Been reading Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s guidebook for nonprofits adjusting to social media, The Networked Nonprofit. Most of the book discusses how to engage in social media as an official organization, when you have employees and schedules and rules. However, there’s one big concept in there which I’d say those using online media need to remember as much as those working mainly offline: social capital.
Social capital involves people becoming inspired to take action because people close to them are. Or, networking by using the resources available among their closest circle of family, friends and coworkers. For example, an unemployed person can draw upon social capital by asking the people they know who are working in their field if they know of any openings. Or, an organization or author can reach out to those they’re already close to or working with in some way for donations and sales.
If you received an email asking for contributions to an animal shelter, you’d probably pay more attention if it came from a friend or family member. Or, if you had money to donate at the end of the month, you’d likely first consider the organizations where you already volunteered or that had served you or those you knew in the past. A nonprofit fundraising seminar I attended a couple years back said that organizations often raised more cash by asking those already on their other mailing lists, who participated with them by volunteering, using services, etc to give than by just going after the wealthiest people to whom they had access.
That’s social capital in action, with the organizations building a relationship with you and those close to you and drawing upon it as a resource to help meet their clients’ needs. And authors can use their social capital to reach out to potential readers.
Rather than targeting random people with information about your book, start with those you already know. And get to know those you ‘sort of know’ better, in a real way that involves helping them and isn’t just about you.
An author is like a nonprofit or company, in that they and their books/products have a concept or basic idea (like a company or nonprofit mission), a style (like a brand), a new idea or need to fill (market niche) and readers, critics, bookstore owners (customers and clients) to serve. And an author, like a nonprofit or company manager, must communicate effectively (or hire someone who does) and stay relevant and financially sustainable in order to keep operating.
For those of you who say you write for the craft and don’t care about audience preferences…that’s fine also, publicity doesn’t have to involve watering down your craft, any more than it would for a high-end custom furniture craftsperson. It’s just a matter of letting the right people, who would appreciate and invest in your writing, know you exist, and developing continuing, mutual relationships with them.
And most authors can build upon social capital in a few ways.
In terms of offline relationships, don’t be afraid to let those closest to you know about your book and where to buy it. Don’t become a one-note monotone and overwhelm them, but don’t ignore them just because they’re your cousin, sister, brother, neighbor, friend, coworker, frisbee or dance team member, etc. Sometimes we try so hard to build a relevant audience, which is good and necessary, but we forget about those we already know. And I’m not saying make them feel they have to buy your book because they know you…just let them know it’s available and don’t assume they won’t.
For online relationships - many people have hundreds of ‘likes’ and fans, followers and Facebook friends. That’s great, but are you investing in those relationships? Do you update your pages and groups with new information at least once a week? That doesn’t have to mean writing a whole other novel online. Just a few helpful or funny links, a guest post from an author in your genre you admire, or a quiz, or a link to a relevant news article or information that would help your readers.
And, are you reaching out to people? Do you comment on other authors’ pages and like and share their work? Readers have room for many favorite authors in their chosen genres, and cross-promotion’s good for authors, to keep up morale in a solitary sport and help each other get noticed. Do you find the groups and pages where your potential readers belong, and engage them in discussion and answer their questions?
If you write fiction, start fun reminiscences about people’s childhood favorite books, or start discussions about the situations your characters face. If you write nonfiction, provide informational links about the topics of your books, and answer people’s questions. Don’t be squeamish about giving free advice, it lets people know you genuinely care about them and your topic, and gives a hint of what’s to come in your book. If you’re a poet, post a few sample poems and spotlight the writing of other poets you admire, and encourage your audience to write and share poetry of their own.
Looking forward to seeing how you build your own social capital! If you’d like help with this process, someone to handle a lot of the work and provide advice, please feel free to visit Authors, Large and Small online here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/authors-large-and-small