There are so many entities that seem to put themselves between you and the folks who read your books: retailers, Amazon (they seem to be a special category all their own), publishers, agents, publicists, media, social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc), communities (Goodreads, Wattpad, etc), just to name some of the most obvious.
In other words, there is:
You, the author –> some other entity –> the reader/audience.
Now, for the most part, these entities add value. Loads of value. Twitter allows you to do things you couldn’t do on your own, as does a publisher, agent, Amazon, Goodreads, etc. And of course, you get to CHOOSE which of these PARTNERS you want to engage with. Because that is what they are, partners in your professional process of having a writing career. That choice is entirely up to you. (yay freedom!)
Today I want to explore one way to forge a DIRECT connection with your audience. One where there is no other entity creating a ruleset as to how and when you can connect with your audience. In other words, a connection where no one is changing an algorithm, or terms, or saying you can do X, as long as you follow our parameters and use our proprietary system.
THE LEAST CROWDED CHANNEL
I remember author Tim Ferriss describing how he spent thousands of dollars for marketing his first book: he pursued the least crowded channel: IN PERSON RELATIONSHIPS (he mentions it here). He spent his money on airfare to try to establish relationships with people he thought could help his book find an audience. He felt that shouting more messages into crowded channels wouldn’t differentiate himself, he knew that sitting face to face with someone is the least crowded channel.
Possible ‘least crowded channels’ for you connecting with someone?
- Meeting up for coffee or a meal
- A Skype video chat (or Google Hangout)
- A phone call
- An email thread
- Other 1:1 conversations on social channels (@replies on Twitter, for instance)
One thing that Tim mentions in the article above is that the “least crowded channel” can change over time. In 2007, when he did that interview, he described email and phone as the MOST crowded channels. That was just when social media was beginning to happen, I imagine he would now describe social media as most crowded channels today.
But find that people RESIST ‘least crowded channels.’ Why? Because they seem to want “return on investment,” efficiencies, and scale. In other words: they want to go viral. To them, this seems smart and modern, and a phone call seems old fashioned, slow, time consuming, and less like a lottery ticket (which is what they are hoping for when the send a promotional Tweet or buy a Goodreads ad.)
For Tim, back in 2007 he wanted to get on the radar of bloggers, and knew that emailing bloggers meant that he would be 1 of 100 people doing that each day. But meeting them in person at an event, having a conversation, that would differentiate him from the crowd.
I think that ‘least crowded channels’ also bring up a social anxiety that many people like to avoid. I have found that social media works AMAZINGLY WELL for introverts (the topic for another blog post), but that one:one connections can still bring up deep social anxiety that many people have in one way or another.
And for some reason, people seem to get excited about “new and shiny” and ignore the core foundational ways that people communicate and develop trusting relationships. If I wrote a post about a ‘trick’ to get more followers on Goodreads, I would likely get more views and shares on this blog post. And if I mention email, I know a BIG percentage of people will immediately think:
“Ugh, I hate email. I get too much email. No one uses email anymore.”
So they instead focus on Facebook and get angry when Facebook changes an algorithm.
And focus on Goodreads, until it gets bought by Amazon, who they are wary of.
And start pinning things on Pinterest, until they notice that only their food and decorating photos get any attention.
I say this a lot, but the core of developing an audience is:
As someone who measures value over the long-term, who measures effectiveness of a tactic not just in hours or days, but YEARS, it seems odd to ignore email as a primary channel by which to communicate to readers, and encourage relationships built on trust.
GIVE YOUR FANS THE OPTION TO ENGAGE MORE DEEPLY
I can’t tell you how many times I have an author try to convince me that there is no one who would want an email from them. I went through this conversation with a (lovely) author I am working with, just the other day. I started by responding with: “Fine. So just send it to me, an email list of one.” Then I explored further, and one by one, we kept discovering more people who really may want to hear from her, who support her and her writing. I won’t pretend it was some huge list, but it was at least 10-20 people to start off with.
The larger point is: give people a CHANCE to opt-in to your life. To hear from you, to support your work, to become your fan.
At this point, the next big objection usually is, “Well, they can follow me on Twitter if they want to connect with me.” But Twitter is sort of a mess, you know? (sorry, did I say that out loud?) A firehose of Tweets, many of which your followers will never see.
Make it obvious how people can TRULY become insiders. A long list of “Find me on Google+, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Goodreads, Instagram” is not a personal invitation. It is a scattershot “I’ll be everywhere” approach – and one that drives most authors nuts.
I have been eating my own dogfood on this one. Do you know where you WON’T find me actively sharing stuff? Google+. And LinkedIn. And Tumblr. And Pinterest. And Goodreads. I mean, I have an account, and I check in on those services and LISTEN to others there, but if you want to really connect with me:
- Call my cell phone (I post that number openly on my website)
- Email me (ditto)
- Sign up for my newsletter
- Join a private group I manage on Facebook
- Follow me on Instagram
- Follow me on Twitter
These are the places I truly show up, and that is likely the PRIORITY in which I show up too.
(I didn’t include links above because I don’t want to be self-promotional here on WriterUnboxed)
Increasingly, we need to help others know how to effectively communicate with us. Because of the nature of my work, I am always researching people online. It is amazing how much we obscure where to find us, and how to best communicate. For so many authors I research, I have no idea which social media channels they are active on, I can’t find their email address, and their websites are incredibly outdated.
This is not meant to be negative, but simply to point out the opportunity of getting the foundation of ‘communication’ and ‘trust’ in order. It also reminds us that it is our responsibility to direct people. From a business perspective (reminder: publishing is a business), it also provides the chance to optimize your marketing funnel. (Oops, did I say an icky marketing term? Sorry.)
I go to so many author sites where the first big thing is “Look at all the photos I pinned! Follow me on Pinterest!” And I wonder, “Is this the marketing funnel? To tell the reader who went to your author website to immediately leave and go to Pinterest?” Because – unless you are amazing at Pinterest – it seemed to be a step that would OBSCURE any chance of communication and trust, not clarify it.
Why not something more direct? And in keeping with the theme of this post: why not an email newsletter?
I think what I am encouraging here is that email should be part of a MIX of communication and trust that works across channels. Yes, I still love Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, Twitter, and I’m NOT implying that now you have to layer on email on top of 1,000 other things. But if you are missing it, then you are missing a core communication channel.
Email sells. Companies know this. Go ahead, sign up for a Pottery Barn or Home Depot newsletter. I dare you.
Why do they send so much email? Because it works from a business perspective. And perhaps from a branding perspective as well. Do I want you to send out promotional offer after promotional offer? Of course not. But I also don’t want you to ignore something that businesses rely on to generate a connection to their core audience, and one that supports the business side of publishing.
And I’m nervous to even bring this up, but: why abdicate ALL sales power to Amazon? Why not have SOME say in the sales process of your books? Of knowing who some of your core readers are by name, and actually having a way to communicate with them?
MY CAREER WAS SHAPED BY EMAIL
In 2005, while working within a big media company, I asked my boss if I could create an internal newsletter about ‘digital publishing,’ and then sent it to 9 colleagues. That first email is what I attribute to so much of what has happened in my career in the past 9 years.
I have sent out a newsletter every single week since then. That’s close to 500 emails so far. Slowly, I expanded how many people received the newsletter, then created a blog to go along with it, made the email list public (instead of just intra-company), and then extended onto social media when that became a thing.
There are still people on the list from the earliest of days – including folks who I have never met in person, who have heard from me week after week for years.
When I ventured out on my own starting a company, things went well right away – and I attribute a lot of this to my email list. And… do you know how big my list is after nearly a DECADE OF weekly sends? Well, not that big. Seriously.
This is one of the ‘big secrets’ I have found: you don’t need a huge following in order to succeed. This goes right back to Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans concept. You don’t need an enormous number of fans in order to make your creative endeavor sustainable as a career.
So if you are worried about not being able to attract tens of thousands of subscribers, please don’t let that stop you. I mean, wouldn’t it be INCREDIBLE if 40 readers looked forward to hearing from you each week? And that, if each month, 3 more were added to that number? If, one by one, people who love your writing and worldview opted-in to thoughtful conversations with you?
You don’t need some big complex strategy here to get started. Sign up for an account with Mailchimp or Aweber and go through their setup tutorials. Watch some videos on YouTube about each service if you want even more help.
Don’t worry about who will subscribe, just put the sign up box on your website, and mildly let people know this is a way they can connect with you.
Send a weekly email. Make it seem more like a letter from you to them (a letter from ONE person to another single person) instead of some big spammy promotional thing.
For the content: explore why you write, what inspires you, other authors your are enthusiastic about. Share your thoughts as someone who obsesses about stories, characters, and situations.
In the comments below, let me know:
If you DON’T have an email newsletter: what is your biggest resistance to starting one?
If you DO have an email newsletter: what is your biggest challenge with it?