Tag Archives: self publishing

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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And The Title Is…

I find book titles hard.

I spent a decade working on my first novel and I still didn’t have a title I liked when I submitted it to publishers. This turned out not to be a problem. In fact, when I was offered a contract I was surprised to learn that publishers generally retain the right to title (or re-title) your book and design its cover any way they see fit. It’s not completely unheard of for authors to hate the title or cover that clothes their work.

Luckily that didn’t happen to me. I loved both the title and the cover that Moody Publishers came up with for my hands came away red (on sale on Amazon for $5.20 at the moment, on kindle for $7.49, or for the Nook at $7.99).

Sometime during the year and a half between when I signed the contract and “Hands” came out, I asked my editor about how they come up with titles.

“The editorial and marketing staff generally have a big meeting,” he said. “Everyone’s read a copy of the book and we brainstorm on flip chart sheets about concepts and images and words that might suit. We also go through the book looking for phrases that might work. We hope that sometime during several hours of collective brainpower something perfect will just jump out at us.”

Apparently that’s what happened with my novel. Someone in that meeting had underlined the phrase “my hands came away red” – words spoken by the narrator in a pivotal scene about one third of the way through the story – and that phrase became my book’s title.

This time around I started thinking about titles right from the beginning, and for three years all the titles I came up with lacked something. Some were too cute and kitschy, others were too bland, too confusing, or too unrelated to the main storyline. I was Goldilocks with the bear’s porridge, except there were a hundred different bears.

A couple of months ago I decided to mimic the process a publishing house might undertake. I went through the book with a red pen looking for phrases that might make good titles. I also set up an excel spreadsheet and brainstormed words related to the theme of the book. Then I started to play with the different images in my list. I listed a bunch of three word titles, five word titles, and six word titles.

And, finally, something just right jumped out at me.

LOVE AT THE SPEED OF EMAIL

Title, check. Phew. Next on my list? To go over the text for the back cover with a fine tooth-comb. And then to go over it again.

“My advice is not to wait to be struck by an idea. If you’re a writer, you sit down and damn well decide to have an idea. That’s the way to get an idea.”
(Andy Rooney)

What are some of your all-time favorite book titles?

And, if you write, how do you come up with your titles?
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Surprise endings and a fish foot massage (A Writing Wednesday post)

Yes, that is a picture of Mike in Cambodia, reading my manuscript while fish nibble at his feet. That was more than a year ago, and if you’d told me then I’d still be fine tuning this book 13 months later I may just have jumped into the pond and let the fish have me.

Sometimes it’s a good thing that we don’t fully realize in advance just how much work is in store for us when we follow our passions.

On Sunday Mike hung with Baby Bear while I wrestled with the ending of my memoir. This has to be at least the tenth time I’ve gone through this manuscript in the last two years. I thought that this final read-through before I sent it off for copy-editing would take me about half the time that it actually did – surprise!

And that’s not the only surprise I’ve had in the last two weeks.

I had thought that the draft was very tight, but I trimmed more than a thousand words from it in this final go around. Surprise!

I had thought I was 100% happy with flow, but I ended up having to do more intensive editing on two chapters – one struck me as too long, the other as too dense. Surprise!

I had thought my ending was excellent, but when I got to the end of this final edit I was plagued with the nagging feeling that I hadn’t quite nailed it. Surprise!

This last one perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise. After all, when I hired an editor nine months ago to give me some unbiased feedback on the book, this was one of the things she mentioned.

“I felt a little let down by the ending,” she told me. “Just those last few lines… they’re not as strong as they could be.”

At the time this was one of the few pieces of feedback she gave me that I discounted. I did think it through carefully, but decided she was wrong. Now, nine months later, I’ve decided that she was right after all. It seems that I am not the world’s fastest processor. (This is another thing that shouldn’t surprise me, but still regularly does).

I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong with the previous ending for a couple of days, not until I was trying to explain it to Mike one evening.

“It’s just… it’s just… it’s just that it’s cute, I finally finished. “And a bit glib.”

So on Sunday I sat down with a cup of tea and my iPod and the laptop and stayed there for the several hours it took to eke out the 183 words that make for a different and better ending, a much better ending. The last chapter of the book is set on the day before my wedding, and two of the sentences in that ending state:

I want Mike to be beside me whatever form home might take for me in the future. I am convinced that a white picket fence with him would be better than bumping down a dirt road without him, and that traveling a dirt road together would beat out a white picket fence that’s mine alone.

After Mike read the new ending he came into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around me.

“Aw,” he said into the top of my head. “Do you really mean that? That a dirt road with me is better than a more comfortable, stable home without me?”

I thought briefly of the special little (frustrating) adventures that this particular dirt road has held during the last few weeks, and then I laughed.

“I meant it the day before our wedding,” I said.

Mickey Spillane once said: “The first chapter sells the book. The last chapter sells the next book.” Do you agree? And do you struggle more with endings or beginnings in your writing?

A Big Decision: Writing Wednesday

Last Wednesday, I wrote about how some editors wanted me to turn my memoir into a novel. It seems that I first wrote a novel that reads like a memoir (more than once my hands came away red has been mistaken for my personal story, which has led to some awkward encounters with lovely old ladies who have patted me on the shoulder and told me that they’ve been praying for me as I recover from all that trauma). Now, instead, I’ve written a memoir that reads like a novel.

I decided not to fictionalize the memoir, which left me with two options. I could either wait – shelve this book and hope that it would get picked up by a publisher later – or I could self-publish it.

I’ve decided (drum roll, please)… to self-publish.

Despite the strident call to self-publishing arms and tales of riches and fame that are being peddled by folks like Joe Konrath and friends, I have no illusions that I’m incredibly likely to attain either riches or fame by self-publishing this book. That’s not why I want to self-publish.

I want to self-publish because I have spent three years working on this book, it’s important to me, I think it’s good, and I want to see it out there in the big wide world and move on to other projects.

It took me months to make this decision, but now that it’s made I’m excited. Self-publishing is brand new territory for me. To do it even halfway well I’ll have to learn a lot about cover design, marketing, publicity, independently copy-editing the text, etc. I’ll also have to give my website and my blog a makeover. All of this will teach me new things, and despite the fact that the to-do list I’ve been putting together is half a mile long, many of these things are medium-sized projects that I can tackle during baby nap time. I’ve already come up with an idea I love for a free spin-off e-book, and decided that I want to use some of any profits that I do earn from self-publishing to support a charity here in Laos that’s close to my heart.

More on all of that later.

For now, I’ll close with another writing-related quote that makes me laugh. And, tell me, if you’ve self-published a book or an e-guide recently, what’s one lesson you learned along the way?

 “Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.”
Jules Renard

Writing Wednesday: On editing and rewrites

It’s 8:30am. My child has been lying in his crib, smiling and gurgling at the ceiling for the last ten minutes. Now he’s gazing at me across the room while his eyes drift shut. I lovelovelove these parental moments.

Huh. Now trying to think of parental moment from the last two days that I have loveloveloved that did not involve a content child safely contained in bed while I was on my laptop. You know, one where I was actually interacting with him.

I’ll have to get back to you on that, because I’m not here today to write about him. Nor am I here to write about me – though let me pause for a minute and say thank you for the caring comments and emails sparked by yesterday’s blog. Someone whose phone number I don’t recognize even sent me a lovely text saying “thinking of you”.

(At least, it’s lovely if that came from someone I know. Otherwise it’s sort of creepy. For the time being I’m choosing to assume that it came from someone I know. How’s that for glass half full and not being unduly paranoid? Yeah.)

On a more serious note, I do not think I’m immune to post-natal depression (no woman is) but I also don’t think things are quite that dire yet. The weekend felt pretty awful but things have brightened up a bit since then. I will keep you posted.

Now, on to writing about writing, cuz it’s Wednesday.  Let’s talk editing.

Michael Crichton is reported to have said, “Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”

The official number of times I rewrote my latest book is three, but that doesn’t take into account all the false starts I had before I even managed to pull the first draft together.

I finished that first draft in November 2009, the day before Mike got back from a month long consultancy in Indonesia. Pretty much the minute he got home I thrust the manuscript into his hands. In retrospect, perhaps I should have waited until he was out of the jet lag zone before demanding feedback. Or perhaps I just don’t take feedback well from my nearest and dearest on my first drafts.

Mike gave me lots of useful feedback, including telling me that he didn’t have a great deal of empathy for the main character (me) because I hadn’t made myself vulnerable enough and taken him on an emotional journey.

“You come across as an interesting person,” he said. “But that is not enough to command my attention for a whole book and make me wonder, intrigued, what you’re going to do next. You need more depth. You need to take me on an emotional journey.”

I believe my graceful response to this feedback was, “You want a journey? Well you can just get back on a plane to Indonesia then.”

He was, however, right. And during the next two years and two drafts I worked hard to identify a clearer story arc, strengthen my themes, and take people on a journey. In other words, I worked to tell a story instead of just letting people in on a 70,000 word, occasionally humorous, occasionally moving, monologue.

Feedback from other people was invaluable in helping me think through these rewrites. Before attempting a third draft I farmed the book out to about ten friends and sifted through their commentary. Then I took it to the next level and had two professionals look at it (thank you Joslyne Decker and Amy Lyles Wilson – check out their websites if you’re interested in writing workshops or editorial services).

All of these external eyes helped me spot things I just couldn’t see on my own. They not only said nice things about my work (always good to hear when you’re so sick of your own book you’re in danger of starting to believe the whole thing is just a terrible waste of everyone’s time). They also pointed out where I was losing or boring the reader, indulging in narrative tangents, and where they were left wanting more or less.

It’s always a delicate balance, I find, to be open enough to editorial feedback to benefit from it without being so open that you feel compelled to rewrite your work to suit the tastes and whims of everyone who comments on it. I didn’t act on all of the comments and recommendations I received but every one of them made me think deeply, and there’s no greater gift to an author than being challenged to see their manuscript through fresh eyes.

Over to you: What do you find particularly helpful when you’re trying to take a first draft to the next level? What’s your editing process like?

 “The real contest is always between what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing. You measure yourself against yourself and nobody else.”
~ Geoffrey Gaberino ~

Want to read more about editing, particularly in the context of self-publishing? Check out the following articles over on Writer Unboxed: