Ask any author about marketing their books, and you'll probably hear about newsletters, Facebook ads and reviewer sites. What many authors miss is the valuable promotional power that can come from a smartly-created personal network. It's far from instantaneous and it's a very long-tail strategy, but if you're in this business as a career, you're probably planning for years instead of months, anyway. Creating a personal network is a project that can go on your daily schedule in small bites, but can reap huge rewards months and years down the line. And once it's in place and you keep paying attention to it, the power of the personal network will continue to grow.
How Personal Networks Sell Books
Selling books is a retail profession; you sell one book at a time to one reader at a time, for the most part. By creating a personal network that's emotionally invested in your career, you'll be creating a large number of people who will sell those same books one at a time. It's the same personalized service but multiplied by dozens or hundreds.
As a bonus, your books will sell better when recommended by members of your network. People tend to buy things recommended by people they trust. No one wants to waste their money, so if someone they know says that your book is good, they're more likely to buy it and try out your stories. Instead of one stranger (you) trying to sell your books, you'll create a virtual army of connected friends recommending your work to their friends.
Creating a Personal Network
Much like a business network, a personal one is built slowly, piece by piece. Begin by figuring out the type of person who reads your books. Who is your ideal reader? What are they interested in? What bestselling authors are their favorites? Start by hanging out in the same places online that these readers do. If you write nonfiction, this is a simple task. It's a little harder for fiction writers, but their potential network pool is much larger. Follow genre groups on Facebook and see which members like the same type of books that you write. Once you find two or three, become a regular member in each one.
Never go into one of these groups with the idea of selling your books. Today's sales market is sometimes known as a "relationship economy," meaning that it's more important to get to know people first before trying to sell them anything. Go in with the idea that you want to make friends and have conversations about your similar interests. Start out in all the groups with a giver's mentality. Recommend other books in your genre to people looking for a good read. Participate in fun group activities. Give opinions when asked, and always join in entertaining conversations. The idea is to become a well-known member of the group.
Build up some social capital before asking anything from group members. Once you're known by name to a good variety of the members, it can be the time to start talking about your books. Begin with small requests, like asking for opinions about naming a character or book cover choices. This will generate curiosity about your books but in a natural and non-pushy way. These readers will ask you about your books, not the other way around. After you've reached this point, you can talk with group members about joining your street team, becoming beta readers, and any number of other promotions activities you can think to use them for.
Keep Faith and may the Force be with You!