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The life of a self-published author and a marketing professional may be more similar than you think. As self-publishing books — especially digital ebooks — has become easier, there’s a new generation of independent authors who are also, by necessity, marketing pros. Because they’re not associated with major publishers, these authors have to be their own marketing departments if they want to succeed. And success, for many of them, means going social.

We spoke with several independent authors about the secrets behind their success, and while we aren’t quite ready to push our own jobs aside to dive into self-publishing, their stories make for an interesting study in social media marketing done right. Their successes prove that even the smallest of small businesses (many self-published authors are a business consisting of just a one person) can successfully implement their own social strategies.

How Writers Become Marketers

“It’s no longer enough to simply read a book,” explains Misti Cain of Red Cello Marketing. Cain is already a marketing pro, but she recently self-published her first book, 1 Percent Clique. “Readers now want to be a part of the experience and they don’t want that experience to come to an end after they’ve finished the last sentence.”

This is why Cain’s book is what she calls “fictionality,” a fictional story that involves real-world businesses. By featuring actual businesses in her story, Cain had a number of businesses ready to help support and promote her book out of the gate. “As a new-on-the-scene, self-published author, I use a lot of the same marketing tactics I would for a new client.”

Not all self-published authors start out with social marketing in mind. When Julia Andrews self-published her book, GRE Math Simplified with Video Solutions, she first tried to promote the book’s companion videos using a paid service. “That didn’t bring in the traffic that YouTube does,” Andrews says.  “In contrast, one of my videos on YouTube comes right up in a search, and I advertise my book in the video.”

While she’s tried other social networks like Facebook and Twitter, YouTube remains the platform where she’s found the biggest impact, likely because it’s a natural fit for the video work she does. “People have told me that they have connected to me through my video, which is huge, because what I’m selling is my teaching, through video and the book.”

Engaging Audiences for the Long Term

The Problem with Women... is Men on Facebook

Selling a book is different than creating the long-time relationships with customers that brands want to develop. Yet everyone we spoke to agreed that social was an ongoing effort — book sales go beyond the first day, week, or month and there’s always the inevitable sequel. “In March of 2010, two years after my first book had come out, I had a whopping 600 fans [on Facebook],” says Charles J. Orlando, author of The Problem with Women… is Men series. “I was talking about myself all the time. I was talking about my book and how great it was and how everyone should buy a copy. It was very self-centered content.”

So what’s changed to get Orlando the 642,000 Likes his Facebook page has today? He shifted his focus from himself to his audience. “It’s very much like a real world cocktail party,” he explains. “You wouldn’t walk up to some stranger at a cocktail party and say ‘Hi, I’m Charles J. Orlando and I have a book. All I need is your credit card number and we can be friends.’ It just doesn’t work. And so instead of making the content all about me, I flipped it over and I made it all about them.”

A former high-tech marketing executive, Orlando compares his social strategy to more traditional marketing methods. “With each message, you need to do a variety of things that email marketing executives try to do in an entire email: put together a compelling subject line, an introductory paragraph, a value add paragraph, and then a call to action. I needed to do all of that and make it emotionally engaging, while I was competing with everybody’s cat photos and birthday party invites in order for people to share it.”

If that sounds like a tall order, you only need to take a look at Orlando’s Facebook page to see he’s done it successfully. He posts several times a day and each post gets hundreds of Likes and dozens of comments. When asked how he keeps up with all of it, Orlando laughs and explains that he doesn’t. “I keep on top of as much as I can, and I try my best. Right now I have just over 4000 requests for advice in my inbox on Facebook, and it grows. I take them in order, I answer them personally, and I tell everybody ‘I’m sorry if I don’t get to yours; I’m just one guy.’ As a result, nobody hates me for it. If I were to pretend something else, I’d get called out. I’m just me, and it’s a genuine interaction.”

The approach has definitely worked, and he’s taken it further with his second book, which he uses to steer readers back to the ongoing dialog on Facebook. The back of the book blurb proclaims: “Read the book, visit the page and join in the conversation… gaining the perspective of thousands in the process.” It makes for a heavy, continual focus on his social presence. “It’s a long tail approach,” Orlando tells us.

Making Social Solutions Work — Even for the Smallest Business

marketing and social flickr

It doesn’t matter how small your business or how minuscule your marketing budget, the success of these self-published authors — most of whom are working with little or no budget — proves that successful social marketing can be done for just about any brand or business. The beauty of social networking is that it doesn’t necessarily take a the resources of a major corporation to pull it off. So take a lesson from the little guy: paying attention to your audience on social channels can go a long way.

[Image credits: AJ LEON, Dell]