Are you a writer tweeting into the void? Emailing into the abyss? Posting story after story on socials and watching the link to your book disappearing, unclicked, into non-existence every day?
Marketing your writing likely isn’t something you’ll have been taught as part of a creative writing course, nor is it something anyone really prepares you for. When it’s time to move from sharing cat videos (I’m not telling you to stop sharing cat videos – please continue for my sake) to promoting your books, workshops or events, it can be intimidating trying to work out how to do it right.
If your marketing efforts are merely guesswork at best, then it’s time to stop hammering out ten promotional tweets a day, draining money on ads without a focused audience or sending out emails to your entire database. After all, are you really still living in hope that your dog groomer from three years ago is going to finally cave and buy your latest poetry collection?
To help, here are five top marketing tips you can use to promote your writing. Don’t worry – fortunately, you won’t need to fork out for a marketing degree.
1. Create a plan for marketing your writing
Your synopsis reads compellingly. Your book cover is an aesthetic masterpiece. But while these things can help you grab attention (which will come in useful in the marketing communications process as you’ll see), it might not be enough in the chattering world of social media to hold your reader’s interest.
Let’s take a look at a very simple marketing communications framework, the AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action) model.
Smart Insights defines AIDA as a framework that “identifies cognitive stages an individual goes through during the buying process for a product or service. It’s a purchasing funnel where buyers go to and fro at each stage, to support them in making the final purchase”. Let’s take a look at how you could apply each of the four stages to market your writing.
How do you make people aware of your book, event or workshop? What tools or platforms will you use? What should the message be? Where does your target audience tend to spend their time? As a reader yourself, where do you tend to look for book recommendations?
Example: If you like following accounts with the #bookstagram hashtag on Instagram, perhaps you’ll have far more success spending more time preparing posts for that platform rather than randomly firing out emails to all of your contacts. Consider the format too – if you’re a confident performance poet, it’s probably worth recording a reading or performance rather than just sharing snippets from the page to bring those words to life.
Got their attention? Good. Those carefully-staged, Insta-worthy shots of your book and the intriguing-sounding title certainly worked. Now you need to make sure you can prevent your audience from scrolling past. Why should people want to know more? What value will they get from reading (or listening) to what you have written? Remember, this is about them, not you. No one cares if you’ve been shortlisted for four awards or just done three readings on the trot, which is why “buy my award-winning book!” just won’t cut it.
Think about sharing your own knowledge too. It’s easy to knock up some nice-looking little visuals for your top tips using Canva or to share your expertise on your website blog. What have you learned on your writing journey that you wish you’d known at the start? Be generous with your knowledge – people are interested in the oft-mysterious writing process. Many of your readers may be writers themselves. By sharing your expertise, your readers get valuable tips and you build trust, too. It’s a win-win situation.
Example: What are five things you wish you’d known as a writer before you embarked on this project? Sharing tips, asking opinions on topics relevant to your work and engaging with your audience in turn builds engagement in your own posts. The more you listen to what people like and want, the more you can align your message accordingly, create room for conversation and keep them hooked.
Get to know your readers. What do they really want? Where can they get value from what you have to offer? Is there a group of readers who would love the theme that you could target specifically via email or using carefully selected hashtags? What similar books can you liken yours to? How will your readers feel after reading it?
Keep an eye on what other people are saying about your work. Reviews are powerful. According to a study by the Bazaarvoice network, one product review can result in a 10% increase in sales and 200 reviews can result in as much as a 44%. Remember, when we’re considering investing time or money into something, we want to know from others if it’s worth it (how many times have you checked Amazon reviews before making a purchase, even if it’s just a kettle or a pair of headphones?).
Example: Consider sharing quotes from respected authors, glowing Goodreads reviews or sharing teaser snippets from your book. Make sure these are relevant enough to sway your readers in their decision toward buying your book. Who and where do they turn for recommendations? What relevant snippets of your work would convince them to read more? Let them try before they buy. Book-buying habits are expensive (my bank card knows).
Now it’s time to influence those people to take action. Create a sense of urgency with a clear call-to-action (CTA) and include a link so they are able to easily buy with as little effort as possible After all, we’re human. We’re both perpetually busy, overwhelmed and yet somewhat lazy – hence why apps like JustEat are so popular. Make it as painless as possible for them to hit that button and complete the purchase to your book, workshop or event tickets.
Example: Perhaps you have a workshop you’re struggling to fill up. You’ve planned all of your promotional activity, posted religiously but people keep bouncing off the page when it comes to the final purchase. Think about crafting a CTA that creates a sense of urgency or try employing social nudging to propel a potential buyer into action (you could even a/b test a few different options and track your results):
- Creating a sense of urgency: “Last few places remaining—sign up today!”
- Using social nudging: “Sign up today and join over 100 people who have already made their publishing dreams happen with X’s workshops.”
