Using radio shows to market your book
How to connect with your readers through traditional and online broadcasting
After two years of journal writing and countless emails and price negotiations for book cover rates and print publishing, I self-published my first novel. In my naive mind, my job was done. Now loads of books would be ordered online, and I’d sit back and collect royalties. Fairly quickly, I realized that if I wanted to sell my book to anyone besides family and friends, I would have to speak to the larger public.
I found my first marketing idea in the form of a Blog Talk Radio month-long author series — an experience that helped me learn quite a bit about broadcast marketing but even more about how I wanted my writing reputation to be received. In a tech-savvy world, authors don’t have to depend on traditional radio stations to get the word out about their work. Podcasts and online radio shows are now here to assist us in our writing journey.
But should you, fellow author, choose to participate in one of these platforms, here are a few factors you should know ahead of time.
Know the radio demographics
The primary scenery for my first book revolved around a historically black college or university (HBCU). But my listeners were largely authors from an older demographic or those of whom never attended college at all. I thought talking to a predominantly African-American audience was “good enough,” and I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Quite a few of the listeners and fellow authors were married, parents, and/or completely uninterested in hearing what a 20-something author had to say about her college life. They immediately focused on books about new parents, men’s relationship tips, erotica fiction, and marriage-related novels. Meanwhile, my in-person book signings at actual HBCUs — specifically my alma mater — and hotel events with African-American authors brought in a far more diverse crowd for my needs.
I didn’t sell one book related to the entire radio series, but I sold countless copies during school tours and happily sitting in a hotel ballroom. While being “on the radio” sounds good in theory, finding a radio audience in your focus group should be the bigger priority.
Understand what you’re paying for
Initially, I paid for book cover promotion and a one to two sentence synopsis of my book on the radio host’s book site. I had no idea who the radio host was, but I thought it would be great to talk to fellow authors. But less than five interviews in, the host had technical issues. Instead of canceling an interview that night, she put a group of authors on the spot, asking them to interview that night’s guest.
As someone who now has 14 years of journalism experience and prior employment at four online and print news publications, interviewing is second nature to me. But I had next-to-no interviewing experience at the time of my book’s publication. Still, though, I halfheartedly agreed to call in live to talk to that night’s authors regarding a subject I wasn’t even slightly interested in.
If it sounds like this was an awkward interview, multiply that hunch by three and that’s about how it sounded, too. Fumbling through that interview did absolutely nothing to sell my books nor was it helpful in my journalism career. And I didn’t get paid for it either.
Listen to the radio host’s prior interviews
It’s always interesting to see how surprised celebrities are when they come to radio stations that are known for a particular type of conversation. Look no further than the extremely uncomfortable eye jokes during a Forest Whitaker interview on The Breakfast Club or even the “role play” question that was asked of Angela Bassett on the same show.
While I was very familiar with the controversial and gossiping culture of TBC, these two legendary actors clearly were not. And as a non-celebrity, I made a similar mistake during the online author radio show. While I thought the series was going to discuss publishing, books, and literature, several episodes went off the rails into debating about self-published authors, grievances with Lulu, tirades about “pregnant memory,” snarky gossip, and throwing shade at fellow authors on the calls.
Even in my very early 20s, I thought the conversations were juvenile, and I eventually stopped listening or attending calls altogether. The loudest and most obnoxious guest was also a book promoter who was friends with the host, so there was no way to get around her.
Know what your radio host is like ahead of time, and be very familiar with their regular co-hosts. You don’t want to log into an online interview thinking you’re going to have an NPR-level interview when it’s really more Howard Stern-ish.
If at first you don’t succeed, market elsewhere
Fast forward a year or two later. I learned far more about the publishing industry after the first radio series was over. I paid attention to the host in my second round and had productive online radio discussions with a second Blog Talk Radio host. (His series was on African-American news, history, and music.)
While I couldn’t be sure that this was an audience of college listeners, the host himself was well-read and had my best interests at heart. That made a load of difference in the tone and the topics when I was a guest on his show. He was also influential in connecting me to an important interview I completed on my first reporting gig for Yahoo!
Talk to peers about their experience
As a current journalist who loves to learn the ins and outs of topics, I sigh when people ask me the same monotonous questions that can be found online from a simple search: Where did you publish your book? How did you get started? How do I write a book? These are the kind of vague questions that you can get answered in any library or bookstore.
I wanted meatier answers about book marketing. My own journalism career was starting to gain legs by the time I wrote my second book, so I interviewed one of my favorite traditionally published authors.
One inarguable point I learned from self-published and traditionally published authors is that they must be their own marketers. We’ve long passed the days of literary agents and book publishers selling all of our books for us. Similar to independent music artists, both traditionally published authors and self-published authors are largely marketing on their own dime and creating their own selling opportunities.
I loved that author’s books so much that I’ve read all of them at least three times. She purchased my books, and I interviewed her in the hopes of boosting her (already healthy) sales. It was a win-win for the two of us.
Be ready to sell at all times
Whether you lean more toward the who’s who of publishers in “Writer’s Market” books or working exclusively from on-demand sites such as Lulu, too many authors I’ve encountered just had a personal email address or postcards to sell their books. Meanwhile, I learned from reading lots of self-publishing books to have print material (e.g. book postcards and business cards), online marketing videos (hello, YouTube!), and a website that people can log into on their own time.
While every potential reader you talk to may not be ready to buy right now, plugging your catchy website name on the radio and in print is imperative. You don’t want to get off of a radio call and have no social media handles or website to promote. Make yourself memorable.
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