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Getting Hooked on Buzz

After getting your book published, a new game begins: finding a hook for your work that will build buzz and translate into sales.

If you are an author who wants to be read, writing can be only half of your job. You need to spend as much time marketing your work and getting buzz as you did writing it. And this holds true even if you're published by a big house: There's no sure-fire guarantee your book will get the PR it deserves.

How to get buzz

If you want your book to sell, you need buzz. Buzz is word of mouth. It's one person telling another person telling a third person. Word of mouth is one of the most reliable methods of selling books.

The biggest lesson I've learned is that to get buzz you need a marketing hook: one juicy morsel to wrap your whole marketing plan around. One clear, catchy and tempting tidbit to dangle on the end of every e-mail you write, every banner you exchange and every postcard you send. You must be as creative with your hook as you were with your book.

How to develop a hook

To get to a good hook, you need to make a list of the reasons why people need your book.

Leave out all the superlatives. "This is the best book ever written" is not a hook. Don't include anything general. "This book is really riveting" is not a hook.

To come up with a hook, interview yourself and ask the following questions:

  • Who is my ideal reader? How will this book change readers' lives? How will my book help them?
  • What will my readers say when they close this book? What would readers thank me for after finishing my book?
  • What does my book offer that other books don't?
  • What did I learn while writing this book? What was my reason for writing it?
  • What can I take from the book and turn into a contest? An article? A Web site?

Any or all of these questions will lead you toward a hook—for fiction or nonfiction—to build your marketing plan.

Fiction vs. nonfiction

Hooks for nonfiction books are usually easier to figure out than hooks for fiction books. For instance, 120 Ways to Cook With Peanut Butter will be easier to market than Love Under the Pine Trees.

The hook for the peanut butter book might be running a contest for the 121st way to cook with peanut butter. Or it might be getting a dozen nutritionists to endorse the book—making it the only peanut butter cookbook with those kinds of endorsements.

The hook for the romance book might be compiling a registry on a Web site of everyone who has ever gotten engaged or married in a forest. It might be asking a group of aromatherapists to come up with love potions based on natural scents that will be offered one at a time via banner ads on the book's Web site.

After you have a hook

Here is a quick list of the first five things to do to with a hook to start building buzz:

1. Create a buzz line with the hook—not a blurb or a synopsis, but a catchy line or two that exploits your hook, sets your book apart and explains why it's unique. The line should be both conversation worthy and newsworthy.

2. Brainstorm and test your hook and buzz line. You write a book alone, but other people can help brainstorm and discover new ways of reaching your readers. Find a group of like-minded authors and help each other with marketing ideas. Discuss your hook and make sure it accomplishes what you want. Find a group of mothers, co-workers or church-goers and test market your idea with them, too.

3. Identify your reader based on your hook. Who needs or wants your book? Find places online and off where your readers congregate so you can go there and start developing a relationship.

4. Create a marketing plan based on the book. Both fiction and nonfiction authors need a step-by-step marketing plan, and should become marketing partners with the publisher. What can you do to reach out to readers? What can you give them for free? What can you say to intrique them?

5. Create a Web site incorporating your hook. A Web site, absolutely integral to getting buzz, is where you send readers to find out more about you and your work, and where they can communicate with you. Make sure that site visitors receive your message loud and clear. They should see the book, see your name and understand why they should buy your book. Use your buzz line on your site, and remember to use it in your e-mail, too.

Most of us wish we could just write all the time. But with more than 150,000 books published each year, you must work for buzz, just as you worked at putting pen to paper.

This article appears in the January 2003 issue of Writer's Digest.

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