Writer Promotion: Having a Plan

Blog 90 ImageThis is the last post in my blog series on How to Self-Publish. In previous posts, I described ways a self-pub can promote her book. But rather than dipping into every strategy and seeing which, if any, sticks, a writer will find it useful to have a promotional plan.

There are several reasons for this. First, there are many other writers promoting their books and, for the most part, in very similar ways. A well-thought-out plan that builds interest in an upcoming book gives a writer a better chance of finding an edge. Second, many self-pubs write while holding down day jobs. Their time for promotion is limited and a plan can make them more efficient. Finally, a plan can keep marketing costs under control. It’s already a challenge for self-pubs to cover editorial and cover design costs, let alone clear a profit. And when it comes to promotion, it’s tempting to chase the dream of success and continue spending. A plan with a budget lowers this risk.

Here are some things writers should think about when developing a plan.

When to work up the plan. It’s easy to leave the development of a promotional plan until a book is done. However, many strategies such as building a social media presence require time to build followers. A writer should create and start implementing a plan once she’s certain she’s going to self-publish.

Consider what the market is. A lot of promotion involves a writer sharing content about her books and/or herself. As she develops that content, a writer should consider the profile of her potential market. Few self-pubs have the resources to do things like market surveys. However, a writer might be able to research sales of well-known books in her genre.

Types of promotion. The goal of a promotional plan is to build interest in an upcoming book that peaks when the book is published and is maintained for months and even years after. The core of the plan settles the strategies that will be used to achieve this goal. Since many writers use the same strategies and lives are busy, at any stage of implementing the plan, it’s probably best to do one or two things really well.

Timing of the strategies. Some strategies, like social media, are long-term or even ongoing. Others, like asking friends and family for help or contacting bloggers for reviews, are usually implemented in the months before publication. A promotional plan should create dates for executing all strategies to maximum effect.

Costs. A writer’s plan should also create an overall budget for promotion broken down by strategy. As I already said, the dream of success creates a temptation to spend, spend, spend, and many service providers look to take advantage of that.

Measure results. Finally, a plan should include times when the writer assesses her promotional strategies. For example, she might review social media analytics to see which content has generated the most interest. A writer will never be a hundred percent certain which strategies are working and which aren’t, but there’ll be enough information to tweak the plan and make adjustments.

Copyright © 2016 Peter Fritze

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Writer Promotion: Other Free Tools

Blog 87 ImageIn my last posts under How to Self-Publish, I focused on promotion through family and friends, a website and blogging, social media and appearances like library presentations. These are all ways a writer can publicize his name and books for free.

This post is a catchall for additional promotional techniques that only cost the writer time. In the weeks to come, I’ll complete my thoughts on promotion by discussing reviews, techniques that cost money and the need for an overall strategy.

Email. In a world of social media and texting, email feels old school. Even so, many people advocate that writers continue to use email to stay in touch with current and potential readers. Usually, the advice is to distribute newsletters by email. Jane Friedman has an excellent blog on this type of promotion.

Email is seen as a more direct, intimate and stable form of communication than social media. Since addressees are already inundated with email, writers need to develop and maintain their lists in a manner that respects the privacy of addressees. They should use proper subscription services with clear opt-in and opt-out rights reflecting current laws.

Newsletters. The content of newsletters often relates to the writer or his books since people who’ve given their email address are assumed to be interested in this. However, newsletter content can extend to matters of broader interest or opinion and could overlap with a writer’s blog.

To date, I’ve only used email to promote releases of my books and I don’t have a newsletter. I need to figure out how to write blog posts more quickly…

Book-Based Social Networks. Beyond the giant, general purpose social networks like Facebook, there are several sites that focus on reading. Among them are Goodreads (an Amazon company), booktalk and Shelfari (another Amazon company).

These networks are mainly for readers to share about what they’ve read. Writers may be able to supplement that content with information about themselves but the networks aren’t environments for hard pitches. Better for a writer to share about what he’s reading.

