When I first started out as a published writer, it was back in the Stone Age! At least that's what it must seem like to some of the newer writers now as they update their Web sites, post news on Facebook, tweet on Twitter and run giveaways on Goodreads. I used to type out my manuscript on a manual typewriter—one an old friend have given me to help me achieve my ambition to become a writer—send everything to editorial as a hard copy in a huge padded envelope at vast expense, and limited my promotion activities to a couple of interviews in the local newspaper, some talks to local Women's Institute Groups and one memorable talk to the Eccles Writers Group where for the first time in my life I faced a group of more than 200 people!
That was before I realized how much marketing you needed to do to make you stand out from the crowd. Writing category romance is a great launch pad—you have that brand name Harlequin and the special shelves in bookshops. But you also have lots of books by other authors—and many by the same publisher—all calling out to the reader to buy them.
After 25 years of being published, I think I've tried so many different ideas, including signings—some successful (the literacy signing at Romance Writers of America is always great) some not so successful. Sometimes you can find you're noticed only by a passing old man who wants to know where he can find the war memoirs or, as actually happened to me, the small boy who wanted to know when "the singing" was going to start and what I was going to sing! I think he was disappointed that I was only writing my name in books—but then he hasn't heard me sing!
So when Michelle asked me to chat with you about marketing tips, I wondered if I were the right person to do this. If I travel the Internet, there are so many authors I see and voices I hear talking about their books, telling everyone about their new title, pushing promotions. And that's when I think that really the most important thing about marketing is not to let people realize you're doing it! Personally, I hate the "hard sell." I prefer to take my time, consider, choose and then decide if I'm going to buy. So rush at me with your latest, tell me you know I'll love it and I MUST buy it and I'll back away—fast!
For me the best ways to create a buzz about a book have always been to create a buzz about the author. From the moment I first connected to the Internet, I've remembered that there are people out there, people who are interested, want to hear from you and would like to get to know you. I joined the eHarlequin community and started chatting to people, offering advice and telling them them about my day—the water-cooler-at-work effect. I soon learned that the visitors to the sites recognized the authors who came by to connect and the ones who came to sell. And they backed away from the sellers. But I know people who liked my personality as it came over in my posts remembered my name and then, when they saw it on a book, thought "I like her ... I'll probably like her books." I'm still in touch with lots of people who connected with me then.
I was one of the first UK authors with a Web site, and I can remember lots of other writers wondering just why I wanted to have anything to do with this strange thing called the Internet. But my Web site is still my best and most efficient way of reaching my readers. It has all my books, past, present and future on it as well as covers, plot descriptions and excerpts.
Years ago I added a blog, and that has been updated as often as possible ever since. I live in the UK and I can't get to visit people in America, Australia, Japan and Greece, but my blog can have them come to visit. The last time I looked I had had visitors from 163 different countries. My blog is busy, informative and (I hope) fun. I run regular contests; putting a book in someone's hand is the best way of hooking a reader. You can shout "go buy" until you're blue in the face, but getting someone to read your work is the way to open the door into your writing world. I also have a special newsletter list on Yahoo, and the members of that list are very special to me; they get special contests and the most up-to-date information. I value them and their loyalty, and I want them to know it. Readers and buyers are people, and they want to feel that's how you see them—not as a hand with a fistful of dollars in it!
What promotions have worked for me? I'll let you into a secret—one of the best ones ever was born after I went to my first RWA signing. I watched people struggling to carry the books they had bought—bundles of them, balanced in each arm. I saw some people drop them, so the next year I went to the literacy signing with a set of carrier bags, all with my name and Web site on them. When I saw someone struggling with an armful of books, I offered her a bag. Soon lots of people were walking about with bags that advertised my books!
I'm often asked: How much time a day should writers spend writing vs. marketing? For me the answer's simple; authors should remember that it's the writing that comes first—always. The promotion is fine when you have a new book out but if social networking takes you away from actually writing a book then it's a real waste of time. If you spend so much time promoting a book that you don't have time to write the next, soon then people are going to forget that amazing advertising campaign you created ... and the book ... and your name. Writing the best book you can is always—always—the best possibly form of promotion for you and your work. A story that someone just can't put down will sell the next book better and faster than any campaign on any of the social media sites.
Anne Weale, a wise elderly author whose sadly now no longer with us, told me at our first meeting, "Don't tell people that you write; they'll forget your name or the book's title. Give them something that they can take away and remind themselves who was that author they met." So I've followed that advice. I have bookmarks or pens in my bag, so when I'm chatting with someone and they say, "Oh, what do you write" I can give them something with my Web site and details on it. I thought long and hard about my tag line too and think that "Intensely sensual romance with heart" sums up my books perfectly.
Getting a book reviewed can be a double-edged sword. Some people love your book, some people don't. I try to tell myself that a bad review is only one person's opinion, but you can bet that it stings. A lot. And it's the stinging reviews that you remember even if there are more great five-star ones. Talking a book up on my blog, posting details and extracts on my Web site, and telling readers about the way I came to write it all get your name out there. If I stay in a hotel or bed and breakfast, I leave a copy of my latest for the maid; if she doesn't want it, she might give it to someone who does. Again that's one person, but if one person tells two people and they each tell two people, before you know it, you're building a pyramid of people who are spreading the word about your book.
But the most important, vital thing—the one that really matters, I think—is always to remember that your readers are people, not just sales figures or dollar signs in your eyes. Treat your readers (and hopefully buyers) with warmth and friendliness and respect. After all, you don't want them to think of you as I remember the saleswoman who insisted on spraying my with XYZ's new fragrance, no matter how much I said no; I loathed the scent, couldn't get it out of my hair and now I'll never want to buy XYZ's perfumes ever again. And I'll tell a lot of people about it!
Readers are people. Readers love to talk about books—if you talk about books with them. Treat your readers right, and they'll do most of your promo for you. Because there is nothing—nothing—better for building the reputation of a book than word of mouth.
Thank you, Michelle, for inviting me along to Bird's Eye View. My Maine Coon, Charlie, loves rewarding readers, and he would like to offer a special giveaway of a signed book from my backlist to one commenter.
WHERE READERS CAN FIND KATE
Web site, http://kate-walker.com/
Author page created by Romance Book Paradise Promotions, http://rbpp-kw.blogspot.com/
THE RETURN OF THE STRANGER
Available on Amazon, Amazon UK, Mills & Boon, Mills & Boon Australia and eBook at Harlequin.
Thank you very much, Kate, for an incredibly comprehensive post. You've inspired and fired me up! I wish you much success with THE RETURN OF THE STRANGER and love how it's a modern-day spin of Wuthering Heights.