By Ronald S. Barak
2011. All Rights Reserved
It’s no secret that every author today has
to market. Even the most successful authors today are marketing, big time, one
way or another. The most successful may have publicists and marketing
consultants helping them, but they all are getting down in the trenches as well.
Not yet an established, branded bestseller? Then you may be the only one doing
your marketing, but someone sure has to be doing it! It might not be as much fun
(at least not for me) as writing that next bestseller, but it doesn’t have to be
all bad, at least not if you understand how to do it.
Some Pre-Marketing Preliminaries
Should you (try to) get a literary agent? Why not? While
you’re at it, design a couple of patents that will save the world. That would be
good too, especially for you.
Established and unestablished authors alike can and will benefit from having
an agent, especially a good one. The difference is that most established authors
can find a good agent. The rest of us will have a dickens of a time getting a
good agent’s attention. What about a not so good agent, is that better than no
agent at all? Not in my opinion.
So, how do you find a good agent? If you’re established, they’ll find you and
if they don’t, you might not be as established as you think. Fortunately,
however, finding one is not rocket science anyway. There are books that list
tons of them. There’s also Google, which lists tons of…everything. If you’re not
established, you could also pray a lot, or you could forget finding an agent for
the time being.
Concentrate on your writing and concentrate on your marketing. Just like
you’ll have to do even if you already have, or go out and find, a great
Publishing House versus Self-Publishing? A great publishing
house is good to have around the house. Even a reputable not so great publishing
house can be a real asset. Again, if you’re established, they’ll find you.
However, if you’re not established, you could also pray a lot, or you could
forget finding a publishing house for the time being.
Concentrate on your writing and concentrate on your marketing. Just like
you’ll have to do even if you have, or go out and find, a great publishing
You can get by without an agent, but you can’t get a book published without a
publishing house, can you? Once upon a time, through what was then often
referred to as a “vanity publisher,” you could publish on your own. All it took
was a pile of dough and a place to store all of those unsold books. But you were
kind of snickered at, if you did that.
Today, Printers On Demand or Publishers On Demand, usually called “PODs,”
will put your book out there for you, at least online, and for a relatively
small cost and without any need to store all those books in the garage (where
your car should be instead of out on the street). You won’t have to store them
because the PODs will print as few or as many as you want, virtually overnight.
You can use Amazon.com as your POD (in fact you’ll have to, or find someone to
do it for you, if you want your digital book to be on Kindle), but the good news
is you can be up and running, from manuscript to available for purchase, in just
a couple of hours.
And today the sneers are on the decline for going the self-published route
because some of the biggest authors in the business are now starting to
self-publish, realizing that publishing houses today are doing less and less to
earn their commissions. If you’re going to have to do so much of what the
publishing houses used to do for you, you might as well keep
their commissions as part of your
Print Versus Digital. Long story short, better get used to
digital, both as a reader and as a writer, because modern day economics is
turning print into a dying breed. Have to curl up with a cup of herbal tea (or
something a little stronger) and feel the pages turning in your hand, you say?
Kindle and iBooks let you turn the pages, so to speak, and the tea tastes just
as good. Only the most established authors can get their books in a bricks and
mortar bookstore these days, and print royalties, reduced by shipping costs, are
less than digital royalties, often far less. Besides, if you’re not established,
you can’t get a bricks and mortar book store to carry your book even if you are
willing to settle for no royalties.
Digital pays us authors much more than print. And digital accepts us one and
all. And it’s really getting easy, and quick. Might as well get used to it
anyway. It’s the wave of the future, if not the present. It’s inevitable.
But whether print or digital, or both, concentrate on your writing and
concentrate on your marketing.
Marketing—Online or Offline
First, a couple of words about…meaning.
Meaning let’s be sure we’re on the same page.
Marketing? What’s that? It’s anything that will attract buyers to buy what
If you write a really good, exciting book, easy and pleasant to read, that’s
at least the first step of marketing. Without more, you’re off to a better
start—of marketing—than the author who writes…a crummy book. It just is what it
Pick a good title, a great title, like “The Tuesday Exotica
Club.” Sex sells. So “Exotica” is intriguing, it’s good. Make it a “Club,”
perhaps meaning “group sex.” Well, that’s even better. Make it happen every week
and you just hit it outta the ball park! Picking a good title is marketing—very
How about the cover of your book, is that marketing? You bet it is. In my
opinion, Grisham’s first novel, “A Time To Kill,” was his best. It didn’t
sell—at first—for a lot of reasons, including the fact that Grisham was not then
established. However, his second novel, “The Firm” was a killer bestseller. In
spite of the fact that he was still not established. What made the
Many think it was the cover of the book, a man in a three piece pinstripe
suit carrying a briefcase, and hanging from puppet strings (the man, not the
briefcase). Millions identified with that image of (not so) subtle frustration
with their jobs. The rest was history, including the fact that “A Time To Kill”
went on to become a bestseller when it was released…the second time around,
after “The Firm” went to number one on the charts.
