Web Marketing Basics for Authors

Most authors know they must actively participate in selling their books on the web. ‘Selling’ brings an image to mind of someone hawking books from a cart at the local shopping center. Thankfully that’s not exactly what is expected.

Actively participating in selling books for an author is about being involved in marketing and self-promotion rather than the mechanics of a transaction. But what is marketing? How does that translate into activities you should be involved in? And of all the different strategies out there, what is the best one to choose?


Marketing Defined

According to the American Marketing Association (AMA) “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

Boy, that’s a mouthful and rather broad. Breaking it down to how it might involve an author’s role on the web might be:

  1. Marketing is the activity of creating content (i.e. communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings)
  2. that has value for
  • customers (i.e. fans),
  • partners (network of bloggers, reviewers, people with like-interests, professional connections),
  • and society at large (i.e. potential fans and partners).

It’s a two part equation. You create content with the intention of reaching a designated group of people. Without defining your group of people, your content loses it’s value. Without offering content of value you don’t reach your customers, partners, or society at large. It almost seems like a chicken and egg scenario. It’s more like the two sides of the coin. You need to be clear on both sides before you can be effective in what you do.


Marketing Style Defined

There are many methods you could use to sell your books, but the most tried and true is Relationship Marketing. Here is another term that can be broadly defined and applied.

Relationship marketing differs from other forms of marketing in that it recognizes the long term value of customer relationships and extends communication beyond intrusive advertising and sales promotional messages.

What this means for an author is that your efforts are focused on building a long-term relationships with customers and partners to create customer loyalty that will extend throughout your career and not just be good for one transaction and done. This fits so well with authors because customer loyalty is a part of what a fan is. You gain a fan, you gain a loyal customer who will follow you and support you on your next book or project.

You’ve probably heard about building a fan base or an author platform. That’s all relationship marketing. The purpose of it is to present yourself as an author in a space where you connect with your fans and build a long-term professional relationship with them. That doesn’t happen by itself. Just like a real relationship, it requires going out, meeting people, getting to know the other person, sharing about yourself, and gaining their trust and loyalty. It’s worth all the effort.

Here’s some supporting proof from an RWA reader survey:

“In the last six months, the top activity done in regards to romance reading is searched for a new romance author to read, followed by: received social media updates from favorite authors through either Facebook or Twitter, shared author or book information on social media, offered feedback on romance to others, and participated in discussions online about romance books.”

It’s clear that the way to reach your audience is to be online and on social media. You need to be searchable, but you also need to put the content out there.

But you need a plan, going back to the more general definition of marketing, you need to define who you are, who you want to reach, and what you want to say.


You Defined

That sounds rather silly. You should know who you are at this point in life. Yet this exercise will not only help you keep centered on a message you want to deliver, but also set up guidelines to how you want to present yourself as an author online. You may be Jane Smith in real life, but Jocelyn Summers as an author. You might not use a pen name, but you may be Jane Smith, Mom every day, but professionally be Jane Smith, Author. Who is Jocelyn Summers, or Jane Smith, Author and how would they present themselves online?

That’s not to suggest that you should go about masquerading as a completely made up persona different from who you really may be. That’s too much work, but we are different people in the comfort of our homes than we are in the workplace. Essentially we are the same people, but we have different sets of behavioral rules we might follow in each place.  Plus you have an added layer of how your books tie in it. Are your books sweet and innocent, are they irreverently funny, or are they sizzling hot? That says something about who you are as an author, having created those works.

One simple, go-to method of defining is one we all learned in grade school: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. Take a moment to sit down and think about it.


Jocelyn Summers

  • Who: Author, Mother, Nerd, Wife, Beach Bum, Hiker, History Buff, Dog-lover, Secret Sci-Fi enthusiast
  • What: Writes Regency romances about irreverent heroines who fall for tall, dark, handsome brooding guys
  • When: Has always had the writing bug, but has only recently started being published and has a new book out now
  • Where: On Facebook, Twitter, Blog, Amazon, Publisher’s website, Goodreads
  • Why: Loves books, novels, romances, stories and always has stories bouncing around in her head wanting to burst out
  • How: Digital and Print.

