What’s An Author to Do?

In case you missed my previous post on the wealth of analytics and marketing tools available for free online, this post covers my recommendations for an author with a book who would like to use this intelligence—and the complete palette of modern marketing tools—to improve their chances of success.

“Wait a minute,” someone might say. “Aren’t you an author?”

Well, yes. But I don’t currently have a book to shill. If I did, I’d be taking my own advice.

Okay, </commercial.>

Here’s the setup: Let’s assume our hypothetical author doesn’t have a household name. Nor do they control a web property with millions of visitors a month. They also don’t have a lot of money to spend on, say, full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal. And they don’t have infinite time—their family wouldn’t be pleased with recommendations that include a list of 89 social networks to visit every single day.

So, in this case, the question is: What can I do that provides the maximum result for minimum cost (both in terms of time and dollars)?

Let’s start with a change of mindset. Today, you need to change your point of view on what writing is. The lonely writer, hidden away behind closed doors, does not work in a world of constantly-connected electronic media. Your fans expect to see you. To know a bit about you. They’re looking for a personal connection. You need to think of yourself as an actor, looking for superstardom. You need to stand out. You need to be memorable. And you’ll need to do this all the time. Yes, it’s unfair. Yes, the best work should speak for itself. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t. So . . . what makes you different? What makes you unique? What makes people want to be around you? Find it. Cultivate it.

Let’s turn it up a bit: get good at public speaking. And I’m not talking about a paragraph from your latest story, told in front of your local sci-fi club. I’m talking about being good at getting up in front of a lot of people and holding their attention for ten minutes, twenty minues, or an hour. Spend some time as a guest lecturer in your local college. Get on panels at conventions. Better yet, get speaking gigs on things you’re interested in anywhere you can. Having the guts to get up in front of a crowd separates you from . . . well, a whole lot of people. And it’s the best chance you’ll have to get someone’s attention.

“Wait a minute,” you’re probably saying. “What about all these online metrics and such?”

We’re getting to that. I’m looking at this from a holistic marketing standpoint. The preceding two steps can be considered “personal brand building,” if you’re in to buzzwords. If you aren’t, think of it as having something ready to deliver when you do get someone’s attention.

Then, let’s look local. Your best chance for exposure–and sales–will be through your local press, radio, television, and bookstores. Because, in this day and age of multinational conglomerates and faceless brands, there’s a real value in being local. And your local readers have friends—friends all over the world. Yeah, I know, you can’t keep this at arms’ length like a blog, and you may have to speak to some reporters . . . but you shouldn’t underestimate the power of “local dood makes good” stories. If you don’t know your local media, take a trip over to Mondo Times and make a list. Send letters. Learn how to write a press release. Call and introduce yourself.

Yeah, I know, online, online. Here you go.

Blog–but not just any blog. Here’s where Quantcast comes in. The first thing you’re going to do is compile a list of strategic tags. These strategic tags will include: your name, your genre, your publisher, the name of your book, the names of your awards . . . and tags taken from the keywords listed under high-traffic science fiction interest sites like BoingBoing, SciFi Channel, and io9. You’ll find these keywords at the Quantcast profiles for these sites, and for their affinity sites. The reason you’re picking these tags is because you want to be found when people are looking for science fiction-related content–and you have a good chance of being found if you maintain a good blog on a solid platform. You’ll apply these strategic tags to relevant posts (not all tags to all posts). For example, if you have a post about how terrible last night’s Battlestar Galactica episode was, and how you Twittered to all your friends using your iPhone, you’d be using popular strategic tags like “Battlestar Galactica,” “Twitter,” and “iPhone.”

Twitter–at least for now. Google is paying a lot of attention to Twitter posts at the moment. Use the same strategic tags (and tinyurl links to your longer content) and it will pay off in terms of search. Will this change in the future? Maybe. But for now, it makes a lot of sense.

Be visible on all the big SF outlets–and more. Have you responded to a post on BoingBoing, io9, or SciFi Channel? If not, why not? Identify yourself, use your strategic tags, and link back to your site. It may be the cheapest exposure you’ll get. Beyond the big guys, though, have you looked at forums such as Something Awful or Gaia Online? Yeah, I know. But–guess what? They are huge sources of traffic, and at least the former is self-selecting due to its paid nature. You’d be surprised how many science fiction fans and writers there are out there. Greg Bear’s son recently posted on SomethingAwful, and received a very warm reception. Threads that cover wacky science and new discoveries and supernatural are evergreen. These are communities you can reach out to. Finally, sign up for a full Quantcast account and use their Media Planner tool to look for demographics and site category to uncover places where you may want to be visible. For example, a search for males, 45+, caucasian, with a site category of “science and technology” could help you find where a “typical” science fiction-friendly audience might hang out. Or you can look for a younger audience. There’s a lot of data here to craft targets from.

“Wow, that’s a lot to do,” you say.

And yes, I hear you. Nobody said this is going to be easy. And, depending on the amount of time and money you have, you can go much, much, much farther. Here are a couple of things to think about if you’ve gotten some traction, and want to do more.

Consider SEO. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of creating content that’s designed to be indexed highly in Google and other search engines. For example, if you were to create a “Ultimate Battlestar Galactica Resource Site,” with 45,000 total words spread over 1500 pages, and solicited 60,000 links in from other fansites, you have a site full of content that will appear very, very high in the Google listings. It may also lead people to your book. The time an energy required to do this can be very large, however.

Consider AdWords and BlogAds. If you have to advertise, Google AdWords and BlogAds are two of the most cost-effective ways to do it. Create a campaign around your book, buying low-cost, high-popularity tags taken from Quantcast, and you may be able to sell at a profit. Maybe. If you are very lucky.

Consider building your own world. If you have a very patient family, you may consider treating the world of your novel as real and building out an alternate reality site for, say, the town that it is set in. Or a site for a research company that features prominently in your book. Or even start your own Ning social network, and allow your fans to interact with your characters on the network. But, to be fair, these tactics take time, and are far more speculative than the rest. If you engage in them, good luck!

Up next: What’s a Small Publisher To Do? Look for this next week.

September 1st, 2008 / 1,553 Comments »

1,553 Responses to “What’s An Author to Do?”

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