Do you love marketing? Yeah – me neither. Though I’ve put quite a lot of time and effort into learning good marketing since I quit writing for other people and businesses two years ago. This blog is dedicated almost entirely to writing deep point of view, but for the summer I’m running a series on myth-busting marketing for fiction writers!
Myth #1 – You Need A Big Platform To Sell Fiction
Time for some naked honesty. I don’t have a large audience, but I have an engaged audience grown almost entirely organically (meaning no ads). I have over 40% open rates on email and between 50-75% organic reach on Facebook (and I’m not super consistent on posting on Facebook right now). I have more than replaced the professional part time income I had working for others.
So the first myth I want to bust is that you need a large audience to make any money at writing. You don’t. You need an engaged audience!
But your books and blog are non-fiction — it’s easier to sell you’ll say. Non-fiction seems easier because you can point to the value being provided: With this blog you’ll learn …. With this book you’ll be able to ….
It is different with fiction because you’re selling entertainment instead of information, but all the same principles apply with some adaptation. I’m building a brand-new fiction platform for a fantasy book launch in January and already have 200% organic reach on that brand new Facebook page.
Myth #2 – Fiction Authors Should Blog
When I decided to write and publish fiction (and make money at it) 15+ years ago, going to conferences, trying to secure an agent, networking with other writers, the wisdom at the time was for fiction writers to have a blog. Maybe new writers are still being told that. So, because that’s how I roll, I took a two-footed jump in the deep end and launched a blog where I posted at least twice (sometimes three times) a week – for five years.
And I gathered a small audience of mostly friends and if I’m honest, a lot of other fiction writers trying to do the same thing. I had very little traction, painfully slow growth, but lots of encouragement. My writer friends shared my posts and I shared theirs (Facebook is cracking down on share groups right now and putting people in Facebook jail for this). So it felt good but it wasn’t helping me build an engaged community.
Looking back, the whole exercise was a collosal waste of time and good content. I drank the kool-aid my friends and it’s got a bitter after-taste, let me tell you. It was time better spent learning craft.
Myth #3 – Your Facebook Page Should Be About You
Here’s another one where I took a two-footed dive into the kool-aid. I looked at the BIG authors already on Facebook and tried to emulate what they were doing – which was sound in theory. The problem is that writers like Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Nicholas Sparks and others joined Facebook and instantly had like… 100,000 fans.
They already had a large group of dedicated (engaged) fans, a brand, a publisher, they had money to spend on ads and admins, they had publishers who were spending money on ads and admin help. I couldn’t even afford to buy stock images – there was a large discrepancy in terms of visibility, support, tools, and knowledge. No one was looking for ME yet. (Pssst – they still aren’t.)
People find my non-fiction book because they want help with a specific problem, they’re not looking for ME. They’ve never heard of me. They’re searching for fiction in the same way. Your Facebook page should be about the people you want to attract. Your page should speak for them not be about you. What would they want the whole world to know about them?
Myth #4 – You Need A Fancy Website To Sell Fiction
Don’t spend a lot of money on a custom-built website or expensive hosting package if you’re just starting out. (I never had money for an expensive anything, but have wasted a lot of time trying to pretty things up and create content that did me no good.)
What you need is a simple one or two-page website that will funnel people into a mailing list. You need a website that can host a lead magnet (my cowriter calls them cookies) — something you can give away for the price of an email. And then keep in touch with your community via email (which I’m not super good at and am taking a course on how to do better).
Take a day and learn the basics of how to create a good lead magnet and landing page (and oh my gosh – you do not have to buy into an expensive landing page creator anything. There some great done-for-you templates that come with lots of bells and whistles at great cost! You can do something effective and attractive on a free WordPress blog with a free email service account). Learn some basic copywriting skills. Ask your audience what they want more of from you and give it to them!
Myth #5 – Create A Product And Then Find An Audience
Been here – done that. Instead of creating a product AND THEN finding an audience for it – create a community and ask them what they want!
My cowriter and I had each cultivated a small list of ideal readers and sent them a questionaire. It was a targeted list of questions that gave us a lot of insight into future marketing. We got 50+ responses back. They told us exactly what they wanted. Now we’re creating the content they’ve asked for to use as a lead magnet. Takes some of the guess-work out of it. I’m not blindly casting about, spending loads of time on a project that I’m not sure my community even wants.
Myth #6 You Want As Many Eyeballs As Possible To See Your Content
Yes, you need exposure for any product to gain traction and do well. However, there’s this idea that numbers give you social proof. They don’t. It’s a vanity metric — in other words, the numbers make YOU feel good but that’s about it. It doesn’t matter how many fans you have on Facebook if only 10 people see your posts. It doesn’t matter how many people you have on an email list if you have a 5% open rate.
You want your first 100, first 1000, fans to be the most engaged, passionate, and vocal fans you have. These are the social mavens that will tell everyone they know on social media to buy your book, who engage (like, share, comment) on all the content you post, and will buy an additional five copies of your book to give away at Christmas.
How do you get those fans? One place to start is by making your content about your readers and not about you! You need to find out what kind of content makes them pause as they’re scrolling and say to themselves – Yes! That’s me! It’s content they can’t help but engage with, can’t help but share publicly. Stop posting “I did… I saw… I love…” and make posts about THEM.
A Social Experiment In Selling Fiction
Because I’m tired of drinking kool-aid that wastes time and does absolutely nothing to help me sell fiction, I’m trying something different. With my co-writer Marcy Kennedy, we’re launching a new fiction series in January 2020 and this month began our marketing efforts. The community we’re building will serve our individual and joint fiction ventures.
We’re going cold turkey on the kool-aid. We’re trying some different things and it might all blow up in our faces. Although, obviously we’re not planning on that. Our goal is to have an engaged community of at least 1000 on Facebook and email by January in time for the launch.
Throughout the summer, this blog series will outline how we’re doing social differently. How we’re building a platform from scratch and will share how successful those efforts were following our launch. I’ll share what worked and what flopped and how we’re adapting. Yes, because of the timeline we’ll be spending money on ads on Facebook – but like $1 or $2/day. We’re not breaking the bank on this by any means.
I’ll share all the down and dirty deets, but make sure to sign up for the blog so you don’t miss any of it!
Do you have an author page on Facebook? Do you have a fiction blog? What’s frustrating you with your book marketing right now?
Been told you should learn Deep Point Of View? Had an editor or critique partner tell you to “go deeper” with the emotions in your fiction? Looking for a community of writers seeking to create emotional connections with readers? Check out the Free Resource Hub and then join the Going Deeper With Emotions In Fiction Facebook group.
Lynne Collier says
I’ve been doing all the same myths you bust here, Lisa. And yes, I have an author page on Facebook and a fiction blog. I’m looking forward to someone finally finding out what helps us sell books in this scary new world of social media and it’s ever-changing algorithms. Thank you, and Marcy, for blazing the trail (and being honest when all you get is a puff of smoke). I host a website and facebook group for other authors so I know where some of my content for those will come from this summer 🙂
Lisa Hall-Wilson says
Glad the post was helpful. I’m tired of drinking the kool-aid but this might all blow up in my face too. Hopefully not. Not planning on that obviously.
Wayne W Walls says
I got value from each of the things you mention here as ineffective marketing techniques. I have a slightly differing opinion about two of these points.
I think it is important for anyone (a writer of fiction or non-fiction, or a scientist or a juggler) who wants to develop influence over a group of fans to blog. You must absolutely have an understanding of keywords, long-tail keywords, and Search Engine Optimization. You have to write stuff people will be searching for so that you can providing the reading material they want. Anyone who blogs is going to increase the chances of connecting with potential fans. You say you blogged and tried incredibly hard (2-3 posts per week!) for 5 years and it didn’t really work. I hear that experience and know there is something to learn from it. I also know that I discovered you and your work through this blog and its article that showed up in Google results for a search I did. Blogging is worth a try if your goal is to connect with people about some topic.
You mention that you should create what the market wants rather than creating something and then finding someone to want it. That is important, especially for brand new and far out ideas. If its never been offered to the public, its not known whether people actually want it. But for most types of things that have already been made and sold, you just need to connect with the right subgroup of people. Tim Ferriss of the “Four Hour Workweek” talks about the method of selling people the idea of the product you want, and if you make sufficient sales, create the product and deliver it, and if it doesn’t sell enough, refund everyone their money and be glad you didn’t waste a bunch of time making the product. So if sales are a priority, then making what will sell is important. I also think that part of the goal is making what satisfies you as a writer. Write what interests you, and then find the people interested in what you wrote. It is probably the case that a combination of both is necessary for a fulfilling life and life-sustaining income.
I really appreciated this post!
Wayne W Walls recently posted…Stir Crazy Popcorn Popper Review
Lisa Hall-Wilson says
I haven’t followed Tim Ferris too much. For this blog, I already had an audience I built on Facebook. I was able to direct traffic from there to the blog to help it grow. Also, there’s a strong distinction between fiction and non-fiction writers with a blog. Yes, for a non-fiction writer who’s solving a specific problem or is an expert on a particular topic, blogging is often a great idea if you know where to find people who are looking for the content you’re producing. Fiction writers typically aren’t as successful with blogs in my experience.
Robert Stone says
I totally agree that you don’t need a huge audience. Instead, you need an engaged audience that is interested in what you have to offer.
I also love the idea of creating an audience and then asking them what they want. Still, sometimes, the audience may not know what they want. Besides, it is quite difficult to get an engaged audience when you still don’t know what are you going to sell them.
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