Not too long ago, I was talking with someone about my upcoming novel Rose. They said that it might not be a bad idea for me to maybe get some fancier get-ups, seeing as the book was being published by a company and I was in a better financial position than I was in college to do a book tour.
Now generally, I just wear whatever’s comfortable, and this person’s job required them to dress much nicer than your average Joe in most situations. So I wasn’t sure I really needed a new suit jacket and some fancy pants. Still, it stuck my mind. A lot of authors dress up when I’ve seen them at readings or on TV shows. And one author I really liked, Richard Castle from Castle (yeah, I know he’s fictional, but he’s got tie-in novels in our world, so he kind of counts) always wore nice shirts, pants and jackets. And Castle is kind of like the adult, mystery author-version of me. Perhaps I should get some new duds.
On the other hand, Stephen King usually wears sweaters and jeans to author events and TV appearances. When I went to see RL Stine at a reading (yes, that happened), he was wearing just a button-down shirt and pants. And one author I’ve had some contact with and was a huge voice during the recent Cockygate controversy usually wears tank tops that show off her tattoos and a cap when she makes YouTube videos (and in our increasingly digital age, that platform works just as well as TV).
So what to do? Well, I do what I do in times like this, I turn to Facebook author groups. And I quickly got a response in return. The answer: it depends.
More specifically, it depends on what kind of impression you’re trying to create. Some authors want to be seen as no different than their readers, so they dress as they do during a normal day off. Others like the effect a suit or a nice dress creates with an audience and thus dress up. And other authors like to dress up in a distinctive manner. This can be as simple as dressing up as one of their characters (especially if said character has a particular look), or as dressing up as a particular type or idea of a character. Our good friend Joleene Naylor recently went to an author event where she dressed up as a vampire like out of the stories she writes, and it apparently worked well for her in more ways than one.
In addition to personal choices, genre can sometimes affect what you wear to a book reading or in an author bio pic. Mystery writers tend to dress up more, as that makes them appear more distinguished and intelligent, which is what we want writers of mysteries to be. Horror authors, however, still deal with misconceptions that we’re all cannibalistic murderous sex-fiends, so we often dress pretty normally. Unless of course we have something to cosplay as, and then all bets are off!
In any case, what you end up wearing to a book reading or during a YouTube interview or whatever depends largely on your own personal tastes and comfort, the image of yourself you wish to put out there, and perhaps the expectations of your readers. If you’re confused, network with your fellow writers and see what they have to say. Surely one of them will say something to help you pick out an ensemble for your next reading at the local bookstore.
As for me, I think casual clothes will suit me well in most situations, though I can see some instances where I might want to put on a nice button-down and a jacket (Trevor Noah, call me!). It’s just how I roll. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What do you prefer to wear to an author event? Do you have any tips on how to dress for one?
Two of my kids are old enough to create and manage their own You Tube channels, and they expressed an interest in doing so. I figured it was a good idea because they’d learn social networking skills, how to create videos, edit those videos, etc. These are things they could potentially use for future employment. They, however, had stars in their eyes. They heard that people are making a good living off of videos via the ads on You Tube. When you get popular enough, your videos can start getting monetized. As they were talking about how many subscribers it would take to start earning money, I realized this is similar to what I hear from new authors.
When I hear most new authors talk, their focus is on how much money they’re going to make in X amount of time. This is why courses on how to make a six-figure income in a short amount of time are so popular. These courses feed into this “get rick quick” mindset. This is the same thing my kids were thinking when it came to You Tube. I had to sit down and explain to my kids how this stuff really works. Sure, there are always people who will make it big. For all the actors that run out to Hollywood, there is a small number that hit the big time. But this isn’t going to happen to most of them. And just because they post videos on You Tube, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be making a nice cushy living off their videos when they’re 18.
So today, I thought I’d make a blog post about what is a more realistic approach to the business side of being a creative person.
There are two main things you need to keep in mind when going into the business side of writing.
If you build it, they may not come.
I know this isn’t what new authors want to hear, but it’s true. Just because you publish books, it doesn’t mean you’ll make money. Just because you write in a certain genre with a certain plot, it doesn’t mean it’ll sell. Sometimes a book doesn’t resonate with readers, so they don’t buy them. It doesn’t mean the book is bad. (I’ve seen plenty of great books not selling well.) It just means the book didn’t “click” for some reason.
Even if you wrote something specifically to market, had tons of feedback on it from your target audience, got a professional cover, had a professional editor, and have the best website on the planet, you aren’t guaranteed sales. Also, you can run ads, do permafrees on the first in a series, or do other promotional stuff all day long, and you still might not reach the level of income you were hoping for. I’ve seen authors do all of the right things and still not make a living at this. The sad reality is that sometimes it just doesn’t happen.
If you do make money, don’t think your troubles will be over. Even if you’re not exclusive to Amazon, you will find sales going up and down. Things don’t always go up and up and up and… You get the idea.
I’ve been publishing through Amazon and Smashwords since 2009, and I’ve found this whole business to be a rollercoaster. Over the past three years, I’ve been carefully tracking my sales data, and I noticed that my sales went up and down across all retailers. I’ve always been wide. I’ve never been exclusive to Amazon. So I’ve had plenty of time to build an audience on the wide channels. And I have found that regardless of the retailer, sales go up and down. Yes, having a new book out often means sales go up, but it doesn’t mean it goes up to the same level it did with previous book, and it doesn’t mean it’ll succeed the same way at all retailers.
If you do manage to make money at this, I urge you to do three very important things I never did.
One: Save half of the income for taxes.
Disclaimer: This is specifically for the United States authors. (I don’t know how tax payments work in other countries.)
Maybe you won’t need to pay taxes on how much you make, but if you have to, at least the money is there. I had to sell stuff to pay my taxes because I hadn’t even thought to save a portion of my income back then. Believe me, you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re scrambling around to come up with the tax money you owe the government based off of last year’s income.
Now, you can set up a payment plan with the government. Some people do that. But since you’re considered a small business owner, you will be making quarterly tax payments (if the government thinks you’re making enough). So four times a year, you’ll have to pay taxes based off of last year’s income. If you miss the deadline for a quarter, you will have to pay a penalty. The quarterly tax payments are due mid-April, mid-July, mid-September, and mid-January. Usually, it’s the 15, but if the 15th is on a holiday or weekend, the date can get pushed back to the 16 or 17. Either way, you will be required to send in these tax payments.
You will save yourself a lot of stress and heartache if you save half of your money into the tax fund while you’re making it. Whatever you don’t end up having to pay can be tucked away into savings.
Which brings me to my next piece of advice…
Two: Put as much as you can into savings.
I didn’t do this, and I am currently living to regret it. The day might come when you aren’t making as much as you used to. This is what happened to me. This year, I’m projected to lose income for a third time. When I was making good money, I failed to save anything. After taxes were paid, I spent money like my income was going to stay consistent. I currently have $40 in my savings account. I have no investments. I have nothing tucked away in a retirement account, either. I’m 43. I made bad financial decisions. A lot of bad financial decisions. I’m not proud to admit it, but if you can be better off in the future because you’re going learn from my experience, then it’ll be worth going public with this. Every time I mention losing money, I get criticized. This isn’t a popular thing to talk about in the writing community, but I don’t want anyone to end up in my shoes. So please, learn from my mistakes. You don’t want to end up where I am.
Three: Learn to say no.
Over the past couple of months, I have had to start saying “no” to people I sincerely care about when they asked for money. I hate saying no. The fact that I had trouble saying no in the past is part of what led me to a situation where I only have $40 in savings. It feels good to give. But if you don’t position yourself on a firm foundation, how can you really help out someone else? Sometimes you have to think of yourself before you can think of another person. I know this one is hard. For those of you who are like me and will often sacrifice what we have to the point where we’re at the end of your own financial rope, saying no is a crucial lesson to learn.
At the end of the day, you have to be able to take care of yourself before you’re in a good position to help someone else. I don’t have a rule book on this, but in my opinion, you should have at least six months of living expenses tucked away before you can afford to help another person. A man I was watching in a You Tube video recommended one year’s worth of savings. With sales being so unpredictable, I’m inclined to say that you should aim to save between 6-12 months of living expenses (including tax payments). Of course, you need to keep saving beyond that. You’ll probably want to look into investments for your future, too, but I would get the savings built up first. You want something you can get to right away if you run into an emergency.
I do think there’s value in giving, but it needs to be balanced with savings. Only you can figure out the right ratio that works for your household. But I strongly advise you to say no to others until you have taken care of your own situation. You can’t get someone else out of a sinking boat until you plug up the holes in your own boat first.
So those are my tips for new authors. Does anyone have any tips they’d like to share?
You may be talking to someone at a party, at work, or while waiting to lead an army of werewolves and asuras into battle to stop the demonic entity Delassi from entering our dimension and consuming it entirely (or is that just me?), and the subject you’ve written or published one or more books may come up. If that happens, there’s a good chance they may ask what your book is about. And that leaves you with the decision on how best to tell them what your story is about without giving away too much or too little.
In instances like these, I prefer to use what’s called the elevator pitch, something I picked up from my job-seeking days (which thankfully are well behind me!). The idea of the elevator pitch is to present the shortest and most succinct description possible for any possible subject. For a job-seeker like myself back in the day, that would be a short description of myself that would give the hiring official an idea of what sort of employee I would be. But for a novel, the elevator would be the briefest description of the story’s plot.
Now, I can already hear some of you saying, “But Rami, my story’s too complex or long to just summarize it in one sentence.” And I can understand that. There are plenty of stories that are difficult to summarize. I’d be hard-pressed to give an elevator pitch for the Song of Ice and Fire series (the closest I’ve ever come is someone making a joke about the series and saying it’s about, “Knights, dragons and boobs,” which is true but probably not the best elevator pitch). However, I find stories that defy the elevator pitch are the exception rather than the rule. Most can be boiled down to their essential nature and used in an elevator pitch.
For example, the Harry Potter books:
A young boy goes to wizard school and discovers his destiny.
Or To Kill a Mockingbird:
A trial with racial overtones sets a small town on edge as one lawyer attempts to give his client a fair shot at justice.
A bullied teenage girl discovers she’s telekinetic and decides to use her powers to free herself from her torment, with disastrous results.
When I tell people about my own upcoming novel Rose, this is the elevator pitch I usually give them:
A young woman starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems).
Yes, that’s the plot, and it’s actually getting published. And a lot of people have heard that summary and have asked me to let them know the moment the book is available for purchase.
The upside to using the elevator pitch method is that it takes a big story and condenses all a prospective reader needs to know into a single sentence without bogging them down into unnecessary details like the complex relationship between the Seven Kingdoms, or the blood-purity debate among wizards, or any other details that a reader would be better off learning through actually reading a story. It’s especially helpful if you’re in a place where things happen fast and people come and go quickly, such as in line at a coffee shop, saying hello to the usher you’re on first-name basis with at the movie theater, or, I don’t know, on an elevator.
Another upside to this method is that you can use the pitch with your blog, or short stories you’re submitting to magazines or anthologies, and a whole lot more.
The one downside I can think of, besides that a few stories can’t be summarized in a sentence that easily, a single sentence can’t capture the beauty or the power of a story. The sentence I gave above for Mockingbird can’t impart to the potential reader what a beautiful and emotional coming-of-age story it is, and the one for Harry Potter certainly doesn’t tell you just how awesome those books or the worlds inside them are.
But compared to boring people’s ears off with an entire synopsis or just reading the blurb to them right off the book jacket, this might be the better method, and one I’d highly recommend.
So how does one condense their story to a single sentence? That’s up to the author to decide. No one knows the story better than the author, so they ultimately figure that out. The only advice I can give is to not try to rush it. This can take a while, sometimes several days, to figure out. That, and maybe ask yourself what’s the first thing you think of when it comes to your story. Often, that image that appears in your head is the story at its simplest.
While it may seem a little paradoxical, summarizing a story into a single story and using that as your elevator pitch can make for a great marketing tool in everyday interactions. Who knows? That single sentence could get you a number of eager new readers, if you’re lucky.
Do you use elevator pitches when marketing and submitting your stories? What are some tips you use when coming up with them?
This blog post will contain some Christian references, but it also focuses on writing.
Sunday’s church sermon was on how David killed the giant, Goliath. The visiting pastor talked about how big and tall Goliath was, and how he wore heavy battle armor. This Philistine was intimidating to the Israel people. Who could defeat this menacing giant?
To urge someone to come forward to fight Goliath, King Saul offered one of his daughters to marry and for the family to be exempt from paying taxes. Still no one answered the call until a shepherd boy expressed his interest in 1 Samuel 32-33:
“‘Don’t worry about a thing,’ David told him [Saul]. ‘I’ll take care of this Philistine.’”
“Saul replied. … ‘You’re only a boy and he [Goliath] has been in the army since he was a boy!’”
However, David was not deterred even when he threw off the weighty armor Saul gave him to fight the giant. David would slay Goliath on his own terms.
The odds were against David. But with one swift swirl of his slingshot, the rock hit Goliath on his forehead, and the giant fell dead to the ground.
This reminds me of our own writing battles. We work hard to make our work the best we can do. We edit and edit, research and research for historical accuracy, we promote and promote to secure readers and yet at times we feel just like the Israel people – intimidated and hopeless.
This year I made an oath that I would depend upon God and not worry. There are a few days that hopeless feeling returns once more within me, such as this weekend at a writers’ conference.
It took a couple of hours for me to set up my booth, so I could sell my books during Saturday’s lunch and conference breaks. I had practiced reading from my recent historical, clean and Christian romance, When Hearts Rekindle, wanting to entice those hearing my Friday night reading to visit my book booth on Saturday.
