Websites, Blog-sites and the All-Mighty Reader


In my first “Shameless Self-Promotion” column (“Dreams and Realities: Our Journey Begins”), I trotted out some of the fantasies our society feeds us about the life of a real novelist: the “Oprah” appearances, the mountains of royalties, the automatic elevation to the status of demigod, which cancels out any past humiliation ever endured. While this portrait of the artist is obviously absurd, if left unexamined, I believe it can, and does, undermine our efforts to promote our books successfully.

Looking back over my own education in the realities of book marketing, I realize that one extremely important part of the equation is left out of these glowing daydreams. What’s missing is the reader. Occasionally adoring hoards of fans make an appearance, but the focus is all on the celebrity status of the author. No attention is given to the individual who truly makes it all possible—a real human being who buys our book and hopefully enjoys the experience.

I know I shouldn’t make the assumption that all newly published novelists are as clueless as I was. I was so focused on the seemingly impossible task of writing a novel, getting it published, and achieving enough “success” not to be completely humiliated, that I never made the connection between sales and readers.

On the other hand, my denial of the reader’s existence as more than a tick mark in the “copies sold” column might have been an unconscious form of self-protection. Otherwise, I would have had to confront the fact that I was asking a stranger to give up many hours from his busy day to immerse himself in my fantasy. I could only justify that if I’d given him something actually worth reading in return—a mutually beneficial partnership. Creating a novel might have much in common with masturbation, but promoting it is all about partnership, or bumping uglies with your readers, if you will.

Scary as it seemed at first, getting to know my readers has been the most gratifying part of the entire process. For the most part, the people who read Amorous Woman (and contacted me afterwards) were gracious and generous. Many shared their common experiences as travelers, writers and lovers. Others gave me new insights into my own story. In the end, my connection with my readers has brought greater riches than any advance and enlightened me as to what success as a writer really means.

Yet even authors who prefer to keep a clear eye on the bottom line come to understand that connecting with readers is the main focus of any book promoter’s strategy. Marketing professionals will tell you that you must establish a profile of your target buyer to maximize results. In layman’s terms this means answering this question: Who is your ideal reader? How do you go about identifying your natural audience and reaching out to them?

Last month I talked about ways to present yourself as irresistible. This time we’re approaching it from the reader’s perspective—what sort of person is likely to be intrigued when he or she hears your pitch? Erotica writers are at somewhat of a disadvantage in that broad sections of readers, bookstores and reviewers will refuse to look at X-rated material, no matter how literary. But we do have another strong advantage is that almost everyone is interested in sex, even if they won’t admit it in public.

Every writer will have a different target audience, but as a point of departure, here is a basic outline of potential buyers.

People you know. While this may seem obvious, once you’ve published a book, many friends and acquaintances will be very interested in a peek into your filthy imagination. Resist the temptation to give away too many books—although in some cases it is the right thing to do. Your friends should understand it’s important to support the arts. Facebook and MySpace were very useful in reconnecting with old friends, and in my case, a lot of them did buy my book. Of course, if you write under a pseudonym, this market may be more limited.

Readers interested in your specific genre. I’m assuming most readers of this column write erotica, so we’ll all be looking to reach those wonderful, open-minded, fun-loving souls who appreciate well-written smut. But within this broad category lie many sub-genres that promise a more perfect union. There are review sites and prize categories specifically for GLBT themed fiction, erotic romance, vampire fiction and paranormal fiction. Always be on the lookout for readers who will be likely to celebrate and appreciate your work.

Readers interested in the specific thematic elements in your work. M. Christian discussed this extremely useful strategy in last month’s “Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker: Thinking Beyond Sex.” Erotica readers can only buy so many books, but your novel offers more than just sex scenes, right? In my case, my strong secondary market is readers with an interest in Japan in particular and foreign cultures in general. That has translated to a reading in Japanese bookstore, a future appearance on U.S.-Japan business blog, and a guest blog recommending books about Japan’s floating world that just happened to allow for a mention of my novel in the bio.

Readers interested in sex. Or in other words, nearly everyone. Yes, this is a fantasy and completely impractical in professional marketing terms, but the idea always makes me smile. World domination through erotica—a wee bit of positive self-delusion is supposed to be good for you!

Okay, you’ve identified target readers, the next step is to reach out to them. Most of the rest of my “Shameless Self-Promotion” columns this year will discuss specific ways to do exactly that.

This month, I’ll start with the basic tool every book author needs to reach readers in the age of the Internet. This is a website or blog-site, by which I mean a blog that serves the same function as a website, to provide a venue for potential readers to find out more about you and how to buy your book. Many writers already have blogs or websites before they publish a book, but the publication of a novel with your byline calls for some important revisions. Basically, you want to highlight your new book, make it sound irresistible and provide links that make purchasing one click away.

