Targeting Your Readers One Headshot at a Time
The living dead circle you like bicycle bullies around the slowest child in the school. There’s not many bullets left in your pistol, so you have to make every shot count. If you even slip up in the slightest, these things are going to eat you alive. They’ll rip out your guts and breathe in your entrails. There is no time to waste. Take them out before they turn you into a sandwich and move on to someone more interesting.
Raise your arm. Tighten your finger around the trigger. Aim for the head.
Keep shooting until either they’re all on the ground or you run out of bullets. There are no do-overs. There are no time-outs.
The time to act is now.
Now imagine all these drooling flesh eaters are potential readers, and each bullet in your gun is an opportunity to be read. An opportunity to be successful, whatever successful even means to you. There are a finite amount of opportunities in the world, so you have to make each shot count.
You have to aim for the head.
Destroy the brain. Convert the reader.
There are certain misconceptions about the world of writing. Readers without any actual connection to the writing industry often assume writers are rich, and that every single book published hits bookstores worldwide and sells like stolen perfume bottles outside a Wendy’s (I’ve had strange encounters behind Wendy’s, okay?). I work nights at a hotel, and my boss and co-workers are constantly asking why I need a job if I have a book published. They ask me if I’m just working at the hotel for fun. My only response is a blank stare, followed by psychotic laughter.
The real truth is, there’s a reason a stereotype exists that involves parents not wanting their children to become writers. It is not just a silly fear—it is a legitimate concern for their children’s wellbeing. Professional writing is no joke—it is extremely difficult to make a living off of your words, especially if you settle on the cruel life of the indie scene (never settle). You have to bust your ass, and even then, it probably won’t be good enough.
It will never be good enough. But you can try.
Unlike most authors signed on with The Big Six, indie writers almost never have a team of publicists assigned to them. Typically, even when the writer has published through a small press, the majority of the marketing and promotion is up to the writer and the writer alone. Most small presses simply can’t afford huge marketing campaigns. It sucks, I know, but that is the reality of it. It should not be this way, but it is.
So it’s left to the writer. But how can one writer market to thousands of potential readers? Simple—by starting off small. By planting your seed into one reader and allowing your fiction to gradually grow and spread through many more. Also, yes, I realize how gross “planting your seed into one reader” sounds, and I do not regret my phrasing in the slightest.
Word-of-mouth is one of the best forms of advertisement, because it doesn’t seem like an advertisement. If you can get other people to start talking about your book, then it will come off more desirable than even if you paid a thousand dollars for a magazine advertisement. But, you can’t just start asking people to talk about your book, because eventually you’ll (rightfully) be called an asshole.
You have to appeal to readers. When you realize that you’re not just selling your book, but yourself as a human being, then you can start taking your career seriously. Always remember, the book is not the product—you are the product.
First thing’s first—you need a home base. A website for people to discover when they Google your name. A fully fleshed out author HQ. It’s easy enough to register a unique URL and set up a Wordpress website, and typically inexpensive. Always, always purchase a URL. Nothing screams more unprofessional than “.wordpress.com” or “.blogspot.com” trailing at the end of your website URL.
On this website you’ll need to develop—at the very least—a media kit, author biography (short and long versions), bibliography (if available), upcoming guest appearances, and a frequently updated blog.
The blog is perhaps the most important tool here, because it allows you to communicate to your readers using your actual personality, about any topic you feel necessary to discuss. All it takes is one particularly strong piece shown in front of the right set of eyes for it to go viral. And don’t groan, because I agree, “viral” is a pretty dumb word, but it won’t be so dumb when thousands of potential readers are suddenly browsing your website and clicking on your book purchase links.
Next you’ll need a Twitter account as well as both a Facebook fan page and a Facebook personal profile. Many people don’t see the reason for having both a fan page and a profile, but I’ve found having both types beneficial because I’ve gained fans from the public author page that I would have never met through my personal profile. I find it best to save all of your minor “writing” updates to be posted solely on your author page, considering thanks to Facebook’s asinine policies the majority of your fans won’t see the updates, anyway. However, if you posted every little author update on your personal profile then you’d have some of your friends starting to get tired of you being a little braggart. This way there’s some sense of a balance, as minor as it may seem.
Now that you have a blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and whatever other social networks you come across, you are free to do the most important aspect of appealing to your readers: interaction.
The great thing about the 21st century when it comes to artists is their fans can now interact with them. This is so unique and amazing compared to just fifteen years ago. We are living in a fantastic time, and readers and writers alike want to take full advantage. Thus, you must interact. You must start discussions others will find interesting. The reality is, there’s simply too many authors around now for you to avoid social interactions—online and offline.
Remember when I mentioned guest appearances earlier? I meant appearances both on the web and in person. On the web guest appearances aren’t usually difficult. You contact a few websites and blogs and ask them if they’ll allow you to write up a guest post (related to your book, usually). Most of the time they’ll agree, but not always.
In person, however, it can get a little trickier. Hopefully you live near some small independent bookstores, because these places are prime targets for indie author support. You’ll likely be able to schedule a book signing and reading here. But besides that, it would be a good idea to contact other local businesses (coffee shops and bars especially) about doing readings.
Also, and this is extremely important, you must make plans to attend at least one convention a year. It’s true that some conventions can be expensive as hell, but you can usually find smaller ones for about $50 a membership, maybe even cheaper, depending where the convention is and what kind of attendance is expected. Conventions are a prime spot to meet new potential readers and interact. Whether you’re hosting your own book vendor table, giving a reading, or just stumbling around aimlessly, you can always start up a conversation with just about anyone. You interact with them, you search for shared interests, and you plant that seed. That sexy, sexy, disturbing seed.
Get out there and interact. Show the readers you’re someone worth reading. Show them you are a person.
The day of the reclusive writer is dead. He shot himself over an embarrassing lack of sales.
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