For all my efforts, I sold one book, my first book, Seasons of the Soul, which includes a spattering of personal accounts of my two different autistic sons. It took me time to get over my sinking feeling of all my efforts to result in one sale; however, grateful I am for that sale. But to be honest, I had hoped for more, not a lot, but perhaps three to four sales. At least with that, the $10 booth would have paid for itself.
The next day I shook myself awake from my despair and renewed my commitment to God. As a Christian, I must believe the word of the Lord, “all things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mark 9:23) That does not mean there are not troubling times.
However, overall, each year gets better and so, I say to you, keep trudging along. Do not let your fret overtake you and continue to write, tweak your manuscripts and move forward. You are doing better than when you started. Why? Because you have learned from your past mistakes and so you are more prepared today than you were yesterday. Grab your pencil and paper – or should I say your word program and computer? – and type and write! God bless.
Recently I wrote a post on “Handbook for Mortals,” which covered the controversy about a first-time author and former band manager whose YA novel made it to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List, and how the Twitter YA community uncovered that the author got there by making bulk orders from bookstores. All in order to apparently get a movie deal with the author as the main character. Yeah, that happened.
Well on Monday the author of that very book, Lani Sarem, wrote an article for the Huffington Post defending herself. She pointed out that the publishing industry has changed dramatically over the past couple of years, and that she ordered the books for conventions and book signings, going through the bookstores rather than her distributor so that sales counted towards the NYT Bestseller List. She also said that plenty of people had bought books at these signings/conventions, and that she’d already locked down the rights for the movie so she could have more control over the five movies (seriously? Five?) based off the series she was writing, and to star in the film.
I’ve seen a lot of back and forth in the wake of this article. Some is sympathetic, and others not so much. And Sarem does make some points. The publishing industry has changed dramatically over the years, authors do order in bulk for events like conventions and book signings. And authors do show up in adaptations of their works from time to time. Could all the media coverage of this book and its author, including the coverage from two weeks ago, have actually been detrimental to something positive?* Did one Twitter community accomplish something that another failed to do with the Ghostbusters reboot?
Well, I did some research, and slept on it, and I thought about it. And while there are some interesting points, there’s still some stuff with this situation that doesn’t ring right. Not least that movie thing (five? Seriously? SERIOUSLY?! Let’s get to even one and see how that goes! And you as the lead? Really? I don’t know if that’s a sign of a control freak or a narcissist or both).
First off, the buying in bulk thing. Yeah, authors do buy in bulk for events. However, most of the time they buy through their distributors, as it comes with a discount, and it still counts as sales. It’s also considered more honest than what Sarem did. She literally says in her defense she bought through bookstores simply to get on the NYT Bestseller List, which would get her the movie deal. And while she’s technically right that there are no “rules” against doing something like this, there’s a subversiveness about it that doesn’t feel right. Not to mention that, as I mentioned in the previous article, behavior like this got her fired from a band she managed. Heck, tactics like this was used in an episode of Lucifer, and it felt just as subversive there as it does here. It actually reminds me of the time I played an online game and used a cheat code to get to maximize my stats just so I didn’t have to do the hard work of building them in the first place.
And that’s the major problem here: Sarem was looking for ways to immediately reach the top and get her movie deal, rather than get their through hard work and talent. Even if she wasn’t doing technically anything “wrong,” it was still dishonest and meant to be a shortcut to fame and success. That’s why people are upset, and made such a big deal about this. Sarem used a cheat code, all for a film deal, and it got exposed. That’s why she was taken off the NYT Bestseller List.
Because in the end, there is no defense for trying to skip hard work and make things easy. Especially when it comes to literature.
So while Sarem may have a good defense, there’s plenty here that just doesn’t sit right. And if you think about it long enough, you’ll realize there are ways to get a great novel on top of NYT Bestseller Lists, and this isn’t one of them.
Also, Sarem’s cover art may have been stolen from another artist. I’m not kidding you, the cover of the book apparently bears a striking resemblance to an art print called The Knife Thrower by Australian artist Gill Del Mace. And if you look at them, they’re very similar (can’t post it here because of possible copyright issues, but here’s a link to the creator’s website if you want to check it out). Where does it end?
But what do you guys think? This seems like it might become an ongoing issue or story, one I may revisit on this site in the future, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Was Sarem being dishonest or innovative? Did Twitter go insane again, or was it a cross between Spotlight-style reporting and grassroots activism? Let’s discuss in the comments below.
*As for the quality of the book, I’ve looked at reviews from both before and after the initial wave of articles about Sarem’s unique methods. Some like it, but a lot more find it a mess that seems to have been written by a junior high schooler. Of those who’ve written reviews after the controversy broke, they admit they know of the controversy, but they try to focus on the book itself, which I’ve done myself with different movies and films. If they’re definitely trying to stay unbiased, then the reviews don’t bode well for Sarem regardless of the efficacy of her tactics.
