Now, usually, I would tell you that my example is the last one you should follow because I tend to do everything either wrong or backwards the first time and only end up getting it right from sheer luck. Somehow, that’s worked out for me, but this is one thing that I think I got right the first time, even if it wasn’t by design.
I’ll start with the one thing that is pounded into us as writers from day one, to the point that it’s the First Commandment Of Publishing: Writeth thou a Good Book. It’s something we hear all the time, and it’s irritating. It’s one of those trite sounding clichés that sounds like you read it off a bumper sticker. But, it’s a cliché because it’s true. If you write a crappy book, no amount of marketing is going to build a readership for you because no one is going to have good things to say about your book, no matter what YOU say about it. This also falls under a point I’ll be making later. Now that part is out of the way...
Gilt by Association
Back in the Eighties, those halcyon days of big hair, big glasses and boom-boxes, I worked with a woman from Colorado while I was in the Air Force. Now, at the time, I was considered a nerd and a social misfit. I didn’t hang out at the NCO Club, I didn’t smoke or drink and I didn’t do small talk. So to my co-worker I was not associated with anything interesting. Back then I was also active in the SCA, so I would spend my weekends off camping with a bunch of other cool folks in funny clothes. One weekend, after an event, I came in to work to pick up something before I went home, still in the clothes I’d been wearing at a camping event. Almost immediately, Rene perked up and asked if I’d been camping. When I told her about the event I’d been to, she started talking to me about camping out in Colorado before she’d joined the military. Now, I had mentioned the SCA, and camping events, but until I walked in with my clothes smelling of woodsmoke, she had never associated me with camping. That one moment made the connection in her head, and suddenly, we had something in common, and my weekend hobby wasn’t quite as dorky to her.
What does this have to do with publishing?
Good question, I’m glad you asked. One of the first things I did when I started down the path to publish my first zombie book, Zompoc Survivor: Exodus, was to start talking to other fairly successful authors. Not schmoozing or fanboy praise, but actually talking to them. I asked questions, I talked up their books, talked TO them, and acknowledged their help publicly. Some people might think of this as networking, but I approached it as becoming part of a community. As zombie authors go, I’m sort of a freshman as far as semi-successful authors go, one of the new kids who is just getting my name known a little.
What that means to me is that on occasion, authors like Shawn Chesser and David Forsyth will engage with me or mention my name. And their readers see that. When I released ZS: Exodus in March of 2014, it was doing alright at first, but nothing special. Then, Shawn mentioned my book as a result of the release party I’d held online and my sales rocketed into the top 100 in my genre. I had become a part of the community that surrounds the zombie fiction genre, and people saw me as a good writer because of who I was associated with.
Which leads me to the next important point…
Truth In Advertising.
On the one hand, people say “Perception is reality.” To a certain extent, that’s true. If people see you as a good writer, they will expect you to be one. If they see you as a jerk, you’re going to have a hard time shaking that opinion.
That being said, if you paint yourself as the next Tolkien or Hemingway, and you’re really just a hack writer…no amount of marketing is going to fix the damage you’ve done to yourself. People hate being misled. Early on, my tendency was to under promise and over deliver. Writers are especially good about this, since we are constantly second-guessing our skills. Truth is, it’s the bad writers who praise their own work the most.
So, as a writer, if you hang out with successful people, make sure your work is the absolute best you can put out and try to avoid singing your own praises too loudly. Be genuine, try to stay humble, and try to deliver the best story you can to your readers. Don’t brag…well, not too much, anyway.
Make It Easy For Your Fans.
My first book was a write off from the moment I hit publish. I came at it thinking I might never make a lot of money from it because I started it off with a price of $.99 for the first month or so that it was out. My return on that book wasn’t money. My return on my first book was readers. It’s easy to look back at the number of books sold that first month and say “If I had priced it at $2.99, I would have made so much more money.” But I also know that if I had, I might not have sold as many books. I priced my book low to make it easier for readers to buy it. And they did.
Some folks will tell you that pricing a book low is a sure sign to readers that it’s not very good. I say that they are selling readers short. For an unknown author, a reader is going to buy a book on impulse if it appeals to them a whole lot faster if it’s cheap. For the reader it’s a low risk proposition. New author? Risk. New series? Risk. 99c price point? Not much lost. Buy now with One-Click.
If you’ve written a good book, you just made yourself a loyal fan. They just paid 99c for a book they would have happily paid $2.99 for, so to them, they got a good deal and they’ve already made the decision to buy the next book you put out. By then, your hard core fans are already with you, and you've already established for them that your next book really IS worth the higher price.
Engage, Engage, Engage.
Really, this is something you have to do once you actually HAVE readers, but it’s important because it helps you keep them. There as many do’s as there are don’ts with this.
Be nice to your fans. Pretty obvious, right?
Do respond to your readers as often as you can outside of reviews
Don’t turn into a spam bot.
Do talk about things other than your book.
Don’t push an agenda.
Be interesting. Be friendly. Be helpful. (This last trait has landed me several speaking engagements and podcast spots). Be knowledgeable when you speak. Research the things that you say. As I discovered recently, the best piece of advice will automatically be ignored if someone can’t back up even the most minor of statements with their own truth. Likewise, knowing what you're talking about and sounding like you do can help keep you visible in your community in the right ways.
Be positive. Talk about how things CAN be done, instead of complaining about problems. People like reading about success and how they too can have it. Don’t complain about how things are going bad, about sales slumping or bad reviews. People deal with enough negative BS of their own every day. Don’t’ saddle them with yours, too.
Randomly post cool stuff from other authors, too. It helps keep the sense of community strong, and that goes back to the beginning, be a part of the community you write in.
Most importantly, be grateful to your fans. Don’t talk shit about them, not even the ones who act like jerks. Don’t respond to negative or positive reviews, except to highlight something good a fan said. Randomly thank folks for your success.
Your Wordcount May Vary
None of this is guaranteed, of course. This is just what has worked for me, and what I hope works for you. And remember….
Do epic shit. Be a force for the Awesome.