are hard to find. Play that to your advantage. And don’t forget to keep collecting those names and addresses!
Once you’ve got that starter list–and there are plenty more ways to expand it further–you’ll have the nucleus of a platform. Use it to announce new books, public appearances, contests, book signings or other opportunities for shoulder rubbing, hand-shaking, and book selling.
That’s it in a nutshell. There’s a lot more to the topic of marketing: book launches, signings, publication parties, etc. But this is enough for now.