Whether your end goal is to quit your day job and spend your days crafting literary master-pieces, or you are just writing for your own satisfaction, as an author you need readers. And, the truth is, those readers will not spring up from nowhere and beg for your latest novel.
If you're lucky, your book might go to market at exactly the right time, be seen by the right people, and shoot to the top of the Amazon best-sellers list. Most of us, however, will have to work at getting our material 'out there'.
So, how do we do this?
First, we have to start viewing our novel (short-story, novella, biography, etc.) as a product.
Being 'creatives', the idea of labelling the result of our blood, sweat, and tears as simply a 'product', probably jars a little. But, essentially, that's what it is. You have something you want to sell. Even if you intend to give away your book for free, you still want people to click the download button, so you have to do something to make this happen.
Having grown up with parents who ran their own, successful, company, I have a smattering of business acumen. However, when I started down the path to becoming a professional author, my Dad bought me a book called Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares, because he saw it reviewed in The Times and thought it could be useful. As usual, he was absolutely right. I am not exaggerating when I say that it revolutionised the way I was approaching my novel.
The premise of Traction..., once you get past the buzz words, is that you shouldn't wait until you have finished developing your product before you start to market it. The authors also point out that marketing has changed. People these days are savvy, they don't want to see Tweets that simply say 'Buy my book, it's great.' Instead, you should focus on building up a reputation – offer people something for free, show them that you know what you're talking about and, long-term, this will result in product sales.
The authors also offer lots of examples of companies who have become extremely successful by following these principles, but how do they relate to the business of writing books? I will tell you...
Start building your social media presence now. If you wait until your novel is complete, then take to the Interweb and shout, “Ta Dah! It's here everyone!”, expecting a round of applause and a queue around the virtual block, you will probably be sorely disappointed. Because no one will know who you are. So, start building your social media presence now. I'll write another post, in the coming weeks, about social media specifically, but until then get yourself on Twitter. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google Plus, Goodreads, etc. are all great too. But, if you're new to all this, I would advise starting with Twitter because it's great for instant connections with readers, tips from other authors, and networking.
Provide valuable content. Don't just tell people to visit your website or bang on about how great you are. Show them little snippets of your life. Give them a glimpse into your personality. Connect with people – respond to messages, retweet other authors' posts, get involved in the online community. In Traction... Weinberg notes that you should give people something of value in order to build your reputation. As an author, this could mean offering advice to fellow authors, giving away free snapshots of your writing, an insight into your writing processes... anything that helps to inform people about who you are and why they should be excited about your book.
Experiment. Try out different ways of connecting with your readers and with other writers. You have nothing to lose and, when the time comes to make a big splash with your finished novel, you will know which channels suit you best. Everyone is different; some people prefer Twitter, some love Goodreads, others swear by Wattpad. Investigate your options and don't rule anything out until you have tried it. Traction... shows you how to identify possible channels and figure out which ones may work best for your product. Again, it uses a few fancy terms but is fantastically helpful if you haven't approached your writing in this way before.
Remember that building an author brand is not a waste of time. At some point, when you're sitting at home tweeting away or writing blog posts, you will probably feel guilty. You will tell yourself that you should be writing instead. But time spent building your brand is never a waste. Of course, you need to be careful not to use it as an excuse to procrastinate! Try allocating a few minutes each day for seeing to your social media admin. These minutes will soon add up, and with tools like Hootsuite you can schedule Tweets and Facebook posts for later in the day/week – so you don't need to be actively social 24hrs a day. Eventually, it won't feel like admin anymore and you'll probably find that you're enjoying yourself!
Research your marketplace. I've said this before and I'm sure I'll say it again: if you are writing, you should be reading. Read authors you aspire to be like, not so that you can copy them, but so that you can evaluate what they do well, and what they don't do well! If your aim is to self-publish, look at what other indie authors do to market themselves and their books. Also, keep up to date with what's going on in the publishing industry, especially within your genre. The Alliance for Independent Authors and The Bookseller are particularly good places to start.
In the next few weeks I'll be reviewing some more useful books, but Traction... really is a great place to start if you're interested in turning your authoring into a professional business. If you do read it, let me know what you think!