More Than Unit-Shifting
The initial relationship between author and reader is a lot like flirting. So writing this post, I feel more like I’m giving dating advice than author-marketing advice. But some authors need to hear this, because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen or heard of the following scenarios. Have any of these ever happened to you?
- The panel discussion ends, and someone steps up to thank you for your wisdom and buy your book… but you don’t have a physical product. You only have ebooks available.
- After your reading, someone comes up to shake your hand… but they’re broke, or just aren’t in the market for your book right now.
- You meet someone at a coffee shop and bond over the latest bestseller. They might like your latest book… but you have none on you right now.
- The power goes out, and you find yourself trapped in an elevator at CONvergence with a group of people dressed as the cast of Firefly. They all are interested in your upcoming dystopian-steampunk-paranormal-romance.
In each case, you make contact with people who are interested in what you do, but there is no sale. If you meet someone who is truly interested in your work, but you both walk away empty-handed, then you are doing something wrong. There are other transactions you can make that don’t involve dollars and shifting units.
The Value of Connection
How much would you pay for 100 facebook fans? 1,000 newsletter subscribers? How about 10,000 followers on twitter?
These numbers can be had… one at a time. And the price for these individual connections is cheap. Almost free. But you have to ask.
The good news is that all forms of social media are opt-in. Phone numbers are not. If you give out your phone number, you can’t take it back. But you can unsubscribe from email lists. You can unfollow someone on twitter. You can unfriend (and even block) people on facebook.
Because the person at the other end of the connection has that level of control, they are much more likely to let you connect with them this way. They have little to lose and you have a little to gain.
Maybe they aren’t buying your book today, but connecting to fans has value. When those connections add up, it’s called platform or reach. You could also call it potential future sales.
And all you have to do is ask.
Some people are natural flirters. They can pull pick-up lines out of the aether and make them sound natural. Others need a little practice and a little polish. But you’ll want to do a little pre-planning.
First you need to decide where you want to collect your connections. Facebook is ubiquitous, but Twitter is just as common and has a lower bar to entry. Many author marketing sites recommend email lists, even though reports suggest ‘the kids ain’t using it as much as the old folks.’ But think about where will you store the email addresses. Google contacts? Mailchimp? A CRM database? Which social media you focus on depends on your goals, (or your publisher’s goals,) where you will be hanging out, and how you plan on interacting.
Next, decide how to collect the connections. Will you use a smartphone? Tablet/Laptop? Hipster moleskine PDA? One popular method of collecting connection info is to have a clipboard and pen on the table for people to write it down. The clipboard has many other advantages. It allows shy lurkers to connect without directly interacting with you. It gives people in line or hanging out near your table something to do while they wait. It can also act as a stand-in for you when you step away from your table at the book fair. But the clipboard won’t help unless you carry it everywhere. You’re an author, so I’m sure you have a half-dozen writing implements on you at all times. But a clipboard? Think about how you are going to capture contact info when you are out in the wide world. (I’ll explain later why business cards are a poor alternative.)
Once you have a system in place and a method for collecting contact info, you’re ready to work on that pitch. “Can I put you on my mailing list?” is a little like “What’s your sign?” Instead, lead with what you’re offering. “Wanna know when my next book is coming out?” Of course they do. “Great, just write your email address down here…”
You may want to come up with a similar pitch to use at the end of readings or public speaking events. “And if anyone would like a FREE copy of my distopian steampunk paranormal romance, I have a sign-up sheet here…” With slight variation, this would work well at the end of a blog post. And on your website’s author bio page. And in your social media bio. You get the idea.
Now, let’s talk about how to make your pick-up lines even more attractive…
Ever wonder why some people can get away with the worst pickup lines imaginable? Or no pickup lines at all? Those people generally have something else to offer. Like the Mercedes they drove up in. Or a Black Diamond MasterCard. Or the fact that they cosplay a mean Harley Quinn.
Likewise, some authors offer value because of their track record. Lois McMaster Bujold doesn’t need to add anything to her pitch, because she’s Lois McMaster Bujold. If you aren’t Lois McMaster Bujold, and you want thousands of twitter followers, then you might have to start using that author-creativity to come up with some stuff to offer. That ‘stuff’ is called content.
