by Rob Tucker, Co-founder at ReadWave
In the current publishing climate, writers (whether published or self-published) are increasingly responsible for their own marketing. For the last four years I’ve been running an online digital publishing platform which we’ve recently rebranded as ReadWave,that aims to help writers build up a readership online. During that time I’ve had access to a lot of data on what people read online, when they read, and most importantly, why some writers are successful in getting readers and others aren’t. Here are some of the key insights that I’ve learned over the last four years, which hopefully will help you plan a marketing strategy for your writing.
1) The Importance of Short Stories (even for novelists)
Even if your eventual goal is to sell your novel, start by writing some great short stories and hosting them as free giveaways online. If you’re not yet a well-known author, then readers are 300 times more likely to read a short story of yours rather than the first chapter of a novel. When it comes to online reading, try to keep your stories under 1,500 words as these get by far the most traction.
2) The Limitations of Personal Websites
When most writers decide to market their writing, they usually start by building their own website. If you decide to make your own website the centre of your marketing campaign you’re going to come up against some fairly large problems. Not only is getting people to visit your website extremely difficult, but normally people visiting your site will look around for a few minutes and then leave, never coming back again. You need to RETAIN your visitors and keep them coming back again and again. One solution would be to put a newsletter sign up form on your website (I would recommend MailChimp if you decide to go for this route) but you might be disappointed with the result – getting newsletter sign ups is hard. A better option is to make one of your social networks the centre of your marketing campaign; that means your Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads or ReadWave page. If you decide to make your Facebook page the centre of your marketing campaign then have a go at building your website on Facebook itself using the Static HTML app. There are plenty of guides on how to do this yourself if you’re a bit tech-savvy (it might be easier than you think!), otherwise hire a pro. You can even set it up so that readers get a free giveaway if they “like” your Facebook page. This will be much more effective than driving traffic to your personal website.
3) Building a Mailing List
Every writer needs a database of the names and email addresses of their grassroots supporters, and whether you’ve written anything new this month or not, you need to keep those supporters engaged every month through newsletters. Really you should put the same time and effort into writing your newsletters as you do in writing your stories. Building a mailing list is difficult, there’s no doubt about it. After speaking to lots of writers, we decided to make newsletters a built-in feature at ReadWave since at the moment there are almost no services that are specifically geared towards helping writers get more sign-ups. A word of warning though, beginners at email marketing tend to get a bit scared by sending out thousands of emails in one go and compensate for this by being stiff, or even worse, sounding corporate. If you do this, people will very quickly unsubscribe. It’s better to send out no newsletter than a bad newsletter. Be funny and easy to approach in your newsletters. Think of it as a chance to build a positive brand around yourself, rather than to sell, sell, sell.
4) A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words
When it comes to digital content, pictures really are key. Readers are more than five times more likely to start reading stories with interesting pictures than those without. It’s also worth noting that the peak time for online reading is mid-week when people are bored at work. This means that readers don’t want to be seriously engaged with your magnum opus, they just want to flick through something that is quick and easy to read whilst their boss isn’t looking. Think about your online and offline content as two fundamentally different things; online content is very much about surface values. Readers won’t have a lot of time to ponder the hidden depths of your story.
5) Embedding and Linking
The more times a link to your story appears online the better your Google ranking will be, so you should openly share the link to your free online content in as many places as possible. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are a no-brainer, but try to be more creative, think of other blogs and online communities where you might share your link. At ReadWave we’re building an embedding service to help out with this, which means that you can post your story onto blogs and other websites in exactly the same way that you can post a YouTube video. If you’re approaching bloggers to try to get them to post up your story then take the time to actually get to know them, read their blogs, write some comments on their previous blog entries, sign up to their mailing list. Online marketing operates on a favor for favors system, so be generous and you shall receive.
Finally I just wish to comment on a strange writer’s affliction that I’ve noticed time and time again whilst running ReadWave. Whereas musicians and artists have no problem shamelessly promoting themselves, the majority of writers tend to be fairly conservative about getting their name out there, as though marketing is too vulgar for them. Often it’s simply a lack of confidence. Whether it’s a colleague; a friend of friend; or just a stranger that you got chatting to, every single person you’ve ever met or will ever meet is potentially a part of your fanbase. This is how marketers think and, without being pushy about it, you should try to embrace that philosophy as much as you can. Don’t be shy.
Best of luck to you all in building your readership, and if you have any questions you can contact me at:
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Hi, I found your advice most helpful. I was also interested in item 3, Building a mailing list.
To generate more business for my energy consultancy, I wrote software to help. It has proved very successful. From your article, I wondered if it could be easily adapted to help writers, along the lines you suggest. If anyone is interested, and is prepared to say how they would like it to work for them, in exchange, I would give them free use.
Just email me, JohnDay (at) webplus.net
Thanks, those are helpful ideas, I’ll re-post.
How do I go about sending someone a free copy?