Writing and marketing a memoir is so personal. Unlike a work of fiction or a business or self-help book, this is your life. While memoirs probably offer the most opportunities for marketing, knowing how to harness the specific power of your story and use it to make a difference is key.
I understand because when I decided to write my memoir, Please Stop Laughing At Me…, about my years as a bullied student, the anti-bullying movement didn’t exist. My book was one of the catalysts.
As someone who had owned a book publicity firm for fifteen years before I became a bestselling author, I was able to apply the same techniques I’d used to help other authors promote their memoirs, to successfully launch my own. And even with all that extra expertise, there was a significant learning curve.
Here are my favorite strategies for getting the word out.
Know Your Take-Aways
Take-aways are the key messages of your book, what you want the reader to “take-away” after they’ve read it. Are there messages of hope, faith, fortitude? Or is your memoir a cautionary tale?
For example, the take-aways from my memoir were the following: I wanted students who were being bullied to know that if I survived, they could too; and for bullies to understand the potential long-term damage they were causing. I also wanted parents and teachers to experience the issue from the child’s point of view, and for adult survivors to find courage and comfort.
Ask yourself: how do I want my memoir to make a difference in people’s lives? Be as specific as possible.
Identify Your Audience
There are primary and secondary audiences. For example, my primary audiences with Please Stop Laughing at Me… were students, educators, and parents. My secondary audience was adult survivors of school bullying who still carried those unresolved wounds.
Ask yourself: who will benefit from this book and why? Then divide them into demographic groups.
Here’s another example: if you’re a sexual assault survivor and you’ve written a memoir about your journey, your primary audience would be other survivors. Your secondary audiences might be counselors with support groups, therapists, police who work with special victims, families of survivors, and so on. Start delineating possible audiences from the largest and most obvious to the less obvious and so forth.
Connect With Your Audience
There are three fundamental avenues for reaching your desired audiences and connecting with them in a meaningful way.
This is still my favorite. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that nothing generates word of mouth like actually getting out there and interacting with readers in person. That’s why I love public speaking. Not only are you able to connect on a deeply human level, but every speaking engagement is like a word of mouth machine. When Please Stop Laughing at Me… was released, I started calling schools in my community and asked if I could come and speak to their students, teachers, and parents. Within three years, I went from speaking to a few hundred people a month to thousands, and am still going strong. And I was able to expand from only speaking at schools to educational conferences and conventions, corporations, etc.
Once you’ve identified your audience groups, start thinking about where and how to reach them. What organizations do they belong to? Where do they congregate? You can begin in your own community: churches, schools, rotary clubs, chambers of commerce, and build from there. Libraries are also a WONDERFUL place to hone your speaking skills and librarians are great supporters of local authors.
2. Media Exposure
You don’t need to hire a publicist to begin getting media placements. Research the local print and broadcast outlets that serve your community. Call or go online to find out who at each of these outlets welcomes story pitches. Get their contact info, and then email them something short, sweet, and to the point. There are television stations, radio shows, daily and weekly newspapers, and they need content. A word to the wise: make the pitch about how YOU can help THEIR audience, not what you’re asking them to do for you. Start with the smaller radio stations and neighborhood newspapers, and expand from there.
3. Social Media
The secret is to be consistent because once you do have a following, they can lose interest quickly if you don’t continue to engage them. A lot of authors make the mistake of inundating readers with content and then tapering off. Social media, like any form of outreach, requires commitment.
I’m a baby boomer and if you’re my generation or older, it can be a steep learning curve. Most millennials are fluent in the technology and language of social media. Contact your local community college or university and ask to talk swith whomever is in charge of internships there. Tell them you’re looking for an intern who understands social media to help you market a book. There are also college kids seeking extra income whom you could retain a few hours a week.
Along the same vein, you can contribute guest blog posts to websites that serve the audience for your book, as well as podcasts, and bylined articles. Dedicate an hour a day to googling possible places where your content would not only be appreciated, but celebrated. There’s so much out there nowadays for memoirists. I always think of a memoir as the purpose-driven book, the one that has the potential to change lives in a way few other mediums can.
You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished. A memoir is no easy feat. Now go out there and shine!