Marketing Basics for Writers: An Easy Guide on How to Build a Network

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This post is part of our marketing basics for writers, but any entrepreneur and artist will also find useful things to learn. If you don’t know anything about marketing, then please read my first post about why you need to take control of your own marketing.

In my previous post, I wrote about the difference between marketing and sales, and why writers keep making mistakes when they post about their books on social media. Now that you know the difference, one of the questions you’re probably asking is: “So how do I begin marketing?”

Before I can answer that question, I just want to remind you that marketing is about building awareness and networks, but you do need to at least know what the book(s) you eventually want to promote is going to be. Marketing is very timing-conscious: you need to do the right tasks at the right time. There’s always a risk of doing marketing too soon before the product is ready, although most people usually err on the side of doing marketing too late.

I’m bringing this up because one of the most important foundations of marketing that can be done as early as possible, even while you’re still working on your book, is building a network.

Building a network isn’t what you think it is

Many people have a bad 1980s-era preconception of what building a network is, like circulating around and talking up strangers at a terrible cocktail party. Now, I don’t want to dismiss the importance of networking parties and conferences: these can be great opportunities to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t, and most people are ready to talk shop so one hurdle is already gone.

However, you don’t need to “network” to actually build a network. Building a network means creating ties with different people based on mutual interests, friendship, or goals. You don’t have to make these people your best friends (although it can inadvertently happen), but you have to honour these ties for each other. In a lot of ways, building a network is very similar to creating a community.

The illusion of social media followers

With the advent of social media though, some people seem to have forgotten the things that underpin a community in the first place. People expend a lot of effort on garnering followers and likes without actually considering whether these translate to real-world results. As someone who has put together both failed and successful social media campaigns, I can say that the sad truth is that you will only ever get a fraction of your followers to actually commit.

In this article about the failed Universal FanCon, one of the organizers laments:

“We were victims of our own hype,” he said. “We were in the bubble of social media. Our critical mistake on size and scope was that we believed that our combined tens of thousands of Twitter followers would actually come out and support us.”

Half a year after the Kickstarter campaign, Butler said, they had run out of money, and had sold only a hundred or so tickets.

Find your people

The good news is that instead of running around trying to gain 100,000 followers, you can focus on developing a core group of people who want to see you succeed because you have something to offer them, whether it’s great stories, friendship, or entertainment.

The first thing you can do is to interact with people who have the same interests as you do. For example, if you enjoy history, you could participate in an amateur historian group whether online or in person. You will inevitably socialize with people who like the same things as you do, and these are the people who will be more interested in what you write.

I sometimes get contacted by indie musicians who are members of anarchist groups that I frequent, and while most of them need to work on their approach, they’re right to assume that I like a certain type of garage and punk music because that’s generally the kind of music that people who join anarchist groups like.

Please don’t be lazy and think that all you have to do is join book groups. You can join them, of course, but remember that your own book will be lost in the clamour if your only purpose is to promote your book.

Be generous

Again: contribute. Don’t just think all you have to do is slap down a book and that’s it. Be an active, involved member of your group. Or at least regularly create content that will interest and help others. Marketing is about building relationships which help people stay aware of what you’ve written.

I really dislike writers who don’t mentor others or try to help other writers out. Being generous is an important part of marketing. A good friend of mine who was in the trenches of the music industry with me always tells me: “Your success is my success” and that should be the attitude that writers have. If you promote other writers or artists or musicians or anyone because you genuinely like their work and want them to succeed, you build up a lot of goodwill that can only help you.

Rene Denfield, who wrote The Child Finder, is known for her extreme generosity to other writers–she’s always giving encouragement, advice, childcare assistance, and all kinds of help despite being a single working mom. And look: now you know about her book from me.

Being selfish might take you somewhere but it won’t get you further than that.

If you have any marketing questions, feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to help out!

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