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Afshan Lodhi’s list of things every writer should think about when trying to promote themselves…

by Afshan Lodhi

After attending the London Book Fair with Inscribe in April – seeing all the different publishers, writers and writing organisations – I was inspired to write about the one thing every writer wanted to know: how to promote yourself as a writer.

Though the sessions I attended were useful, they all seemed to be lacking that one thing - ‘How do they do it?’ Speaking to bestselling ebook authors, children’s series fiction writers and even women who translate fiction, I put together a list of things every writer should think about when trying to promote themselves. This isn't an exhaustive list, and it's certainly not gospel, but it should give you some good ideas for getting your name out there.

Few writers have the money to invest in PR or marketing, and even publishers have limited budgets these days. The internet and social media give us free platforms to connect – whether with readers, other writers, publishers or industry professionals – but every other writer has access to those platforms too. The trick, then, is to make yourself stand out and to reinforce online promotion with more traditional ways of reaching people. Try a few different approaches and see what works. A combination of in-person promotion and online promotion works best.

So let’s get on with it.

o   Get a website. I cannot stress how important this is. You can promote your services (workshop facilitation, readings, mentoring, etc) or sell your book/upcoming books. You can write a blog – an easy way to get people to know who you are and hear your name. You can limit what people know about you. Sometimes, if you have a common name your fans may not be able to find you at first. Having a website directs them to the right you. You can put all sorts of mixed media on it – from videos, to animations, to extracts from upcoming publications. If you do not have money for a website, get a free blog, e.g., Tumblr (the easiest), Wordpress (the most versatile), Blogger (an alternative from Google) or Weebly (easy to build custom websites).

o   Get some business cards. This is always helpful. A card with just your name, email and website will do, that way you can get people to go to your website for more information, fees, contact details, publications, etc. You can change what it is that you want to put on your business cards (e.g., I have one that just says ‘Writer’ and another that says ‘Workshop Facilitator’), or you can keep them simple and plain and that way you can be whatever it is you want to be – so long so long as your website corroborates what you have said.

o   Get on social media. Ensure you have a Facebook page and a Twitter account as a minimum. For making contacts with agents, publishers and industry people, create a Linkedin profile. If you want to be really lazy, you can connect your blog or website to your social media accounts so that new posts are automatically shared to your followers (Wordpress and Tumblr have check boxes to allow you to automatically distribute new posts via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. I know it can get exhausting but different kinds of people are on different sites and it’s a good way to get out there. You can link your social media accounts too – so that posting an update on one site automatically posts the same update on others. That way you maximise your reach (industry speak for getting more people to see what you're posting).

Rules about social media for promoting your book/services:

o   Get Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. It’s a way for you to easily schedule tweets to keep your followers entertained even when you are having a bad/lazy few days (or in my case weeks). You can schedule posts weeks in advance. If you have an event, for instance, this lets you schedule reminders every week in the run-up to the big day.

o   Use the free tools provided by many of the social media platforms for analysing your audience, fans or followers. Research online indicates some general guidelines for when social media traffic is at its best – usually 11am when people take their mid-morning break, then again at 12.30-1.30pm for lunch, and then during the evening commute at around 5pm-ish. Your social media platforms can provide useful info that supplements this. Facebook, for instance, gives additional insights for page moderators, such as which types of post are most popular, where your fans are based in the world, and even broad demographic data.

o   I know it may feel wrong to ask people to buy your book, but if that’s the case – don’t. Start a debate/ask questions related to your books or services and indirectly plug your stuff. Just add a line at the end with your website on, or quote something from your book as a taster. When adding a link to Facebook comments/posts make sure you have a picture attached – choose a nice colourful picture your fans will want to click on. Establishing yourself as an expert in your field means people are more likely to recognise your name and therefore more likely to buy your books or hire you.

o   Engage in conversation with followers that reblog/comment on something. If they have shared an event/book thank them – maybe even start a friendly debate.

o   Try to be current and relevant. Don’t jump on bandwagons and keep it classy – tweeting about the latest celebrity death or political scandal to plug your book can come off as insincere or cynical.

o   Use current hastags if they're appropriate – but don't force it, or you'll come off as a poser. If you don’t know what a hashtag is, then research them (there are lots of great hashtags for writers to get involved in)!

o   Set up an RSS feed on your website. It will show your recent tweets on your site, so that even if you've not updated it in a while, your site will seem more current. It also adds a personal touch and encourages people to follow you on social media to keep up to date with your activities.

