I’m not a massive Harry Potter fan but I did sign up to Pottermore in order to get a glimpse of what JK Rowling is doing with her new empire.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Rowling didn’t sell her ebook rights and Pottermore was set up to be a portal for fans but also to sell the Harry Potter ebooks and other merchandise. If you check out Amazon.com for the Potter ebooks, the link goes straight to Pottermore.
This is fascinating stuff – self-publishing and fan engagement on a truly massive scale. Today, guest blogger Daniel McInerny shares some magical marketing tricks authors can learn from Pottermore.
Marketing magic from Pottermore?
Anyone can work marketing magic when one’s richer than the Queen, right?
Especially when one’s publishers and a major film studio have already helped one sell over 450 million books and build a pop icon brand that like a Colossus stands astride both the publishing and entertainment industries.
What can the rest of us mere Muggles and Squibs possibly learn from Pottermore?
In my opinion, quite a lot.
Pottermore, “a unique online reading experience” that combines a virtual storefront with an image-rich reading experience of the Harry Potter books, as well as social networking and gaming elements, has much to teach authors working hard to market their books about the importance for content marketing of showing gratitude, of bringing creativity into one’s content, and of building community.
While there probably aren’t many authors reading this with the ability to “disapparate” from all other distribution streams and market one’s books straight from one’s website– and make a significant amount of money doing so–this shouldn’t distract from what any author, traditionally or self-published, might learn from Rowling’s achievement with Pottermore.
You may not be able to dictate terms to your publishers and partner with Sony, but that doesn’t mean you can’t utilize some of the marketing spells that Rowling has employed.
Allow me to sketch the three most important.
If you watch Rowling’s short video on the Pottermore splash page, you’ll notice that the first reason she gives for developing Pottermore is that she wants to thank her fans for all the support they’ve given her over the years.
But it’s easy to be grateful, right, when you have hundreds of millions of fans and a billion dollars in the bank?
A “gratitude attitude” is a function of character, not of one’s bank book or the size of one’s fan base. Even if you have only a handful of readers, showing gratitude for their purchases and the time they have given to your work is essential.
Okay (you’re thinking), gratitude may make me a better person, but how is it going to help me sell books?
Pottermore is demonstrating on a grand scale that showing gratitude can also help sell books. For to be truly grateful to someone is to want to give something of value back to them. And not something they have to pay for, of course, but something gratuitous. Something free.
This is a point made by new media marketing strategist Michael A. Stelzner in his excellent book, Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition. Stelzner relates how only after many years in the marketing business the insight dawned upon him that he was doing everything backwards. Rather than seeking to bend potential customers to his will, he began asking what he might do for them.
The paradox he discovered was, in order to start selling he needed to stop selling.
“People love receiving gifts,” he writes. “They love it when others recognize their hard work, help promote their content, or reach out to help without asking for anything in return. So I shifted my mind-set to: “Who can I help?” Then things took off.”
What Stelzner is talking about is the gift of free content marketing.
It’s the same idea that motivated Rowling to create Pottermore. The same insight that motivated marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuk, in his bestselling book Crush It!, to boil down the “best marketing strategy ever” into one word: Care. (According to Vaynerchuk, one of the most effective tweets for marketers is, simply, “What can I do for you today?)
Okay, you’re asking, what sort of content can I give for free? Are we talking free copies of books? T-shirts? Baked goods?
Combine creativity and content marketing
The Internet is full of great content that can be given away for free on Twitter and Facebook, for example. But what I like about what Rowling is doing with Pottermore is the way in which she combines creativity and free content marketing.
Rowling uses her chief asset, her ability to write engaging fiction, and offers it free to her fans. One of the biggest attractions of Pottermore is all the free extra content about the world of Harry Potter from her own hand. These back-stories and companion pieces are meant to supplement the sale of the Harry Potter ebooks, and from this we can take the following lesson:
When readers fall in love with a fictional world they become voracious in their appetite to consume more of it (and e-readers seem to be making this appetite even more ravenous). So one way to stoke the fires of our readers’ love is to give them more and more rich fare from our fictional world(s), not only in the form of books, but also in the form of free content.
And this can take many forms. Free short stories on a website or on Amazon. Blog posts, Facebook updates, podcasts, even tweets in the voices of characters. (Best-selling author John Locke sometimes responds to fan email in the voice of one of his characters). Anything that expands and enriches the fictional world can serve as wonderfully unique material for free content marketing.
And in saying thank you with all this great free fictional content, the author-marketer is also emulating Rowling’s Pottermore in inviting and building community with his or her fans. This show of gratitude helps build a bond that is far more significant than that between “buyer” and “seller,” because the bond of community is about belonging, identity and friendship. Like gratitude, these are human values that we prize far more than the reading or selling of a book. But the amazing thing is, the bond of community also helps sell books. For if people realize they can enjoy your book and also experience a sense of belonging, identity and friendship, there is a far better chance they will recommend your book to others, and eagerly await your next one.
Granted, you probably don’t have the resources to build a base for your community on the scale of Pottermore. But scale is not so much the issue as is care. It may only start with email contact, a blog, or a far more modest website, but in our digital world even these relatively commonplace tools are capable of helping create some extraordinary magic.
About the Author
Daniel McInerny is an author, entrepreneur, and CEO of Trojan Tub Entertainment, a children’s entertainment company featuring his humorous Kingdom of Patria series for middle grade readers.
He has attempted to apply the principles articulated in this post most especially in the creation of the Kingdom of Patria, a companion, interactive website to his Patria series that features free short stories, character blogs, clubs for kids to join, and the newly launched Kingdom of Patria Storytime Radio.