Back Story: Rachel Van Dyken's Absence of Parlor Tricks


Photograph of Rachel Van Dyken courtesy of the author.

I wish I could say there was some sort of magic formula for authors: That if you just used a specific type of ad and marketed yourself enough, you would make it and hit every best-seller list in the known world and retire in Hawaii.

I mean, every author’s dream is to do what they love—wake up and write. That’s it. If your passion truly is writing, then your only goals in life are to write, try not to forget to feed your family, clean your house and then write some more. The goal: becoming a full-time author and not worrying about carrying five jobs at one time.

With that type of mentality, we see authors wracking their brains, trying to figure out how to hit best-seller lists, how to truly make it.

I'm not an expert. And I can say firsthand that there isn't a certain ad that's going to catapult you into the Amazon or Barnes & Noble top 100 best-sellers. I will give some advice to those whose goal isn't to have just one book on the best-seller list, but whose goal is to build a following and loyal fan base.

You see, I think most authors worry too much about marketing and ads and not enough about the readers.

After all, it's a readers’ market.

Don't get me wrong, doing blog tours and ads—those are amazing tools for authors, and the Internet has totally opened up an incredible world for us as authors, but...there’s more to it then plastering over Facebook "Buy my book."

Van Dyken Cover

1. Word of Mouth: You seriously can't buy this type of publicity. When readers get excited, they tell other readers, they tell their friends. Word of mouth works in a way that ads can't even touch. When my best friend tells me that I have to "buy this book," it's an automatic purchase. After all, we have similar tastes. If she likes it, I know I'm going to like it.

2. Social Media: You have to talk to your readers. That’s it. I truly think that the best authors out there first are readers and secondly authors. You need to connect with them on a personal level. That doesn't mean you have to download every type of social media out there. Pick one, whether it be Facebook or Twitter, and connect with your readers.

3. Advance Reader Copies and Free Stuff: Give your book away. I know this seems counterproductive, but your book is your product. You want people to become addicted to your product. If they aren't exposed to it, they won't become addicted. Find blogs and other review sites that are willing to do a review in exchange for an ARC (make sure you state that it's an ARC in the review as well). This again gains you exposure but also gains you more fans.

Another thing lots of authors do is make their books cheap. Start a project that will be strictly for gaining a fan base. Set the price at 99 cents and see what happens. Again, it's not about instant fame; it’s about building your brand and getting fans for your product.

I really don't have all the answers. I've spent way too many nights crying myself to sleep over bad reviews or wracking my brain trying to figure out why my ad isn't working. The truth of the matter is, in the end, you can only control one thing: your book. Write something you're proud of, thank God that you're able to do something you love, and send it out into the world with the certainty that at least one person is going to be affected by the words you write. And if it's just one person, in the end, that's enough because your goal as an author isn't to change the world with one story, but with each word you type.

Rachel Van Dyken is the No. 1 New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today best-selling author of Regency and contemporary romances. When she's not writing, you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor. She keeps her home in Idaho with her husband and their snoring boxer, Sir Winston Churchill. She loves to hear from readers!


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