How to Win Readers & Influence Friends

Marketing is a big bugaboo for writers. Face it, most of us write because it’s better, easier, more comfortable than being around lots of people for lengthy times. I have training in how to be an extrovert when needed. But left to my own devices I would far rather curl up with a book – even a not-so-good one – than go to a party. Fortunately, the internet saves me from having to schmooze.

Even though the world of marketing as we know it has changed radically, there are still good marketing techniques, and bad ones. We have this perception of salesmen as being the stereotyped used-car guy, greasy, smarmy, and wholly untrustworthy. Some are. But not all of them. And frankly, my dear author friend, you have a product you need to sell. Ergo, you are a salesman. So, you have a decision. Are you going to be that guy?

Dale Carnegie wrote this way back in the thirties (1930’s!) when he was writing the foreword for one of the best known sales-traning books in the world, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” and it is obvious that someone was asking him the same questions that we indie authors get. “Why, then, did I have the temerity to write another book? And, after I had written it, why should you bother to read it?“

Really good question, isn’t it? Of course, what you and I write is unique, original, absolutely not just another get-rich-quick book. But we do have to figure out how to answer that question, because we want to get readers. I’m suggesting that the best way to win readers might not be by selling to them. No one wants to visit a blog where the only posts are “buy my book! Look at my fabulous covers, looove my personal appearances/signings/what-have-you.” In this new world, where information moves fast, and internet denizens move faster, you have to catch attention and offer incentives, not bore your potential clients. One term I have heard applied to this is ‘content marketing’ and it’s much more than selling a product.

This blog, for instance, is a platform for writers. All of us have books and we all want more sales. But the big idea here is to offer you, our readers, more than just those books. We’re trying to make sure you have something interesting, funny, or informative to read, to keep you coming back. And we hope that once in a while you will buy a book, because you have a relationship with us, and you already know that we write decently, if sometimes unorthodox, we’re possessed of a wicked sense of humor (well, some of us are *eyes Kate* more wicked than others). Besides, Sarah, Kate, Amanda and I just would NOT look good with our hair greased back. Dave, hm… (ducks and runs!)

So as a shy author, what can you do to win readers? Well, try branding yourself. NO, not with the hot poker (put that thing down, and step away quickly!) but with a reputation. When people see your name online, what do they think? How often do they see your name? It’s a big ocean out there, and we are all little fish. And for goodness sake, don’t buy into the myth that all publicity is good publicity. If you respond to a negative review and get into a public fight (and any fight with someone via internet is public) this is not a good thing. However, if you get to the point where, when a potential reader sees your name as a byline and thinks “hm, this guy is always interesting” then you have won a reader.

Influencing friends is harder, and not something you really want to try to do, more of an unconscious process, but something to be aware of so you do not beat friends and family about the head and shoulders with your books that you want to sell. We’ve all seen that lean, away from someone who has a one-track mind, and the person being jabbered at glazes over with boredom. After a while that friend becomes less of a friend, as they distance themselves from the author who never talks about anything other than their books. Sometimes it’s hard not to be that narcissist. What we do is fascinating to us (surely you all want to hear about my research process for a short story set in Camp Lazear! No? Why not?) but not necessarily to others. Make sure that your online presence is lively, interesting, and not a one-trick pony. Although I like ponies… not that way! Geeeshh…

So play nice with your readers, and remember, if you impress them enough, they may tip the author!

34 comments

  1. I have a freeze brand, for those who don’t like heat.

    You guys have made enough comments about Dave’s looks (usually bear, occasionally hair) but I have never seen a picture of him. In fact I just realized that I don’t even know what race he is. That is sure to make the affirmative action types swoon, how is it possible he was successful on merit alone? I mean how are the readers supposed to connect with him if they don’t know if he looks like them or not?

    1. I think that picture of the guy in the hard hat and long beard in his icon is him.

  2. I definitely agree with this article. I too, detest ‘selling’ myself. Also, fighting the ‘buy my book!’ screaming is important, it’s way too easy for an author to get into the mindset that they have to push themselves. You see people like that at cons as well as online, and the whole crowd does the ‘lean away, don’t make eye contact’ shift.

    1. You do nice articles about the nuts and bolts on your blog. I will unfollow blogs that are all “buy my book” I just don’t even need that in my email all day.

    2. Oh… I get the “lean away, don’t make eye contact” shift.

      There’s a certain social obligation “thing”… you know… when you go to a Tupperware Party you have buy something, even a small thing, or if you talk to a Girl Scout or if your co-worker shows up with a school fund raiser, if you meet someone who explains they’re selling Avon or… whatever. You don’t have to buy a lot, but there’s that little obligatory purchase “thing”.

