Some time ago I hit upon a radical new strategy for the blog. When I had a question I didn’t have the answer to, I was going to ask someone who actually knew something about it.
And I have a question about book marketing. People who’ve had the misfortune of hanging around here for quite a while will know that nothing irritates me more than pushy, scatter-gun book marketing tactics. There are many marketing techniques which, if employed poorly or heavy-handedly, can make potential readers feel like they’re on the receiving end of an attack, not an offer. Even worse, they can make people extremely prejudiced about a book, even predisposed to dislike it.
But does it have to be that way?
Lorna Sixsmith is a social media trainer and author of 3 non-fiction books about the farming life: Would You Marry A Farmer?; How To Be A Perfect Farm Wife; and just this month, The Ideal Farm Husband.
I’ve watched over the past few years as Lorna built up sales and readership through a steady, targeted book marketing strategy, which resulted in her appearing frequently on TV, radio and in national newspapers both here and abroad, and ultimately, selling lots of books. So when it came to this thorny question, I thought I’d ask her.
I know deep down that although she’s made it look easy, it’s not. And whenever anyone comes to try and sell a book themselves, they find out just how bloody hard it is.
And now it’s time for me to shut up, and let Lorna do the talking.
How did you go about finding out who your target market was? Do you find that writing to a specific niche is a help or a hindrance when it comes to marketing?
Initially, my blog helped enormously as those interested in my posts about farming life and being married to a farmer were also from farming backgrounds. They enjoyed laughing at their own lives as they empathised with my experiences. Later on, conversations on Twitter in particular showed me that social historians and urban dwellers enjoyed learning about farming in the past and present too.
Being able to target farming media is certainly advantageous. I also time the launches of new books to coincide with Ireland’s National Ploughing Championships every September, as much of Ireland’s media concentrates on farming for the week and this makes it easier to get interviews and features.
Through your blog and the publication of your first two books, you’ve had coverage in newspapers and appeared on TV. How did this happen for you? What’s been your biggest break to date?
Having a blog and a good presence on social media helped but my first big break was an interview on the top Irish national radio station. It came about as I heard a presenter read out a problem from a young farmer and I popped a copy of my book in the post to the programme with a note. Sometimes you just need a bit of luck and the right timing for it to happen.
I’ve been interviewed on a number of TV programmes. I guess being on television brings the most kudos as well as the most awareness of my books.
What, in your opinion, are the dominant social media platforms for authors? Do you see them as effective book marketing tools?
Goodness yes, definitely. Apart from anything else, it’s where potential readers can find out if they like you and like your writing. I love when readers tweet me telling me they’ve just bought my book, or their opinion. I think most writers love solitude but social media tools give us a chance to chat (and market our books) without having to extricate ourselves from our comfy writing caves.
Which platforms are best for authors? I use blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. I think the most effective platforms will vary for different people. For example, someone who loves photography and incorporates it into their books will do better on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook as their photographs will pop off the screen and gain more followers who will buy the book.
Many people see large numbers of followers as equating to success. I believe it’s good to grow your following but what is more important is engagement (are you talking to people and are they talking back?) and that they buy the book when it comes out.
If you were writing fiction, would you change your marketing plan?
Hmmm… I’ve various ideas for my next book and have to decide soon which one I’m settling on. But whether it’s going to be non-fiction, memoir or fiction, it will still have a farming theme so my marketing won’t alter significantly.
Are there strategies you’ve employed in the past which didn’t work at all?
Well, in terms of getting press coverage, you have to acknowledge that you’ll win some and lose some. Sending out a press release stating that I’ve a new book out doesn’t work on its own, I have to provide a story or funny article with it.
What do you think of asking friends and family to help promote your book? Do you think there’s any danger that asking people to do this might turn them against it – or against you?
I don’t tend to do this. My mum will sell a few of my books to her friends and a few relatives but that’s it really. It’s a very fine line for writers between having a skin that is thick enough to withstand criticism and put yourself out there, and thin enough to realise that enough is enough when it comes to self promotion. Too much promotion will start to grate. If they like you, they will buy it. I know I’ve gone to launches and bought books because I like the author, not because I’m a huge fan of that particular genre. Indeed, it might be the only book of that genre I’ll read in the year. I haven’t read a Mills and Boon type book since I was about 15 but I’m going to give one of Abby Green’s a try. I’ve never met her in person but I really like her on Facebook and Twitter.
How much research do you do before talking to anyone in the industry or the media about your book?
Not that much to be honest. I’ll buy the newspaper, listen to the radio programme or watch the TV programme a few times so I have a good idea of how to pitch the press release.
What do you think is the difference between effective marketing and shouting?
I see shouting as repeatedly telling people to buy your book because it is 99c this week or because it has 400 5* reviews. I’ve never purchased a book from any of these methods. Admittedly it can be a fine line between sharing something enough so people know about it and yet ensuring they aren’t so sick of you that your book is the last thing they will ever buy. Carol Hedges does it beautifully, a mixture between compelling call to action tweets, interesting historical information (as her books are historical fiction) and chat.
I have purchased lots of books from other authors on Twitter because they’ve tweeted something that was entertaining or amusing or because we got into a conversation about writing or farming. I probably don’t send enough “call to action” type tweets for my own books. I prefer to direct people to a recently written blog post that gives them a flavour of the book with a call to action at the end.
Is it necessary to embellish your personal or publication story in order to market a book?
Hmmm… you may get more coverage if you can twist your situation into a trendy storyline. Stories about stay-at-home mums achieving success always seem to be popular. I’ve yet to send off a press release entitled “Farmer’s wife writes self-help book to save farming marriages” or anything remotely similar (Inland Revenue decided my books are self-help hence I don’t get the artists exemption).
The “city girl moves to countryside” angle is popular too. I lost out a couple of radio interviews when I told researchers that I was born and bred on a farm.
You have to do what you’re comfortable with and what you can sustain. There would be no point in me trying to pretend I’m a perfect farm wife, and yet I’m not quite bad enough to portray myself as someone who always makes a mess of things either. I’m just an ordinary farm woman who enjoys writing and tries to see the humour (or at least the silver lining) in most situations.
From February to April you’ll find Lorna in a calf shed but from May to August, she’ll be in her writing cave. Never fear though, she does have a life from September to January! Her three indie books, Would You Marry A Farmer?, How To Be A Perfect Farm Wife and An Ideal Farm Husband are available from her website, www.lornasixsmith.com, as well as all Irish bookshops and numerous farm shops in the UK and Amazon. Lorna’s second book is a finalist in the Carousel Aware Prize non fiction awards.