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How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing For Your Books? Be Awesome.

More is better, right? We should all desire a bigger audience, right?

Wrong.

Again and again, we hear evidence that “word of mouth” is the way that people hear about books. So let’s think this through: how do you create more word of mouth marketing around your books?

Is it you sending dozens of Tweets each month promoting your new book?
Nope.

Is it by friending hundreds of people on Goodreads for the sole purpose of hoping they magically check out your books?
Nope.

What about giving stuff away, that is totally how to create a loyal readership, right?
Nope.

How do you create word of mouth marketing? By delighting the readers you already have.

Consider it this way: why try to get a bigger audience when you have not yet developed the capacity to best serve the readers & audience you have right now? That’s right, “engagement” and “retention” are skills that you can develop.

What I see all too often is writers judging success and the relationship with readers as something that begins and ends with the sale of their book. That the $10 transaction is the culmination of your effort with readers. And that’s just silly.

Let’s look at a scenario in the business world:

  1. A company (such as a bank or phone provider) offers you an amazing deal to become a customer.
  2. You sign up, and once you become a customer, you find their customer service puts you on hold for 30 minutes when you call, they hit you with fees you weren’t aware of, and provide few options for more flexibility around your account.
  3. So you threaten to leave them, and suddenly, they offer to upgrade you.

This is a company focused on growth alone, putting less value on satisfaction of their existing customers. They offer you incentives to join, don’t treat you especially well when you do sign up, and then only worry about retaining you as a customer when you threaten to leave.

This is a huge problem, even at the business level. It is SO HARD to get a new customer, or in your case, a new reader. Sales teams often come up with exact dollar amounts it costs to get a new customer and set their marketing dollars based on this. For instance, they may determine that the lifetime value of a customer is $1,000. So in the example above, they have worked out that if I sign up for their cable service, based on their averages, I will give them $1,000 before I move or switch to another provider. So when they determine the marketing budget for new promotions and ads, they ensure that it costs them anything less than $1,000 to get me as a new customer. That’s why you see these companies spending millions of dollars on marketing – they have done the math.

But retention is often overlooked, even though it can be cheaper than getting a new customer.

In other words, the value of engaging your existing audience – of delighting them, of making them feel so special to the point where they can’t help but talk about you and your work – that is a much better value proposition than just spamming the world looking for new readers.

This is the heart of word of mouth marketing: just be awesome.

(credit: John & Hank Green have made the phrase DFTBA or “Don’t Forget To Be Awesome” a catch phrase in their community.)

This is why I get skeptical of articles or programs promising to get you 1,000 more Facebook fans, 50 more Goodreads reviews, or 200 more Twitter followers. The number sounds big, so we assume that is good. But who are these people? And more importantly: when you take the easy road to a vague and distant “large” audience, you have never developed an understanding of how to serve them, delight them, and make them feel good about talking about your work.

Are you a writer who is afraid of becoming a “marketer” who annoys people? Then instead of spamming people, focus on treating your readers as the most special people in the world. Even if you think you only have a small audience of 10 or 20 readers. Find ways to delight them.

I have been putting together an online conference focused on helping writers “Get Read” – to find and engage their ideal readers. In developing the program, I find myself focused very much on the ideas of retention and word of mouth marketing.

That there is an important skill to be learned on how authors can create a delightful experience for readers, for librarians, for booksellers, for reviewers, for publishers, for agents, for everyone in the publishing process. And that this is wildly more meaningful than pretending that some arbitrary number of twitter followers is even remotely useful.

At the event, you will hear from people deep in the trenches of publishing about not only what sells a book, but what delights a reader.

To hear more about the event, and join us, click here.

Thanks!
-Dan

  • You are absolutely right, as usual. And so timely. I’m on a book launch tour trying to connect one-on-one with readers, wondering, especially after reading this, what would surprise and delight them. Thanks, Dan. A lot of this is just so basic. Light in the eyes. Smiles. Asking about their stories. And then listening. Feeling pain, happiness, joy, with them. Trying to probe the mysteries together: WHY is it so different to be a grandparent than to be a parent? (Last night’s conversation.)

    • Well put – thank you Shirley!
      -Dan

  • jeffscottkennedy

    Great input Dan. I am wary of turning Into a marketer. I do agree we have to go with the goers and treat our existing readers well. But on the other hand, my publisher won’t be thrilled with 10 or 20. There is a sales responsibility that publishers expect of you today. Often, writing the book is exhausting. So authors expend less energy selling it. But, it seems to me that we must focus on quality readership and an expanding readership if we are going to meet our obligations with the publisher.
    Thanks for a great article.

  • Totally makes sense. Put out a quality book, do your best to get it out there without being obnoxious, and hope it takes root. Hitting your target audience is so key, and something you’ve hopefully been working on for a time before you take that self-publishing step.

  • literarydrift

    We’re putting together some tools to monitor word of mouth marketing specifically surrounding books. We are still very much in beta but check us out on Facebook if you are interested. At the moment we make a few lists of of the most talked about books of the most talked about categories every week, but we are planning to expand to allow authors to track how much is being said about their stuff specifically. Keen to get some opinions. Ps. Really nice post 🙂