Tag Archives: marketing

Six tips for marketing self-published books

Last Wednesday I wrote about the challenge that marketing can be for self-publishing authors. I asked what you would do if you were in charge of marketing my memoir, Love At The Speed Of Email, and was flooded with responses.

Well, not exactly.

But that’s not surprising. It’s a hard question for me to answer, and I know the book better than anyone. It’s also hard to think of ways to get the word out there without being overly and annoyingly self-promoting.

The one person who tackled the question I asked last week suggested leaning toward authenticity whenever possible. I think that is excellent advice (not just for marketing, but for life). I also think that it applies not just to what you’re communicating, but how.

I know agents and editors who would argue with me over this one, but this is what I think it means … That if you hate blogging, don’t set yourself the goal of putting out three posts a week. If you hate twitter, don’t use it. If you don’t want to be on facebook, don’t. If you loathe public speaking, don’t try to break into the speaker circuit.

Life’s too short to spend too much time forcing yourself to try to connect with others in ways that don’t (mostly) come naturally to you. Plus, if you are using these forums for the sole purpose of flogging your books it’s unlikely to work anyway.

However … all this doesn’t excuse you from breaking out of your comfort zone now and again and trying something new, because if we never did that we’d never grow and learn. But on the whole you’re going to find it easier to connect with people if you feel you’re being yourself in the way that you’re communicating.

So all that said, what are some other basic marketing tips that make sense to me? Here are five more:

  1. Know your audience: What do they need and want?
  2. Know where they hang out: What do they read, watch and talk about, and where?
  3. Figure out how to go and stand in front of them: Where your audience is will help determine how best to do stand in front of them (public speaking, radio, guest post on personal blogs, magazines or newspapers, twitter, your own blog, discussion forums, etc).
  4. Offer them something that will help them
  5. Give something away

So how have I been applying these tips?

In terms of Love At The Speed Of Email, one group (audience) I think may be very interested in the story are people in long distance relationships.

I have a lot of experience (both good and bad) with long distance relationships, so I have some things I can usefully say on this topic. Given that, I asked myself what was something I’d wished I had when I was doing all that long distance dating? What was something that might have been helpful?

After some thinking, something came to me …

So one thing I’ve been doing this last couple of months alongside preparing the memoir for publication is writing 201 Great Discussion Questions For Couples in Long-Distance Relationships.

This free e-guide will be released in PDF form around the same time as the memoir. My hope is that some people who get their hands on the e-guide will be intrigued enough to visit my website and check out the story of Mike’s and my long distance relationship.

But even if this e-guide doesn’t help me sell a single book I won’t be sorry I’ve written it and given it away. I really won’t. Because I also very much hope that these questions find their way into the hands of people all over the world who are building love one long-distance conversation at a time. And I hope hope hope that these questions make them laugh and learn new things and bring them closer emotionally even while they are far apart geographically.

I still have some work to do figuring out how to get the e-guide into the hands of those who might find it useful, but this is one marketing puzzle – how to best give away a useful product – that I’m enjoying working on. It feels fun. It feels authentic.

Now, some questions for you:

Got any questions you think I should include in the e-book? And if you have any ideas for websites, people, or relationship forums that might be interested in the discussion questions e-book, let me know.

Also, if you know of other interesting case studies related to marketing self-published books leave the stories (or a link) below.

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Writing Wednesday: Marketing yourself and your work

When I signed the contract five years ago for My Hands Came Away Red I had ridiculously little idea about what went into getting a book out there. As far as I was concerned, I’d done my part by writing the thing and whatever happened next was up to the publishers – I was just along for the “fun and games” ride.

Against all odds, this actually worked out quite well for me. Moody Publishers got me reviewed, printed marketing materials, organized radio interviews, hosted me at trade shows and even got me on the cover of a magazine. I got into the spirit of things and organized a couple of readings, a lecture at my alma mater Notre Dame, and an appearance on a nationally-syndicated Canadian television program. Perhaps best of all, this all felt like fun and games rather than work or something that I was trying too hard at and taking too seriously.