Online? Offline? What’s that all about? Simply put, “online marketing” means
using the internet to market, electronically. “Offline marketing” means
everything else you do to market.
Well, which is better? The answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know that anyone
does. The truth is, they’re both important. If you have an agent, or now we may
be talking publicist, who really knows the TV booking agents and can get you on
“Good Morning America,” or “Oprah” or “Fox News” or “CNN,” that’s great. But
finding a good real world TV “gig” like that is tougher than finding an agent.
The truth of the matter is that authors don’t jack up the ratings and so those
gigs are fewer and fewer. And the publicists who can deliver those gigs are also
fewer and fewer.
The same also is true about talk radio shows, although you have a better
chance there. Of course, the exposure is not as great there.
So, let’s turn to what this “blog” is really supposed to be about, now that
I’ve pretty much more than exceeded the ideal length of a blog! (If I was the
publisher, I’d break this blog up into two or three installments. But, I’m not
the publisher, “just” the writer, so…who knows?)
Online Marketing—Basics 101
The concepts are simple. Online marketing
is appealing because it is dramatically cheaper than offline marketing, while
offering the chance, at least in theory, to reach many times
more than the number of potential purchasers of your book you can ever hope to
The key words in the preceding sentence are “in theory.” I’ll talk more about
that in just a moment or two. For now, just keep in mind that for every
successful author, there are millions of unsuccessful ones lying by the side of
the road. (Sorry, that’s not a very optimistic observation.) Similarly, for
every successful online marketer, there are millions of unsuccessful ones lying
by the side of the road. (Sorry, two wrongs don’t make a right.)
In this day and age, it’s no exaggeration to say that every
author needs to be engaged in online marketing. From the earliest of
beginners to the most established, they’re all engaging in online marketing
today. And they really need to. You really need to.
What are the online marketing options, or “platforms,” as “we” often call
them? There are basically three: Social media, such as Twitter or Facebook or
LinkedIn, among others; websites and blogs; and, email. Why did I list them in
the order I just did? Because, especially for the author with a small budget, I
listed them in sequence of easiest entry, easiest market penetration.
Social Media. It’s free. And it’s easy. And you can
reach millions of book readers—once you invest the time to
learn how to do it. (“Reaching” and “selling” are of course two different
things, but you can’t sell until you first reach.) There are dozens and dozens
of books and tapes and DVDs to teach you how to use social media to reach your
target market (and to sell them as well!), but, ultimately, unless you’re going
to hire someone to “front” the process for you (to pretend to be…you), you’re
going to have to invest some real time to learn how (to reach,
and then to sell), and then to get it done. But the good news
is just about anyone can learn to do it (meaning to at least reach). And to do
it pretty efficiently.
How does it work? The concept is easy. Be “social.” “Engage” with others who
are doing the same thing. Build “trust.” Ask not what you want the other guy to
do for you, but what you can do to help the other guy. Don’t be
a spammer. Don’t just jump in asking the other guy to do something for you. It
won’t work. People like to help people they…like, the ones who are doing
something for them. You remember Sally Fields and her Oscar winning speech:
“You…like me, you really like me!” It doesn’t generally take a lot (getting
people to like you, not winning an Oscar, but it didn’t hurt Fields that her
followers liked her). Mostly…you just need to be nice. Just care about the other
guy—and show it. (Gently. You can’t just go out there and start
shouting “I really care about you!”) Soon, they’ll start wanting to know what
they can do for you.
If not, accept the fact that they’re just duds—and there are plenty of those
out there. Just drop those and move on to others who will want to know what they
can do to help you. To buy your book (which doesn’t exactly cost and arm and a
leg) and to read your book (which does take time)—and to tell others about you,
and your book.
A couple of examples will be helpful. I have a Twitter account where I send
out “tweets” to my “followers.” To see my Twitter account, sit down at your
computer, open up your internet browser and type http://Twitter.com into the URL field at
the top of the page. If you don’t have a Twitter account, you’ll have to set one
up. It’s easy. Just follow the bouncing ball and you’ll have a free account in
no time at all. Then enter @RonBarakAuthor in the Search Engine
at the top of the page and…Voila, there I am, just sitting there, waiting for
you! Talking to you about what I had for breakfast? Not if I want anyone to come
back again—ever—to hear anything I have to say. It better be a lot more
interesting than what I had for breakfast.
