As a writing coach and avid user of social media, one of the most heartbreaking things I see is when an author puts a ton of effort into writing, editing, polishing, and finally publishing a book—only to see it fail to gain traction in the marketplace. Often this comes down to a marketing misstep that’s all too common: failing to understand (and therefore reach) one’s ideal book audience.
I’ve posted about how to find your book’s ideal audience before, so I won’t wander down the same trail. Instead, I want to look at another piece of the marketing map that can greatly improve your success rate with reaching your audience: influencers.
What Is an Influencer?
Influencers are the people who are already doing a great job of connecting with your ideal audience, because it is their audience too. They have a good reputation, are visible, and they interact with your potential readers every day. Hmmm, sounds like people we should get to know, right? Exactly!
Influencers are not one-size-fits-all. Each author will have different ones depending on the audience they are trying to reach. However, one common ingredient with any influencer is that they are worthy of our admiration for the trust and respect they’ve earned with their audience. And admiration is a key ingredient of any healthy relationship—but I’ll get back to that in a minute.
Influencers for a fiction author might be:
popular authors who write very similar books
bloggers who are passionate about a topic or theme that ties into the author’s book
well-regarded book reviewers
organizers of literacy or book programs and events
teachers and instructors
groups and organizations that cover the same specific interest featured in the author’s book
celebrities (hey, it can’t hurt, right?)
businesses that cater to the same audience as the author’s in some way
forums and websites dedicated to the same topic/event/theme explored in the author’s book
well-connected individuals (who endorse the book or author to other influential people)
people who are passionate about a particular topic/theme (that ties into the author’s book)
fans of the author and her work (if the author is established)
And that’s just the start!
Because influencers are recognized and have clout with your shared audience, they can really help you reach your readers. Not only that, but they are a living, breathing example of how to connect with your audience the right way. There is much to be learned by examining how an influencer engages with others online. In fact, if you want to see an example, check out this post by Author Accelerator’s Jennie Nash, who wrote about shadowing me online. (I had no idea, so this was eye-opening for me as well.)
When you determine who an influencer is, it isn’t just a matter of you asking them to help you. People are generally busy, and whoever you’re approaching likely works very hard if they hold a position of influence. They may already have a lot on their plate.
This might sound like a closed door, but it isn’t. It just means that, as in most things, there’s no marketing shortcut, and honestly there shouldn’t be, because we’re talking about creating a relationship with someone. Relationships, to work, need to come from a place of sincerity. Healthy ones are balanced, with each party giving and receiving.
How to Reach Out to an Influencer
When you’re seeking to engage with an influencer, your heart needs to be in the right place, so choose carefully. Get to know this person. Admire their work. Because if you truly appreciate what they do, you will naturally want to help them further succeed. And while of course you hope they’ll return the favor, that’s not your endgame. Creating a relationship is.
Sometimes an influencer will already know you. Maybe you are in the same circles, and have a friendly connection. In that case, it’s really just about you making it a priority to actively show you care. This can be done by trying to boost their visibility however you can (tweeting, mentioning, sharing links to their work, talking about them and their work online, recommending them, etc.), and lending a hand here and there because you want to. Think about what they need to better reach their audience, and then proactively help them do it. Tag them online. The relationship should naturally grow because they will see what you’re doing and will want to do the same for you in return. Helping each other out leads to collaboration, and with a shared audience, this becomes a win-win for both of you.
If you don’t yet have a relationship with an influencer, the first step is getting on their radar. To do this, think about what your strengths are, and what you can give. Put yourself in their shoes: what would you like help with in their position? If they are an author, a business owner, or an organization, visibility is usually welcome. So, how can you give them a shout out and help your shared audience find them? Can you blog about them, or recommend them in some way? Or what about sending a personal note to let them know you admire their work and what they do for others, and that you’d like to help if they ever need it?
If it’s a librarian, a teacher, or a nonprofit group, maybe there’s some way you can use your skills to help them. Can you volunteer your time? Show that you appreciate what they are doing, be it promoting literacy or an interest you share (because it will tie into your books, remember)? Perhaps you noticed they mentioned in a blog post that they wanted to know more about something and so you do a bit of research and send along a few interesting links their way. In all things, seek to provide value.
Generally speaking, when you consistently help someone or show interest in what they do (influencer or not), they will notice and appreciate it. A relationship naturally forms—they will want to know more about you. That’s your goal: to create a friendship that feels natural and authentic, and to have the type of connection where either of you can help, ask for advice, brainstorm ideas, and possibly collaborate with in ways that can help you both. In this way, you both grow and benefit.
Remember Anyone Can Be an Influencer
Are you cultivating strong relationships with the people you interact with day to day? I hope so! It’s just as important as seeking someone “established.” After all, a writer who asked you to look over their query letter might end up selling a five-book mega-deal a year from now. Or be affiliated with an organization looking for a speaker or visiting author. Maybe that blogger you contacted as a source of knowledge on a certain topic may become a huge fan of your work and want to help the world discover you.
Bottom line, wouldn’t you just love it if one day someone came to you and offered to put your name forward because they liked and admired you? So, adopt the mindset of a giver. Ask yourself what value you can add, what you can do for others. If you can help, do, because you never know when it will come back to you tenfold. (This is coming from someone who knows this firsthand!)
How Do You Find Your Influencers?
Determine who your exact audience is. Then, pay attention to the movers and shakers who interact with this group. These might be authors, businesses, special interest groups, forums, bloggers, and other individuals that produce content or a product that ties into the same topic, interest, theme, or element that you have written about.
To help with this, I put together something I call the Influencer Hot Sheet. This will show you what to look for to find your exact audience influencers, how to break down what they do online that helps them be successful (so you can do the same), and finally, ideas on how to build a relationship with them.