Category Archives: Publication

Here’s Your Sign: Developing A Marketing Plan For A Book To Find An Audience

Your Book Is A Roadside Attraction

It says a lot about an area and the people that occupy it when they put up signs like this. Same with websites, social media accounts, and advertising – we can think of each of those things as these weird little signs that can point potential readers in our direction to stop along the road or they’ll drive on past us without a second glance.

If someone interacts with it via a ‘like’? That’s like a snapshot along the highway. It gives us a chance to show up in a friend of their’s feed.

Signs, ads, billboards, gas stations with interesting tourist traps, roadside attractions – if done right all of these will attract a steady stream of individuals that will take the time to stop for a while and be present. We’ve been doing this since ancient times and building legends, even pilgrimages around them. Why not do the same for your book?

Finding & Attracting Your Audience

I write poetry and American Gothic. I may incorporate additional elements, such as science fiction and futurism, but my best work is and always will be heavily influenced by grief, magical realism, questionable realities, and regional social commentary. Most of what I know about my audiences comes from WordPress analytics. This helps me know that while my top 10 countries for visitors in 2020 were:

  1. the United States
  2. the United Kingdom
  3. India
  4. Canada
  5. China
  6. Australia
  7. France
  8. Germany
  9. Finland
  10. Phillippines

Beyond this information, I don’t know much about my readers besides the google searches they use to find my website. And those keyword combinations? They make me smile, but they aren’t very helpful.

So, how do we, as independent authors and publishers, find our readers? How do we decide on where to spend our advertising efforts? How do we interact with social media? The answer is one that is anxiety inducing and one no one wants to hear: YOU or YOUR BOOK have to get the attention of an audience of potential readers by putting out the correct signs to lead them to your work. You have to hope that the law of numbers is on your side and for every thousand people looking at an ad, one person will click all the way through to buying your book.

I have a poetry book that’s being released later this month. How am I going to find its audience?

Breadth vs. Depth

When you first start marketing something, if you don’t know where your target market is hiding, you need to play a game. Be the pied piper and bring those readers out of the woodwork with your magical marketing flute by having your song go to where they are.

As much as we all love existing in our comfy social media reading and writing community bubbles, be it BookTube, #WritingCommunity, #WritersCafe, #PoetsOfInstagram, #PoetryIsNotDead, or your writing Facebook group. The reality is that’s not where the majority of your future readers are going to hang out. So where are they?

We’ll have to check a broad selection of sources before we can focus our energies on a depth of understanding of our eventually targeted audience.

Break your marketing budget up between time and money.

Your time will be dedicated to attracting readers by dedicating time to them without spending money to have others do it for you. There are lots of free or low cost options that are time intensive, but very rewarding in terms of readership response.

But there’s that first hurdle – designing an ad.

Design A Professional Ad That Targets Your Audience

I hate putting myself out there. I am socially awkward and constantly afraid of annoying people. Somehow my whole life I’ve been told that I both talk too much and too little. But here’s the thing: at the end of the day, no one is going to advocate for you in the way you need to advocate for yourself. So, I better go annoy some readers, because it’s impossible to please everyone and I never expected the whole world to like me.

But where do our readers hang out online and in real life? It’s quite possible they don’t hang out in the same places, or if they do, they’re not attracted to the same style of advertisements.

Every genre is marketed differently. I’m going to use the example of Romance as a genre that is well known for having a specific marketing style that is recognizable even if the words are absurd. World of Longmire did an entire feature on some generic romance novel covers that I’m going recommend you look at as examples because none of these are real books and I find them entertaining.

Just like a book cover, your ad should make your genre immediately recognizable without any text. IngramSpark puts out articles on cover design trends (here’s the one from 2020). The trouble I have with this article is that at least one of these design tactics ignores how many readers, myself included, look for that immediate non-verbal cue to inform a potential buyer of what the book is about.

