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Archive for marketing

Self-publishing, self book marketing: How to tips

So you’ve finished your book! Good news, if you’ve already invested in editing and purchased a pro cover. Now is the time to shoulder the wheel of marketing and distribution. Self-publishing is not real publishing until it includes self book marketing. My concise list gives you tasks to accomplish.

You need to write sales copy. That’s the brief and enticing copy you will find on every book’s page at Amazon. You will also use this copy in a fact sheet (sometimes called a tip sheet in traditional publishing). It’s not all words in a fact sheet. A photo of yourself is essential in one. You send the fact sheet out to reviewers and bloggers you’d like to cover your book. You send the sales copy to Amazon and any other retail outlet you’re using. For example, IngramSpark needs this copy. So does Bowker, where you registered your ISBN numbers for the book.

Try out promoting at Goodreads. You set up an author account there (mostly by “claiming” your book as your own.) Once you have an author status, Goodreads promo tools like giveaways and book feeds (think Facebook-style) will be in your grasp. In the meantime, tell your tribe to review your book on Goodreads. They can put it on their to-read lists, too. Goodreads is the best place to encourage your fans to post their reviews. Of course, if they’re buying from an outlet with a website, a review is good there, too.

Make your website your hub

Double down on your author website. Bare minimums: a fun About Me page (tell a story or two about how you came to create your book, how you decided to be a writer) and links to the places your book is on sale. A blog is super useful to create writing you will offer for free to interested readers. Have links on your website for the social media accounts you will be feeding with delicious snippets. One big plus is a way to take orders for your book from your website. There’s an easy way to take these kinds of orders using Aerio, a service run by IngramSpark. They print your books on demand and fulfill orders. You can also hand-ship signed copies to your greatest fans if they order through your website.

Not only do you make more money per sale by moving books through your website, you also connect to readers (more on that in a minute). Amazon will never tell you anything about who reads a book you’ve written.

Create Advanced Reader Copy files (called ARCs) to send out to reviewers and allies of the book. Digital files should be in PDF, EPUB, and Kindle (MOBI) formats. Have your cover designer help out. You need these copies to help you land some endorsements of the book. Those are sometimes called blurbs. They give your book some validation, and praise, if you’re lucky. Don’t leave home without a few blurbs and endorsements.

Get those ARC files into the world for automatic download. Bookfunnel is a good and inexpensive service to use for this process. In some cases, places like Bookfunnel can even round up a few reviewers. Bookfunnel is like NetGalley but less costly. They both have promotional offers.

Make your outreach

Create and feed an author newsletter. This can be an email with just three links to interesting webpages where something happened that relates to your book. It’s much better if you write a snippet about your writing life and an aspect of your story. It’s best of all if it links to your blog. You create an emailing list of your own to send this newsletter to. Simple ways to build email lists are to swap with other authors in your field or genre. You will be doing a lot of asking with humility while you market. It’s not so bad once you’re used to it

Your author newsletter connects you to fans and readers of your books. Again, Amazon will never do this so you can see who your fans are.

Build a reader magnet to build your mailing list. You might have had good stuff from your book that just didn’t make it into the final cut. Revive it. Write histories of your characters. Write an author’s guide to the best books from your genre. If you’re unsure what a good reader magnet looks like, seek out authors like you who are creating this bonus content. Look over what they’re doing.

Develop posts for social media. People use various kinds, but you’re never far away from connecting to readers and potential fans when you use Instagram and Facebook. Create a Facebook account for your author life, not just your personal Facebook account. Your book is represented by a Page, which lets you attract Likes. Those Likes are a way of pushing your news into the Facebook Feeds of your readers. Instagram works differently — hashtags and listing the accounts of others gets you into feeds.

There is more, always more

Some of the rest will cost you more. Contest entries are the least expensive. Paid reviews will be more, and some people don’t think they’re that important. There is advertising at Amazon and at Facebook you can purchase. Take great care with that, and measure and test as you go. For more connection, you can use YouTube or Facebook for chats with fans: tell them when you’ll be live by putting the date and time in your newsletter. You can even record a little video for use on Instagram, or post one on your YouTube channel.

What, you don’t have a channel yet? It’s easy to set up. Use it to get the word out. Buy a ring light to illuminate your smile for the camera. Tell the world about your book. Then you can revel in the life of a self-published author who is doing their self book marketing.

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

How a proposal can get your book published

Every book needs a game plan to play its way into a publisher’s lineup. Things like comparable books and the heartbeat promise of a story are the same for fiction and nonfiction. Unlike what you might have heard, every publisher makes an investment and wants to earn it back when they buy a book from an author — whether that book is a true story or not.

The difference is that a nonfiction book doesn’t have to be finished before it sells. Some key parts of the book need to be finished and look very good, though. Otherwise, you’ll just hear crickets. What follows is a two-page summary of making the proposal, the first look at any book telling a true story. Think memoirs or yoga books, or that passionate story about living every day because you might die tomorrow.

Process

In short, a proposal is finding books that are like yours but missing a key element. Plus, finding a gap in the market where nobody’s writing a book like yours and being able to name that gap. You also find a specific way to describe your readers and where you will find them. You will need ideas and promises about how you will help market and sell the book. Finally, you write: a table of contents, plus a summary into the inside flap or back cover copy. You create and polish a few sample chapters, and buff up an inspiring bio that shows you’re the best-qualified person to write your book.

Comparables and competition

We might as well start here, because it’s the point where the publisher’s sales and marketing team will decide to buy your book. You’re either filling a wide and well-identified gap — holy cow, no books about being a minister and working for gun safety — or you can add something captivating and essential to what’s already on the shelves of bookstores.

If you don’t know it already, you need to think in terms of bookstores while you create a proposal. A publisher will think of them first, since more books are bought in paper than any other medium. If you get the deal done, the audiobook opportunity for you to narrate will follow.

Where to look? I like the daily reports of Publisher’s Marketplace, the thorough reporting from Publisher’s Weekly, the grassroots bookselling stories in Shelf Awareness, and the fun of Edelweiss+ catalogs, and even Amazon’s Also Purchased books. Shelf Awareness has a nice element called Shelf Talker, which suggests what a bookseller might say to a customer about a book.

Dig in. Ask your author friends if they know of anything like your book. Come to this part of the proposal prepared and you will look more professional. Being perceived as professional is much more important for a nonfiction author.

Knowing your audience

Saying that a book is for mothers or dads just won’t do. Those are chunks of the world too big to target. If you say it’s for divorced dads with tough custody agreements, you’re much closer. (My memoir Stealing Home targets those readers among its audience. It also appeals to baseball fans who are fathers of Little Leaguers. “This book is for readers who enjoyed Dan Shaughnessy’s Senior Year.”)

If your book is “For everybody,” it’s really for nobody. That’s because it’s too difficult to discover a book to read while it campaigns alongside the bestsellers published by Bigger Companies Than Your Publisher. Who use Bigger Discovery Budgets: marketing.

Nothing helps you find readers for your book — and convince a publisher you can lead those readers to a purchase — better than specific descriptions tied to resources. For one memoirist I’ve coached, we tracked down associations covering counseling for suicide, another for legislative staffers working to get bills passed, plus associations of law enforcement. Putting membership numbers onto these helps a publisher visualize sales.

Everybody knows somebody. If you have a friend or an author acquaintance who is a police officer, or who works on a senator’s staff, or helps on a hotline, you find out where they gather and trade messages. Believe it or not, Facebook can be a great resource here, if you don’t know people like your prospective readers. And if you don’t know your prospective readers, well, that’s something to look at while you’re choosing a book to write.

The overview writing: table of contents and summary

This doesn’t work quite as well for memoirs, but a table of contents is an essential element in any nonfiction book proposal. (A memoir has episodes that it uses as its backbone.) As an author, you probably already have one of these lists which you call an outline. If you don’t have one, it’s time to go back and create it — as much for the book’s chances at being a good book as for your chances to get a publishing contract to finish it. Good books just sell better at every step, including the step where you sell your book to the publisher.

This is the spot where you look over your contents and then write that summary — the one that seems way too short and turns out to be the very thing you use to decide to buy a book yourself.

The sample writing: your best chapters

The beauty of proposing nonfiction is that your best foot forward does not have to be your first one. You can include a sample chapter from the middle of the book, or a rousing conclusion, and get just as far as submitting an introduction. The writing has to be stellar, which will usually involve an editor or a key reader who also is an author. You can’t see everything that your writing should be, as well as everything it can be.

If you have a couple of chapters, or three, that demonstrate varying styles of voice from the same book, that’s a good reason to include a smorgasbord of writing. For example, you might have case histories as well as an inspiring overview. The point of submitting a sample is to show you’re a good enough writer to invest in; be ready to be edited once your deal is closed. Your book will be different than your samples. Nobody can say for sure how different. Publishers prefer authors with experienced voices.

Bio, or why it’s gotta be you

Authors arrive at the bio with some trepidation, secretly knowing all of the things they haven’t done as well as someone else. This is something to cast aside when you tell a publisher who you are. There’s something personal about your life that made you want to write the book. There’s also something professional or accomplished about you that makes you an expert. Not the expert — that’s too much to ask. As just one expert, you will still know more than most readers. If you’re an expert at testifying before legislators’ staffs because you’ve done it for years, that counts. If you created a style of yoga that puts thousands of people onto mats, people who never thought they could do yoga, that’s expertise, too.

Don’t think this bio is going to be its best on your first draft. It can be a good strategy to have outside eyes help you with the bio. An interview conducted by somebody with journalism skills, just like the one you’d hope for at a resume service, is a grand tool to build a bio.

If you have recommendations or references you use to practice your life’s work, or your superior volunteering career, you can call on this to show who you are, too. LinkedIn offers a way to solicit recommendations. You can use this to fill up your testimonial cup.

Marketing and Selling: It’s kinda on you

Despite how it might seem, a publishing deal to create a book still falls back on you every day. Yes, your publisher has details and experience to guide you, as well as people who do the marketing and sales for a living. However, you are the only person who cares about your book every single day. Publishers recognize this and sign up the authors who know they are the starters in the publishing lineup.

Not only do you create the content, but you also find the readers and sometimes close the deal. Nobody will track down book clubs and blog communities and even TV-social media-Web like you will. If all of that is beyond your experience, you can fix that. Hire a publicist or a social media expert. Lots of big-time authors do this, because publishers have a finite bandwidth to help authors in the publishing stable.

You will need specifics to get a proposal accepted: I’ll approach these communities. I’ll write and submit for these blogs. I will stock a YouTube channel and connect with these existing contacts. I will approach these library systems. If you’ve been covered in the media, this is where you bring it up.

Get yourself out there

Be brave and have swagger. As Brenda Ueland said in If You Want to Write, “Be bold, free, and truthful.” She also says you should “Be careless, reckless — a lion and a pirate when you write.”

Get Brenda’s book. It will feed you like a lion tamer and fill your treasure chests with courage. Writing a proposal is brave, good work.

If you’d like help with your proposal process, I like working with authors who want to make bold strides toward publication. Publisher’s deals are a good thing to pursue, once you add up everything you must do to self-publish. Contact me so we can talk.

Watch out for website wags

I recently ran into a web designer who said in a glib tone, “WordPress sucks.” I tried to share my history with Joomla (ouch!) with him, but he was all “there’s a Frankenstein of code inside WordPress.” Yeah, and countless companies doing good web commerce and connection using it. I’m pretty well versed with a WordPress dashboard.
I didn’t cut code. I make content and thought up business products and services.

With Joomla it didn’t help that I had a web designer who could build-out just fine for a shoe store or a garden center. Making modifications and tuneups and the interface with customers, not so good. Building for anybody but yourself is graduate-level work. Plenty of people are ready to help build simple websites. Mine was anything but, since I come from editorial work. Mine looked good, but oy, did it ever show off its open-sourced roots. My designer never wanted to use anything that was built on a pro basis from the start. Cheap was important to her. Joomla and her build-out was all so lightly documented. It’s hard to improve a site fast with something that someone else built. With my designer, learning always involved a phone call.

It didn’t get better once my Joomla site was injected with malware scripts. Twice. I changed hosting (now at SiteGround) and got an intermediate firewall company (SiteLock at $60 monthly) to keep the security problems away. When you make your living off a website and Google’s searches on you include “This website may be infected,” that’s a moment of panic. That was on the old hosting company, yes, but it’s also on me for having a Joomla install that wasn’t auto updated and had a lot of those hobbyist plug ins and extensions which the “gee-it’s-free” developers roll out. And then don’t secure.

SiteGround auto-updates my WordPress (and believe me, I know people are trying to hack into WordPress. It’s everywhere, like Windows) and my designer who built workshopwriter.com wants to secure me as much as I do. I come to the WordPress use from much more direct experience. I get lost in theme modification and configurations, though. If a developer can modify the CSS, that puts me so much closer to the pro look that I want.

My problem is I that learned publishing in the paper era. We controlled every user experience because the medium was the same everywhere. Losing that control, and giving myself over the the dynamic nature of web, still annoys me. Three different sizes of smartphones and two operating systems always alters the experience. When I want a border to be 5 pixels outside of content, I want to know where in the theme I modify it.

There’s another website out there selling books and collecting reader names. blackirishbooks.com/books  Slick and sweet. It’s a WordPress installation with a Leadpages plugin. $48 monthly for Leadpages. Spend money to look like a pro and make money, I always say.

You’ve got just one book. How to get it discovered

Readers want to find your book. Help them.

Writing a book is a wonderful achievement. Getting it discovered is wonderful, too. It’s probably a bigger challenge. The problem is that the finishing line for these efforts is very different.

In the first, the writing, you complete the book. No more work is possible. The success lies in the eye of the buyer. Very subjective.

In the second, the success lies in the sales numbers the author plugs into a spreadsheet as well the deposits and expenses related to generating discovery. The work goes on forever, and it is never complete.

“I wrote this great book. Some people agree.”

“I’m selling my book. Some people are discovering it.”

The difference is “I wrote” versus “I’m selling.” The joy of having created, versus ongoing work.

Creating and its joy might not be the only reason you’re writing a book. You might want others to discover it, buy it, recommend it, connect with you. You need both parts to be published. If you like commerce and relationships, you’re suited for the second. If you don’t find those fulfilling, you’re suited for the first.

But if you have something to say that only you can say — a unique voice, even more than a unique story — you’ll be motivated to learn the second part to the make the first part more rewarding.

One wise answer to “What can one-book authors do?” comes from The Book Designer website. Buried in the comments are these three commandments

  • Come up with a good book title
  • Have the best cover they can get
  • Write a good blurb

The article goes on to say

You come up with great titles by studying your genre and/or similar books to your own.

There are plenty of affordable book cover designers. There’s no excuse for not paying for a good cover when you’re not a professional designer yourself.

There are plenty of writer forums on which you can ask for help with a blurb. If you can’t afford to pay someone to write one, ask for help.

Finally, spend the time getting to know your audience, the influencers in that area of interest, and the places online where they discuss their common interest.

It’s fine to not want to learn marketing. Instead, take the time to build relationships with people whom you want to read your book. Also, make sure you’re creating a book they would want to tell people about.

Get your book in line for a prize

Prizes are important to sales of a book. The kudos make a book stand out and help convince readers to give it a shot. It seems like an easy observation, so why aren’t more indie books submitted for meaningful prizes?

Cost is always an issue, especially for the indie author. After doing your work getting a great edit, a standout cover, ebook formatting and then the crucial marketing and ad efforts, you might have exhausted your budget. The last $60 you’ve got seems like it’s better spent on five good bottles of wine at the release party—instead an entry in something like the Writer’s League of Texas annual contest.

Authors should budget for both kinds of expenses. An indie author needs all the help a traditional publisher gives its authors. Books do get entered into contests by publishers and agents. The WLT annual contest gives that kind of entry a $10 surcharge. It’s a $60 spend to get considered when an author enters the contest.

Keep an eye out for how level the playing field really is. The WLT has a separate Discovery prize in its annual contest, aimed at indie books, plus those published by smaller presses and university imprints. Nice to have the separate but equal prize, but Discovery doesn’t have a list of finalists yet. The main prizes have four runner-ups. You don’t call your book a runner up when it lands in those spots. You market it as a WLT Book Award Finalist.

This is not the same kind of contest as a writer’s prize. That’s for a book yet to be published. A good thing as well. Something like Montana Book Festival’s Emerging Writer prizes led to Cody Luff’s recent book deal with Apex Publishing. Publisher’s Weekly called it a nice deal, which makes sense when you know Apex books have won Nebula and Hugo awards for science fiction.

Cody’s Ration, about a far future society pinned down by famine, is coming out in a couple of years. Keep an eye out for what contests it might win. You can say that the Hugo and the Nebula awards are contests, very high profile ones.

Entries in the WLT contest have to written by a Texas author. The boundaries are broad for that credential. If you lives in Texas for three years or more, at any time of your life, you’re in.

Publishing services operate contests, too. Reedsy’s got a nice list of contests. It’s hard to find a book contest with a fee below $50, so you just need to add this expense to your book’s marketing category.

Hunt down the books you love which are like yours (the industry calls these comps, just like real estate) and see who’s won a prize. That’s a good start on finding the place to get in line for your prize. Even better if it’s a level playing field. It takes a bit of research to figure out who’s a Big 5 winner and who’s not, but it’s worth your time.

The ways that readers find their next book

Readers tend to choose what they already know when reaching for the next book. That’s what BookBub, one of the leading advertising hubs for books, said in a report from a recent newsletter. The ad site’s studies of book buyers showed that readers most often got their next book because they liked the author. At No. 2, and a close second, was buying the next book in a series.

The results about book choices included some surprises. Way down on the list, just 17 percent of buyers said they picked their next book because of the cover. Right underneath author and series familiarity? Plot. At the bottom of the reasons books were purchased was critical reviews.

Some of these results fly in the face of accepted wisdom. “Produce a great cover” is among that advice, along with “Go all out to get great reviews.” There’s a caveat here, in that the readers are looking for another book and will give an author who they already know the first shot — so long as they like the plot, or the previous book in the series.

The takeaway advice for an author starting their career is to have plans for more than one book. If not a series, at least multiple titles. You could always carve up that 500-page opus into two books, tying them together with a great plot. Have the same artist do both covers. If you can afford it for awhile, offer the first book for free.

This is the kind of advice a publisher should give you, should you choose to take the traditional route and give away 90 percent of your cover price in exchange for writing, rewriting after an edit, and marketing. Yes, you’ll do that last one in the list. You’re always the CEO of your books, and nobody wakes up every single day thinking about selling your book except you. Authors, start your platforms, and think about multiple books.