Today’s post is geared for writing as a business. (For those who are writing as a hobby, you may want to skip this one.)
Over the years, I’ve been reading magazines and blog posts dedicated to entrepreneurs, especially small business owners, and I have come away with one main theme that seems to emerge. That theme is “focus”. More importantly, it is focusing on the one thing you are most passionate about.
I came across this great post the other day, and it reminded me of those articles. Then, I thought about how this applies to writing. Specifically, how does it apply to writing if you have a business mindset.
Some people may see writing with the goal of earning money as “selling out”. I don’t. There’s nothing wrong with trying to make money doing something you love. Most writers I come across love writing. They have always loved it. It has been a big part of their lives ever since they can remember. I might not have caught on to this until I was in high school, but I honestly can’t think of anything I’m more passionate about than writing. It is the one thing I can do all day long and not get bored. The best kind of job you can have is the one that feels like play. Why? Because then you’re never “working”. You get paid to play.
But sometimes the dream of doing something we love can get sabotaged when we lose our focus. I once read a post years ago from a writer who asked, “How Badly Do You Want It?” I can’t find the article now, but it has stuck with me through the years. So, how badly do you want to make a living as a writer? What are you willing to give up to make it happen?
Too many times we let distractions get in our way. Anything that doesn’t matter to the business side of writing is a distraction. (Yes, set aside time for family and friends, but make this business your priority.) Today, I have some tips on how to do just that.
1. Write the next book.
This is the most important thing you can be doing today. Without a book, you will have no product to sell. In order to make a living as a writer, you need to think beyond one book. You need to think beyond one series. You need to be prolific. It’s just the way it is. Each time you publish a book, you should see a rise in income. But that rise is temporary. Sales are up and down in this business. You can’t predict how things will go from one month to another. All you can do is get another book out and hope it gets you through until your next book comes out.
As a quick note: not all books will sell the same. Some will probably sell better than others. The trick is to find out why you sold one book really well and do what you can to tap into the elements that worked for that book into your future books. For example, I noticed my marriage of convenience romances sold better than the books where the heroine pursues the hero. You have to get creative on spinning a plot trope so you’re not writing the same story over and over again, but it is possible to do many spin-offs from one idea.
2. Write for your audience. (This is writing with focus.)
If you aren’t writing the kinds of things your target audience wants to read, you will probably not sell as well as you would have if had tailored the book to them. This is why finding your target audience is important. The key to this is finding an area you’re already interested in writing in and then combining it with something your audience wants. Find out what character tropes and plot tropes are popular in your genre, and then write your unique spin on it from there. It will still be a fresh brand new story. It’s just one that is geared for your audience.
3. A wise use of time.
There are a lot of distractions that will pop up in the day. Every single day you will be given a reason not to write. (I’m all for taking a day or two off each week to rest. There’s nothing wrong with that.) But when we haven’t written our next book in weeks or months, there is a problem.
Sometimes family and friends will get in the way of your success. If you had a job outside the home, would you drop everything to do something with them? No. You would wait until you’re done working for the day and then take care of them.
Sometimes our pleasures get in the way of our success. If you had a job outside the home, would you take time off just to sit and watch a movie? No. You would wait until you’re done working for the day to watch it.
Sometimes laziness gets in the way of our success. If you had a job outside the home, would you call in and tell the boss, “You know, I just don’t feel ‘inspired’ today. I’m taking today off.” No. You would go to work and press through the day, even if you end up watching every minute on the clock as it slowly ticks by.
My point is that writing needs to be a job. (Yes, it’s a job you love, but it is work.) You need to treat it with the same dedication that you would treat a job outside the home. There are no shortcuts. You can’t dillydally with it. You have to be serious about it. You need to focus on what needs to be done and do it.
4. Watch your writing to promotion ratio.
Yes, you do need to get your name out there. You need to build up an author brand so people know what to expect when they pick up your books. I know this is daunting for a lot of people. (I’m an introvert, so it takes a lot for me to even answer emails.) But how is anyone supposed to know you have books if you aren’t out there?
I don’t know what a good rule of thumb is for how often you should be engaged on promotion. I consider emailing, blogging, setting up pre-orders, Facebook, Twitter, Google +, You Tube, updating your blog/website, running ads, participating in groups, etc to be promotion. I don’t have a rule for how much time should be spent on this stuff, but writing the next book needs to take up the bulk of your time.
