There are millions of books out there, increasing in volume faster as the technology makes it easier to publish, so how do you stand out from the crowd?
I don't believe there is only one answer, but I do think you need to do something to get noticed, stand out from the crowd and get your book sales started. Here's some different ideas from Dana Sitar, author of ‘A Writer's Bucket List'.
You know you’re supposed to write a blog and be active on social media. You’re following all the tips you’ve ever heard for marketing your books through these channels — even trying the ones that contradict each other — but you always wonder if you could do more. If you feel stuck in a rut and searching for new ways to build your platform and promote your books, here are nine ideas to add to your arsenal:
1. Enter a contest.
Placing in and winning contests add to your credits and, depending on the contest, can afford you great cash prizes and opportunities in your field, like attending a writers conference or having your work published in a major publication. Prestigious leaders in the industry often judge the right contests, so even if you don’t place, you have a chance to put your work in front of people you couldn’t otherwise touch.
Writing for contests can also be a great motivator for fiction writers. Where non-fiction writers often have assignments and deadlines to guide their writing habit, fiction writers often have to be more self-motivated. Contest themes can afford you inspiration when you’re feeling blocked, and the deadlines force you to adhere to a writing schedule.
2. Submit stories to literary journals.
Rather than pining away your whole life and betting your entire career on a novel, break into publishing with baby steps. Without worrying whether you’ll be accepted, start submitting short stories or poetry to literary journals. Working with editorial guidelines and learning to accept inevitable rejection will help steel you for other endeavors in publishing. Even if you never have a story published, the experience of submitting and the feedback you’ll occasionally receive from thoughtful editors will be invaluable for strengthening your creative and professional skills.
Some magazines will even pay for your stories, so this is a great way to build an additional income stream so you don’t have to rely on book sales.
3. Create digital products.
Use your writing skills to develop more than stories. Create a helpful ebook, manifesto, an e-guide, or an online course. These may come very late in your career as a way to impart your wisdom, or early on as a way to share your work and connect with new readers.
Get creative! Being an author doesn’t mean you have to create products to teach other authors. Create products that will help you reach your readers. Write a free manifesto from the point-of-view of your main character. Create an e-guide to the capital city in your fantasy world. Develop an online course to share tips and recipes in the style of cooking your characters are famous for. Diversifying the products you create will help you not only reach a broader audience but also broaden your own knowledge and your voice.
4. Produce a book trailer.
For at least one book you publish, write and produce a trailer video. I mean do it yourself — or, at least, work very closely with the professional you hire to do it for you. Even if you don't want to be responsible for this step for all of your books, going through the process at least once will help you develop new skills, and understanding it will prepare you to work with publishers on marketing future books.
Videos are a fantastic marketing tool, even when they’re marketing books. Developing a multi-media presence online will not only help you reach a wider audience but will also greatly enhance your appeal to the audience you already have.
5. Write a column for a newspaper or newsletter.
I know: You’re a fiction writer, not a journalist. But, why would people buy your book if they don’t know who you are? Maybe they'll recognize your name from your book review column in the library's newsletter, or your pontificating in the local weekly.
Even if the focus of your writing career is not on freelance news writing, you can make steady income and gain at least local recognition from a regular column (national or international if you work with an e-newsletter). Your column gives readers a chance to sample your writing and get to know you without investing additional time to read your blog or money to buy your books.
6. Meet other writers in person.
Some of the best education you'll find in any art form comes from the people who are doing what you do — or better, what you dream to do. Getting to know others who share and understand your interests and goals also comes with a unique comfort and camaraderie that even the most supportive group of non-writer friends or family can't quite offer.
If you’re exclusively active in online forums, social media, or blogging, make an effort to connect in real life with some of the people you know online. You don’t have to shell out the time and money to attend a writers conference or retreat (though, those are also good options). Just pay attention to where your online friends are living or traveling, and send an occasional “Let’s grab coffee” email when they’re in your area.
7. Find and keep a good critique partner.
You know the value of getting a second opinion on anything you write. That value increases greatly when the opinion comes from someone who understands your voice, style, and intentions well. Finding a skilled writer with whom to swap critiques throughout your career will do wonders for your writing and your brand. Start with finding a critique group in your area through (Meetup is a great place to start), or an online group like LadiesWhoCritique, and work with a few people to find your ideal partnership.
8. Generate an email list.
“Permission marketing” is the buzzword phrase of the day, and building an email list is its most basic manifestation. When a reader gives you an email address, they expect and welcome correspondence from you. It gives you an opportunity to make promises, which creates expectations, and keep them, which fosters goodwill, satisfaction, and loyalty.
Writing an email newsletter is one of the best ways to build an email list, because it allows you to offer something of value — news, information, or just another way of connecting — to your readers in exchange for permission to contact them. If your fan base is loyal enough, you may be able to get readers to sign up just to hear your news. If you’re still working to grow your audience, try offering an incentive to sign up — many authors and bloggers offer a free item when readers join their list (your new digital product could come in handy here!)
9. Speak at live events.
Successfully capturing the attention of an audience — or, even better, eliciting an emotional response like laughter or tears — is one of the greatest highs you will experience in life. That massive payoff is probably why it's so nerve-wracking for most people. Get through it a few times, and your self-confidence will soar through the roof.
Writers can too easily neglect live events, because we’re often quiet, behind-the-scenes people. We want our work to speak for itself. But stepping out in front of audience helps you connect with readers and potential readers in a more real, more memorable way. Live events also offer more pragmatic benefits: Readers will be more likely to purchase your paperback in person than online, where they can compare it to the cheaper ebook option, and meet-and-greets allow you to hand-sign copies of your book, turning them into personal mementos for your readers.
Do you have any advice or experience with these different ways of getting attention for your writing? Or any other suggestions? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.
Want more ideas to boost your writing career and ignite your creativity? My latest book, AWriter’sBucketList is a launching point for all the possibilities of being a writer. Grab the PDF today, or the book is also available on Kindle here.
About the Author
Dana Sitar is a freelance blogger and author of ‘AWriter’sBucketList’, 99 things to do for inspiration, education, and experience before your writing kicks the bucket. She shares resources, tips, and tools for writers in search of a path through the blog, books, and community at DIYWriting.
Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Alex Kess Raincoats