many times have you heard a writer say that they are completing a novel and plan to start submitting it to commercial publishers? It an overnight success story that is kind of similar to the garage band that has a music label scout discover them, and whisk them away in a limo to sign a million-dollar contract?
It used to happen that way. But not anymore.
As we discussed in our introductory advice article for horror writers, publishers want to eliminate as much risk as possible, when they take on a new author and book launch. Until your work has been tested at the retail level, there is no way to measure how successful it may be. Will it be a profit or loss situation for the publisher?
Publishers expect writers to build their own fan base first, before launching a commercially published book. This was work that was done previously by publishers who had public relations and vast marketing budgets to create a buzz and stimulate sales for any new book.
Today, the best indicator that an author will sell a large number of books commercially, is determined by the size of the authors fanbase. Email subscribers, website traffic, social media followers and other measurable audience metrics will help you pitch your book to a publisher. The problem is that you have to spend a few years building up that fan base before a publisher will even read your excerpts.
We have taken some of the mystery out of pre-marketing and brand building for horror and paranormal writers. Here are 7 ways you can help build momentum and fan demand, while you are completing your first novel. And since no writers we know have a $50,000 launch budget, we have provided some cost saving resources and hacks to save you time and money.
1.Define Your Author Persona
It is time to get existential and ask the deep dark questions only answered on a cheap leather couch in a psychologist’s office: “who are you?” Every writer has the opportunity to use their own name or develop a pen name. When it comes to your persona, will you mirror your exact personality and lifestyle, or will you work on something with extra creative license?
When it comes to marketing and sales, a little intrigue goes a long way. Does that mean that every writer persona is made up, and not authentic? In our experience most writers incorporate a little bit of themselves into their public brand and persona, while keeping certain things private for personal and safety reasons.
Let us say you do become a New York Time’s Best Seller. Would you want the world to know your address? The names of your children, where your parents live or the kind of car you drive? Safety is usually the reason why some authors choose a pen name, and a persona that protects their identity, without misrepresenting who they are.
Because one of the coolest things an author can do, is reveal their pen name(s) after they have become an international bestselling writer. You want that option later without being accused of lying. It is a fine line you want to be aware of because fans will fact check.
2. Create a Business Logo
Have you ever looked at the logos created by and for conventional writers? It is usually the writer’s name and a small embellishment. Something dignified and understated that can look more like a signature on a check than an actual graphical logo.
In the horror genre however, writers use their logos as a powerful branding tool. We are allowed to be even more creative by celebrating the macabre with artwork in our logo. A skull? Cthulhu? A knife dripping with blood? In the horror genre, everything is fair game, particularly if it helps build audience and brand recognition.
If you do not have Photoshop chops, you can work with a graphic designer. There are a shockingly large number of designers who specialize in logo and branding materials for horror authors too. Choose a design that feels like you, and one that has an impact. This may involve driving your friends crazy and showing them a variety of different logos.
3. Build a Website
Take a deep breath… we are not suggesting that you drop several thousand dollars and have a marketing agency design an HTML or WordPress website for you. If you plan to sell e-commerce products on your website (you’re welcome; it is a great idea!) then a WordPress site is your best bet, and you will need to make an investment for secure payments, etc.
But if an e-commerce marketplace or store on your website is not part of your monetization plan, then you can choose from a variety of insanely affordable DIY website design providers. For a small monthly or annual fee, you get access to easy-to-design templates, and some even come with free photo stock images you can use.
Here are some of the most affordable and beginner friendly website hosting and design providers:
You do not have to have training in website design to be able to slap together a really great looking site on your own. Make sure that you only use copyright free images on your website. Photography that is licensed to use for a business website can be found for free at Pixabay, or through other paid photo stock services like Adobe Stock.
The design of your website as a horror writer, is probably going to be in theme and a little ‘on the dark side’ of the spectrum (which is exactly what fans want to see). In terms of the content you should have on your website, the standard pages and functional elements are:
- Portfolio of Published Work
- Contact Me
- Social Media Icons (Follow Me)
One of the criteria that publishers look at, is how many followers a writer has on social media, but also on their subscriber list. Getting your fans to subscribe to your email, allows you to have a growing headcount of readers who are interested in your work. This helps later when you are pitching commercial publishers.
Some writers will add a photo gallery to their website (usually feeding from a host site like Flickr or Google Images). Fans who follow up and coming writers, enjoy learning about the creative process behind the stories they read. Writers that share images that inspired them, or a picture of a diner where they were writing a new chapter? They create a close relationship with their fans when they share the ‘behind the scenes’ details.
Make a few CTAs (call to action) elements on your website that encourage your audience to subscribe. If you really want to be proactive and grow your email subscribers quickly, consider adding a contest or incentive. Have a monthly draw for a $50 Amazon gift card or give away a horror merchandise collectible every month. Make it a fun horror trivia contest or something engaging, and you could find yourself adding several hundred new fans to your email marketing list.