      It’s different from simply not being interested in someone’s promotion. You know that if you engage with the person you risk the social awkwardness.

      I’ve been trying to figure the best way to get around that, because as an author you want to get word out, but as a reader you also want to get the information. How does something that should be win-win turn into lose-lose?

      1. I’m not sure it is always lose-lose. You will see me refer to my other business here from time to time. I’m a professional family entertainer. Now, this spring right after my book came out, I went to a jam with a bunch of other people – some of whom I knew well, others not at all – and was very startled to be asked if I had brought any copies of my book to sell. They had seen me post about it on facebook and thought it was the neatest thing to have an author in their midst.

        Just like online, you have to know when it’s ok, and when to quit, already. In my opinion, most people who sell (Mary Kay, Avon, Pampered Chef, what have you) don’t know when to quit. And that’s when you have that awkward obligation thing.

      2. (Note: I am NOT lacking in self interest on this subject, so keep that in mind.) There are two ways to “sell.” 1) The “in your face, buy now,” method. 2) I’m a good person, trust me to solve your problems, and do it in an honest way.
        How does #2 apply to authors? It’s real simple. A book buyer usually wants a solution to “What do I read next?” (Text book, business problem/solution books are an exception.) Your blog/FB/guest/other contacts, tell people what kind of person are you? Do you have similar interests, humor, outlook, etc.? Can you tell a good story, string thoughts together in a logical, rational manner? IOW, are your books worth spending $8+ on?
        Next, are you a “1 plot monkey with a word processor {Dan Brown for example}? It’s fine to write *similar* plots, but at least make them a _little_ different.
        What are my “credentials?” Look me up on Facebook and read my posts. Read my Twitter account (FBNGroup). Look me up on LinkedIn, and see what you think. Find and look at some of my work, to see if you like it. Getting people to decide that they like/trust/want to read you, is what makes them plunk down the money to read the first book. Posting an occasional “free” chapter can help them decide. So can posting ino=fo that helps them with something.
        Hope That Helps.

  3. So, trying for an internet brand of ‘It’s that jerk, better not talk to him’ might be counterproductive? I’m going to have to rethink my life. 🙂

  4. Well… I get very tired of all the newbies — and it’s always newbies who spam me with their book info over and over again.
    Look, yeah, your book might be just like Heinlein, but wait for other people, not-your-mom or a-paid-review-site to say so before you start telling everyone that.
    And of course I don’t mean Cedar. Mostly I mean asses on FB and linkedin. Eh.

    1. I’m pretty sure I’ve never said I was just like Heinlein… 😉

      And yes, it’s always a challenge to figure out which newbies want to learn and which just want to tell you what they have done. I reviewed a book for a woman that was badly written, and made her unhappy with what was a nice review given the level of the book, but honestly, not every book is going to be good! And if you ask for a review and it’s not a good one, don’t attack the reviewer for not having informed you privately rather than go ahead and publish the review…

      Sorry. Tender spot.

      1. …eh, I’m still giggling at the latest one-star review for Calmer Half’s prison chaplain memoir. “I’ve never worked in a jail, nor been inside a jail, but his explanation of the ‘criminal mindset’ common to everyone who ends up in a max security prison made me uncomfortable because it sounded bad, like hate speech is bad, so I stopped reading and gave it a one-star.”

        I have no worries about this one-star review affecting the sale of the book… and it gives me hope that the book is winning readers and influencing some of the people who’d built their worldview from denial, platitudes, and tv tropes. (You can’t win ’em all, but clearly we got inside the gates before we got ejected that time!)

        Your review, on the other hand, I’m very grateful for – I’m honored you felt it worth that many stars, but more I’m very grateful for the honest and thoughtful review you attached to that rating. I couldn’t have gotten that in a million years by going “buy my [husband’s] book! Review this book!” at frequent intervals.

        ..on the other hand, without any publicity at all, would anyone know your book is out three? I’m certainly glad you pulled yours out and offered it as an example to prove a point, else I’d not have identified you in a crowded panel (and taken a few more months to go “hey, I like the shape of her thoughts, I going to buy that now” from MGC…) (As an aside, MGC does work. I’ve bought at least eight books that I can think of from the posters and commenters I’ve met here, just because I like the texture of their thoughts. (And as soon as Chris has his Calvanni cycle out in ebook, he has a sale pending.))

        There’s a happy medium in there somewhere, and while trying not to spam anyone (or get tossed for bad puns), I’m trying to figure out what it is. Right now, I’m trying to come up with the layout and text to try a Project Wonderful ad, to see if it has any effect, while feeling like I’m reinventing the wheel. “Hey, you think if we knock some of these corners off, it’ll roll better? What is this “wheel bearing” thing you speak of, Ogg? What do you mean, assemble all the little rollers to big rollers to make the wheel turn faster?”

