In the months leading up to the end of a year, self-publishing authors often see a spike in activity around and engagement with their books–but this trend is no fluke. It’s the result of hard work and a fierce commitment to seeding, cultivating, and reaping the results of ambitious marketing strategies. According to the National Retail Federation, up to forty percent of sales for small and medium-sized businesses (that’s you!) take place in the last two months of the calendar year. That’s if, of course, the business owners figure out an innovative way to “sell to the season.” Quite the incentive to rethink things, isn’t it?
Any marketing amateur can tell you that the holidays are a special time of year, but what you do about it? How can a self-publishing author take advantage of the celebratory fervor in a way that isn’t trite and that hasn’t been “done” a hundred times over? This isn’t a problem particularly endemic to being an author; anyone who’s worked in a kitchen, for example, knows that there are only so many ways of making meatloaf–and any carpenter worth his or her salt knows that a table is always going to be a table, even when it’s at its most innovative. But when it comes to the art of making something–whether it’s with our hands on a keyboard or an eggbeater or a rotary sander–there’s a lot we can still do that won’t leave you feeling derivative. And there’s an art to marketing the things that we make, just as there’s an art to shaping them in the first place.
Here are ten ideas for you to knock your marketing campaign out of the park this holiday season. Take them as a starting point, however, and not a final verdict: there are plenty of other ways to rethink your approach to marketing, and your insight into the mind of your ideal reader will guide you to such points as might prove useful. And if you ever find yourself struggling to choose a path, the Personal Marketing Assistants at Outskirts Press can help you map the terrain.
10 “DOs” and “DO NOTs” : A Holiday Countdown
10. DO NOT: Do Nothing Because You Can’t Do It All.
This might seem self-evident, but an all-or-nothing approach never helps anyone sell books–mostly because attempting to do “it all” almost inevitably leads to fatigue and burnout, and many authors never even reach that stage because they are too daunted by the sheer volume of marketing strategies available around the holiday season to strap themselves in and buckle down to executing a manageable set of them. And everyone’s boundaries are different: only you can know what your body and mind (and schedule!) can take during the holidays, accounting for all of the unexpected items that always crop up at this busy time of year. So don’t pay too much attention to the many articles and how-to pieces that float to the top in early October and percolate through the end of December preaching that there’s only one right way to market and proclaiming that These Three Simple Strategies Will Sell Your Book Right Now! or whatever their highly structured list of recommendations turns out to be.
The fact of the matter is, keeping it simple is, in fact, the way to go. Keep it smart, keep it simple, keep it sustainable–these are the guideposts to holiday marketing success. Pick a few core strategies you want to focus on this holiday season, plan them out ahead of time and make allowances for how much time and energy they’re going to take to execute, and let the rest fall away into oblivion. Do what you can do, not everything that you think you should do. And forgive yourself. Always forgive yourself if you haven’t managed to run twelve simultaneous giveaways and discounts and so on, all while picking up the kids from the airport or running to the grocery store for the nth time to pick up milk and all of the other minutiae which take over a holiday home. Do what you can do. The rest is just noise.
9: DO: Think Community.
What’s special about yours? Do you have more than one? Most people–readers and authors alike–are involved in multiple communities, both online and off. You might be a member of your town’s general community, or a more localized neighborhood community. There are school communities, the bite-sized versions of which are classes and grades, and there are church communities. One mustn’t neglect to mention the many kinds of online communities, from social media networks to users of specialized forums and programs. In short, there are the communities we choose, and communities we’re a part of whether we like it or not. All of these communities possess certain characteristics which you can take advantage of for marketing purposes.
Consider your physical communities. Would your church consider hosting a reading? Would your school or public library accept a copy of your book for its collection? Could one of the blogs that you follow or forums you post to consider hosting a “blog-a-thon” featuring your book? Each community has its own structures for communication, and these structures are your bread and butter for marketing during the holiday season. Make a map of all of the different communities you’re involved in, and start brainstorming: how do they engage with the holidays? And how might you take advantage?
8: DO NOT: Forget Your Reader.
During the frantic business of the holidays, it’s easy to find yourself caught up in your own drama–managing one crisis after another, playing host to friends and family and strangers alike, and navigating a whole host of hazardous emotions that belong wholly and singly to you. The problem is, for your book to hit a marketing peak this holiday season, you’ll need to sell your book to other people, not yourself–and it’s easy, oh-so-easy, to be so caught up in your own hurricane of experiences and feelings that you forget to really engage with your readers. And you won’t know what your readers think and feel unless you ask them, and really listen.