Author Profile Pages. Online platforms that a self-pub writer uses to sell books may permit him to create a page with a picture, bio, reviews and other personal content. Examples are Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Book-based social networks like Goodreads offer writers similar opportunities to create profiles.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

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Writer Promotion: Appearances

Blog 85 ImageIn traditional publishing, events where writers meet readers have long been a staple of book promotion. As part of their promotional strategy, self-published writers can do some of the same.

The usual events are book launches and signings as well as library and book club readings. These are wonderful opportunities for writers to connect with readers, spark some sales and support word-of-mouth endorsement. Self-pub writers, though, will bear all the costs of these events themselves. So which should they focus on?

Here are my thoughts.

Be Careful with Book Launches. From the anecdotes I’ve read, even in the traditional publishing world, book launch events are on the decline. The costs for publishers add up and may not be recouped from additional sales. Social media can be more effective because it’s cheaper and the marketing message lasts longer.

Most attendees at the average self-pub’s launch will be family and friends who’ll probably buy the writer’s book anyways. While the launch is a way for the writer to celebrate an accomplishment, it will eat up the marketing budget without adding much word-of-mouth support.

Be Creative Around Signings. While the best-known writers will enjoy long lines of fans waiting to have their books inscribed, many self-pubs will find book signings as challenging as launches. It may be hard to find bookstores willing to host the events and the writers will have to be thick-skinned and reach out for interest.

One way to be creative around signings is to choose venues other than bookstores. Examples are fairs as well as art and craft shows. Crowds there might be more exploratory and relatively easy to engage. Writers must weigh the cost of a booth against projected sales.

Grab Library and Book Club Readings. It’s great when a writer knows that people she’ll meet like to read and that’s what library patrons and book club members offer. Self-pub writers should jump at opportunities to do library and book club readings and leave plenty of time after to chat with attendees.

However, the value of these opportunities is no secret, and writers and publishers pester libraries and book clubs for readings. Self-pubs are likely to find more opportunities with libraries outside of major metropolitan areas and with clubs in which acquaintances are members.

Offer Content Other than Book Excerpts. For library presentations, I get greater interest in a one-hour talk about how to self-publish than in readings from my books. I still get sales but make more connections because I’m offering free content that is (hopefully) entertaining and useful.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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Writer Promotion: Blogging

Blog 81 imageThe most recent posts in my blog series “How to Self-Publish” have been about promotion. This week I’m discussing blogging.

Should a writer blog? It’s very common to read recommendations that fiction writers, whether traditionally published or self-published, should blog in order to promote themselves and their books. This remains true even with the rise of social media. However, does it work?

Looking at my experience to date, I’m afraid I’m not sure.

I can’t relate my blogging efforts to any sales, so at that level, I just don’t know. Certainly, I’ve never been told by a reader of my blog that she went on to buy a book.

However, I can also measure the usefulness of blogging by the extent of my online presence. Traffic has gone up over time but it’s a slow go. I do get regular compliments about my blog content, though.

One of the main benefits of blogging, I find, is that I learn a lot about writing and publishing. That helps with other types of promotion such as library presentations.

So, overall, I would say that blogging continues to offer good opportunities for writer promotion. However, it’s a lot of work, and since there’s enormous competition for the attention of readers, it takes a long-term commitment to see results. Writers should think carefully whether blogging is the best and most enjoyable use of their limited time for promotion.

What should a writer blog about? Everything in blogging starts with the content. If a writer blogs regularly, it can be surprisingly difficult to think of topics. I think of topics as falling into one four categories:

  • insights into the writer and/or his work
  • insights into other writers and/or their works
  • “how to” and “tips” posts about writing
  • discussions of other interests the writer has.

My experience is that readers appreciate short content. They also like content containing personal experience or that answers a specific question. Blogging about the craft of writing is fun, but it tends to interest other writers and not readers.

What makes blogging more effective? Generally, blogging will have wider reach if the writer:

  • posts regularly (I post every Sunday evening)
  • adds images to posts
  • links the blog to social media
  • considers closely what the best search terms for the blog are
  • reviews analytics to see which posts do best
  • searches out opportunities to guest post on other blogs
  • comments on other bloggers’ posts with the aim of getting comments on his content.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

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Writer Promotion: The Website

Blog 79 imageDespite the amazing social media tools available, a website remains at the core of a writer’s promotional strategy.

