More than once, I’ve heard another author bemoan the current state of the industry, where self-promotion and marketing are thrust upon us. There was a time, according to ancient legend, where all you had to do to be a writer was… well, write. However, that age, if it ever truly existed, has passed. Nowadays, every author is expected to have social media accounts, do book release promotion, be engaging, available, and constantly plugging their product while striving to still also be a genuine person on those outlets. This isn’t just an indie thing either, while famous traditional authors get marketing pushes, unless you’re already wildly successful you’re expected to help pull the weight.
What to do then, if you’re one of the many people in this industry who feels uncomfortable having to socialize, even online? What if you don’t know how to walk that line between marketing and sincerity, if you can’t quite figure out how many times mentioning your book pushes it from excitement to shilling, if you just don’t get how all the social stuff works? Is there any easy solution?
Nope. Sorry, but I write these in an effort to help, and facing the truth is the first part of that process. There is no simple solution. Marketing is a complex monster on its own; add in the social aspect of social media and truly, there is no universal code for what works and what doesn’t. Even if that did exist, it would be out of date by the time you finish reading this sentence. It is shifting sand, always, which means rather than trying some rigid tactic, the best advice I can share is how I’ve managed to make the task enjoyable for myself over the years. Hopefully, some of these will help you as well.
Make It Fun
90% of my marketing is shit I love to do. Authors & Dragons is me playing D&D with my friends. A&D At The Movies is all of us shit-talking movies. Taking shots on release day spices things up. Conventions involve seeing new places and meeting new people. The Choose Your Spooky Outcome pairs two of my favorite things, CYOA-style stories and Halloween. Most of my social media is me dicking around and giving semi-decent advice with a plug thrown in around releases. I could keep going: Shingles, serials, meetups, you get the idea.
None of that was by accident, either. I purposely chose to build marketing efforts around things I already enjoyed. Because if it’s going to be something constant in my life, a regular thing I spend time on, then why not make it also be fun? The upside of the internet turning everything into the wild west is that there are no hard and fast rules anymore. Your way of reaching people doesn’t have to be a 15-second advert that everyone skips. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be related to what you’re doing. Look back to the early days of Twitter, where a dude turned an account about funny quotes from his dad into a TV show.
I’m not saying you need to commercialize all the things that bring you joy. I still play D&D with another group that isn’t recorded, because there is something different about the two experiences, even if I love them both. My point is that sometimes when you feel stuck on how to break into telling people you exist, aka marketing, the best option is to start with something you want to do and build it out from there.
Make it Content
Not content as in happy, content as in product, something to be consumed. Look back at the list of marketing endeavors I listed above. Most of them, you might notice, aren’t just me telling people to buy my books, they generate unique content. Podcasts, stories, limited-run events, all stuff that the readers can interact with and consume. Why? Because, in my experience, I have found that content is the one kind of marketing no one seems to mind.
Think about a job fair or any sort of event where people give out free shit with logos on it. The logos don’t bother most of us, because we’re receiving something along with them. A pen, an umbrella, maybe even a shirt if they are big spenders. Same basic concept. Advertising inherently asks something of you, it’s a demand, “come buy this thing”. Content, however, offers something. It says “this is for you, enjoy it, and if you want more then this is the person to get it from”.
Making your efforts into content works on multiple levels. Aside from it being a more tolerable form of marketing, it also helps get your name out there. Some people might listen to your podcast only once, but they still might remember your name the next time it comes up. Others will become big fans and check out everything you’ve done. Either way, you’re getting a name out there, and that’s a big hurdle for newer authors. Please note that this is contingent on you making quality, earnest content. This is definitely not a “No such thing as bad press” world so be certain that what you put out accurately encompasses the image you’re trying to project.
Make it a Brand
I hate myself for typing that, probably as much as you hate reading it. That’s such a shitty thing to say about a person’s identity, that it should be boiled down into a few key points that are immediately conveyable and easy to market. But, the world is what it is, so at least by being aware of what this means, you’ll have the ability to deal with it on your own terms.
Being a brand is ultimately what the aim of modern marketing is. Of everything I’ve listed in this blog talking about advertising, only a few things actually involved writing. Because the books aren’t the long-term goal of effective marketing. I am the long-term goal. As are you, assuming you’re also a writer/creator/similar job. Good marketing makes people want to buy the book they saw. Great marketing makes people want to follow the person who created it.
A&D, aside from the fun of playing, isn’t just a place to plug our books when they are coming out. It’s a platform to let listeners get to know us on a more personal, relaxed level. It also allows readers who followed an author they enjoyed over to encounter other similar writers they might dig. Outside of the origin books, there’s very little writing in Authors & Dragons, yet we’ve all seen our readership increase from it. Because when someone listens, they aren’t seeing John Hartness’s work, but they are getting to meet John Hartness as a person, and a brand. If they search for him later, they are buying based on the author rather than the book.
So, assuming we’re going to accept this as part of marketing, how do we do it well? We’ll all reach different answers for that one, since we are all different people. The best advice I can give you for that is your brand should be sincere and consistent. Lean into an honest part of yourself. I have always been a raucous party guy, so when I made those the most prevalent things online people see about me, that was true. It’s not all there is to me, of course, but that’s sincerely a part of who I am, so emphasizing that part feels natural.
For example, if you hate being social on social media, then be honest about that. I see plenty of folks getting likes and retweets simply talking about what a bear the idea of openly discussing their books is. Because those are real feelings that a lot of people can empathize with. The internet is broad, and I can almost assure you there is no part of you so bizarre that no one else will connect to it. You don’t need to put your most delicate aspect on display, if that’s uncomfortable for you, just be sure you lean into real pieces of who you like to be. Acting will wear you down, being genuine is much easier.
If you’re going to have to consider yourself through a branding window, best to build that image truthfully and intentionally, creating a brand that will make your marketing easier, not harder. Take your time, find what feels right, and push into marketing a little at a time as you grow more comfortable. Or jump in headfirst if that’s how you party. There’s not really a wrong way to do it, it’s just a matter of finding what is right for you.