Beyond the book: building communities

Door: Jeff Povlo


‘Alleen een goed product aanbieden is niet langer genoeg, je moet een relatie aangaan met je publiek. Communities zijn bij uitstek geschikt om een relatie op en uit te bouwen’. Dat zegt Jeff Povlo, algemeen directeur van social design company Scape in Amsterdam. 

Jeff Povlo heeft communities opgezet voor onder meer Heineken, Nikon, Nokia en het Nationaal Comité 4 en 5 mei. Al deze opdrachtgevers hadden de behoefte om anders met hun achterban te communiceren. ‘Technologische ontwikkelingen – zoals de sociale media – en de enorme groei aan partijen die om aandacht vragen, zorgen ervoor dat traditionele manieren van communiceren steeds minder goed werken. Omdat mensen uit zo veel aandachtvragers kunnen kiezen, richten ze zich op degene die werkelijk bij hen betrokken zijn, die een relatie willen aangaan, een ervaring willen delen. Communities voorzien in die behoefte: daar heerst geen eenrichtingsverkeer, maar is er dialoog.’

Beyond the book: How building community maximizes your earning potential


I recently read an article in the Guardian titled "As celebrity books boom, professional authors are driven out of full-time work”. The featured author was comparing his deal vs the size of celebrity book deals—and these days ‘celebrity’ extends to bloggers and YouTubers. He has to work a second job, unable to sustain himself (and family) on a writer’s salary while celebrities get 6-figure advances from books that they most likely won’t write.

This isn’t an unknown author. Irish writer Donal Ryan has 3 bestsellers in five years. He won the Booker Prize and the Guardian First Book Prize in 2013. Extraordinary accomplishments.

Is it frustrating? Yes. They’re relatively safe bets, regardless of quality. As ‘celebrities’ there’s a decent chance they’ll sell at least 10.000 copies and end up on bestseller lists too. But why get upset about his deal vs theirs? Knowing how tight the industry’s become, the better question to ask is: Why are they getting these deals? What’s changed? One word: audiences.

Big communities, instant attention

Going back to Donal Ryan. Instead of complaining, maybe he is the problem. Not knowing the circumstances of his book deals, we can’t speak for his earnings but with 3 best sellers we know he has fans. How does he cultivate them? I couldn’t find his website (at least not in the first 2 pages on Google search), no Twitter feed and didn’t find him on Instagram. He has virtually no web presence aside from the press he’s received and a short bio paragraph on his publisher’s site. 

Now let’s look at comedian Kevin Hart. Aside from being a highly successful actor/stand up comedian, he’s incredibly socially active. His Twitter feed @KevinHart4real has 34.5M followers, Instagram 53.1M followers. He tweets and posts daily. He engages with his fans. His book, I Can’t Make This Up, is a New York Times Bestseller. That’s not just because he’s a celebrity. It’s because he cultivates his community and they helped turn his book release into an overnight success. 

Similar can be said for how Fajah Lourens turned her celebrity into a commercial enterprise. Building on her acting/dj notoriety, she released the best selling book Killerbody dieet. Actively sharing with over 162K Instagram (@mykillerbodymotivation) and 80K Twitter (@fayaofficial) followers, Fajah became an international guru of sports and nutrition. Her book shot to the top of the CPNB Top 10 list. Her website mykillerbodymotivation.com has member sections, blogs, courses, workshops, products and more. Killerbody 2 released in 2016 and also achieved number 1 in the CBNB Top 10 list.

Regardless of publishing method, marketing lies with the author

We all can’t have Kevin Hart or Fajah Lourens’ community. But it’s worth looking at what they do and how they maintain their fan base through websites/blogs, events, guest appearances and social networks. They know their product and people feel connected to them in whatever environment they’re in. Same applies for bloggers and YouTubers. They’ve established their voice and reach millions. They use their personal stories, opinions and skills to inspire and share with others.

Publishers know that as soon as these ‘celebrities’ sign a book deal, they’re talking about it. Literary Agent Maria Ribas, said she looks for reader relationships - how engaged an author, blogger or YouTuber is with their fan base. Aside from the book’s content, she uses the following criteria when signing a client:

1. Traffic - How many page views does your blog or website receive per month? How many unique visitors? How many of these are returning visitors, and how long do they stay on your site?

2. Social media reach - How many followers do you have on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, or other platforms? How many of those followers are frequently interacting with you, through comments, likes or shares? How many email subscribers do you have? What are your open and click-through rates?

3. Press - How many places have you been featured across the digital and print media world? Have you been on TV or done radio? Can you demonstrate that the traditional media is already taking an interest in what you’re doing? Do you have relationships with magazine editors, TV producers, web editors, brands, PR companies, and other media?

4. Speaking engagements - Are you considered an important voice in your field? Have you been invited by colleagues to speak at a conference, panel, workshop, or other live event?

5. Awards - Have you won or been a finalist for any awards? Even awards within the blog community matter, as it shows you’ve earned the respect and friendship of other bloggers.

6. Connections - This is similar to lining up references for a job. If you can show that other highly respected people are willing to stake their reputation on your work, then why wouldn’t a publisher want to do the same?

7. Sales of other products or books - Can you demonstrate that you know how to sell to your audience (and that they love you enough to buy from you)? Are you comfortable with marketing, and do you have the track record to prove it?

Not comfortable with modern book marketing? There’s help

It’s time consuming (and potentially daunting) to think about having to tackle all of the above while getting your book to market. Regardless if you’re self-publishing, hybrid publishing or have a publisher, building your community is important to push your book top of mind with fans while helping to recruit new ones.

For self-publishers, there’s ways to get support and learn how to build your ‘brand’. Author forums and meetups exist to share experiences and talk about items such as building a website, engaging audiences on social media, which seminars to choose and figuring out the best path for book distribution. If you don’t find any you like, create one. Chances are authors are going through similar pain.

Hireable services exist to help manage the marketing and social ecosystem. If you have the money, publishing services firms can ultimately save you time and allow you to focus on what you’re good at. If not, then give yourself space to learn these skills and develop your fanbase. Either way, I’d argue that people connect to the person. As a writer, it’s important for fans to hear your voice. It’s more authentic if they think they’re getting an inside look at your process or a sneak peek at a character/storyline that’s developing.

For authors working with a traditional publisher, good ones can assist you. Publishers’ role will continue to evolve into becoming more artist managers. Don’t look for big marketing efforts but they should help shape their author’s image, positioning and branding.

For example, Morgan James Publishing offers services much like an agency. They set up an Entrepreneurial Mastermind Group that assists in everything from overall design, book cover, digital/social plan, seminars, promotion, signings, etc. They have a specific marketing module that helps authors build a marketing and social media plan, targeting fans, public speaking, blogging and guest blogging to help build their profile. They recognize that these are soft skills that many authors do not have so they provide them (instead of large advances).

In the increasingly competitive book market, there’s no excuse for authors and publishers to rest on traditional practices. There are so many modern communication tools that can be used to build your external voice. By nurturing the people who follow you in some form, like a blog, email list or social media–it will help you get a better deal and increase your chance for higher book sales.
I wonder how different Donal’s discussions with his publishers would be if he capitalized on his network of fans.