By Linda Caroll
Every author who pours their soul into writing a book, every artist and artisan putting creative work into the world hopes it’ll find its wings and fly.
It seldom does.
Most books sell under 200 copies and I don’t need to tell you why everyone thinks artists go hungry — because many of them do.
The reason is always the same.
No one can love and buy your work if they don’t know it exists in the first place. Creative people are notoriously bad at marketing.
Most book marketing is internet marketing in disguise and it doesn’t work for creatives
Hard sell marketing tactics work best for products that push pain buttons and offers where the doors can close. For how to make money, how to get rid of your pain. Offer expires in 48 hours, you snooze, you lose.
The problem is that marketing that operates that way has a high churn rate.
Authors and artists can’t afford a high churn rate. You need your fans and followers to stick around for the first book and the fifth.
The one thing marketers get right is that you need to build a list.
But I promise you, offering a whopping deal or a free copy isn’t going to build the list you’re hoping for. Not if you’re a creative.
It’s easy to sell how to make money products to people who are 2 paychecks from broke. Entirely another thing to sell them books or art or handmade handbags.
It’s easy to build a list based on pain and struggle — quite another to build a list of people when there’s no doors closing, no pain-buttons to push, and you want them to stick around.
So how do you do that?
Step 1) Finding the common thread.
Most people treat the internet like a personal diary or writing journal, writing whatever occurs to them. Ask me how I know. I’ve done that, too.
You’ll see people ranting on about writing more, “getting your work out there,” promote, promote, promote — and it’s really easy to get sucked into content churn and forget to create a strategy to guide you.
I promise you, that’s a recipe for failure. Failing to plan is like planning to fail.
You need a strategy, and the first part includes finding the common thread between you and your readers or customers.
That common thread is woven through your books or products.
The biggest mistake…
The most common mistake is thinking your book or product is the “draw.” That somehow, if you just tell people about it — “get the word out” — surely they’ll be interested.
It doesn’t work that way unless you’re famous.
A celebrity can say they have a book coming out and they’ll hit the best seller list on pre-sales. That doesn’t happen for the average Joe.
It doesn’t matter how many free samples, free excerpts, video trailers, etc you make, they’re not interested because they don’t know you.
In real life, it works like real life…
Billy-Bob goes to the Beartown Café and sees a waitress that looks real appealing. So he asks her to marry him. She scuttles away, creeped out.
So he asks again the next night and the next night and doesn’t know why she keeps saying no. Someone needs to tell Billy-Bob that’s not how courtship works in the real world.
Same thing with authors and artists.
If you’re not selling something that pushes pain-buttons, you need to build a relationship of sorts with people. Not one-on-one, no. But trust based on repeat interaction.
That doesn’t happen if you start with a sales pitch. Trust seldom starts with a pitch. Buy my book/art/whatever is seldom how you build fans.
In real life, we know better than to propose on the first date. Likewise, we don’t build a fan following if we start out pitching.
Your money or your time — you pick…
Generally, it’s going to cost time or money to grow a fan base. If you have a lot of money, you don’t need a lot of time. If you don’t have a lot of money, you need to spend the time. Simple as that.
So you might as well do it while your creating. Two birds, one stone. And then you won’t have to launch to crickets.
Good marketing happens where hearts meet…
Lisa Genova wrote a book called “Still Alice.” It’s about a woman who gets diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and how it affects her marriage and her relationships with her children as she slowly slips away from them.
It’s heartbreaking and it’s beautiful. Laugh and cry, all the way through.
When Lisa finished her book, she did what a lot of authors do. Sent it to a lot of publishers and agents, who responded with rejection letters. She was a nobody, with no audience. Too much of a risk.
Thanks, but no thanks.
So she built a blog and started writing about Alzheimer’s. Once she had a good number of blog posts, she reached out the Alzheimer’s Association and showed them her blog and offered to write blog posts for their site.
Problem was, they didn’t have a blog.
So she offered to build one for them. Free.
The back story was that Lisa’s grandmother had Alzheimer’s. It’s where she got the idea for the book. She’d learned a lot about what it’s like to live with someone suffering from Alzheimer’s.
On top of that, she has a PhD in neuroscience. She thought she might be able to talk on the topic that had touched her own life.
