Before You Start Writing
“The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out.”
Seth Godin, Advice for Authors
Imagine that! Three whole years before the world gets to even read your work. This advice is stellar, and essential to entrepreneurs who are looking to market anything --- a start-up, a service, a product, a book. This is where you throw the concept of ‘if you write, people will read’ out of the building. No one wants to take chance on a brand-new author with a brand-new book they know nothing about. Building a following or a community around your ideas, creating a buzz around your book is what you’re aiming to achieve here.
While it may not feasible for many authors to start marketing their ideas three years prior to release, but it is essential to honestly evaluate an author’s platform, or lack thereof, to understand the way forward. Ask yourself these questions:
- By the time you’re ready to publish your book, how many people would have heard about you?
- How many people would be actively supporting your ideas or talent?
- How many will be waiting for your book to come out?
These are the questions you are looking to answer in the early days.
Amazon Bestselling Author Kristen Martin, released her fourth book Shadow Crown last year, says:
“Start as soon as possible! Do not wait to start because there will never be a “perfect” time. You may feel like you want to have your book published before creating a YouTube channel or podcast focused on giving writing advice, but your circumstances should not determine your choices. Because guess what? If you wait until you publish your book to start building your author platform, it could be years and years from now – plus, when your book comes out, who’s going to read it? Use the time you have right now to start growing your platform. Connect with like-minded writers and readers, reach out to book bloggers and other authors for collaborations, guest post on blogs, etc. The more you do now, the better off you will be, and the less work you’ll have to do in the future (because trust me, after you publish that book, the work and amount of time spent only grows!)”
Author Brian Paone self-published his fourth book Moonlight City Drive, for which he set up a Facebook group, a whole week before he even started writing it. He says:
“I started the Group the week before I began writing and the members were able to follow the entire process, from outlining through editing and the cover reveal. At times, I even asked the group for suggestions on names etc. It made them feel like they were a part of it. As of November, 2017, the group has a total of 509 members and when the book’s presale was announced last month, I sold 314 copies almost immediately (street date Nov 6, 2017). I have never sold that many copies of a book before it came out.”
Obviously, it is impossible to pinpoint numbers when you’re a first-time author, and nobody knows where their next sale is coming from, but a solid effort in increasing your presence, online and offline, is what you should concentrate on, even before you start writing. If you’ve already started and already quite a bit through, don’t be disheartened --- the strategies in this book will work, nevertheless.
The importance of building your brand as an author:
You can write. You can write well, even. Friends and family like to read your stuff. You wanted to write a book. You’ve written one already. Now you want to be published.
All that is excellent, yes, but why would anyone else want to read your book? Does anyone else know that you exist? And why should they care?
Writing a good book or a good anything (article, feature, blog post, and short story) is a great start. If you have a good product, people will want to buy it. But the product needs a brand. An identity that makes your buyers (in this case, readers) have trust in your work and in your books.
What do you think of when someone says “Coca Cola” or “McDonald’s” or “Stephen King” or “John Grisham”? You’ll note that people will rarely vary on things they think of when these names are said out loud. And that is simply because powerful branding exists around these names. They stand for something that can be counted on over and over again.
In case of Coca Cola and McDonald’s, a prominent logo that’s recognizable everywhere, taglines that are world famous, consistent product quality. In case of Stephen King or John Grisham, consistent writing style, a distinct author persona, faithfulness to genre.
If you’re serious about self-publishing then there’s no way around this, of course. But as said before, you have to put in as much work into marketing your books as a traditionally published author as you would have to if you were a self-publishing author. Traditional publishers will always pay more attention if you have an active community around your work, in place. In order to earn a devoted fan-base, one that will root for you and be around to buy your books, branding yourself as an author is crucial. If done right, a well-developed brand will help establish your reputation as an author.
1.1 Identifying an Audience for Your Work
- Think of what genre you’re writing for. In the beginning, the genre may or may not be clear and that’s perfectly fine. While you’re writing your book, genre slowly comes into focus. At first you can classify your book under a broad category, say speculative fiction. The more your story takes shape, the clearer it becomes what genre your work belongs to --- sci-fi or fantasy and so on. But even before you start to write, you’ll have a general idea about what you’re interested about writing.
If you’re looking to write a historical fantasy about time-travelling to the past, readers of historical fantasy and even sci-fi are going to be your audience.
- Find out who other authors write for. Identify established authors who have written similar books as yours, or those who write in the same genre. Find out which groups they belong to, what tags they use on Twitter and Instagram, what kind of posts they put up on their Pinterest boards and blogs. A quick look-through their Google+ and Twitter profiles, will tell you what circles to join and what hashtag events to take part in. Stalking other authors’ public profiles will give you an excellent idea of what content they’re putting out that’s attracting readers. Most likely, those are the readers you want for your own book.
