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Turns out last week’s post on the New Media Melee resonated with a lot of folks. Apparently most of you are just like me, trying to do everything I can to kick start and sustain my writing career. The discussion that followed the post raised a really good question for which I have found no simple or definitive answer — How do we know what works?

Most of us need to budget our resources carefully — we have neither the money to spend on a multi-platform advertising campaign nor the time to invest in endless hours of social media marketing in the webiverse. Out of necessity, and also to preserve our sanity, we need to target our efforts. The good news is that focusing on a handful of well-selected strategies is much more likely to yield the results you want than the scattershot approach. This is not new thinking–targeted marketing is an age-old advertising principle, and it works.

Build a Marketing Map

No matter where you are in your writing career — whether you are already published, or yet to be published — every author should have some semblance of a marketing plan. I know, the forethought and research this requires can be daunting. But, if your goal is to sell your work, there’s really no choice but to suck it up and give it a go. It’s really not as hard as it sounds. Start by defining your readership,

Every book has a single core reader group–this is where you should start. First off, and although this sounds obvious many authors either can’t or won’t define their work this way — what genre are you writing? In the case of memoir and non-fiction, this can be fairly simple to discern. Topical non-fiction like self-help or cooking is self-defining. Genre fiction such as thriller, mystery, sci-fi, and so on, targets a fairly well-defined group of readers. However, current consumer research indicates that there is a certain amount of cross-over between these reader groups. Thus, you will want to include them in your marketing plan.

Deciding on what category your core reader group falls under is only the first step. Next , you will need to examine who those readers are. This is essentially the definition of the term ‘demographics‘. Are they male or female, young or old, highly educated, affluent? What are their interests? How are they likely to spend their time and money, and where?

Finding the answers to these questions requires two things — research, and a bit of armchair psychology. Start by analyzing your own buying habits, and those of people you know. Spend some time trawling the web, searching for like-minded individuals. You’ll be amazed at what you find. More than you want, most likely, so take note of the best of it. Look for common ground and behavior. But don’t limit yourself to Google searches. There are also some great books and blogs on author marketing out there–read them.

Once you’ve done your research and settled on two or three reader profiles, it’s time to choose your tactics. By this I mean, decide on how and where to reach your readers. There are likely to be a number of worthwhile choices, but no one can do it all. Use your best judgment and be selective about what options you add to your plan. My advice to you is to choose two or three marketing strategies that you can a) afford, b) manage on your own, and c) sustain for the long haul.

No matter what other marketing you decide to undertake, there are three basic tools I believe every author can, and should, employ.

Blogging

There are several reasons I advocate blogging. First, it is a proven way to bolster a public profile and credentials for an author’s expertise. I’m not going to get into a discussion of branding or platform building here, but the most oft overlooked aspect of author marketing is author identity. This is primarily because many people find it uncomfortable to draw attention to themselves. Authors, especially, prefer to focus the attention on the book. Understandable as this is, it is a HUGE mistake to avoid self-promotion. The success or failure of your work depends a great deal upon your merits–as a writing expert, as well as your expertise in your subject matter. An author blog is the single most effective forum for building a bridge between you and your audience. You have a soap box, and your readers have a way to interact with you.

It is essential to make yourself accessible, at least in some limited way. Readers, just as fans of all the entertainment arts, desire a relationship with the person behind the art. Being willing to engage directly with your readers is essential to creating a following.

Second, blogging does indeed sell books. The proof of this will show, in time. The more people who are interested in what you have to say on your blog, the more people there will be talking about you and what you do. It also serves as a way to keep your readership engaged with you between book releases. Ultimately, blogging ABSOLUTELY translates to increased individual book sales. It ‘s just plain common sense.

The one caveat I offer, however, is that blabbering through your blog is the quickest way to be dismissed by your readers, colleagues, and just about everyone else. Keep your blog posts specific to your books, your subject matter, and/or any specific areas of expertise you possess. Try to refrain from blogging about personal matters or your daily life–unless it pertains, in at least some loosely connected way, to your creative process. Your blog articles must be of interest to your audience, but you should avoid exposing too much of your personal life to the world at large. When you have nothing of your own to share, it is always considered good form (and good karma) to promote other authors whose works you respect.

For a fun ‘tutorial’ and some good advice on blogging, read Anne R Allen’s article “How to Blog –A Beginner’s Guide for Authors” .

Social Networking

There are two primary social networking utilities that every author should learn how to use — Facebook fan pages and Twitter. This post is intended to advocate these tools, not as a ‘how-to’ tutorial. I am still learning to use them myself, and despite all the reading and research I have done, it still boils down to a trial and error process.

What I can say is that Facebook and Twitter both create essential community for authors. These additional portals also create a relatively easy way to cross-market by giving you instant access to gigantic data bases–for free.

Let me just reiterate that when I say Facebook, I am referring to a Facebook Fan Page — this is NOT the same as the general Facebook friends page that most everyone has. A Facebook Fan Page is a linked but separate application utilized by businesses, organizations, celebrities, and artists like yourself–people who have something to sell or promote. Take the time to learn the difference and then get one set one up for yourself.

Admittedly, using Twitter can feel a bit like you’ve linked into the collective global consciousness of the human race. It takes some study and practice to find your niche and get comfortable being in the constant stream of conversation. I spent several weeks searching and observing the activity of others (publishers and successful authors in my genre) before I started tweeting myself. I began by ‘following’ the tweet streams of people I thought were using the utility well.

No matter what your personal feelings may be about social networking, it isn’t going away. It’s your choice, of course, but if you don’t join in, you run the risk of being left behind.

Author Websites

Makes me feel old when I hear this, but many internet marketing gurus are saying that the website is an outmoded platform. In point of fact, blogging utilities like WordPress and Blogspot have become so sophisticated that many folks (authors included) have started setting up their entire internet identities from their blog.

This single-source approach can make sense on a lot of levels — technologically and economically. However, no marketing expert I trust would ever tell a client to put all their eggs in one basket, so to speak. Having multiple ‘homes’ on the internet gives your audience more than one way to find you. Hosting a web page at your own domain (your NAME, people, not your book title) is the very first thing you should do. Link your blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts to it and create your own multi-media marketing network.

Agents and publishers will expect you to have both your own website and a blog. Technologically speaking, it is completely desirable and possible to integrate the two. I recommend you hire a web designer to help you do this–by and large, do-it-yourself websites are not a good idea.

So there you have it, your own min-marketing map. By utilizing these three basic tools, you can effectively market yourself and your books to the audience you desire. It is a huge commitment, no doubt, but then, so was writing the damn book in the first place! You can do it, I know you can.

One last caveat–and this is a pet peeve of mine: NO AUTHOR NEEDS SEO services (aka Search Engine Optimization). It is an absolute waste of your money. Readers simply DO NOT do a search for ‘book’, or “spy novel” or “memoir” or “historical fiction”, and then shop the first 10 titles that show up. Don’t let anyone tell you they do-it’s an out and out lie. Readers shop for books in BOOKSTORES — whether they be brick-and-mortar shops or online retailers like Amazon. The one and only possible exception to this would be some non-fiction books, largely business or self-help titles. But that is not my area of expertise, so that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Alrighty then, fellow authors, go forth and market!!

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