How to reach your readers

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Last month, we cleared your marketing schedule of all the tasks that waste your time. This month, I am going to show you how to perform effective outreach that will build an audience for your books without taking up valuable writing time.

What is outreach?

The term outreach is used to describe a range of marketing activities, so for the sake of clarity, this is how I define outreach: Outreach is any activity designed to direct people interested in the type of books you write further down your book marketing funnel. These marketing activities must satisfy one criterion to be outreach: Does it link to either your website or to a bio that links to your website? If the answer is ‘no’, then it’s not called outreach—it’s called wasting your time.

Take your time to absorb this distinction because it’s vital to your success. Outreach is action oriented. Your goal is to build trust with the reader. If your outreach content doesn’t encourage a potential fan to take action towards building trust, you are wasting your time. Outreach must link to a page on your author website that offers great free content. If your content links to a sales page—either on Amazon or a sales page on your website—it’s not outreach, it’s advertising. Advertising is a different beast to outreach, with different goals. Remember, outreach is for building trust, and advertising is for generating sales.

Advertising can work for authors, but it’s unnecessary for your success, regardless of what some might say. The reason for this is ads only work while the ads are running, whereas, with outreach, you are building permanent organic links to your work. After all, which book are you more likely to buy—the one that keeps popping up in your feed, no matter how many times you have tried to silence it, or the one recommended by a friend over your morning coffee?

Building an outreach strategy

The most effective outreach strategy for authors is also the simplest:

  1. You give something you created away in return for an email address; or
  2. You publish a piece of content offering a subscription within the content.

Option one is much more effective than option two because of the higher perceived value of providing something tangible in return for the reader’s email address. The options are not mutually exclusive. For example, you can publish a post on your website containing a form where the reader can download a PDF version of the post. You also need to remember you are playing the long game here—no single strategy will propel you to the top of the bestseller lists, so aim for strategies you can set and forget so you can continue to build a body of work.

Being SMART with outreach

SMART is an acronym often used in vocational education and in self-help literature as a tool for setting effective goals.

It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-limited. In other words, for any goal to be effective it must be:

  1. Explicit
  2. You must have a measure of success or failure
  3. You must feel like its achievable
  4. It must be possible to achieve
  5. It must have a deadline.

For outreach, I have simplified this to the Who, What, Where, When and Why or the 5Ws of outreach activities.

Let’s look at the conventional approach to social media marketing in terms of the 5Ws:

  • Who? Everyone!
  • What? Um, memes are popular, aren’t they?
  • Where? Is there such a thing as too many social accounts?
  • When? RIGHT NOW! Because, like, it’s super right?
  • Why? Because everyone else is doing it, silly!

OK, that’s a bit over the top, but we’re all guilty of being vague with our intentions and expectations, and you can’t run a successful business without specific goals.

Of all the positive things you can do for your writing career, having specific marketing goals is second only to specific writing goals.

Here’s a better example of the 5Ws:

  • Who? Readers of fast-paced, short sci-fi
  • What? A new flash fiction story
  • Where? Publish on my website then post a link to the story in Facebook sci-fi groups
  • When? May 27th
  • Why? Add 50 new readers to my mailing list.

Make better marketing decisions

With the 5Ws, you now have a useful tool to measure the success of your book marketing efforts, rather than going with your gut. As you conduct different outreach activities, over time you can weed out the ones that don’t work for you and identify that 20% of efforts that maximise your results.

‘What is the best way to promote my books?’ is the number-one question I get asked. This question has spawned millions of ‘How to …’ articles, and selling the current trendiest answer to the question is how the internet marketing gurus make their money.

The problem is, there is no one best way, and what is best for me might not be best for you because your audience is different. Which is why getting SMART with your marketing and conducting the 5Ws with every outreach activity is so important.

If you want a sample of what a complete 5W analysis looks like you can download one here.

Nigel George is an author and educator. He is the author of five books on technology and self-publishing. Originally traditionally published, he believes that authors have a far greater chance of success if they independently publish their books. When not writing and publishing more books, Nigel spends his time teaching other authors how to succeed at self-publishing. You can learn more about his work on his website.

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