Monday, 18 July 2011

Advice for Indie Authors: The social media opportunity

Advice for Indie Authors: The social media opportunity
At the start of this year a story appeared on about Bristol printer Business Forms Express (BFE), who had made the bold move to drop their own website in favour of a Facebook page. At the time, managing director Colin Roberts, said the company was “moving with the times”. I’m not too sure how that move has worked out for BFE, but it certainly highlights just how much social media is regarded as a marketing and business tool.

No one could have predicted the growth and strength of Facebook when it was launched in 2004. After all, it was originally designed for horny college students to track down girls. Fast forward seven years and it is now worth $50 billion, and as of July 2011 it has 750 million users. And whether you are an indie author like me, or a printer based in Bristol, the great thing about social media sites is that they are absolutely free to use. Self-publishing my novel, The Drought, means I am solely responsible for all of the marketing.

“Conventionally published books previously held the public eye, funded by publishers with vast marketing budgets and contacts in high places,” Sarah Juckes, Head of Company Marketing at self-publishing house Pen Press, explains. “But now, the balance has shifted, giving the indie author the chance to reach a mass audience that was previously unavailable without huge funding. Twitter, Facebook, websites and blogs have become must-have marketing tools for every author.”

But the real challenge with social media is that you are competing with millions of people all trying to promote one thing or another; whether it is a business or simply someone who is willing to shave their hair off if they get one million people to 'Like' their group. It doesn’t matter how many friends you have on Facebook, you cannot simply rely on these people to be your customers. You need to expand. Like any marketing strategy, the key is to plan your attack on this huge audience. My book should be published in August, but my digital and social media marketing campaign started over eight months ago. I wanted to build up some momentum so when I had a publication date, I would already have started to raise awareness.

Personally I believe a website is just as important as any social media tools available, because I use it as the central hub that points at everything that I do. I specifically planned to have my website created at the start of the year because I found out that it can take up to six months before search engines like Google start to trust your content and therefore improve your search engine optimization (SEO) ranking. I had my site created by a fantastic small web design company called Advanced Web Creations who specialise in websites for small to medium local businesses. They were extremely accommodating, professional, and perhaps most importantly – great value for money.

Content is key when it comes to a website, as you want as much related content to your product as possible in order to appear high in the natural search. This is one of the main reasons I started performing at open mic stand-up comedy nights. My book is a comedy novel, so I was able to film my stand-up comedy shows and upload them to YouTube as well as my own website.

Anyone searching for "comedy" could now potentially stumble across my website. I am now tapping into the video-sharing community, as well as getting my name out there as a comedian and raising my profile. If people like my comedy, then hopefully they will take an interest in the book. Keeping with the comedy theme, I also started to blog about my experience on the stand-up circuit, and linked everything back to my website. I was slowly starting to build my online “brand” across various different websites, and increasing my SEO presence across different platforms.

These rules apply to any type of business, whereby you upload content about your products and services, and that is the mindset I am trying to get into - an indie author is a business.

LinkedIn is undoubtedly a fantastic business tool, but how could I use this as an independent author? This is where you have to start mixing and matching your social media activities. I have been blogging on about my experience of self-publishing with Pen Press since April, so I found relevant self-publishing groups on LinkedIn and posted the URL to my blogs in these groups, as well as in any self-publishing forums I could fine online. This has produced feedback from other authors and those working in the publishing sector across the globe, and has made my name aware to people I never normally would have gotten the chance to put myself in front of.

So now I have the website, the YouTube videos, and the blogs. It was time to unleash this content on to the big boys of the social media world – namely Facebook and Twitter. I have had an account on Twitter for a couple of years, without really doing anything with it other than informing my 9 followers what I was having for dinner. But since using my tweets to promote both my stand-up comedy and the upcoming release of my novel, my followers have grown to 174.

“Twitter allows the author to set up a voice among the millions, following and engaging with his/her targeted readership,” Sarah Juckes told me. “The author can tweet about the book’s themes, characters, plot etc, and cause a stir that could quite literally spread to the masses. Every tweet has the ability to cause worldwide interest.”

But how?

“It isn’t enough to tweet to an empty room – Twitter, like everything, takes work,” Sarah continues. “The author must engage - using tools like the hashtag (#) to tap into discussions, Direct Messaging and @ing individuals to build up a reputation as being someone worth following. Once they have a follow base of readers, the author can start selling, directing the masses to the book on Amazon, the blog with free snippets of the book, perhaps even to the free eBook downloads as rewards for those who help spread the word.”

“Once Twitter has them hooked, Facebook can keep them in the boat. A ‘like’ of the author/book page means that person will see updates and giveaways amongst their friends’ personal updates every time they log in. Facebook is for friends – it is more intimate. This is how you can get a casual follower to become a guaranteed book buyer – perfect for those sequels.”

Creating a Facebook page has been the most recent piece of my social media marketing puzzle. For someone to “Like” you on Facebook, there needs to be a good reason. My stand-up comedy gave me a reason to develop a page and 105 likes later, I now have a decent sized audience, who have bought into my brand of comedy from my open mic performances, that I will be able to promote my book to.

“Of course, this just the tip of the iceberg,” Sarah says of the social media opportunities. “YouTube and the boom of the book trailer is a great way of directing people to your book – giving them a feel in pictures and sound rather than tweet after tweet saying the same thing. Goodreads and Shelfari allow the author to tap directly into a book-buying demographic. The blogs of others generate discussions the author can involve themselves in, and their own blog will normally allow readers to subscribe to the blog and updates.”

Social media can be as much about research as it is anything else. Whatever type of business you are in, take the time to do your homework before launching into a social media marketing plan. Could you really imagine creating your own video advertisement 10 years ago to promote one of your products? Social media has opened up that door to the masses. Use it in the right way, and you will get results.

I am not suggesting that social media is the only tool you will need. Printed marketing material is just as important as digital, and that is why I contacted Authors Essentials who specialise in various book marketing needs from eBooks to websites to printed material. They are also currently promoting a short story competition with the prize being a Bronze publishing package with Pen Press. (Competition closes August 20 - check out link for more details). But this is a story for another blog...

I’m off now to film my book trailer – Hollywood here I come. Well, sort of.

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