Social Distancing: The Perfect Time for Digital Outreach

I’m writing this post under the unusual new circumstances we all find ourselves plunged into. My children are off school for one month (at least) on a sort of extended dance mix of Spring break. I’ve been holed up in my house for over a week with a cold that is hopefully not COVID-19. People across the country, sick or not, are doing the same — in an effort to stem the tide of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Normal life is suspended. Many people feel discombobulated and anxious. We don’t know what’s coming. (This is actually always true, we’re just not usually as aware of it.) 

Yes, it can be sad and frightening to watch this crisis unfold. 

But, given the dualistic nature of our existence, much good can come of our current situation. 

For example, many people will learn to properly wash their hands, Italians will teach us all the value of group sing-alongs from balconies, and you, dear writer, may be able to use the time to make serious progress on connecting with a wider audience.

This is not selfish! We need your stories more than ever—to make sense of our surroundings, expose injustice, or to just escape for a few hours.

And consider, writers have always been opportunistic AF. Whenever something bad happens, it only takes a few minutes for us to fantasize about turning it into fodder for our writing. 

The good news is; sharing our work as widely as possible has the power to benefit the world. This is our MOMENT. 

And to seize the moment, we need to get out there (figuratively, of course) and do some outreach.

Influencer outreach is where the marketing magic happens.

Tim defines outreach as moving people from not knowing you exist to knowing you exist. You’ve got to get in front of people who’ve never heard of you, but would probably enjoy your book. 

In this time where we need meaningful connection more than ever, it’s up to you to do  the reaching out. You can’t wait around for your book to be found. (Well, you can, but you shouldn’t expect to move many copies that way.) Without outreach, your audience will grow at a snail’s pace. Therefore, outreach is where authors should be putting 80-90% percent of their marketing energy. 

But outreach is a pretty big topic. To help break it down, I’ve created a 7-step outline for all the components you need to do outreach successfully.  

7 Steps to Outreach Success

Step 1: Get Your Mind Right.
Outreach is the scariest part of book marketing. It’s pretty certain that in the course of your outreach efforts, you’ll be ignored and rejected. But outreach also delivers a high return on your investment of time and energy. 

You’ve got to deal with your own fears before (and during) walking this path. Without tackling your mindset as your first step, you may inadvertently sabotage your own efforts either by giving up when things get scary, or coming from a needy, desperate place that will turn off potential readers. 

Keys to a good outreach mindset:

  • Be willing to be uncomfortable at some points of the process.
  • As Tim says, assume the best of people who ignore or reject you. You don’t know what’s behind their decision, so don’t attribute it to some dark motive.
  • Remember that virtuous actions have virtuous results. Come from a place of wanting to add value to the world with your book.

For more on mindset, you can read my post on changing the story you tell yourself about marketing. 

Step 2: Set Clear Goals
Too many of us get sloppy about goal setting. We may be game to try some outreach, but we don’t want to quantify it, because we don’t want to set a number we don’t end up hitting and feel like a failure. By the result of not setting goals is not really getting anywhere.

I encourage my clients to set big, outlandish goals as well as smaller actionable goals that can help them get to the bigger goals. Your big goal might be hitting a NYT or WSJ bestseller list, but you aren’t going to hit them without setting smaller outreach goals.

Get clear on the amount of outreach you plan to do, and your timeline for doing it so you don’t stall out. In my outreach intensive group coaching program, I ask my authors to create a list of 50+ influencers, and send 25+ pitches over the course of eight weeks. Then I recommend plugging time into a calendar to achieve specific goals. What I’ve seen with my clients is that it’s far more effective for them to add two hours to their calendar to “add 15 influencers to spreadsheet” or “write four pitches” than it is to classify that time as simply “outreach activities.” If you’re too vague, your directionless brain will wander off to check Twitter.

Once you’ve set your goals, share them and invite people to keep you accountable. 

Step 3: Take Aim
You shouldn’t be flailing around trying to tell EVERYONE about your book. You need to target your ideal readers, which means pausing to figure out your reader persona. 

I really can’t emphasize enough what a valuable exercise this is, and too many authors skip it and just create their outreach plan based on a vague set of demographics. A “college educated woman age 35-65” is not nearly specific enough. Knowing exactly the type of person who should read your book will help you focus your outreach efforts, find the right influencers and make decisions about what content to create for them. 

