Since first becoming an Indie Author in 2010, I’ve focused on not only building my writing career, but I’ve also worked to share the creative wonderment of my Author Friends. I hope that they will choose to do the same. I never expect it, but it is Nice when it happens.
This idea of Reciprocity truly is the easiest thing to build into an Indie Author’s Marketing Plan. In common use, we understand Reciprocity to mean “You give, I gain; I give, you gain.” When we do things in celebration of our Friends, the impulse is for our Friends to celebrate us in return. It harkens back to that old “Golden Rule” thing. It is a moral most of us were taught in our childhood, or at least some version of it… “Do unto others as you would wish they would do unto you.” My grandfather simplified it to the two-word command: “Be Nice.”
When I looked up Reciprocity in the dictionary, I found nine different interpretations of its meaning. In my first surprise of the 2023 New Year, I was drawn to the ninth definition. It is a mathematical use for the term, and I was quite taken by it. I’m usually extremely allergic to math. But this particular definition spoke to me for its specificity.
“The ratio of unity to a given quantity or expression; that by which the given quantity or expression is multiplied to produce unity.” ~Dictionary.com
The idea of Unity being multiplied out of giving a quantity of something or by the expression of it, is phenomenal. When I considered this idea of Unity as I thought about the Indie Author community, it made complete sense to me. Think about it… we are all searching for a way to expand our reach and sell more books. Simultaneously, we have a strong desire to find a commonality within our community that lends support emotionally, intellectually, and financially. If we apply the mathematical definition of Reciprocity as a story problem (because, let’s face it, stories are what we do), this is the answer I've come to:
Unity can be best created within our community when we multiply our willingness to give our spotlight to another Indie Author for a brief time.
What an extraordinarily exceptional concept! By simply sharing what we love about our Author Friends, we accomplish three mutual goals...
1. We help to promote our Friends and ascribe respectful meaning to their life's ambitions.
2. We help to promote our creativity by comparing it to the wonderment of our Friends’ work.
3. We create Unity and strength within our community simply because we’re being Nice.
The simplicity of Reciprocity is so seductive. Frankly, I’m astonished to see so many Indie Authors avoiding or neglecting it. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Reciprocity is easy. Reciprocity is painless. Reciprocity is innocuous. Reciprocity is inexpensive. Reciprocity is patient. Reciprocity is emotionally intelligent.
I have two theories that could explain why more Indie Authors aren’t taking an opportunity to expand their writing careers by being regularly Reciprocal. Either…
1. An Indie Author is generally ego-centric, and they don’t want to put forth the effort it takes to do something that doesn’t directly, instantly benefit them. Or…
2. Indie Authors don’t know how to be Reciprocal. They truly don’t know what specific steps they can take to encourage Reciprocity with their Author Friends.
If you’re an Indie Author who fits into the first hypothesis, well, there’s not much I can say except… I wish you well in all your writing endeavors and I sincerely hope your career attains the vision you have for success.
If you are an Indie Author who fits into the second theory, or perhaps you’re planning to change your approach, you may find some of the following suggestions helpful. One very important thing to remember is that Reciprocity requires consistent attention. Although you may be able to “set it,” you shouldn’t ever “forget it” if you hope to see positive results for both you and your Author Friends.
WHY SHOULD YOU BE RECIPROCAL? LET'S USE SOCIAL MEDIA AS AN EXAMPLE.
Yup, most of us participate on one type of social media platform or another. Some of us are deeply embroiled in more than one… some of us just dance around in a few, randomly poking in and out. No matter the frequency, the associations we affirm in this very public space is how we train others to define us.
Everything you post teaches people about you and your values. Each digital piece of art or phrase remains accessible forever. They become like Sharpie permanent markers upon our subconscious’ whiteboard. Once you put something out there, it never disappears (not even if you think you’ve deleted it). It’s forever floating around in the grey matter of decision makers. What you put out there may be overlooked or sometimes pushed aside, but it never actually goes away. It’ll reappear in the form of a “tip of the tongue” memory, at some point.
Of course, we’re all going to use Social Media as a self-promotion platform some of the time, and we should. Strangers can’t discover us or our work if we don’t tell them who we are and what we create. No one will toot our own horn louder, longer, or with nearly as much passion as we will. Social Media is an incredible tool for that purpose. But it is also a powerful influencer that you can use to help others discover your Indie Author Friends as more than a passing curiosity.
When you share a post directly from your Author Friend’s feed, you’re creating a “stereo” introduction. First, you’re introducing yourself to the people inside your Author Friend’s circles. You’re saying, “Hey, nice to meet you. This person and I share the same opinion/value/humor.” You’re establishing a connection to someone they already trust, and you hope that trust will trickle down (eventually) to you and your career, simply by association. Second, you’re also standing up inside your circle of Friends and proclaiming, “Hey you guys, check out this really nifty person and what they have to share. I think you’ll be happy to meet them.” Likewise, your Friends will come to trust the person you introduced to them simply because they already trust you.
Now, if you post something that is altruistic – something that intends to only promote another Author, without bringing you or your work into the post at all – you’re telling everyone that you believe in your Author Friend and value their work. People who are looking in from the outside, perhaps for the first time, learn that you’re a Nice person because you’re a supportive Friend. They see that you take time to do something that focuses on someone else.
