Category Archives: Author Spotlight

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT UPDATE: LAUREN WOOD

Lauren WoodSince it’s been a year since Lauren (Alexis) Wood’s last book was released and she was featured in my Author Spotlight, I thought I’d check in to see how her book marketing has progressed. Lauren has a new book possibly being released later in 2018, Prone to Pronoia, a collection of comedic essays.

Lauren doesn’t have a formal, written marketing plan, but explained, “I definitely do not recommend not having any marking plan whatsoever to most people self or independently publishing a book. I’ve been doing this for a while and at this point figuring things out on the fly sometimes is my best and/or only option. Also, a formal marketing plan is going to be crucial for those who actually wish to earn an income from their creative work. It’s not that I DON’T want to make money from my creative work, that’s just not the priority I guess? I work with a number of other authors in running my publishing company and I tend to put them first. Also, to be perfectly honest, that last book was an over-the-top baby shower gift that just so happened to turn out to be a pretty cute children’s book. With Prone to Pronoia, I do have some plans to actually market that one via readings and blogging (like this one, thank you again, Jodie!). I also write for a comedic publication overseas (The Public House – https://readpublichouse.com), and once the book is published, I hope to possibly feature an essay or two from the book in that magazine in the hopes people might have an interest in reading the rest of the book.”

When asked if her attitude, goals, or strategy for book marketing has changed since her last book, Lauren said, “I know you are supposed to learn from your mistakes; however, I am still working through what the mistakes were, versus the happy accidents. Honestly, when someone tells me they read something I wrote and actually enjoyed it, that is really gratifying. I don’t really hear that very often. I really, truly have high hopes for my next book (Prone to Pronoia) because it’s a book I’m doing for MYSELF, and that alone I feel will be a test to me applying what I’ve learned previously.”

Lauren hasn’t had any negative feelings toward book marketing, stating, “I like the idea of book marketing, because I am a very indie, out-of-the-box thinker, and I have delusions I can do things better. However, more traditional and effective marketing is important and takes a lot of time and effort that I’m currently putting into other aspects of my publishing company. I am going to be potentially taking on an intern this fall, however, so that could change. Also, I’m not in a financial position to pay someone to advertise for me so I’ve had to be creative, which I really love doing.”

Lauren says she learns something new every day, running an independent publishing house for almost a decade. And taking what she learns and applying it correctly in different situations is both exceptionally challenging but extremely rewarding. She said, “Developing that talent alone has TRULY helped not just in marketing my work but also just managing my life overall.”

Lauren has used Facebook advertising briefly, with not much success; however, she says, “I didn’t truly give it an honest go because I didn’t want to spend the money on it. I feel like my work, if it’s good enough, will possibly be noticed by whoever might like it at some point through networking or serendipity. Is that not *the best* idea? Yeah, it’s kind of stupid, maybe? However, I like the excitement of that. Also, if I truly just suck so bad at writing and no one can relate to me whatsoever, well, at least I didn’t sink a ton of cash into bombarding people with it on Facebook.”

On the subject of social media for book marketing, Lauren said, “I love Facebook and Instagram. There’s a different dynamic to each and dependent on what I put into a post and on what platform, it’s interesting to see the different response. If there’s any kind of formula to it at all, it so rapidly changes that I just enjoy trying to keep up.”

When asked what advice she’d give to others, she said, “Have pride in your work, and in yourself. It can be a challenge to put something out there then suddenly you have to deal with the public’s reaction to it, or the deafening sounds of silence because no one cares what you have to say. Take a deep breath, own what you’ve created, and be ready to stand with it as an extension of yourself that you want to share with others.”

Learn more about Lauren at www.laurenalexiswood.com, facebook.com/laurenalexiswood, @laurenalexiswood (Instagram), @laurenalexswood (Twitter), facebook.com/paradisiacpublishing, @paradisiac.publishing (Instagram), @paradisiacpub (Twitter), www.facebook.com/goldcoastalmanac, @goldcoastalmanac (Instagram), and @goldcoastalmanaccomedy (Instagram).

Lauren’s Books:

Qorviq the Nondenominational Winter Solstice Celebration Seal(Currently out of print): “It was a ridiculous graphic novel based on a comedy/action/soap opera blog I wrote using Microsoft Paint pictures whose main character was inspired by a holiday lawn ornament decoration that I saw while on a really long run after getting fired from a corporate job.”

Something’s Missing: A children’s book about a family welcoming a new baby that I wrote as a baby shower gift to my brother and sister-in-law when they welcomed my niece into this world last fall. 

Help Me! I’m Fat!: It is both poking fun at the prevalence of Christianity in the fitness community while promoting body positivity in the same way you’d expect to be encouraged by a very emotionally distant relative. It also just so happens to be an interactive, handy-dandy weight loss journal!

Prone to Pronoia: A collection of comedic essays, to be published later this year (2018) or maybe early next year (2019).  

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: TOM McKAY – in his own words

This month’s author spotlight articles features a guest post by author, Tom McKay, who for full disclosure, was published by 918studio press, the selective subsidized publisher I co-own with Lori Perkins.

In Tom’s Words:

I am the author of two novels.  West Fork was published in 2014 by East Hall Press at Augustana College.  918studio press published Another Life in 2016.  For each novel, I focused on commissioning an attractive cover design and writing engaging back cover descriptions as ways to capture attention from prospective buyers.

West Fork has a two paragraph description for the back cover:

“In 1968, Jim Blair comes to teach in the tiny crossroads hamlet of West Fork with no idea that he will give his heart to the community and to a woman.  Through events he cannot foresee, both great loves turn to loss.

After twenty-seven years in West Fork, the relentless pace of farm consolidation has drained the landscape of population and left the community without a viable role in rural life.  Jim must start anew with only the unknown ahead in his life.”

The description on the back cover of Another Life is shorter:

“How long does a high school crush last?  One year? Ten?  Twenty?  Forty?  Small-college basketball coach Matt Cooper is about to find out as Kim Gustafson, the cutest girl from high school, re-enters his life.”

In the case of both books, the largest number of sales were made during author appearances through signings at bookstores, readings and programs at libraries, and local author fairs sponsored by libraries.  In all of these settings, an attractive cover is the first step in getting the attention of prospective buyers.  The back cover description also plays an important role in making a sale.  I routinely hand the novels to people who show an interest so that they can read the descriptions.  In many cases, this is better than an attempt by me to tell the reader about the book.  Reading a synopsis can lead to further discussion and give prospective buyers a chance to consider the purchase.  The interaction can become a friendly discussion rather feeling like a hard sell.  If the potential buyer invests in the discussion, the possibility of a sale increases.

Goals

In marketing books that are self-published or published through a small press, it is important to consider whether the primary goal of the author is to have his/her book read or to generate income through sales.  Clearly, all authors would like to do both, but deciding if one goal is the higher priority may impact decisions such as the size of the print run, primary methods of distribution, and marketing strategy.

Authors should realize in advance that books with small print runs and relatively unknown authors typically do not earn a profit.  The goal of selling enough books to recover printing and production costs is often difficult to achieve.  There are examples of self-published books that have sold very well and made significant profits for the authors.  These are rare outliers.

For my first novel, West Fork, my primary concern was to have the book read.  Though the plot of the book develops around a love story, its central message is about the effect on Midwestern culture of farm consolidation and the precipitous decline in rural population during the last three decades of the twentieth century.  I felt this was a huge and often overlooked change.  I decided to use fiction to examine this change.  I hoped to have as many readers as possible.  With this goal in mind, I donated copies of West Fork to 250 libraries in western Illinois, eastern Iowa, and southern Wisconsin.

On its face, giving away books costs money rather than earning money.  In the case of West Fork, I offered to do a reading or program for any library to which I donated the book.  Eventually, I did 20 library programs.  At the conclusions of the programs, I signed books. Through these programs, I sold a total of 81 copies.  I sold books but did not charge for the programs.  Three libraries did give me honorariums by their own choice.  The money earned through library programs covered all but $100 of the cost of the 250 books given for their collections.

Staff members in a library where I have a close connection made occasional spot checks on the number of times West Fork was checked out at libraries in the regional system.  I was very pleased with the readership the novel gained.  More than once, I have had chance meetings with people who have read the novel including a man from Canton, Illinois who checked out the book on interlibrary loan.  Another time, I saw a post online from a person in the state of Oregon who had read West Fork.  The readership through library copies was far greater than I could have achieved through book sales alone.

Marketing through Bookstores

The primary method of marketing both West Fork and Another Life has been through independent bookstores.  Most independent bookstores owners and managers are supportive of books from local authors and presses. They provide shelf space for these books even though sales are generally small.  Most independent bookstores group such books in a local authors section.  Typically, these sections of the store receive less attention from shoppers than larger sections such as fiction, biography, self-help, etc. 

With a few exceptions, independent bookstores take the books they place in the local authors’ section on consignment.  Authors may sell as few as two or three books in a year.  At some point, the bookstore will wish to terminate the consignment and have the author arrange the pickup of the unsold books.

All of my consignments with independent bookstores have been made through face-to-face contact.  When I travel by car, a supply of my books travels with me.  I do not make special trips to sell the books because the volume of sales would not justify the travel cost.

Copies of my books have been sold in 35 stores.  These stores range in several directions from the Quad Cities including Des Moines, Macomb, Peoria, suburban Milwaukee, and even Rhinelander, Wisconsin.  Within this broad area, all of the stores have one thing in common.  They are located in places that my normal travel will take me within a year.  My books are in bookstores in suburban Milwaukee because my sons live in the city, and I travel there frequently.  There are more bookstores in suburban Chicago, and they are closer to the Quad Cities.  However, I rarely travel to Chicago and would not recoup travel costs of special trips to place my books in stores in that area.

The best marketing of books in independent bookstores is done through book signings and participation in special events arranged by the stores.  On a trip I had planned to Rhinelander, I sold fourteen copies of West Fork on a Friday evening in February.  The Chamber of Commerce was sponsoring a special “Taste of Chocolate” event that night in honor of Valentine’s Day.  I have sold books several times at signings for bookstores in December.  The various signings have all taken place on Saturdays leading up to Christmas.  I sold nineteen books in one store and fourteen books in another.  It is also true that I sold only two books in another store.  Each of these signings was at a store within an hour of the Quad Cities.

The impact of online sales has put pressure on brick-and-mortar bookstores.  The closing of the BookWorld chain of bookstores eliminated the stores that were the best selling locations for both West Fork and Another Life.  I had both books in five BookWorld locations.  Since 2014, those stores and four additional independent bookstores that sold West Fork and Another Life have closed.

Independent bookstores remain a significant element in marketing books from local authors and small presses.  Contact information for many independent bookstores can be found at MidwestBooksellers.org.  This is a good starting point for locating stores, but it is not a comprehensive list. Only nine of the nineteen bookstores that currently sell Another Life appear on the list.

Marketing Plan

The marketing plan for Another Life was the result of working with 918studio press.  It emphasized relationships with independent bookstores as described above. It also included the use of contacts with libraries made when promoting West Fork.  Both strategies produced sales, though most of the library programs for Another Life involved book club discussions rather than readings.  The result has been fewer sales of Another Life.  The reason is self-evident.  Readings from West Fork piqued interest and stimulated sales.  Book club members have already read the book which they usually obtain through interlibrary loan.  Sales are limited in most cases to a person who has read the book and wants to give it as a gift.

The marketing plan for Another Life focused on libraries as outlets for public programs.  Authors of other books can consider whether the topic of the book might have a specific appeal to other types of organizations devoted an ethnic heritage, a charitable cause, a geographical area, or other interests.  Programs for such groups are promising opportunities for sales.  I had the opportunity to speak about West Fork to a cultural center in one small town and business association in another.  Each resulted in the sale of eight books.

Social Media and Online Sales

I do not have a social media presence.  The online profile for Another Life has been created by the 918studio press website.  I do keep 918studio press informed of any readings, signings, or book club discussions where I will appear. 

918studio press has also arranged for the platforms that sell Another Life online as hard copy or an e-book.  The sales have been modest, but they do reach a wider geographical market.  The e-book version also makes the novel available to readers who have vision limitations and need larger print.  Sales through online platforms have been a bonus to me as an author, though they have provided a limited return to the publisher.

West Fork was not sold as an e-book or through online orders of hard copies.  I did have a simple website created for West Fork.  Visitors to the site could read the prologue, learn about me as an author, find bookstores that sold the novel, and print a form to order copies by mail.  I received ten orders for the book by mail on the forms available to print from the website.

Targeted social media efforts can generate sales of books from local authors and small presses.  The illustrator who created the cover art for Another Life and West Fork recently did the illustrations for a children’s picture book from an Australian publisher.  The book does not have a distributor in the United States. 

My friend has marketed the book on her own.  The book recounts traditional Norwegian troll tales.  Many of her sales have through Norwegian heritage organizations in Wisconsin and Iowa.  Before Christmas, she put social media to work.  She posted information on a neighborhood Facebook page and a social media site called Next Door that is designed to reach people nearby.  This effort resulted in the sale of a dozen books.

Paid Advertising

I have not created a business card for myself.  Given the relatively low cost of business cards, this might be a worthwhile step.  In seeking library programs, my contacts have generally been made face-to-face during my regular travels.  I have carried a small letter describing the novel in question and giving my contact information.  I believe a full sheet of paper is less likely to be misplaced or overlooked than a business card.

I have used paid advertising twice.  The Wapsipinicon Almanac is a magazine published in Anamosa, Iowa that I admire very much.  I purchased a modestly priced ad in the Almanac for West Fork that listed all the bookstores in Iowa that sold the novel.  This was a way to support the Almanac and say thank you to the bookstores.  I had no way of measuring the impact on sales.

I also purchased an advertisement for West Fork in the weekly Madison, Wisconsin newspaper, Isthmus.  The paper had done an investigative report on a regional supermarket chain that manipulated its employment practices to prevent low-paid workers from receiving benefits.  I purchased an ad in Isthmus purely to support the newspaper.  West Fork was for sale in three Madison bookstores at the time.  If the ad had an impact on sales of the book, it was not enough to pay for the cost of the advertisement.

Newspaper Publicity

Newspaper coverage equates to free advertising for a book, but newspapers print only what they identify as newsworthy.  In 2014, two Quad City newspapers ran short feature articles on West Fork.  The book was written by a local author and published by a local college.  Its focus on the change in the regional landscape and culture resulting from farm consolidation was a topic of interest to readers in the service areas of the papers.  That constituted three reasons to make the publication of the novel newsworthy.

Another Life did not generate as much newspaper coverage in part because the theme of the novel did not have the same type of direct relevance to an issue in the region.  In addition, readership of newspapers has continued to decline, and the papers can afford to print fewer pages.

Most local newspapers are cooperative in running short notices about signings in bookstores and programs in libraries.  Most have online forms to complete when submitting news releases.  If possible, try to find a local connection to include in releases sent to newspapers.  For any release I send to a newspaper in Iowa, I always include the fact that the story is set in Iowa.  I did a signing in Clinton and noted that the co-owner of 918studio press, which published Another Life, grew up in the Clinton area.  The newspaper published the release and included that information.

Final Thoughts

Because most of my marketing has involved face-to-face contact, I have enjoyed meeting and working with a significant number of librarians and bookstore owners and managers.  The overwhelming number have been helpful and supportive.  The people who operate bookstores are excited when they discover a local author or small press that is producing good work.  Conversely, they are placed in an awkward position if a person comes in with a poorly written or produced book.

All authors should remember that good marketing starts with a quality book.  Writing creatively, revising thoughtfully, proofreading painstakingly, and designing attractively are the first steps in successful marketing.

Thank you, Tom, for your thoughtful and detailed article. Learn more about Tom at 918studio press here and on his West Fork website here.

Author Spotlight: John Mundt – Comic Book Author

This month’s author spotlight features John Mundt, the author of comic books as well as short stories featuring his comic character, Monkey. He published his four issues of The Adventures of Monkey comic books over two decades ago, so he has seen the book marketing landscape change greatly. In addition to having his comic books, John also used his publishing efforts as ways to establish himself as a comic book creator, stating, “In comics, as in many other creative enterprises, the best way to show that you can do something is to have already done it.”

John started with a written marketing plan in the year leading up to his first publication and has been revising it ever since. He said, “I wrote it all out, especially my plan to maximize my meager budget (maybe $400?) by getting as much free press/promotion as possible, based primarily on personal appearances. At the time, there were many specialty comic book stores, most of which would freely host – and often advertise for – me at a comics signing event for a percentage of my sales made that day.” The first change he made was to “to offer to make an in-store appearance, complete with sketches and giveaways for attendees, for a standard number of books purchased in advance. With guaranteed sales, I could plot actual ‘tours,’ like my Mighty Monkeyssippi Tour, which started in Bemidji, Minnesota, and followed the Mississippi, store by store, all the way down to Dubuque, Iowa. An ‘event’ made advertising easier and press coverage somewhat more ‘legit.’”

John also uses regular press releases to promote his events. He said, “For other marketing (and, remember, this was pre-internet), I had a mailing list, cultivated from my in-store appearances (I literally had a sign-up book on the table next to my comics), and a newsletter! Everyone who signed up got at least one newsletter, and early sign-ups got annual holiday cards as well (usually with some mention of the most recent or soon-to-be-released product).”

John occasionally used paid advertising, mostly to industry and trade publications aimed at comic book shop owners, with “obvious, but not dramatic” results. He said, “When I’ve placed ads for direct sales or to advertise a personal appearance, I’ve felt like I was just throwing money away.  The best ‘paid’ ads that I’ve utilized have been to create and place actual semi-collectible ‘items,’ such as bookmarks, trading cards, and coupons, into the hands of potential readers,” such as giving convention attendees goody bags and leaving them behind after personal appearances.

When asked how book marketing has changed since his first publication, John said, “Things have definitely changed since I first published. In the late 1990s, the comics market – which had grown bloated by investment mentality and manipulation of the false goalpost of ‘market share’ – collapsed. That, coupled with the growth of internet retail sites, like Amazon and eBay, also killed the once thriving network of comics shops. So, my comfortable marketing plans (wherein I was once on a first name basis with dozens of comics shop owners, national distributors, and comics convention organizers) were suddenly moot. I now mostly hand-sell my books at personal appearances.”

Though marketing his books has become easier over the years with “tricks” he’s learned, John still feels basically uncomfortable with what he says “feels like very public begging.” He explained, “In a perfect world, I would create my comics, show them to passersby, and politely accept questions, comments, or even sales from whoever offered them. That, of course, isn’t the best way. I don’t know what ‘the best way’ is, I guess, but I know it’s not passive. More than just a way to sell, I think the state of my marketing becomes a measure of the value of my work (it stands to reason that the more enthusiastic I am about what I do, the more others will want to share in that feeling by obtaining my work…or at least they’ll be curious enough to check it out).”

When asked what has surprised him about book marketing, John said, “The biggest surprise has been that it is much more work to market a comic book than it is to publish, or even create it.  Marketing never ends.  It may ebb, it may take a hiatus, but it never really stops.  And it is always changing.  And it can be frustrating.  And I still do it.  I’ve experienced numerous – and humorous – failures along the way.  If I’ve had any success, I credit naïve persistence.”

His humor is clearly evident in this list of his chronological marketing strategies:

  1. If I Make It, They Will Come: doesn’t work, they didn’t come
  2. Traveling Salesman: works, but no guarantee of sales, so you’d better hustle if you want to pay for gas, food, etc.
  3. Buy Something, Get Something: that presale plan worked pretty well, with the hardest part being the logistical and sales legwork beforehand
  4. Cultivating a Reader Database: the newsletters, mailings, and reward system I used – and still use somewhat – created a core group of “fans,” upon which I could rely
  5. Contests and Coupons and Swag – Oh My!: worked surprisingly well, but was costly, especially in ordering minimums and shipping charges
  6. I’m John Mundt, Esq., And You Can Too: I “morphed” my personal appearance plans to include workshops and lectures…which works very well, especially since I often get paid before I even sell a single comic
  7. Have Marker, Will Travel: another version of the personal appearance, this as a guest or featured artist…which is often more work but has side benefits of helping hone my skills while also doing real-time market research
  8. Online Storefront: works only slightly better than If I Make It, They Will Come
  9. Quirky Curiosity: just being “weird” is part of the plan now, so I end up selling my comics in oddball, otherwise unrelated locales, like coffee shops, libraries, gaming stores, and museums…which is kind of hit-and-miss

John still uses elements of all these strategies when it’s appropriate. For social media, he mostly uses Facebook to stay connected and network but has plans to sell through social media, stating, “ I do, however, have plans.  Evil plans.  Well, not ‘evil,’ I guess.  Just regular plans that include the social media promotion of a new, graphic novel style comic to be released in the near future.  Stay tuned!”

His advice to an author who is about to publish and enter the book marketing world is, “Be ready to change.  Like, all the time.  Your audience, and opportunities, may surprise you, and take you down a road – both creatively and in regards to marketing – that you hadn’t even considered.  Never pigeonhole yourself.  Oh, and find ways to share with potential readers whatever made your work exciting enough to create in the first place.  Enthusiasm sells.”

When asked if he had anything else to say about writing, being an author, or book marketing, John said, “Nope. I’ve heard or read so many crummy, contradictory, or self-aggrandizing author statements and ‘advice’ through the years that I just can’t do it with a clear conscience.  I’ll just suggest that, if you have ever wanted to write, you should.  Follow your passion.”

Learn more about John at his website at johnmundtesquire.com, which has “lots of different features, including a step-by-step process page, a blog, interviews, a story in progress, behind the scenes stuff, and more.”

Author Spotlight: Kim Sigafus – Native American Author

This month’s author spotlight features Kim Sigafus, a multi-title author in fiction and non-fiction, all of them featuring Native Americans. For her eight titles published over the last decade or so, Kim hasn’t had a formal marketing plan, though she did make a list of ideas to try. She’s always trying out new marketing ideas and networking with other authors to find more new ideas. Over time, she’s learned what works for her and what doesn’t.

When asked how she feels about marketing, Kim said, “Yuk. I find it hard to toot my own horn, which you have to do to get books sold.” The fact that marketing is just as much work as writing the book surprised Kim, “After I got the first one out, I was immediately struck by how creative I would need to be when marketing for such a niche genre as Native American titles.” She added, “At first, I did try all the traditional marketing ideas and they went okay. When I found my platform I now work within, the bookselling and publicity became easier.  In the beginning, I was surprised people would come out and hear me speak and then buy books afterward. Then I realized that WAS the way I would be selling books. I rarely do a book signing at a store these days. I would say 90% of book sales come from my Native American presentations.”

Some things Kim has tried to market her books include press releases, book signings, radio, bookmarks, and social media, but has found that it’s her Native American presentations that sell her books. She’s bought newspaper advertising but said they didn’t go over too well since not too many people read the newspaper anymore. Facebook, email, and a website where “people can see what’s going on with me and the writing by checking up on me there” have worked the best for her online.

When asked what advice about selling and marketing books she would offer to a new author, Kim said, “Everyone has to market their work. Even famous people have to push their work out there. Keep trying new things until you discover what works for you. Network with other writers. Join a writing group.” On the writing life in general, she said, “Becoming an author has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. But it’s nothing like I thought it would be. People have preconceived notions about writers; what we look like, how our day goes, what it’s like to write and create. What I can say about it is, it’s harder than you could ever imagine, one of the craziest things you could ever take on, and one of the most rewarding things you can ever experience. It’s really hard work, so those who don’t have to get those words down on paper just don’t do it. For the rest of us, it’s like clearing your head of the people living in it and taking up space reserved for other things.” She added, “Marketing is really about finding your personal niche and then carving out selling points for yourself. It’s an ongoing process, and changes over time.”

Kim has demonstrated that the key to being a successful author (according to your own definition) takes time, testing, and practice as well as learning about yourself, your readers, and what works for both. Learn more about Kim at her website. Her books are available for sale on Amazon and Smashwords.

Kim’s Books:

The Life and Times of the Ojibwa People, 2006, McIver Publishing

Native Writers, 2011, Native Voices, Book Publishing Company

Native Elders, 2012, Native Voices, Book Publishing Company

The Dress, McIver Publishing

The Mida, McIver Publishing

The Mida Book Two, Finding Genny, McIver Publishing

The Mida Book Three, Destiny of Darkness and Light, McIver Publishing

The Mida Book Four, Perilous Choices, McIver Publishing

Author Spotlight: Lauren Wood – Debut Children’s Book Author

Lauren WoodThis month’s Author Spotlight post is a bit different as I talk with Lauren Wood who is about to release her first book, a children’s book, Something’s Missing, which was illustrated by Johnnie Cluney and published by her Paradisiac Publishing company.

Lauren hasn’t created a formal marketing plan yet, but plans to hold a release party, try to be a guest on a local afternoon magazine-style television show, send out press releases, and “do a big social push.” When asked about her attitude surrounding marketing her upcoming book, Lauren said, “This is my first book but I am aware of the daunting chore that is book marketing; however, I have a naive hope that the combined social network between myself and the illustrator (who has national notoriety) will somehow help this book garner a bit of attention.” She further explained her feelings about book marketing, “Honestly, I am excited to tell anyone and everyone that will listen, and I can’t wait to Facebook/Instagram/Tweet my face off about it; however, the press releases and the follow-up with bookstores and media, in general, is a bit overwhelming. I do have a marketing background; however, I feel like this is going to be a much bigger undertaking than I am able to grasp at the moment.”

Even with the insightful and realistic expectations she has for marketing her book, Lauren does expect that she will still be surprised at the work required. She plans to rely heavily on social media initially, especially Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, as well as research other strategies and learn as she goes, the road to successful book marketing almost all authors take. Other strategies she might consider include paid advertising, “If I’m able to find something that is effective and will garner an ROI (return on investment) for me.”

When asked what advice she’d give other authors about to start selling and marketing their books, Lauren said, “TELL EVERYONE WHO WILL LISTEN. You’ve just accomplished something you should be very proud of and friends and family are there as your first line of cheerleading offense. Do not be afraid to toot your own horn!” On the writing life in general, she offered, “If you’ve always wanted to write a book, just go for it. There’s a lot to be said about marketing and getting the word out, but don’t let that discourage you from sharing your words!”

Lauren is celebrating her new book with a release party at Cru in downtown Davenport, Iowa (221 Brady Street), on November 5, 2018, from 3 to 6 p.m. The book will be available for purchase online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble on November 6th.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT : CRAIG HART – THRILLER AUTHOR AND STAY-AT-HOME DAD (OF TWINS)

Craig HartCraig Hart has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including three thrillers and a coming-of-age story in the past three years. Craig describes his marketing plan as “a crazy combination of scribbled notes and scattered post-its,” so not formal, though he does plan writing goals and targeted promotional spots for the next two or three months. Since Kindle Press published his first book in 2015, everything surrounding marketing his books has changed. He said, “I once had a highly idealistic view of writing and the writing life. You know the drill: starving artist suffering for art’s sake. Over the years, though, I’ve come to realize that for writing, beyond merely being a hobby, to support its own weight, it must justify its existence. Namely, become economically feasible. Again, if someone is doing it as a hobby, that’s fine. There are much worse ways to pass a quiet evening at home. But for me that wasn’t—isn’t—enough. I want writing to play an ever-more important role in my life. And to make that happen, I realized (and I’m somewhat embarrassed at how long it took me to come around to this) that I had to begin treating writing like a business.”

Marketing books is Craig’s least-favorite part of the writing life; he said it’s become easier but he didn’t think he’d ever enjoy selling himself or his work. How basic marketing books can be surprised Craig. He said, “I viewed marketing as a combination of clever taglines and big league contacts and advertising. And it can be all those things. But at its most basic, marketing is just about relationships. Building relationships with readers, writers, and professionals in the field is, in my opinion, the cornerstone of any good business plan. And it’s no different in writing. In fact, it may be truer in writing than anywhere else. After all, there are few products more personal than a stack of pages with someone’s words written on them.” He’s found word-of-mouth to be his most successful book marketing strategy, though “getting that ball rolling is the hard part. Networking can help, however, and making contacts wherever you can. My best opportunities have come through meeting people and creating relationships.”

Craig has spent a fair amount of money on paid advertising with mixed results, including Facebook, Amazon Marketing Services (AMS), Google, and free/discounted book listing websites. “I’ve been a bit disappointed with Facebook ads, although I know some have used them successfully. The same goes for AMS. With those platforms, it can take a lot of money to figure out what works and stay in until you begin turning a profit, assuming you do. Not many authors I know have the ready cash to pour into testing the algorithms, so their usefulness is suspect. I’ve had moderate success with some of the websites, but I would urge anyone to do a bit of research. A ton of sites offer promos, but only a handful can deliver.”

Craig uses social media more to make connections and plan events than to actually sell books. He had used Facebook and Twitter more, but has found there are better uses for his book marketing time, especially with changing algorithms that require advertisers to pay to get their content seen.

When asked what advice he’d give to other authors starting or planning to soon start marketing their books, Craig said, “First, be prepared to do just that: sell and market. It’s a common misconception that writing the book was the hard part and now you just wait for the money to roll in. With thousands of books published weekly, it can be insanely difficult to be noticed by anyone. My single best piece of advice would be to network. Get to know the writers in your area, search out book events, talk to people, make connections, start relationships. Not only will this serve as a support system in the dark times, but will also breed opportunities for selling your books and building your brand.”

Learn more about Craig on his website, Amazon Author Central page, Facebook, and Twitter.

Craig’s books:

Serenity (2016): A bullet slams into a wall just past Shelby’s head. A drug dealer offers him $10,000 for information regarding his dead sister. The local sheriff has Shelby in his sights. It’s just another day in the small town of Serenity.

Serenity Stalked (2017): A cold-blooded killer has blazed a trail of dead bodies across the country, with no one to stand in his way…until he starts killing on Shelby Alexander’s home turf: the small Michigan town of Serenity.

Serenity Avenged (2017): A ruthless crime boss…a mansion with a chilling secret…a young man faced with the biggest decision of his life.

Becoming Moon (2015, Kindle Press): Becoming Moon is a coming-of-age story about a young man struggling to be himself amid pressure from a repressive family.

Author Spotlight: Mary Davidsaver – In Her Own Words

Thank you to Mary Davidsaver for this guest blog post about how she’s approached marketing her first book, Clouds Over Bishop Hill.

Mary Davidsaver, in her own words:

Mary DavidsaverMy book came out last summer and I had the opportunity to schedule its launch over the two days of Bishop Hill’s Ag Days weekend. I was the fortunate beneficiary of all the publicity that came with a major event weekend for a town that’s been promoting itself as a tourist destination for decades. It has suffered through a downturn in visitation, but it still was a great boost for me. Having my book available in Bishop Hill shops was always in the marketing plan, and I have my book placed in two.

I was also fortunate in that I had another well-publicized book release at the Midwest Writing Center in Davenport, [Iowa,] before its move to Rock Island[, Illinois].

Those events and sales through Amazon pretty much took me through the end of 2016 in pretty good shape for sales numbers.

“Sticky notes are my life – photo of the virtual ones I’m using to try and organize myself.”

Marketing is necessary, but it’s definitely out of my comfort zone. I have to be in it for the long game, and it’s an ongoing effort to stay focused. But the New Year has begun and this is where the heavy lifting of my marketing plan begins.

My marketing plan began as a one-page proposal I drafted for my 2015 pitch to MWC Press. It was basically a brainstorming session of everything I’d learned from having my own craft-based business, from marketing workshops I’d attended through the Midwest Writing Center, and a lot of “Why not try this?” ideas.

Out of the 17 items I had on my original list, I can check off ten as used in one way or another. I have: made personal appearances, published press releases, networked with the QC Convention & Visitors Bureau, consigned books in Bishop Hill shops, created a Facebook author page, created a Goodreads author page, created a Kindle book, updated my mailing list, entered contests, and followed what other authors have done. Can I do more with these? Yes, of course.

I’ve had the best results with press coverage with my old hometown newspaper. I haven’t paid for any advertising yet. My major expenses so far have been for travel, my Davenport release, and giving away books for review and goodwill.

The surprise income has been from a couple of panels I’ve been on. It was nice to get paid and the exposure to public speaking was very beneficial. I think the timing of the panels was perfect for my interview for Scribble on WVIK. I had intended to send out a query for that radio show, but a sudden cancellation and a friendly referral came through for me. I was prepared and able to help Don Wooten and Roald Tweet make it a good show.

I’m following one piece of advice about not overextending my personal resources. I’m focusing my social media use with the Facebook author page first—Goodreads, second. Those will be ongoing projects that entail growing visitation by using contests.

And speaking of contests, one of my New Year’s resolutions has been to make an effort to enter as many writing contests as I can find that seem appropriate for me. The costs will be spread out over monthly budgets. The Total Funds for Writers website, the paid version of Funds for Writers, has been a major asset.

I feel that I’m still in the early stages of implementing my marketing plan. I need to work with what I have and be on the lookout for anything new that might help me.

Next year at this time I’ll have a better sense of what worked for me and what didn’t. Right now I have to be open to all opportunities.

My best advice about marketing is to be open to anything that will promote your book and you as an author. Look for local resources and workshops. Remain flexible. New things and ideas will open up. Try to push yourself outside the usual comfort zone.

Clouds Over Bishop HillClouds Over Bishop Hill was published by MWC Press, an imprint of the Midwest Writing Center, in August, 2016. It is my first book.

Brief synopsis: A reckless driver sends recent college grad, Shelley Anderson, off the road and into the mysterious past of folk artist Olof Krans. Drafted into searching for Krans’s last portrait, her only clues are an old woman’s dreams and an uncle’s guilty conscience. How dangerous will it be to find a lost treasure?

I’ve kept my website simple, only one page, for now.  I found Weebly.com easy to use and I haven’t begun paying for any extras yet.

http://marydavidsaver.weebly.com/

Facebook author page:

https://www.facebook.com/MaryDavidsaverAuthor/

I haven’t begun paying for anything extra here either. I imagine that will change soon.

I’ve used my blog as a tool for writing about the progress of the novel and for helping out other writers when I can.

http://marydavidsaver.blogspot.com/

Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15698205.Mary_R_Davidsaver

Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Mary-R.-Davidsaver/e/B01LQNU9TQ/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

Scribble interview:
http://cpa.ds.npr.org/wvik/audio/2016/11/SCRIB_1646.MP3

Mary Davidsaver is a retired jewelry designer who has written for local newspapers since 2007. She is a member of the Midwest Writing Center who has won two Iron Pen first place awards. In 2013, she was the first local writer to win the Great River Writer’s Retreat Contest. She has published her first novel with MWC Press.

Author Spotlight: Karen Nortman – Camping Novelist

Karen Nortman

Karen Nortman is the author of seven titles in the Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries Series and two titles in the Time Travel Trailer Series, all published between 2012 and 2016.

Karen began writing the campground mysteries because she thought the cozy mysteries would be a good complement to the camping environment, and there weren’t any at the time she started writing them. She said, “About 8-9 million households in American own some kind of RV–and that doesn’t count tent campers. When people camp, even if they have TV, often they don’t have much reception, so my plan was to write short, light mysteries that could be read in a weekend, with a cast of retirees and occasional mishaps typical of campgrounds.”

Trailer on the FlyKaren hasn’t had any formal marketing plans as she’d rather be writing, but she has gradually built up a readership. She finds book marketing a necessary chore and difficult. This attitude hasn’t changed since publishing her first book, though her marketing efforts have adapted over the years. At first, Karen thought she would be able to tell people about her books through RV’ing forums, but that didn’t work out. So she now takes advantage of her camping-related niche by distributing postcards with recipes on one side and information about her books on the other. “I give out two or three books in each campground we stay in. I also leave copies in exchange libraries in campgrounds. For me, word of mouth is still the best advertising. I once received an email from a man in Australia that he heard about my books in an Australian campground!”

Karen offers her first book in e-book form for $.99, which includes a note at the end offering the second title free to anyone who signs up for her email list. She said, “I send out a newsletter to that list about once a month with news about books I have coming out, when one of my books will be free, and any awards I may have won. I also tell people what I’m reading and occasionally give away $5 Amazon gift certificates. A few people unsubscribe as soon as they have their free book, but it’s a pretty small percentage.” She rounds out her marketing efforts by offering a free day or two a month for most of her books, which are in the Kindle Select program. Then, she posts on RV Facebook pages about the free books. “The free days usually boost sales and help with reviews.” She stated she hasn’t used Twitter as much as she should.

Campy ChristmasKaren has avoided paid advertising for the most part, though she did buy an ad in Outdoor Iowa once, but thought she got few sales from it. She also ran an ad on a camping website, but couldn’t evaluate her results well since the sales are through Amazon.

When asked what advice she’d give to other authors starting or planning to market their books, Karen said, “Don’t be discouraged–it’s a slow building process. Take advantage of local venues and writer’s workshops. It has been tremendously beneficial to me to exchange ideas with other authors. Especially if you are self-published, enter your books in contests and submit them to review sites. Some are quite expensive, but there are many that are free or charge a reasonable fee. Five of my books have been IndieBRAG medallion honorees. You can only submit one book at a time and it takes about six months for results, but I feel it helps with credibility.” On writing in general, she shared, “I think it’s important to provide readers with as many formats as you can. E-books are the easiest and certainly are my biggest sellers. But paperbacks are important for those without e-readers, book signings, craft shows, etc. Just this year I have finally gotten six of my books on Audible and they have done better than I expected.”

Learn more about Karen on her website, Amazon author page, Facebook page, or on Twitter @RVmysteryauthor. You can also email her at Karen.musser.nortman@gmail.com.

Karen’s books:

The Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries:

Bats and Bones, 2012
The Blue Coyote, 2013
Peete and Repeat, 2013
The Lady of the Lake, 2014
To Cache a Killer, 2015
A Campy Christmas, 2015
The Space Invader, 2016

The Time Travel Trailer Series:

The Time Travel Trailer, 2014
Trailer on the Fly, 2016

ERIK THERME: MYSTERY AUTHOR

Author photo (Erik Therme)Erik Therme has authored two mysteries: Mortom was originally self-published and then was acquired by Thomas & Mercer Publishing in 2015, and Resthaven was a 2016 Kindle Scout winner published through Kindle Press.

While Erik doesn’t use a formal marketing plan, he does keep organized: “I use a spreadsheet (of information) to make sure I don’t overlook anything when I release a new book. The spreadsheet contains everything from bloggers, promotional websites, to paid advertising opportunities.” His focus with marketing his first mystery, Mortom, was to build his fan base, which has helped him in marketing Resthaven. He said, “Now that I have a core group in place, they do a fantastic job of sharing my books with other readers, who then do the same. The great thing is that once you’ve hooked a reader with one book, they’re usually loyal to you for everything you write.”

eBook Cover (Mortom)Erik describes marketing as a necessary evil, but clarifies, “I’m OK with that.” He learned early on that even with a publisher, only big author names like Stephen King or John Grisham don’t need to extensively market their own work to be successful, but, Erik said, “Fortunately for me, I don’t mind the marketing process, as I view it as yet another way to be creative.” In fact, Erik has been surprised by how addictive book marketing has become for him. “After the release of Mortom, I spent the next six months doing nothing but promotion, and I neglected to do any new writing. The irony (as I’ve come to learn) is that the best marketing an author can do is to write more books, because each new book reaches new readers, which brings more fans into the fold. It’s definitely a challenge to find a balance between promoting and writing.”

Social media has been a big help to Erik in marketing his books, though he’s also done everything from hanging flyers on telephone poles, his least effective strategy, to handing out and leaving bookmarks at random places, “forgetting” copies in places like hotel lobbies when he travels, and donating copies to libraries through their return book slots. He describes Facebook as being “instrumental” in helping him market his books. He clarified, “That said, smart authors use Facebook to connect with people and develop relationships—not just as a platform to repeatedly shout BUY MY BOOK! That doesn’t work.” The least effective social media outlet for Erik has been Twitter, though he admits, “I struggle to share ‘quality’ content with my Tweets, and that could be part of the problem.”

eBook Cover (Resthaven)Erik has used paid promotional websites to advertise his books when they launched, with widely varying results. “It can often be a crap shoot, but it’s another good way to reach new readers. The most important thing is to set a budget, as fees can range anywhere from tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars.”

When asked what advice he’d give to other authors starting or planning to soon start marketing their books, Erik said, “Connect with as many authors as you can. Most are friendly and generous with their time and advice, and many are happy to share your work with their own fans. Following authors on social media is also a great way to see how they promote their work, and many times I’ve discovered author events that I never knew existed. Lastly, reviews (in my opinion) are incredibly important to a book’s success. Mortom has been released for over a year, and I still work hard to find readers to review the book.” On writing in general, he shared, “A writer writes first and foremost because they love to write. Most of us aren’t in this for the money. But if you are serious about making a go of it, you have to treat your writing like a business to be successful.”

Learn more about Erik on his website, Facebook page, and via Twitter. Learn more about Mortom here and Resthaven here.

 

Erik’s books:

Mortom (Thomas & Mercer, 2015) is a “follow-the-clues” type mystery about a guy who receives a hidden inheritance.

Resthaven (Kindle Press, 2016), Kindle Scout winner, is a young adult mystery about a group of kids who have a scavenger hunt inside an abandoned retirement home.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: MISTY URBAN

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Misty Urban’s latest book is a short-story collection published by Snake Nation Press, A Lesson in Manners. These ten stories “offer a how-to manual for dealing with love, lies, loss, and loneliness.” Her other published book-length work is Monstrous Women in Middle English Romance, which won the D. Simon Evans Dissertation Prize for Medieval Studies and was published by Edwin Mellen Press in 2010.

The first time Misty thought about book marketing was with A Lesson in Manners’ publication; she created a marketing plan for the collection after completing Midwest Writing Center’s Book Marketing Workshop Series (led by yours truly). She said, “The class gave me a template for a marketing plan that encouraged me to develop a sense of how I wanted to present the book and brand myself as an author. Portions of the template prompted me to think about competing books and how mine compares, identify my ideal reader, and decide how and where I wanted to promote the book. The marketing plan gave me practical tools for tracking the financials, keeping a schedule, and collecting press clips. I would have figured all this out on my own eventually, through trial and error, but the guidance offered by the class was enormously helpful. Having a marketing plan helped me enjoy the publishing process and feel I was prepared for the next step.”

Because the medieval study was a “high-priced, highly specialized book” and she knew her target audience was small, she didn’t spend much time thinking about or marketing it. When A Lesson in Manners was picked up by Snake Nation for publication, she knew she would need to do more marketing to find the wider audience to which the collection appeals. “Signing up for the book marketing class was my first step, and it really made me plan in advance. I decided how I wanted to brand myself as an author, selected my platforms, decided which tools I would use, and learned about other marketing networks and resources I could participate in. I actually want people to read this book, so that’s motivating.”

Misty said she ended up enjoying marketing more than she thought she would. “I thought at first ‘marketing’ meant ‘trying to get someone to buy something,’ and I felt really uncomfortable about having to get in people’s faces and beg them to buy my book. But then I decided to think about marketing as a process of visibility. I get my book out there, on the website, on the shelf, and then let the reader decide if it’s something they want to buy. It’s a short-story collection from a tiny press, so let’s face it, I do not expect great sales. But if my book means something to the people who read it—if it gets talked about, passed around, maybe taught in a class or two—that, to my mind, is the pinnacle of success. What I’m really interested in is seeing a community of readers grow around the book, seeing how people respond to it. That’s the real payoff for the marketing time spent.”

When asked what has surprised her most about the book marketing process, Misty said, “I think the biggest hurdle I overcame was getting the right mindset. I feel much more at ease when marketing is an outgrowth of my larger participation in a literary community: talking to readers, talking to authors, networking, teaching, holding and attending events. I’m a writing teacher (composition and creative writing), and I run the writing center at the local community college, and I also participate in a local community writer’s group. As a teacher I get invited to run workshops and do classroom talks, so I feel like my larger contribution is as a teacher and literary crusader and then, by the way, here’s my book. I don’t like to sit behind a table and try to answer the question of ‘why your book, and not the book of the person sitting next to you, or a nice steak dinner?’ Um—because it’s my book? Only I can tell those stories? But if it’s medium-rare, and there will be wine, then honestly? Maybe the steak. Having the marketing part be one piece of my larger participation in a literary community takes away much of the humiliation and aversion I feel about self-promotion.”

Misty has learned the value of having professionally printed promotional materials, like bookmarks, to give away. She’s enjoyed more interactive personal appearances like readings, question/answer sessions, craft talks, or discussions about writing and publishing. When she has a table, she fills it with things that would appeal to those who don’t buy her book at that event. “I printed up acquaintance cards and flirtation cards, old-fashioned calling cards that people can take with them, along with my business card. I have handouts on how to do a formal place setting, a riff on the etiquette theme. Lately, because I like to feed people, I’ve been bringing snacks ‘developed’ by different characters. At my book launch party, I had a table of displays and a table of prizes inspired by the book. It’s a way to give people a feel for the book when there’s not a narrative to summarize.”

By far, the most successful marketing tool Misty has used is her website. She said, “Years ago I bought my own domain and paid for a website hosting service so I could have e-mail as well as full control over design and functionality. I wanted a professional online presence to help collect and describe my work as a scholar, teacher, and short-story author, to distinguish me from the other Misty Urbans floating around the world. (There are more of us!) I’ve switched to WordPress as my CMS, because it’s free and flexible, easy to update, and it comes with built-in tools to handle things like comments and subscriptions. I don’t have a huge following, but when you Google ‘Misty Urban,’ my site is the first link that comes up. So that’s useful for people who are gathering information or following along from home.”

Misty has used a mixture of learning from other authors’ experiences as well as getting creative on her own to expand her marketing toolbox. “When Manners came out, I sent out the book for review to a few places, and I’m lucky that the response so far has been welcoming. I was warned in advance that sending out cold copies is a waste of time, so instead I just chose to send free copies as gifts to the writers who have most helped or influenced me. If they want to give me a blurb or review, great, but I mostly wanted to share my pride in my book. I’ve also been told not to read Amazon or Goodreads reviews, ever, but I ignored that advice immediately. My reviews are coming from people who read with care and honesty and interest, and their thoughts mean a lot to me.

“I’m also trying two new tactics that were my own brainstorm. I recorded audio of certain stories and put those up on my website as samplers. And I’m currently hosting a contest for readers to write their own story inspired by the book. A couple of professional publicists who heard about this didn’t think it was great as a marketing strategy—too much time for too little return, they said—but for me, and my hopes to network with other writers and participate in a writing community, it’s perfect. I love hearing other people’s work and I already have a few entries. I might come up with more such reader-interactive activities and contests in the future—quizzes, games, whatever.”

Other than bookmarks, postcards, business cards, and other promotional items, Misty hasn’t used any paid advertising but said she might consider Facebook post boosts, Goodreads ads, or other paid advertising in the future. At this point though, she doesn’t think paid advertising would net a great enough return given where A Lesson in Manners is currently distributed. For social media, Misty uses Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest. She also has a LinkedIn profile.

I asked Misty what advice she had about selling and marketing books for authors who just completed a first book or are about to be published. She said, “Have a marketing plan! It’s so essential to get things organized from the beginning. Spend the time thinking about what how you want to brand yourself—what kind of presence you want to have as an author? What kind of publicity do you want to do? The very best thing the book marketing workshop taught me was to play to your strengths, make sure you’re having fun, and don’t do anything you don’t want to do. My own advice is to be strategic about the methods you employ. You really do have to budget your time. Maintaining websites, being active on social media, subscribing to the blogs and reading the book marketing books will take up the mental space and energy you need for writing your next book. Have a plan, have a budget, set your limits, and retool as you go.”

On the writing life in general, Misty said, “Heaven knows the writing is agony—Getting the words on the page! Revising the words! Getting the words fit for publication!—exhilarating, but also agony. The book marketing shouldn’t be. Do try to have fun. Do what rewards your time and energy, sparks you with inspiration, makes you want to get busy writing. Connecting with readers is hugely satisfying—hugely!—and having somebody read and love my book validates my career, my life, my worth as a human being. But at the end of the day, being read or not being read won’t stop me from writing. It’s the writing I really love.”

Learn more about Misty at her website or Facebook page or about A Lesson in Manners on her Goodreads page.

Misty’s books:

A Lesson in Manners (Snake Nation Press, 2016), short story collection: Ten very different stories that offer a how-to manual for dealing with love, lies, loss, and loneliness.

Monstrous Women in Middle English Romance (Edwin Mellen Press, 2010), winner of the D. Simon Evans Dissertation Prize for Medieval Studies. A study of Melusine, Constance, Medea, and murderous women.