Shea Serrano, a staff writer for sports and pop culture site Grantland, is the author of two books.
In a Skype chat this month and email exchange, Serrano shares with me some of the marketing lessons he learned while publishing his first book Bun B's Rap Coloring and Activity Book and preparing a new one, The Rap Year Book, to land in bookstores in October. And, of course, he is more than happy to share his love of hip-hop.
1. Build an audience.
Serrano tells me how he came to publish his first book, Bun B's Rap Coloring and Activity Book: "It started off as a Tumblr [site] where I would post coloring pages of rappers I'd drawn."
"The site went viral, got a bunch of press and a bunch of followers, then Abrams Books approached me" about turning the Tumblr site into a book, he adds.
Serrano's following wasn't built overnight. It took months of great, honest content to build an audience for his Tumblr platform. But once he had followers, he could go back to them to show off his latest drawing, article or book.
Where are you building an audience? Will you be able to approach your followers to publicize product releases, updates, courses or whatever you're selling? Take the time now and build up an online following. The stronger your platform, the easier you’ll make things for yourself down the road. For Serrano, his platform was Tumblr. For you it may be your website or an email list.
2. Involve stakeholders.
Serrano’s first book featured rap heavyweights like Drake, Kanye West and E-40. Knowing that rappers are notoriously active on social media (Drake alone has 20 million followers), Serrano got them involved in his book's promotion and launch.
"I also asked some of the rappers who were in the book to share it on Twitter and Facebook as well," says Serrano, noting that he drew online support from Bun B, Ludacris and Common as well as Solange.
Rappers were not Serrano's target audience for the book. But they were directly involved and they, too, would benefit from the book's success. In a way, they were laterally involved.
Can you think creatively about who is laterally involved in your business? Reach out to them and ask for help. When your success is their success, they’ll be very receptive to your ideas.
3. Be personable.
While Serrano leveraged the social-media channels at his disposal, he still found ways to be personable in his marketing and outreach.
"Whenever we sent the book to a reviewer or someone in the media, I would actually draw that person as a coloring page and add their drawing into the book," Serrano says. He would include the new illustration with a copy of the book sent to that individual.
"I wanted people to be excited about receiving it," Serrano adds. "And I can’t think of anything more exciting than to be turned into a coloring page, except for maybe money or a new motorcycle or a new hat or like about 100,000 other things."
In business, people often forget the effect that a personal touch has. I could probably do many meetings via Skype but there is nothing like being in a room with someone and hearing his or her problems and pain points face-to-face.
Consider the up close and in person aspect to marketing. Are there ways you could be more personal?
At SXSW in 2013, I saw Gary Vaynerchuk hold a five-hour Q&A session. He only stopped intermittently to eat or take a breather. But beyond that he stayed put as person after person came up to ask questions. How’s that for personable?
4. Have fun.
The biggest takeaway from my conversation with Serrano is that for him, none of the above seemed like “marketing.” The social media and the Tumblr posts were just his having fun and doing cool stuff with his content.
Check Serrano's Twitter profile or Grantland page, and you will see that he genuinely enjoys this type of engagement: He interacts with fans, draws his favorite rappers and puts out hilarious, insightful articles.
He has found ways to combine his passion for hip-hop with his writing. What’s the point of doing something if it's not fun? Of course, there are details and minutiae that need to be addressed when you're gearing up for a launch or new product feature. But if the end goal isn’t fun for you, then why do it?
As Drake raps in the underrated "Too Much" from his third studio album, Nothing Was the Same: "Moment I stop having fun with it, I’ll be done with it."
Relax. And as Serrano says, "This stuff isn’t that hard, man. Find a significant other who believes in you even a little bit, and some work that makes you feel good about yourself."