As writers, we often feel like we are howling into the wind, throwing our words out into the world with no one listening.
But there are ways that you can attract an audience even if you're just starting out. In today's article, journalist and memoir author Andrew Emery shares his tips.
The chances are, you’ve never heard of me. In fact, not many people have. Okay, I had a book out a decade ago, I’ve written for plenty of magazines and newspapers, but I’m barely a household name in my own house. And yet I’ve just released my memoir.
How does that work?
Memoirs by the unknown have been a publishing phenomenon for long enough now to be an established sub-genre. Perhaps Frank McCourt kicked things off with his bestseller Angela’s Ashes, which propelled him to fame and riches in 1996.
Now the bookshelves, both real and virtual, groan with (mostly) fascinating stories about people’s unseen lives. There’s a glut, so how does an author, especially an independent author, stand out from the pack?
I wouldn’t say it’s easier to do this with fiction or traditional non-fiction, but there’s an established path, a trail that has already been blazed for those two genres. You can market to people who like your style of thriller or romance with the former. With the latter, you’re usually offering a solution to a problem.
But the memoir, a piece of creative or literary non-fiction, lies somewhere in between and throws up its own challenges.
I’ve spent a lot of time mining the gold on writer’s blogs over the last year, gathering useful tips galore and taking inspiration from the entrepreneurial spirit on show. But the one thing I’ve noticed is that there isn’t a whole heap of content out there about memoirs and marketing.
Hopefully, this will help a little…
(1) Make the book marketable
The very first thing you need to do is to decide if you want to actually market your book. If you’ve written it just because you thought you had a book in you, as a personal goal or for catharsis, that’s perfectly fine, they’re all noble reasons for writing.
But I’m guessing if you’ve come to this site and you’re reading this, you want to actually do something with your book.
It’s useful to be brutally honest about what this means – selling your book to complete strangers. It’s a given that family and friends will buy it, but you need to convince people you’ve never met to part with their money in a fiercely competitive book landscape.
You won’t have the might of a publishing house behind you so, as is always the case in the world of indies, it’s in your hands.
The first key thing you can do is to look at your book from outside your head.
One of the common problems among all authors is, ‘Who cares about my writing?' Even successful writers have these moments of doubt on a regular basis.
With a memoir, it’s compounded and becomes, ‘Who cares about little old me and my story?’ You need to try and look at your work dispassionately as an outsider might, and consider how you can make your story relatable and universal.
When you realize that your story doesn’t just belong to you, and can make people feel that their story is also being told, you’re on your way.
Look at the words you’ve written, the story you’ve laid out, the way you’ve styled it, and think about how that adds to the existing conversation among similar books.
Is it a unique and fresh take on something people take for granted?
Until you’re established as an author, it’s hard to market on the quality of your prose alone – you need to find a niche within a niche and let your book fill it.
If you want to talk about how the music of The Beatles changed your life and helped you come of age in a small town in the 60’s, think about who will read that and why. They’ll either want the book to tell them something about a world they know nothing of, or they’ll want it to be an accurate reflection of their own similar experience, something they can instantly relate to.
Once you’ve considered these angles, which can basically be boiled down to ‘why does my memoir exist?’ then you’ve taken a big step towards making your book marketable.
(2) Is the book the brand… or are you?
Having your own platform is self-publishing 101. It needn’t be a website or a blog, it could be a podcast or a radio show, but as a memoir writer you need to establish some authority and your platform is where you do it.
By publishing, printing or podcasting related content, you’re not just showing people your ability to write or communicate, but you’re also, hopefully, displaying, that you’re an expert in your field. By positioning yourself as the brand, you’re making people buy into your story, not just a random book about a random subject.
Let’s say you were the cameraman on a legendary series of Doctor Who, or you broke an ultrarunning record or, perhaps, you just experienced a certain culture at a certain key moment and think you’ve got a new take on it.
By being the expert on this, you’re making your memoir marketable.
Blog about it, guest blog about it, make yourself available to interviewers – there are numerous strategies, but they’re all about building you up as a specialist.
(3) Whose story is it?
Jumping back to point 1, we’ve learned the importance of a memoir by an unknown or little-known author being relatable. But you still have to go out and find those people who will see their story reflected in yours because no one else will do it for you.
Discovering your core readers is the Holy Grail for many writers for two main reasons.
- One: to be bluntly financial about it, you’re looking for those people who’ll have a high lifetime financial value for you. They’re the people who’ll join your mailing list, buy everything you write and sing your praises on blogs and review sites.
- Two: You’re also looking for those people who reward you in other ways as a writer, who interact with you, who build an author/reader relationship with you. Marketing isn’t always a one-way conduit of information in return for money – you want feedback and human interaction too.
