Category Archives: Your Writing Career

You’ve got Mailing Lists

This month’s topic comes at a really fortunate time for me, as I am just in the process of building my brand right now. I have my first release coming up in about four weeks, with three other releases coming in 2018.

I’ve done most of the things the majority of books and blogs will tell you to do:

  • I have a website
  • I have social media pages devoted to my books
  • I have started a mailing list
  • I have a marketing plan ready
  • I have beta readers going through the first book

Most importantly, I have exciting books with engaging covers, professional editing and well-crafted sales copy.

So I’ve done it all, right?

Well, no. Certainly what I have above is only some of the most common suggestions. There’s plenty more you can do, the primary gates being time, money, and comfort level.

The other issue though is that I’ve built a house no one lives in. Without an actual launched title, there’s little reason for anyone to visit my website, subscribe to my mailing lists, care about my Twitter posts, and so on.

Discoverability is a huge challenge for someone just starting out, so I wanted to focus on just one thing I’ve done that has shown me some benefits. I wrote a mailing list magnet story, and I’m giving it away for free.

YOUR MAILING LIST

Let me cover why I’m focused on my mailing list. There are certainly a lot of other ways to get visibility including any number of advertisement options. I like the mailing list because of how much control I have over it and how personal a connection it would be with my fans.

Also, ‘focus on your mailing list’ might be the most consistent piece of marketing advice I see, right up there with ‘nothing will market your current book better than your next book’.

Of course, that doesn’t help me when I don’t have a book out yet. So a good writer friend of mine turned me on to the idea of a mailing list magnet. The idea being that you write a story set in the world of your novel and give that away in return for a sign-up to your mailing list.

So I wrote ‘Cracks and Crevasses’, a little 6k word short story that tells of the first meeting between the two main characters of my fantasy series. If you go to my website, you’ll see the option to sign up for my mailing list in return for a free story.

I worked with my cover artist to get a nice low-cost cover done that was still consistent with my branding. I had the story edited as well, since the whole point of the story was to introduce me to people new to my work. I wanted to make a good first impression!

I then plugged the story on my social media feeds and was happy to see many of my family, friends and writing associates go snap it up. My mailing list grew into the mid-teens, and there it stayed. Because no one goes to my website to begin with. I don’t have a book out, I’m not yet paying for any adds.

So what was the point, right?

ENTER INSTAFREEBIE

Instafreebie is a site that lets you give your story away in return for a mailing list sign up. You can run your own giveaway, or you can join dozens of other authors in targeted giveaways that can be focused on any number of themes. Each author then takes the links to that giveaway and tells their audiences about it – which is a much farther reach than a new author like myself could have!

I chose an optional opt-in method, which allows people who are downloading my story to decide if they want to sign up for my list rather than requiring it. I joined a few group giveaways along with my own, and in the process made a few new author friends who got excited about my story and plan to promote it to their lists.

My giveaways have only been running about 48 hours. As I write this, ‘Cracks and Crevasses’ has been downloaded about 100 times, and my mailing list size has doubled. Even the folks who downloaded but didn’t opt in to sign up for the list may sign up later – I made sure to include links to my mailing list and my novel pre-order on the back page of the story.

So as I said in the open, there are a lot of ways you can work on increasing your audience and building your fanbase. This is just one, and I’ve just started – but so far I’m happy with how its working out.

(A final note: The whole concept of the author mailing list and how addresses are collected and used is a currently evolving situation in light of the recent European GPDR rules. I highly recommend searching those rules out and finding a good advisory source to ensure you are compliant.)

What’s Keeping You From Publishing and Building a Fan Base?

We all have beliefs which limit our ability to succeed as artists. Whether you’re publishing with a small, large or medium press, or independently publishing, it’s time to believe in yourself. Let’s talk about those limiting beliefs and

I’m afraid of failure
this statement can mean a lot of things. But, let’s take it at face value. You’re afraid that your passion for writing, your imagination and your artistic core will be rejected and people will laugh. Am I right? At it’s worst, that’s how failure feels. The stakes feel high because writing is like breathing to us and it forms a significant part of how we see ourselves contributing to the world in a meaningful way.

So, now that we understand the problem, let’s change how we define failure. If I suddenly got the job of being a chief structural engineer for a 20 storey high rise, I’d fail. I don’t have training as an engineer. I don’t have a team or know how to put one together. I know nothing and of course I’ll fail. Even a little knowledge sometimes isn’t enough. So, with the current statement and definition, failure is our only option.

Having defined failure in this manner, let’s change the statement to: I don’t understand the steps I need to succeed. This is a proactive statement now with a positive goal (failure isn’t an option anymore) and a plan. Now make a plan. Two of them. One for you to better your skills at story telling and the other to learn the business of both independent and traditional publishing which includes marketing. Why both? Because when you understand both, you’re making informed choices and choices give you power and increase your ability to meet your goals.

I’m not good enough
Bah! Humbug! Gosh, I hate that critical inner voice. I want to know – good enough for what? Seriously? Are you trying to write the perfectly executed book or is your goal to become a best seller? Now, no matter which, writing well is important. However, you need to know your target market and what they want to read. Write for your market! Get to know it. You’ll be good enough because you’ll be writing to your passion (okay, I’ve assumed you’ve chosen a genre or market you love).

Besides, saying I’m not good enough is like saying I’m not perfect. Well, none of us are and when it comes to craft and telling a good story, what defines perfection? There are so many styles of writing within any genre because every author has a unique voice. Which authors do you love? For me it is the ones who compelling characters, good pacing and an intriguing plot. Understand the stories you love, how they’re structured and what makes them compelling. As you write those stories, remind yourself, that you are not that author (I’m not Stephen King!) but you’re an author with a unique voice and story to tell – heck, even the best faced failure before they became best sellers.

You’re better than good enough! Change the belief to: My ideas and voice make me a unique story teller.

My work isn’t good enough
Oh, flip the bird on this one! Story telling is a skill! Keep learning and practising. Sometimes, you can over-edit a story and kill it. I’ve seen that done. Sometimes you can revise until you’re so sick of the story that you’re certain it’s trash. That’s what beta readers are for – to tell you what is and isn’t working. And hey, if you’re going to hire an editor to help you with structural or scene or line-by-line edits, make sure you hire someone who knows the genre and who has experience writing so you don’t get inappropriate advice.

But one other thing – your work may be good enough because you’ve done everything you can, but if your confidence isn’t good enough (which I suspect is more the problem) then you’ll self-sabotage and self select. Let an editor reject your story. That’s their job, not yours! Submit. Write, get the feedback you need, and submit.

I don’t know enough people to build a fan base
Of course you do! You just don’t know it yet. Let me digress and tell you a story.

Not that long ago, there was a very shy person (she still is) who attended a wedding. At that wedding, she sat with people she didn’t know. When they were talking, she go brave enough to tell people about her writing and that one of her stories was up for an award. Much to her surprise, those around her were genuinely interested. Then, she got brave enough and asked them if they’d support her. They said yes! And, they even gave her their email addresses to add to her email list. Now, she even has beta readers who are fans and give her great feedback.

That story is about me. It was the most nerve wracking and the most wonderfully validating thing I had ever done. Talk to people. Tell them a little about yourself. Ask for their email. Then, as your career grows, they’ll tell other people and they’ll sign up because you’ve given them a means to via your website. Your website, just like talking to people at a wedding, provides people the opportunity to participate in your writing career.

I’m a slow writer and won’t be able to keep up with fan demand
Learn to dictate. That’s all I can say on this one. There are many dictation programs, Pick one. Use it. But, I must admit, that even with dictating, it’s easier to get a better first draft for me if I outline or plan the book a bit. I guess maybe that’s two things – outline and dictate. It’s an amazing combination.

The timing isn’t right
Hmmm …. when will it ever be? When the kids are grown up? When my arthritis stops aching? When? When? When?

Do it because you love it, even if it’s simply collecting ideas in a jar until the story coalesces in your head and demands to be written. Even write 50 words a day – fiction or non-fiction. As you write, the story grows and the book gets completed. As your story grows, so does your enthusiasm for it and time has a way of being found. Writing, like any craft or art, demands a modicum of discipline and for the artist to not be afraid to claim some time to write. As I’m getting older (hey, we all are!) I’m learning that the timing is never perfect. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old when you start to write, you just need to write because you want to!

So, face your fears and challenge your beliefs! You are an artist, a darned good one who is learning and practising craft and gaining business skills. You’re not afraid to ask for help. And, most importantly, you have a unique voice and story to tell, so tellit and share it with the world!

Indie Bookstores: The Untapped Resourse

A lot of the indie authors I know distribute online and only online. And why shouldn’t they? It’s easy, it’s cheap, and that’s where a large percentage of the market is. However, that still leaves the rest of the book-buying market. Where are they purchasing? Well, most of that remaining section of the market shops at brick and mortar stores and while this seems like it’s an insignificant portion of the market, when done right, it can become your largest market. However, it can be difficult to get into the brick-and-morter market. Chains like Barnes and Noble or Powell’s can be tricky to get into. B&N requires indies to jump through a lot of hoops and at Powell’s you pretty much have to know someone on the inside to get them to stock an indie title. But indie bookstores are usually a lot more approachable and using them to reach more readers can get you access to almost all of the book buying market.

Before I go into the how, I want to apologize because this is a topic I could write pages and pages about so it’s going to be more of an overview because I don’t have the space on this forum to really go in depth. Hopefully in the future I can talk more about the specifics. It’s also going to focus on the small, single location indie bookstores since the big chains can be problematic. I also want to acknowledge that not every indie author will see this route as a good option for them. It is more work — and it is work that takes you away from creating the next masterpiece — and there are a few hoops to jump through. If you’re making a considerable amount from online sales the extra work may not be worth it to you. For me, it has been worth it. For every book (both digital and print) I sell online, I sell three print copies in indie bookstores. Seriously. My sales ratio really is 3:1. Now granted, I’ve been working at an indie bookstore for twenty years so I do have an advantage in getting my books on local store shelves but it’s not hard for everyone else to do it too.

