Who influences you? What makes you want to visit a particular city, purchase a specific brand of dishwashing liquid, or eat at a new restaurant? Chances are, you learned about – and made your choices based on – the influence of a friend, family member, coworker or colleague whose opinion and judgment you trust.
Purchasing patterns for the majority of consumers are based on a number of market influences, advertising being the most obvious. Through advertising, companies build product and brand awareness, target consumer groups they believe would benefit from using their product or service, and through repeated exposures, motivate some members of those groups to make a purchase. What happens then is most important. If those initial consumers are happy, they tell their friends. This is the beginning of what is called “buzz,” and is a potent force in successful product launches.
As an author, it is up to you to create “buzz” for your new book. Whether you are a self-publisher or have a book commercially published, advertising campaigns only go so far, and eventually, the scarce resources allocated for advertising dry up. The leverage created through viral marketing, or “buzz,” makes those advertising dollars go farther and results in more repeat sales to a wider group of consumers.
A sound piece of advice for all authors is to develop and mail out a minimum of 100 media kits. What this advice doesn’t state but should is that those media kits should go to people who have the most influence within a particular sphere.
Obvious examples of influencers on a mega scale are Oprah Winfrey, Rush Limbaugh, and Paul Harvey. One mention of a product on their respective broadcasts can make – or in the case of the Shelbyville, Indiana school system, break – the positive perception (and subsequent sales) of a product or service. However, in every group there are people whose ideas and opinions are considered close to Divine revelation, and it’s in every author’s best interest to discover these people in relation to the audience the author has targeted with their publication.
Influencers may not be the first kid on the block to use a product, or even the most popular kid in class. Depending on the audience, an influencer may be respected for their wisdom, their character or their common sense. For example, a successful software launch may depend on the good will of the geek with glasses who spends countless hours in the computer lab at school. He may not be someone anyone wants their daughter to date, but when it comes to loading and using software, he’s the go-to guy. Likewise, twenty years ago, any author with a book on the practical application of Torah to everyday life would have been wise to have his book reviewed by the baker in the Williamsburg district of Brooklyn; he was considered to be a gifted Talmud scholar and interpreter as well as an excellent baker, and the Hasidic residents sought his advice over that of the rebbe. In Indianapolis, anyone promoting a garden-related product should seek the blessing of a man known as “Dr. Dirt.” He had headed the Marion County Ag Extension Office for years, continues to host a radio program on lawn and garden care, and his calendar of personal appearances and garden-related presentations spans January through December every year.
As part of their advertising and marketing campaign, authors should seek out the Dr. Dirts in their particular niche, and target them to receive those media kits. How do you find these people?
1) Ask your potential customers: go to your local bookstore or the book section of a department store. If you notice a person browsing the area in which your book should be, ask them if they’ve heard of any good books on that subject, and how they learned about it. You may find a common thread among consumers in a particular location. Likewise, ask the bookstore clerk what they would recommend, and why. Don’t, of course, launch into a sales spiel at this point – you are gathering information, and you don’t want to turn off the spigot by attempting to close a sale right now.
2) Go to internet chat rooms or forums based on your topic. See whose postings get the greatest number of positive responses.
3) Subscribe to ezines and e-newsletters covering your topic. See which authors have articles purchased regularly.
What do you do after you’ve found these people? When you send your media kit, just ask these people to do you a favor, read the book, and give you their feedback. You may even go an extra step and enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope. More than likely, they will do this and in addition (if your book is good), they will tell their friends, family, and anyone else willing to listen that your book is the most awesome thing they’ve ever read, and “you should read it.” As long as your media kit included sales information (web address, a mail order form, etc.), orders will begin coming in, first as ripples, then waves, then if all goes well, tsunamis. At that point, another mailing to mega-influencers such as Oprah should get beyond the screeners and land you and your book in front of a national audience.
Can things go wrong? They sure can! Buzz sometimes turns lethal, and overcoming the negative buzz may require the talents of a public relations guru and more money than it would be worth. Consider the buzz surrounding Dan Rather’s “George Bush was a draft-dodger” story, in which it was learned that documents used as evidence had been forged, and everyone involved in the story knew it. Dan Rather, as well as the program “60 Minutes” and its franchise, “60 Minutes 2” lost all credibility, Rather himself lost his job, and CBS News is now the lowest-rated of the major network news programs. Rather hasn’t improved the situation; in subsequent media appearances he has continued to justify his actions rather than just admitting that he hates George Bush (all Republicans, really) and wanted to bring him down the way he did President Nixon. Along the same lines, the book “A Million Little Pieces” created a tremendous issue for Oprah Winfrey, who was forced to denounce (and publicly scold) the author for perpetrating a fraud on her and her audience rather than keep quiet and potentially lose her credibility and market share. The solution to this, of course, is don’t lie, deliver a lot more than you’ve promised, and always be certain that your sources and resources are unimpeachable.
Buzz is a force that can move mountains, and authors need to learn to harness its power to penetrate markets. With a little research and some investment in postage, you can get people to buzz your book sales through the roof.