- Pinpoint the USP of your book. What is the ‘hook’ of your book? You are maybe writing a sci-fi book set in 3045 AD about two droid teenagers. But has it been written before? Is time-travelling involved? Can it be classified as YA? Identify all the unique points of your story that can differentiate it from other books in the genre and sell your audience on that. Maybe the USP is that the entire book is written in the form of letters that go back and forth the main characters. The USP will help find a niche audience for your work.
- Having multiple target audiences is always a good thing. Take the story idea from above. That story could easily fit into both the sci-fi and YA genres. If they travel back to 1500 BC, it’s quite possible that history buffs will also find your book interesting. However, step carefully --- a book trying to be too many things will lead to certain disaster.
More Great Advice on Target Audience Building:
- How to Build an Audience for Your Novel
- How to Build a Book Audience: 6 Smart Methods
- Tips for Finding Your Book’s Audience
1.2 Building Your Platform
a. Claim Your Social Media Channels
If you haven’t claimed your social media accounts yet, you’re already at a disadvantage. So do it now! There’s no denying the impact social media can have on sales. And this is the right time for you get on them and start building your profiles.
Facebook. I don’t have to tell you that Facebook, by far, has the largest social media audience on the internet - almost 1.6 billion active users per month! It is still the #1 platform to have an Author Page on. It will give you a platform to build your audience on, that will potentially lead to book sales.
Twitter. In spite of Facebook and its reach, Twitter is one of the most popular, and preferred, social platform for writers. From Salman Rushdie to Margaret Atwood and Stephen King and GRR Martin, Twitter makes it easy for writers to ‘hang-out’ with their fans and interact directly, mostly because the audience is ready-made in Twitter --- they’re already there and they’re waiting for you. It is an added advantage that Twitter is also popular with publishers and agents and has a variety of manuscript pitching contests that authors can use to get discovered.
Instagram. This platform is more of a visual platform than any other. With Instagram, even though you can add captions, try and stay away from long, rambling paragraphs. Use Instagram stories to keep your followers updated with what you’re doing, especially what literary events you’re attending. Post photos of books that you’re reading. Or us it like authors do, to post excerpts with beautiful artwork. Instagram is a place where a lot of book bloggers hang out, so you can tap into that section of users.
Tumblr. Tumblr is another blogging platform more than anything. But what makes it a picture-perfect platform for writers, is that every post you create has the potential of being exposed to thousands of readers, maybe millions. It doesn’t have word or character limits, but like Twitter, users can like, repost, re-blog, save your posts, gifs, photosets, videos, on their curated dashboards and follow you. As a network of over 50 million blogs, Tumblr is a great place to build a readership for your books.
LinkedIn. LinkedIn is more of a professional platform than typical social media, to be honest. Here, the idea is to extend your professional network rather than share clever status updates. LinkedIn has great potential when it comes to providing publishers with a quick link to your work history and experience, connecting with clients and PR professionals and publishing executives, posting industry-specific articles that display your expertise in a field.
b. Set up Your Blog
Again, the thought of a blog is daunting to some many new writers. If it is the same for you and you’re wondering what you’d even put in a blog, then you’re not alone. Most writers balk at the mention of blogging, because they think blogging will lead to the additional pressure of producing extra writing.
It’s not. Stay with me, while I explain.
Early in the process of researching and thinking about your book, start a blog. A blog is much like a social media channel. It’s even better, because there no limitations that most social media platforms have. You can post as many pictures as you want, no hassling with hashtags if you don’t want, no limitations with characters and so on.
Think of why you’re writing your book. Put it down in one or two paragraphs. And publish it on the blog. Congratulations! You have your first post.
Having a blog doesn’t mean writing paragraph after paragraph of rants and declarations. Even 150-200 words, each day, of helpful, inspirational information about your book, or the genre in general, or something interesting you’ve read, issues with your writing, research you’re doing, on subjects that are related to your book, will help grow your blog and will establish your platform as a writer who readers would want to follow.
3 things to blog about, when you’re just starting out:
- Personal pieces. This is a good time to talk about yourself, your background and love of writing. This is your chance to tell your story. What do you want to write about? Where do you want to go as a writer and what do you want to achieve with your writing? It gives potential readers a peek into your psyche and lets them know that you’re gearing up for a project.
- Your novel-planning journey. Without giving the plot away, write about which outlining method you’re using, if you’re using any. Which books are you referring to learn more about the craft of writing? How are you planning your series or the structure of your standalone novel?
- Book reviews. I can list at least 500 book reviewers, who’ve gone ahead and published their own books, with a massive response from readers and the writing community. The beauty of a book review is that it speaks directly to readers. When readers start following your reviews (which have to be regular and insightful), they keep coming back to your blog, and you gain a steady stream of faithful readers. That is the only ingredient in creating a community. Those readers will be waiting for you, when your own book is released.
