Book marketing is a chicken and egg situation: To sell books, you need readers, but to get readers, you need to sell books.
Where exactly do you begin? How do you approach such a daunting task in a competitive environment? If you follow typical strategies, you and your book will get lost in the crowd.
Over the last few years, a neat solution has cropped up, and it’s gaining steam. Often referred to as an “insider group” or “private beta group,” it’s a powerful tool that has worked for authors in a variety of genres, from action writer Bob Mayer to startup-funding, nonfiction author Mike Belsito.
Initially, marketing your book to a small group can appear counterintuitive. Some authors may worry that focusing on merely a few readers is not a good use of time. But it works. Here’s why, and how to start your own group.
What is an insider group?
The idea is a simple one. As an author, you build a tight-knit group of special readers who like your work and use them as evangelists to help with your marketing. They help you spread the word much further than you could on your own.
For example, Bob has sold more than 4 million books and has thousands of readers. And yet he knows the power of an insider group, and keeps a small private Facebook group of about 30 avid fans of his writing. (You can hear Bob talk about his insider group here.)
Mike revealed a very similar idea in another interview, explaining how he used a few individuals to evangelize about his book when it launched. Mike’s book reached number one in its category on Amazon, and his “insider group” was a significant contributor to this success.
Mike and Bob write in completely different genres. The fact that insider groups worked for both of them hints at the enormous potential and flexibility of this idea.
Why you should work with a small group of readers
It’s not hard to imagine how beneficial a small pool of dedicated individuals can be. Why keep it small, though, if you have more fans “knocking at the door” and wanting to join your group? Here are a few reasons:
It focuses your marketing
The process of creating an insider group will force you to think about the type of reader you are appealing to. By focusing on and engaging with a few fans, you’ll be able to “put a face” to a snapshot of your readers.
The revelation of this key group’s identity will guide your marketing efforts and demystify the question of who you’re writing for — helping you reach them more effectively. For example, you might learn that your target demographic left Facebook behind long ago in favor of Instagram and Vine, so you might choose to focus your efforts on those platforms.
You’ll make personal connections
People will only turn into evangelists of your writing if you have put in the effort to get to know them and make a personal connection. This is only possible with a manageable number of dedicated readers in a structured environment; if the group’s too big, you won’t be able to get to know everyone.
You can also encourage connections between the other members of the group, building relationships among a cohesive team of advocates in which each one feels valued.
Dedicated readers can become useful critics
Some authors turn their insider groups into a critical readership by asking them to serve as beta readers. Since these readers know your writing and want to help you, they can offer great feedback on your story’s development — and many readers love seeing a “sneak peek” of your writing process.
While your insider group won’t replace your editor, reader criticism is valuable, since these are the people you’re writing for.
You’ll make your members feel special
If the readers in your insider group genuinely feel appreciated for helping you out, they are likely to remain loyal readers and constant supporters, giving their support and guidance freely in exchange for feeling valued. The bigger your group, the less privileged each individual will feel.
How to find your early readers
“But it’s my first book!” I hear you cry. “I haven’t got any readers!” That’s not a problem; all authors have a first book at some point.
Here are a few things to consider as you build an insider group ahead of your book’s release date.
Start preparing months before your launch date
You need to think about your marketing activities before you finalize edits and design your cover. Building an insider group is no exception. Start early, especially if you don’t yet have a readership. Give yourself a lead time of several months to build up an audience.
Use your existing network
Think about all the people you know who might like your writing and reach out to them individually, sending them a sample of your manuscript. If they like it, they may be interested in joining your group.
Consider sharing an excerpt
Think about posting part of your book on sites like Wattpad, Figment or Leanpub to help potential fans discover your work. Then select a few of those fans and let them know about the insider group you are creating.
Reach out to existing fans
If this isn’t your first book, reach out to your most dedicated fans — the most enthusiastic reviewers or the ones you have already established a relationship with — and ask them to join your group.
Don’t assume that people with the greatest online clout will necessarily be the best people to have in your group, or that you should ignore those with a smaller online following. True passion for your work is far more powerful than a wide reach.
How to keep your insider group happy
Of course, keeping the group small and “exclusive” is key. But there is more that you can do to turn your big fans into even bigger fans.
Send them exclusive material
Whether you’re looking for critical feedback from your readers or simply want to share new scenes or cover design drafts, exclusive material is a sure way to keep your insiders engaged.
Maintain a personal relationship with each member
Remember, this is a personal relationship and groups typically only number about 20-30 readers, so email them individually. This one-to-one communication is central to the entire idea.
Use their personal expertise
When you get to know each member of your group personally, think creatively about ways to capitalize on their unique perspectives. For example, author Mark Dawson had an ex-FBI agent in his group who helped him develop his action scenes, ensuring they were realistic and detailed.
When we hear about the latest success stories in publishing, it seems like it’s all about the numbers: downloads, sales, reviews, earnings, etc. These numbers are both fascinating and intimidating to the average author: “How will I ever get to such a stage in my writing career?”
Remember, all those successful authors started small, with a limited but loyal fanbase that created a snowball effect. Creating your own insider group could be the start of your own snowball.
Have you tried creating an insider group of fans of your work? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments!