Writing and publishing a novel was always one of my life’s ambitions. That’s why when Hattie’s Place was released on Amazon in June 2015, I was as exhilarated as a hiker who’d reached the summit of the Matterhorn. But I barely had time to savor my accomplishment, when I discovered that the hike was only halfway over and that there was another mountain to climb on the way to becoming a successful author–a mountain even higher and less explored than the first. I’d been so busy with the writing and editing of my novel that I failed to factor in the importance of promotion and marketing.
I’ve always been one who learns best by doing. I’ve even written several blogs that reflect my learning by doing philosophy http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/about-me/ http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/learning-by-doing/. That’s how I approached the task of marketing and promoting Hattie’s Place.
One drawback to the learning by doing method is that you have to put aside pride and ego, rely on curiosity, and be willing to face a few pitfalls. The method of learning by doing requires one to accept mistakes as opportunities, and to use those opportunities to learn and grow. Well, I certainly did make lots of mistakes as a new author, which I will continue to blog about under the category of Marketing and Promoting a Novel.
A year down the road, I am still miles away from becoming a best-selling author. In fact, I’m only knocking at the door of distributing 1000 copies of Hattie’s Place–that’s counting sales and giveaways. But what I’ve learned by doing–e.g., reading, asking, trying, gambling, experimenting–has been invaluable. Hattie’s Place has been the guinea pig for my next novel, In the Fullness of Time, which I hope to publish late this year or early in 2017. But you can bet that before I do release it for publication, I’ll have my gear ready to scale that marketing mountain first.
Five Pieces of Conventional Wisdom I Should Have Taken to Heart
1. Build your author platform well before your book is published.
In a previous blog http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/building-an-authors-platform/ I quoted Jane Friedman as saying that Author platform is the vehicle for reaching the target audience once the book is published. Dan Blank http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dan-blank/author-platforms_b_2900416.html also quotes Friedman as saying “The most disappointed writers I know are not unpublished writers, but those who have been published,” and adds:
The implication is that upon publication, no one bought their book, and no one cared about their book. They published into a vacuum of their own creation. They didn’t develop the communication channels or trusting relationships that they needed to ensure their book found readers.
I realize now that when I published Hattie’s Place I was essentially doing just that–publishing into a vacuum of my own creation. If it had not been for the generosity and support of friends and family who bought the book out of their loyalty to me, I doubt I would have sold over 100 copies. I’ve grown to understand how important it is to identify readers of the genre in which the author writes, in my case women’s historical fiction.
It’s not realistic to expect friends and family to comprise your readership, as many of them may be interested in totally different genres. And to each his own! There are so many thousands of books published in every genre that most readers don’t want to waste their time on one that doesn’t resonate with their preference.
My greatest effort to connect with my readers has been through the writing of this blog. And, I must say that I have been gratified by the response I’ve gotten from it thus far. In the eighteen months it has been up and going, the membership has grown to 3,628, and I receive many positive comments on my posts from Facebook and Twitter every time I post.
Still, I can see that I need to write about topics that are of greatest interest to my readers, and I’m seeking ways to make the site more interactive so that I can determine what those topics should be. Before I publish In the Fullness of Time, (That’s actually a working title. It may change) I intend to have those changes in place. I’ll say more about that under the topic of Marketing Budget.
2. Establish your Author Brand.
Author brand is, as I understand it, how you want to be known as an author. Nina Amir posts a list of the ways an author might choose to present herself to her readers that I found helpful in creating the description of my own author brand that follows. http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/07/6-branding-tips-for-writers-and-authors/
- The type of writing you want to do
- The subjects about which you want to write
- The types of stories you want to tell
- The themes you want to cover in your work
- The ways in which you want to serve you readers
- The clients or customers you want to attract
- The spin-off books (sequels or series) you would like to publish
- Your values
- Your interests
- Your passion
- Your purpose
My Author Brand
I want to be known as a writer of women’s historical fiction. I tell stories about ordinary people whose lives are filled with universal challenges of making a living, raising a family, and trying to make their unique mark on the world. My books cover themes of loyalty, love, and friendship. They revolve around strong female characters who find ways to assert their independence, despite the limitations imposed by society and culture. I don’t care to cast my characters as heroes or villains, because I agree with Dabney in Eudora Welty’s Delta Wedding that people are neither all good nor all evil; they are mostly layers of violence and tenderness–wrapped like bulbs.
I can serve my readers best by remaining true to the genre in which I write; by telling compelling stories with tightly woven plots. As a writer of nineteenth century historical fiction, I can serve my readers by always ensuring the historical accuracy of the details and setting of my novels.
I want to attract customers who love history and enjoy a good character-driven story with more internal conflict and self-examination than action scenes and dramatic confrontation. I am still trying to pinpoint who these readers are, but I’m pretty sure many of them are mature women and possibly some younger adult romantic history buffs.
Although I try not to superimpose my own values on my characters and into the stories I tell, the tone of my writing will always reflect my fundamental belief in the ultimate goodness of the human spirit and the potential for human beings to act with compassion toward one another. I am an optimist, cured with a liberal seasoning of realism.
I write mostly because it is one of my greatest passions, but also to contribute to the body of literature depicting strong women. I heard the author David Baldacci say that he never portrays the female protagonists in his novels as victims, and I really appreciate and identify with that because I think the world needs examples of empowered heroines.
My brand promotes greater trust and satisfaction by revealing up front what a reader can expect from my writing. After all, most customers will return if they get what they paid for. That’s the sure way to build a reader base. Those readers who don’t prefer my brand will appreciate knowing it before they invest money and time in reading my book, only to be disappointed that it wasn’t what they expected. Who knows, maybe they will be appreciative enough to recommend it to someone who does.
3. Get reviews of your book before you publish.
There is a real Catch 22 in this piece of advice for new authors. As an unproven writer, you are already experiencing an overwhelming sense of uncertainly about the quality of your book and whether you had any business publishing it at all. You know how difficult it would be to find anyone of literary note who would be interested in reading the book and writing a review. At the same time, you’re told you need positive reviews to convince people to buy and read the book. The truth is that once you’ve established yourself as an author, it is much easier to get reviews. Until then, newbie authors must rely on other options.
One option which I chose, albeit after the book was published, was to pay to have my book professionally reviewed. This can be expensive, and most of the professional reviewers are somewhat selective about the books they will take on. I wrote about the two paid reviews and my reactions to them in previous blogs at http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/building-an-authors-platform-connecting-with-the-target-audience/ http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/building-an-authors-platform-with-help-from-self-publishing-review/
The greatest benefit I derived from investing in these two reviews was the affirmation that my book was well-written and was of some literary value. Although that was a huge confidence-builder for me, it did not result in any significant increase in sales.
Most recently, I paid a small fee to have Hattie’s Place featured as Online Book Club Book of the Day, which I posted about in my last blog at http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/online-book-club-book-of-the-day/. I distributed over 200 free copies of the book on Kindle and received a flurry of posts and tweets on social media, resulting in the book ranking 37th in the category of Women’s Historical Fiction on Free Kindle. Ranking appears to be a critical factor in having your book noticed and promoted on Amazon. Thus far, mine has been numbered so high it would likely never get recognized.
The Book of the Day promotion has not resulted in increased sales, but it did teach me a great deal about promoting books through social media. An unexpected benefit was that Online Book Club had ten of their top reviewers read at least ten pages of the book and give feedback. Hattie’s Place received a score of 8 out 10 positive reviews, in which the reviewer said he/she would finish reading the book and recommend it to others. The reviews provided me with further evidence that Hattie’s Place is worth reading, at the same time driving home the point that good books don’t sell themselves.
Another way to get a book reviewed and promoted is to join an online reader’s group and post the book on the virtual library shelf of like genres. Most of these sites provide free author dashboards as well for posting information about the book and author: e.g., author profile, a link to purchase the book, links to the author’s blog or website, special promotions and giveaways of the book, etc. I joined Goodreads.com and OnlineBookClub.com. You can read about my experience in a previous blog at http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/building-an-authors-platform-connecting-with-the-target-audience/.
This is an area that I have not yet tapped to full potential. I find most of the sites confusing, partially due to my limited skills in navigating complex websites. But I am beginning to get the hang of them, and will continue to include them as a way to connect and interact with other readers and writers.
4. Develop a marketing plan and budget.
Creating an author platform and author brand are two major steps in developing a marketing plan, both of which are best done prior to publishing the book. Other steps include obtaining reviews, launching the book, preparing media releases, scheduling personal appearances, managing contests and giveaways, and blogging and posting on social media. There are bountiful free resources available on the internet to guide the newbie author through the process of promoting and marketing a book. Two resources that I have mentioned in previous blogs are Writer’s Digest.com and Createspace.com.