Your advertisement is probably going to be based on your book cover. If you pay for a book trailer or make an advertisement in Canva be sure to check where all you can then take that ad. What are the requirements of your potential advertising platforms? These requirements are essential for preventing wasted time and money. Plan this in advance.

Where Do Paid Ads Go?

Independent Newspapers

Supporting other independent publications, such as your local independent newspaper in your closest major metropolitan area is a great way to keep your money supporting other independent authors. If you write stories that are regionally significant, you will likely find a reader base by advertising in this area as well.

If you have trouble thinking of which metropolitan area near you is “the city” think about which city nearby people moved to after high school to find work (if they moved). For me that was Richmond, Virginia.

If you have the budget in time for contacting each place, nothing is stopping you from advertising in a variety of independent newspapers in select areas across the country where you think you have a chance at attracting readers. Readers of independent newspapers are often attracted to other independent publications, such as ProPublica (yes, they accept advertising). Here are some independent newspapers currently advertising available space:

Independent Bookstores & Conventions

I know it’s hard to imagine right now, but there will come a day when meeting readers in person and showing your face will make a difference, especially in niche genres like Science Fiction, Fantasy, True Crime, Horror, and more. As an introvert, conventions are the most extroverted thing I do and they exhaust me. But the opportunities to get known are the thing to point out here.

At a talk hosted by Neil Gaiman in Pittsburgh in 2012 he mentioned the importance of conventions and writing conferences early on in his career. While I recognize that the indie writing and comic scene has changed somewhat since the 1990s, it has not changed as much as many people think. People like getting out of their house, and once more people have the vaccine, I believe this will happen again.

At conventions, authors have opportunities to sign up for panels, to give writing workshops, to volunteer to help host events, and run booths to sell their books and other merchandise (bookmarks, buttons, world maps, posters of book covers, etc). By being willing to get out from behind a screen and engage our readers in person we form connections that can’t be made through text on a page and give ourselves a voice and image. Plus, if you volunteer with the convention yearly, often times you get additional networking benefits such as meeting new people who may know other potential readers of your work.

If that sounds scary, it should. You should proceed with authenticity and caution, fully recognizing the limitations your innate human flaws create. To quote T. Swift “Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate,” and you should be prepared for that with no plans for retaliation. Be kind and show gratitude to your audience. Show this time and time again. Your thoughts will guide your actions. Think about your readers, even the ones that give you 1-star reviews, like a tiny choir of angels cheering you on (and remember that Satan was an angel too).

When you’re at a convention you’re genuinely not alone unless you choose to be. Friends and strangers interested in your book that could quickly become your readers will make your acquaintance.

While you’re waiting to foster the bravery for conventions, you can contact independent bookstores that are part of larger networks to see if they would be interested in an ARC of your book. This can lead to bulk orders to sell the books in their stores if they think it will sell. Myopic Books in Chicago will purchase used copies of your book from you (at a reduced rate, most likely at a loss) and sell them at a low cost if you get any returned. While you’re going through the effort of selling your book to independent bookstores, you can discuss with them the options to do live events to drive up interest in your book.

By encouraging readers to go through independent bookstores to purchase your book you are helping a local economy and community. You are becoming part of something greater than yourself. People remember this and word of mouth marketing is valuable. Make good impressions – these will travel far.

Take Advantage Of Your College / University

Remember that place that took your money in exchange for a degree and some unique memories, some of which you may be taking to your grave?

Take some time to reach out to your alma mater’s bookstore and say, “I’m an alum/alumna and I wrote a book! I would be very appreciative if you could sell a few copies on commission and add me to the section dedicated to alumni publications.” Some university bookstores make it even easier than that if they’re part of the Barnes&Noble college bookstore network and you’re already selling your book through them.

Every alma mater has an alumni newsletter – be it digital or print. You likely have access to an alumni network, even if you’ve never been in contact before. Take advantage of these resources and announce your book to them. There are usually forms to fill out, but they’re all pretty simple. Your spouse or partner can also do this for you with their alma mater.

