As writers striving for a career doing what we love, we have all been told by folks wiser than us that we must learn to market ourselves. That writing a great script or book isn’t enough to get us to the next level. We have to promote ourselves. Well, I’m here to tell you … this is 100% true. Not going to bullshit you, but I am going to help ease the agony of putting yourself and your work out into the wild world.
What I’m going to discuss is strictly my own experience, and what I’ve learned from peers and experts along the way. Your results may vary.
You’ve written an insanely awesome literary or cinematic masterpiece. Congratulations! All your blood, sweat, and sleepless nights have produced gold. Now what? You don’t have a manager. Your publisher doesn’t have the budget to advertise for you. And your mom doesn’t have the connections you need. It’s all on you to let the world know of this epic tome you’ve created.
It’s time to have that hard conversation with yourself.
Stand in front of that mirror, look at yourself, and ask, “Self, do you want to have a writing career? Are you willing to do what it takes to achieve that goal? Are you willing to dare to be vulnerable? To speak positively about yourself and your work? To meet people and socially engage with them even though you’re exhausted and need alone time? Are you willing to constantly seek out ways to get your material out in the world?”
If you can look in your own eyes and answer "yes" honestly, then you are damn ready to do this! Be proud of yourself for taking that huge step into uncomfortable territory. You may or may not achieve what you’re after, but you will always know you did your best. And before you step away from the mirror, give a last look and tell yourself you will never give up. Ever. Recall my mantra my previous article: Hope and perseverance.
Now you’re ready to rock. But where to begin?
It’s really up to you and your tastes. To assist, I’m breaking this down into four categories of marketing based on my own path: advertising, engagement, support, and outside the box.
Let’s dive in.
This is a traditional approach. Simple and can be effective. You can find dozens of outlets with which to place an ad for your book. Factors to consider are target audience, readership, and budget.
Social media advertising packs the most punch in today’s world and can be very cost effective. You have complete control over your daily budget and audience reach with most sites. I’ve used Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Instagram ads.
Starting with Facebook. If you have an author or book Page on Facebook, you can create an ad campaign based off a post. Facebook lets you target the audience (or let them do it for you), set the number of days, and the amount you want to spend per day. With Facebook, ad posts with a strong image and fewer words always perform better. Be sure to include a button link to your website or sales page. And now that Facebook owns Instagram, you have the option to post your ad simultaneously on both sites.
I’m on a tight budget—read as cheap—so my campaigns are seven days at $5 per day (yields about 1200 reached total). Cost per click is a good measure of success. The lower, the better. Again, since Instagram is now part of Facebook, I don’t need to spend money on a separate ad campaign with them.
Twitter ads, for me anyway, weren’t as effective. And that may be totally on me and my lack of savvy. They may work better for your material.
Going old-school print ads in newspapers and such can reap benefits if done strategically. Local papers tend to provide better results than mass market papers. And placing an ad in a magazine related to or connected to your story’s plot or theme is a solid path to take. These types of ads cost more than online advertising and often reach a smaller, but more targeted audience. Your results may vary.
Like many writers, I lean toward being an introvert. Ironically, engagement with an audience has become my favorite method of marketing. From building a social media presence, to live book-signing events, to networking, to standing in front of a crowd. I’ve learned to tap into the extrovert side that I keep locked away in a mental trunk chained and buried.
I know what many of you are thinking—“But Brian, I hate the spotlight. I hate being in front of people. What the hell is wrong with you bringing this up?”
I hear you, but go with me on this. No one expects you to step on a stage and give a TED Talk day one. Start simple. Create an author/screenwriter page on Facebook (separate from your personal wall). Create a Twitter account dedicated to your writing. Create an Instagram business account—this provides deeper analytics than a standard account, and is still free. Link your Facebook and IG accounts so when you post on that Facebook you can automatically post to the Instagram account as well.
For social media, don’t just create posts asking people to buy your book or read your script. This is the place to start building genuine relationships and creating your army of supporters. Post about your writing process, articles related to your story or writing, ask questions of the audience, and updates on what’s happening with your writing. Obviously, when you do have book launches and sales, plug away.
But on social media, focus on the concept of engagement.
When you’re ready to take your newfound extrovert self to the next level, it’s time to seek out book signings if you’ve got a newer release. Search your local area for the indie book shops, or hit up Barnes & Noble. Most places support local authors and would like to have you do a reading or signing event. If you book something, invite everyone you know locally to fill the seats and create a line. It helps you and the shop. Signings are low key and don’t demand too much extrovert energy from you. A great way to ease out of your comfort zone.
You know what comes next. No use fighting it: more people-time. But by then you’ll be enjoying the interactions with your audience. There’s nothing like casual conversations and deep philosophical discussions over coffee or bourbon.
