Finding Your Audience Online
For authors, public relations isn’t just about trying to shift books. In fact, when you realise it’s really not about ‘selling’ at all, you might wonder why you should bother.
A good PR and marketing plan can help you to find inspiration, test ideas and get feedback. It can help you to connect with other authors, agents and publishers. Crucially, it can help you to build your fan base and make your fans feel special; it’s this that will ultimately help you to sell more books.
Before you get going you need to have an idea of what you want to achieve. Consider the skills you have but perhaps more importantly, the time you can commit. It’s easy to let things like social media distract you so remember, your PR activities should support your writing, not overtake it.
Get to know your audiences. What newspapers, magazines or blogs do they read and what social media platforms do they use? For example, if you write teen fiction, a men’s magazine like GQ might not be top priority for you but there may be some relevant book bloggers who would like to hear from you. This is also a good time to think about what makes you different or newsworthy. Using the GQ example, the magazine might well be interested in you if you’re, for example, a successful businessman turned romantic novelist because that’s an unusual path to have trodden.
Above all, be realistic and don’t give up too easily. You may find one PR tool works better for you than another, so here are a few pointers.
Knowing your audience is rarely more important than when you’re choosing which social media platform to use, so work out where your readers hang out and join them there. Avoid the temptation to be everywhere—you’re better off mastering one platform than doing a bad job across three or four.
Twitter and Facebook remain popular and you can set up author pages (rather than using your personal profile page). The likes of Instagram rely on you having lots of visually interesting content so may take a bit more planning.
Once you’ve worked out what platform is right for you, think about the sort of content you could share. Start by seeing what works for other authors and what catches your eye as you scroll down your own feed. You could try sharing ‘sneak peeks’ and extracts of your work, ask your audience a question via a poll, or post about things that inspire you. Theming your days could work well—ask a question on a Monday, share a ‘where I am today’ photo on a Tuesday, and so on.
You can also use other people’s content; if someone you like has shared something you find interesting, share it with your audience. Don’t forget to use relevant hashtags on Twitter and Instagram. #MondayMotivation #amreading #amwriting #writerslife are essentially discussion topics—see what people are saying and join in by using the hashtag in your reply.
A good tip when you’re stuck for ideas is to create three pieces of content from one activity. For example, imagine you have gone to a stately home to research something for your book. You could write a short Facebook post about what you’re hoping to get from your visit, share a selfie taken in the grounds or a photo of something that has caught your eye and once you get home maybe write a blog post about your day. You could even record an ‘on location’ video…
Blogging and Vlogging
‘But I look awful on camera’… ‘I wouldn’t know what to write about’… ‘No-one would watch it’. You really don’t… that’s why you plan ahead… yes, they would—maybe not in great numbers at the start, but as I said earlier, don’t give up too soon.
For many of us, vlogging is something that comes easier once we’ve been blogging for a while. You may have the confidence to go straight to recording pieces to camera, or even live streaming, but either way it’s important to plan ahead and know what you’re going to write or talk about so you don’t dry up after a few posts/episodes.
In terms of frequency, you will build your audience by blogging or posting videos regularly but it’s important to make sure you’re saying something worth reading/listening to. The content ideas above can apply equally to blogs and vlogs; this is about giving your fans an insight into your writing life. You don’t need expensive equipment; I use my iPhone and a lapel microphone to reduce background noise.
Again, planning is crucial; you don’t want to use all your best content in the first couple of editions and have nothing for the months that follow. Sharing some ‘promotional’ content is fine (especially when people are thinking about Christmas gifts, for example) but what you create needs to be valuable to your reader. You should aim to inform, interest or excite them.
Alongside your latest news and opinions is evergreen content; that’s material that’s always relevant and doesn’t become dated. Building up a stash of evergreen material means you can mix it in with more current or time-sensitive stories in your newsletter, or use it to fill gaps when you don’t have much else to report on. Examples might include:
- The first story I wrote;
- The thing/person/situation that got me into writing;
- How I overcome writers block;
- What it’s really like to be a writer;
- The writers I admire most (and why) ;
- Why I write about…
You can send out a newsletter using a standard plain text or HTML email, or try a tool like Mailchimp. It’s easy to use, free for smaller mailing lists, and enables you to create sign up forms for your Facebook page/website too.
Seeing your name in print is a great boost to your confidence, but competition for page space is fierce. You must be sure your story is newsworthy—does it pass the ‘so what?’ test? Being brutal, the fact you have written a book is not news.
You can write a press release or you can email a journalist with a short pitch i.e. an overview of your story and why you think it’s right for them. The current news agenda can be a good hook for a feature piece (if your novel is a fictional tale of someone whose life is ruined by fake news, your time is now!) but in reality, most press coverage won’t centre on the plot of your book. It’s more likely to focus on a theme within it, or your own personal story.
Be tactical in who you contact—which magazines and newspapers do your fans read? Twitter and LinkedIn are great places to find journalists, or you can buy the publication you’re aiming at to see who is writing relevant articles.
Make sure you construct your press release correctly! Here is a graphic to help you structure it:
Think about getting involved in local writing groups or events like the Margate Bookie. There are also regular networking events, such as those organised by the Society of Authors, Thanet Writers, and many other organisations, which can help you to meet new people (including other authors, publishers and the like).
Scour Facebook and websites like this for groups you can join and events you can attend. As your profile (and confidence) grows you might even be asked to speak at some of them.
Top Free Tools
Canva is great for creating cool graphics and adding text to your photos.
Buffer enables you to schedule social media posts. (This can help you to post consistently but is no substitute for getting online and chatting with people. It’s called social media for a reason!)
Use Later for scheduling Instagram posts.
Mailchimp is great for drag-and-drop newsletter templates.
If you’re interested in vlogging, this article might be helpful.
Lastly, keep an eye on local events pages for opportunities to connect with others who share a similar interest to you!
© 2017 Gemma Pettman
Gemma is a freelance PR and fundraiser who works with small charities. She is also part of the Margate Bookie Lit Fest.