PR Strategies for New Audiences and Regular Readership
In this edition of the Interview Series, the topic of discussion is expansion. Some of the areas you've seen touched upon before here and elsewhere such as the 'elevator pitch', the role of the author expanding to social/marketing spheres and personal appearance as part of your brand and author strategies to involve their audiences such as with the marketing techniques discussed in the recent H.P. Mallory interview in The Write Place At the Write Time. However, what follows is a different take on these concepts that goes also into new territory with user-friendly strategies and tips that writers at any stage of their career can utilize.
Regarding p.r., and keeping up with contacts, what are some of your recommended strategies for branching out into new audiences and increasing regular readership?
Many of us became writers not only because we cannot deny our drive and love the process but also because we love the introverted life. But to have our writing read, recognized, and (ideally) praised, we must embrace at least in part of the life of an extrovert.
This prospect may sound uncomfortable, distasteful, or migraine-popping. What does it really mean? To enlarge our view of ourselves so a public relations mentality sits easily beside to our creative genius. To master some of the skills of the outgoing, even to what our inside selves consider brazen in approaching others. To let them know about our work with confidence (feigned as it may be).
So accept the need for p.r. and give it your best. The success of your work depends on it. You’ll stretch yourself, conquer a few fears, and maybe surprise yourself by almost getting to like the promotion process.
BRANCHING OUT TO NEW AUDIENCES
Our audience is not only readers we may never meet but also editors, writing colleagues, friends, business contacts, salespeople, service people, anyone you have interaction with. New audiences can also be cultivated by some steps you may not have read about or thought of. Here are some.
Building on suggestions in my previous post, cultivate the editors you write for. As the relationship develops, they may ask you to write on certain topics you hadn’t considered. You never know what great places these can lead to.
When I submitted a personal essay to a writer’s magazine, the editor gently rejected it but mentioned the credit I’d included of my published children’s book of dinosaur riddles. She asked me to write a piece (on spec) about writing nonfiction for young people. Thrilled, I did.
By the time I submitted the piece, editors had changed. The new one rejected the piece, but I kept sending it out (you know about this). Much later, this piece was published, and then republished. In fact, years later, after another massive editorial change, the first magazine—sweetest of the sweet—accepted and published this piece.
Another way to branch out is to identify subjects you’d like to write about other than those you love and/or have an aptitude for. I started with writers’ craft pieces and, as my interest in spirituality grew, began to write pieces in this mode—different market, different audience. A writer friend does children’s nonfiction. She’s a serious runner too and belongs to a marathon training group. When a member suggested she write about the group (how to form one, tips for success, mutual support and socializing), she did several essays. Now she publishes in new markets for new audiences interested in running, athletics, health, and fitness magazines. Audience enlarged.
Write your own letters to editors praising articles and columns in the magazines or newsletters you publish in. Mention the piece you published in your letter or add it below your name. Readers who missed your article may look it up and write you.
Other responses are possible too. I once wrote to the editor about a column that moved me in a writer’s magazine I’d published in. Surprised, I saw my letter in the “Readers’ Feedback” feature two issues later. The author later wrote me, and we became virtual writing colleagues and continue to exchange leads and referrals. Audience enlarged.
OK, you have already. But now, other than seeing your name showered all over the Internet, there’s another reason. Sign up for Google Alerts. Type “Google Alert” into your search box and follow the prompts. You can sign up for as many of these as you wish, for example with your name, titles of your works, specific subjects you’re interested in, and other authors.
As the Alerts fill your email box, you may find that bloggers and columnists have mentioned your work or have said something especially provocative on a subject you’re passionate about. Write directly to them, thank them, comment, and offer to write a guest blog or answer questions.
Read blogs that interest you (not all morning). Write to the blogger, point out what you especially like, give a mini-commercial for yourself, and offer to write an opinion piece or give an interview. I’ve made some wonderful online friends this way, and we exchange writing “favors” (endorsements, guest appearances, publishing leads). Audience enlarged.
Acquaint yourself with the ever-proliferating literature on widening your audience. The free Writer’s Digest newsletters regularly have links to blogs on many aspects of writing and self-publicity by staff members and associates. An excellent one is Jane Friedman’s There Are No Rules (http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/ ).
More than once, I’ve been unable to resist making pdfs of Friedman’s columns, those of her guests, or those she appears on as a guest herself for current or later use. From such newsletters and blogs, you can glean a tremendous amount of information and ideas about what other writers are doing to attract, increase, and entice their audiences. Think about how you can use or adapt the ideas for your own purposes and goals.