I also have a “fan” page on Facebook. Today, every author ought to have one
of these. To see my Facebook page, open up your internet browser again and type
into the URL field at the top of the page. Again, you’ll need to
quickly set up a free account if you aren’t one of the 500 million people around
the world who already have. Without more, you’ll be at my page. Just scroll
around. You can’t hurt anything. Not your computer and not my Facebook page.
Websites and Blogs. What’s a website? If
you’ve been following the above examples, you’ve already been to two websites
while reading this blog, Twitter’s and Facebook’s. (Facebook is that website
that made Zuckerberg a bunch of money.) A website is your place
out on the internet. Kind of like your home in the town in which you live. Just
like your home, your home page might not be as big as the guy next door, but at
least it’s all yours.
Unlike Twitter or Facebook, you have to do a bit more work to set up a
website than you do to set up a Twitter or Facebook account. But there are
plenty of places to go to find out how you can do this. There are
free “off the shelf” websites, but they tend to be fairly
limited in how you can use them and what you can do with them. You can also hire
web designers to help you create a more customized, and a more sophisticated,
website. It will be more pricey, but you get what you pay for (hopefully—a
little more about that later) and it will generally do a lot more for you than
the off the shelf versions.
Again, since a picture is (said to be) worth a thousand words, open up your
internet browser (again) and type http://ronaldsbarak.com and you can see my
website. This is not an off the shelf website, but you will find some really
good off the shelf websites at http://wordpress.com.
I like animated video, often referred to as “flash” animation. Some don’t
care for it. They will tell you it’s “empty,” devoid of any substance, not
worthy of their time. (Well, pardon me.) I happen to disagree, but that’s what
makes horse races. It’s just a matter of marketing philosophy. In my opinion,
flash represents a unique opportunity to shine, to distinguish yourself, to show
off your personality and your creativity, what makes you…different. More
However, I have designed my website to have my cake and eat it too. If you
wish (sigh!), there’s a button at the top of the http://ronaldsbarak.com flash animation page
that you can just “click” to instantly skip the flash presentation and go
straight to my word press “home page,” http://ronaldsbarak.com/plus. Or, if you
sit through my 16 second “movie trailer,” you can click on the “ride” at the end
and still get to my home page. Who knows, you might even win a kewpie doll.
Either way, my home page will be right there, just waiting for you. I
By the way, what appeals to me about the approach I took is that it
accommodates all potential visitors, first time and repeats, those who want to
see the flash animation and those who don’t. Those precious hoped for repeat
visitors who don’t want to repeatedly sit through the flash animation can either
save http://ronaldsbarak.com in their
browser “favorites” (or their human memory banks if they can remember my name),
and then just click skip, or they can just save http://ronaldsbarak.com/plus in their
favorites (or those memory banks) and not even have to click skip.
You’ll decide what’s best for you. For me: I’m after visitors who will come
to my websites regularly to see what’s new. Reruns are of course never as good
as the original; the feedback I get when I ask is that my visitors watch, and
enjoy, my animated attempt at humor (even though I’m a mystery/thriller writer)
once or twice, but then click past it after that. Until I redo my introductory
flash module from time to time to provide some new content there too.
By the way, most quality websites today are “mobile ready.” What this means
is that they mysteriously have the “intelligence” (as the saying goes, “how do
it know?”) to detect where a visitor is coming from, computer, on the one hand,
or mobile device, on the other hand. Visit my website from a computer. Then
visit it in exactly the same way from a mobile device, an iPhone, a Blackberry,
an iPad, whatever. As you’ll see, with one exception, the result will be exactly
the same, just smaller (and maybe not much smaller if you’re coming from an iPad
or other “tablet” device).
The only difference is that mobile devices generally don’t support flash
video. So, when my website detects that you are coming from a mobile device, it
will transport you past the flash and directly to my home page. Whether from
your computer or your mobile device, however, once you’re at my home page, http://ronaldsbarak.com/plus, you can
click on any of the menu items at the top, My About (“a lot like no one else”),
My Book (which will take you to another one of my websites, http://aseasonforredemption.com,
which is a “stand alone” website I created to allow direct access from your
browser to material about my book without having to first wade through my flash
animation or other material about…me, aren’t I the considerate one?), My
Interviews, My Blog, My Other Stuff and My Contact.
“Blogs?” Did I say blogs? I believe I just did. Did you say “But what’s a
blog?” Blogs are just anything you want to say (hopefully) to someone, but it’s
much better if you confine yourself to saying something that someone else is
actually going to want to “hear.” Otherwise your blog site will become, or will
stay, very lonely. If you think of a tweet or a “post” on a Facebook page as a
“mini-blog, then you get the idea. A blog is just a longer tweet or post. In
fact, they are often called just that, posts.
Today, the prevailing sentiment is that all authors really should—if not
must—engage in social media, and must blog. Why? Isn’t it just good enough to be
the next Hemingway, and write a good book? Not really, not today. Today, many
people do online research to figure out who they want to read—who they trust. If
you want to attract readers to your book (dare I say books?), today you must
first interest them in…you. The more they come to like and
trust you, the more likely they’ll want to read…your books.
(Sounds kind of nice, your books.)
Think about it this way. When you go into the ice cream parlor, don’t they
offer you free itsy-bitsy teaser spoon size tastes of this flavor or that
flavor? Or that flavor? Or that flavor? Why do they do that? Good marketing,
that’s why. Not only will you find “that” flavor that’s just what you were
craving, but you’ll also appreciate the fact that the vendor didn’t charge you
to figure that out. Even if you sample several flavors and then walk out without
buying anything, the smart merchant will still smile and tell you to have a nice
day. And come back again. Which you will. Because you were treated nicely.
It’s no different with the author who blogs. Like ice cream cones, the price
point for books is affordable to most. But it takes a huge investment of time to
read a book, and there are so many “flavors” of books out there. A blog is a
nice way to let your “customers” gain some confidence that they will likely
enjoy your books. C’mon, who wants to buy that new, mysterious flavor, sink
their teeth into it and then find themselves saying, “Geez, that’s terrible!”
(Same reason market savvy authors and booksellers put free samples of their
books on their websites, and why Amazon.com encourages their Kindle customers to
download free samples of their Kindle books. It’s just good business. You’re
more likely to buy a book—and more books overall—if you’re already think you’re
going to like it before you have to spend any money.)
Email. Most everyone today knows what email is. Many of you
have at least one email account, sometimes several. Email can be used to market
online just as social media and websites and blogs can. More specifically, email
newsletters can be used to market online. A newsletter is, in
essence, a simplified traveling version of a website. The difference is that
your followers have to go to your website (which, all too often, they won’t
bother to take the time to do in this frenetic world), but your email newsletter
goes to your followers. There’s just one wrinkle: You need to build a “database”
list of recipients to whom you send your “group” email attaching or containing
Building the e-newsletter “template” is easy. Just go to your local bookstore
or go to Google and you’ll find more “how to” books, and more consultants just
waiting to help you get started, than you can imagine!
However, building a database of recipients who truly
want to receive your email, and won’t think of it as “spam,”
is much more difficult. You can lead a horse to water,
but you can’t make it drink. You can write a great email newsletter, but that
doesn’t mean people will want to read it. Even many of your so called “friends.”
(You might not want to find out, but trying to get people to follow your email
newsletter is a great way to find out just who your friends really are—those
folks who genuinely want to be supportive and read what you’re writing—and those
who are not, and don’t want to be bothered.)
Two Closing Remarks
Getting Help. There are gazillions of
“consultants” out there who are ready, willing and (maybe) able
to advise authors with their online marketing. Be careful! For
every good one, there’s a hundred bad ones. Keep your wallet in your pocket
until you know the one you’re talking to is the real deal. Many of them are
better at selling themselves to you than they are at selling you to others, to
your potential readers. Try to pay for results instead of
effort. Efforts to sell books won’t put food on your table, or
allow you to give up your day job to follow your passion. Results will. Also,
just how confident do you think those “experts” are in their efforts if they
won’t structure their fees as a function of the results they (maybe will)
achieve for you? Oh, and yes, ask them not just for references, but for hard
data to show precisely what they have accomplished for at least several of their
Build It And They Will Come. Like hell they will! We’re not
talking fictional “Field of Dreams” fantasy here. Park that make believe stuff
at the door! To make your followers come, you have to patient, you have to be
social, you have to be trustworthy, you have to be persistent and your online
marketing efforts have to be…good. No. Stop! Wait. Let me try that again. Your
marketing efforts have to be…great!
Ah, but “What’s great?” you say. You did say that, right?
The answer’s in a word, actually three. Regardless of your marketing platform of
choice, or two or three, the answer is: Be very interesting and very creative
and very humorous. Hmm, and if possible, also be a…“celebrity.”
