Prior to writing full-time, Catherine worked as a campsite courier in France and a front desk agent in a hotel in Walt Disney World, Florida, and most recently was a social media marketer for a major publisher. She is currently studying for a BA in English at Trinity College Dublin.
Her debut thriller, Distress Signals, will be published by Corvus/Atlantic in the UK and Ireland on May 5, 2016. Catherine learned all her social media expertise the hard way – over to her!
“In March 2010 I self-published a travel memoir, Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida and in the year following sold over 3,000 copies of it in paperback and e-book editions. With no money to invest in advertising or other promotion, I turned to social media – blogging, Twitter, Facebook – to build an audience and then sell them my book, if I could. It not only proved to be a worthwhile experience – and, in terms of sales, a great success – but it was also a whole lot of fun.
The bad news is the secret is out and any writer embarking on the building of an online “platform” is going to find themselves with plenty of company. Luckily some of these are already best-selling writers pushed into it by their publishers or agents – look out for, “Hi. My publicist said I should join this thing. My book is out March 21. Buy it. Thanks” – type tweets – but that still leaves an ocean of competition you’ll have to contend with.
So how can you stand out amongst the crowd? How can you attract potential readers already bombarded with endless blogs and tweets to your voice, your story and – let’s be honest here – your book? And how can you do it while still having fun?
1. Find out what everyone else is doing, then do something different
People don’t want more of the same. You have to do something different, and you have to do something better. Find a gap and then figure out how to fill it. My favourite piece of novel writing advice is “Write the book you want to read.” I think this can be applied to using social media as well, i.e. “Write the blog you want or need to read” or “Be the Twitterer you think you’d like to follow.”
Researching self-publishing online, I discovered that most of the posts, articles and sites all came served with a large side of self-publishing evangelism. That is, they all championed self-publishing above all else, used the word “gatekeepers” a lot and spoke about “The Big Six” (the large US publishing houses) as if they were working directly for the devil. If they weren’t shouting, “Down with Big Publishing!” they were deluding themselves into thinking that by uploading their book to Createspace or Lulu, they were going to be topping the New York Times best-seller list by the end of the month.
In 2010, I was about to self-publish, but only as a sideline while I pursued my big dream of an agent, a book deal and a well-paying job I can do in my pyjamas, and I was brutally realistic about what the results were likely to be. But where were the blogs and websites for me? Where was there helpful information, good marketing ideas and clear instructions, but a level head, no bitterness or resentment and a prevailing mood of sanity?
So I decided that’s what I would blog about. That’s how I would blog. My first post explained why I was calling what I was doing self-printing instead of self-publishing, and that set the tone. It worked out pretty well.
2. Act like a professional – even if you’re not (yet!)
Did you ever hear the phrase, “Dress for the job you want”? The same applies to blogging, tweeting and Facebook-ing. Even if you’re not yet a professional author, you should endeavour to act like one.
Common sense decrees that this means you would behave appropriately, save the details of your personal life for your diary, refrain from being mean or spiteful and build bridges rather than burn them, but it goes further than that.
Make your blog look like the site of a professional author. Use WordPress, which has better-looking, more versatile themes than Blogger. Use the “Pages” feature to make sections, and make sure one of them is “News” and another one is “Contact.” Imagine you are a reporter or journalist looking for a story or – a girl can dream! – an agent or an editor looking for a new client or project, and try to look at your blog/site through those eyes. Post with regularity and clarity. Refrain from (my pet blogging hate!) having loads of mismatched widgets in your sidebars; aim for a cohesive blog look that’s easy on the eyes.
If this sounds too much like hard work, think of it this way: when you do get that 3-book, six figure deal, you won’t have to build a new blog…!
3. Research and set goals
One of the biggest mistakes authors make is that they embark on building an online platform without defining or deciding what they want to get out of it in advance. Like everything else in life, you need to have a focus and “I want to sell books” or “I want to find an audience” isn’t going to cut it, I’m afraid. Take a moment to ask yourself where you’d like to be, writing-wise, a year from now, and then brainstorm about how you can get there using social media.
As unromantic as it may seem, it’s best to work with cold, hard numbers here. If you’re not sure what numbers are realistic, do a little research. For example when I started out, I set goals of 1,000 books sold and more than 34,000 blog visits in eighteen months. How did I settle on these numbers? Well, a very good (and sane!) self-publishing book said 50-100 books sold a month was a decent performance for a POD book, and 1,000 was a nice round number related to those stats. If I managed to sell that many books, I would be proud, but I also figured it was achievable. There’s no point setting unattainable goals, as you’ll only set yourself up for disappointment. As for the blog hits, I heard of this guy who’d got a book deal for a travel memoir based on his “popular” blog. I went to his site, took note of his hit counter and worked out from the date of his earliest post how long he’d been blogging. The answer: 34,000 hits in 18 months. This was clearly a good number – he’d just got a book deal, after all – so I decided I could do worse than aim for that.
