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Book Marketing Begins at Home : Debbie Young


Debbie Young Indie Author Fringe Speaker

ALLi Author Advice Centre blog editor Debbie Young shares her view on why it's worth making your mark on your home turf, rather than just focusing on the global online world to market your self-published books.

As self-publishing authors, we live in a golden age. We have affordable technology available to help us reach out to the farthest reader in the world, geographically speaking, from the comfort of our own homes.

By just pressing a button, any where in the world, anyone can summon up your book like a genie from a bottle. Whether you self-publish ebooks, print books, audio books or any combination of the three, there are practically no parts of the world which you cannot reach via the world wide web.

Aladdin-style magic lamp with heart appearing from spout

(Photo via Morguefile.com)

The Global Compulsion

This creates a kind of compulsion that you therefore MUST set your sights globally, and that your marketing task will not be done until you have conquered the world. That's all very well – and how exciting it is to discover that you've just sold your book in a country you've hardly even heard of – but this brings two less desirable side-effects:

  • it's too easy to feel completely overwhelmed and inadequate if you haven't yet built a global presence
  • the long-distance focus tempts you to overlook opportunities much closer to home: your local market

We've posted on the ALLi blog before about how to cope with feeling overwhelmed, and every time we do that, authors everywhere reply “Oh, thank goodness, I thought it was just me!

The Comforts of Home

So today, I'd like to remind you of how to can build your confidence, confidence and credibility on your home ground.

“Why bother with my home territory when there's a whole world of potential readers out there?” I hear you cry.

Firstly, it's because it's relatively easy to make an impact at a local level, and easier to make your mark as a “big fish in a small pond”, as the hackneyed but very useful phrase goes. You can – and should – transfer up to the bigger pool, of course, when you're ready – but when you're starting out, small can be beautiful.

Picture of houseplant outgrowing its pot

Like a houseplant, you'll eventually need potting up (photo via Morguefile.com)

To use a less hackneyed analogy, when you buy a houseplant, it comes in a small pot with a little room for its roots to grow. As it increases in size, received wisdom in the horticultural world is to “pot up” to the next size pot, rather than transferring it straight away to a huge pot that would dwarf its proportions. Yes, if your 3″ plant will eventually grow to a 3ft diameter bush, you could go straight for dwarfing it in a 3ft pot, its effect is a little lost.

Secondly, having scored some local successes:

  • you will be less discouraged if you haven't yet made an impact worldwide
  • you'll be more confident to move up to a larger platform when you're ready
  • you're less likely to be distracted from the more important task of writing your next book.

Local successes give you marketing collateral to fuel your wider campaign: diary dates for before-and-after blog posts and social media shout-outs, photos of you in action, testimonials from people who have heard you speak.

Image of Festival Author badge

Our local festival badges are a handy way of flying the flag post-event

Local successes will also fuel word-of-mouth recommendations. Although sometimes it may feel that every other person out there is an author now, we're actually still a sufficiently rare breed for the general public to get a buzz out of meeting a real live author.

So don't be shy – make your presence felt and ‘fess up to your author status at every opportunity. A lady in my village once posted on Facebook “It's an honour to have an author living in our village”, tagging me – which was slightly embarrassing, because I know of at least three other authors who just don't shout about it so much!

What Local Book Marketing DOESN'T Mean

So what do I mean by starting local? Well, one thing I definitely DO NOT mean is try to sell your books to all your friends and relations.

It's natural to assume that those who love you most will be your biggest fans, but it's a fact of life discovered by many, many authors that those they've automatically expected to buy, read and review their books very often don't deliver.

There are lots of reasons this happens, all of which are no reason for you to feel bad:

  • they're not great readers
  • they love reading but not your genre
  • they are worried they might not like it and don't want to hurt your feelings
  • they are jealous that you've actually managed to write a book, which they've always wanted to do but never achieved
  • they are not sure how they are meant to react, as they've never had dealings with an author before
  • they have actually read it but didn't like it and don't know how to tell you

Even more irksome is when friends and relations assume that you will give them all free copies of your books – and then, even if you do, they don't read or comment or review or support you in any way.

Don't lose any sleep over any of these, not even the last one. No book is going to please everyone, even those closest to you. Take comfort also from the fact that if friends and relations post reviews of your books on Amazon, those reviews may be automatically deleted, if your personal connection is obvious. My parents told me once that they'd reviewed my first book on Amazon (they never otherwise do Amazon reviews), but it never appeared – I suspect because it may have included something along the lines of “We're so proud of our clever daughter”!