As one peels away the onion, there is a lot that can be written about starting and maintaining a website. Here are the very basics.

Not so fast. Does a writer really have to bother with a website? For almost every serious writer, the answer is yes. Readers and others expect a writer to have an online presence. They will do an online search and look for a website. In turn, a website is one of the best ways for a writer to control his online presence and public profile.

Can’t a writer just rely on Facebook? No. On a website, a writer provides structured information. Facebook is about social engagement. They change their platform all the time, in part to earn advertising dollars. See Jane Friedman’s blog.

What should a writer’s goals be in having a website? A website should provide:

  1. Clear information about the writer and his expertise (home and bio pages) for viewers and search engines.
  2. Synopses and reviews of all his books and other content (novels and reviews pages).
  3. Links to retailers of his books.
  4. The ability to interact by blogging, email (contact page), collecting email addresses for a newsletter, posting works in progress and links to social media.
  5. Data collection so that a writer can judge his digital efforts.

See this blog by Jane Friedman.

Okay. How does a writer start and maintain a website? In the broadest terms, the choices are:

  1. Hire a web designer experienced with author websites. Your site will look great but of course you have to pay for the design and ongoing hosting and maintenance. For self-published writers, that cost may be prohibitive.
  2. Self-host using “content management systems” like WordPress.org. Roughly, self-hosting is where the writer has access to all of his website files and the servers where those files are stored/hosted. The writer has broad ability to customize his site and add functionality (plug-ins) and analytics. However, the writer is responsible for security, backups and management, and may still need a designer’s help. For an excellent blog on self-hosting, see this blog by Jane Friedman.
  3. Operate your site on someone else’s domain. For example, this blog uses WordPress.com. This is the simplest and can be virtually cost free. However, while becoming more impressive, customization using themes and analytics are more limited. Also, the domain might disappear.

For all choices, the writer must purchase a domain name. Hopefully [author name].com is available.

Does a writer need to blog? WordPress.com and some like it began as blog web hosting services. Sites operated on WordPress.com are now easily customized to be websites without blogs. I’ll have more to say about whether a self-published writer should or should not blog in a future post.

What is SEO? This is not a disease but an acronym for search engine optimization. A writer will want his website/blog to appear as high and often in online searches as possible. There’s an entire industry that strategizes how to do this based on search engine algorithms. The good news is that sites like WordPress.org (self-hosting) and WordPress.com (domain hosting) are, I’m told, quite good at handling SEO.

Build away!

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

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Writer Promotion: Family and Friends

Blog 77 ImageThis is the start of several posts in my series “How to Self-Publish” discussing methods of promotion. Today’s post is about asking for the help of family and friends.

The challenge for a self-published writer is getting people to know about his book and interested enough to read it. If he wants readers to buy his book, as opposed to sampling it on a subscription service or getting a free copy, he must be confident that readers will feel they’ll get value for their money.

Family and friends can help with all these issues.

First, because of their connection to the writer, they’re the most likely group to actually read the book, despite busy lives. That’s the start of a reader base.

Second, family and friends are also among the most likely to give feedback. This means that, after completing the book, they’ve sat back and considered it. It also means that they have an opinion that they can share with others. So, assuming the opinion is favorable, they can create word of mouth about the book and thus promote it.

I’m a firm believer that this type of word of mouth has great potential to drive interest in a book and sales. Every family member and friend has his or her own group of family and friends, who in turn have their own groups, and so on. Word of mouth can spread quite far and quickly through these multiple channels.

When I published The Case for Killing, I didn’t take advantage of this obvious method of promotion. I was concerned that I was imposing on family and friends, and thought that people to whom family and friends recommended the book would think the recommendation wasn’t objective.

What I didn’t appreciate is that if I approach family and friends about my book thoughtfully, and if family and friends make their recommendations the same way, most people will take the information on board and make their own decision. Now I think family and friends, especially those who read my book, are powerful allies in the tough world of marketing a book.

