Avoid this Platform-Building Mistake
Guest Blogger: Ed Cyzewski
New authors routinely hear that they should build their marketing platforms by publishing articles in print magazines. There’s one problem with this advice: it rarely helps authors actually sell books.
There are exceptions to this, and I’ll get to them. But I’ve spoken to publicists and authors, and examined my own book releases, and I’m convinced that print magazine articles rarely convert into book sales or fans who will eventually buy a book. If a platform is supposed to help you sell books, then publishing in print magazines should be a low priority on your “platform building list.”
One award-winning reporter and widely published magazine writer I know noted that she rarely sees growth to her online platform through her magazine or newspaper work. “People just read the articles,” she shared. “They rarely look for the by-line.” One popular print and online magazine columnist shared the same experience with me after her second book failed to hit sales goals.
What should aspiring and experienced authors do to grow their marketing platforms if they aren’t writing for magazines? Are online magazine articles more effective than print magazine articles? And is there any hope for authors with experience writing for magazines?
Invest in what You Can Do
I’m not the best magazine writer around, but I genuinely enjoy blogging and have invested significant time into it. As a result, I’ve been approached by at least five editors from Christian publishing houses based on my blog. These days I aim to write something relatively long, audience-specific, and “evergreen” each week.
While I’ve seen no notable gains in my platform or my book sales from my articles in top print magazines, each blog post provides readers an opportunity to either join my email list (in exchange for two free eBooks) or follow me on social media. Blogging is a slow build, but it is a build that is working toward a viable end.
Authors need not throw themselves into blogging. A personal note each week or every other week through an email newsletter or a niche podcast can prove just as effective. Author Seth Haines has invested a great deal in his Tiny Letters (Tiny Letter is a scaled down version of MailChimp), while bestselling author Tsh Oxenreider reaches her readers through her podcast.
Build an Email List through Short eBooks
Short eBooks are a tried and true way for both commercial and independent authors to build their email lists and to prompt new readers to check out their full-length books. If you swing by NoiseTrade Books, an eBook giveaway site that lets users download eBooks by entering their email addresses and zip codes, you’ll find many bestselling Christian authors sharing books there, including Don Miller and Ally Vesterfelt. I give away several eBooks through NoiseTrade and have more than doubled my email list.
New authors should be especially eager to publish a short eBook in the 10-20,000 word range. It will provide invaluable experience in writing for a specific audience and book marketing before you have a book deal on the line with a publisher that has specific sales goals.
Learn How to Advertise Your Books
If you go the short eBook route, then you may find that publishing a few short or long independent books will help prepare you for a longer-term career with a publisher.
For instance, independent authors and commercial publishers have used price promotions and discounts as ways to spark pre-sales, encourage early reviews, or to revive an older title. Along with these price promotions, there are many services and Twitter accounts that make it easier to share these deals and give them a longer lifespan that could translate into more print sales and a longer period of time on the eBook bestseller lists when your book returns to full price.
Whether you try out Facebook ads, guest posts on high profile blogs, articles for an online news site in your niche, or some other promotion, independently releasing a book or two before querying a publisher will provide some real life book marketing experience so that you have a better idea of what works best for you and your readers.
When I promoted Write without Crushing Your Soul to my email list, I quickly learned that readers were far more receptive to a personal note about the book’s writing process than a simple overview of the book’s content.
Authentically Connect with Readers on Social Media
I entered publishing back when authors were first getting shoved onto Twitter and Facebook. We were told this would help us sell books, and far too many of us found that this wasn’t necessarily always the case.
Rather, social media provides a place for us to authentically connect with our readers, and sometimes the sales will follow if we provide the right kind of book. I’ve found that the authors who connect with readers through hashtag conversations on Twitter or niche groups on Facebook have far more meaningful interactions that are much more likely to result in readers buying a book in the future.
For instance, author Cindy Brandt (now a client of Rachelle’s at Books & Such) created an amazing group called Raising Children Unfundamentalist around her next book project, and the group is already a thriving community. On Twitter, check out the way author Emily Freeman created a conversation around the hashtag #SimplyTuesday.
So… Should Authors Write for Magazines?
While there are many other ways to promote yourself and your work outside of traditional print magazine publishing, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it. Some authors have built up a loyal following through writing for a particular magazine, especially in a niche market.
Authors with a background in journalism are especially suited for the research, querying, and unique style of writing that magazines require. In addition, a few published articles in relevant magazines can indicate to publishers that you have both the credibility and professionalism to write a book for them.
Most importantly, there’s a big difference between platform building and actively selling books. Many authors gain newsletter subscribers and social media followers through publishing articles for online magazines, but posting an article in an online magazine is not necessarily a sure bet for directly selling books from the article itself. In fact, strategies vary from project to project and from publisher to publisher.
Publicists Remain Divided Over Marketing
Having worked or spoken with several Christian publishers, I’ve found book marketing strategies and tactics vary from one publisher to another. Book marketing is a moving target, and there’s hardly a consensus on the best mix of new and old media marketing.
It’s true that some authors have used timely, shareable magazine or newspaper articles (especially online) to generate book sales. It’s especially helpful that these authors have books that are easy to find in the front of local bookstores or online retail sites!
Print magazine articles can help a few authors sell a few books. They can help most authors demonstrate credibility to an editor. They will not help the majority of authors sell books because far too many magazine readers will enjoy a well-written piece, think “That was nice,” and then go on with the day.
This is post adapted from Write without Crushing Your Soul: Sustainable Publishing and Freelancing.