It's probably not even worth the grief of asking friends and family to read and review your books. Instead, make it easy for them to do so by laying a trail of clues, so that if they do want to do so, they can do so without your intervention:

  • have your books on display in your home to remind them and make it easy for them to pick up a copy
  • include links to your books on footers of your emails
  • have flyers, leaflets, bookmarks, postcards or any other marketing materials of your choice easily available should anyone actively ask
  • important for your global campaign too: include a reminder in the back and/or front matter of your books welcoming reviews

Now for some “don'ts” to avoid looking needy and pathetic before your local contacts (and the wider audience too):

  • don't use your book image as your social media profile picture (you want to use that slot to build recognition of your face)
  • don't set up auto-responders on your social media to ask people to buy your books

How to Target Your Local Market Effectively

1. Website

Have a good author website including profiles of your books, reviews, author bio, and a sign-up button for your mailing list, PLUS a “contact” page – an astonishing number of websites miss out on this. Yes, the website is for your global audience too, but also essential as a central point of reference for your local market. Just because someone lives next door to you doesn't mean he won't Google you (hope that's not too scary a thought!)

2. Local Papers

Contact your local papers – yes, the old-fashioned, traditional, printed kind, most of whom also replicate their content online too. Local papers like to find local people with a claim to fame, so provide an interesting story angled to their readership – which should be much more than “local man self-publishes book” story.

3. Community Magazines

My monthly column for a community magazine has yielded lots of useful connections, as well as a book

My monthly column for a community magazine has yielded lots of useful connections, as well as a book

Try community magazines including those distributed free of charge. These are often much better read than the paid-for kind, particularly in rural communities or in areas with a proud local identity. One of the first things I did when I decided to take my writing seriously was to solicit a regular monthly slot in the Tetbury Advertiser, a monthly charity mag in my nearest town, and that's been hugely influential locally, leading to invitations for talks, as well as attracting new readers for my books. (A proud moment came when I called in at the Tetbury Library to meet a friend who happens to be a librarian there, and her colleague asked me in awe “Gosh, are you THE Debbie Young?”!)

I've also got a book out of it by repurposing the columns, and got a cracking endorsement from the editor, who refers to me as the magazine's “Jewel in the Crown”, because he knows he'll always get well-written, interesting copy that his readers will enjoy. Most local publications find it a constant challenge to get decent copy that doesn't require copious editing. Your submission will make their editors happy, so don't feel the benefit only goes one way.

4. Local Radio

Similarly, local radio stations have airtime to fill, day in, day out. As an author, you can help them do that, not necessarily by talking about your book (although many presenters will happily interview authors about the story behind their book), but by becoming known as a handy commentator to bring in either on your area of expertise, if you write non-fiction, or on trends in fiction, bookselling and reading. I've been on my local BBC Radio station, BBC Radio Gloucestershire, at various times as follows:

  • defining flash fiction for National Flash Fiction Day (when I launched my first flash fiction collection)
  • talking about Christmas books and reading when I launched a collection of Christmas stories
  • talking about Type 1 diabetes for World Diabetes Day when I launched a memoir about life with diabetes (I don't have it, but my daughter and husband do)
  • describing what it's like to have a butterfly mind (the presenter had spotted this self-description on my Twitter profile and thought it a good starting point for conversation – no book connection at all, but a good bit of fun!)
  • as a panellist on a news review team, which just requires three local interesting people to respond to news of the moment
  • on the breakfast slot describing a mystery object (an ongoing guessing game the station runs)
  • best of all, as a monthly double-act with Caroline Sanderson of The Bookseller, for the lunchtime show's Book Club panel
Local radio is also jolly good fun! (With Caroline Sanderson on the left and presenter Claire Carter in the middle)

Local radio is also jolly good fun! (With Caroline Sanderson on the left and presenter Claire Carter in the middle, in the BBC Radio Gloucestershire studio after our Christmas programme)

5. Bookshops & Libraries

Opening up to Indie Authors by ALLi

Further reading re building relationships with bookshops and libraries

Many authors assume – wrongly – that because they are a local author, their neighbourhood bookshops and libraries will automatically stock their books. Being local might help persuade them, but only if your book is a viable, profitable proposition for them in any case.

