A great book launch relies on word of mouth marketing. Today, I want to share advice I tend to give authors for setting the foundations for word of mouth marketing. This work tends to begin well ahead of the actual launch of the book, oftentimes a full year or more before publication date. I’ll explain why throughout the post.
To have some fun with it, I am going to frame this into the universe of The Lord of the Rings. Why? Because… um… it’s Friday!
Let’s dig in:
Step 1: Find Your First 8 Supporters
Consider this your own personal fellowship of the ring. You have been compelled to write this book, and these people will help support you in sharing it with the world. Yes, you are Frodo.
Why focus on a small group before you think about how to “go viral,” reaching millions of people. Think about it this way: if you can’t engage 8 fans, how will you engage 100? Or 1,000. Or a million.
Before you think big, you have to think small.
How do you get your first 8 fans? Some ideas:
Start with people you know. Oddly, I find many writers resist this. They feel confined by the identity that others place on them (mother, accountant, sister, friend) and imagine “their readers” as these magical people who exist elsewhere in the world.
Start with those who already have a vested interest in you and what you care about. Will all of them care about your book? Nope. But some will. And you will be surprised which if your friends and colleagues become your biggest supporters.
Who do you know? Start with questions that a publisher would send to you when you sign with them. They send their author questionnaire that is seeking out every organizational or influential affiliation you may possibly have currently, or deep in your past. Included may be:
- Where you went to school
- Sororities?Fraternities you belong to
- Companies you worked for
- Organizations you have joined
- Places you volunteer
- Media you have written for
- Boards you serve on. What?! You don’t serve on a board? Okay, me neither.
In other words, at the time of publication, the publisher wants to start marketing your book with the people who you are already connected with. Doing this work is so much more powerful when you strengthen these connections well ahead of a book launch.
Step 2: Create a System to Communicate With the World
Do you remember in the Lord of the Rings movies when they lit these huge signal fires to alert neighboring towns of something? That is what you need to do with potential readers of your book — create a system to effectively communicate with them.
You can also use a system such as a blog, a social media channel such as Twitter, a podcast, or even more traditional channels such as public speaking, articles, or writing letters to people.
The goal here is to inform people, not spam them, and to establish these communication channels well before you have anything to sell them. Trust is key in this process, which is why I encourage authors to think about their book launch a year or more ahead of time.
Begin communicating well before you think you should. Before you feel you have a 100% validated and ready for publication book.
What do you communicate? That depends on the type of book you have written, your audience, and your own style, but here are some ideas:
- That you are writing a book
- Interviews with other authors in your genre/topic
- Your inspiration for writing
- Related books, movies, songs, stories that the audience for your book already loves
- Use your creative drive to tap into the creative goals of your audience
- Discussions on the craft of writing or the process of publishing
What is critical here is to use these channels and this timeframe to understand your audience better.
What resonates with them? What do they love? What gets them to take action? What do they dream about? Ask them questions as often as you can.
Which leads me to…
Step 3: Seek Wisdom Before You Need It
In the Lord of the Rings book & movies, Gandalf was the one with ancient experience who could lead the group through a diverse set of circumstances. He was the voice of experience and wisdom.
Did a fiery Balrog get in your way? Don’t worry, Gandalf knows what to do. (Also: my favorite part of researching this post was this Quora discussion on which is more powerful: a Dragon or a Balrog. I love you, internet.)
When Gandalf needed more help, he went to the library. My advice to you: build your own library of experience in identifying how to reach potential readers, how to engage them, get them to take the action of buying and reviewing your book, and then telling others about it.
Instead of waiting for your big launch marketing ideas, spend a year or more testing what works. This is what author Eric Ries did in order to become a bestselling author — here is a case study I wrote on his book launch strategy.
In short: Eric thought he knew what would motivate people to buy his book. But when he tried in real life, he found he was mistaken. He went through a series of experiments for a year before his book came out in order to determine what actually got people to buy his book and spread the word.
Step 4: Find Influencers — “My PRECIOUUUUUUUUUS Influenceerrrssss”
If there was one buzzword that has eclipsed everything else in book marketing in the past couple years it is this: “influencers.” What this means is simple: in order to effectively promote your book, find people who have already developed a large and dedicated following, and get those people to talk about your book. Those people have done all the work for you in terms of creating an audience, one who has a deep feeling of trust for that person. Therefore, this one person has “influence” over a big audience.
Again, we go back to the value of starting a year or more ahead of your book’s publication date: use this time to develop colleagues with those people who already have an audience.
The first step here is identifying the people your ideal audience already trusts and admires. Sure, this could be other authors, it could also be bloggers, podcasters, and so many others.
If you don’t know, then as those 8 supporters we talked about at the beginning of this post. Use your communication channels to ask those you are connected to. Do market research on similar books and see who talked about them.
Then, when you identify some people who have access to the readers you one day hope buy your book, become their biggest advocate. Support their work as you hope they will one day support yours. Find inventive ways to become word of mouth marketing for them, because in that process, you will learn how word of mouth marketing works. Do things that they will notice, not because you are trying to use them, but because you are a rabid supporter of them and their audience.
Step 5: Be a Leader
Aragorn wants what we all do: to sit in the corner of a bar looking all mysterious and good looking while wearing black. (Okay, maybe you don’t want that, but you have to admit, he looks cool, right?!)
When we first meet Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, he is trying to go it alone. Eventually he has to step up and become a leader. He has to embrace his role and say to the world “Yes, I am the king.”
For your book, you have to step up and say to the world, “Yes, I am an author.”
This is not something you can hide from, hoping that others magically pick up your book to be its leader and share it with the world. As a leader, yes you will have to ask others to do things. To buy your book, to review your book, to tell others about your book. You have to “make the ask” instead of just sitting back and hoping that people figure that out on their own.
This can take many forms as you launch your book. For example, if you set up a book launch party or book signing at a local bookstore, you will have to make a lot of “asks.” You will have to reach out to local friends, media, and organizations to let them know about it. You have to ask people to actually buy the book so that the bookstore can continue to operate, even if you had given your friends a free copy months ago.
Whenever I see a successful author mention their book online or in person, I try to remember: chances are, this person would describe themselves as an introvert. While it feels so natural when I hear them mention their book, I’ll bet it took a long time for them to become comfortable doing so.
This takes practice. The sooner you begin, the better prepared you will be to launch your book.
I know that it is comfy and cozy in the shire, and there is nothing more that you want to do is eat second breakfast.
But you have a book to launch. Onward, Frodo!
Okay, I’ll stop. Thanks for your patience with my LOTR fun here. If you are months and months away from your book launch, what is the one thing you can do this week to begin preparing for it?