Step 4: Research
Now that you know the type of audience you’re looking for, it’s time to figure out how to find them. This means doing the unglamorous work of scouring the internet to figure out where your target readers congregate and who the right influencers are. An “influencer” is simply someone who has built trust with an audience and can impact their book buying decisions. 

When you first start your research, you’re likely to feel like you’re stumbling around a bit. That doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It’s definitely jumping down a rabbit hole, but with a specific purpose. 

You are looking for influencers who’ve built a tribe of people who’d benefit from what you have to say. Start by googling keywords related to your book and coupling them with “podcast” or “blog.” (Obviously, for now we need to focus on digital outreach, not in-person events.) For example, let’s say you want to focus your outreach on podcasts and let’s say your book is a memoir about raising goats off the grid. You’d want to google things like “off the grid podcasts” or “urban farming podcasts.” Then you’ll explore the search results and use a spreadsheet to keep track of possibilities that need further exploration. 

Make sure whomever you’re thinking of pitching is still actively creating content (when’s the last time they published an episode?) and that the audience size is worth your time. And there’s no “right” or “wrong” audience size. It’s totally up to you. Many authors prefer to start with influencers who have smaller audiences so they can get comfortable with outreach without the high stakes of being on Super Soul Sunday. Save Oprah for later.

Another approach to this research is to interview one of your actual readers who match your ideal reader persona and find out who they consider influencers, then add them to your list. 

Step 5: Cultivate
Once you know some influencers for your ideal reader, it’s time to start cultivating a relationship with them. Ideally, when you reach out to an influencer for help promoting your book, it shouldn’t be the first time they’ve ever heard from you.

Follow them on social media and start liking, commenting and sharing their content. Or send them an email thanking them for what they do or linking them something they may find interesting without making an ask. Use your empathy skills. Figure out what would be helpful to them and then do that thing. You’ll get on their radar as someone who’s helpful and friendly.

Step 6: Ask & Follow-up
To maximize your chances of success, it’s important to create a win-win opportunity for both you and the influencer. Influencers need great content to keep their status as influencers. You can help with that. This means customizing each pitch to make sure it’s easy for the influencer to say yes. 

Not only should your pitch be a win-win, it should be very specific and highlight the fact that you’re familiar with their work and have given your possible contribution some serious thought. 

It’s a mistake to offer something like “I’d love to come on your podcast and talk about my book.” Nobody cares about your book until you tell them WHY they should. It’s much better to offer specific entertainment, such as: “I’d love to come on the Urban Farming podcast to tell the story of how Gertie the nanny goat saved my life during a thunderstorm.” Or specific information, such as “I’d love to come on the Urban Farming podcast and share with your audience the top five mistake people new to raising goats make.” Of course, you’ll be mentioning your book in the course of all of this, but that’s not what will drive people to read or listen.

Your pitch, while customized for each influencer, can use the following template:

Hi [influencer],

My name is [your name] and I’m the author of [book title] which [social proof such as awards, positive reviews, number of copies sold*.]

I’m a fan of [name of their podcast, website, social account, etc] and particularly enjoyed [example of their work and a specific reason it appealed to you].

I noticed you sometimes have guests on your [ podcast, website, etc]. If you think it would be a good match for your audience, I’d love to [specific pitch, tell them exactly what you’d like to talk about or write about based on your research of what would benefit their audience.] [Explain why you’d be a great person to do this due to your background or the content of your book.]  

Thanks for your consideration. Let me know what you think.  (If you definitely want me on, you can use this link to book a time: [link to booking app].)


[your name]

(* If you don’t have anything like this, you can simply say it’s a book that helps people do something or would appeal to a certain type of person because of a certain factor)

Once you send the pitch, if you don’t hear back after a few weeks, go ahead and follow-up. It’s quicker to follow-up on an ignored pitch than it is to research and write a new one. (But only follow-up once so you don’t make a nuisance of yourself. You want a reputation for being awesome, not being a pest.)

Step 7: Deliver
Once you get a yes, (and you will if you consistently do your research and write killer pitches!) you need to deliver the goods. Whatever you’ve agreed to provide the influencer, be it a blog post, a podcast interview, a joint giveaway or whatever, you need to go in prepared, professional, ready to delight your influencer’s audience and make an elevator pitch that invites them to your email list.

Rinse and repeat those seven steps for the rest of your career — or until you have the audience size you want.

In the process, you’ll not only sell more books, you’ll also build meaningful relationships that will help you feel connected and make a difference when the world seems upside down.

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