dan blank opines on how authors should build their platform

Dan Blank (pictured here) has become one of my favourite bloggers. His posts always seem to just nail it on the themes of authenticity and effectiveness.

And, recently, I’ve been seeing so many marketing workshops for authors and so I thought I’d do a little interview with Dan to get his take on it all.

Dan, what do you do?

I work with writers to help them build their brands and platforms, and with publishers to help them engage their communities. I do this via online courses, consulting, and I try to share as much as I can for free on my blog at WeGrowMedia.com

What are the top three blunders you see writers making with their marketing?

The top three mistakes I see most often are: not having a clear vision of what someone wants to accomplish with their CAREER. Writers need to look beyond just marketing one book, and beyond quantitative sales numbers that are not indicative of the effect they have on the world.

Now some people might say, ‘but having an impact won’t pay the bills. that sounds very warm and fuzzy but how do I make money!” how do you respond to that?

This speaks to another mistake I see people making very often: pursuing marketing tactic after marketing tactic, without a clear understanding of how it relates to their goals, the value to their business or financial needs, and the benefit to their audience or customers. So they run around like a hamster on a wheel, following the latest trends, or buying into the latest article they read on how to convert customers, but it doesn’t align to a core strategy – it doesn’t speak to their customer needs – and isn’t measured and implemented in a way that brings revenue. It’s easy to feel busy, but it’s better to feel successful. When you understand your specific goals, how that aligns to the specific needs of your audience, and take a long term approach. If there is one thing the recession should have taught all of us, it’s that quarter-by-quarter profit is tempting, but in the end, it doesn’t build a solid foundation for true success.

Second is having a clear sense of who their audience is. Oftentimes you find people are extremely general as to who their work might appeal to, in hopes that it appeals to everyone. But how can you build an audience and serve a community if you don’t know who you align to?

I talk about this a lot. how do you suggest people go about this? how does a writer go about defining their audience? can you give me three examples of writers and their audiences?

It can differ based on the type of writing or book – nonfiction, fiction, memoir, etc. For nonfiction, you can target industry organizations, societies, academic programs and leaders, conferences and events, online forums/blogs/etc – all laser focused on a very specific audience with very specific needs.

This is where books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s work (which I enjoy) do a disservice to other writers. Everyone now things that their book on sociology, or sports analogies, or observations on any specific niche, should have a broad mass market appeal. They may shy away from “just” building connections with a smaller niche because they have a grander vision for their work. But in the end, as the saying goes, if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.

Fiction and memoir can sometimes be different. You have to consider deeper themes that relate to segments of your audience, and consider how those people organize, where they are affiliated, and how they express those passions and desires. For instance, something about Eat, Pray, Love tapped into deeper things that a wide range of people already had within them. Harry Potter is not just a book about wizards, it deals with identity, hope, adventure, family, etc. These are all avenues to find and expand your audience.
Likewise – you have to dig through your book to find any way that it connects with an already-organized community. Is your main character a knitter? Reach out to knitting clubs and media. Does it take place in Oklahoma – reach out to bookstores and reading groups in that state.

Third is that they don’t know what to share. So they mean to connect with their audience in authentic ways, but often share too little, and go too quickly to overt publicity and marketing tactics, hoping to see quick results in terms of sales and audience size.

That’s interesting. i don’t think i’ve ever heard anyone talk about the dangers of marketing too soon. why do you see this as a mistake? what’s the worst case scenario here?

I think their is a difference between building connections to a community – building trust – learning about their passions and needs, and overt publicity and marketing. So it is definitely ideal to begin building connections to a community as early as possible. But if you jump right in with something to sell, you forfeit the opportunity to build real relationships that can last a lifetime. You are just someone selling something to them – a one sided relationship.

What are the top three hopes they need to let go of?

Romanticism seems to pervade many writers’ view of the publishing process. Publishing is a business. It is extremely hard work, whether you go the traditional route with an agent and publishing house, or out on your own self-publishing.

Yes, writers do get lucky – their work spreads like wildfire and magic happens. But for most, it is work – hard work – where every thing you gain is something you earned one small step at a time.

There are sooooo many ‘get your book on the best seller list’ seminars these days. what’s your take on them?

I like to consider what someone is building with their writing CAREER, not the performance of a single book.

You mentioned this before. can you give an example of how these two things might be different? it sounds like you work on the strategic level where as most of the marketing i see works on a very tactical level. can you share your thoughts on how their tactics might shift when they really consider their long term vision and strategy?

This comes back to goals and audience need. All tactics sound good in a vacuum, just as all stock tips sound good in a vacuum. But when you are balancing your own short and long term goals, when your audience has specific passions and needs, their own community practices, tactics alone may not give you the results you hope to find. This is where people can come across as “other” or insensitive.

How do you want your work to affect the world, how do you want to connect with readers. These things are not described in quantitative measures of sales. We get caught up in them though because they are easy benchmarks, and because we ASSUME that with that type of “success” other opportunities follow. But if you start off on your journey on the wrong path, seeking the wrong goals, then you can’t expect to find what you are looking for.

What are most authors really looking for? or what do you think they’d be best served to look for?
That is a complicated answer, and often different for each writer. I think that, in general, when we create and share, we are looking for validation, identity, connection, and a legacy. Sometimes this can be reflected in sales figures, number of books sold, Twitter followers, etc. But not always, and I think an writer or creative person should careful consider their real goals, and how they can be best achieved, regardless of the standard measures of success in the overall publishing industry.

What are the top three foundational marketing approaches you would offer to a writer?

Do your research – know who you are writing for.
Share what you write, get it out of the drawer.
Connect with people – build relationships, not marketing channels.

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