What it can mean, though, is that you are on hand readily available for events So if there's a national bookish occasion coming up such as World Book Night or World Book Day, or campaigns such as the UK's Books Are My Bag event, it's worth approaching your local bookstore or library to see if there might be a way you can help them. (For more on this in ALLi's handbook, Opening Up To Indie Authors.)

Foyles' bookshop invited me and three other ALLi members to the a featured author when setting up the first in a series of local author events at their Bristol store, because they knew I held a monthly writers' meeting there, and we'd taken time to get to know the staff and build a relationship with them, even though they don't stock our books.

Debbie reading, David listening in photo

Reading from my latest book in the local branch of Foyles with fellow ALLies David Penny (pictured), A A Abbott and Lucienne Boyce (photo by Foyles)

6. Schools & Special Interest Groups

Similarly, schools often welcome local author visits – not least because they can't afford to buy in nationally famous ones – and are a good opportunity to raise your profile and hand-sell copies. Ask at your local library for lists of schools and of local interest groups, or search online, and you'll be amazed at how many there are tucked away. Many of these are organisations with national or international networks of local groups – in the UK, the Women's Institute is one such – and they talk to each other, so you might find yourself fast-tracked to a circuit where other groups request visits from you too.

Local writers' groups are a great place to start – although it's tempting to think “What can I tell them that they don't already know?”, an awful lot of these are writers who are still at the start of their journey, who know nothing about self-publishing, and who would see you, a self-published author, as a valuable source of information and inspiration. (It'll make you realise how far you've come on your journey too!)

7. Festivals & Events

It's tempting to aim straight for the big name festivals and events, and then to feel rebuffed when you get nowhere. Don't forget, a lot of the biggest bookish events are actually business-to-business trade fairs (BEA, London Book Fair, Frankfurt Book Fair), hugely expensive to exhibit at, and actually not the best place for you to meet potential readers.

What about the big-name reader-facing festivals? These are usually commercial moneyspinners, co-funded by big publishing houses and advertisers, and in a vicious circle of having to bring in globally recognised authors in order to sell the tickets needed to make the festival viable. Don't feel hurt if the one nearest you shows no interest.

Instead, reach out to the many little local events, such as school Christmas fairs and community summer fetes, or even to local markets (farmers' markets are a good fit, attracting discerning customers usually with a reasonable amount of disposable income). Or even start up your own lit fest – something more and more authors are doing, myself included. The Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, serving my small village in Gloucestershire in the West of England, is now in its second glorious year and going from strength to strength!

Photo of reading panel in action

Short story reading session in a local chapel at Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest (photo by Thomas Shepherd)

8. Be Prepared

Wherever you go locally – and indeed far afield – be prepared to sell your wares. Carry copies of your books with you always, or at least marketing materials so that if it comes up in conversation wit a stranger, you can hand them a reference that they can look up when they get home.

Next Stop: the World!

photo of Joanna Penn and Thomas Shepherd wearing author badges

Glad to go local – Joanna Penn and Thomas Shepherd, Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest authors in April 2016 (photo: Joanna Penn)

If you tackle all of the above, or at least some of them, you should in time build up lots of marketing collateral for your website, social media sharing, and for anecdotal use, and you will fuel word-of-mouth conversation and recommendation about your books. All of this will help you reach a wider audience by osmosis, even before you try to reach further afield  – although with the confidence, competence and credibility you've gained this way, you'll surely want to spread your marketing wings.

Don't forget, what happens on your home turf won't stay on your home turf.

Very few of the local people you reach will be confined only to that territory – they'll all have spheres of influence much further afield, either when they travel on business or for pleasure, or via their social media as they keep up with contacts all over the world. You'll have started a kind of pyramid selling of your book (only legal!)

  • I've had neighbours buy my books to send to friends in the USA and Australia, who might otherwise never have heard of me.
  • I've had special interest groups contact me whom I've never heard of, because they've read my columns in local community print managines, and would like me to give them a talk.
  • I've had valuable networking opportunities from fellow guests I've met at local radio stations which have led to speaking opportunities to national organisations, way beyond the reach of that radio station.

I hope these examples of local successes will encourage you to target your neighbourhood to get some quick and easy marketing ticks, all of which will help build your confidence, competence and collateral as you set your marketing sights further afield. And if you've got some great local coups that you'd like to share, to inspire us all, I'd love to hear about them!

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