        1. Well, the reason I had that book – and a few more! – at Liberty was so I could sell them. I’m fairly sure that using cons as a marketing platform is a dying concept, but it is still a powerful way to meet people, and people who like you are much more likely to buy and enjoy your book. There’s some kind of psychology there… However, the internet is still the biggest pool of ‘audience’ you can have. You have seen my blog, I keep two pages devoted to sales, and I do use the main blog from time to time to say something along the lines of ‘new book out!’ or what I am doing with Pixie Noir, releasing snippets to addict, er, lure readers into buying it when it is released in a month.

          I learned that last trick from Jim Baen, who was a marketing genius. And Toni, following in his footsteps, is no slouch either. I could do worse than imitate them. Perhaps, in time, creating a warm, friendly forum will be part of what works for me, or a selection of my work for free (that’s how I found Baen books). Sarah already does that both with Accordingtohoyt and the Diner on facebook. Those fans in turn branch out and say “hey, read this!” which is the gold standard of marketing. I know how to get word of mouth with my other business, figuring it out for books is another beastie. I think reviews are the way to get that, but with the paid review scandals, consumers don’t always trust them.

          Another thing I think is working is cross-promotion. Well, let me temper that (geeze, this should probably be another blog post! LOL), I took part in a huge blog-hop recently, with 35 other authors, for Teen Read week. I saw one sale happen out of that, and gave away one copy of my book. *Shrugs* on the other hand, the Human Wave Garage Sale was a tidy spike for me, but a larger audience than some relatively obscure author blogs.

          1. Hey, make it another blog post and file it away for a dead-brain day. Cross-promotion, like all other promotion, is only effective if you are reaching your target audience… and if the blogs where you are promoting are not reaching your target audience, then the effort’s going to be pretty misdirected. If you are reaching your target audience, but only a very small number with a high competition for the eyeball and the wallet (low traffic blogs in a blog hop), it’s going to be a lot tougher than if you get a mention on a high-traffic site.

            Teens, being low on the spending cash end of the scale, are also a tough market to crack compared to adults.

  5. Hmm, so I shouldn’t post a nasty expose about SFWA and the people with the loud dog on the other side of the alley as my first blog post, in other words? 😉

    I’m stuck trying to market books when I can’t tell people that they are my books. Yeah, it may be better than the “You wrote that book?!!” followed by getting the stuffing beat out of me because they are sure it’s about them, but . . . I’ll be curious to see what, if anything, my website does for sales, once it gets up and running.

    1. Well, first of all it gives you a place to send people… and most non-writers are fascinated with the concept of ‘someone who is an author’ so don’t worry about mentioning you wrote the book! I’m referring to people who “only” talk about their book, nothing else.

      As for the expose, well, controversy is a good way to get readers. And some of them will stay around because they agree with you and you post other interesting things… as long as you aren’t incoherently nasty.

    2. I am worried about a similar problem. I am thinking about trying to write a book in a popular genre. The thing is I wouldn’t fit the preferred description of an author nor would I want to be associated with such a genre. Even if it is good sales and money. That will be a real tightrope act. Of course I could build up a different online persona but, then would have to be scrupulous about keeping them separate and would be in a real pickle if some reviewer or magazine wanted to interview the author

      1. Sanford, use a “pen name” that you feel comfortable with. Look at how well Nora Roberts did with JD Robb, before she was “outed.” Talk about “against type.” 🙂 As a *reader,* I don’t care if you’re “against type,” I care about is it a *good story.* All else is commentary.

        1. Kristine Kathryn Rusch had an article on pen names on the Business Rusch not too long ago. Just from memory so I might be making this up… I think there was something about incorporating as your pen name so that you can get paid as your pen name and do business with your pen name… that way not even the publisher needs to know and the publisher can’t accidentally tell anyone. I expect that there are rules about lying about who you are on things like ebook self-publishing? If you’ve a legal pen name, then you’re not lying.

          Better to go see what she actually said about it, though, since I’m working from a poor memory.

      2. Using a pen name cuts your work off from people who know the real you. I’m using a “Zoey Ivers” for stuff that is kid safe. I hate to call it YA, because apparently my criteria of “no sex!” is laughably naïve.

        But the sales have been probably less than a quarter of the books published under my own name. If I ever nerve up and write Paranormal Romance, I’ll have to use my real name or kiss a starter group of probable buyers goodbye. Of course that might be doing my fans a favor . . .

