Cristina Deptula serves as executive director of the green social enterprise Authors, Large and SmallShe enjoys a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction, from Bill Bryson to Toni Morrison to Abraham Verghese, and believes there is a place and an audience for every book.
No one intends to become 'that writer' who spams every online community with links about their projects and turns every conversation into a commercial for their book.
However, I've seen plenty of well-meaning authors come across that way. Not necessarily out of egotism, but just because they know they need to pitch in with publicity and aren't sure what to do. So, here are some suggestions that may help you to build authentic relationships and literary community, and sell more books in the process!
One golden rule for outreach of any sort is to always come to people with something to offer. Lead into a conversation or email or Facebook message with a mention of what specifically interests you about them and how you can help them before you advertise your book. That way they know you took an interest in them and aren't just randomly spamming everyone, and that you have considered their needs.
As an author, you can do this with the many different sorts of people who should be in your social networks. Offer to trade reviews with fellow emerging authors in your genre, or to interview them on your blog. Offer magazine editors, news outlets and bloggers expert guest posts on topics that would interest their readers. (Fiction writers can do this too, offer to write about the topics and places you researched for your novel!) Let editors and agents who did a high-quality job with your manuscripts know that you know other writers and will recommend their services.
Your book's website and social media pages can also reflect a focus on serving others. Offer your readers free information on topics related to your book over Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest (facts and advice for nonfiction, and photos and links for fiction). When you go to join other communities online to promote your book, don't just talk about yourself! Of course you can and should post your Amazon or website link, it just shouldn't be your only contribution to the community.
Participate, comment on others' posts, respond to questions and become part of the group. If your novel involves a chef in Northern India, post recipes. If you've got a guide to caring for rescued cats, offer some tips from your book. Don't worry about giving everything away...people will see the information you are making freely available online and get the idea that you've got even more in your book, and thus consider making a purchase.
Also, go and find your audience where they are already gathering. People who review books are often swamped with requests, and even if you are a competent writer, they may take a long time to tackle your book if they are able to get to it at all. So, while you shouldn't neglect the standard review venues or those specific to your genre, it helps to go directly to your readers. If you've got a business book, find communities of professionals and entrepreneurs and career counselors who may wish to read it. If you have a romantic suspense novel, try dispensing relationship advice from the point of view of your wisest character in singles communities.
Meetup.com is a wonderful resource for finding interest-based groups who meet in person at coffeeshops, bars and cafes, and searching for groups with certain keywords in the title works well on Facebook. You can take the same approach to talking with people in person that you use online - ask them about themselves first, find out what's unique about them, then offer them some information that will help them. For example, if you're writing a novel where a character hikes the Pacific Crest Trail and you go to a group of outdoorsy people, recommend your character's favorite brand of backpack! People will then likely get the idea that you know something about hiking and ask about your book.
All of this, of course, takes some time and creativity and effort. But it will pay off in the end, in terms of increased goodwill and the potential to be welcomed into communities and allowed back to continue to share about your writing. Coming up with these types of connections and ways you can be of service is also part of what a competent publicist can offer you, so look for someone who will brainstorm with you along these lines and be receptive to your ideas.
*Some of the inspiration for this column comes from the business networking ideas of Thom Singer, which I have adapted for a literary context. Singer's latest book, The ABCs of Entrepreneurs, which would likely also be helpful for an author.