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The Must-Have Online Marketing Plan

Learn to create a website, blog, video trailers and more. By M.J. Rose
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The Must-Have Online Marketing Plan
By M.J. Rose

So you’ve been building your platform, and now it’s time to use it. You’ve got a book deal. You’re going to be published. Now what?

There are authors who hire expensive publicists to ensure word gets out about their books—and there are authors who never spend a dime and get the same amount of publicity. There are authors who hire top-notch design firms to build $5,000 websites to entice readers—and there are authors who use free templates, put up rudimentary sites, and get the same number of visitors. There are authors who blog and post on Twitter for hours every day (eating into their precious writing time, I might add)—and others who think Twitter is something Tweety Bird does. And in both sets you’ll find bestsellers and modest sellers.

I could go on and on, but I think I’ve proved my point: There’s no one solution to being a successful author. No one trick. No one effort guaranteed to work. The bad news is even if you do everything possible and spend $150,000 of your own money, you still can’t guarantee success. (And I know an author who did just that last year, and the book didn’t sell more than five thousand copies.)

Ultimately, no matter what you do, careers are made on the book, not on the marketing. But once you’ve written the best book you can and gotten the best agent possible and she’s made the best deal she can get with the best publisher who’s interested, then you need to deal with reality:

1. If no one knows your book is out there, no one will think about buying it. It’s as simple as that.

2. Someone—either you or your publisher—is going to have to get the word out about the book. First, you need to find out exactly what your publisher is and isn’t going to do, so you can plan accordingly. The reality: Publishers can and do spend money on advertising, PR, and co-ops (meaning paid placement on special displays in bookstores and other retailers), but they don’t spend the same amount on all books. In general, publishers spend less than $2,000 on 85 percent

3. Regardless of the publisher’s plan for your book, the work you put into standing out to your editor and agent doesn’t end with the book deal. You need to prove you’ll be a savvy companion in marketing yourself and your work to further gain their confidence and ensure your first book isn’t your last.

A comprehensive marketing plan involves both online and offline efforts to use and broaden your existing platform to promote your book. But these days, a solid online marketing plan is a logical (and affordable) place to start. Here’s a list of the most critical, innovative things you can do to market your book online:

Create a strong writer’s website (mandatory) and blog (optional). Writer’s Digest took an in-depth look at exactly how to do this in the October 2008 issue. Visit writersdigest.com/article/the-anatomy-of-a-writers-website for the complete piece.

Get involved with social networking.

Create a video trailer for your book and get it in front of your readers. Search for video book trailers on Amazon.com, bookstores’ websites, authors’ sites and blogs, and YouTube (youtube.com). Watch and learn. Then decide what would work best for your book and whether or not you’re capable of putting it together. As with most online marketing, you can do this yourself or hire a firm (a $500–$5,000 investment), depending on your skill level and resources. Either way, there’s no one solution for every book; you need to be objective about what will work best for yours. Post it on your website, upload it to YouTube, share it with your publisher, and ask others to post or link to it on their sites, blogs, or e-newsletters (offering, of course, to return the favor).

Do a blog tour. It’s very expensive to go on a tour that’s not online. The last one I did cost $9,000. That would buy six weeks of advertising online to more than ten million people. Of course, the great benefit to touring in person is meeting booksellers, who then put autographed copies on display, write about your book in newsletters, and, most of all, get to meet your charming self—all of which they’ll remember when your next book comes out. But to an extent, this also can be accomplished online if you develop a smart strategy. And a blog tour costs nothing but time.

Find a dozen blogs that match the tone, tenor, and subject of your book. If it’s a thriller about a veterinarian, search for blogs devoted to pets and offer the owners an excerpt, provide them with a free book to give away to their readers, or propose a contest idea. You can and should also target blogs devoted to books and readers as well as blogs and websites of independent bookstores—just be aware that on all of these sites you’ll be competing with other books.

Get reviews of your books posted online. This is as simple as getting free copies into the hands of the right people: other writers you know, online reviewers, etc.

Podcast.
Who should podcast? Anyone who wants to—it’s all about you, your book, and what you want to do. Again, go to authors’ websites you admire and listen to theirs. See if it’s for you.

The key to podcasts—and many other successful online marketing tools—is how well you market the marketing idea. In other words, how are you going to get people to listen to the podcast that then sells the book? Make sure you have a plan to spread the word.

Become a commenter. There are great blogs read by hundreds, thousands, and millions of people, and they all have comment sections. Subscribe to a few, read these sections and take note of what authors do that works—and what turns you off. As a general rule, when you comment on a blog, make it knowledgeable or witty and, most of all, relevant to that post—then, simply sign it with your name and your book title. Resist the urge to brag or sell your book.

Want more tips on developing crosshairs moments?
Consider:

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