        1. I am going to use my real name for YA and,um, grown-up fiction. While I don’t plan to write erotica, it will likely have things in it that the YA readers should skip. However, because I pubbed the YA first, I’m stuck. So what I am doing is branding the covers completely differently for the grown-up stuff. We will see how it works.

          1. I like it when authors (or their publishers) make very clear what a book is. Particularly if it’s an electronic publication. That should be both what genre and length. I used to smile when I’d see a title with “a novel” noted because I thought it was so cutely pointless, but that was with paper books that were obviously a novel. Now, since I’ve bought more than one “book” at a “wow, great price” only to find out that it was a short story or at very best a novella… well, I wouldn’t chuckle at “a novel” the way I used to do.

            Which is my way of saying that I heartily approve of cover art, text, and branding that lets a person know exactly what they’re getting. I also approve of being able to find other books by the same author.

            OTOH, if a person is going to write Gay Dinosaur Porn, using a pen name seems reasonable. 🙂

            1. I prefer to keep my online and writer persona and the official me somewhat separate, although I haven’t gone to any great lengths to hide my real name, one wouldn’t need to be any great detective to find out. But one reason I prefer at least some camouflage is that it’s quite possible I am the only person in the world with that name, and in Finland almost everything is available unless you start playing rope jumping with red tape (and they want a reason why you’d want something hidden too), so if you know my name you can find me, where I live, my phone number, what car I drive, how much I earned last year, and so on, with no big problems.

              It’s also possible there are no real life persons with my pen name, Kiti Lappi, as Lappi is not the most common surname, and Kiti is even rarer as a given first name, mostly it’s used as a pet name. I rather hope so anyway, I’d hate the idea that there may be some kid who will find out, a few years from now, that she can’t register some domain or an email address in her real name because some writer already hogged that one. Well, if she exists, or will exist some day, hopefully she will at least like what I write.

              Branding the different types of stories with cover art might be a problem for me, if I paint them myself. I can’t vary my style that much. Maybe different color schemes, similar elements on the paintings for similar stories – like maybe lots of red and black for vampire stories – or at least for stories in the same series? On the other hand, just using my own paintings is one type of branding, I guess (and I don’t have much of a choice, it’s either my paintings, photos I have taken or free use photos since I can’t afford to pay for any of that).

              1. It’s possible to find out pretty much everything about a person in the US too. I looked up my name and got about 5 results, and 4 of them were me if a bit garbled with some weird info thrown in with the real stuff. The fact that I’ve moved a lot sort of messes up my trail, so to speak. I thought that there was probably a good market for someone with the skill to leave “red herring” trails through the internet on purpose since not everyone can move every few years to leave an electric bill in California and a mortgage in Florida in order to gain a portion of anonymity.

                Or I suppose we could all name our children John Brown and Anna Smith, and do them that favor.

                1. Yes. Having an unique name sounds kind of nice, but it does have practical ramifications I don’t care for all that much.

                  Heh. Maybe I will stop daydreaming about becoming a bestseller in the Stephen King class, since those tax records are open here there would be no way I could conceal what I have earned. And if the sum was big enough it would end in the local papers too. And there are relatives who have not cared to keep in contact during the last twenty, thirty years and I’d rather not get reacquainted with.

                  Although, on the other hand, if I got that rich I could then move overseas. Arizona and Texas seem like interesting candidates. 😀

  6. Sighs… and over on my blog is a perfect example, my friends, of what NOT to do with your online presence. I had reviewed a book, and the author not only accused me of libel, but asked me to delete the review. I suspect all of you know better, but rule of thumb:
    1. There will be negative (or at least not complimentary) reviews.
    2. Never respond negatively in return.

    1. It’s like they never heard of the Streisand Effect…. or of anti-SLAPP legislation.

      *facepalm* Throwing out scary-sounding lawyer words doesn’t work on an informed audience.

  7. About those cover paintings – an experiment of sorts going on right now. The first cover picture I slapped on ‘The Demons of Khemas’ was a stock photo of a dark castle doorway, which I hoped looked like a cellar since I couldn’t find a suitable cellar picture. I managed to change it to a painting of a red-headed wench wandering in a gloomy cellar just before I put it on the free promo which started today. Well, different time of a year too, last times it was free were late spring and early summer, and that also presumably counts (and does anyone anywhere have any statistics as to when ebooks in general seem to sell best, and if there are any optimal times of the year to publish a new novel? That might be good information to know) but anyway, will be interesting to see if it gets taken more, less or the same now than it did the last times it was free.

    Yes, the third difference is that this time I’m using all of the five promo days in a row, the first time I divided them between two months.

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