Casual readers who pick up your book on a recommendation or through a book club? Great to have.
Loyal readers who feel you speak to them? Priceless.
How do you find them? The first way is with point 2, by showing your expertise and establishing your validity, and the second way is by going to where they live.
When I was starting out as an indie author, I wanted to interact with others of the same tribe who knew the mistakes not to make, the routes through the swamps, so I joined a bunch of Facebook groups and the Alliance of Independent Authors.
I was already a member of numerous groups related to the particular cultural niche I write about. Written a book about stamp collecting in the Ukraine? There’s almost certainly a group for that, so join it.
Facebook groups, online forums, chat rooms, reading groups, support groups – they’re all out there. But don’t go at it like a bull in a china shop. Heavy-handed selling isn’t what these groups are about.
Instead, like with your core readers, establish a relationship. Give as well as take. Become an active member of these groups and you’re slowly but surely building your authority. If you join one day and then spam a bunch of links to your Amazon author page the next, it’ll be a turn-off.
What you should be looking for in the first instance is people who’ve shared your experience or pursue the same interests. They’re the ones who’ll appreciate that you’ve taken the time to pour your life into a book.
This might seem like a lot of legwork but, really, it’s the bare minimum. Keep in mind that you’re unknown – if the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.
(4) Pitch Perfect
Whether your life has been funny or sad, dramatic or dangerous, the core of your memoir hopefully lends itself to being broken up into smaller stories. You should already be doing this on your platform.
On my blog, I riff on various elements of my book from different angles. I employ videos, audio and photos in a way it’s difficult to in a book to explore the same themes. These posts give something to my readers for free, and they also build interest in the book.
The next step is to draw on your memoir’s subject matter to get yourself out there in the world. Pitch articles to magazines, pitch stories to newspapers, pitch blogs to, well, blogs. Just pitch. Get something published and you can win in multiple ways:
- You might get paid. When you’ve got book formatting, web hosting and designers to pay for, that’s no bad thing. But don’t let this be your main purpose.
- You’re getting exposure. Building your reputation and your name with articles on related blogs or in magazines takes us back to point 2 – you’re the brand. It’s a brilliantly organic way to expand your audience and authority.
- Think links. If you’re writing for free, don’t be afraid to ask for a link. It’s not just about traffic, but the SEO value too. If you’re writing for someone else with no purpose in mind, you’re just wasting time.
There’s no shortage of outlets to pitch your story to. Be prepared to be ignored or brushed off but, as any freelance writer will tell you, persistence is key.
Think laterally as well. If you’ve left your job to write a memoir about your time being a beekeeper in Brazil, don’t just pitch about bees. Pitch about writing the book to a writing magazine or website.
Got a dog that looks mournfully at you from the sofa when you’re sat at your desk writing and not playing games with it (as mine is right now!)? Pitch that to a dog magazine. Again, you’re unknown – take any chance to tell people who you are and what you can do.
(5) Identify the influencers
This overlaps with points 3 and 4 but, after all, book marketing is just a giant Venn diagram of interrelated bits and pieces that all feed off each other.
If you’ve taken time to identify the groups and blogs and forums that talk about things related to your memoir, then you’re going to start recognizing the names of the key influencers in that world.
They could be group members, they could be superstar bloggers, tweeters or instagrammers, but each niche has its mavens who it pays to engage with. In the world of memoirs, a retweet from one of these people can sell you far more books than a review in a broadsheet newspaper.
You can’t just drop them a message asking them to tweet about your book. You have to build a relationship that has a mutual benefit.
If they’ve curated 10,000 or more followers on one of their social channels, they won’t jeopardize it by throwing anything into the mix – it has to have value to them. Engage with them sincerely and respectfully from the off, and take time to get to that point where they see the innate value in helping you out. After all, these people are looking for great content to share to maintain their own momentum.
A simple case study: I recently got in touch with a TV comedian who likes the same stuff I do. I sent him my book. I didn’t ask him for anything else. He’s since offered to give me a quote for the cover, has invited me onto his podcast and, when it’s ready to broadcast, he’ll be tweeting about it to his 210,000 followers.
If I can do that – and no-one knows who I am – then you can too.
Are you working on marketing a memoir? What strategies have worked for you? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Andrew Emery, a long-time journalist, and digital marketer, left his job in 2016 to write full-time and self-publish. His memoir Wiggaz With Attitude: My Life as a Failed White Rapper is out now. He blogs at www.wiggazwithattitude.com. Andrew also writes about self-publishing as Harry Scott at www.harryscottauthor.com.