You don’t have to be Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb, or George R. R. Martin to have a successful career as a fantasy writer. Whether you write epic fantasy, paranormal romance, magic realism, steampunk, or one of the fantasy genre’s many other sub-classifications, you just have to find the readers who also love that same brand of fantasy fiction. So, where do you find and engage with the readers who want the type of fantasy you write?
Marketing anything takes time and effort, but without marketing, success as measured in sales is next to impossible unless you are already well-known and successful. Stephen King has little trouble marketing his novels. Then again, he also gets a six-figure contract for nothing beyond an idea for his next novel. You’re not there yet. You need marketing, and you need a marketing strategy.
To sell your book, you have to have visibility. Buyers need to be able to find your book, but that’s not the biggest part of visibility. The biggest factor is how effective your book’s presence is in front of prospective buyers, not those already actively looking for it. Visibility is about being where they are looking even when they are looking for something else. Book marketing is about positioning for visibility.
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Know your audience
One of the most remarkable features of the fantasy fiction genre is that its audience is so diverse. Many genres are far more limited in audience, which forces marketers of books in those genres to narrow their approach to certain age groups or one gender over the other.
It must be noted that according to the U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review for 2013, women buy more books and spend more money per book than do men. But this is not genre-specific information. It covers all genres. And while other sources have supported the assumption that fantasy genre readership is heavily male, this may be a misconception.
It seems that fantasy fiction writers are far luckier than many other writers as audience demographics go. The sci-fi/fantasy (SFF) magazine Lightspeed conducted a survey of its readership and came up with some interesting information. While respondents did support the notion that readership is a little more male than female (59.2 percent), some other results were more striking. By far, the most-cited occupational demographic was “professional.” The three largest sectors for highest level of education were bachelor’s (36.7 percent), master’s (24.1 percent), and some college (12.6 percent). In order of use, respondents identified these preferred social media: Facebook (74.2 percent), Twitter, Google+, LiveJournal, Tumblr, other, and StumbleUpon (only 3.7%). And on a yes-or-no question, 58.4 percent said they were also SFF writers.
In an attempt to answer the demographics question more thoroughly, science fiction writer Mark Niemann-Ross conducted his own survey and found that science fiction readers are wealthier than average and represent an age spectrum that is uniform except for a dip in the 45-65 age group. That is the only age demographic that does not claim heavy sci-fi readership.
Your readership in fantasy fiction is both male and female, educated, intelligent, financially well off, and involved in social media. Many of them are writers in the genre themselves. And their age demographic is extremely wide, with the only dip appearing from 45 to 65.
So where do you find these like-minded people? For starters, you find them in all of the places you enjoy going, and in all of the most popular places on the ever-expanding Internet. Your goal is book sales, of course, but your preliminary objectives must include directing traffic. This is marketing through reader-targeted outreach, and the Internet is the perfect vehicle for that. If you start to think in terms of communication channels through which you direct traffic from outlying sources, funneling that traffic to your website and blog, you can see the potential benefits to be derived and the book sales that will result. It takes some work, but it is worth it in the end.
Building your Internet presence
Build your website for one objective: selling your book. But to do that, you need to focus on several lesser objectives. Namely, you need to have a site that is easy to use and appealing to look at. If you drive traffic to a site that no one finds attractive or one that is difficult to navigate, you have already lost some sales you might otherwise have had.
Michelle Sagara West has a beautifully laid-out website that displays her novels in the context of a body of work. West uses an easy-to-use platform (like WordPress) to create a professional-looking website that requires very little technical expertise to generate. The simple, single menu bar at the top of the page makes it easy for visitors to find exactly what they are looking for, and allows those visitors to see, at a glance, that West has written several books, makes appearances, and has enough readers to make an online forum a viable resource for them.
Think of your writer’s blog as your heartbeat. Because that’s what it is. It is the heart (and soul) of your Internet presence. Your professional website should highlight your blog first and foremost. Author Tananarive Due writes short, simple blog posts about a variety of topics, some (but not all) of which are written about her own published works. Blogging in this way serves two primary purposes: First, readers get to dive a bit deeper into the mind of an author whose books they enjoy reading. Second, it generates potential new readers when blog posts show up in Google search results.