Lady Gaga enjoys celebrity; she has…cache. You might or might not care for
it, but she has it. As a result, she also has 6 million
followers on Twitter. Mind boggling! (Or should I say mind blogging? Sorry, just
had to do it. Couldn’t help myself. Even after editing this for the umpteenth
When Lady Gaga tweets where her next concert will be, 6 million fans will
know it. Sells a lot of books—uh, tickets—what was I thinking of, books? Guess
how many people know when I say my next book is coming out? I won’t tell, but
it’s less than 6 million. (Actually, you can find out on my Twitter page exactly
how many followers I have.)
Wait a minute. (Aren’t you going to say “Wait a minute?) If I had 6 million
followers hanging on my every word, I could quit my day job, stop worrying about
marketing anything and just…bank all those royalties!” That’s right, you could.
So, is this blog…worthless? I hope not. Celebrity is an iterative process. Like
the man said, you have to work at it, and be patient and be persistent. If you
market online effectively, your celebrity will come, slowly,
but surely, one follower at a time. Or 10. Or 50. Or 6 million. Hmm, maybe not 6
million. That’s why you have to keep marketing and why this blog’s not
Also, what you say in your tweets, on your Facebook posts,
on your website and in your blogs and email newsletters, better
be…very clever and very
interesting. (A good patent is clever, but that doesn’t make it
interesting. A paper clip and a “post-it” sticky are certainly clever, but
interesting?) You’re a writer; you need to be
both. You need to be funny too. Different is
also good. And you can’t rest on your laurels. You have to keep
holding your followers’ attention, over and over. Sorry, you’re
the one who wants to be a writer, a successful one at that. That’s just the way
it is. Fame is…fleeting. What have you done for me lately?
So, to summarize, there’s nothing magic here. No silver
bullets. Figure out what you can do for your followers, and do it, before you
even think of asking them to do something for you. They’re more likely to do for
you if they…like you, if they trust you. And, be oh so clever, interesting,
humorous and different too. And also try to demonstrate a little cache, if not
eventually a little celebrity as well. (I know, I’m repeating myself, but,
really, it bears repeating; it’s that important. And one wise marketing
consultant once told me “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell
them, then tell them what you told them.”)
Have you got it now? Okay, let’s have a little fun before we wrap this up
(all good things do have to come to an end), before we all get back to whatever
else we need to be doing. Let’s try a little (friendly) quiz. Go to My Blog, http://ronaldsbarak.com/plus/blog,
and scroll down to and read “What’s In A…Word?” Who was more clever, interesting
and humorous, the heroine in the YouTube video, or the writers and producers who
made the video? Now, that’s online marketing, in its purest “viral” form. Simple
(simple is good), but this simple, uplifting video has been
seen by millions of visitors, and is still going strong.
So has this been a clever,
interesting, humorous and different blog? Well, I certainly wouldn’t say I
couldn’t put it down, and it that it kept me up all night turning the pages.
But, I hope it has been, or will be, a little helpful to you, and, if not
exactly humorous, at least has been presented with at least a little bit of a
twinkle, with a little verve, with a little panache.
Hey, if you’re still reading then I must have done something right because,
let’s face it, this subject isn’t exactly laced with sex, murder, blood or
vampires. (Frankly, I just don’t get what’s so appealing about all those
vampires—maybe it’s that they get the sex, the blood and
murder). So if you did put this down before reaching the end,
and only came back and finished it out of guilt, or to get your money’s worth
(!) or because you’re just my…”friend” (I think I still have a couple left), at
least I hope the reason you came back was because you thought there was
something here worth reading cover to cover, at least once, if not twice, and
not because it put you to sleep, and you woke up and couldn’t think of anything
better to do.
At least I have a Twitter Account, a Facebook page, three websites and two
blog sites. Probably not everyone you know can say that! And my books are
actually…selling. And how cool is that? Oh, and if you really want to be kept up
late at night turning the pages, well then put this down right now, don’t read
another word of it and just try my book, “a season for redemption.” (That’s
right, I used all lower case letters—to be creative, different. Most people
think I just didn’t catch the typos in editing this blog. No doubt I missed some
others, but not here. Uh uh.) If it doesn’t deliver, well, at least it’s mine,
for better or worse. And…if you don’t think it’s worth the price of admission (a
lot less than a ticket to a Lady Gaga concert, over in just a couple of hours,
except for getting out of the parking lot), I’ll even refund the purchase price,
with interest! Just let me know.
About Ronald S. Barak
writing exciting fantasy thriller novels combining
murder, mayhem, mystery, intrigue and suspense with dry humor, wit and comedy as
if John Grisham, Dan Brown or Agatha Christie got together with Jerry Seinfeld,
Ray Romano or Jon Stewart