Personally, I aim for 80% of my work time to go to writing. About 20% goes to promotion. I do work at home. My hours are usually from 9:30am – 7:30p.m. at night. I take a break to make meals for the family, do laundry, dishes, and other thankless chores that probably take 2-3 hours total away from my working time. Unless I’m sick or on vacation, I average six days a week. Sometimes I will take day #6 to do promotion all day so that I can give 95% of my work time solely to writing. (I consider edits to be a part of writing. It’s just not the fun part.)
I don’t know where you will find your ratio, but I highly advise that at the very least, you spend 60% of your time writing and 40% of your time promoting. That’s just a ratio. So you take the available time you have and figure out what those hours will look like. Obviously, not everyone can write the same hours I do. Some of you have sick family members who need constant care. Some of you have day jobs. Some of you have second jobs. Some of you have babies and young children. Some of you have health issues to contend with.
Personally, if I had a limited time to write, I would spent 90% writing and 10% promotion. The less time you have on hand, the more important it is to write. But I have found it’s not how much time people have that matters as much as how they choose to spend it. There are people who have plenty of time and are able to work, but they keep finding other things to do instead of writing the next book.
Remember, keep your eyes on the prize.
That is why focus is so important. Without focus, you’re not going to accomplish as much as you would otherwise. And it all boils down to the simple question, “How badly do you want it?” I understand that sales like they were 2012-2013 when self-publishing seemed to be at its peak. But if you don’t take control of your time and focus on writing, you’re not going to have the chance of getting to where you want to be. That’s what I’m talking about. Having a chance at your dream. You need focus to get there. (And it goes without saying that you need a compelling story that is properly edited, a good cover, and a good description to go with each book.)
I’ve had this post sitting in the draft folder for a year, and I’ve been waiting for the right time to use it. Recently, I came across this great post “5 Mistakes Authors Make on Social Media” by Michael Cristiano, and I knew this was the right time to make the post below public.
My recommendation is to read the post given at the link above and then read what I have below.
1. Guess what, everyone? I just wrote this fantastic thriller about a group a survivors who need to wade their way through the apocalypse while trying to find a cure for the virus that turns everyone into zombies. Check it out on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iBooks! (This is either posted for the gazillionth time on the author’s social media page–or worse–posted on someone else’s page without their approval.)
or how about…
2. Space Invasion has received a 4.5 star average out of 23 reviews on Amazon. Check out why it’s so hot! (Amazon link provided)
or how about…
3. I know you guys are talking about romances, but I want to tell you about this fantasy I wrote which won the This Book is the Best Ever 2016 Award. I know it’s not what you were asking for, but it is so well written that you will love it anyway. Here’s the link!
or how about…
4. That story about your kid is so funny. It reminds me of the scene I wrote in my book, Alison’s Fake Fiancé, when her toddler went into the store and ran into a large display and knocked everything over. Here’s the link!
What do all of the approaches above have in common? They’re a hard sell. And honestly, I don’t think they work. We are saturated with ads in one form or another. (All of the above are ads. They just weren’t ads someone paid for.) I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring ads of all kinds. I don’t really “see” them when they’re there.
A better approach, in my opinion, would be to build relationships with readers instead of selling to them. It requires a slow build. It takes a lot of time. And it probably won’t mean a massive amount of sales in a short period of time. But I think it can be a very rewarding approach longterm because the readers you meet become real people instead of just numbers, and I enjoy getting to know who is reading and enjoying my work.
Alright, so let’s get to the nitty gritty of this post.
I like to start with this in mind: treat others as you want them to treat you.
I can tell when an author is engaged with me as a person vs when they’re just trying to sell me a book. I’m inclined to read and buy books by authors who take the time to get to know me and care about me. Early on (2010), an author was really nice to me, but the moment I read and reviewed her book, she stopped replying to my comments on her posts. I still remember how that made me feel. I felt like I’d been used, and I never want anyone else to feel that way.
Be yourself. Hang out on places that interest you. Have a good time. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Let’s say you’re shy. Instead of initiating conversations, why not comment in the threads other people have started? Let others lead and add whatever you can. After a while, you’ll be more comfortable with some of the people you’re talking to, and you’ll open up. But let it be a gradual process.
I do think Facebook could be effective for this. I know Facebook isn’t as effective as it used to be, but it’s still a good way to engage with people who read books. Just be sure when you are engaging, you’re not out promoting your books. Be real. Build friendships. You can even create a Facebook group to chat with your readers.
You don’t need to be on Facebook. Pick whatever social media site or sites you enjoy and spend your time and attention over there getting to know people.
I know what some of you are thinking. “But if I don’t tell people I have a book to sell, how will they find it?”
Make sure your name links to your page on that social media. Facebook and Twitter highlight your name. This will take people to your page on that site. Your page is where you link to your website in your profile. On your website, you will have your books. That is how people will find your books.
