Whether you’re selling books, skin products, cell phones, or cars, word of mouth has always been the most potent promotion a seller can get. Humans are emotional creatures, particularly when it comes to purchasing.
Think about the last time you made a significant purchase. Did you ask friends for referrals, or did you just go online to read low rated reviews from strangers complaining about possible showstoppers? If you receive a positive review from a friend and a product has a few strongly worded negative reviews, which would you trust more?
Although how we shop and research our products has changed, 92% of shoppers
still say they trust recommendations from friends and family over any type of advertising.
Anyone can publish anything online, and we’re more aware of this fact than ever. The free “information” flow of the internet has created skepticism in potential buyers. We know online retailers will say just about anything to sell their product. They can even purchase positive reviews.
As a novelist, it can be overwhelming to think about how many people you would need to reach to get enough word of mouth momentum to make it on the bestseller lists. Fortunately there are trusted people who have a great deal of influence over their followers. Instead of recruiting thousands of fervent fans one-by-one to spread the word, focus on people who have already taken the time to form lasting relationships with thousands of people through social media content, blog posts, vlogs, and podcasts.
Think Outside the Box
Before you go blasting notes to a bunch of famous people urging them to read your book, do your research. Looking up the most popular book blogs related to your genre is an okay place to start, but you’ll quickly notice a pattern.
Many have stopped accepting requests for reviews.
Authors can be very passionate about their work, which is understandable. It takes a ton of time and effort to craft a piece of art exactly how we imagine it. What some authors can forget is that art is subjective. No matter how masterful your writing is, some people are going to hate it--or at the very least flame your book on Goodreads.
The minute you decide to publish your book, people will have an opinion, for better or worse. Expressing anger about someone’s review never ends well for an author (many have tried, all have failed). Some authors have taken their rage to such extremes, reviewers have become fed up by bad behavior, and some have even felt unsafe due to threats.
Soliciting reviews is still possible. Research your potential reviewers to see whether they have liked similar work, determine if they’re accepting review requests, and always be polite even if they do scorch your book.
Don’t have to restrict yourself to only seeking book reviews. If you know of vloggers and podcasters who talk about the book-related topics you love, consider pitching episode ideas related to your work. When I hear a writer who’s passionate about something I love on a podcast I enjoy, odds are good I’ll purchase their book.
Apply this line of thinking to other platforms such as blogs, publications, and more. People may not be willing to give you page space to talk about how awesome you are at writing, but they’ll likely let you talk about your six-month journey through India learning from yoga gurus if it fits their theme.
Finding the Right Fit
Finding reviewers isn’t tricky. Look for a similar book, read/listen to its reviews, and see if your potential reviewer’s opinions make sense before submitting your novel. If a reviewer doesn’t like your genre, don’t suggest your book. If the reviewer’s famous reputation stems from their caustic wit, think long and hard before submitting your book.
Finding influencers outside of the book review world is a little more nuanced. Start by writing a list of topics related to your book that you’re comfortable talking about. Nonfiction writers will have no problem picking subjects. Fiction writers should think about the research completed for their novel.
Perhaps you spent weeks researching the web-spinning habits of spiders or shoes people wore in the middle-ages. Maybe you write horror and have seen every kitschy horror movie filmed in the 70s. Your years as an early childhood educator may have led you to discover how reading about dinosaurs allows kids to get in touch with their feelings.
Chances are you have a niche that aligns with influencers on social media, blogs, vlogs, and podcasts.
Next, write down the demographics of the people who are likely to buy your book. Now compare your target demographics to the demographics of people following your influencers. If you’re selling a children’s book on dinosaurs and your influencer talks about paleontologists' dating life, it’s probably not a good fit. If the influencer is a mom who creates science projects for kids in your target age range, you’re probably on to a good match.
Once you have a niche and demographic fit, do a little digging into your influencer’s pull with their audience. If they have a ton of followers but little to no comments on their posts, the numbers may not mean much. It’s one thing to enjoy someone’s pictures on Instagram and another thing to trust their product recommendations.