The Alzheimer’s Association accepted her offer.
After a while, they endorsed her book and sales took off.
Here’s the important part.
Once sales took off, plenty of people who bought the book did not have a family member with Alzheimer’s. They just heard it was a great book so they bought it. When sales start taking off, the audience widens.
Writing about Alzheimer’s Disease was just a logical starting place.
A topic she could talk about repeatedly, related to her book, but without all the “buy my book” nonsense most writers and creatives do.
It took time.
Molly Wizenberg always dreamed of having a cooking show or writing a book that combined lifestyle and cooking. So she started a blog. At first, her only focus was growing the number of readers on her food blog.
Once she had an audience, she pitched a mainstream publisher on her book idea. Because she had an audience waiting in the wings, they signed her.
That took time, too.
You’ll notice that neither one of them wrote a book and then ran around the internet hollering “buy my book” and putting “video trailers” on Facebook and Twitter.
They built relationships based on a common interest and that common interest wasn’t the book — it was a topic in or inspired by the book.
The same concept works for other creative products.
A nature photographer went out and found a handful of nature and environmental sites that accepted guest bloggers. Then he’d write about the things he photographed.
He’d always be sure to include relevant photos in the blog posts, and the footer led back to his site, where his prints were for sale.
Eventually, he ended up getting paid to write for nature and environment magazines, too. As he made a name for himself, his photography prints took off, too, and he built a business around what he loved doing.
If you have money, you don’t need time.
Meredith Wild didn’t want to take that much time. She didn’t want to blog and build an audience. So she leaned on money instead.
She was writing a series of erotic novels when 50 Shades of Grey hit the theaters. So Meredith and her husband took a very large loan and bought a six figure campaign to run movie theater ads that played before the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie. It worked. Book sales took off.
The tricky part of finding your audience
For any book or product, there may be more than one “interest group” you could pick.
When Lisa Genova was thinking about choosing an audience to start with, she could have made a list than included, love, family, tragedy, loss, grief, terminal illness, Alzheimers. Those were all topics her book touched on.
The tricky part is to choose an interest that you can write about regularly.
Using the same example, if Lisa had said that she’s going to reach people who read loss/tragedy books — can you see how that could have become depressing and maudlin very quickly?
Same thing if she’d said she’s going to blog about terminally illness. A few months in, that would be one depressing blog to read.
Think of it like having an interest club. The same way people in a book club get together and talk about books every week, or a poetry club meets to talk about poetry, or the way Lisa could write about Alzheimer’s.
STEP 1 ACTIONS:
— Make a list of topics that people who would like your book/product are interested in. The topics will be inspired by your book or art.
— Of the topics listed above, which can you imagine running an “interest group” about or writing about regularly?
Step 2) Building a List
When you’re building an audience, building a list is at the top of your to-do list. When people resonate with what you’re writing about, you’ll want to give those people the ability to receive updates from you.
Don’t think of it as “marketing” — think of it as “communication” — a way to stay in touch and a way to make sure they can see the content they’re interested in.
Use any list provider you prefer. If you don’t already have a list, substack is free and pretty easy to use.
Tip 1: Don’t say “join my list”
That never works, simply because hard-sell marketers have ruined that for everyone else. When you say “join my list” people see that as “sign up to get bombed with offers” and they don’t sign up.
Instead, you want to offer a benefit to the reader.
You can get as fancy or as simple as you like. Simplest solution is to say I write about (topic). If you’re interested, I’ll send you a weekly digest.
If you want to offer a free gift for subscribing, you’ll get more signups. But, the “free gift” has to be about their interests, not your book or product.
Tip 2: If you offer an opt in “freebie” keep it short!
If they can’t consume it in one sitting, it will not work as well.
Here’s what I mean.
You offer “5 Things You Didn’t Know About ___” as your freebie.
So people sign up for your list and download it. But then they notice it’s 200 pages, so they don’t have time to read it right now. It gets saved in a folder. And forgotten about.
All the brownie points disappear and next time you appear in their inbox, they don’t remember you.
But if it’s short, they read it right away and they remember you.
Brownie points earned.
