Using Influencers to Grow Your Author Brand
The internet has changed society in recent decades. Shopping is altered forever, we’re all less sociable now and everyone has access to more information than we could ever consume. One of the biggest revolutions, though, is the way it’s democratised celebrity. Large corporations no longer determine who deserves the limelight. The internet lets creators create and the public decide. It’s birthed the concept of the modern influencer, affording those who win the game the power to influence millions of followers. Whether you like or loathe them, nobody can deny their clout. Indeed, some individuals can lead hordes to buy or boycott a brand en masse.
Some authors manage a similar feat to great effect, selling truckloads of books in the process. However, it’s often faster to work with an existing influencer than become one yourself. In some cases it’s even necessary, as not everyone wants to feel the heat of the spotlight. As an erotica author, for instance, you might not want to promote your secret pen name for fear of being ostracised by straight-laced family members. Or, if your words expose the dirty secrets of an industry, you might not want to risk getting fired. Who knows; maybe the thought of seeing your face on a news article just makes you break out in hives.
If any of those reasons resonate with you, don’t despair. As an author, you don’t have to be a big name or have deep pockets to harness the power of influencers. Without fame, you can reach bloggers, BookTokers, BookTubers, fellow authors, podcasters, and their book-buying audiences. And you don’t need a ton of corporate cash to get them talking about your books, either. Any author can use influencer marketing to build a sustainable campaign or execute a short-term promotion. If you want to try it yourself, the key is to get organised, start small and follow a list of well-tested, actionable steps.
Step 1: Create a Funnel
Getting your proverbial ducks in a row before you start working with influencers is essential if you want to maximise your return on investment. Many indie authors miss this step, not understanding that a modern author business is primarily an online business, which is only as valuable as its sales funnels. As experts in this area, Zendesk defines a sales funnel as “the cumulative steps a potential buyer takes to convert and become a customer.” Readers enter a sales funnel at the top, completely new to your brand, and get funnelled lower, gradually becoming superfans. As an author using influencer marketing, your sales funnel might look like this:
Readers encounter you or your books through an influencer on social media or in real life.
Convinced by your marketing or reputation, they buy one or more of your books.
In the back of your book, they find a link inviting them to join your mailing list.
You deliver them free extra content via a series of emails to boost their opinion of you.
Over time, they become superfans who buy your wares and recommend you to other readers.
Creating a good sales funnel that turns casual readers into superfans before you approach influencers takes time, but it’s worth it. Doing so helps you optimise your potential connection with every reader an influencer sends your way. Across thousands of readers, this approach, though fiddly at first, will deliver you far better results. Without a funnel, many readers might buy a book from you once, but they’ll rarely stick around for long and you’ll miss out on 80% or more of the benefits an influencer could have given you. Create a sales funnel before you begin and you’ll get the full benefit, doubling, tripping or even 10X-ing the value of every new reader.
Step 2: Identify Good Influencers
Every brand has different ideal influencers. Yours will depend on your unique ideology and goals. In this case, follower size shouldn’t necessarily be your priority. Their personality and engagement are far more important metrics. Think of it this way: if you write children’s picture books, do you want your readers to learn about them from an edgy, risqué YouTuber with a million subscribers or a child-friendly podcaster with 20,000 weekly listeners that parents love to play aloud around the house? The former might help you reach more people but the latter will present you favourably to more of the right people, and convert fans into book buyers.
Ask yourself the following questions about influencers before you approach them with your books in hand:
- How many followers do they have on various social media platforms?
- Do your ideal readers hang out on their strongest platforms?
- Does their content align with your own author brand?
- Do they talk favourably about books similar to yours?
- Do they seem convincing and authentic when promoting books?
- Does their content get many interactions compared to their follower count?
Finding influencers that align with your values, like your style of books, are convincing and have strong engagement-to-follower ratios isn’t easy. But ensuring any ones you contact meet these criteria greatly increases your chances of getting a better return on investment. If targeted accurately, influencers with smaller platforms can produce better results than huge names. What’s more, the smaller their size, the easier they are to pitch and the cheaper they’re likely to be.
Step 3: Pre-Pitch and Pitch
You probably know what a pitch is if you’ve watched Shark Tank or encountered a salesperson. But what about a pre-pitch? When you’re an unknown author, your pre-pitch can mean the difference between getting your dream influencer onboard and having them never even open your email. Think of it as a way of getting on their radar without getting on their nerves. To begin, spend a few weeks consuming their content and interacting with them on social media. Don’t try to sell yourself at this stage or appear too eager; simply show up on their notification feeds as an easy-going fan, demonstrating your support. It may seem unlikely they’ll notice you, but influencers see more than many people realise and value fan engagement.
Once that’s done you can pitch, starting on the right foot. It helps to do it via their preferred contact channel, which they often clarify in their social media bios. Whichever path you take, introduce yourself, mention something about their content you like, pitch your books and offer an incentive to start a discussion. Some new influencers will read and promote books for free if authors send them review copies. However, bigger names sometimes require a sponsorship payment to pique their interest. If you can’t afford an up-front fee, try an affiliate link. That way, they can make money but you only need to pay out if they perform well.
Step 4: Track Your ROI
Influencers are not created equally. Some command huge, vocal audiences who seem engaged but don’t necessarily buy the products they promote. Others, meanwhile, are smaller and work in niches but deliver surprising clout. And some, while they don’t necessary provide an immediate uplift in sales, can help you solidify great Amazon also-boughts or lead to more tangential benefits like connections in film and TV. This isn’t a hard rule. Understand that these nuances exist, however, and that there is no single way to judge the return on investment when working with influencers. Sometimes, you must look at a range of metrics.
You could, for example, track the unit sales they generate on your publishing dashboards. If you do, remember to take a nuanced perspective. One influencer might help you sell 50 books while another only shifts 20, but that doesn’t indicate a clear winner. The 50, for example, could be ebooks priced at 99c while the second were 20 hardbacks, each with a $5 profit margin. Digging into the numbers often gives helpful insights, including which influencers have less price sensitive audiences . A/B testing in this way can be painstaking work, but it’s worth it to refine your influencer marketing campaigns over time and invest in it more efficiently.
Step 5: Interact with Fans
Working with influencers doesn’t end the moment you pay their fee. If you want to hold onto your best performers, it helps to keep them warm even after their post, video or email campaign has gone live. That way, you can ensure they remember you as someone who was great to work with and supported them. Those ones will be more willing to work with you again, even if their platform grows and they can afford to be pickier when choosing business partners. This might sound sycophantic but it’s standard practice and can deliver mutual benefits, boosting the influencer’s profile and your book sales by association.
Act like a fan yourself. It should be easy if you already consume their content. Like and share their promo to maximise their results. Commenting on their posts also helps as it places your profile front and centre in the comment section, which many social media users like to scroll, encouraging them to click and enter an online space that you’ve populated with sales funnel entry points. Even if you have to create a pen name account purely for this purpose, it’s worth it because this is a platform you can capitalise on again in the future.
If you’re an unknown author with little to offer influencers, you will likely get a small response when you first reach out with pitches. Over time, however, if your writing is strong, you’re professional and your books inspire readers’ imaginations, your reputation will grow and score you bigger deals. Done right, it can build you brand awareness while producing a profit. And that’s without considering the Holy Grail of influencer marketing: the prospect of going viral.
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