On Facebook, you will find groups that could prove very helpful in expanding your friendships and, thereby, your customer base of contacts. Start with the Facebook page for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The contacts you find there will lead you to others. Remember to keep your number of contacts growing, and remember to stay in touch with these people. Communication translates into fans for your work.
Lindsay Buroker demonstrates how an author page on Facebook can increase engagement with readers and help spread the word about existing and upcoming works. Buroker’s Facebook page combines updates and information about her own work with links to articles (not written by her) that she thinks her audience and Facebook following might enjoy reading about. This helps Lindsay keep her name in front of her followers (in the News Feed), while increasing the chances that her followers share a link or status update she posts on their own walls, increasing her exposure to a new audience.
The key to Twitter is being able to convey interesting, engaging, and detailed information about oneself in as little space as possible. Brian Rathbone’s Twitter page is a fantastic example of exactly how authors can effectively use the site to build a following. With close to 90,000 followers, Brian is able to reach a respectable audience with his thoughts. Brian also makes effective use of Twitter personalization: his profile photo shows the types of books he writes as well as six of his book covers, while his bio describes in more detail the books he writes and encourages his readers to engage with him personally. Note how many photos and videos he’s uploaded–and the fact that he maintains a regular presence with back-and-forth discussions.
Speaking of Twitter…
Here are some useful hashtags for fantasy authors to connect with interested authors and readers on Twitter. (Be sure to tag the appropriate subgenre!)
#PNR (Paranormal Romance)
#YA (Young Adult)
Many are intimidated by–or simply uninterested in utilizing–a Google+ page. However, Marshall Ryan Maresca shows us exactly how the site can be leveraged simply and effectively. Marshall primarily uses Google+ as a way to drive traffic to his blog, as the majority of his posts on the platform are links to his blog posts. However, it is worth remembering that Google+ helps a writer build and establish Google search rankings, and Google Authorship is a tool that allows writers to build their published work (online or offline) in Google’s database and, therefore, search rankings. While the uses for Google+ are relatively limited compared to the other marketing methods discussed, the potential benefits through Google Authorship and search results alone make it worth utilizing.
The fact of the matter is that Amazon is one of the most significant outlets for book sales in the world. Building an Amazon Central profile (essentially an author’s profile on Amazon) can have a significantly-positive impact on book sales. Shelley Adina is an example of an author who is leveraging her Amazon Central profile to the fullest. In addition to providing a background on her education and literary history, Adina links to her Twitter feed as well as her blog, which ultimately drives more traffic to those marketing platforms and improves their Google search rankings (as Google values links from reputable websites like Amazon when generating search page results).
Pinterest is one of the newer players in the space–but has quickly amassed enormous value to marketers. Intisar Khanani has taken full advantage of this platform, showing how writers can use Pinterest to gain a following they otherwise might never have reached. In addition to pinning her own books, Intisar has created boards about topics she finds interesting, including other novelists, inspiring quotes, home solutions, and many others. Pinterest users that have shared interests can find and subscribe to Intisar’s boards, and might ultimately click on her Pinterest profile and see that she is also an author. If that audience likes her taste in Pinterest boards, it stands to reason they might enjoy her written works as well.
Tumblr is one of the older blogging platforms, but it has a dedicated user-base that can be leveraged if the platform is used effectively. Dyane Forde uses Tumblr as a blogging platform. Her method is quite creative: in addition to writing useful tips for other writers, Dyane creates blog posts about other authors. These “guest author” posts help her to generate additional exposure and attention for herself, as the guest authors undoubtedly share the interview posts with their own followers, who are then driven to Dyane’s Tumblr page.
For authors who are willing to publish their audiobook work under a Creative Commons license, Podiobooks is a great way to gain exposure inexpensively. Illusionist, entertainer, and novelist John Lenahan has posted two audiobook versions of his novels on Podiobooks.com, allowing listeners to hear his books for free. Readers are free to tip John for his work; however the true benefit of John’s Podiobook page is the incredibly-high reviews (99-percent positive) he receives, which will ultimately lead to new fans and followers elsewhere.
If you’re looking for an audience, there are millions of eager readers on Wattpad. A social media site that doubles as a publishing platform, the value of Wattpad is that you can serialize your work-in-progress and get feedback. While individual results may vary, several authors have found a huge audience on the site–some of whom parlayed that success into a traditional publishing deal, while others used that as a springboard to self-publishing success. In 2013, Taran Matharu began writing Summoner: The Novice as part of National Novel Writing Month–and as he serialized his results on Wattpad, he attracted a lot of readers to the story. The book was read five million times–and Matharu got a traditional book deal out of it.
Building an effective YouTube page can be difficult. However, Ben Galley is an example of how to use YouTube in as simple a method as possible: as a way to directly engage with readers. Ben regularly posts “BenCasts”, which are essentially video blog posts for his readers to follow. What Ben does that is particularly unique is directly answer questions that his YouTube followers have posed to him. This level of personalized engagement is highly effective in building long-term reader loyalty, and requires little more than a computer, a microphone, and a webcam.
Set your book free
Do not think of discounts as lost revenue. In fact, think in terms of giving things away for free. Think of “free” as a marketing tool instead of lost income. You will more than make up for lost sales if you consistently offer visitors some value they enjoy receiving, and nobody enjoys value more than when it is free.
You can add to your audience by making it easy for web surfers to find you. Add some hashtags that are already being searched, and you increase the odds for customers. Use frequently encountered tags such as:
How to get other authors to promote you
Think about it. Other authors want the same thing you do. You can work together on this and all benefit. Guest blogging is an excellent example of this kind of partnership. Of course, your guest blog post must include mention of your book and have a link to your website or your own blog, so inquisitive readers — and make no mistake, there will be some — can find you and your book.
All of your work expanding your web presence in social media reduces to one thing: building audience through community. Communication is what grows your audience and, ultimately, the sales of your book. How do you define success? Remember, you are not Stephen King just yet. And if success for you is tied to financial objectives, you need to continue growing your Internet presence.
Will this get me on The New York Times best sellers list?
The tips offered here may not get you there, but remember that without a book marketing strategy, your chances are cut to near zero. Authors who have made it to best sellers lists will tell you that to get there, you must build your brand, work at expanding your influence and your voice through social media, and always work at maintaining the contacts you have established. Success in this field is about community more than anything else.
Writing is not the most difficult part of selling your book. Promotion and marketing constitute the bulk of the hard work involved in success. And who knows? With enough hard work, you could find yourself on the USA Today best sellers list, or any other list you may currently think is out of your reach.
I don’t think I’m mainstream. I think what I am is lots and lots of different cults. And when you get lots and lots of small groups who like you a lot, they add up to a big group without ever actually becoming mainstream.
— Neil Gaiman, describing his fan base to The Guardian
Position your book, and engage your audience
The most critical point to online marketing is to position yourself where people are already looking. Make your book discoverable. The easy assumption, then, is to simply be everywhere, but that is a difficult (and expensive) order to fill. So the most important thing you can do in marketing your book is to identify the focus of your marketing. Who will be interested in your book? Where can you find those people? What questions will they be asking? What, specifically, in your book can you identify that they might be looking for or find interesting if they should stumble upon it by accident? Because it is the accidental stumbler who will grow your audience best and in the process boost sales in a dramatic fashion. And, as we all now realize, that is the whole premise behind the website StumbleUpon.
Positioning yourself means putting yourself in front of your audience in the way they want to be addressed, answering the questions they want to ask, and offering them something of value. This might be in the form of answers to their questions, information relevant to their interests, or direction to other knowledgeable sources. But in any case, it must in some sense be what they are already looking for.
As much as you would love to frame it this way, your mission is not to sell them your book. Instead, it is to give them something they already want, so they then also want to buy your book. The Internet is first and foremost about immediacy. So the potential customers’ desires — the things they already want — are key to marketing anything online. And online social media platforms are about community and communication, so the real focus of your use of these media is about engaging your audience, not selling to your audience. Engage your audience. Sales come later.