We’re thrilled to have an article from Kristan Higgins, New York Times Bestselling author. It was originally published on Romance University, but she’s letting us share it with you here!
Please no, you’re saying. Not another article on marketing! I know, I know. They’re such a drag (except THIS one, of course). And we authors do so much already. We’re tired!
Don’t worry, my lambs. Organic marketing is different and in some respects, easier, because all it requires is authenticity, an eye for why your readers reach for your books and a little time.
What is organic marketing?
Organic marketing is what you do as an author when you’re not overtly promoting your books. Direct marketing is when I post a graphic on my Facebook page with a cover of my latest book and give all the buy links. When I do a Q&A on Goodreads. When my publisher takes out an ad in People and sends me on book tour.
Organic marketing is me being me…or rather, the me who writes my books. Believe it or not, I don’t share every little thing about myself, my family and my life. The fact that it seems like I do is because I understand organic marketing. I’ve been in the writing world for ten years, so I know by now what readers respond to in my books and in my public presence—social media, speeches, workshops. Sometimes (often) they’re funny —my awkward encounters with the UPS man, the time I ate dog biscuits by mistake. Sometimes they’re sad—a recent blog about when I lost a baby.
Laughter and tears are an essential part of the experience I want readers to have when they pick up one of my books. Everything I do as an author backs that up. That’s organic marketing. It’s being “out there” as an author and how understanding that everything we do should positively on our books, reinforce our brand and keep readers’ attention…and in the end, how to get readers to buy our books without becoming a pain in the butt, because of course, we all want that, too.
Pick what you’re good at.
Let’s take Author A as an example. She writes steamy, funny romance with smart women who are not generally shy about their sexual needs. Her books are very much about physical, sexual and emotional satisfaction. She is a loud-and-proud feminist. She’s a force to be reckoned with on Twitter, loves nothing more than mocking trolls and posting hilarious, graphic pictures. You probably know who I’m talking about.
She’s also very shy in person, so one things she doesn’t do much is public speaking. For one, I imagine it would be torment. For two, it wouldn’t jive with the image her readers have of her as this sassy, bad-ass feminist who can take on any idiot on Twitter.
Me, I love people. You guys know that already, don’t you? I like to hug. I like to meet new people and hear their stories. That was true before I was an author, but now that I do this for a living, it’s organic marketing. It’s authentic, it reinforces my brand of friendly, relatable characters and happy endings, and it makes me happy. If I were shy and hated crowds or had agoraphobia, I would be like Author A, rather than someone who requires a shepherd to protect her from the masses.
You know how it is when you see a beloved author at a conference, but she won’t make eye contact and huddles with her friends, acting like a wounded dove who can’t be exposed to us, the great unwashed? That’s not great for her brand, whatever her reasons may be. My advice to her would be don’t sit in the lobby at RWA if it’s giving you a panic attack.
Zip it when it’s not your turn.
To quote a little boy who recently wrote to a certain then-President Elect, sometimes saying nothing is good, too. Just because we’re authors doesn’t mean we have to weigh in on everything. Take Author B, for example. During an online conversation about the lack of diverse representation in publishing, Author B felt slighted. Author B is a white person and had written a black character. She felt she was owed some recognition, so she got on Twitter—I know, you’re cringing, too— and started praising herself. She missed the point. Representation in publishing is not about white people writing characters of color. It’s about equal chances for authors of color. Author B seemed really tone-deaf and out of touch. She might not be…but she sure seemed that way.
This too is organic marketing. In Author B’s case, it’s HORRIBLE organic marketing. She should’ve stayed quiet, read more about the issue, and maybe promoted someone other than herself. Perhaps an #ownvoices author. Just sayin’.
Understand the difference between author and writer.
To me, the author is the one who puts on makeup, gets a manicure and wears slutty shoes. She is well spoken, she has dressed up for the readers who came out to see her, she has researched her subject. She is funny, prepared and energetic. More than anything, she understands that everyone who came to see her talk/workshop/signing could be home watching Game of Thrones, and she is very, very grateful.
The writer stays home in jammies and shark slippers, eats Hershey Nuggets for lunch and binge-watches The Crown. She may have popcorn in her cleavage at any given time. She writes happily all day long and rolls on the floor with her dogs. But when she’s asked to go somewhere, she makes an effort.
One of the first conferences I went to featured a workshop from a very successful author. She began by saying, “Well, I didn’t prepare anything for this, and I’m really tired, so I don’t know how good this is going to be.”
Note to self: Never take a workshop from her again! Never read her again, because with those words, she disrespected everyone in the room. Look, I get it, Author C. You’re a writer who has deadlines and a family and your plane was delayed…but look at all these faces in front of you, hoping to learn from you, a successful Author with a capital A! Tsk, tsk!
You ever see Nora Roberts at a book signing in Boonsboro or at RWA? She is just as gracious to the last of the 600 people who came to see as she was to the first. And when I say 600, I mean it. I’ve been there and watched her. She takes a picture with everyone who asks. She asks to hold babies because she loves babies. She wears a wrist brace so her arm won’t give out and she never complains that her hand is tired. Now, Nora probably doesn’t need to think about organic marketing or anything like it, but remember the authenticity element? There you go!
Let’s contrast this with Author D (as in Debbie Downer), who recently took to Facebook with a complaint that very few people had bought her latest book. She was disappointed in her friends, family and readers. She didn’t understand why so many people who allegedly supported her hadn’t read and reviewed the book.
Does this make you want to read Author D’s stuff? Does it make you think she’s written a book worth reading if even her friends and family haven’t read it? Do you think it’s appropriate, using social media to try to shame people into reading your work? Me neither.
Organic marketing is about making a positive impression that backs up your product. Keep that in mind. Give people a reason to look for you in this noisy world.
Be authentic. If you’re shy and introverted, that is totally okay. So many people will relate to that. If you’re goofy and outgoing (cough), embrace that, too. But don’t try to be something you’re not. It’s too hard, and besides, you’ll get found out. One of the worst things an author can hear is, “You’re nothing like what I expected.” That means your message wasn’t consistent.
Post regularly. Don’t have a Pinterest board you gave up four years ago. Delete your account.
Be honest. Don’t make stuff up, in other words. Now, we’re all writers, and we all can put a spin on something, and that’s our job. But don’t lie about your real life. It will catch up to you.
Oh, and by the way…you are not hidden because you use a pen name. Your book’s copyright tells who you are. Keep that in mind. So if you want to go on a rant about how much you hate someone, just be aware that your editor, publisher, bookkeeper, readers probably know who you are. Am I saying don’t be political? Heck no. I’m saying don’t be hateful. If you want to be political, go right ahead.
Be conversational. Ask questions. Entertain. Evoke emotions (except hatred; we should all stay away from hatred). Your author presence is all about them, the people who gave you this career. Don’t forget that. This is not the Kristan Show, starring Kristan, hosted by Kristan, all about Kristan’s Kristan-ishness. Respond to their posts. Be grateful.
Obviously, occasionally mention your books. “This is how I pictured O’Rourke’s Pub in the Blue Heron series. What do you think? Accurate?” is more organic than “Yo! I wrote that series, remember? Buy those books!”
Be topical & timely
Last year, my friend, Jamie K. Schmidt, posted a funny Star Wars meme (insert) Most of my readers are women. A Star Wars movie had just come out (the one with Kylo Ren and Han and Leia). Guess how many views it got? 12 million, that’s how many. 91,000 shares. 32,000 likes.
This involved three things: Jamie posting a funny meme; me seeing it on Facebook; and knowing my readers would like it, too. Did I sell more books because of it? No. I merely entertained for a few minutes. But social media is just that—social. Jamie was being social. I was, too. Those 91,000 people who shared it: ditto. That post is, by far, the most popular thing I’ve ever posted.
We live in a personal world. As an author, I talk about my kids, my husband, my pets, my sainted mother. Star Wars memes aren’t enough. Readers want to feel a connection with you, the creator of the books they loved enough to seek you out. I share what I’m comfortable sharing, and I keep a lot of stuff private, too.
Mention other authors. Give stuff away. Good karma creates good karma. Pay it forward, pay it back.
Rather than “I have a book out! Buy it!” give the readers something of substance, something that engages and entertains and yes, ties into your books. In one of my books (probably more than one), there’s an underwear malfunction in a pool. I mention this at the start of that blog, then go on to write about my adventures in the lingerie department at Nordstrom’s and how I got kicked out. The book is mentioned, briefly, and the audience is entertained…hopefully enough to buy the book, but not because they were harassed into it.
Be good members of the community
Create good mojo in the writer community, because the writer community is the reader community as well. Encourage newbies. Fan-girl. Sit with strangers. Make your workshops and presentations memorable and informative. People might not remember what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.
I probably should’ve started with that last sentence, but here we are 1900 words in, and I’ve just found what organic marketing is really about. So there you go!
I’m on book tour for the next little while, but I’ll pop in and see if you have questions (and if I can answer them). Thank you so much for spending this time with me! Hope to see you in person one day soon.
Question: What have you done that’s worked for you in terms of organic marketing?
Kristan Higgins is the New York Times, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of 16 novels, which have been translated into more than twenty languages. Her books have received dozens of awards and accolades, including starred reviews from Kirkus, The New York Journal of Books, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist. She is a five-time nominee for The Kirkus Prize for Best Work of Fiction, and her books regularly appear on the lists for best novels of the year of many prestigious journals and review sites.
Kristan lives in Connecticut with her heroic firefighter husband, their freakishly beautiful, entertaining and sarcastic children, two overly frisky rescue dogs and an occasionally friendly cat.