Take a risk and book a table/booth at an event. A convention, a book fest, a craft fair—anywhere that feels in-line with your book. Keep your budget in mind as some of these events can be costly. Do your due diligence and the return on investment could make it worthwhile.
At the event, do your best to stand, sitting as little as possible. Greet visitors and don’t do the hard sell. Chat them up. If your book is science fiction, ask them what shows/movies they like. Same with romance or horror or even non-fiction. Find that common ground. Have an email list sign-up sheet. You might not make an avalanche of sales, but the mailing list add-ons definitely increase opportunity for future sales and audience-building.
After a few of these events under your belt, you’ll be ready for the pro-level engagement: the author panel. Getting invited to be on a panel at a con or event is not only a great honor, it’s another way to increase your readership. If you do find yourself being looked to as the expert on a topic, and you’re on that stage with others in the field, come prepared. Have books to sell, your favorite wake-up-juice (coffee) at your side, and your strongest extrovert personality locked and loaded.
This is the big league. It can be intimidating the first few times, but also an extremely enjoyable experience. The host and fellow panelists are all there to support one another and provide an entertaining experience for the audience, so you will be in a friendly environment. Don’t hold back. Go for it.
After you’ve mastered all these aspects, you’ll be the Engagement Terminator: unstoppable.
Support is a wonderful thing. Generally there are two types of support a writer has available to them: hired guns and street teams.
If you have a marketing budget, you may find benefits from hiring a public relations firm. For a nominal fee, they can get your name out into the public eye using their industry connections and persuasion. They can book you on radio shows, podcast interviews, newspaper and magazine interviews, and maybe even TV spots. They do great work, but don’t come cheap.
Most writers, myself included, rely on option two: the street team. This is a loyal fan base the writer cultivates through in-person events, online engagements, and genuine relationship-building. Support from these friends feels like a warm blanket and hot cocoa on a cold winter night. This support can be a massive help in spreading the word on books and events, and can be relied on for beta readers. This is the grassroots team that will have your back and lift you up.
Make sure to take care of these friends. Give them exclusives, early info on upcoming releases, and time. Show them love. Make videos just for them. Interact when you’re able.
We’ve gone over the tried-and-true marketing methods, and there’s more than can possibly be covered in a single article. But what about those lightning-bolt ideas that strike you with a jolt of creative genius? Those ideas that are so crazy just might work. The goldmines that can propel your work further into the public eye. Only problem—these ideas rarely come when we need them.
Let’s dive into these mysterious waters. How do you force that creative lightning to strike at your will? The hard truth is you can’t. But you can put yourself in the best position to be open to these goldmine ideas. Harness the power of the Internet to see what others in your position have done to further their marketing. Use your imagination to mash up two unrelated things to form a unique/new concept. Meditate. Be ready with your phone’s notepad to jot down ideas whenever they may creep in.
This is all fine and good. But how about some real-world examples. The concepts I’m about to give may or may not work for your given project, but they may lead your thoughts to discover your own creative quests.
Start a VLOG or TikTok. Not unusual in today’s world, but not many writers step into that spotlight. Take the chance. Shoot brief videos discussing your work, your life, you creative process. The more open and vulnerable you are, the more people gravitate toward you and cheer you on.
Add a QR code to all your print and online materials. A QR code is a machine-readable code consisting of an array of black-and-white squares, typically used for storing URLs or other information for reading by the camera on a smartphone. Generate your own online for free—putting the URL of your choice within, save it to your computer and add it to all the marketing images you create. Flyers, bookmarks, posters, websites, ‘zine ads, stickers, skateboard decks, magnets, shirts, branded notebooks, etc. Place the QR code on anything appropriate to what you’re marketing. The sky’s the limit. Some potential reader sees your item and wants to check it out. They pull out their phone, point it at the QR code, and they are transported to the site you’ve designated. Now they can learn about or buy your product.
If this is fitting for your project, consider renting space on an electronic billboard. The pricing is very reasonable and you can be strategic on which billboards to display your ad and what time of day. There are several companies that offer great packages.
Book unlikely events. Seek out local events that don’t necessarily fall into the category of your product, but may generate interest from a crowd who normally wouldn’t see your work. Artisan craft fairs, Steampunk cons, city festivals, holiday art fairs, etc. There’s always some event to check out. Keep budget in mind and book some different events.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Use your imagination and you can come up with hundreds of ideas. You can do this.
Now, gather your courage, build your army, tap into your wizarding skills, and conquer the marketing world. No matter which paths you take to achieve your goals, remember Hope and Perseverance will win the day.
Don’t give up.
*Feature photo by Anna Shvets (Pexels)
Watch the recording of our Symposium panel, "Hard Truth: Publishing".