It’s no secret that my biggest mistake as an author has been to wait to build my readership until after I published my book.
Sadly, in most cases, your readers won’t just magically appear as soon as you put your book out into the world—no matter how good your book is.
Nowadays that’s even true for authors who want to go the traditional publishing route. Big advances and having the publisher do all the publicity for you rarely happens these days.
That’s why the sooner you start engaging with your ideal readers, the better. As soon as you know what kind of book you’re going to write is the right time. According to American bestselling author Seth Godin “the best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out.”
In other words, start now.
Today I’m going to talk about the three basic steps that can help you get you started:
Decide on a name
Also known as the first step in building your brand (i.e. whatever distinguishes you from other authors).
“It doesn’t matter what your existential objections are: in publishing, we brand the author, not (only) the book.”—BadRedhead Media
Especially fiction authors, myself included, often publish their books under a pen name. It’s totally fine if you want to go with your own name or initials—whether you write fiction or nonfiction. There are pros and cons to both, but for the purpose of this blog post, what’s most important is that you make a decision.
After choosing your author name, go and get a domain with your chosen name (e.g. from Google Domains or GoDaddy, they’re usually less than $20/year). In addition, choose your social media handles for the most popular platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.).
I recommend doing this even if you don’t plan on using them. Your name might no longer be available if you change your mind, or someone might use your name for other purposes (oh the things I’ve seen…). Many authors add “author” before, or, “writes” after their names, especially if their desired name is already taken.
Create a landing page
The good news is that you don’t need a website to get started. Many aspiring authors start out with a low budget. Therefore a landing page can be a free alternative if you don’t want to spend on web design or aren’t particularly tech-savvy.
So what’s a landing page? Basically, it’s a one-page website that answers the two most important questions: who you are, and how to connect with you.
Because email newsletters are currently the cheapest and most effective way to sell books, I recommend building your landing page via an email marketing platform (e.g. MailChimp and MailerLite are free if you’re just starting out). Those platforms have templates you can use to design your landing page. Plus, they give you a signup form for your newsletter/email list. See the one I created for my Write Your First Draft course as an example.
WordPress.com is another free alternative if you want something a little more fancy or if you want to write a blog. They also have plenty of templates and widgets to create a solid landing page.
Remember the domain I mentioned earlier? If you don’t have a blog or custom website it should redirect to your landing page. Your domain provider can help you set it up.
In my course Write Your First Draft I teach my students how to identify their ideal readers and how to connect with them before they even start writing the book. The truth is, you and your book are not for everyone so shouting to the masses, “buy my book” is a pretty ineffective way to sell your book. Different things appeal to different people, so your first step should be to identify your people.
Even without a finished book, there are quite a few ways to connect with your ideal readers, book bloggers, and reviewers. These include:
- Blogging. If you write fiction, you could write about your passions and inspirations. If you write nonfiction, blog about your book subject or area of expertise. It’s a way to give the world a taste of your voice and writing style.
- Social media. Follow your ideal readers and book bloggers, and like, share, and comment on their content. Make sure you link your landing page, blog, or website in your profile because social media’s main purpose is to meet people and invite them to your virtual home (i.e. your website or landing page) where they can learn more about you and join your newsletter.
- Online forums and groups. Goodreads and Facebook groups are great starting points where you can learn from others and share your thoughts and insights in a more private setting.
It’s never too early—or too late—to start building your readership. Don’t leave it up to chance. Somewhere out there are the right readers for your book, but unless you win the cosmic lottery or hire someone to do the promotion for you, it’s up to you to get your book into their hands.
Image Credit: Radu Marcusu | Unsplash