The following is an extract from a talk delivered at the Calgary Public Library in Feb. 2011.
The best time to begin building your readership is while you’re still writing the manuscript. The very first thing you need to do is create a web presence of some kind or another. This can be as simple as building a blogsite (always free) and writing posts for it on a regular basis. Encourage your friends to subscribe to this, and ask them to ask their friends to do the same. Then write something meaningful, as often as you can, even if it’s only once a week. You should never have to ask, “But what should I write?” You’re a writer; you’ll think of something! Write regularly, keep it positive and upbeat, and post, or repost, articles that will create a discussion in your comments. When people comment on your blog, do them the favour of visiting their site and commenting on their blog. It will seem slow at first, but you will eventually build up a readership that will follow you, as long as you keep your blog interesting, and show you are interested in it yourself.
Do not EVER kvetch about your writing or the publishing process, ie., complain about how hard it is to write, or how many rejections you’ve received, who those rejections were from, and what was said in the letter. In fact, do not say anything negative about anyone or any aspect of the business. Ever!
The other reason for developing a web presence, besides increasing your readership, is because publishers and agents will be googling your name, especially when you begin the querying process. In fact, that will be the very first thing they do when they receive your query, if they decide to read beyond your first paragraph. You want to make sure that absolutely everything you’ve written and published online is above board and as perfect as it can be. You want to create a good first impression so that the agent or editor will contact you to ask for a submission. The last thing you want them reading is you slagging any of their colleagues.
And here’s an example of another reason why web presence is important – Darcie Friesen Hossack, another Canadian author, published Mennonites Don’t Dance in 2009, and I worked with her on promotion.
At that time, she had a terrific web presence – because she followed my advice and really developed it right from the beginning. When a reviewer from one of the national newspapers called her publisher to say he was going to be writing a review of the book but needed more information from Darcie, the publisher was able to direct him to Darcie’s blogsite. The reviewer wanted the information immediately, and who knows what might have happened to that review if Darcie hadn’t posted a comprehensive “About Page” as part of her blog. She asked me to tell you this story and to say that, yes, a good and comprehensive web presence is important!
Once you have your own blog established, you should begin searching for other blogs and websites that are in your same area of expertise. Read these regularly, but more importantly, comment on them. Don’t ever invite people to visit your blog in those comments, but do include your URL when signing in so that the blog’s readers can click on your name and be taken directly to your site. Hopefully, when they discover that they like what they see there, they will become your new readers.
I was quoted on another author’s blog a few years ago, and she included a link back to my blog. I still receive incoming links from that one mention.
Develop your blogroll. Ask friends whose blogs you follow if you may add them to your own list, and ask that they link to yours as well. Then ask other bloggers and website owners (authors, writing professionals, special interest sites) if you may link to their sites. Always ask. They may surprise you and ask if they may link to your site in return. And if their site has 1000 or more hits a day, that will be another potential 1000 readers who might search out your site at some time or another. But do always ask first before you link to anyone.
Social networking is another free opportunity to help you with building a readership. It`s the ultimate means of word-of-mouth promotion. I’m going to talk specifically about Facebook, because that’s what I find to be most useful. There’s also Twitter, LinkedIn, and a number of other possibilities, and all are free.
The thing about all social networking is that it’s not a means of promotion so much as a way of starting a conversation about a topic. To get the most out of it you should listen, communicate, and share, but never actually sell anything. If you keep your postings somewhat professional, and not get personal at all – and never complain! – making only positive comments on others’ posts, you stand a better chance of attracting more friends. In my own postings, and because I’m using Facebook to get the word out about other authors as well as myself, I’ve tried to stay away from complaining about the weather or telling everyone what I ate for supper last night (unless it was something particularly fabulous!), or the minutiae of my humdrum life. If you’re seriously hoping to build your group of Facebook friends, don’t talk about the trivial, but offer something of value that will be of interest to a large group of people – your reading public. Repost interesting articles, repost invitations to literary events, “friend” other authors and publishers – be sure to send them a note when you ask to be accepted as their friend, especially if you haven’t met them previously – and say something like, “I really enjoyed reading your last book,” or “I like such-and-such an author you publish.” Follow fan pages you’ve “liked” and comment on them. Link your blog to Facebook so that every time you publish to the blog, it’s posted on Facebook automatically.
Set up Google Alerts for your name and the title of your book. Then, whenever either is mentioned anywhere on the internet, you will receive a quick notice with the link. This saves you having to search every day to see if you’re receiving any publicity. (Not to mention avoiding the embarrassment of appearing to be narcissistic!)
I know some of you are going to say you don’t have enough time to waste on posting blogs and reading and commenting on Facebook every day. I agree. These can be time wasters, and they do take valuable time away from what we all should be doing, which is writing. But you cannot afford to not be blogging or posting to Facebook at all. Here’s the biggest reason I found for authors to be blogging and developing a readership online – 87% of all blog readers are book buyers. With a statistic like that, if you’re publishing a book, you must blog.
My best advice is to block off some time every day, or every other day, and it can be an hour-long stretch, but do allow yourself some time to develop a presence on both the web and Facebook, or another social network. This will stand you in good stead for the next part of promotion I’m going to talk about – that is, once your publishing contract is signed or you’ve sent your self-published book off to the professional editor, designer and formatter.
Remember what I told you earlier? Your publisher will likely do very little promotion of your book, above and beyond what is usually done for any of their other authors. That promotion will take place between when the book is released and up until the end of the publishing season – Dec., for a fall release, and June, for a spring release. Once that publishing season has ended, the publisher’s scant resources and their staff are concentrating on publishing and promoting the next season’s books. Your book has just entered what is known as the backlist – or what I refer to as “publishing limbo” – unless you’ve been fortunate enough to win a major prize … In all likelihood, however, your book has been placed in most of the retail outlets in your area, maybe it has received one review, and it’s sold a few copies – mainly to your own friends and family. This, I’m afraid, is the reality for most books published in Canada.
But there are ways that you, the author, can change the odds in your favour. This involves not only working with the publisher to develop a promotion plan for your book, but also by striking out on your own, and continuing to develop your “platform” – and remember that this means your readership.
Susan Toy has been a bookseller, an award-winning publishing sales representative, a literacy teacher, and is now a published author, publisher, and promoter of fellow authors and their books. Born and raised in Toronto, and after completing a degree in English Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, she moved to Calgary in the late 70s and immediately found a job in a bookstore, beginning what has become a life’s career working with books and their authors.
Published Books: Island in the Clouds and That Last Summer