Lastly, expect that followers with more than tens of thousands of followers will likely put a price tag on promotion. If you’re on a budget, micro-influencers are valuable targets. A few people with 10,000 followers promoting your books isn’t a bad place to start.
Your Engagement Strategy
Attracting influencers isn’t easy.
If you send a cold pitch to an influencer promoting your book, be very careful about how you use this first impression. For example, it will be evident if you haven’t listened to the podcast and aren’t sure what they talk about. Some people are okay with providing time for promotion to people who cold pitch, but these are usually paid engagements.
You’re more likely to get face time with an influencer if you nurture a real relationship. The ideal time to start connecting with influencers is months before you publish your book. If you’ve just released a book and are only looking at influencer tactics now, you should approach this as building your influencer list for future novels. You may get some engagements in the short term, but most take time.
So how do you start a friendship with an influencer? The strategies are very similar to what we suggest in The How & Why of Author Collaborations. Follow them on social media, take the time to comment thoughtfully on posts, and share their content. Asking them for quotes for an article you’re working on or emailing them with questions about one of their articles can encourage conversation. As long as you’re sincere and don’t smother them, they’ll appreciate the fan mail.
Work up to pitching an idea for their platform over time, and don’t push them. It’s okay to write a follow-up email to check-in on a pitch, but if they aren’t interested, don’t take it personally. You’re playing the long game.
Provided you’ve done all the necessary homework and established a connection with your influencer, pitching should be pretty straightforward. You’ll want to remind them you’re a fan, suggest a topic that’s relevant to their show/blog/vlog, and tell them why you’re a credible source. For example:
I enjoyed your recent episode on speed skating versus figure skating training tactics. It got me thinking. Would you be interested in collaborating on a podcast episode on homemade costumes in professional figure skating?
You’ve mentioned competing on a budget, and we both know that costumes can be insanely expensive. I have experience as both a figure skater and a competitive cosplayer (here’s a link to some of my work) and think I could bring a lot to the conversation.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you!
If you haven’t interacted much with the person, but have done extensive research, you’ll want to write a more formal pitch. In addition to pitching a topic, dive deeper into your credentials to prove you have something unique to bring to the table. For example:
I’m a longtime listener and fan of On the Ice. I enjoyed your recent episode on speed skating versus figure skating training tactics. Speed skating was always something I avoided because of the reputation for injury, and I see my suspicions weren’t unfounded.
You’ve mentioned competing on a budget, and we both know that costumes can be insanely expensive. Would you be interested in collaborating on an episode on homemade costumes in professional figure skating?
I’m a five-time Western United States regional figure skating champion and a two-time third runner up to qualifying for the Olympics women’s single team. In addition to figure skating, I’m a competitive cosplayer (here’s a link to some of my work) and created nearly all of my figure skating costumes. I’d love to talk about how costumes can impact judging and the risks and benefits of making your own costume.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you!
Stay on Topic
Once you’re invited to contribute, remember to stay on topic. Don’t go rogue and start quoting chapters of your book. It’s not smart marketing and you’ll get a reputation for the wrong reasons.
You have a better chance of being invited back to your influencer’s platform and similar platforms if you deliver what you promised.
Influencer marketing can be tricky to measure, especially if you don’t set any goals ahead of time. If you’re not talking about your book, you may get social media follows and blog visits. If your book received a positive review, you should expect to see additional book sales.
Start with modest goals, measure what happens after each engagement, and use those experiences as a benchmark to build upon. Perhaps a podcast with 1,000 listeners gets you 25 new social media followers and 2 book downloads. The next time you appear on a podcast, you can form a solid guess about the amount of uplift relative to their listener base.
Take note of which topics your readers like and which topics entertain a crowd without leading to sales. This will help you form a content strategy.
Keep Connections Strong
Once you get your first offer to collaborate, don’t waste the opportunity. Cross-promote your post, vlog, or podcast. Continue to stay in touch with your influencer to keep the door open to future opportunities.
Just because an engagement didn’t produce results for you doesn’t mean you should ditch your new influencer friend. You may write something in the future that resonates better with their audience. Remember, as their audience grows, so does the potential for sales.