Workshop 11: Blogging, Branding, Marketing, and Publicity
In her workshop, “Blogging, Branding, Marketing, and Publicity,” Shannon Vannatter (right) says each novelist needs to create a brand. Your brand is what makes you different from every other writer.
Brands and genres
Your brand lets your readers know what to expect—and it should make them want to pick your book over another one. Novels by Karen Kingsbury, Stephen King, and John Grisham hardly need back-cover copy because the author is the brand, if they stick to their chosen genres.
Moving to a different genre is like starting all over. Readers won’t usually follow even a favorite author to a new genre. Even John Grisham lost readers when he wrote a novel that wasn’t a legal thriller. But how can a writer decide on a genre?
“Pay attention to the type of books you love to read,” Vannatter said.
Finding the common threads in all your stories will also help you settle on a genre and a brand.
Why? Because that’s probably what you should write. Finding the common threads in all your stories will also help you settle on a genre and a brand, as will identifying what’s unique to your writing.
However, “Readers want to know about you more than they want to know about your books,” she said.
Readers want personal connections. Listing five unique things about yourself can help you identify the personal part of your brand. Even your clothing can reflect your brand. If you write historicals, consider dressing in costume for speaking engagements. Romance writers might wear romantic styles. Vannatter wears jewelry related to her book titles: a white rose, a white pearl, and a white dove. When people comment on her jewelry, she tells them about her novels.
Websites and blogs
You’ll also need a unique angle for your website and blog. For instance, if you write about mother/daughter relationships, you could ask readers to submit mother/daughter photos for your blog. When Karen Kingsbury’s unique angle was patriotism, she asked readers for stories of loved ones in the military. Mary DeMuth, who experienced abuse as a child, invited her readers to share their abuse stories, anonymously.
Because Vannatter writes inspirational romance, she asked ACFW members to submit real-life romance stories in return for giving them a chance to share something about their books. One benefit is that she doesn’t do the writing; she only posts it.
Your brand should include a tag line that encapsulates your writing, such as James Scott Bell’s tag line for his legal thrillers, “The Suspense Never Rests.” Use your tag line on your website and blog to stand out in the crowd and present a professional image.
In Vannatter’s first year online, she had only about 300 visitors. “Some of them were me,” she said, “checking to see how many visitors I’d had.” She hired a professional to revamp the site, and now she averages 250 unique visitors a day.
Consistency is the key. She posts three times a week, sometimes doing the setup two weeks in advance. Each time she hosts an author, she provides the blurb and the link on half a dozen appropriate spots on Facebook and Twitter.
At the end of each quarter, she picks a favorite story and highlights it. Then she looks at her stats for the quarter and runs the top three posts again. She also posts links to interviews, reader feedback, and reviews.
As an author, you need to find readers, not just your fellow writers.
As an author, you need to find readers, not just your fellow writers. Options include book groups, churches, and civic groups. Sometimes you can set up teleconferences instead of being there in person. Topics vary, depending on the interests of the group, and the workshops or speaking engagements can be listed on your website.
Vannatter also speaks at local schools and career days, encouraging kids to pursue writing and seek higher education. She has sponsored a short-story contest for students that resulted in selling books to their parents. Although she was shy in school and dreaded giving oral book reports, she loves writing so much that she enjoys going into “author mode” to teach writing.
Other ways to reach readers
Online author chats, interviews, and in-store signings are other ways to communicate with readers. Vannatter’s #1 marketing tool for signings is a brochure with her photo, book blurbs, credits, bio, and contact information. She hands out brochures to people who walk by. They’ll often read the brochure while they browse, then return to her table, buy a book, and leave their contact information in her guest book.
When readers write to you, answer promptly and tell them it made your day. Answer the negative letters too. She responds to those with “I’m sending you my next book; I hope you’ll like it better.” That often makes fans out of them.