So tell family and friends about your book. And ask them to tell others. In a nice way.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

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Promotion: Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

Blog 72 ImageNearly a year and a half ago, I began a blog series comparing traditional publishing and self-publishing for a fiction writer who’s completed her first manuscript. Today’s post is about promotion.

It would be nice if a first-time writer could build readers and maybe even earn an income just by having her book published. However, today’s book market is oversupplied, so she must be sure her book is being promoted.

Before self-publishing, a traditionally published writer looked to her publisher to plan and execute promotion. In a broad sense, the promotion began when the publisher selected her manuscript, packaged it into an attractive book and made sure it was on bookstore shelves. Then there might be advertising, publicity, readings and so on. The writer showed up where and when she was asked.

Self-publishing turned the publishing world on its head, not just because writers could publish and distribute independently, but also because they could promote themselves online. This disrupted the marketing techniques of traditional publishers. Launch parties and book tours fell off. Reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads became as important as reviews in book sections of newspapers. At the same time, a writer was expected by her publisher to take a greater role in promotion. She had to work her own contacts, have a website and maybe a blog, and be on social media. And often at her cost.

Does this mean that, for a writer concerned about promoting her book today, there’s no difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing? In general, I think there still is, though how much will depend on the publisher.

This post from Jane Friedman’s blog illustrates how promotion works at one of the Big 5 publishers. While the writer takes the lead on social media, the publisher offers support. And the publisher arranges for excellent publicity. Both parties seem committed to promotion to get value from their investments. Even if a writer is published by a house that does less promotion, she at least benefits from the publisher’s public vote of confidence in giving her one of their coveted slots.

Whether traditionally published or self-published, though, the writer needs to be deeply involved in promoting her book.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

Buy False Guilt.

Buy The Case for Killing.

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Writers Should Network

Blog 46 ImageI know that I should network to advance my writing aspirations. But knowing doesn’t mean doing, at least for someone like me, whose default is looking inward, not outward.

So this blog considers the reasons writers should network. Extroverted writers might shrug and stop reading. As far as I can tell, networking and its benefits come naturally to them. This post is intended for writers who need the extra push to connect with others.

First, however, a comment on what type of networking to engage in. Social media obviously offers many ways to connect. However, it’s very easy to post and dash, with the result that, at best, a superficial connection is created and the benefits of networking don’t materialize. So, in this blog, what I have in mind is old-school conversation, preferably face-to-face, or real social media interaction.

Here are the reasons I see for a writer to network.

It’s less lonely. Writers seem generally constituted to work happily over long stretches on their own. Most, though, need at least some human contact from time to time, which networking can help.

It’s enriching. Apart from helping her writing, networking will enrich a writer through what she learns and the benefits of friendship like an increased sense of belonging and the ability to share life’s stresses.

For content. This verges on crass, but a writer will be exposed to another person’s experiences, which in turn can be fodder for writing.

To help research. Lots of book research can be done using online and textual sources. However, interviews can greatly improve verisimilitude. Often, though, strangers will not give interviews without a reference. Networking can offer routes to and references for interviews.

For feedback. It’s possible a person with whom a writer networks has read her book(s) or knows someone who has. The writer may have an excellent opportunity to receive constructive criticism.

To promote. And if that person hasn’t read the writer’s book(s), the writer has an excellent opportunity to pique that person’s interest or induce him to think of someone who might have an interest. It’s best to promote with a soft touch, though.

For other opportunities. The person with whom a writer meets may know circumstances which could help the writer. There are countless examples, like the person having novel promotional ideas or knowing a book club that follows the writer’s genre.

For more networking. And that person will also have his own group of friends who might be suitable for further networking. In corporate networking, it’s often said that a person should leave a meeting with three new contact names. A writer can think in the same terms.

To offer help. The writer should be on the lookout for how she can help the person she’s networking with. Without intending to sound like a line from The Godfather, a writer who offers a favour may gain a future one.

Copyright ©2015 Peter Fritze

Where to buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

The Pre-Release Checklist

FalseGuilt_FrontCover_Blog 44Last December, I wrote up a checklist of things to do for the upcoming release of False Guilt. The checklist has evolved through the first weeks of 2015 and I thought I would share a summary for other self-published authors.