In the next chapter, I will talk about 10 more things to post on your blog while you’re in the process of writing your book.
Top Tip: There are tons of platforms available on which you can set up a blog. But be smart about this. Choose a platform that not only allows you to have a blog, but will also allow you to add static pages later, because at a later stage, you will want to have your own author website. It’s best to have your website on the same platform as your blog.
Resources to help you set up a blog
Get a domain name
There’s nothing more unprofessional than www.yourblog.wordpress.com or www.yourname.wix.com. It’s difficult to remember and looks sloppy on business cards or posters. Domain names and hosting are dirt-cheap nowadays, and not having one just shows that you’re not serious about your work. And why should anyone pay for your book when you yourself are unwilling to invest a few dollars on yourself?
The sites below offer really cheap and secure domain names:
This is highly recommended. The most popular practice is to sign up with Wordpress or Squarespace or Wix for free and then pay them to register a domain for you. In this case, you will find yourself paying for monthly hosting, for the domain name and for the redirecting DNS services.
This cost will be much higher than self-hosting your website/blog. Most domain name registrars like Bluehost or Godaddy, also sell cheap and secure Linux hosting that will go along with your domain name and are compatible with most blogging platforms. You’ll be able to login to your account or CPanel and then just install the blogging platform of your choice. The process is slightly more complicated than paying the blogging platform directly, but a lot more economical.
- 29 Best Wordpress Themes for Authors
- 15 Minimal Tumblr Themes for Writers
- 10 Best Squarespace Templates
Popular Blogging Platforms
- Wordpress.org (self-hosted)
c. Join Web Forums & Groups
Writing by itself is a lonesome activity. Getting your thoughts on paper and how, are only up to you. And then you have constant questions that keep popping up in your head as you write:
Does this paragraph make sense? What genre will my book belong to? Is this sentence too long? How to write convincing dialogue?
At this point joining writers’ groups online (and offline) is a great idea. There are tons of quality groups on Facebook that are active, well-moderated and full of helpful members who will inspire you and answer your questions. Many of these groups allow you to share links to your books for sales and reviews. Some groups are specifically for bloggers --- platforms where you can collaborate, contribute and share quality blog posts.
The best thing about joining these forums, especially when you’re just starting on your writer’s journey, is that they provide a chance for you to network with like-minded people, who someday might buy your books, read them, review them and recommend them to others. That’ll boost your sales when you publish --- which is exactly what you want, in the first place.
Investing your time in groups and writers’ meets lead you to harbour professional relationships that can be mutually beneficial. Especially with those who write in the same genre as you. For eg., if a writer is looking for beta-readers or reviewers, you can offer to be one for them. Staying in touch and giving them helpful feedback on their works will encourage your colleague to reciprocate when the time comes. They may just buy your book when you publish and add a brilliant review of it on Amazon!
The same principle applies to offline authors’ meets. Use Google to find local events and groups for writers and make time to attend those.
3 Things to remember when you join any of these groups:
- Contribute freely and be proactive.
- Share ideas. In the business of startups, it has been noticed that ideas don’t actually carry much worth. Anyone can have an idea. It is the execution that counts. Similarly, in the world of writing books, your idea maybe a stellar one, but guarding it will not help at all. Share it, ask people about it and take feedback. People/readers are more likely to take interest in work that have helped form.
- Give well-informed advice. Don’t half-ass it. If you don’t have an answer or if it offends you, keep scrolling. And try and be as constructive as possible, to get your point across plainly.
Facebook Groups, Goodreads Groups & Meetups for Writers
- The Write Life Community
- Call For Submissions
- Indie Author Group
- Fiction Writers Global
- Children’s Authors & Illustrators on Facebook
- Nanoland - NaNoWriMo Participants
- Women Writers, Women’s Books
- Fiction Writing
- Indie Authors Unite!
- Fictions Writers on Goodreads
- Goodreads Authors/Readers
- Support for Indie Authors
Do a quick search on Meetup.com on writers’ groups in your local area and choose the ones that seem the most busy and helpful.
- Writing Meetups
- Creative Writing Meetups
Things to take care of before you start posting publicly on social media:
- A great profile picture and cover picture. This is who you are. Make your profile picture your head-shot. While I’m sure your cat is the cutest thing in the world, and so is your child, no one is interested to see them when they’re trying to find out more about your book. This profile picture is to ensure people, potential buyers, publishers, agents, editors, colleagues in the industry, are able to find you easily. So it has to be a close-up, clear, bright picture of yourself. Also ensure that your profile picture is the same across all platforms for consistency.
