Many writers are truly stumped by the following question: How do I grow my audience?
They’ve tried blogging or set up a Twitter profile, but haven’t really gained any serious following. They end up getting frustrated and feel like marketing is just a big waste of time.
The answer to the audience building question is simple, but not easy. You can’t wait for people to find your website, your instagram feed, or even your podcast. You’ve got out and find them. That’s called outreach.
Tim defines outreach as moving people from not knowing you exist to knowing you exist.
The basic idea is to get yourself in front of an audience that someone else (called an influencer) has already built, wow them with your content, and invite them over to your email list.
Outreach is by far the most important marketing activity you can do, but outreach is a complicated topic. As the Dude from The Big Lebowski would say: lotta ins, lotta outs.
And lots of stuff that can go wrong while you’re learning the ropes.
(I like to break down Outreach into seven manageable steps, you can read details of each step in this post.)
Sometimes clients come to me and tell me they’ve tried outreach in the past, and it hasn’t worked for them. When we dig deeper, we uncover some very fixable mistakes and boom, now they’re getting more yeses from influencers and better results from their outreach.
Here are the most common outreach mistakes I see and how to fix them.
Mindset mistake: Playing small
Let’s assume you already got over the biggest mindset hurdle, which is that you’re too scared to do any outreach at all. The next mistake to look out for is playing small. You psych yourself up into sending ONE pitch. You never hear back. So you give up.
Outreach is a skill you develop by practicing it. And, it’s something of a numbers game.
Just as we plant more seeds in the garden than we strictly need to account for those that don’t germinate, so too with our outreach efforts. You’ve got to commit to sending a decent volume of pitches so you can get a fair number of influencers to say yes.
If you’re writing great pitches to the right influencers for your book, it’s realistic to expect a conversion rate of right around 30% or even better. I have a student with a memoir in my Outreach Intensive group right now and she’s leading the pack with 31 pitches sent and nine yeses in just a month and half of pitching. And that’s in the midst of a global pandemic.
There are a few people in my current group who haven’t gotten any yeses. They are the same people who haven’t sent any pitches.
How to fix it: Commit to sending a good number of pitches within a certain timeframe. For students in my Outreach Intensive, I ask them to send a minimum of 25 pitches in the course of an 8-week program.
Aiming mistake: Not enough research
Many authors get overwhelmed at the thought of how to find influencers and only reach for the obvious. This is often because they haven’t given enough thought to their ideal readers.
Knowing who your ideal reader is will lead you to your ideal influencers. If you define your reader as “women between the ages of 35-65” you’re thinking way too broadly and will struggle to come up with a concrete list of influencers.
If you’re not targeting the right influencers for your ideal reader, you’re not going to get as many yeses.
How to fix it: If instead you say, “a 43 year-old woman named Sue who lives in Portland, runs her own business, is obsessed with mindset, and has two kids and 5 chickens.” Now you can start looking at podcasts for women entrepreneurs, parents, meditators and urban chicken raisers. Take the time to develop an ideal reader persona, it will go a long way to guiding your outreach research.
Ask mistake: A terrible pitch
Here’s where the biggest mistakes with the most impact happen. Influencers are often inundated with pitches—and most of them are crap. They’re blanket press releases, or boilerplate emails riddled with poor grammar and include asks that are completely inappropriate for their audience, or just plain spam.
How to fix it: Your ask needs to be super specific and customized for each influencer. I have a bit of an unfair advantage here, as I have a background as a freelance writer. If I wanted to publish an article with a magazine or a major website, I had to send a tightly targeted pitch that showcased not only my story idea, but also why that story would work for their audience and why I was just the person to write it.
The exact same principles apply here. You have to have a very good sense of who you’re pitching and what type of content they are serving up to their audience so you can pitch them something that’s such a perfect fit and make the case for why you’re the author to do it. You want to craft a pitch that makes it no-brainer for them to say yes.
One of my clients applied the principles of a good, customized pitch and sent me this message: “This shit works!” She’d just gotten a “yes” from an influencer who thanked her for writing such a personalized pitch. This influencer wrote: “I’m impressed. You should see the onslaught of crap, AI-robotic PR emails I get for new books/authors. This was refreshing.”
Spending some time writing a good ask is the difference between being ignored and being accepted.
Delivery mistake: No call to action
Some authors go to all the trouble of doing great outreach, get yeses, but then don’t give any thought to how to convert the influencer’s audience into fans when they’ve got the chance. At the end of the article or interview, they fumble the opportunity they’ve worked so hard for.
How to fix: Make sure you come up with a clear call to action for every piece of outreach you do and practice it.
Your default call to action, one that’s always a smart choice, should be inviting people to get a sign up incentive (like a free story or checklist) by joining your mailing list. If you’re in the midst of a book launch, you can of course point them to buy your book, but I’d put the mailing list offer in there too. If you can get someone on your list, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to sell your book, and your next book and the book after that.
Mistakes mean you’re in the game — keep playing!
Yes, there are lots of ways to biff up outreach. It’s something that takes a bit of practice to get all the pieces right. It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them instead of using them as an excuse to quit. Making mistakes means that you’re in the game and it’s staying in the game that matters.
April 23, 2020