But, first, a snippet of False Guilt: the opening and closing paragraphs of chapter 1.

“Tell me this,” the man across from Paul Tews said. “What the hell is wrong with my son?”

Fifteen minutes earlier, moving a tray along a railing in front of a Greek fast-food place, Paul had heard his name. He’d been flattered that the President of Pan Canadian Securities asked to join him for lunch. Now he understood why. His question was a fair one.

. . .

“When [Art] was in L.A.,” [Art’s father] said, “the requests for money came faster and faster. For a long time, I sent him whatever he wanted. Then I made a few calls and figured things out. After that, I stuck to a monthly allowance, even if he complained, and then, when he came back last November, I cut him off and told him to get a job. And I told him if he keeps using cocaine I’ll write him out of my will.”

Paul’s face flushed and he looked away. “If it makes you feel any better, I know he tried reducing it recently.” He shot a hesitant glance across the table. “Anyway, he’s a brilliant guy. I meant it when I said he’ll get things working for him.”

“I don’t see him going to law school,” Art’s father said, snorting. “And he’s a failed actor as far as I can tell. I mean, right now, he pours people coffee for a living.”

Paul was at a loss. The lunchtime din suffused the pause in their conversation. Finally, Art’s father said, “Sometimes, Paul, sometimes I ask myself which one of us will die first.”

Another fair question, Paul thought.

And here’s the summary of my pre-release checklist for a self-published book.

Eight to twelve weeks before release date:

  1. Approach candidates for release reviews.
  2. Settle on print and eBook distribution platforms.
  3. Editor and author complete final manuscript proof.
  4. Draft marketing plan, including blogging and social media strategies.
  5. Assign cover design and interior design.

Four weeks before:

  1. Get print and eBook ISBNs.
  2. Obtain release reviews, and choose excerpts for back cover.
  3. Finalize cover and interior designs.
  4. Complete last front-to-back review and have final fixes made.
  5. Obtain necessary files for print and eBook distribution.
  6. Refine marketing plan, including developing updates for website and online profiles.

Two weeks before:

  1. Begin implementing blogging and social media strategies.
  2. Upload files to print-on-demand site; approve online and hard copy proofs as available.

Release:

  1. Upload eBook platform files and approve POD publication.
  2. Post release reviews on distribution site(s) and website.
  3. Implement other website changes and changes to online profiles.
  4. Announce release on blog and social media.
  5. Email interested readers and ask for reviews.
  6. Add book to Goodreads and/or similar sites.

I’ve actually broken down these steps further using a calendar.

I only wish I’d been this thoughtful on the release of The Case for Killing!

False Guilt will be out later this month.

Copyright ©2015 Peter Fritze

Where to buy The Case for Killing.

Follow me on Twitter @PFritze.

Ten Things I Learned in 2014 as a Writer

Blog 38 Image

To strengthen my writer’s resolve, I’ve been looking back on 2014, particularly the period since April when I published The Case for Killing. Here are the top ten things I learned as a writer.

Manage expectations. Writing for fun is, well, fun. Expecting to have a broad readership is a recipe for anxiety and depression.

Success starts with great content. A writer who writes an entertaining book will get some readers.

Discoverability is the hard part. However, it is difficult to be discovered by a broad readership. The competition from other books and content is hair-raisingly stiff.

Self-pub writers must invest a lot upfront. See my blog on this. At least at the beginning, for most writers, self-publishing is like an expensive hobby.

Many, many people want to sell stuff to self-pubs. Beware writer.

Perseverance is key. Perseverance doesn’t guarantee a broad readership but it sure raises the odds.

A writer must promote. Speaking for myself, I’m built to look inward but, unfortunately, there’s only one reader there. When you talk up your book to others, good things happen.

Word of mouth is the best promotion.

Blogging doesn’t sell books. So far, I don’t have any proof that blogging sells my book. I now see blogging as a way to establish an online presence and brand.

There’s great fun in meeting people. I have connected or reconnected with many people in 2014. That’s been as satisfying as the praise for my book.

Best wishes for 2015!

Copyright ©2014 Peter Fritze

Where to buy The Case for Killing.