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Friday, May 23, 2008

Killer Campaigns: Websites

I'm starting this series out with the monster of all marketing vehicles: websites. There's a lot of ground to cover when it comes to websites. I will leave out all the details of design and navigation for a different post and concentrate on "audience reach".

Despite all the great sites I see out there (and that includes blogs). I think people by and large will plop in great chunks of material without any thought as to who this is going to appeal to.

I might have some dissenters out there, so be aware that I'm writing this from my perspective alone. It's one I learned when I started tracking which parts of my sites people were visiting.

The biggest mistakes I see are websites or blogs that are geared for both writers and readers at the same time with the same material. You are mixing two different audiences.

Some of you might know this about me already, but I am a great watcher for patterns and social movement. I get this information from watching what people pick up at bookstores, what they read at airports, coffee shops, on work breaks and in doctors' waiting rooms. I am a rabid garage sale hound and can tell what kind of books people like by seeing what they sell. I chat with readers wherever I find them and ask what they like to read and why. The clues are out there.

And here's one more bit of information. Most of the people I watch are not writers. They are business people, factory workers, teachers, soccer moms, old people, teenagers and college kids. They are the average Joe or Jane going to work and/or raising babies and reading for a little distraction and entertainment. They are the people who buy voraciously to feed their reading addiction; in short, your target audience.

As writers, we are enmeshed inside our writer communities, further segregated by genre, style and voice. So often we don't have a clue on what the average person outside our "writing ghetto" likes to read and where the reading pendulum of interest is swinging.

This is what editors, agents and publishers are paid to predict. It's a talent we should hone too.

I was supposed to modify my website before Touch Of Fire came out, but…well this eye thing came up and I didn't expect to be so incapacitated. Silly me, I really thought it would be a quick turnkey job. Duh!

The plan is to refocus my website strictly for readers. That means no writer tips, market news, and links of interest to writers. It means excerpts, contests, and links of general interest to the public at large.

A website doesn't have to be updated daily, but it should change enough that people will come back to see what's new. This is especially important when you have books coming out.

The average writer can take a hint from the behemoths in the industry. Check out JK Rowling and Dan Brown. Notice how there is nothing there for the writer. It's all about the reader. Make that your mantra. Don't worry about pleasing your peers. Think about pleasing your fans and potential fans.

One thing I've noticed in nearly every writing workshop I've attended is that people fall into the mistaken belief that if their little group of crit partners love their work, they're obviously ready for primetime.

I will say this again. The only opinion that matters is the one belonging to the person that offers you a contract. Your friends love you and they will sometimes say nice things to make you feel warm and mushy. On top of that, they're all writers. For example, if you write SF, what kind of response will you get from the man on the street who's been reading SF since he was 12? Your writing friends are analyzing meter and characterization. The diehard SF fan is looking to live your dream. He's your audience.

Same way with the website. Focus on the strangers, the man or woman on the street, who will buy your books. Our peers, other writers will always rally to each other, but how many books will that sell? Even if you had two hundred loyal-to-the-death internet friends and each one bought a book, you've sold two hundred books. The real reading public is still out there and you haven't done anything for them. Think in terms of thousands, not hundreds. The former is what will lead to a new contract.

Wow, this really turned out to be a bigger post than I expected, so I will end here. Next week, we will continue with what kind of website elements appeal to the reading public.

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