First of all, this can easily double as a bio cheat sheet, but the point is to draw some firm conclusions of how you are going to present yourself. The fictional Jocelyn might want to separate home life from professional life, so she might want to just present herself as Author, Nerd, Beach Bum, Hiker, History Buff, and Sci-Fi enthusiast. It would be a conscious choice to not be public about home life and limit herself to the other subjects for content. In this case limits are good. Of the thousands of subjects you could possibly broach online, setting limits simplifies your life and makes it easier to focus on what you will present. At this point, your subject matter is not set in stone because you have to factor in your target audience, but more about that below.

More potential subject matter would be writing, Regency era, character relationship dynamics, the publishing experience.

Jocelyn could also define her tone by her writing style. She obviously isn’t from the Regency era and she may have a short, fair, and handsome at home, but to write an irreverent Regency character she must have some irreverence of her own, her historic expertise is probably Regency, and she may appreciate tall, dark, and handsomes. She might choose to follow through with those character traits in presenting herself online. Jocelyn might instead present herself as scholarly with an irreverent sense of humor, a humor she might not use in front of the kids, but would be appropriate with her fans.

This personality should be consistent wherever Jocelyn is present online. These places are the venue she will be using to present herself and her books.


Target Audience Defined

To know what content your customers and partners (target audience) will find valuable, you have to know them. You may be a part of your target audience, so you may have an idea already, but you as an individual are much more specific than a whole group of people. In the balance, you should realize, it’s more about them than it is about you. Think about the relationships you have in your life. A great friend knows when to put aside their own personal agenda when you need support. A not so good friend will keep going on about their needs and their life, no matter the situation. In building relationships with fans, you need to be the good friend.

Continuing with the example of Jocelyn, most of her audience may like Regency, but only a minority may like Sci-Fi. She needs to research and find out what are the most common traits of her audience or the audience she wants to build.

With the internet at her fingertips, she has several ways to get to know her audience.


Top result for “target audience for romance novels” turned up results from a RWA survey on Reader Statistics. It’s an interesting read. Just for starters, romance readers are 84% women, mostly between 30-54 years old, and mostly from the US South. Online searches are a convenient way to find statistics about your audience.


Groups and Associations

That Google result also underlines the great resource that exists in joining groups and associations. The right association for you depends on your genre. You may choose to join or just browse their publicly available data depending on your need, but as an entity for forwarding the genre, they not only gather their own information, but bring together people who have become successful in their endeavors to share with their members.

There are also forums, social media groups, and websites where you can touch base with fans and writers alike who are already immersed in a fan base. For example, Meryton Literary Society has forums where Jane Austen Fan Fiction lovers gather together not just to read stories, but share interests in movies, other books, actors, life in general. By observing you can see patterns of what the majority appreciates, what topics they find fascinating, what values tie them together.


Social Media

Chances are you already have a presence on Facebook or Twitter. Look at the fans you already have. Much of what you see may support what information you may gather from Google or an Association, but you can see for yourself what particular topics your set of fans is talking about, what information they are sharing, what interests they have in common. There might be a high instance of people talking about family, or maybe a lot are tweeting about summer vacation plans. Perhaps they’re gushing about a period drama on PBS. This gives you an on the pulse idea of what’s trending in your fans’ world.



Once you’ve done your research, you can extrapolate a few things. Going back to the definers, here’s a simplified example might look like:

  • Who: Primarily women between the ages of 30-54, mostly from the US from all walks of life who love to read.
  • What: Common threads-family-oriented, love period dramas, socially conscious, love books, English Lit, 19th century history, pet lovers
  • When: Love books all the time, but indulge in extra reading during the summer months
  • Where: Usually read at leisure when at home or when on a vacation
  • Why: As an escape from real life worries and stresses
  • How: Print and Digital

I’ve simplified it for example purposes, but it’s an idea of what sort of subjects would most be valued by this target audience. This group of ladies is big into summer or beach reading, they use it as a method to escape real life, they particularly like historical fiction in books and movies. Family and values are important to them.

