Marketing Secret: Don’t do what I do

I have dreaded this blog post ever since I signed up for it.

And that was before being rejected by the agent I pitched to back in February. So be warned, this post will be brutally honest. And short.

This month is all about how to get the word out and create a market for yourself. That includes everything from advertising to creating a personal brand.

I suck at all that stuff. And that might even be a great exaggeration of how well I do. I doubt I really climb into the neighborhood of “suck.” Adjectives that might be more appropriate range from “abysmal” to “self-destructive.”

How my first three books sold as well as they did is a mystery to me. I did virtually nothing to market them. I invested maybe twenty bucks total in Facebook or other ads, and when they didn’t nudge my sales noticeably, I abandoned that effort in less than a week.

I have never done a book signing. The closest to that was a last-minute appearance at a library “meet local authors” event, where I sold a couple of books. I’ve never done an interview, except a short one here on this blog. No radio shows. No contest entries. No Twitter campaigns. No viral, guerrilla, non-traditional or creative marketing.

I keep intending to do all that. But some of it costs money, and those that don’t cost money, I have never been satisfied with the end result, and so never seriously made any effort to do it.

That’s why not getting picked up by an agent has had such a negative impact on my motivation. The main reason I pursued an agent was to get into the traditional publishing model where all I had to do was write.

Guess that’s not happening soon. I’ll have to get off my lazy butt and try to find a way to get it done. Hopefully all the great articles on this blog for this month will give me the guidance I clearly need.

So, take my advice. Don’t do what I do.

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!

School Visits – A Captive Audience?

For authors who write middle grad or YA books, it seems like a no-brainer to include school visits in our plan to build our fan bases, right?

Maybe.

Like a lot of things, it depends on your personality, your books, and how you approach those visits. I personally love visiting schools, even though I haven’t sold lots of books as a direct result of most of those visits. Still, I consider visiting schools, teaching kids about writing, talking about stories, and mentoring young writers well worth my time.

Through the process, I’ve learned a few things.

  1. When you first approach schools, don’t be surprised if they’re wary. These days a lot of indie authors try to get school visits, but few seem interested in helping busy teachers, administrators, and librarians accomplish their curriculum objectives. And they don’t have time to babysit an author coming only to pitch their book.
  2. When you do get school visits, many schools are happy to set you up in the library. Don’t be surprised if you don’t have tons of visitors, unless you schedule with teachers in advance.
  3. Get to know the librarians. Promise them a free book. They love free books, and I always give them one every time I visit. Ask them to put you in touch with English teachers or other teachers who might be interested in meeting with you.
  4. Contact those teachers and ask them what they need, or how you can support and assist their current plans.
  5. Note – don’t be surprised if quite a few teachers scoff at the idea of some indie hack coming into their classrooms and teaching their students anything they couldn’t teach themselves. Some teachers are very open and friendly, but some are quite snobby, even though they usually have no idea how to actually write a publishable story. I’ve had to work through that in initial visits where I prove I know what I’m talking about, students enjoy interacting with me, and I bring value. They’re often much more eager to invite me back a second time.
  6. Be friendly and smile a lot.
  7. Offer to teach students about writing. I’ve spent entire days at local schools teaching students about writing and holding writing workshops with them. Students love it best when only a little formal instruction is given, followed by a hands-on exercise. I really enjoy building a story with students, and they usually love the opportunity to help create stories together.
  8. Prepare a message or presentation that appeals to a wide audience beyond just your books. I’m working on a couple different presentations suitable for larger audiences that should make administrators a lot more eager to invite me to come speak to their schools.
  9. Although it is possible to set up a big book signing event at the school, the more I learn, the more I think there are better ways. One well known author I know warned me that sometimes holding a big book signing can actually generate hostility from the school.

He pointed out that at least one teacher or administrator at almost every school fancies themselves an author, and they often feel resentment when they seen tons of students lining up to buy books.

So for a really big book signing, a great suggestion they gave me is to line up multiple school visits for the same area over a couple of days, and send all the kids home with a notice that you’ll be holding a big book signing at a local bookstore or venue close to the schools. Then the kids and their parents can come on Saturday and buy your books.

I plan to test this approach soon, and I’m eager to see how it goes.

10. Finally, know your objectives. Make sure you’re helping the school and bringing value to them. You’ll get exposure, if not tons of sales at first, but over time, it really pays off.

I’ve been cultivating relationships with local schools for the past few years, and I have a strong local fan base, partially because of those efforts. Plus I’ve helped a lot of budding authors learn some things I wish I’d known at their age.

 

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.