This winter, take a moment to reintroduce yourself to your readers. Get to know them. Demonstrate that you really care about them and want to reach them where they’re at, rather than assume they’re ready and willing to buy your book without being convinced that it will satisfy a need of theirs (not yours). Like writing, marketing works best when it’s a selfless act, at least in part. Don’t throw a party or host a giveaway if it’s not what your readers are asking for! Your readers are far more likely to buy your book as opposed to someone else’s if they’re made to feel important, listened to, and a priority.
7: DO: Diversify.
And we’re not just talking about picking a new social media website to tweet or post to! Diversity is the name of the game in 2016, whether we’re talking about valuing cultural and ethnic and neurological and political and lifestyle diversity or the importance of making material accessible to a diverse demographic. When it comes to marketing your self-published book, consider ways in which you can bridge the gap between your book and its intended audiences by experimenting with different avenues of reaching them–diversifying your online presence to include new social media websites, yes, or committing yourself to market research in order to find out where your readers live and how they find their books–and by broadening your book’s appeal in order to be interesting and useful to audiences you maybe didn’t have in mind at first, when writing your book.
Diversifying isn’t just the same as “trying new things.” It’s investing real time and energy in finding the margins of your book’s appeal and the boundaries of your current marketing strategy–and breaking out of those preordained trajectories. It’s being selfless enough to consider the possibility that there’s more out there beyond what you think your book is about and egoless enough to consider the fact that there are more people to care about as potential readers than just the ones you originally had in mind. Diversifying is all of these things–and it’s also making sure to turn these question marks into action.
6: DO NOT: Oversell.
We have a stereotype in our minds of a used car salesman for a reason–not because they’re all pushy and suave and compelling in problematic ways, but because we have all met people who oversell and felt alienated by the experience. Whether it’s a friend selling handmade products as a home business and who constantly brings it up over coffee, or a big business pushing an obvious agenda by calling you three times a day, the oversell is an immediate turn-off. We all know a too-polished sales pitch when we hear one, and this is absolutely something you don’t want to replicate for your readers.
And it is oh-so-easy to fall into the oversell trap. We all want to sell our books, and we all want to do it in as professional and engaging a way as possible … and as a result, we often practice our lines. A little too much. Spontaneity, for better or worse, has come to be equated with authenticity–and there it is, the buzzword of the decade! No matter what your marketing strategy looks like, there’s room for a blend of polish and verve. The key is to make sure your potential future readers feel as though your book has room to breathe and speak for itself. So sell your book this holiday season–not as the ultimate holiday gift, perhaps, but as a solid addition to the literary canon that happens to be available this holiday season.
5: DO: Be a Tease.
As in, make a book teaser trailer! This is one of the few marketing strategies in this list with a tangible, actionable follow-through which you can master in a day or less. It’s also one of the most long-lived marketing strategies available to self-publishing authors, given that video has been around for quite a few decades now and has only become more accessible to modern authors and readers as time has progressed.
A short video clip featuring your book is a great investment. This holiday season, take a moment to think about putting together a book teaser trailer that specifically promotes your book as a great gift idea. Take notes from the advertisements you’ve found most memorable over the years, and you’ll find it’s often the narrative-driven ones that stick in your mind–whether it’s a visual interpretation of the idiom “as difficult as herding cats” or a depiction of someone’s holiday absolutely falling apart and being rescued by friendly neighbors. Your trailer, given that it centers on a book with its own built-in narrative, would be a great place to play out some of the same advertising principles! And the best part is, book trailers are sharable. You can post your video to YouTube and share it across Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and any number of other social media platforms.
4: DO NOT: Create “Filler.”
For a long time, companies emphasized generating content just for content’s sake–“filler”–as a consequence of the theory that sheer volume of material would boost sales. In effect, this was the marketing equivalent of filibustering or speaking in a monotone voice for hours in an empty room in hope that eventually, someone will hear. The problem with this theory is that the more companies who buy in to the strategy, the more people there are speaking in a monotone for hours in an empty room, competing for the attention of any one person who wanders by. The volume rises until everyone is shouting–and at that point, the potential customer exits, stage right. It has become increasingly clear that the modern shopper’s problem is not a lack of information, but an inability to navigate a profound surplus of information with the tools available.
