Word of Mouth advertising: inexpensive and unmeasurable

Whenever someone takes the time to tell me they enjoyed one of my books, I make sure two things are part of my reply. First, I say, “Thank you,” because it’s the proper response. The second thing I say is, “Tell your friends.”

There are many forms of paid and unpaid advertising the self-published author can use. Compared to the advertising big corporations can afford, all of these forms reach relatively few people. Yet, even for a large publisher, paid advertising would not be enough to carry a book to success. Never can enough people be influenced by paid advertising alone. If people who enjoy a book don’t talk about it, the book will not reach its potential.

Word of mouth is one of the most handy marketing tools available to the micro-publisher. It’s free and nothing carries more influence with readers than the opinions of trusted friends. The problem with word of mouth is it’s difficult to measure.

Easiest to gauge are the people you know, and even this is not so simple. Sometimes people who have enjoyed my books will ask to buy an autographed copy to give to a friend. This is an easy tally for word of mouth. You can mark it down, and it’s already sold you an extra book. Outward from here, things get murky. People may tell you they loved your book, but it’s usually hard to know if they’ve told that to anyone besides you.

Get the word out

“Hey fellas, let me tell you about this great book I just finished! After that, maybe we can go put out a fire.” (Image: Gordon Parks/US Farm Security Administration)

You don’t want to grill them about the number of people with whom they’ve shared their enjoyment of your work, because you don’t want to become that author. They just wanted to be entertained; they didn’t expect there would be homework. So you don’t ask, because you want them to remember their enjoyment, not that you robbed them of it by leaning on them to pimp your book.

It is always gratifying to hear that somebody enjoyed your book, but it can be frustrating not knowing if that enjoyment is being translated into any meaningful word of mouth. Once you come to terms with the fact that there will never be a good way quantify the number of times satisfied readers recommend your book, you can focus on the positive. Your hard work has resulted in a book people are enjoying. That’s a big deal because it’s the first prerequisite for successful word of mouth advertising.

Even though you can’t know the number of personal recommendations of your book, you do have the power to increase that number by continuing to work hard to promote your book. The more people you reach, the more people they, in turn, will reach.

You have to trust your readers. You’ve worked hard to interest them and touch their emotions in some way. If you’ve done it well, they’ll share it. But it’s not a breach of faith to drop in a polite, “Tell your friends,” after showing gratitude for a compliment.

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