STEP 2 ACTIONS:
— Where will you build your list? Pick a list provider
— Will you offer an opt in? If yes, create a short freebie.
— Go set up your list.
— Create a footer to promote your list.
Step 3) Google-fu and planning
Know what’s the absolute worst? Facing down the dreaded blank page.
Writing regularly makes it easier (and faster) to build your list and your audience — and having an idea bucket to draw from makes it much easier to write regularly.
Without an idea bucket, you stare at the blank page and end up writing less often. With an idea bucket, it’s easier to write more consistently. Just grab one of the ideas and away you go.
Places to find inspiration
Google is a great source of inspiration. Search for the topic you’re planning to write about. What you’re looking for is websites and blogs on the topic. Look through them and jot down ideas you find.
Search Amazon, too. Look for books on the topic you’re planning to write about. When you find them, jot down the author’s name and check the author’s website and blog for ideas.
Check any social media sites you use. Search your chosen topic on Twitter and Instagram just to see if there’s some ideas. Write down everything that inspires ideas.
STEP 3 ACTIONS:
— make a list of post ideas inspired by your searching.
— make a list of authors you could interview
Step 4) Find places to get published…
So now you know what you’re going to write about and you have a list of ideas for specific posts/stories you can write. Now you just need to figure out the best places to reach your idea readers or customers.
Obviously, you can publish on Medium. But you can reach a wider audience if you also find blogs that accept guest writers and even podcasts on the topic.
The more places you appear, the faster you build an audience and your reputation all at the same time.
Finding publications on Medium
Search Medium for the topic(s) you’re going to write about. You’re looking for other people who write on those topics. When you find people who write on similar topics, look to see what publications they’re writing for.
You can also search the publications list at smedian. Find publications that include the topic you’re planning to write on, and then find their submission guidelines so you know how to submit.
Finding guest post opportunities
Search Google for “topic + guest post.” You may need to play with search phrases. For example, also try “topic + write for us.” See if you can find some blogs that reach your idea audience and welcome guest writers.
Finding other contacts
While you’re doing your homework, look for podcasts that cover the topic you’re going to write about. Also, look to see if there are prominent people on Twitter, Instagram or other social sites. These are potential contacts that you can interview, be interviewed by, or offer a review copy of your book.
STEP 4 ACTIONS:
— Make a list of 2–5 Medium publications that would fit your content
— Make a list of blogs that accept guest posts
— Make a list of podcasts that also reach your audience.
— Make a list of notable contacts in the topic/area you’re writing about
Step 5) Simple Results Tracking
So now you begin. Make yourself a posting schedule and start writing. Don’t fall into the trap of obsessing on stats. They go up and down anyway, and they do that for everyone. There’s really only a few things you need to monitor.
Keep track of list growth weekly
Pick a day of the week (Monday or Friday are great) and jot down your list size once per week. By keeping an eye on weekly list growth, you may end up spotting a trend. For example, you may see a jump in signups when you write a particular type of story or when you publish in a particular publication.
Keep track of follower count weekly
Jot down the size of your follower count once a week, too. Again, watch for patterns. Did you see a jump in followers when you wrote for a particular publication or on a specific topic?
Check your Medium stats weekly
Just a quick look at the green bars. Did you see a spike in traffic that correlates to a specific type of content? Do you see spikes in traffic when you write for a specific publication? Don’t obsess, but do keep an eye on.
STEP 5 ACTIONS:
— Make a chart to track your list size and follower count weekly.
— Watch the growth and feel proud. You worked for it!
Building an audience is a lot of hard work. The earlier you start, the better. If your first draft isn’t done yet, or all you have is an idea — all the better.
The honest truth is that it’s not about whether you “can” do it — it’s about whether you “will.” Because honestly,most people won’t. It’s not complicated. It’s just time consuming. And most people won’t do anything time consuming because they have this idea that “what if they spend the time and it fails”
The time would have passed anyway, right? What if you put in the time and it works? Many writers and creative people have followed the exact same steps and found the audience and connections that made all the difference.
So if you put in the effort, and learn and make mistakes and correct and keep going, you can reach the heights most people will never know or experience.
Before You Go…
If you enjoyed this, you might like my Friday emails on writing & marketing. https://lindac.substack.com/