Friday, February 28, 2014

Getting Down to Business: Marketing vs. Engagement

This month columnist Donna Alward takes on a topic that's increasingly important for writers: the mystical worlds of marketing vs. reader engagement.

When I used to think about reaching readers, I used to lump everything that I did under the umbrella of promotion. It was all about promoting my book, trying to increase sales, increase visibility. I always, ALWAYS kept in mind that I was also promoting myself and not just one book, but I really just called it "Promotion".
But the last year or two I've been learning a lot about marketing, about building a readership, about promoting and reader engagement. And they really do take two very different approaches.

I do most of my promotion and marketing for current and upcoming releases. I market to readers, but I target things differently and with different tools.

Let's look, for example, at some of my plans for my upcoming St. Martin's Press title, THE HOUSE ON BLACKBERRY HILL. It's my first single title release, so I'm approaching things slightly differently than I do with my Harlequin releases. Here's the thing with category/series romance: most bookstores/retail outlets have standing orders with HQ for automatic delivery of certain lines. Some stores will special order, or order extra for a signing, for example. But most get the same lines in the same volume every month.

But BLACKBERRY HILL is different, so I'm putting a little more effort into making the title visible to booksellers and librarians - the people responsible for stocking the title for their patrons. I've placed a few ads. I'm participating in Romantic Times's BOOKSTORES THAT CARE program, which sends out promo items to their list of romance-friendly bookstores. I've also targeted several local retailers and libraries, sending them a flyer for the new book as well as some promo cards they can have on hand for their customers. I have some local media things happening in advance of release, including participating in a signing where I'll have BLACKBERRY HILL material available, and taking part in a magazine article.

On the readership side of things, I also have some blog appearances set up for release month. There are advance reviews happening. I'll be placing Facebook ads on release day. I'll also be meeting readers at the Romantic Times Booklover's Convention in New Orleans in May, signing copies of the book, and having other titles available in the Goody Room, as well as taking part in Club RT.

So as you can see, I promote my releases to both readers and booksellers, using different methods. Yes, there's overlap. Librarians and booksellers are readers too. Authors are readers. The main point is, when a new release comes out, I try to make sure that people know it and it's visible.

It can also be tricky, finding a balance between visibility and shouting "Buy My Book". Which makes me think this is a good spot to talk about reader engagement.

Reader engagement is something that is ongoing, not something that has a start and end date according to your publishing schedule. It is not "Buy My Book". The same way that twitter and Facebook are not "Buy My Book" - they are social media platforms. I FIRMLY believe in keeping social media SOCIAL. My Facebook ad will show up on your sidebar. I might boost a post that is important, so that my followers can actually SEE IT (Don't get me started on that asinine feature of FB). Yeah, I'll post a release day post, or share reviews, but I post more about other stuff. I post about my dog's attitude. About a blizzard that blew through. About trying a different wine, about writing struggles - about LIFE. I'll often ask a question of my readers, looking to start a discussion. I'll post about movies I've watched, books I've read, songs I like. There may be gratuitous hero casting pics. There might be a photo I just took with my camera. There might be Life Philosophy According to Donna. Engagement is about relationships. It's not about shoving a book in someone's face.

Reader engagement starts with being human, and treating each reader like they are special - because they are.

And yes, this is still marketing, but in a more indirect way, I think. It's kind of a sideways thing. If I build a relationship with a reader, he or she will be more apt to buy my next book. And if they like it they may post a review somewhere, or lend it to a friend or family member, or recommend it to someone else. I think it was Debbie Macomber who said she built her readership one reader at a time. That's a lovely way to think of it. Engage your readers by being authentic and genuine. Find the common ground. Let them into your world and feel a part of it. And I don't mean overshare your personal life. If you want a great example, check out the FB profiles of Jill Shalvis and Kristan Higgins. They are fantastic at keeping it real and fresh and fun and keeping their readers happy.

The great thing is, by figuring this out (not on my own, and I can credit Dan Blank's GET READ conference with a lot of info), I think I'm far more effective at building my readership AND marketing my books.

And as a shout out to Dan: you can check out his stuff at

Donna's latest titles are HER RANCHER RESCUER from Harlequin American, and FIRST RESPONDERS Vol 1 (print) from Samhain Publishing. You can get all the nitty gritty deets on her site at, or pop by her facebook page at


  1. Donna, I really like your outlook on promoting your books. I agree, as a reader, the more I get to know an author the more I enjoy the book. If for instance, they talked about a difficult part during the writing process, then I remember that while reading and see the plot in a different light. I look forward to reading your book. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Donna,
    Thank you for the kind mention, and I love how you flesh this out!

  3. Katrina - if you want a difficult part during the writing process, tune into the Chocolate Box on Monday. LOL!

  4. Dan, thanks! Get Read was such a great experience. I learned a lot.

  5. From MarcieR

    As a fan of your Harlequins, I'm excited for your Jewell Cove stories.

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  9. You got it right! If you have written a good story, it will connect with readers and you won’t have to do all the marketing work yourself. Convincing people to buy your book seems like a hard sell and sounds desperate, though of course, sometimes you have to market yourself, especially if you aren’t that established in the industry yet. It boils down to striking a balance between marketing and engaging the readers.

    Katrina Hayes

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