Adding related content to your connection pitch makes it more likely to succeed. Offering a free ebook/newsletter/podcast in trade for someone’s email is the dating equivalent of offering to buy them dinner in exchange for an hour or two hanging out with them. This raises the probability of success. (Unless they truly aren’t interested, in which case you might not want them in your contact list anyway.)
Clearly, we are leaving behind the land of the Free. The value-add to your pitch needs to be backed up with content. Sadly, ebooks, newsletters and podcasts do not make themselves. Then again, it doesn’t have to be your content. You can become a curator for the type of content that goes along with your own work. For example:
“Glad you liked the reading! I couldn’t help but notice that you like Harley Quinn so much that you’ve had your Mercedes painted to match your cosplay outfit. That’s great! I have a collection of superhero pix that go along with the story I just read from. You should check them out. Are you on tumblr?”
Many authors have turned this model around and used it to make very successful businesses. They promote free webinars or ebook how-to guides. The connections they make via the power of FREE (almost always email lists, btw.) become a platform for releasing other, paid content.
You can also get creative. For example:
“I understand you’re strapped for cash right now because you just maxxed out your Black Diamond MasterCard getting the Mercedes painted to match your Harley Quinn outfit. Bummer. But if you’re really interested in the upcoming book, I could let you proofread the pre-release copy! And in return, maybe you could give me a review and some shares on social media? Let me get your email address…”
Get It In Writing
Handing out business cards, etc. is common author marketing advice. But you might want to treat that as a last resort. Why? Here are two methods of connecting:
- You hand your business card to someone
- You take down someone’s contact info
Which of these methods is guaranteed to work 100% of the time?
You should make it as easy as possible for others to connect with you. This means you should take responsibility for making the connection. Therefore, you should get the info from them and you should do the work. You add their email to the mail list. You send the friend request on facebook. You follow their twitter profile.
Yes, you should leave fliers on the table. Yes, you should carry business cards wherever you go. But those are passive methods. Active methods have better odds. So get their contact info whenever you can, instead of the other-way-round.
Once you’ve made that connection, you need to overdeliver. Whatever value you promised, give them that, and more. Use that connection to provide content the potential fans will enjoy. Info-tainment that’s representative of your brand. Free stuff. Make sure they are happy they decided to connect with you.
If you overdeliver here, wonderful things can happen. People may share your content with others. People may build up faith in the quality of your work, which can influence future sales opportunities.
These tactics can get icky real fast if you aren’t careful. Everything I’ve told you so far is hinging on the fact that someone has an interest in what you are doing. If someone attended your reading, if they are on the fence about buying your book, then it’s safe to assume they would be interested in being connected to you via social media. These are the opportunities I see getting missed by many authors. These are the lost connections which are there for the asking. DO NOT pass a sign-up sheet around the thanksgiving dinner table! Be respectful. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Know the difference between passionate and pushy.
And after you’ve made that connection, do not abuse it. If someone gives you their phone number, you don’t call them in a drunken lust an hour later, begging for a ride in the back of their red-and-black Mercedes. If all you do with the connection is push product and beg for likes, reposts and sales, you’re going to lose that connection.
- Decide on the main channel/platform you want to develop. Email list? Twitter Followers? Facebook Fans?
- Decide how you will provide this option to potential fans in public. Smartphone? Clipboard?
- Decide what value this connection provides to those who opt-in. Why would someone want to subscribe to your mailing list or follow you on twitter? What does it do for them? If you need content here, then get to work. Write, post, review, record, curate, or find other ways to offer value to a potential fan.
- Think about your pitch. Write it down. Start with what you are offering first. End with the how-to-connect. Practice the words until you feel comfortable with them. Think about variants of your pitch to use at different places/times.
- Use it. Flirting with potential fans is an artform. Knowing when to do it is just as important as knowing how to do it. Some people require more practice than others. But remember that this is a reciprocal relationship. They get value from you, and you get a connection to a fan.
- Extra Credit: Think about the Quality of your connections. How does your target market selection + brand image affect connection quality? How does connection quality affect sales conversion? Are there ways to measure the connection quality besides sales? (Reach? Gatekeepers? Likes? Reshares? Reviews?) How can you increase the average quality of your connections?