The first, and probably most important, is to have a relationship with the store’s staff. If you shop there, and the staff know your face, they will be more willing to take on your book — even if it’s a genre that they normally don’t sell. It’s easier to justify taking a risk on a book from someone you know, than a complete stranger. If there isn’t an indie store near you, I do realize that this may not be possible. But if there is, it’s worth the time investment to go every once and a while to browse and develop that relationship.

The second is to know your book’s primary genre and gear your pitch and promotional materials (sell sheet, bookmarks, etc.) toward that. Say that your book is historical fiction with a touch of fantasy and mystery and your back copy emphasizes all genre elements of all three. That makes it impossible for staff to know where to shelve it or what kind of readers to suggest it to, which makes it nearly impossible to sell. If you focus on the single most prevalent genre for your back copy, branding, and promotional materials it’s going to make it a lot more appealing to the store and a lot easier to sell. Another thing to be aware of and use to your advantage is popular authors who have similar title and your alsobots. One of the indie titles my store carries is a historical novel in the same vein of Jane Kirkpatrick — one of our top selling authors. I put a note on the cover encouraging Jane Kirkpatrick fans to check out this indie title and it’s been flying off the shelf ever since.

When you’re ready to ask them about carrying your book there’s a lot of information you need them to give you. Do they buy the book directly from you or consign? A lot of stores won’t order from Createspace and Ingram isn’t very good about accurately displaying information for Sparks titles so don’t be surprised if they want you to be the distributor. You also need to know for what length of time they’ll carry it. If they consign, what is the payment percentage? Do they pay 40% of the list price? 50%? More? When do they pay you for sold copies? Will they contact you if they restock and when will that happen? When the last copy sells or at the end of the consignment period? Will they let you reclaim unsold stock? Do they require you to pay a consignment/stocking fee? Who is the main contact person? Do they do in-store book signings and/or readings? All of these things are going to vary from store to store so if they have a print out of their policy be sure to get one for your records so you can keep track.

Be sure to promote on your website and social media that the store is carrying your book. If you’re doing a signing/reading, promote that too. Don’t do it just once either. Post reminders during the holidays that your book makes a great gift and they can buy it online AND at the local bookstore. Let it gradually sink into the public’s mind that they don’t have to wait a day or five for the Amazon Fairy to deliver a print copy. They can buy it at the local store and read it now!

Once all of that is done you can usually kick back, relax, and resume writing the next tome. Some stores might require a little more follow through and some periodical check ins but the hard, laborious, slightly scary part is over. Even if indie stores turn out to be only a small portion of your overall sales, it never hurts to have your books in another part of the market. The more people you reach, the more you can sell.

Friends and Family as Your Street Team

As a new writer, it’s absolutely vital to have people in your corner. People who believe in you and your writing and want the best for you. Sometimes, these people are coworkers and friends, though they may just be your family members for now.

No matter who they are, they are your core group. These are the people who are going to help push you when you feel like giving up, and who will read your work and recommend it to others.

But this group doesn’t assemble by accident. You must assemble them. But how?

  1. Talk to your close friends and family about your dreams. If you haven’t sat these special people down yet, now is the time. Tell them that writing is your ultimate goal, and tell them more about what you like to write. Tell them your plans. Tell them what you’d be open to doing in the future – writing for companies, screenplays, blog writing, etc. Tell them your ultimate goals for your career.
  2. Ask them to help keep you motivated. This might mean different things for different people. One person may want their support network to hound them, constantly ask them if they’ve been writing and how much they’ve accomplished. Others may just want a casual check-in here and there without the pressure. Figure out what is best for you, and then ask your close friends and family if they would be willing to be that for you in your quest to be a writer.
  3. Ask them if they’ll commit to reading your work. That means when you have something polished and ready to self-publish or send off to an agent or publication, that they’ll read it. You want your core group to be intimately acquainted with your writing and style. This step will also refine your core group – you might find that someone in your group doesn’t like the genre you’re writing, or doesn’t like your writing (GASP!). Don’t be alarmed – you can’t please all the people all the time. Give them a break and let them go. You want the people who really love your work in your core group.
  4. Ask your core group to spread the word when you have something published. After your team has read your work and once it is published, ask your team to tell others about it. This might mean blasting out a link to your book on social media, putting up flyers at their work or local coffee shops, or simply telling a few people they think would enjoy your story.
  5. Let your core group know that you appreciate them. Take care of this group of close friends and family. They’re putting in quite a lot of effort to help you build your dream. Not only give them sneak peeks of your work early, but also buy them ice cream. Take them out for dinner. Thank them over and over and over.
  6. Repeat. Continue writing and spreading the word through your street team, even if that team remains just close friends and family.

The truth is, many of us do not have the luxury of an immediate audience who loves our work. Basically, none of us do. However, you do have loved ones who care about you and who care about your work, and those people are not to be underestimated. They are the ones who care about you the most, and can help you start your street team and watch it grow with you into a healthy, large audience of fans.