o   Follow people. Many people follow back. Retweet people and then start conversations. Take out 30 minutes each day to converse with strangers/followers. Don’t follow everyone back just because they follow you, follow the people who interest you – people will look at who you follow as an indication of what sort of person you are.

o   Post pictures. Don’t take this too far – we don’t want pictures of your food unless you're a food critic or Delia Smith. Nice pictures of you in workshops, speaking at conferences or signing books are all great.

o   Offer free ebooks. Free ebooks are a good way to get people to read what you’re doing. You can self-publish these – if you need a hand creating them many people will charge a small fee. Give it away for free for a few days or weeks to build audience, and that way for your future work people will already have heard of you. Amazon allows you to offer your ebooks for free for a fixed period. Alternatively, you can make free samplers, including a single story, a handful of poems or a few chapters of a novel to give people a taste of what you do.

o   Introduce yourself. Anyone you talk to should know who you are and, importantly, what you do. The best way to do this is to ask them what they do, get a business card even if you don’t want it (you might need it one day), and then give them yours. If you find it difficult to engage with people, ask them for something – people feel more connected to you when they have invested in you – they trust you more. Compliment people. If you get a chance, do a quick Google search on your phone to find out about them, then tell them you have heard about them – it makes them feel important and then they’ll probably ask about you out of courtesy.

o   Make friends. Make small talk with everyone and anyone – a receptionist at one place could have a second job somewhere else, or may market your work the most through word-of-mouth.
Be useful – try and mentor people or other writers. In the literature world, what you give out comes back to you. Support others and at some point they'll return the favour.

o   Add a signature to your email. Put a link to your website, your book/s on Amazon and your social media profiles. Put a little quote from your book at the bottom – nothing too big or it will just be overlooked. Make sure you have a name@name.co.uk email or info@name.co.uk email address, too. It looks really professional – again this can be done easily when you have a website. Most sites offer you a plan with an email option.

o   Make sure YOU know what you do. Have ready answers to:

  • What do you do?
  • What do you write?
  • What genre do you write?
  • Why do you write?
  • Where can I get your books?

o   Let people know what you’re up to. Send PDFs, ebooks or advance review copies to magazines and bloggers (or get your publisher to do it and send them a helpful list of possible reviewers). Always approach personal contacts in the media yourself, even if the publishers are going to email them too (round robins often get ignored). Always play your angle – are you a young writer? Black/Asian/LGBT? Are you writing about a topical issue? People want to know about how you got where you are so be prepared if they call you in for an interview on telling them how you did it.

o   Apply for funding. You can apply for funding from the Arts Council for research and development projects. It will help you get money to write and to promote yourself properly. Ask writer development organisations to help you with writing this – there are specific things you need to put in and keywords that they look out for.

o   Update your website. Aim to update your site at least every month, and every three months as a minimum. Let people know what you're doing, what events you have coming up, and how to book you. If you have a new book, include links to buy it online. If you're short of news to add to your website, you can add new pictures.

o   Go to conferences. This can be costly but it’s a good way to network, to give people your cards/websites details and also to find new contacts. If you’re speaking at conferences then even better (but ask to get paid).

o   Take books with you. It might seem obvious that a bookshop will stock your book if you're reading – but sometimes you'd be surprised. You might also end up reading at an event without a bookseller on hand, so carrying copies of your book in your backpack makes good business sense – someone is bound to ask you about your book if they enjoyed your reading. Finally, if a bookshop runs out of copies (sometimes they don't buy enough or you might surprise everyone with an unexpectedly large audience), you'll still have some. Selling copies directly is also a better source of revenue for writers, because you'll get a bigger slice of the pie (buying copies at author discount typically gives you 35-50% profit).

o   Work out what you'll charge. Set a price list for readings/performances/workshops, so that when people ask, you get what you’re worth. As much we love our friends, don’t work for free – instead, give your friends discounts and itemise your invoice so they're aware what your work should cost. You can also give charities discounts (maybe 20%), or offer to donate a portion of your fee back to them, so they can collect GiftAid. But don’t work for free unless you really, really love them and support the cause. If a charity can afford to pay its staff, it can afford to pay you too.

o   Get on the radio. Local radio is always hungry for authors with a local angle but even national radio stations want experts. If your book is about politics, get in touch with shows that are covering that angle. Try and get on radio a much as you can so that people come to recognise you as an expert. If you have an in (i.e., know someone), tell them you have an upcoming book/event and that you would like to promote it on air. Again, play your angle: BBC Desi-Nation is good for Asian writers, Gaydio is good for LGBT writers - do your research. Listen to the show so you get a feel for it. If you need help with this ask friends if they have any contacts in local or national radio.

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