Author Alafair Burke claims to be no salesperson, but she’s a lot smarter about marketing than she gives herself credit for. In her post on the Murderati blog, “Because Free is a Very Good Price!” she talks about giveaways from the perspective of an author…and her post got me thinking about branding more generally, in the context of building and interacting with audiences.
When it comes to marketing, many point at publishing as an industry stuck in a previous millennium (among other, often less kind, characterizations). In some ways this is true, sure, but ultimately authors are leveraging marketing tactics today more effectively than most global brands because they know  that purchasing decisions are driven by personal connections, and word-of-mouth doesn’t just spontaneously happen. 
For example:
James Lee and Alafair Burke
I started reading James Lee Burke’s books because my dad recommended them. One of the things I love about his stories is how his characters grow and develop over titles. One of his protagonists, Dave Robicheaux, has a daughter named Alafair who is an excellent example of this. Several years ago, I was browsing in a bookstore and saw a book by Alafair Burke. I figured a name like Alafair couldn’t be a coincidence and the author must be Mr. Burke’s relative. I looked her up, and sure enough, she’s his daughter. So I read her book…and turns out, she’s a crack author, too.
I have recommended Alafair’s books to many people, and they’ve all thanked me for doing so. When I wrote Alafair a fangirl “thank you” email, I didn’t really expect to get a response…but I did. And not a form letter. She really values making connections with her readers.
And it all started with a recommendation. I wish self-branded marketing gurus (guri?) understood the importance of these connections as well as Alafair does. Booksellers talk about “handselling” books, and we can all learn a lot from this model, which revolves around community engagement.
Giveaways are a legitimate marketing tool when used in context. Are you buying attention? Yes, sure. Welcome to the 21st Century. By this, I mean that whatever your industry, giveaways can help grow your audience. Contrary to conventional marketing wisdom, too, they can scale. Sticking with Alafair’s question about prompting preorders of her forthcoming title, LONG GONE, here are some real-world suggestions…
Enter everyone who pre-orders to win a set of ALL your books (or books you love) for a library of their choice (I’d suggest picking 10-20 winners of this one). This connects with the reader community, and could also get libraries promo-ing your books in advance of the new title’s release, which attracts new readers.
Readers don’t really care about how the publishing business works—nor should they. That said, preorders are important, and explaining to your fans why this is will encourage them to preorder. Ask them to do so, and explain why it matters via a blog post.
As Alafair points out, managing a promotional giveaway is not cheap—the tchotchkes aren’t free, postage costs, and simply managing a promotional giveaway takes time (=money). So more brands are looking at incentives that can be delivered electronically—including coupons and gift certificates. In the case of authors, a discount code for a previous title when you preorder the new one could work.
For authors like Alafair (and many brands), if your community is active online, think about events you can do from the comfort of your home with fans far and wide, like virtual signings and live Q&A sessions. This one, though, comes with a caveat: I’ve seen several authors (not to mention politicians and others) do these and have them come off with a whimper rather than a bang. The key is planning. Just because you do it, doesn’t mean anyone will show up. You need to have a mini-plan around letting folks know what is happening, when, and why they should care.
Last—but not least: Consider enlisting help, the kind of help you pay for. Not all marketing people are 12 year-old jaded dummies named Tiffany. Some, like Dana Kaye, have a long list of clients who will attest to her savvy, and that her efforts sell books. I like to think I fall into this category, too. The simple truth is that you might be lucky enough to have a kick-ass publicist at your publisher (or marketing department for you non-author brands), but these folks are busy, and the good ones will agree that there is always more that could be done. And it doesn’t cost a fortune. Really.
If you’ve read this far…first of all, I thank you. Second, please go pre-order Alafair’s new book, LONG GONE. I promise you won’t be disappointed, and will have a review posted soon.