I cannot stress how important it is to write your goals by hand, and as often as possible. This is an excellent way to kick the subconscious into action, and focus your energy on the task at hand.
4. Practice the golden rule
Again, a great rule in life – treat others as you would them to treat you – can also be applied to social media. You’ll only get out of it as much as you put in, and that isn’t confined to blogging on a regular basis or always responding to any comments your posts may get. I’m talking about outside of your blog, or outside of your own Twitter profile. Always be nice, kind and generous. Hopefully this will lead to people being nice, kind and generous to you.
When author Talli Roland (The Hating Game) started building her blog following a year before her book came out, she knew how important it would be to read other blogs and comment on the posts. In fact, whenever someone left a comment on her blog she would make a point of reciprocating. In the beginning she was visiting an average of seventy blogs a day! Now that’s dedication. If you visit Talli’s fantastic blog today, you’ll see that every single one of her posts – and she posts regularly – gets loads of comments, and she has hundreds of loyal blog followers. And if you’re not yet convinced, The Hating Game was an Amazon best-seller on the day of its release. But more on that in a minute.
On Twitter, practising the golden rule means doing things like re-tweeting (reposting) other people’s links, responding to tweets requesting information or an answer to a question and following back people who follow you (within reason). Even these are a bit too specific for me; just be nice is an easier way to explain it. I always say Twitter is a cocktail party where you can either join a conversation, stand next to the speaker and just listen or stand in the middle of the room and start your own. And if you were at a cocktail and someone started talking to you, wouldn’t you respond? If they passed you a coaster or a sausage on a stick wouldn’t you thank them? And at the end of the conversation wouldn’t you say “Nice meeting you”? Just because Twitter is the virtual version of this situation doesn’t change the rules.
So be nice!
5. Watch, Learn and Then Do It Yourself
The best ideas, I’ve found, come from other people! Take note of what other writers are doing and see if you can adapt their marketing and promotional ideas to help sell your book. Don’t confine yourself to self-published authors, or authors who write in your genre either. Sometimes you can dilute what “The Big Boys” are doing and make it work for you.
Talli Roland’s Blog Splash: As I mentioned above, Talli Roland’s debut novel The Hating Game was an Amazon best-seller on the day of its release. How did Talli achieve that? Well, she asked all her blogging and Twitter friends to blog or tweet about her book on the same day, December 1st 2010. This generated huge buzz, which led to huge sales. Crucially, Talli didn’t ask anyone to buy her book, just blog or tweet about it. And it worked!
Keris Stainton’s Virtual Book Tour: When Keris Stainton’s book Della Says: OMG! was published, she decided to go on an extensive book tour – but virtually. She went on a blog tour. She lined up a number of blogs, and then “appeared” on one of those blogs each day for the duration of the tour. She might have been interviewed, or written a guest post, or Della may have been reviewed. It exposed her and her book to whole new groups of readers and she never had to leave the house! Blog tours are standard practice now, target bloggers who you feel your readers will also read.
My Look Who’s Reading Mousetrapped: A couple of years ago one of my favourite authors, Michael Connelly, ran a promotion on his website. If you sent in a photograph of you reading his latest book, he’d post you a special little book about his main character, Harry Bosch. When it came to self-publishing Mousetrapped, I decided to do something similar – but without the reward! I asked readers to send in photographs of themselves reading Mousetrapped, and uploaded the photos to my Facebook page. It was great fun to see my book being read around the world, and it generated great content for the Facebook page.
6. Connect all the dots
Think of your social media platform as a roundabout. One road represents your blog, one your Facebook profile, one your Twitter account, etc. If you’re doing it right, these roads should only be “On” ramps – no one should be exiting, if you can help it!
The key is every road or aspect of your social media presence should be linked to the roundabout, so no matter wheresomeone gets on, they go all the way around easily.
– Put links to your Facebook and Twitter in the sidebar of your blog.
– Put your blog URL in your Twitter bio and on your Facebook page
– Put links to your blog, Facebook and Twitter in your book.
– Put your book details and all your links at the end of your emails.
And good luck!
(c) Catherine Ryan Howard