Now you have both sides of the coin, but only as far as fans are concerned. The same sort of research should be done for partners. The two may overlap in interests, but are not the same target audience.


Content Defined

This is where it all comes together. You know who you are, you know who your audience is, now what do you have in common?

Using Jocelyn’s example again, we know:

Jocelyn wants to present herself as Author, Nerd, Beach Bum, Hiking, History Buff, and Sci-Fi Enthusiast.

Her fans like Books, Family, Historical settings, Literature, History, Pets, Vacations, Escape.

Research about partners might have turned up that they like Regency era, Books, Grammar, Writing, History and Beach Reads.

Between the three, we can see that Jocelyn can’t go wrong with historical content, literature, talking about reading and writing, particularly Beach and Summer reads. She probably should let go of Hiking and Sci-Fi related themes, and reconsider talking about her dog and family. Jocelyn might prefer to keep family anonymous, but there are many ways to talk about family values and experiences without giving away her privacy.

Once those decisions are made, Jocelyn needs to create content with purpose. Remember back at the beginning the three parties the content is directed towards? Customers, Partners, and Society at Large. Each piece of content needs to be directed at one or more of those groups. Fine tuning Jocelyn’s list, she could reach out to fans by talking about a family experience at the beach. She could reach out to partners by sharing some of her experiences in publishing involving editing. She could reach both groups by sharing something about Regency history she might have come across while writing her current book. Jocelyn could reach out to society at large by sharing her favorite book quote from Jane Eyre.

The best way to keep a good content balance is to make a regular content schedule. Plan out your week and decide what subjects you will post about on what days and what purpose it serves. Jocelyn’s might look like this:

  • Day: Subject – Activity – Target Audience
Content Plan
  • Sunday: Literature – Share a book quote – Society at Large
  • Monday: AM: Writing – Blog post about experiences in writing – Partners / PM: Family – social media post – Fans
  • Tuesday: Beach Bum – Brief social media comment about her habitual Tuesday trip to the beach – Fans
  • Wednesday: Entertainment – Gush about the latest period drama – Fans & Partners
  • Thursday: AM: Pets – share media – Fans & Society at Large / PM: Current Project Update – social media post – Fans & Partners
  • Friday: Books – share a funny book related meme – Everyone
  • Saturday: Day off

When carrying out the content, don’t forget to use what you know about your target audience to connect with them. For example, they read to escape, so maybe that literary quote could take them to a happy, idealistic moment, or the gushing about a period drama could focus on what you loved versus whatever the villain might have done.

When do you sell books?

None of the above actually involves selling books, does it? Not directly. In Relationship Marketing, the sales pitch is secondary and subtle. When you go into a store for the first time and a sales person approaches you, that person is a total stranger and you wouldn’t trust that person to understand you and your style. If that person is friendly, maybe on a subsequent visit you approach him to help you find a particular item. After a few more visits you get to know him and he gets to know you. Soon, you are going directly to him to get fashion advice and you openly accept his suggestions to whatever accessories or shoes he has to offer as well. Had he tried that on the first visit, you might have just walked right out of the store and never returned.

As an author, the setting is different, but the principle is the same. Build the relationship, gain the trust, and later suggest the product. That doesn’t mean your content is completely absent of your product. If you share about your publishing experiences, mentioning the book the experience is related to is intrinsic to the experience. In driving traffic to your blog, you should have info and links on it to your books so fans, partners, and society at large can notice them and explore at will. Your social media information should present you as an author and what books or project you are working on in the bio or header. Not every time, but sometimes, your other subjects can relate to your book, like your social media comment of the day could be about trying to finish a manuscript, but your pet got in the way. It’s there, it’s natural, and it’s not intrusive in-your-face I’m-desperate-for-a-sale marketing.

If you have comments, questions, or go-to tips to share, they are welcome.


3 Responses

  1. Jan Hahn

    Very interesting, Zulu! I appreciate your time and effort in sharing this with us.

    • Meryton Press

      Glad it could be of use. 🙂

  2. Jan Hahn

    Sorry, Zuki. Hate that auto correct called you Zulu. Think I’m going to stick with Z from now on. 😉