Your cover picture can be anything that’s related to your work or your book. Include the cover of your upcoming book. Or include an illustrated version of your main character or a photograph that depicts the theme of the story. If you write murder mysteries, no one actually wants to see a pretty picture of snow-capped mountains as your cover image. Unless of course, someone in your book has been pushed off those mountains. If you have a website or a blog, you can overlap the images with the text pointing to them. This is best time to put important information that will grab everyone’s attention.
- The ‘About Me’ section. Use this space and don’t be shy. While we don’t need your height or weight, we do need to know your writing history, links to magazines that may have published your pieces, why do you write, what do you write about, where do you get your inspiration from, when is your book coming out, et al. Put in the most essential information here, including Amazon or Goodreads links. You can also edit the About Me settings to include all your website, blog and social media links.
- Decide on a posting frequency. Each social media platform works on different principles, obviously. And growing your following does not just depend on the content. It also depends on how often you post and when you post.
Instagram posts perform better when posted early in the morning, Twitter in the afternoon, and so on. Although the information has been pooled together from users based in USA, the general public around the world still uses social media the same way, and the same timings can be applied in other countries based on their specific time zones.
- Cross-post, cross-post, cross post. No one knows where your next book sale will come from. Hence, cross-post like a crazy monkey. You don’t know if the next buyer is lurking around on Instagram or stalking you on Facebook or if they just stumbled upon your ludicrous blog on Wordpress. So, the best thing to do is ensure all your important information, posts, pictures, announcements, rants and excerpts go up on every platform you’re active on. I come across plenty of new authors, who’ll say something in the lines of, “I posted a rant on my blog. Who would want to read that on Instagram?!”
Just choose a pretty font and relative artwork or a pretty frame, well-researched tags and watch the likes and follows.
Top tips to keep in mind:
- Research your hashtags for Instagram. A mix of lesser knows tags and the popular ones will give you more exposure than all popular tags. Hootsuite’s guide to hashtags is a brilliant place to learn about Instagram marketing that works. Link - https://blog.hootsuite.com/instagram-hashtags/
- The biggest mistake most people do, while maintaining fan pages and accounts, is that they think constant marketing is going to help. Lol, no. Bombarding your followers continuously with news on your book will make them unsubscribe or un-follow your account in a millisecond. Instead, follow the 20% rule. For every 4 posts out of 5, that you make, make the 5th one a promotional post about your book.
- Use scheduling apps (all of them have free and premium versions, and the free version works perfectly fine for indie authors) like Buffer, Hootsuite, TweetDeck, etc. to schedule your social media updates at the most efficient times. You can also use the default “Schedule Post” option when you create posts on your Facebook Page.
- Consider Social Media as a sales funnel. People find you via Social Media posts. They visit your website or Pages to find out more about you. They take the time to read your content and/or book blurbs. They buy your book!
- Consistency is key. Social media marketing is a commitment. You can’t just post on a Monday and then completely forget about your accounts for the rest of the week. You’ll have to decide which social media platform works best for you. Do an initial experiment where you post regularly on every platform. You’ll realize which platform is serving up more active followers, and which platforms you are actually enjoying engaging with. The keywords here are “active followers”. If you don’t have active followers on your page, scouting agents and publishers will know and your leverage of having a “base audience” so that your books are easy sells, will not work. Here is also where those post-scheduling apps work well. For example, Tumblr and Twitter are the go-tos for many writers. Take a look at how John Green is active on Tumblr, so is Sarah J. Maas, and Margaret Atwood on Twitter. Some swear by Pinterest. Freelance writers, who actively look for writing jobs, like LinkedIn a lot. Instagram works brilliantly for Rupi Kaur. Youtube works for Sasha Alsberg.
- Take note of what your favourite authors are doing. How are they staying in touch with their reader-base? What kind of content are these writers are creating and figure out which ones you can produce yourself. If you need help with getting started, or looking for ideas on what to post when you’re just starting out, check this list out.
- Get familiar with graphic design website and stock image repositories: www.canva.com, www.picmonkey.com, www.unsplash.com, www.pixabay.com, www.pexels.com, www.crello.com.
- All these sites will help you with designing your graphics, videos, excerpt tiles, provide you with royalty-free images for your posts, and serve up templates for cover images, profile picture, headers, logos etc. Just ensure you check their copyright policies and stick to them. Check out the resource box at the end of this chapter for more information on copyright issues.
- Take note of the format and image sizes. Posts will act and display differently on different platforms. You may want to make a text post on Facebook, whereas the same text post will not perform well on Tumblr, unless you include a picture.
- Keep in mind that just “Follows” and “Likes” won’t help you at all, given Facebook’s recent change in algorithm (as of December, 2017). You have to engage. Follow people you want to engage with and be regular about giving useful feedback on their posts. Make sure you give a reply to every comment that you receive on your posts. Engagement is what you’re looking for.