I don’t know about you but seeing that makes me want to get to know those people more. When given the option to follow a self-absorbed luminary through the dank, dark, uncertain literary forest, or walk side by side with a Friend who will be there to cheer me on, wouldn’t you rather walk with the Friend? I know I would.
The end result? People come to trust you through your associations with those they already trust, and through that process, they will come to take a risk with someone new because you’ve recommended them to the world. It costs you nothing. It gives you strength in your reputation and helps build Unity and integrity within the Indie Author community.
OKAY... SO, HOW CAN YOU BE RECIPROCAL?
Below is a list of five things you can do that cost you nothing or very little to build Reciprocity into your marketing plan. Remember, if you notice that your Author Friends are doing some of these things for you, return the kindness. That’s the point.
1. Social Media… I’ll avoid the temptation to be bombastic, and just assume you get it.
2. Newsletters… At the bottom of your newsletter, consider recommending a book or two, written by an Author Friend, and include a link to the Author’s website. It’s especially Nice, if you know an Author Friend is publishing a new book soon, so you can include that teaser. Perhaps with your help, the Author will see a surge in first-day sales. This costs you nothing; you were sending out your newsletter, anyway.
3. Book Reviews… This suggestion is redundant to the point of nausea. Just… Put them everywhere. You’re probably reading books anyway, right? Why not share a few positive thoughts and help a fellow Author in the process. Put them in your blog. Put them on Amazon and Goodreads. Share them on Social Media. Add them to the content of your Newsletter. If you’re looking for extra content for your podcast, book reviews make a great “intermission” between major segments. Your review doesn’t have to be poetic or terribly long. Say something Nice and watch how the world changes. It costs you nothing except a few minutes of your time, but it helps another Author more than you will ever realize.
4. Book Comparisons… Let’s suppose you’re sharing your books at a local fair or festival. If you have an Author Friend who writes in the same genre (and also has a booth at the event), make a comparison between your books, and throw it out into the world – along with directions to their booth. For example, “Thank you for buying my book. If you enjoy short stories and you’re also interested in something with a little more suspense than A Duck Quacks, check out Andrew Allen Smith’s A Slice of Fear series. You can find him right over there – yup, he’s the super-happy, very tall guy.” Or “I appreciate that you bought my novel, A Tryst of Fate. It’s a thoughtful romance with a sprinkle of mystery. It you also enjoy super twisty mysteries with a bit more steam, try Mark Love’s Fleeing Beauty. He’s wonderful. His booth is three down that way, on the right.” Keep in mind that making recommendations to readers in support of your Author Friends is a Nice thing to do when visitors to your booth aren’t interested in what you have to offer. You weren’t going to make a sale anyway, so why not support your Author Friends?
Want to go one better? Exchange a few bookmarks with your Author Friends at the beginning of the day and offer them to visitors at your booth. Not only will it reinforce your kind gesture of helping a reader find more fun books, but you’ll also support your Author Friends with a reminder for those visitors who didn’t have time to stop by their booth, to check them out online when they get home. Remember, your books are not exactly like my books, even if we write in the same genre. We are not competitors, we are colleagues. Being Nice doesn’t eliminate sales. Being Nice enhances sales.
5. A Referral Page On Your Website… Have you ever wondered how you could possibly be Nice to ALL of the Author Friends in your life? Why not make a list? It is easy to add a page to your website that links your fan base with your Author Friends. You could have tons of fun and add graphics of their book covers, or their logos… but you don’t have to go too overboard with it, you can keep it simple. You can make your list alphabetically or maybe by genre. Just list the names and either link them out to the Author’s website or type out the URL to make it easy to copy and paste.
And… if you keep a list like this on your website, you’ll be reminding yourself, too, about the people with whom you are Reciprocal. If ever you’re at a loss for a Social Media post or a book review to write, just go to your website and check your list. If you don’t have back-end design access to your website, or don’t know how to do all that magical digital stuff, this new page might cost you a little bit to have your web master build. But it shouldn’t be excessive. The small fee to have this added to your website is worth every bit of Unity and support it creates for the Indie Author community.
Bonus... Every time you add new content to your website, even if it’s just one name and the URL of another Author Friend, the web spiders perk up to your changes, and make your website interesting to other web spiders. This creates relevancy for your brand and will keep you nearer to the top of search engines.
And... If there’s Reciprocity… it makes even more bored web spiders sit up and take notice, and everyone benefits.
Now, is it critical that you do ALL of these things, ALL the time? No, of course not. We all know that marketing is important, but it can’t overshadow the prerequisite of writing books. But it’s easy enough to build some of these things into your marketing plan. Sprinkle them in once a month or so. Remember, consistency is the goal. Anything that’s done “flash in the pan” extinguishes it’s flame quickly. Your goal should be to nurture the warm, red glow of a slow burn when it comes to Reciprocity. Take some time, over time, and make it part of your regular routine.
ONE MORE THOUGHT...
By definition, Reciprocity is a practice that requires at least two people who are engaged in the process to make it work. Like a teeter-totter, if all the weight is on just one side, there is an unbalance and Unity will never be achieved.
If that happens, then our writing careers are no better off than the life of the Pacific Salmon, swimming upstream, doing our best to survive, but knowing death is inevitable. How many of us, given the option, will continue that lonely, frustrating route?
Personally, I think it’s far more fun to be a dolphin, playing happily with all my Author Friends, in the warm waters of creation and Reciprocal success… Enjoying the Nice.
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