I hate feeling like I’m trying too hard or jumping up and down saying: “Look at me! Look at me!” I do this sometimes, of course. I think most people do. But I do it a lot less than I used to and whenever I catch myself attention-seeking now – looking for others to reassure me that I’m cool, or admirable, or interesting or worthwhile – I cringe. And I try to stop.

Which is why I’ve struggled to think deeply about marketing in relation to my next book, Love At The Speed Of Email.

Because this time I am self-publishing, which means that there is no publishing company to organize interviews for me and tell everyone that the book is worth their time and money. And it’s a memoir. So, basically, I need to get out there and tell people some version of the following: “I wrote this book about myself and you should buy it and read it because it’s really good.”

I also, however, need to find ways to not let this book (or myself) become too big a deal in my own mind, because therein lies the road to desperate, self-promoting narcissism. And no one wants that, least of all me. (Well, actually, probably least of all Mike.)

This all seems like a bit of a Catch-22 to me. Even thinking about marketing the memoir makes my teeth feel furry. Yet I suspect the minute it starts to feel completely comfortable – the minute I stop second-guessing myself, and examining my motivations and methods  – I’ll have crossed the line and become overly self-absorbed.

Le sigh.

And while I hate the idea of getting out there and selling this book, I also do want people to read it. I’ve worked hard on it, I’m really proud of it, and I do think it’s good.

Le sigh, deux.

I’ll be back next Wednesday to write more about this topic and share a marketing strategy I’ve come up with that I am really excited about – one that I think will help word get out there without feeling like I’m jumping up and down saying “Look at me! Look at me!”

In the meantime, I have some links and a question for you.

First, the links: For those of you also thinking through this thorny tangle of marketing your art and yourself, you might find the following posts useful.

  1. Should I be investing in my own publicity? (Chip MacGregor): “YOU are in charge of marketing your book. You. Not the publisher, who will help you but may not do all that much unless you’re a proven bestseller. You. Nobody else knows your message as well; nobody else is as committed to your story as you are.”
  2. Know your audience (Chip MacGregor): “Don’t assume your book is for everyone, at all times. It’s not — no book is… If you know your audience, you can determine where they’ll be, so you can go stand in front of them. You’ll also be able to best determine how to approach them and what to say.”
  3. Monthly marketing to-do list for authors (Rob Eagar): “There are thousands of ways to promote your books. But, trying to do everything won’t necessarily make you successful. Usually, you’re better off sticking with a consistent plan that keeps you focused on a few main priorities.”
  4. A spreadsheet for the self-published (Jenny Blake): Jenny has provided a great resource – a multi-pages excel spreadsheet for those thinking strategically about marketing. Set aside some time, it’s not a quick read.

Now, the question: Here’s the current draft of the back cover text of my memoir. If you were in charge of my publicity, what might you recommend that I do?

Lisa looks as if she has it made. She has turned her nomadic childhood and forensic psychology training into a successful career as a stress management trainer for humanitarian aid workers. She lives in Los Angeles, travels the world, and her first novel has just been published to some acclaim. But as she turns 31, Lisa realizes that she is still single, constantly on airplanes, and increasingly wondering where home is and what it really means to commit to a person, place, or career. When an intriguing stranger living on the other side of the world emails her out of the blue, she must decide whether she will risk trying to answer those questions. Her decision will change her life.

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What sells a blog post and drives traffic on your blog?

If you’ve clicked on over looking for a how-to post about styling yourself as a mega-blogger … sorry. This is not that. Too much talk about branding yourself and building a platform tends to make my eyes glaze over and my brain yawn, but for those of you looking for that sort of information I’ve included some relevant links at the end of this post.

No, this isn’t going to be a blog on the importance of compelling titles and posting consistently on topics closely linked to your niche and brand. Instead, I just wanted to share something I’ve been thinking about during the last month:

So here’s a screen shot of my recent blog traffic. The spikes on the far right shrink everything else down a bit, but there have actually been three unusual “spikey areas” in recent weeks.

