Melissa McPhail is a classically trained pianist, violinist and composer, a Vinyasa yoga instructor, and an avid Fantasy reader. Melissa’s first two novels in her fantasy series A Pattern of Shadow and Light were finalists in ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year contest. The third book in the series, Paths of Alir, received the IndieFab Silver Medal for Fantasy Book of the Year. Melissa was keen to offer some advice on effective marketing strategies for Inkitt writers who are keen on growing their readership on Inkitt.
With the StoryPeak Novel Contest in full swing, THREE writers will be offered a publishing deal with Inkitt. Submissions are open worldwide in the hope of finding three bestsellers!
Let’s see what Melissa had to say.
1. How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing seriously (and seriously to me means at least a couple of hours every day and many more on the weekends) for about twenty years. I’ve been working seriously on my fantasy series A Pattern of Shadow & Light since 2005. The first book in the series, Cephrael’s Hand, released in 2010. Since then I’ve published books two and three in the series, with the fourth book releasing this October. As my editor likes to point out, if I didn’t write such long books (each one averages 300,000 words), I could have eight books in print by now!
2. How did you start marketing your books? What did you do first?
2010 was a different environment than today’s market. The indie publishing movement was just taking off. Amazon was riding the tumbling edge of the wave with the rest of us (now they’re far ahead), and the market was evolving at a rapid pace. The bright ideas that worked in 2010 look lackluster today.
The most important thing to know is that books don’t sell themselves, and in the vast majority of cases, the publishers don’t sell them either. Those front-of-the-store displays are reserved for the 2% A-list authors. If you want your book to sell, you’re going to have to market it. You will have to do your research and find out the correct audience for your book. Then you’ll have to research further to find out where those people live (do they spend their time on Facebook, instagram, Pinterest?) and market to them where they’re most likely to engage and interact. But no matter what channels you choose, your first step is to pinpoint and get to know your audience-the ones who are going to love your book.
3. With a large online fan-base, what are some of the ways in which you have successfully grown your readership?
Facebook has been my best advertising investment. It’s allowed me to interact with readers as well as potential readers by way of comments on the ads. As my readership has grown, I’ve also grown a large number of likes to my Facebook page. These aren’t “purchased” likes but people who honestly want to engage with me. This helps maintain an active community around my book’s Facebook page.
I have a policy of personally answering every single comment, whether it’s a comment on an ad or on my page, an email, a mention. If someone takes the time to comment, I want to acknowledge and thank them. The very fact that I take the time to personally interact has resulted in hundreds of sales. How do I know? Because my newest readers have told me they purchased the book simply because they respected my level of interaction.
4. How important is having an author/reader community?
Having any community is valuable whether’s its a readership of ten or ten thousand–so long as they’re honest fans of your work. It helps in no way to inflate social numbers with purchased likes. It’s the engagement and interaction–the devotion–that you need.
Could you talk more about marketing your books on Facebook, for example FB Ads and how to use them, what has worked and what hasn’t?
Facebook allows you to tailor your ads to many specific interests and demographics. It’s an incredible marketing tool, providing you have a general understanding of your potential audience. Facebook offers a robust targeting platform that allows you to test different ads and drill down to the most successful ad elements and audience. It’s worth looking into even if you only have $10 a week to spend. Their help desk is also very accessible, and they offer one-on-one assistance to small advertisers willing to devote at least $50 a month to advertising.
I cannot stress enough the importance of interaction. If you’re going to use any social media as your advertising platform, you’ve got to be willing to engage.
5. What is your experience of Twitter? What works? What doesn’t?
I would not use Twitter as a marketing channel, but it’s a valuable channel for learning and absolutely essential to drive traffic to your blog. You’re going to want to have a blog even if you think you don’t. Even if you have no idea what to blog about. You need to have a visible web presence so people can easily find you, and a blog is a great way to attract future readers. As your readership grows, your readers are going to want to engage with you and ask questions about your work. If you start your blog before your first book launches, it will become a valuable platform for marketing and will be nicely established by the time your books really start selling.
6. Do you use any other social media?
I’m active every day on Facebook and Twitter. I also have Pinterest boards for my books, a Goodreads Author page, Google+ (which I visit sparingly) and will be starting a YouTube channel with the launch of my fourth book.
7. How do you know who your readers are? How important is targeting the right market?
As mentioned above, this is a vital first step. Any time spent isolating the correct market for your work is going to pay off tenfold in the end.