I recently participated in the weekly #boardgamehour chat on Twitter. One of the questions was, “What tips would you give to a publisher who wants to build buzz around their game?” This question fascinated me because there are many parallels between board game publishing and book publishing. The most obvious is that both industries rely on reviews and exposure to generate “buzz” that gets people excited about the product. If the buzz is super positive, the game or book can go viral well before release, all but guaranteeing solid sales.
Whether you’re publishing a game or a book, I think there are some universal truths about creating buzz. There are good ways and bad ways. Granted, it’s possible that the “bad” ways will generate buzz, but using them means that you’re going to have a hard time getting people to trust you again when you roll out your next creation. So what are some do’s and don’ts for generating buzz?
Do be available for questions. People like to ask questions. With games, they want to know the rules, what inspired the design, or information about the creator. It’s much the same for books. Readers like to know about the author, the inspiration behind the book, the backstory of the characters and all manner of other things. In our social media age, you don’t have the option to hide and refuse to answer questions. Be available and answer what you can. If you can’t answer, at least say, “Sorry, I can’t answer that due to… (it’s too personal, it’ll spoil future books, or I don’t know).” People want to know they’re dealing with a real person, so give them that.
Do engage with the communities you want to reach. Chances are that marketing either a game or book is going to involve reaching specific communities. For game designers that may be fantasy lovers, or people who like deck building games. For writers, it may mean fans of your genre, fans of a book that’s similar to yours, or people with certain problems (in the case of non-fiction). You need to engage with these people in their spaces and places. And you need to start well before release. Visit the websites and chat boards where they hang out. Go to the local functions where they congregate. Befriend them and gradually let them get to know you. Then, when the time comes, they’ll be more receptive to your message because they know you and you’ve demonstrated an interest in them as people, not as sheep to be marketed to.
Do know your market and who can really help you. This is similar to the above. Whether you’re marketing games, books, or mutant gerbils, you need to know who can help you spread your message within the market you’ve identified. Your market is not, “Everyone with a pulse.” Your market is a defined subset of people and those people are generally influenced by a few others within that subset. These may be reviewers, bloggers, taste-makers, store owners, media personalities, etc. You need to find out who has the power to reach the subset you’re aiming for and cultivate them. Befriend them, offer to help them if possible, express interest in their work, give them leads or resources if you can and then, gradually, expose them to your product. Be genuine as you’re cultivating these people. They can smell a smarmy salesman from a mile away and they’ll usually shut that mess down.
Do show your passion. People respond to passion. They like to see that you’re excited about your work and that you share their passion, be it for books or games. Don’t be afraid to geek out over the work of others (or your own). If you don’t care about writing and books, then why should potential readers care about your work? People can tell when you’re just in it for a paycheck and they respond accordingly. Get excited!
Do build on past success. If you have a past success to build on, use it. It never hurts to remind people that your last book or game was well-received, or that you had compliments on your work. If you favorably impressed people before, use it. For example, maybe you had a great interaction with a reviewer on your last project. You could say, “Hi, my name is Joe and I don’t know if you remember or not, but we had so much fun discussing Book X (and our shared secret addiction to Buffy the Vampire Slayer) at Convention Y! I loved the review you wrote and I’m hoping you might be open to reviewing Book Z which has just been released.”
Do create something great. That’s really the heart of it, whether you’re trying to generate buzz for books or games. If the product is excellent, people will pay attention and want to talk it up to others. If it’s garbage, you’re down before you leave the ground. Make sure you’re offering work that’s been fully edited and beta-read and which has an awesome cover, synopsis, etc. You can’t just throw something up and expect it to generate any buzz other than, “This is crap. Avoid it.”
Don’t lie. Don’t try to pass your work off as something it isn’t. In gaming, there’s nothing that makes people angrier than being told that a game is highly strategic only to find that it’s a total luck-fest. It’s the same with books. Don’t tell people your book is an epic fantasy if it’s a novella. Don’t classify it as the hot genre of the day if it’s something else. And never, ever, try to sell fiction as non-fiction or vice-versa. Honesty is the only way to find your true fans.
Don’t spam all over everywhere. Do you like it when people spam you? I doubt it, so show people the same respect. Avoid posting “Buy my book,” all over every social media site you can find. No auto direct messages or automated posts set to go off every thirty minutes, either. A little excitement on release day is fine, but keep it down after that. Stick to posting engaging content that interests your readers and only occasionally talk about your book. And never, ever, abuse people by adding them to subscription lists without permission.
Don’t create sock puppet accounts and write fake reviews. Whether it’s on Amazon, Goodreads, or some other community site, don’t create fake accounts and post fake reviews about your creations. Amazon is getting better about cracking down on this and if you get caught, you can be banned from selling on Amazon. Plus, it’s almost impossible to pull this off. No mater how hard you try, your “reviews” are all going to sound the same, sound totally fake, or both. Readers will notice. Let reviews accrue naturally. (And don’t pay for reviews, either. That’s just unethical.)
Don’t create controversy or drama. The world is full of drama and controversy. You don’t need to create more to sell your wares. Don’t start fights in online communities hoping to be noticed. Don’t tear down other authors in the hope of bringing more attention to yourself. Don’t rage about “the system” that keeps books like yours from getting noticed. Skip the raging diva act and just get on with marketing your book.
Don’t get defensive over bad reviews. Reviewers have the right to say what they want. Yes, even the trolls. To go after them is to mark yourself an amateur, someone who can’t hack it. You’ll only make them pick on you more and in the process you’ll look like a censoring jackass. Let it roll off and move on.
Don’t freak out in public. Along with taking bad reviews in stride, you need to avoid public meltdowns. You’re thinking, “I’d never do that,” but in the heat of a product release, weird things happen. Recently, a well-respected game designer had a public meltdown. A group-buy website posted his newest game and it set him off. He felt that it damaged his brand, associating it with the bargain bin mentality of the site. Rather than take it up with the site, he took to a high profile gaming forum to vent his spleen and threaten legal action. By the time it was done, his brand was damaged and it wasn’t because his game appeared on a discount site. Moral of the story: If you have a gripe with someone or something, take it up with that entity in private. Blowing up in public just makes you look ridiculous.
Don’t think that being mysterious is innovative. You’re not being unique by being mysterious. You’re being annoying. When it comes to products, people want information, not vague promises or hype. With books, they want a compelling synopsis and, likely, a sample chapter or two. Maybe a pre-release review if you can swing some advance copies. Saying, “Wait until you read my new book! Your eyeballs will be awed by this feast of textual brilliance,” gives people no reason to buy. People don’t want the big reveal or secrets, they want concrete information they can use to guide their purchase.
Note that most of the “Do’s” things take time. And effort. As with anything you want done well, there are not shortcuts. It may even take multiple books or games (or mutant gerbils) before you get on enough radars to make the magic happen. You have to work hard to cultivate positive buzz and do so in a way that won’t come back to bite you in the butt later. It’s worth it, though, when people like and respect you instead of saying, “Oh, no, it’s that writer again.”
(Photo courtesy of jprohaszka)