Reach out to any of your former professors if they’re still teaching and see if they’d be interested in reading your book. You may be surprised by the answer. It will also encourage you to have the book in the most polished form possible before you send it out into the world.

Look into listing an ad for your book in your alma mater’s newspaper, especially if this has decent circulation. It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily have to be an alum of a school to run an ad in that university’s paper – check their rules.

University campuses are incredibly effective places to advertise books, especially if that age group is your target demographic. That said, if you’re writing a book about planning retirement late in life, maybe don’t try to sell that to someone who just turned 18.

Public Libraries

Public libraries are a quiet refuge where people that don’t know what they want to read can go and discover something new. That new thing could be you.

Another great place to donate copies of your book is your local public library. As you travel, you could also do this with the public libraries in the locations wherever you go. With the advent of digital lending it is a lot cheaper to offer free copies of your book to public libraries, but physical copies have the benefit of being able to sit on the “New Arrivals” display near the circulation desk.

Some public libraries host genre specific book clubs. See if you can submit your book to be on the upcoming reading list for one of these.

Many libraries will work with authors if they would like to plan and host a free event to promote their book. You may need to print out flyers or a poster detailing your target age range, genre, and what you plan to do with your audience, but this is a way to introduce yourself to a smaller group of potential readers. For more details, contact your local public library since policies and associated fees vary based on location.

The Social Media Fallacy

Social media isn’t very social. Between FOMO and the constant need to satisfy the dopaminergic attention seeking behaviors of yourself and others, you’re wading through a sea of noise. You will deal with people that will treat you as less than human and you will fight uphill battles against anyone with more money than you because the reality is that YOU are the product, not the Advertisements that are paying for you to see them.

Social media feeds are governed by algorithms that dictate every advertisement and post you are exposed to based on engagement patterns and paid sponsorship targeting. If you want to use social media to sell something to a different audience than the one you normally interact with, you will either need to create a different account for that type of interaction or you will need to work hard at using the exact hashtags for optimal exposure. That is, unless you are buying advertisements.

If you decide to buy advertisements you need to do so intelligently. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter each have methods for targeting a specific audience.

There are classes and books available on how to use social media algorithms and this is the area most talked about for independent authors at this time, so I’m going to leave this category here for now and not repeat what others have said.

Targeting Feed Advertisements

Take the time to learn how to engage your audience. If you are looking to engage an audience on Twitter to use the platform to advertise your work for free, create a strategy. You will want to learn how to do this with all platforms if you plan to minimize the amount of money you spend.

Newspaper and Magazine Book Reviews

As someone that reviews independent published and publisher books, I want to be very clear:

Best Sellers Happen Through Marketing

There are always exceptions. Many newspapers and magazines include editorial book reviews for new releases. It never hurts to contact someone and ask if your book can be added to that review pile. If it seems like someone could potentially be interested in your book, why not ask? What’s the worst they can say? No?

Tracking What Works

You will be receiving a lot of data as you market your book and start to sell it. What do you do with that? This is where we start cutting out excess spending in areas that aren’t helping us.

Create a milestone timeline for sales and advertising budget allocation. By 6 months – 1 year you should be allocating 80% of your budget (time and money) toward the advertising sources responsible for 90% of your sales. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to know everything when it comes to your readership. This is where interacting with your audience and getting to know them really matters the most.

Maybe you wrote a book that was NA, but your actual readership tends to be in the 30-45 age range? What if you thought your audience would be predominantly female and non-binary, but instead they’re male and non-binary? As authors our assumptions about who our readers are going to be can be wrong. Pay attention to who your readers actually are and embrace them as they are.

Do You Have Marketing Tips?

Do you have non-social media marketing tips that I missed? What do you think of these?

I hope this was helpful for those that are publishing independently and looking into marketing their work.

CHW Publication: Arahura

A new poem on Coffee House Writers makes reference to someplace I’m missing dearly right now: Aotearoa (New Zealand).

