by Barb on a chilly May day in Maine
A couple of weeks ago Edith and I were on a panel at Malice Domestic with Amanda Flower, S.C. Perkins, and Cheryl Hollon, moderated by Dru Ann Love. The topic was “Writing a Series: Keeping it Fresh.”
Most of the questions and discussion were about the character and story decisions authors make when writing long-running series, and the craft required to execute them. However, one question about marketing brought about some interesting responses.
Dru Ann asked (paraphrasing): How do you market differently now than you did with earlier books?
The most basic answer to the question is–at this point in our series, all of us have fans. In the beginning, we didn’t.
But there was also a wide-ranging discussion about how authors communicate with fans, and how they find new readers. Honestly, authors have no better answers to this than readers do, or publishers, or anyone else. So I thought I would throw it out to you, dear readers.
Two basic types of communication
There are two basic types of marketing communication between authors and readers.
- Book discoverability–finding new readers
- Fan interaction–letting fans know what is new with the author and series, including, in the best of circumstances, (and very, very occasionally in the worst), having meaningful interactions and building relationships.
One thing beginning authors rarely have, unless they are public figures in some other field, is an email list. This is a list of fans who have proactively signed up to receive news from the author. These fans are precious and important.
Authors take different approaches to their newsletters. Some send them regularly, others only when they have news. Some newsletters are chatty and personal. Others are “just the facts.” Some offer contests and giveaways. Others do not.
I kind of split it down the middle. I only write when I have news, but I do include a personal note with every mailing. There’s a giveaway when I have something to give, like Advance Reader Copies and the like, and not when I don’t.
One common way that writers interact with readers is via a Facebook fan page. A fan page differs from a personal profile in that it’s a public place where people you don’t know can find out what you’re up to. My Facebook fan page is here.
This form of communication is exactly what it says it is. It’s for interaction with and between fans. It’s not a good forum for discoverability.
There are also Facebook groups. Unlike fan pages, you must ask to be admitted to the group. I don’t have one, but the Wickeds collectively do. It’s here. One Wicked Author leads a discussion there every day except Sunday.
I also have a personal profile on Facebook, and since many fans and fellow authors become friends, if you can find it, I’ll probably accept your friend request. Unless you are legitimately a widowed foreign general. In that case, I will assume you are fake and send you off into oblivion. I think being a general’s wife must be much more dangerous than being a general, since they are all widowers.
Instagram is another way authors keep in touch with fans. I find it’s less about interaction with followers and more about transmitting information via graphics, but that may just be me.
Some authors use Twitter heavily and well. It’s not so much a place for either discoverability or communication with fans, though it may serve as either. It is a place to find lively discussions about the business of fiction writing, publishing, and so on.
Pinterest is like a personal digital scrapbook. Readers use it to display book covers, or photos of people who look like the characters or locations in a book. People with similar reading interests do find each via Pinterest.
I use it mostly to collect images associated with each book and to communicate them to my publisher and cover artist. If you want to see how that goes and what the resulting cover looks like you can check it out. You can follow the whole account or a particular board to see what gets added.
Along with the social media plan from my publisher for Muddled Through came information about TikTok, and most particularly, the corner of TikTok known as BookTok. I had pretty much decided to sit this one out. I don’t want to see videos of me, and I’m sure you don’t either. And while it may help new readers to find me, I’m not sure the people hanging out there are my target audience.
I hate to be that Old Fogey who refuses to try new things. Especially now that I’m deeply in the Old Fogey age group. But really, enough is a lot.
Goodreads is a place (owned by Amazon) where readers hang out. They review and comment on books, make recommendations and enter giveaways. I always tell new writers to claim their author profile on Goodreads. The readers are going to be there whether you are or not. And, we’re very lucky that the cozy, traditional, and historical mystery subgenres seem to attract far fewer trolls than some others. Both Goodreads and my publisher would like me to be more active on Goodreads–posting reviews, engaging readers with questions, etc. I’m not going to do those things. I think Goodreads is much more a place for readers to engage with each other. But I am there and will answer questions when asked.
My Goodreads page is here. My publisher, Kensington is doing a giveaway right now of 100 ebook copies of Muddled Through.
Unlike everything we’ve talked about so far, BookBub is about discoverability. It informs interested readers about deep discounts on ebooks, mostly via a regular daily email about sales in your selected genres. You can also sign up to follow authors to be particularly informed about discounts on their works. And you can follow other members to be informed when there are discounts on books they recommend.
This an an expensive service for publishers, especially in crime fiction where BookBub has its biggest lists of readers. There is also a service called Chirp for discounts on digital audiobooks.
NetGalley is a service that provides readers who frequently write reviews for publications, blogs, retailers, and social media with access to ebooks prior to release. You must request the book and the publisher must approve you. You need to demonstrate that you are posting reviews in order to remain in good standing.
I often tell new authors your website is your house. It is where you keep your stuff. People will rarely come there unless you invite them or they are specifically looking for you. (Unless you’re a big celebrity in which case busloads full of tourists will drive past your house–to stretch a metaphor to the breaking point.)
When people come to your house, you want to show off your stuff to its best advantage, you want them to be able to find their way around, and you want the plumbing to work.
The main different between new authors and people who’ve been publishing longer is we have a lot more stuff.
I don’t know about you, but when I take the trouble to seek out an author’s website and it seems like a deserted western mining town with tumble weeds blowing down the streets, if the latest books aren’t listed and there’s a tour from 2014 under the Appearances tab, it annoys the heck out of me.
Keep your website up-to-date, authors.
I have been incredibly privileged to be part of this blog for nine years. The Wickeds have had unusual longevity and a stable group of authors. We work hard AND we are lucky. This is a multi-author blog for writers and readers who have a common interest in related subgenres and in crime fiction in general. It is mostly for fans, though there is no question fans of one of us often become fans of all of us.
Another type of blog is one like Dru Ann Love’s Dru’s Book Musings. This blog includes reviews as well as features like cover reveals, Day in the Life character studies, author interviews and so on. It’s a great place to discover new authors in crime fiction, especially, but not exclusively, cozy and traditional authors.
With a Little Help
How do you get all this done and still write books?
One thing new authors don’t usually have, because it rarely makes financial sense (unless their advance is HUGE, in which case more power to them), is any help with all of this. The Wickeds are very lucky to share a virtual assistant named Jen. (To be clear, Jen is a real person, not a virtual person. We work with her virtually.)
For me, Jen does my Facebook fan page posts, my Instagram posts and my Wicked group posts. (However, I’m still there. If I’ve liked or replied to a comment or question you’ve left, that’s really me.) She also does special projects, for example the massive mailing of Busman’s Harbor maps last year, which would not have been possible without her.
I do my own newsletter, manage my own website, Pinterest boards, do my tweets and retweets, and mail books and bookmarks to giveaway winners. But other Wicked Authors divide the work completely differently, depending on their likes, time, and skills.
Jen also produces the Wickeds newsletter with a different Wicked acting as managing editor every month.
At this point, I would hate to contemplate a writerly life without her.
I said I would throw it to you. How do you get news from authors? How do you discover new authors and books? Which of the many avenues listed above do you use? Do I have to do TikTok? Let us know in the comments. And writers, tell us where you focus your efforts. We really appreciate it.