There are plenty of articles online on how to design an effective author’s website, but here are a few basic things that are a must for every book promoter.

  • If possible, make your domain name your author name or a close variant.
  • Put your new book on your home page, plus give it its own page providing Paypal, Amazon and any other “buy now” links, plus reviews, interviews, and a short excerpt or podcast. On a blog make sure to feature the cover and buy now links at the very top of the sidebar.
  • Provide a bio. This is the reader’s chance to learn more about you. I have two on my website bio page: one is short and professional and has been lifted by bookstores to introduce me at events; the other is long and chatty for nosy browsers with extra time.
  • Finally, and perhaps mostly importantly, provide a contact address so that readers can get in touch with you. If you can support a mailing list, which I can’t right now, make that option available as well.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the space or savvy to go into details of website design or the pros and cons of paying a professional versus doing it yourself. My personal situation is that I’ve brokered an agreement with a technically-minded guy who’s willing to design and update my website ( for home-made cookies and sex. It also involved bearing his children, so this deal might not be for everyone.

But here’s a strategy that is low-cost and useful for every writer: browse the websites of writers whose work you enjoy and take lots of notes. Notice where their books are reviewed and jot down the contact information as possible places to approach for yourself. Pay attention to elements that make you raise your eyebrows with curiosity or whet your appetite for more (or contrary-wise, seem busy or confusing). Use these ideas as inspiration for creating an intriguing website of your own. For a writer, every life experience is “material.” For a shameless self-promoter, it’s “research,” and you’ll want to file all of these informational goodies away in that organizational system I talked about last month [“The Irresistible You: Pitches and Bios“]!

I’d like to mention just a few erotica writer sites that I’ve found inspiring. What impressed me about all of these examples is that they radiate the author’s personality and provide extra goodies, both of which are a way of setting them apart from the crowd. To my taste, these sites combine the best of the professional with a personal touch. A professional (and expensive) job has its advantages in the marketplace, but frankly, I find them a bit arid. The slick, minimalist look is fine for businesses, but writers are creative people who are “selling” their personal sensibility.

One of Lisabet Sarai’s goals in redesigning her site was fast and simple update to keep up with her new publications—which are indeed nicely covered in a “News” section and “Books” page listing single author books with links to pages for anthologies and her backlist. (See the full interview at ERWA’s blog with many useful tips). She also mentioned that she wanted to give readers a sense of who she was, and I think she succeeds wonderfully not only in her classic bio but in the additional list of her favorite authors, music, film and places. Another feature that keeps me coming back is her list of articles of interest to writers ranging from tips for crafting synopses to HTML 101.

Susan DiPlacido’s Neon Fiction website immediately draws you in to the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, which is the setting for much of her work. Susan’s prose is down-to-earth and cool as it comes and you get a real sense of her voice from the site. The book pages for each of her novels are a great place to study up on the art of the tantalizing pitch I discussed above, as well as get tips on how to organize excerpts, reviews and buying information. I also like that she provides Paypal links for buyers who live overseas. Her “Random Shit” page is hilarious and comes with recipes as well. Susan told me that she designed her site around her own interests, which dovetail with the themes of her work. Her passion shows!

Although Jeremy Edwards will be starting up his own website in conjunction with the publication of his new novel this year, I’ve always been impressed with the way he so effectively promotes his abundant short fiction publications through his blog. For those who are more technically-challenged, such as myself, Jeremy’s use of the sidebar of his blog is very instructive, providing a brief bio and author blurbs, a sign-up for his email newsletter, websites and books that feature his work and links to radio and other interviews, and basically all the essentials necessary for promotion. Best of all, his light, witty style is evident in every line. I have no doubt I’d be taking this route without my current technical advisor-in-residence. Not that this is Jeremy’s reason for the blog-site over the website—he told me that until now the blog has simply answered all of his promotional needs without all the hassle of establishing a site. Certainly for a first-time novelist, a blog-site is more than adequate if your budget is limited.

Next month, I’ll talk about another basic tool that will help put your best face forward as you promote your book—your author’s “press kit.” I found this package of information about me and my book useful to have in both the traditional paper and email versions. I’ll also discuss strategies for getting blurbs and reviews and the uses of press releases and sell sheets. Until then, here are two more Shameless Self-Promotion Points to work on for your special badge at the end of this year.

Happy Promoting!

Shameless Self-Promotion Points for April

ONE: Identify your target audience and brainstorm potential readers beyond the obvious.

TWO: Set up a website or blog-site or evaluate the design of your existing ones. Do they serve your goal to promote your book and give potential readers an idea of why you and your book are irresistible?

Donna George Storey
April 2009

“Shameless Self-Promotion” © 2009 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written.

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