I watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy about once a year. As a fantasy series, there’s a lot to recommend. One thing I enjoy about the films are the sweeping, epic visuals of cities like Minas Tirith. Like me, you probably saw the matchstick sculpture of Minas Tirith that I use throughout this post. To me, it’s the perfect metaphor for the process of building a sci-fi audience. As with this matchstick sculpture, you’ll find that audience building is a slow, painstaking process made out of many small pieces.
Now, before you write me off because I have less than 200 followers on Twitter, let me establish a few things: I’ve built audiences before. Before I pivoted and started the business of telling scifi stories, I had a side business in social media marketing. SEO, blogging, inbound marketing, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram … you name it, I’ve done it all. I’ve had Twitter audiences in the thousands … I’d love to tell you more but am forbidden by the NDAs that I signed. 😉
So when I started InkICan, I wanted to make sure I did the job right. No paying for clicks, no buying fake followers … I’ve watched people go this route and I’ve also watched them crash and burn. I’m an author and an entrepreneur. I’m trafficking in dreams, emotions, hopes and fears. This is too important to me. I’d rather take my time and get the job right. I apologize in advance to any of the bubbles I may be bursting with this breakdown. Please keep in mind that I have zero skin in the game, it doesn’t matter to me if you sell your book or not.
What follows are some lessons learned about the process of building that audience. It’s not a step one-step two-type process, it’s more of a state of mind. Believe me, there are plenty of “How to Build an Audience” blog posts out there that do just that. This isn’t one of them. One thing I want to stay very far away from is the formulaic ‘Do this to get 10,000 followers’ posts you often see on author blogs. Anybody can get 10K followers on Twitter or Instagram. Don’t believe me? Google ‘Buy Fake Followers’ and follow the instructions. All you need is a valid credit card. After you spend the money, you’ll quickly understand the truth: bots don’t equal audience. Let’s now cover a few basic ideas so that you can start building your own ‘matchstick castle.’
Do Your Homework
Research, baby. Live it, love it.
Want an audience for your book? Where does your audience hang out? Seriously, start looking. Are they on Twitter? Facebook? Reddit? Goodreads? Where do these people live and breathe? Create a profile of your perfect reader and then understand who influences them.
Once you find them, start learning what they care about. I’m a sci-fi author, so I’m paying attention to what they’re talking about. Is it Star Wars? Marvel? Westworld? I have to do my homework so that when I speak to them, I’ve already done the work to understand who I want to talk to and how they like to be spoken to.
Paying to Promote is Death
You’re busy, so let me give you one big freebie that will save you a lot of hassle. Don’t pay for ads.
Contrary to whatever Google, Twitter or Facebook may say, there is no ‘promoted ad’ scheme that will work effectively for authors or books. This is important, so let me say it again:
There is no ‘promoted ad’ scheme that will work effectively for authors or books
After much trial and error, I’ve come to the conclusion that promoted ads may work in some markets, but one of them IS NOT BOOKS. Readers don’t pick up a book because of a promoted ad. They pick up a book because their friends tried it and they can’t stop screaming about it. If you pay to promote your book, it will end in tears – guaranteed.
This advice also applies to promoting your Facebook page, as Facebook loves to encourage you to do. Number One, Facebook algorithims are designed to make you pay and keep you paying. You’ll pay for Likes, you’ll pay to get the people who liked your Page to actually see what you wrote. The idea of your ‘amazing, authentic content’ going viral is becoming less likely all the time.
Some authors refuse to accept this. In fact, they have gotten this so wrong that they’re out writing open letters to Mark Zuckerberg, as if he’s going to do anything besides laugh all the way to the bank. Complaining to Facebook about not accepting your ad is like complaining to Phillip Morris because their cigarettes aren’t giving you cancer fast enough. It’s ridiculous and counter-productive to the nth degree. Here’s why:
How much are you selling your book for … $1.99? $4.99? How much of that is actual profit? Are you on the 35% or 70% revenue plan from Amazon? Let’s say for arguments sake that you make $2 every time you sell a book through Amazon, B&N or Smashwords. Now, couple that with the $1-5/click you’ll spend on Facebook promotion. How many of those clicks will result in a purchased book? 1/10? 1/100? So let me do the math here … you’ll spend somewhere between $10-500 in Facebook ads to sell a $4.99 book, making $2 in profit. Does this sound like a winning proposition to you?
Now, keep in mind: I’m not saying this because I’m so smart and this author is so dumb. I’ve done the same thing. I’ve paid for ads. So the joke’s on both of us … but there’s no reason that the joke has to be on you, too. Social media promotion can be effective, but you should know that you don’t have the budget to buy your way in. None of us do. What should you do instead? That leads me to my next point:
Just Talk to Me
Imagine yourself as an author doing a book-signing. You’re here to meet your readers, one on one. You’ll look them in the eye, say hello and scrawl “Best wishes” across the flyleaf. Promoting yourself online should have the same level of care and concern. You aren’t going for volume, you aren’t going for viral, you’re going for valid. You are a valid author, you’re an authentic person and you genuinely care about your readers. Let that mindset inform anything you say or do online.
Some authors do this correctly – go look at Hugh Howey or William Gibson. Genuine guys; they know how to talk to people one to one online and they avoid the common pitfalls of social media trolling. Study what the big guys are doing and then figure out how to do it yourself – everyone has an equal chance to capture attention. I’d add a word or two here about keeping the focus on the stories you tell and avoid making yourself the story but whatever – you have to decide what your own experience will be. Just remember what Michael Jordan said: “Republicans buy shoes, too.”
Let’s Wrap Up
I’m keeping these posts small for easy consumption, so let’s close this out with the first three points. Later parts will include my notes on hashtags, automated tools, Klout, having something to say and remaining human. I hope you find this info to be helpful and I welcome your feedback. Please also feel free to ask for any other audience-building details – I’m happy to share what I know.