2. Target your relevant audience
Hard truth: not everyone will love your writing. While your book might have been a labour of love for a very long time (in the time between writing your book, editing it and then finally publishing it, there may well have been three more Christmas Eastenders deaths and 304 more Ed Sheeran collaborations), we all have different tastes and not everyone will want to buy what you offer (they might have listened to 304 Ed Sheeran collaborations though).
Don’t bombard people if you know your work isn’t relevant to them. It’s pointless going along to promote your work at a horror fiction storytelling event if you’re a writer of nature poetry.
Think about those emails that make you instantly hit ‘unsubscribe’. Are you one of those people who are happy to leave a little red notification box with numbers in the thousands on your phone screen? The average office worker receives about 121 emails daily, and that’s just business emails. If someone is interested in reading only personal development books or sci-fi, they’re unlikely to stop what they’re doing to read your email prompting them to buy a children’s fantasy novel.
If you’ve dipped your toe into the world of paid social media ads, it can be tempting to get swayed by the potential reach of widening your audience and targeting anyone and everyone. You might get some impressive traffic stats, but it’s purely vanity metrics if these people aren’t actually buying a book, signing up for a workshop or whatever else it is you want them to do.
Get very clear on who your writing is for and keep your marketing efforts targeted and relevant. Read at events where people go to hear writing like yours. Narrow your hashtags down to just the ones that really align with what your work is about. And if you’re using ad spend, make sure it’s targeted at the right people.
Your audience might be smaller and traffic stats less impressive, but if it’s relevant, you can be sure that people are far more likely to take the desired action (and goal completions through actual purchases are far more valuable than an extra few website visitors. If you’re using Google Analytics, you’ll be able to track this and damn, it’s rewarding).
3. Have an author website (this one is important)
So you’ve done a brilliant reading. You’ve breathed a sigh of relief over a well-earned glass of wine and gone home on a high having got your name out there to a bigger audience.
This is great!
However, what happens if someone in the audience that night loved your work, wanted to find out more about you and your work, and then discovered you have no website?
Your author website is your central hub for uploading details of upcoming events, sharing insights through your blog, sharing links to publications and having a place where people can easily get in touch with you (hopefully to offer you loads and loads of money, a free car and a diamond-encrusted typewriter for a great gig slot at a popular festival).
Many of my writing opportunities have come through my websites, from commissions to festival readings, paid workshops and podcasts. If you really want to make your website more discoverable, you can get into search engine optimisation (SEO) and can boost your ranking on Google search results for key terms people are searching for (this Semrush blog post is a great introduction if you want to invest more time in this). You don’t need to stress about this one too much, though. People are likely searching for your name and “writer” or “books”, meaning your website should be ranking in the top few positions for this anyway unless you’re competing with a writer of exactly the same name.
It’s easy now to create a free, simple website using a tool like WordPress, SquareSpace or Weebly, but I recommend paying a small fee per year for your own domain name (i.e. removing the “.weebly” or “.wordpress” from your URL). It makes you look a lot more professional as a writer, but it’s totally okay if you just want to have a free version for now and put money into this later.
Just focus on creating that one space where everyone knows where to find you.
4. Don’t make it all about you and your writing
I’ve seen too many social media accounts where every single post is simply a link to Amazon with the less-than-inspiring plea: “New book out now, buy it here!”
Can you imagine buying an item of clothing because someone simply told you to “buy it now”? You’d buy probably buy it because it’s made of good quality material, it looks great on the model, or because you know the colour/style suits you, etc. People buy books because they sound good. No one buys books because the writer sounds like they’re being held at gunpoint.
Marketing doesn’t mean forgetting you are human. Marketing your writing is still one human communicating with another. Start engaging and conversing with people – it’s the difference between shouting: “Me! Me! Me!” and developing meaningful connections that build trust and respect. Share others’ work, celebrate the achievements of fellow writers, and unless you’ve got three million followers, at least try and respond or acknowledge if someone comments on one of your posts or drops you an email.
No writer is an island unless they choose to be, waving off into the sunset shouting “BUY MY DAMN BOOK.”
Some good resources for marketing your writing
I could keep on writing about marketing for writers and start banging on about things like SEO, influencer marketing and behavioural economics, but this is supposed to be a digestible blog post, not War and Peace II.
Building a foundational knowledge of marketing will help you learn how to identify, engage with and build relationships with your target audience. Here is a list of free resources and courses that will help build your skillset with both marketing and crafting your messaging:
- Hubspot Academy: Social Media Marketing
- Neil Patel: Best Instagram Marketing Tips (That Actually Work)
- Copyblogger’s Internet Marketing for Smart People
- Dave Harland: The Word Man (his newsletter is 100% worth subscribing to)
- Marketing Examples (also another stellar newsletter for the email inbox)
I’d also urge you to use Canva to create marketing posts suitable for different social media platforms with a range of easy-to-use templates to perfect your designs.
Hell, if you get carried away and create your own personal brand with a carefully-curated colour palette to match, go for it. It works.
Written something great? Awesome.
Now it’s time to shout about it in a way that makes people sit up and listen.