Another way they can find out is by asking you. But let them do the asking. Or, someone else might mention it in passing and arouse the person’s curiosity. This needs to be someone you didn’t tell to do it. No gaming the system, guys. It needs to be honest and real.
Do I have friends who never read my books? Yep. There are some awesome people who haven’t read anything I’ve written who have been a huge blessing in my life. So don’t limit your conversations only to those people that you believe will buy your books. Be open to everyone. Just like any friendship, it takes time to develop and involves being sincere.
Does this method take time?
Definitely. I know it’s hard to wait in our instant gratification culture (at least in the United States where I live). But anything worth doing often takes time. When you went through school, you didn’t jump from kindergarten to high school. You had to go through years to get there. When you go to college, you don’t get your degree in one semester. It takes time, effort, and dedication. But when you take time to do these things, the reward makes all the work worth it.
And honestly, I’ve been far more blessed by people who read my books than they’ll ever be by me. There were times I wanted to quit (such as this morning, believe it or not), but they were there to encourage me to keep going. I would have given up long ago if it hadn’t been for them. Money is just one factor to being an author. The emotional support you get from your readers is a lot more valuable, in my opinion. But yes, I do understand we need money in order to eat. Like my mom used to say, “You can’t eat love.” But I think being your real self with others can lead to a solid foundation that can help you as you look for effective marketing techniques in the long run. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.
The article fits in with the topic of this post which is why we’re not all called to promote books the same way.
Is there really only one way of doing things?
I get weary of hearing marketing gurus insist that their way of doing book promotion is the “correct” way of doing things. This sets up the idea that every author who doesn’t follow their advice to a “T” is somehow a failure.
Imagine if I were to write a blog post over here telling you that every writer must write romance. Then, I not only told you the genre you must write, but I also told you the plot you must use and the type of characters you must include into that plot. And if you don’t do it my way, then you’re not writing correctly. Such a thing would be silly, and yet, this is what I see a lot of marketing people tell writers. They must do X, Y, and Z, and it must be done in a certain way. If you don’t do it exactly as they think it must be done and you don’t sell enough books, then you have contributed to your own failure.
Nature testifies to the value of being different.
Think of this world we live on. Is the landscape the exact same across the globe? Are we in a world that is only mountains? And more than that, do all the mountains look the exact same? Of course not. We live in a world that is full of variety. Some places have mountains that are covered in snow. Some have mountains covered in trees. Some have mountains that have rocks in them. And there aren’t mountains all over the place. The mountains are in certain places. In other places, you have oceans, the plains, hills, deserts, etc. So the world itself suggests there is no one way of doing things.
Writers’ personalities are just as different as nature is.
Now let’s consider something else. People have different personalities. And as writers, we have different interests. Not everyone writes romance. Thank goodness for that because I like reading a variety of genres!
If you break down the genres, you’ll find a whole list of sub-genres that narrow things down further. In romance alone, you have historical western romance, Regency romance, Victorian romance, Highlander romance, contemporary romance. If you want to break it down further, you can add other niches like paranormal elements like vampires and werewolves. There are so many divisions within fiction that a person can get very specific. More than that, not everyone writes fiction. Nonfiction also has it’s assortment of variety.
Expanding on this, not everyone writes the same length of book, either. Some write short stories. Others write novellas or novels. And some even write more than 100K words. If someone were to tell writers they must write in a very small niche with X, Y, and Z requirements, they’d be laughed at.
So why are we pigeon holing writers?
This is what I feel we do with book promotion. We box writers into believing they must engage in certain activities online in a certain way if they are to be successful. (Success often means money, of course. The intrinsic value you bring to a reader’s life or the passion you had as you wrote the story rarely get factored into “success”.)
What marketing gurus often fail to take into consideration is that each writer has a unique personality, and what works for one personality type is not going to work for another. Yes, there might be some valid things to consider, but not everyone has the same talent. For example, speaking engagements is one way to promote a book. The idea is that you talk and generate interest for you book that people might then buy. I tried speaking. I was awful at it. Believe me, you don’t want to hear me give a speech. So that type of technique would be all wrong for me. I’ve also tried doing those newsletters where you update your readers on something every week or so to remind them you exist, but honestly, I have no interest in trying to email people that often. I’d rather do blog posts and send out an email when I have a new book out.
Instead of trying to put writers into a little pigeon hole, I think it’s time we embraced the fact that book promotion is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.
Below I’m going to throw in some examples of why I say this:
1. Not all writers need to do the same type of social networking promotion.
I keep hearing every author needs a blog. I blog because I love it. I may not be blogging as much as I used to, but I do still blog. However, I would not tell writers they must have a blog if they want to be successful. Blogging isn’t for everyone. Not everyone wants to write posts. I know authors who are much happier engaging with readers on Facebook and Google +. They have no idea what to talk about on a blog, nor do they have the interest in maintaining one. They’d rather writer a couple of sentences and engage directly with readers. Some even prefer Instagram or Pinterest. Some like the forums.