And remember to send them at least one email per month to stay in touch. You can write about upcoming horror events, new projects that you are working on, releases of new horror movies and novels, etc.
4. Start Blogging Obsessively
Website visitors do not become real literary fans, until you have shared your writing with them. Since you want to sell books (including starting with self-published short works), you do not want to constantly give out previews or excerpts that add up to a reason why fans should not buy your books.
What kinds of things can you blog about? Observations about human nature, some of your personal experiences, character traits you enjoy writing about, upcoming projects, behind the scenes inspiration, creative ideas for book covers (fans love to contribute their feedback!), interviews (blogs or podcasts) and more.
Since we just mentioned interviews, you have to be your own public relations specialist and agent when you are starting out as a new horror writer. That means approaching horror and paranormal websites and podcast channels to offer interviews on interesting topics. You will have to pitch the editorial team for the opportunity and free traffic (and new audience exposure). Many blogs and podcasts will provide the opportunity for free; the largest ones require an administrative and advertising fee for putting your brand in front of a huge target audience of millions.
5. If You Do not Feel Pretty Start a Podcast
Some people love being in front of the camera. You know who they are; just check out their Instagram account, right? But many of us (myself included) would sooner watch one of those mushy Hallmark movies than jump in front of the camera to record a video for public consumption).
My phobias are pretty simply; I think I have a face for radio, not television. And that is exactly why I love to podcast. Under a pen name for freedom and anonymity. My podcast took me about thirty minutes to set up and Podbean costs me very little and is one of the easier dashboards to use for beginners. After four years, I am still using it, because it is fast and easy to use.
When you record podcasts, you can talk about any aspect of your writing and process. People love to see how a writer’s brain works, and the more details you share about your activities and how you work on a book, the more enthralled they will be. Also remember that podcast episodes can be imbedded as rich content (press to play) on a WordPress website. Do not forget to install a podcast link and player as a call-to-action to get more subscribers to the podcast and listeners.
When you are paying for hosting on a podcast, remember that you are also accessing an exceptionally large community of digitally fluent information or entertainment seekers. That is the profile for the average podcast listener. Part of the cost of subscribing to a podcast host includes that large audience, and the growth and advertising potential the podcast community provides.
6. Ramp Up Your Social Media
If you love being on social media and creating content like graphics and videos, you are not going to have a problem with this. If you absolutely hate being on social, try to change your mindset on it because it is one of your most valuable marketing tools.
You can get a little help from a family member or friend to post interesting content at a regular 2-3 times per week schedule. If you hire someone to manage your social media, make sure they are monitoring your account, and responding to as many fans as possible. That is what we do at Puzzle Box Horror, because we think if you made the effort, we should show our gratitude with some bilateral conversation and appreciation.
One of the things you do not want to do (no matter how tempted you are) is to buy followers. First of all, it is breaking the Terms Conditions and Limitations TOS for all social networks. Networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram are only interested in real followers, not fake accounts, or bots. It is not the quantity of the followers but the quality that matters, as you are building your literary fan base. They can’t buy your book if they are a bot!
7. Self-Publish Novellas or Short Story Collections
People want a taste of your writing, and you can only feed your fans partial excerpts on your blog so long before they want something more substantial. That is when authors will typically start releasing self-published books or print on demand softcovers for their fans. Not novels, but novellas and sometimes short story anthologies. Like Stephen’s King’s Skeleton Crew, or virtually every amazing thing written by Edgar Allan Poe.
It is exciting to earn some residual income from your writing for the first time. Think of it as a preamble to the success you may see, if you are able to get your novel published and distributed commercially. Create small fiction works, but do not share too much about your novel(s) with your fan base. It is your product and you do not want to give it away for free; nor do you want another writer ripping off your idea. And trust us, it happens!
Three Years? That is What Seth Godin Says
Seth Godin is one of the mega marketing brains on the planet and a millionaire entrepreneur and author. This is his advice for writers who want to get published commercially:
“The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.”
Three years is a long time of preparation. But you can do these important marketing activities in tandem with your writing. When you need to take a break from your novel(s), consider writing horror and paranormal short stories that you can bundle into a self-published anthology. Give away some of your self-published books to fans and use them as a promotional tool to grow your audience.
Fiverr can be a great place to get some extra help, and if you think you don’t have enough time in your schedule to post regularly on social media, and create email correspondence, a virtual assistant may be an affordable way to make sure that those promotional pieces are done consistently. Ask your social media assistant to do following activities on Instagram and Twitter, to seek out horror fans to connect with.
The end goal will be a successful website that demonstrates strong personal branding. A large following of real fans on your social networks; people who are avid engaged readers who will give you feedback. Some may even become brand advocates, by recommending your novels or horror short stories to others.
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Generation X gamer girl, marketing professional and closet horror writer. Lover of fast moving horror movies, slow moving zombies and historically based paranormal lore.