Part 1: Forums, Groups, and Blogs, Guest Blogging, Blog Tours, and Endorsements
I’ve had a couple people contact me over the last few weeks, asking which promotions I recommend, for the best return on investment (ROI). Their hearts are pure, but their quest is for an elusive silver bullet that will reliably work wonders for everyone, in every genre, every time. So I sat down to briefly cover the major promotional options, and 5500 words later, started breaking it into a series.
Today, we’re going to cover Groups, Forums, and Blogs, and the promotional opportunities on them. (Not the advertising. That comes later.)
There are two finite resources authors have for promotion: money and time. If you have more time than money, you’re going to pursue different options than if you have more money than time. Which has a better ROI? Depends on what you have to work with.
If you have all the time in the world but no money, join a group or three that you like. Become a regular there, a good member and contributor, and then later take advantage of an opportunity that exists within the social norms for that group to advertise your book. (Most authors already do this, though not consciously. And really, that’s best – look around the places you enjoy, with people that also enjoy the topics in your book. The more self-consciously you do it, the more it looks like spam.)
Within Social Norms: Most social groups are there for purposes of entertainment, and don’t want to have people selling products instead of having conversations. (Nobody likes spam.) Here on Mad Genius Club, you’ll note quite a few regulars have a URL linked to their name. Some are to gravatar, some to other blogs, and some are straight to their books. Unless specifically invited, it’s against social norms to say “Buy my book! Link to Itunes, $3.99, Dragons vs. Cthulu!” in comments.
It is, however, perfectly acceptable to put the link to your books in your name, and when the post asks for examples, to reply in conversation with examples from your books, “When I released Dragons vs, Cthulu, I forgot to replace the hilariously bad mockup with the proper cover file. It took three days – but then I started seeing more than a trickle of sales. But I had a couple fans complain they liked the first cover better, as it conveyed bad B movie hilarity.”
If you don’t have the time to be a normal regular in a high-traffic group or five, or wouldn’t naturally enjoy it, don’t do that. Seriously, I am not prescribing any of this as “you must”; it’s all “this is an option, if it fits with your place on the time/money scale, and ability to be social.”
You can also start a blog. All it takes is dedication and time (probably years), combined generally with a love of reading other bloggers, and entering into their conversations in comments (just like most of you do here).
My husband started his blog, ‘Bayou Renaissance Man‘, 5½ years before he published his first novel, “Take The Star Road“. He’s posted faithfully to it every day, usually several articles a day, except for brief interruptions due to medical adventures. Not only did his blog allow him to practice his writing, and develop his ability to consistently deliver to a schedule, but he also slowly grew an audience and a fan base, starting with folks who loved his occasional adventures posted on a gun forum that encouraged that sort of sharing.
Amusingly enough, he’s not the only former moderator of that board to do so: Marko Kloos went on to write and self-pub Terms of Enlistment (He’s since been picked up by APub – and written even more great books!), Tamara Keel now has a regular gig writing for SWAT Magazine, Oleg Volk is an internationally known gun rights advocate and photographer with lots of writing credit, and Larry Correia is… Larry Correia needs no introduction.
Among other bloggers we know, Tom Rogneby of DaddyBear’s Den has not only collected, expanded, and published the “Tales of the Minivandians“, his long-running series of suburban dad adventures recast in hilarious epic style, but has released more stories in fantasy, and an alt-history book with authentic historical and military feel (What if Caesar sent a “lost Roman legion” east, to look for the source of silk? And yes, Tom, I know, it wasn’t a full legion.) Our own TxRed would have to tell me which came first, the Cat Rotator’s Quarterly or the Cat Among Dragons series. You’ve seen OldNFO in the comments; he’s been blogging at Nobody Asked Me for years, and releasing good adventure books with solid, realistically cast and competent cops and soldiers across the world in The Gray Man series. (And if you wonder how he got the smells, sounds, and cultures nailed from Southeast Asia to Southern Texas, it’s because he’s been around. Lots and lots of around, and no, of course I don’t tease him about having enough frequent flyer miles to buy an airline. Not often, anyway.) And for those who follow the “gun blogs”, yes, Peter and OldNFO and I are encouraging Lawdog of The LawDog Files to collect his gut-bustingly funny tales, from the Nigerian Space Program to the Pink Gorilla Suit, and publish ’em.