The Arahura River is a living, breathing thing with a soul unto itself.

It is also subject to some heartbreaking history of the colonial Gold Rush era. The Ngāi Tahu or Kāi Tahu iwi made a treaty with the British Crown that allowed resource mining, while still retaining iwi ownership and rights to the Arahura. These rights were ignored.

I’m lucky enough to have seen the majesty of the Arahura. It is very recent that amends began to be made. Please take a moment to visit Arahura Dreaming to learn more about the Arahura Pa and what you can do to support the iwi that make the country of Aotearoa (New Zealand) so great. If you visit, please do so with the utmost respect and treat Arahura with the same innate rights as any other human being would have.

Announcement: A Hundred Different Skies – Poem on CHW

It’s just the poem – it’s now live on Coffee House Writers. A limited release hardback with fancy photography, less fancy paperback, and hardback versions of a poetry collection called “l’Identité Politique” will be made available for pre-order starting on Black Friday. These three projects may have a soft release earlier with some super secret links, so keep an eye out on Twitter and Instagram as the proofs come in.

For those that are curious about the title:

Political • Identity
(adj) /pəˈlidək(ə)l/ • (n) /ˌīˈden(t)ədē/

The aspect of one’s being relating to, affecting, or acting according to the interests of status or authority within an organization rather than matters of principle. How one relates to authority, society, and relationships. An aspect of personality determined from a young age. A pain in my father’s ass as is the family tradition.

If you are struggling with your holiday shopping list, remember that Indie Books and Art are great gifts. I’m going to start dedicating space to featured artists and authors more. Previously I didn’t have a grasp of how interviews could be misconstrued as more than just conveying information.

If you would like to have your book or art featured with a snippet about it, you, and a link to your website, please send me a DM on Twitter, Instagram, and/or email.

That’s it 🙂 That’s the whole thing.

Here’s a current draft cover for the softcover:

More details to come (and an explanation as to why A Hundred Different Skies is being released *very differently*)

Oh, and we’re going to be moving, but I think I may have mentioned that at one point? Anyways.

Have a great week ahead!

New Short Story: Our Dearly Departed – My First Western Gothic

Martha Mallory of Butte, MT ~1900

Today my story “Our Dearly Departed” went live on Coffee House Writers. Thank you so much to my friend Seth for all of his help on the fact-checking and historical research for this story. He’s actually the inspiration for writing a western and has been a huge encouragement to me breaking out of writing in the American Gothic genres in more regions across the United States.

Family name unknown – Kirksville, MO 1890-1910s

This story focuses on the subject of post-mortem photography and how it was used in the era of westward expansion and Manifest Destiny. For those that could afford photography sessions in the territories, a luxury service not afforded to most people unlike in eastern states, it was all about creating a facade of preserved standard of living to share with the family back home. This involved false windows, painted backdrops, and curating a scene that matched what people wanted their families to believe, even in death. Given the expense, the photographer was called out to a home for births, deaths, and marriages only if they didn’t have a studio set up yet. Most photographers traveled until the 1890s – 1900s when the railroads allowed town populations to grow enough to sustain studio spaces, as opposed to the photographer traveling to each individual business request. These areas would later become “the flyover states.”

Family name unknown (this is also a hidden mother photograph) – Omehee, ND 1890-1910s

I will write more on the subjects of western cabinet card era photography (post-mortem, momento mori, mourning, etc), as well as how it differed across various regions of the United States, and how it intersected with American Spiritualism and legal fraud in the future. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this short story inspired by my research so far with cultural and historic details assisted by a dear friend and someone I would consider extremely knowledgable on the West. Hopefully my skills at writing American Gothic style period pieces pertaining to this region of the United States improves.

Knute, Hauge, and Welhalle – ?, ND (I’m not certain I’m reading their names correctly as the handwriting is difficult to decipher) 1890-1910s

Thank you for reading and I hope you have a great day! Remember to breathe 🙂