My point is, the choice of where a writer spends time needs to be a good fit for their personality. To tell someone they must be doing a specific social activity or aren’t promoting right is not helping that person. Instead, it would be far better to tell writers that they ought to pick the things that are the best match for their personalities and focus their time and effort on those things. Yes, they might lose potential readers by not doing a certain activity, but they might gain readers when they do another one.
2. Not all writers have the same amount of time to devote to book promotion.
Some of the tips I hear from marketing gurus would take far too much time than I personally have, and I know other writers who are even more strapped for time than I am. Maybe the marketing guru has a lot of spare time to devote to a certain activity. Maybe they aren’t working a full-time job. Maybe they aren’t trying to write new books. Maybe they don’t have children and a spouse at home who need meals prepared and a house cleaned. Maybe they don’t have an adult child with special needs still living with them. But some of us do. And we’re trying to get more books written so our current readers and prospective readers have something to buy. Some writers make book covers or edit to make money, which adds another reason why their time is so limited. My point is that life is busy, and sometimes it’s just not possible to do everything we’re told we “must” do.
Again, I want to emphasize that sometimes there just isn’t enough time in the day to do it all. For certain writers, they might have the time. But not every writer does. So it’s not fair to tell a writer who is strapped for time that if they aren’t spending X amount of time doing Y, then they are hurting their chances of success.
3. Not all writers have the same amount of money to throw into book promotion.
I know writers who are living on social security. I know writers who are in debt. I know writers who are struggling to make ends meet. Not everyone can buy a Bookbub ad. Not everyone can pay $600 for a marketing guru’s course. I even heard of a writer who spent $1500 in one month on book promotion. My eyes nearly popped out of my head on that one. I don’t have that kind of money to throw into ads. I’m too busy digging up money for the IRS so I don’t accrue a penalty for not paying my quarterly taxes on time.
For some of us, even $100 can mean the difference between eating for the month or not eating. I know the topic of ads is a popular thing, but not everyone can afford them. So to suggest that a struggling writer is a failure at book promotion just because they aren’t buying ads is putting them through needless guilt.
Now, this isn’t limited to placing ads. Other examples could be writer’s conferences, online marketing courses, or giveaway items. There are others, but this post is long enough as it is.
The bottom line is that writers need the freedom and relief of knowing they aren’t failures just because they don’t promote books a certain way. I know authors who have written excellent books who have done ads, mailing lists, newsletters, blogs, Facebook, and other things very well. And yet, their sales aren’t showing it. You’d swear by the lack of sales that they aren’t effectively promoting their books or that their books suck. Things couldn’t be further from the truth. They are doing everything right, and for some reason, they aren’t selling as well as they should be.
Whether marketing gurus will ever admit this or not, there are forces outside of our control that impacts our sales. We have no control over which reader reads our books, likes it enough to pass it on to others, or even if a particular reader has a high level of influence within his/her circle. All writers can do is control the product (book) and the type of promotion they choose to do. From there, it is out of our control.
So take heart if you’re a struggling writer. You’re not alone, even if you might feel like it. No one can guarantee your success if you follow their formula. They can only give you strategies that might help. But they can’t promise you anything. Take their advice with a grain of salt and apply that which fits your personality best.
Smashwords has added an awesome new feature: Smashwords Alerts. When readers sign up, Smashwords will send them an email alert whenever the authors they’re following publish something new.
To send alerts an author doesn’t need to do anything; they just happen, thanks to Smashwords’ system. To follow and author, readers need to log into their Smashwords account at http://Smashwords.com, then find their favorite author’s page. On the left side, under users who’ve favorited the author,there’s a button to favorite the author and one to subscribe to author alerts. Right now Smashwords has automatically subscribed readers to all their favorited authors, but they can go in and unfollow.
But what if your readers don’t buy books from Smashwords? What if they like Barnes and Noble, or Amazon better? I can’t speak for all authors, but when I publish a book or story on Smashwords, I also publish it on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and all the others, so an alert from Smashwords would still let readers know that a new story was out there, waiting for them on their platform of choice – and I wouldn’t need to harvest their email addresses or send that notification manually.
In a business that increasingly sucks time for promotions, networking, newsletters, and more, any little thing can help! I’m encouraging all my readers to sign up for the alerts. whether they purchase from Smashwords or not, and hopefully that will save me some time and get the word out easier about new stories.
What do you think of the new alerts? As an author? As a reader? Are you planning to make use of them, or do you find it just more email for your inbox?