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A few days ago I stumbled upon a link in my twitter feed (a retweet by Neil Gaiman, whose work I admire) that caught my attention. The header mentioned Amazon book reviews–a target that should be on every author’s marketing radar. I clicked through to a blog post by author Anne R Allen, who had written a light- hearted but honest article about the importance of Amazon reader reviews and star ratings. She included a fun and very helpful guide to the review system, intended for authors to help encourage their readers to show their support.  I loved the article and decided I would tag on a note of appreciation for her insights, something I almost never do. As I scrolled through the unexpectedly long list of comments left by other readers, I soon realized that Anne had ignited a firestorm.

What one might politely refer to as a ‘lively discussion’ had erupted on her blog — readers, authors, and reviewers had engaged in often impassioned debate about their perceptions of their respective roles in the book world. Poor Anne had unwittingly tapped into the emotional undercurrent roiling in the minds of everyone involved in publishing today.

Uncharted Territory

No doubt about it — commerce, in general, and publishing, in particular — are caught in a technological undertow that is sweeping us out into the vast sea of the unknown. We’ve left the relative safety of what used to be, and are being dragged, sometimes kicking and screaming, into a New World in which we are completely unprepared to survive. Not only do we not know the landscape, we don’t know the language or the culture. And that is partly because the New World is, as yet, largely undiscovered country.

Scary stuff. No, really. It is. In the old days of marketing, at least there was a map. There was an identifiable playing field. And, there were rules of engagement. None of that seems to be true anymore. And worse yet, the harder one tries to figure out how to play, the more things seem to change.

Treading Water 

Anne’s blog post also tapped into my own turbulent thought stream. As a 20+ year advertising and publicity veteran – turned- author, I have been pondering my own marketing course for quite a while now. In the early days of e-commerce and cyber sales, I found it pretty easy to translate traditional marketing strategies to the new retail environment. It wasn’t long before I realized that my old-school outlook was only going to keep me afloat for so long. Sooner or later I was going to have to start dog-paddling and hope for the best. The truth was that the many modes of new media marketing were coming at me in huge waves. The learning curve was steep, and I just couldn’t keep up.

However, I also knew from my education and experience that a certain percentage of what was floating around would eventually wash up on the shore as flotsam and jetsam. Like all new ideas and trends, the test of time would eventually sift off the foam and leave the real substance.  And so, after reading Anne’s blog post, I got to thinking — are there any strategies that we can trust, when it comes to author marketing? The answer is yes — while consumer purchasing will always be influenced by the prevailing tactics and technology of the current environment, consumer psychology hasn’t really changed much in the last millennium. While how readers buy and read books is changing, why they read has not.  The Rosetta Stone of author marketing is simply this — know your reader and what they want.

I’m sure you’ve all heard this before — know your audience. Not as simple as it sounds, I know, but it really is the cornerstone to your success. No book is for everyone. So who is yours for? Once you have a good answer that question, you will be better able to travel the seas of new media marketing. Navigating will still be tricky, I warn you, but here are some fundamental rules of consumer behavior that will never change:

5 Indisputable Truths of Author Marketing:

1) Readers Are Creatures of Their Own Desires  — no matter how much technology tries to retrain and redirect our attention, we will always make buying decisions based on our individual wants and needs.  We will seek out the widest selection, the best deal, and the most convenient transaction — but in the end, all that really changes is HOW we buy, not why we buy. The solution? Be where the buyer is. In today’s world, this includes Amazon. Like it or not it is the reader (and the available retailers) who decides where books will sell, not the publisher or the author.

2)  Readers Are Not All Alike  — One of the best things to come out of the plethora of new media sales channels is the ability to target your marketing efforts. Once you have clearly defined the demographics of your core audience (and this you simply MUST do), search for the places they live, work and play in cyberspace. This means research. Do the homework yourself or hire someone to do it for you, but your marketing efforts will not pay off unless you make the effort to know and understand your readers.

3) Just Because You Build It Doesn’t Mean That They Will Come —  In my marketing days, the vast majority of my small business clients balked at the mere mention of a marketing budget. The proprietor invariably believed that hanging an ‘open for business’ sign in the window, and maybe mailing a flyer to his friends and neighbors, was all the marketing he needed. And, invariably, that business would go under within a year. Just because your book is published doesn’t mean it will sell. Readers are not likely to find you, unless you are looking for them. Once you have found where they live and breath in cyberspace, you must then engage. Join the conversation, Invite them over to your place (your website or blog, naturally, not your home). Offer them cake and cookies. Give them a reason to pay attention to you, and then do it over and over again.

4) Quality Will Always Count — A lot has and is being said about the virtues and faults of the various venues for bringing book content to the reader. We all have our biases about traditional and self-publishing, but we would all do well to remember that in the free marketplace, the reader has the ultimate power. The reader decides what matters. The bottom line is that everyone wants the best value for their time, and their money. Spend your energy writing the best book you can, not fretting over what else is out there. There is room for every book, every idea, every voice. In the end, the cream always rises to the top, no matter which bucket the milk is in. Good writing, fresh ideas, and quality production will always stand the best chance for success.

5) All Marketing Is Good Marketing — Sounds trite, but it is nonetheless true. There is no such thing as bad publicity — any attention that is brought to bear on you or your book is a golden opportunity. Whether or not it helps or hurts is completely dependent upon you and how you respond to it. Case in point, I bring you back to Anne R  Allen’s blog post on Amazon Reader Reviews. Her article was insightful, informative, and accurately researched. Most importantly, it was well-intentioned. That it stirred up a maelstrom of frustration and discontent was unexpected, and perhaps uncomfortable for her, but it was not unfortunate. The end result is that people are talking–about the issues that matter to them, and about Anne.  What could be better than that?