Marketing has changed over the last fifteen years; moving from Big Brand awareness to Influencer product representation. It's less important now that a pair of shoes are Nike's, than that the pair of shoes American figure skating champion (and purported all-round good guy who might actually, in reality, be pretty darn perfect) Nathan Chen wears are Nikes. It's that association that now drives a shopper to the Nike Store—not the allure of Nike shoes themselves.
What this means for you, the author, is that it's a lot harder to sell your books and stay anonymous. Nowadays, readers want to see your face, watch you dance a silly TikTok video, or reveal all your dirty secrets...
Just kidding. Sort of.
When an author hears they need to sell themselves in order to sell books, they picture themselves practically reciting their social security number, home address and shoe size, which is terrifying for even the most extraverted of authors—and let's face it, authors are practically the poster children for introverts.
But it really doesn't have to be scary. And you really don't need to reveal anything you aren't comfortable with sharing. I promise.
An authentic brand is one that decides to be transparent and consistent in its messaging and branding initiatives. It has business values it remains true to, and most essentially, it is honest. - Michael Georgiou, Forbes.com
Let me walk you through a few basic exercises that can take you a long way toward building comradery between you and your readers that feels genuine to your readers and comfortable to you.
1. Take an Inventory of Your Self
Make a list of everything that interests you, that you feel knowledgeable about, and that you'd be comfortable talking about. This list will be a "living" document, one that grows and changes right alongside you.
Examples from my list include:
Tips on how to have a good marriage
2. Take an Inventory of Your Emotions
Using general emotional guidelines, like happy, angry, sad, hopeful, etc., list what events or situations make you feel.
Examples from my own list:
Being outside, particularly in the wild, brings me joy
Injustice makes me angry—talking, instead of doing, makes me frustrated
I think hope is the greatest gift one can have
3. What Theme Carries Through All Your Books?
Unless you've already thought about this, it might take you beat to find the answer to this question. You might think, "I write adult horror and YA contemporary romance—they have totally different themes." And...you might be right. But try the exercise anyway, In my experience, with myself and my clients, I've found most of us tend to write the same theme or message into our books, they just might be easier or harder to find depending on the genre.
You may need to spend some time on this, as some of it might be hidden from your conscious mind. Ask your readers how your books make them feel, what messages they perceive, or how they would describe your books—that might help you find some clarity for yourself. You also might discover more than one theme, but it's likely that the themes are complimentary, if not just different expressions of the same thing.
I found that the basic theme of "families are made of the people you choose," lived in all my books, from the middle grades to the adults, science fiction and contemporary. Some of my books gave up their themes pretty easily, but for others, I had to do a lot of pondering to come around to it.
4. Your Theme Revealed in Your Life
There's a reason you write the theme(s) you do. Depending on their intensity, this particular exercise might be difficult, so take your time with it. Ask yourself all those famous questions: who, what, where, and why. When you know the answers...you guessed it, write it down.
For me, I am estranged from my birth family, but I have found my own family in the people who choose to love me because of who I am, not who I was born to. And what did I say my theme usually is? (hint: the found family) You get the picture.
5. Judge Your Comfort Level
You've created a pretty comprehensive list of what makes you you. What you've also done is found a billion things you can talk about and half-a-billion ways those things relate to the stories you write.
Decide now where your line is—the line between what will remain private and what you're willing to share of yourself. There is never a need to share more than you are comfortable with. Let that truth sink in. Regardless of what you see other authors doing—you do you and that will absolutely be enough.
6. Putting it All Together
You now have a comprehensive list of personal topics and a shining thread (your books' theme) with which to sew it all together.
Those brand sponsorships I spoke of earlier? Pay attention to them when you see them on TV, Instagram, or wherever. What you'll find are stories, that happen to recommend the brand. And guess what? That's all social marketing is—storytelling. We're authors—we should excel at storytelling! The trick is, that in this particular "genre", we are the main characters.
Banish your fears for good because now you're armed with the seeds for limitless personal stories.
Here's an example from Nathan Chen's Nike promotions:
Nothing at all is said in this example except the text at the end, "Nathan Chen is the best of U.S.". We don't need the words, though, because we can see it. We can feel it.
Nathan Chen, a young man with a desire to skate competitively, practices at the local rink. Hockey players come and go, but Nathan refuses to let them get to him. He knows what he wants, and even though it might sometimes be a lonely a journey, he shows up—over and over again—and tries. Finally, his moment to perform arrives. Everything he's done culminates in that one singular moment, and the whole world—including those hockey players—can see that his efforts have not been wasted. He does his very best; he is the best. The best of the United States.
See how that story is all about Nathan, all about his passion, his commitment, and not at all about Nike? Think of your own stories and how they have value in and of themselves while planting seeds. When you tell them about your book, it will feel like a natural next step—for both your reader and yourself.
Honestly, authentic, person-centric social marketing is enjoyable because once you get the hang of it, it's fun, interesting and engaging. You rarely feel like a salesman, or like you're pimping out your work; rather your work becomes a natural extension of your self, just as your self is a natural foundation for your work.
And there you have it, folks! The mystery of how to market authentically has been revealed. Now that you know it, what do you think? Does it seem easy? Is it still scary? Have you already been marketing in this way? If so, how's it been going for you?
Leave a note in the comments—I'd love to discuss this with you!