If you write regularly and don’t need much revision, or naturally write shorter stories, then you might publish serials on your web site, and attract fans that way. This, combined with a Patreon account or a tip jar, can be a viable model for earning a small income from happy fans as you consistently provide more content for them. The completed work(s) can then be assembled and sold on Amazon et. al. to the wider pool of general readers.
Variations on this are how Hugh Howey of Wool and Andy Weir of The Martian got started. Sharon Lee & Steve Miller of the Liaden Universe, when they were between publishers, got their works to fans via this model, too. MCA Hogarth does this from her livejournal (blog), as well as being a master of the small-scale kickstarter.
Note 1: Please, please remember to put your books – at the very least, the latest release and the first in each series – on your sidebar. That way, they sit there and passively advertise their existence to various and sundry folks that might click over from a link elsewhere, even if the post they read has nothing to do with your books. (There’s a reason I provided links to blogs – so you can go see how people are doing it.
Note 2: Your readers may enjoy “peeks behind the curtain” into a writer’s life, but your target audience is unlikely to actually care much about writing. If you only blog about writing, your blog audience will grow to be mostly other writers. So find topics that are interesting to both you and your target audience, even if it’s the amazing adventures of trying to pill a cat.
Note 3: “How do I grow my blog audience?” Blogs are part of social media. Explore, find other blogs you like, and make sure your name is linked back to your blog when you enter into the conversations in comments at other blogs. Write interesting things, explore and find your own unique voice, and the people will come. Very slowly, but they come. (Yes, it really did take five and a half years to get Peter’s audience. I don’t have an overnight success solution for you.)
Diverging to the topic of blog tours and blog recommendations. What is a blog tour? In easiest form, you pay someone money, write a bunch of canned posts, and then link each to your freshly released book or to a giveaway for review copies at the bottom, then hope the coordinator you paid actually gets them posted across as many blogs as you wrote posts. Does this work? Results vary dramatically, but generally on the nope to nada scale.
Why? Because social media is about engaging the audience, and a canned post that doesn’t particularly hit the zeitgeist of a particular blog isn’t going to engage most of the readers.
On the hardest end, it’s going to blogs that you regularly read and comment at, and that already have a habit of allowing guest posts, and asking if you can also do a guest post to help the host take a breather on getting words out. Then, you write a post that ties directly into the specific community and outlook there, and at the end (or beginning) mention you’ve written these books / just released a new book. Results from this are usually fairly solid in sales, because you’re engaging the audience, and they know you, like you, and find what you have to say and how you have to say it interesting.
Endorsements: Rarely, authors may simply privately email the host, and let them know they have a book about to release / just released, and would the host like a free copy? This works best if you’re friends with the blogger, and not at all if you are not a regular commenter and the blogger doesn’t know you from Adam. But if they like you and if they have time to read your book, and if they like it, and if they think their readers would like it, then they might say “Hey, peoples, So And So just released an awesome new book; check it out.”
Please, please take a look at all those “if”s in that statement, and realize you’re entitled to absolutely nothing but a birth, a breath, and a death in this life, and not everybody even gets those. There are a million reasons they may not get back to you, or may decline. There doesn’t even have to be a fault or reason, and it doesn’t have to be a reflection on you. The bloggers who run occasional book promotions (like Larry Correia’s book bombs) often know a lot of other authors who are always releasing stuff, and are flooded with hopeful requests from others that they don’t know. What you see on the blog or twitter is often one out of hundreds or thousands, and they have their own life to live, own readers to entertain, and are not there to be a book promotion service. So if you get an Instalanche (link on Instapundit) or some awesome known name says your book rocked, thank your God or your lucky stars, but don’t expect them to do it ever again, much less every release.
Congratulations on making it to the end of the first chunk! Since this was about forums, groups, and blogs, which ones are you in? What is your blog, and what do you write about? (Yes, this leading question is explicit permission to link it in the comments!)