It is possible to self-publish a book virtually for free on Amazon or with other indie publishing companies. You can read about my experience with self-publishing in previous blogs http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/the-cost-of-indie-publishing/ http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/createspace-com/ However, the promotion and marketing of a book can become quite expensive. That’s why it is critical to know what your goals are for the book and to design a budget that matches your goals.
For example, I published Retirement: A Journey Not a Destination for less than one hundred dollars. I designed my own cover, did my own editing, and used the tools on Createspace.com to format the book for on-demand publishing and Kindle. I even designed my own cover. My goal for Retirement: A Journey not a Destination was to have a published memoir that I could share with friends and family. My goal having been accomplished, I made no effort to market the book after it was published.
When I wrote Hattie’s Place, my primary goal was to finish and publish a literary novel based on my grandmother’s life. I did not have visions of becoming a best-selling author, but I knew I was writing to an audience that extended beyond family and friends. I envisioned a market for a coming of age, historical novel set in the South at the turn of the nineteenth century, without the vaguest idea of who my readers would be or where I would find them. I invested around five thousand dollars for professional editing services from KirkusReview.com, and paid around two thousand for the services offered by Createspace.com for a professional cover design, copy editing, and formatting for the Kindle version of the book. Six months before the book was published, I set up my blog, For The Love of Writing, as my sole strategy for promoting it. I suppose my goal was to earn enough royalties sufficient to break even.
When I finally began to develop a marketing plan, I was surprised at the cost of the professional services available for reviewing and promoting books. And, as I mentioned earlier, the most sought-after reviewers are extremely selective in terms of requiring that an author have an established and extensive reader base–again, the Catch 22 for a newbie author.
I opted to purchase the review packages for Self-publishingReview.com and OnlineBookClub.com, totaling around three hundred dollars. For both packages, the book was first reviewed and shared with the author, then featured as a book of the week on each respective website.
I also subscribed to BookDaily.com for thirty-nine dollars a month. The subscription entitled me to post a sample of Hattie’s Place on an author dashboard along with an author bio and other information. Every month or so, the book would rotate onto the Emerging Authors page and receive special recognition. Periodically, Book Daily would promote the book on various publications on its mailing list. I could not tell that these promotions affected book sales in any significant way and discontinued my subscription after six months.
My decisions about how to use my limited marketing budget have been random at best, and I have determined to reassess my goals and research my options before spending any more money on marketing. Questions that need to be resolved are: What financial resources will I need to update my blog site to make it more focused and interactive? Who are my readers and how are they most effectively reached on social media? What professional services will get the most bang-for-the-buck in helping me build my author platform and brand? What services do I need to pay someone else to do and what can I do myself?
5. As soon as you publish, start writing a sequel.
Wait! What? You want me to get reviews, publish a blog, run a promotional campaign for the book, and start writing another one all at the same time? It’s hard to believe, but this piece of advice is by far the most repeated of all the tips in the online blogs and articles I have read.
It seems counterintuitive to undertake a project as extensive as writing a novel and then not finish it before moving on to a new project. But the advice begins to make sense if you stop thinking about writing and publishing and marketing as steps in a straight line, with a beginning and middle and end. Rather, it helps to view writing as a recursive process where one phase cycles into another, with one phase beginning as the old phase is ending, and with a new cycle beginning as the old cycle is ending…And on and on it goes.
Fortunately, I had already begun to think about a sequel to Hattie’s Place, not out of any great foresight on my part, but because there was so much more of the story to tell. Hattie’s Place is based loosely on my grandmother’s life, and the plot revolved around circumstances in her life as a single teacher, boarding in the home of a wealthy businessman. I knew that I wanted to develop Hattie’s character further and to see her grow into marriage and mature womanhood–to see how she would reconcile her new responsibilities with her determination to be involved in social activism, specifically the woman suffrage movement.
That desire to continue Hattie’s story became the seed for the sequel, In the Fullness of Time, which I am currently writing, while also promoting and marketing Hattie’s Place (albeit belatedly).
I told you at the beginning of this article that my journey as an author has been one of learning by doing. So far, it hasn’t gotten Hattie’s Place on anybody’s best seller list. But it has enabled me to understand that a book is not like a baseball field–Just because you build it, it doesn’t mean they will automatically come. I’ve learned by doing that you have to go out and find your fans. I’m not sure where all of them are and what resources I’ll need to find them, but I’ve learned by doing a lot of places where they won’t be found! By the time I publish In the Fullness of Time, I hope to have a lot more of this figured out.
“Heads Up,” Amazon! I’m looking to hit this next one out of the park.
This post is contributed as Guest post by Katherine P. Stillerman