INCREASING REGULAR READERSHIP
All of the suggestions above will increase your readership, directly or indirectly. Here are a few more.
Keep in Touch
There’s no substitute. A newsletter of your own is one great way. Several writers I know send out newsletters, but they do more than hawk their works or services. The best combination is to include something helpful to readers—an inspirational quote, several leads on new markets, a great writing blog, two tips on taking breaks—and then trumpet yourself, your books, your ebooks, your youtubes, your signings, your services, your special offer of writers’ t-shirts emblazoned with a catchy slogan (“Writers do it in drafts”).
Ask for Help
Readers love to contribute. A novelist holds contests among readers for the next title of his book in a multi-volume series. He sends out periodic emails about the contest entries, voting progress, top choices, narrowed five, final winner, and prizes. Another writer asks readers for experiences or case studies for her current project. Another offers a free ebook with purchase of his new collection of poems.
In any communication with your regular readers, invite them to share your mailings with other writers. We all have writing friends, and the more helpful you find a communication, the more likely you’ll want to share it with your friends . . . increasing readership.
Get Out There
Resolve to talk about yourself in person (shudder).
Your Elevator Pitch. Write and rehearse an elevator pitch. Why do you need it? You know—in a casual conversation on the Starbucks or supermarket line, after you’ve announced you’re a writer, the next question is always “And what do you write?”
Instead of stammering and wanting to sink through the floor, whip out your elevator pitch. This is a sentence or two that summarizes your current project and, incidentally and preferably, piques the listener’s interest. For example:
“In my new self-help manual, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams, I use examples from my academic consulting practice and other aspects of life, applying what I call practical spirituality to help readers let go of regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings, whatever their age, circumstances, or the state of their waistline.”
“I’m finishing my third novel in the Clara Bottomsley mystery series. In Something’s Knotty in the Crochet Basket, Clara helps a friend who’s become unraveled solve the murder of her husband by following the clues in the directions for a baby romper.”
“I’m writing a collection of interview essays on the road trips of disillusioned wives—the real reasons they jumped in the car and gunned it, never looking back, their one-night stands and chocolate orgies at truck stops, bonding with cheap motel maids, and keeping exact track of the mileage on every tank of gas. One of my essays is coming out next week in Christian Women’s Monthly.”
Now—try one of your own. Memorize it and rehearse it out loud. Or keep it on a scrap of paper in your wallet or tattoo it on your wrist.
Your Personal Appearance. Speak in public (shudder again). Everyone loves, and is slightly in awe of, an author, and many opportunities are available, before, during, and after you publish. Research places that will welcome your subjects and genres, such as local churches, synagogues, schools, Y’s, libraries, writers’ clubs, writers’ groups, radio stations, bookstores (what are these?).
Targeting children’s books, I wrote two pieces on the many choices we all have to extend our p.r. “Put On Your Publicist’s Hat” appeared in The Writer (June 2008), and a longer version, “Let Them See Your Title: Publicizing Your Children’s Book,” came out in Writing World (September 2010; http://www.writing-world.com/promotion/sterne). Whatever the age groups were aiming at and our genres, the suggestions and principles in these articles apply to all of us.
A Not-Quite-Final Word
As you see, p.r. for expanding audiences and readers is a tremendously expansive subject. It swells daily, especially as online resources multiply and connected devices threaten to engulf our lives. Many more ideas, for example appear in Christina Katz’s excellent and sane article, “50 Simple Ways to Build Your Platform in 5 Minutes a Day,” Writer’s Digest (March/April 2011).
Swallow today’s fact that as a writer you do need a platform, and you can choose its planks. Gather information, make files, clip articles, take notes, and accept the writer’s reality that we are our own p.r. agents. Then, take a breath, realize it all doesn’t have to be done at once, or even this month, and choose one to three things to do daily or weekly.
Trust your intuition and follow the leads. After a while, some of the activities will become quite natural (like reeling off your elevator pitch to the plumber—who knew he was a closet crocheter?). You’ll keep finding and creating ways to branch out into new audiences and increase your readership. And you may even get to enjoy it.
© 2011 Noelle Sterne
Bio: Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 250 articles, essays, stories, and poems in print and online venues, including The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Writers’ Journal, 11.11, Soulful Living, and Unity Magazine. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has helped doctoral candidates complete their dissertations (finally). In her new book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books), she uses “practical spirituality” and examples from her consulting practice and other aspects of life to help readers let go of regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. An essay on her own recognition and reframing of the past appears in The Moment I Knew: Reflections from Women on Life's Defining Moments (Sugati Publications, August 2011). Visit Noelle’s website at www.trustyourlifenow.com