My author friends are buzzing this week about an article that recently appeared on DigitalBookWorld about whether author web sites are worth it.
The rather curious conclusion reached by some of the experts quoted was that most author web sites have very little value and therefore authors should spend their marketing efforts on social media.
The article quoted other experts who took exactly the opposite viewpoint—author web sites are more valuable than social media.
My own opinion is that it’s more complicated than that.
It’s true that most author web sites have very little value. But it doesn’t follow that authors should be spending their time on social media instead.
Based on my conversations with many authors, it’s clear that most of them believe they’re incompetent marketers.
Ask them. Most authors will tell you they don’t really know what they’re doing with their marketing. Most authors will tell you they can’t prove that any of their marketing actually works.
Assume they’re correct. Assume most authors are as incompetent at marketing as they think they are.
Then it follows that most of them have incompetent web sites.
But the same logic implies that most of them are incompetent at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, and any other marketing method you can name.
The problem here is that you can’t judge the value of a marketing tool by asking how well it’s used by incompetent marketers.
The better question is how good a marketing tool is in the hands of a competent marketer.
But the best question is what an author’s marketing goals should be in the first place. Until you know that, any questions of goodness or badness don’t have any meaning.
A little analogy might be helpful here.
Dogs are incompetent drivers. Therefore, a Ferrari is useless to a dog.
But it doesn’t follow that a dog should forego the Ferrari and drive a Jeep instead.
A Jeep is also useless to a dog. So is a minivan, a Yugo, and a bicycle.
The question isn’t whether any of these vehicles is useful to a dog. Dogs have no business driving any of them.
The question is which of them is most useful to you as a trained driver.
Before you can answer that, you first have to define what you mean by “useful.”
If you’re trying for raw speed, then the Ferrari is the most useful.
If you’re trying to travel over rough roads in winter, the Jeep is probably your best bet.
If you’re trying to take a bunch of kids to soccer practice, go with the minivan.
If you wanted some fun and exercise, try the bike.
Avoid the Yugo at all costs because it does nothing well.
Now how does all this apply to you as an author who wants to market your work?
That depends on your level of marketing skill. Are you a competent marketer or are you incompetent? (Your first reaction to this question is probably correct.)
If you’re an incompetent marketer, then you’re not going to do a good job with anything—a web site, Facebook, Twitter, or anything else. None of these will do you much good, so first get some training in marketing.
What if you’re a competent marketer? What’s the right marketing vehicle for you? That will depend on what your marketing goals are.
Here are my thoughts on that, and you can take them or leave them.
Generally, your customers go through three distinct phases in becoming your fan. Initially, they don’t know who you are. First, they have to become aware you exist. Second, you have to get them interested in you or your writing. Third, you have to make the sale.
Your three main marketing goals are therefore these:
- Attract people who don’t know you.
- Engage their interest so they do know you.
- Convert them to paying customers.
Any marketing strategy that focuses on only one or two of these phases is doomed to fail.
A competent marketer is somebody who can execute all three phases well.
Social media tools focus on the Attract and Engage phases. But they don’t do that well at the Convert phase.
The evidence I’ve seen tells me that there are two things that Convert very well:
- E-mail announcements of new products.
- Sales pages on web sites.
So if you’re going to be a competent marketer, you need at least a web site that collects e-mail addresses of your fans and that shows sales pages for all your books. If you’ve got that, you’ve done most of your effort for the Convert phase.
You will also need something to help you Attract and Engage your fans. You can do that with social media or with your web site or with paid ads. Your choice.
There’s one issue that you need to always keep in mind. That’s the issue of permanence.
Your author web site is the only piece of real estate on the web that you control. It’s the only one you can guarantee will always be there.
Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, and Pinterest all own the land that they let you use. They can take it away. They can change the rules. (Facebook seems to change every few weeks.) They can go out of fashion. (Have you been on MySpace lately?)
Every year, there’ll be some new social media gizmo that everybody says you should be using. Every year, there’ll be some old social media gizmo that quietly fades away. Some of these may be useful to you for a few years. Pursue them if they are. Abandon them when they lose their glitter.
But your first goal is to control your own land on the web and use it to build your tribe. That would be your web site. With a good professional e-mail list service provider.
Everything else is optional. The web site and e-mail list are not.
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 6,200 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.