I started self-publishing in 2004, and it took me a long, long time to figure out what most authors already knew: you don’t market to friends and family. For one, they’re often not your target cyberpunk-loving audience. Second, if they do buy your book, it will be because they either love you or genuinely enjoy your work. Either way, it’s a limited audience, and your efforts (and money) are better spent elsewhere. But… that doesn’t mean you can’t tell them you have a new book coming out. And since you’re just telling them, and not marketing, you can have a little fun with it.
Let’s Get Physical
I’ve tried and failed to build a newsletter following. My website is only popular with crawlers. And Twitter… well, I might as well be screaming into a Home Depot bucket. So what’s a guy to do if he wants to get his message in front of friends and family that are used to ignoring him on the world wide web? 😉 You’re damn right: give them something to hold in their hands. And not only that, but deliver it right to their home where they feel safe and secure.
Luckily, Vise Manor happens to be a book about ten strangers invited to a secluded mansion in the New York countryside, so it was pretty clear what I had to do: send friends and family and invitation to dinner, drinks, and a demonstration.
Designing the Invite
Since this isn’t marketing and we’re just having fun, I decided to make the invite purposefully confusing. That is, I wanted it to look like a real invitation and NOT be apparent that it was a piece of advertising until they turned the card over. I used the actual invitation in the book as a guide and whipped this up in Canva.
Canva has a ton of templates, so it was easy to simply choose one, plug in the info, and boom, a fancy invite that I could send to friends. I love how there’s no indication on the front that this invite is from me, Science Fiction Author Daniel Verastiqui. It actually doesn’t say who the invite is from (and I put no return address on the envelope), which would make any reasonable person flip the card around for answers.
Now, at this point, they would know it was from me, but it’s still not clear this invite is related to a book.
I have to admit, thinking about all of their confused faces made me laugh, probably too hard and for too long. Why do I get so much joy from messing with these wonderful people? Am I sick? Do I purposely push away the people I love?
Anyway, you can order printed invites directly from Canva. Just make sure you choose the thicker paper. The basic version is just too flimsy.
Bonus: Because Canva uses free Google Fonts, you can easily recreate the invite as a webpage. See: danielverastiqui.com/books/vise-manor
I opted to spell out the website on the back of the invite instead of using a much cooler QR code. Asking people to blindly follow a QR code is probably just a step too far. But, if they see my name, maybe they’ll drop that URL into their browser and get this:
The body text makes it clear this is marketing for a book. But again, this is really just an FYI, so I’m not doing any real selling on this page. Just: here’s a book, if you want it, great, if not, no biggie. Throw in a couple buttons and it should be easy for the visitor to move forward.
Clicking the Vigorously Accept button takes you directly to Amazon where you can preorder the Kindle version of Vise Manor. And that’s what most people did. Only a few dared to click the With Sincere Regrets button, but I was ready for them. I let them click the button, but then:
Good UX means guiding the visitor to the desired conclusion. A friendly warning message makes it clear that declining is not an option, while visually, the With Sincere Regrets button is moved to the far right, like sliding a knife out of a child’s reach at the dinner table.
And if they click it again?
Honestly, they brought it on themselves. A small script notifies me that a visitor has declined twice, and I go out and steal a puppy from a child. I’ve had to do this three times so far, and though it hurts me as a decent human being, it’s what the visitor deserves for rejecting not just my book but me as an artist and unique individual.
I could not have asked for better reactions from friends and family. I think the reason I play around with them is because they’re good sports, and so many of them were eager to share their stories of excitement, confusion, and disappointment.
Better still were the people I got to speak to in person who regaled me with stories of confusion and fist-shaking. Common to all these stories is the fun factor. It was something different, a brief respite from the horrific 24-hour news cycle and the impending stress of the holiday season. Compared to simply walking up to a friend and saying I have a new book out; buy it, this way was much more entertaining for all involved.
In fact, I’ve decided that this is how I will do all my fun marketing going forward. You never know when something is going to show up in the mail from your old pal Daniel. What will he send next?! You’ll just have to wait to find out.
And if I don’t have your address, and you love fun, feel free to opt-in to physical, privacy-invading mailings.
I sent out physical invitations to everyone I thought would appreciate them, and that was around seventy people. It would have been more, but it turns out I don’t know that many people, let alone have their physical mailing addresses.
The response rate (those who visited the website) was about 60%. They came in from all over the country, and it was pretty awesome to watch.
The preorder rate was about 50%. Now, thirty-five preorders is not going to land you on the Amazon Best Seller list on launch day, but it’s a good start. Remember, your friends and family are your built-in audience. So long as you don’t market to them (or worse, try to guilt them), they’re gonna help you out. So bank those built-in preorders and move on to your regular marketing.
I was expecting maybe a third of my recipients to bite, but I think a fun invite and a low price really helped convince some to buy. Add in the preorders generated by Amazon Advertising, and I’m extremely pleased with the results. Pre-sales marketing is moving along really well, and I have my friends and family to thank for this initial bump.
The Bottom Line
Writing is fun, but historically, marketing has not been. Well, there’s no reason it has to stay that way. From now on, we’ll find a way to have fun with our built-in audiences: family, friends, neighbors, fellow indie publishers, Door Dash drivers, landscapers, etc.
Life is too short for anything else.
Vise Manor hits shelves on March 1, 2022. If you haven’t preordered yet, well…