Stephanie Morrill writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the newly released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.
When my debut novel hit shelves in 2009, words like marketing, platform, and tribe put me in a bad mood. I was convinced that I didn’t possess the skillset I needed for being a good marketer, and that my best bet was to just write good books and hope for the best.
But then I fell in love with blogging. During the last three years, I’ve invested a portion of my writing time into a blog for teen writers called Go Teen Writers. At first it felt like I was on a stage and talking to an audience. As months passed, the audience slowly-but-surely grew. But instead of just looking at me, listening to me, talking to me…they turned toward each other. They looked, listened, and talked.
No longer was Go Teen Writers just me typing and scheduling posts, a drain on precious writing time. Once the teens began connecting to each other, the blog became a place of conversation, community, and friendship.
And a marketing tool beyond my imagination.
Here’s an example of what can happen when your audience starts chatting with each other instead of just talking to you:
In March, my publisher was generous enough to offer my debut novel, Me, Just Different, as a free ebook for six weeks. And, of course, the campaign launched during the one trip I had planned all spring.
I told myself that I had six weeks to promote the book and didn’t need to panic, but I was excited and decided to at least mention the deal on the Go Teen Writers Facebook group, a very chatty extension of the blog that has nearly 300 teen writers in it.
After I posted the deal, I hopped in the car, had some lunch, toured Annapolis, Maryland, and braved security at BWI. In short—I was living life and not thinking about my book, free downloads, or marketing.
But the writers in the Go Teen Writers group were.
Hours later, after I settled into my gate at the airport, I peeked at my email. I discovered that while I’d been enjoying my last day of vacation, the teens had been hard at work. One of the girls had posted on the group wall, “Let’s all work together to promote Me, Just Different and see if we can get it up on Amazon’s Top 100 free list.”
Other group members had responded with enthusiasm. They were all chatting about how they were getting the word out—Tweeting, posting on Facebook, blogging about the free book, emailing their friends who had ereaders.
When I left Baltimore, my book was ranked somewhere around number 1,700 on the Amazon free list. By the time I got home that evening, Me, Just Different was number 44. And other than telling the teens the book was available for free, I hadn’t lifted a finger.
Or I hadn’t that day, anyway.
I’m convinced this wouldn’t have happened had I kept on blogging in a, “I’m the blogger and you are the audience,” kind of fashion. Here are 5 things I did to help Go Teen Writers evolve from being a website, to being a place where people come to hang out and chat with each other.
1. I figured out what my audience wanted and found ways to provide it for them.
After the blog had been going for a few months, I discovered the biggest thing the teen writers wanted was feedback on their work. So I started hosting 100 word contests every two weeks. The judges were all published authors with hearts for helping new writers. Everyone who entered received feedback, and those who placed earned points. The top three winners for the year would receive critiques.
It involved a crazy amount of email, but hundreds of teens entered those contests and the blog grew and grew and grew because they were being nourished. The bonus side-effect was that the writers learned each other’s names. They would congratulate each other in the comments and talk about which entries had been their favorite. They began to bond.
2. Consistency and focus.
The audience at Go Teen Writers knows what to expect.
They know what we’ll be talking about—writing.
They know who it’ll be for—teens.
They even know what days and what time our posts go live, and many have made it part of their daily routine. I heard from a boy in Portugal who reads Go Teen Writers during his school lunch break because that’s when the posts always go live. One morning, when I was ten minutes late, the first commenter said she’d been sitting at her computer refreshing her browser, waiting for the new post to appear.
Because we’re consistent with the time and content, our audience knows that the other readers of the blog are like them and are interested in the same things they are. That knowledge encourages conversation between them.
3. I found a place where they could talk freely. And I protect it.
Because I (try to) respond to almost all the comments on the blog, my readers figured out that they could come back throughout the day and we could have a conversation. And they started interacting with each other, responding to questions, and giving feedback.
I then created the Go Teen Writers Facebook group, a closed group that anyone can apply to join. I thought I would have to facilitate conversation for a while, but instead they were doing it themselves from day one—what genre does everyone write? What story are you working on? How would you pronounce this name?
I quickly figured out my job wasn’t to get conversation started, but to protect the integrity of the group. I made guidelines that encouraged writers to stay on topic and be respectful in disagreement. Most of the time they police the group themselves, and I just get to hang out with them and enjoy the conversation.
This group has teen writers from Iraq to Indiana, and gathering them in a place where they can talk has blessed us all.
4. I admitted it was too much for just me.
When the contests grew to having over a hundred entries each round, and when the audience grew big enough that I needed more than three blog posts a week, I began to feel like I was drowning. I loved the blog, and I loved the writers who hung out there, but I had spread myself too thin and the quality was suffering.
Jill Williamson and I had known of each other for a few years and had emailed a time or two, but we had a chance to become friends during a one-day writing seminar in Chicago. Her heart beat for teen writers the way mine did, her genre of expertise (sci-fi and fantasy) would bring a new skillset to the blog, and I just plain LIKED her.
There was some fear involved—will they like her more than me? Because I like her more than me!—but combined, we’re able to produce a much stronger, deeper blog than I was on my own.
5. We try new things.
Jill and I regularly talk about and implement improvements to the blog, whether it’s a new contest, giveaway, or series of posts. This encourages people to check out the site frequently because they know that we often have new events happening.
While I can’t provide hard numbers for you that say X-amount of blog posts equals X-amount of book sales, I can tell you that when my new book, The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, released with Playlist Young Adult Fiction on May 1, the first reader response I saw came in later that day from a faithful Go Teen Writers follower who Tweeted that she’d just bought it online.
Blogs, of course, are just one of many tools that can help with marketing. Some of the other authors with Playlist Young Adult Fiction have seen success with Pinterest, Twitter, and Goodreads. What’s something that has worked for you?