November 7, 2017

How to embrace authentic engagement as an indie author

by Belinda Griffin

Be real, be genuine, be you.

Whenever anyone talks about book marketing the advice is the same. You need to be authentic, you need to really connect with your followers.

But what does this mean, really?

And, when we’re all trying so hard to be authentic, aren’t we in fact being anything but?

The truth is, if we were being our ‘real’ selves, we wouldn’t be on social media or blogging at all. We would be in our writing caves hammering out another book. That’s what being our authentic selves means to many of us writers.

Authentic engagement is rarely without purpose

It’s not surprising that we’re a little confused about how to achieve authentic engagement. It’s not a term anyone ever uses in the real world, so right from the off it screams ‘fake’.

My problem with engaging authentically is that it is rarely without purpose, and therefore it often feels as though there’s nothing truly authentic about it at all.

We set up our social media accounts to sell books. It’s only after we realise it’s not that straightforward that we begin ‘engaging’ with other users.

But still, we are ‘connecting’ in order to ‘develop a relationship’. Because we want to get those users on to our email lists. Where we can ‘develop the relationship further’… or try to sell books.

Then there’s the authentic engagement with book bloggers and reviewers, or other authors (because we may want to collaborate with them).

How can there be anything authentic about communicating with someone when we always have one eye on the prize - a positive review, a blog tour or email swap?

Would we be connecting with these people if we didn’t want something from them? If the answer is ‘no’, how can our engagement with them ever be truly authentic?

Surely the only people who can truly engage authentically are those that aren’t seeking anything from the relationship, who have no idea that connecting with a particular person could offer any benefits to them.

But if you have learned anything about book marketing, you will know that you should always be looking for opportunities.

It’s not possible to go back and feign ignorance, so what we need to be able to do instead is align our book marketing goals with real-world relationships.

Everybody wants to grow their platform

The truth is, everyone is in a similar situation, though some may be further along the path than others.

Everyone is looking for something, but that doesn’t mean they are being fake or not really interested in you or what you have to offer.

For example, when you pitch a guest post to a top blogger, they know exactly what you are after - to leverage their audience so you can drive traffic back to your own website and hopefully collect some email sign ups.

You may feel like you’re being anything but authentic when you connect with that blogger and say something about loving their blog and having thought of a post that could be a great fit. Of course every word of your email has been carefully considered, there is nothing casual about it - at least there shouldn’t be if you’re taking your pitches seriously. But that’s not to say you’re being inauthentic, maybe you really do love their blog.

And if the blogger accepts your pitch, they know what they’re giving you - a chance to speak to their audience - but they also know that there is something in it for them. They will have free, high quality content and hopefully you will bring some fresh readers of your own to their blog.

Of course, they may also be genuinely pleased to help you out, remembering what it was like when they were just starting out, but they will still only be that generous if they believe you can deliver a brilliant post.

Everyone is looking to expand their own author platform, even those that appear to have a well established one already. Everyone is looking to take that next step up the ladder and to widen their reach.

The great thing about this is that you don’t have to worry about anyone questioning your authenticity or judging you for reaching out.

However, what people will judge you on is how you approach them, how you communicate and how you treat others.

In the words of Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The solution is to be open and honest

I believe it is possible to engage with others with real authenticity if we are open with ourselves about what we are doing and why we’re doing it and then push beyond those simple goals.

It is possible to have real connections, what we may even call ‘friendships’ as part of our online networking efforts but to do so we should always remember simple manners and real kindness.

You may be asking for something, but you can still ask with genuine graciousness and express an honest interest in the person you want to work with.

In short, your mother was right, you should treat others as you’d like to be treated.

Being authentic doesn’t mean you don’t want something, but it means you are friendly and polite regardless of whether someone gives you what you want or not.

Authentic engagement means you:

  • Always thank a blogger who trusts you with their audience and publishes your guest post.
  • Always thank a book blogger for considering your book, even if they say no to a review.
  • Always reply to followers who connect with you on social media.
  • Always reply to emails from your subscribers.
  • Listen to others and ask questions.
  • Keep your promises. For example, you email and blog as often as you say you will.

Be honest about who you are and what you are working towards. You don’t have to pretend you’re a successful author if you’re only just publishing your first book. Be truthful about how new everything is, say what scares you, tell people about the goals you have achieved and share what you are excited about.

Your end goal may be to sell books, but authentic engagement means you share your experience with your followers and let them join you on your journey.

How to keep things real

Ok, so there is often an agenda behind our online book marketing activities, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep things real.

Ask yourself, do you really just want a book sale, or do you want to get to know your readers? Are you only interested in collecting social media followers and email subscribers, or would you like to have a conversation with those followers? Are you interested in why they bought your book, what they thought of it and what they would like to see in your next book?

You may have set out with one mission - to sell books - but now you’re here, if you can take the time to speak with your followers and listen to them, then you are connecting on a more meaningful level. And that, my friend, is authentic engagement.

I have talked before about book marketing being about letting people get to know, like and trust you, which means you need to be transparent and trustworthy.

Finally, if you want to engage authentically with others, don’t make your author platform be all about you. Support and encourage others where you can, and as you grow, pay it forward by hosting guest posts or sharing content from those who are just starting out.

What do you think, does authentic engagement feel real to you? If you're still wondering how to begin connecting with your readers, check out my free guide How to get your book noticed with fantastic results!


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