This holiday season, don’t post blog posts or write newsletters or blast emails to your followers just to remind them that you exist and you’re trying to sell your book. You’ll just add to the noise, and potentially even annoy some future readers. The trick is not to try and talk over your competitors, but to offer something else–something genuinely new, vital, and interesting. This is not to say you shouldn’t create blog posts, newsletters, or emails–but a reminder that you shouldn’t write them to no purpose. Create content you believe in, and that you can stand by for years to come. Make every word matter.
3: DO: Opt Out.
It’s worth remembering that the instinct to run counter to a trend is just as powerful as the desire to conform. And that instinct can be quantified, analyzed, and put to work like every other human behavior. Several companies have seen success recently by turning an idea on its head or rejecting it altogether. REI, for example, started a campaign encouraging its customers to #OptOutside (hashtag and all) on Black Friday instead of spending the day hunting for bargains in malls and shopping centers. A pinch of rebellion and a dash of solid marketing sense combined to perfection, creating almost overnight a whole network of support from other organizations and institutions, including the National Park Service and Subaru. It wasn’t framed in a negative light–no booing of companies holding sales on Black Friday–but it did create a new market. And instead of pulling in shoppers on a day when they’d risk maximum competition with other retailers, REI created a longer, more sustained demand tied to its image as a forward-thinking, counter-culture choice for people sick of being sold things–people who wanted to be reminded that their happiness, not just a company’s profit margin, mattered.
You can benefit from opting out, too. Your offerings may not resemble REI’s in format or scale, but there’s something to be said for the fact that you can create a movement rather than just a sales event. And it won’t hurt your bottom line, as the aforementioned examples illustrate. Market your book this holiday season by rethinking how the holidays work as a cog in the corporate machine, and your readers might just buy in as you opt out together.
2: DO NOT: Trust the Same Old Tricks…
… Or despair of learning new ones. After all, the science is in: old dogs can learn new tricks, and they have far more fun in the process than they would just repeating the same old ones time and time again. The same is true for humans–don’t worry, the dog analogy stops here–in that repetition is useful to a point when picking up a new skill or memorizing a new bit of information, but after that point usefulness diminishes. When it comes to marketing your self-published book, you don’t want to rely on using the same turn of phrase or even the same holiday special–because at some point, it’s just white noise. Everyone’s selling something between Halloween and New Year’s, and they’re often using the exact same strategies (in your case, giveaways, discounts, and goodie baskets).
Assessing your own success is vital here. Every year you absolutely must take a good long look at your numbers for the year in correlation with the marketing strategies you employed over the same period. Whatever isn’t working–and whatever’s working a little bit, maybe, but less than before–ought to land on the chopping block right away. If you’re seeing diminishing returns on an investment of your time and energy, you’ll see one in sales figures soon enough. A solid marketing plan whittles itself down to core practices on a regular basis, and then fills in the gaps with new ideas.
1: DO: Blend “Old School” AND “New School.”
If this year has been anything, it has been a year in which new technologies and tastes have merged–sometimes messily–with a surplus of nostalgia. From television shows like Stranger Things to rebooted film franchises like Ghostbusters, from the rise of Pokemon Go to the return of Blink-182 and My Chemical Romance, and the constant reminders (courtesy of this year’s electoral race) of a golden era now some years distant, 2016 has in some ways seemed like a string of throwback headlines, one after another. But the most successful reboots and resurrections have become sensations not despite the existence of new technologies, but because of them. Whether it’s streaming television, advances in smartphone cameras and image processing technologies, next-generation computer graphics, or the chance to engage (potential) government representatives in Twitter wars, the Old School and the New School have melded in happy synergy.
And you can do the same. As a self-publishing author, you’re by default both a symbol of the New School (using new technologies) and a scion of the Old School (part of one of the oldest occupations on the planet: writing). But “new” is a moving target, so don’t forget to always, always seek out and seize upon new ideas, new technologies, and new potential audiences. Does it sound just insane enough to possibly be interesting? If yes, then give it a chance. Yesterday’s synergy of old and new included Instapoets and light installations on deserted beaches or derelict buildings. Tomorrow’s opportunities will be different, and you’re already ahead of the curve just by thinking about them
No matter what steps you take to boost your holiday gift sales this season, just remember: you’re not in this alone. If you’re uncertain of where to begin in creating a marketing plan for the holidays, Outskirts Press is available to lend a hand. Consider setting up an appointment with a Personal Marketing Assistant and step gleefully into the holidays with the confidence that your book will find new readers!