The first came around the 14th of January, the day I put up this post in memory of my friend, Patrick, who passed away last month.

The second big jump began on January 24th, the day of Dominic’s accident, and continued all week as people tracked our stay in hospital and return to Laos.

The third, an unprecedented leap, came out of nowhere on February 7th when a whole bunch of people suddenly took it into their heads to share a post I’d written weeks earlier called 24 things that have surprised me about motherhood: I never thought I would… on facebook.

What to make of all of this?

I wanted to write a thoughtful commentary relating these blog stats to the flavor of what we consume as “news”, but the last three weeks has seen our little family blessed with two sets of parents in town, one broken leg, three days in hospital, two international flights, three head colds, two courses of antibiotics, and not nearly enough sleep. Also, we have given notice on our house and are starting to prepare to move in six weeks to another house in town that will hopefully be devoid of constant woodworking noise, dangerous spiral staircases, and unfenced pools.

Ergo, no bandwidth for thoughtful commentary.

Ergo, a list.

1. People pay attention to bad news and sad news.

Anyone who has driven past a car accident or watches the evening news shouldn’t be surprised by this – what we call news is a litany of all that’s going most wrong in the world (punctuated by the occasional celebrity death or sweet animal story).

It is still a little weird, however, to see the power of the bad&sad to draw attention play out on your own blog. And for the record, I am not advocating anyone adopt the bad&sad model to grow their blog audience. It’s so not worth it.

2. People pay attention to things that make them laugh

After all the stress of the last couple of weeks, it was actually really nice to see something get more attention than our medical dramas. It reminded me that in addition to being hardwired to pay attention to the bad&sad we also hunger to encounter things that make us laugh and warm our hearts, and that when we find those things we like to share them.

3. The power of social networks like facebook or twitter to promote something is awe-inspiring. It is also impossible to really predict or control.

Strangers sharing a single post on facebook were responsible for a banner day of blog traffic, but it was also not something I had much to do with. It wasn’t the post I would have predicted to go viral or the time (nearly three weeks after I first posted it) that I would have thought it might get picked up.

I probably helped the process along by putting the “share on facebook” button at the bottom of the post and participating in Sarah Bessey’s blog carnival last week (I suspect it was one of the visitors from her site that picked up the post that first time) but the whole experience simply reminded me that if I want to maximize the likelihood that people will share my posts on facebook, twitter, or their own blogs, I should just:

  1. Write good posts
  2. Make it easy for people to share them
  3. Engage with people on facebook, twitter and their own blogs (and when I say “engage” I mean “interact because I want to, with sincerity, not because I’m trying to build a brand or lure people into following my blog.”)

(“Congratulations,” Mike said when he read that third point. “You’ve managed to outline a strategy for making friends.” To which I said, “Perfect.”)

4.     Sex sells, too

No, I didn’t manage to extract this lesson from those blog stats – you can thank my father for that piece of unrelated wisdom. I was discussing this blog post with my parents and Mike over lunch. We were talking about how people are drawn to pay attention to the extremes – the sad, the bad, the funny, the touching.

“And sex,” my father said. “People pay attention to sex.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot all about that,” I said.

“Yeah,” Mike said mournfully. “Yeah.”

And on that awkward note, I promised links to posts that will actually furnish you with useful information on strategies to increase your blog traffic. Here are six of them:

  1. 7 Ways To Grow Your Blog Readership (Amanda Ludeke)
  2. 5 Audacious Goals Every Blogger Should Have For 2012 (Alexis Grant)
  3. What social media can do for your blog (Alexis Grant)
  4. 21 ways to increase blog traffic (over on SEOMOZ)
  5. What Not To Blog About (Rachelle Gardener)
  6. Platform and Social Media Must Not Be Your Center (Jane Friedman)

Bloggers, what lessons have you learned about what influences traffic on your own site? What resources have you found helpful in thinking about marketing and platform?

