I’m a staunch believer that the best marketing a writer can do is to write excellent material, and that the second best thing he can do is to write and publish a lot of it. And, if the truth be known, I’ve probably got the order backward, but I stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that fact.
Ordering aside, however, why is quantity so important? The answer, I think, has something to do with people’s buying and reading habits. Most of us, most of the time, when faced with an empty reading list, would prefer another work from a familiar author over the greater uncertainty of trying new authors on for size. After all, we’re rather lazy creatures, cognitively speaking, and picking up our tenth book from Favorite Author is a much quicker decision process than picking up the first book from an unknown (to us) author. But what does that all mean?
What it means to me, as an author, is that once a reader has read and enjoyed one of my books, it is much less work for me to convince that person to try a second of my books, than it is to convince some new stranger to pick up their first Jefferson Smith novel. But in order for that strategy to work, there must be a second novel for them to buy. And once they’ve finished that one, I need to have a third title ready, and so on. Once a reader reaches the end of my body of work, they will be forced to go elsewhere, to find a new favorite author. Then they will proceed to milk that talentless hack for all his works before coming back to the light and warmth of my hearth. It’s a thankless and tireless arms race.
But when you think about it, it isn’t necessarily the case that a reader must read one of my books before coming to find more. It’s only important that they stumble across something that piques their curiosity about me and my writing. It could be anything. A comment on Google+, a blog post about cats, a PDF document about the 103 non-hygienic uses of dental-floss. So long as it conveys something of my writing style, or even my thinking style, and contains a reference to my other work, anyone who stumbles across it and finds it to their liking, will probably follow the path in search of more. Why? Because of that favorite-author laziness thing.
So while I believe it is imperative to have as many books on the market as possible, there is nothing you can do when you’re writing your first book to suddenly have twenty books out there. But you can have twenty presences. Hell, you can have a thousand. Just remember that all presences are not created equal.
Social media is certainly a kind of presence you can have. You can tweet. You can Facebook. You can Pinterest, Tumblr and Google+, too. But these are what I call active presences. The stuff we put on our social media spaces tends to go stale. Postings recede further and further into the history of our feeds, and people don’t search those streams when they’re looking for stuff online. Most search hits tend to take us to more passive content, like blogs, books, reference databases, etc.
Until recently, I didn’t really appreciate this distinction. I believed that my participation on Google+ and on my blog were enough. But let’s examine that. I’ve already said that the G+ stuff stale-dates quickly, but what about my blog? Doesn’t that act as magnet for folks to find out about me? Well, yes and no. Yes, it certainly does provide static content that people may stumble across while searching the web for something else. But it isn’t exactly a widely cast net, is it? I mean, I blog mostly about writing, creativity, software tools and author business, such as marketing. But are those topics that interest my readers? No, not especially. To reach them, I have to cast the net much more widely, which is precisely in conflict with the stated mandate of my blog. But as I said, I have only just come to realize this limit.
You see, what happened was that I went over to Scribd to update my short stories. I have recently redone the cover images, and wanted to get those new versions out to all the places I have my stories. And while I was there, I took a moment to review the stats.
And boy, was I shocked. Not about the traffic my stories have received, though. It was the other stuff. A number of years ago – several years before Strange Places was even published – I posted a few documents to Scribd that I had created for myself, thinking others might find them marginally useful as well. One was my StoryPad storyboard sketch book, a print-and-go booklet for film-makers that gives them an idea notepad in story-board format. There was also a check list for evaluating individual and team skills on young soccer teams, a unique fingering chart for the Bb clarinet, some original sheet music, some arrangements of Baroque pieces, a weird little one-page graphic story about one of my kids, and so on. Just a random, eclectic sampling of… Jeff-stuff.
But I could not believe the readership stats I was seeing on those documents. I was dumbfounded to learn that my arrangement of Bach’s Cello Suite had been viewed over 5,000 times since I had posted it. Really? But wait, there’s more. Remember that clarinet fingering chart I mentioned? Would you believe it has been viewed almost 15,000 times? And the big winner in all of this was that StoryPad sketchbook, which has been viewed a whopping 18,000 times. That’s eighteen THOUSAND times. Not counting my short stories and the novella preview of Strange Places, my non-fiction documents have been viewed over 44,000 times and still receive over 100 views per day. But there was a problem.
Not a single one of those readers knew anything at all about my novels.
This was a life-changing realization. An epiphany. Yes, I need to get as many books written and published as quickly as I can without sacrificing quality. But until then, I don’t have to gnash my teeth and wail about how I don’t have any way to draw potential readers in. I do have a way. I have all those lovely little documents. I have the undivided attention of 100 new potential readers each and every day. I don’t have to pay a nickel to reach them, and I don’t have to lift a finger, either. All I have to do, is put a little marketing blurb in each one.
So that’s what I did. Over the winter, I’ve been updating those PDFs on Scribd to include a simple marketing blurb. Nothing fancy or intrusive. Just a brief mention that the guy who created this useful little toy you’re fiddling with now is also a published fantasy novelist. If you want to know more, check him out at this convenient link.
And that’s it. Has it worked? I do believe it has. Google Analytics now tells me that I receive about 5 visits to my web site each week that were referred from Scribd. Last year, I had none at all. The workflow of Scribd means that I won’t be able to identify all of the click-referrals though. After all, people can (and often do) download those Scribd PDFs to their home computers. If any of them have clicked through from home, it won’t show up in my simplistic analysis. So I get at least 5 visits per week from these passive sources.
Is this a gold mine? No. Is it staggering news? Again, no. But my entire investment in time to update those static presences with the marketing blurbs and links was about one hour, and for that single hour’s investment, I have had something like 50 new visitors come my way. That’s not great, I suppose. Less than one visitor for each minute invested. But my investment is now complete. I won’t have to spend another femtosecond on that presence, and if trends continue, by the end of the year, I’ll have had 250 new visitors. In four years, I’ll have had 1000. And if I add any other interesting documents that catch people’s attention, my numbers will only go up.
The trick, I suppose, if there is one, is to create interesting content – something that attracts attention for its own sake, even spurious attention like cat pics or lessons in tying knots with spaghetti, and then letting the quirky, personable nature of those mini-presences go to work for you. I wouldn’t recommend this as a marketing strategy, per se, because let’s face it, it’s not generating TONS of hits. But as a way to add long-term benefit to things you’re already doing? I think that might be where the magic lies.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go actually write that dental floss thing.