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Family talk about the memoir

It started shortly after I arrived here four weeks ago. Mum was asking me where I was up to with my next book, and I told her that my agent, Chip, had it and was getting ready to send it to interested publishers next month.

“And how many of those are there?” She asked.

“I don’t exactly know,” I said. “But he said there are at least half a dozen people who’d like to see the full manuscript when we’re ready.”

Mum looked… well, “doubtful” is too strong a word. More like “slightly confused.”

“But… why?” She asked.

“What do you mean, why?” I repeated.

“Well they haven’t seen anything yet, so how do they know they want to see something?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Some of them read my last book. Some of them have been browsing the blog. Maybe some of them owe Chip a big favour. I don’t completely understand how it all works, to be honest.”

“Me either,” Mum said. Then she went a step further. “Also, I just don’t see how this book is going to appeal to as wide an audience as your last book.”

“I think you’re wrong there,” I said. “If it sells, and that’s still a big if, then I think this book has the potential to appeal to a far larger audience than Hands did.”

Mum did not look at all convinced.

This was not the end of the conversation – this topic has come up several times during the last month. Just the other day we were talking about Francine Rivers’ new book and I casually mentioned that I thought her first book, A Voice In The Wind, was the best she’d ever written.

“I think that of a lot of authors,” Mum said.

“Yeah,” I said, “Like Bryce Courtney and The Power of One…

I was going to go on to list others but Mum got there first… with my name.

“Maybe like Lisa McKay,” she said.

“Mother!” I said, laughing but amazed. “What a thing to say!”

“Yes,” she said, only slightly abashed. “I guess it is.”

So, yesterday as we were driving into town, I brought it up again.

“Do you really think this book isn’t going to do well?” I asked. “I mean, for starters, you shouldn’t be comparing it to Hands because they’re totally different genres. One’s a suspense novel and the other is a reflective memoir woven around a romance story.”

“I guess that’s true,” Mum said. “And I haven’t read the whole thing yet so I don’t really know.”

“What??” This time I was honestly shocked. “You haven’t read the whole thing? Quite apart from the fact that that could deeply wound me if I were more fragile, how do you know I didn’t say something about you that you’ll hate?”

“Oh,” Mum said. “I trust your filters.”

This was getting truly bizarre given that exactly a month earlier I had been sitting across the breakfast table from my parents, having just disembarked the plane from Laos, while they asked me not to put anything on the blog about them without their prior approval while I was living at home.

“Well if you haven’t read the whole thing,” I said, “and you admit you don’t know all that much about the publishing industry, what would possess you to say things like ‘I don’t think this book will do as well as your first’?”

Mum squirmed just a little, unusual for her.

“I never meant to say that,” she said. “I guess I just meant to say that you had such an amazing experience the first time around being picked up by the first publisher you queried, and getting almost universally positive reviews, and having everyone tell you that you were wonderful… and it might not be like that this time around. I guess I just don’t want you getting your hopes up too high.”

“That is a very fair point,” I said. “But here is my point. With something that’s as deeply personal and important as this sort of project, maybe if you can’t honestly say, ‘Wow, I think this book is going to do just great’, maybe you should reconsider whether you say anything at all at this stage of the process. And, if you do, maybe you should work harder to phrase it more softly. You could, for example, say something like, ‘I’ll be interested to see if this book turns out to be as universally well-received as Hands.’

“That is also a fair point,” Mum said, as she pulled into the parking lot.

There was a brief silence.

“So, are you finished?” Mum asked, looking commendably grave given that she was clearly also battling the strong temptation to laugh.

“For now,” I said, getting out of the car.

“OK then,” Mum said, swinging into task mode. “Could you please stop and pick up the bread and then I’ll meet you at the grocery store in five or so minutes?”

“Sure,” I said.

Five minutes later I was standing just outside the grocery store having been waylaid by tempting tables full of bargain books, when Mum approached.

“I thought I’d find you here when I saw the books laid out,” Mum said. “And have I told you lately what a smashing success I think your next book is going to be?”

As I laughed she leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek.