Put the Reader First or Risk Losing Them

Write for your audience, and don’t try to impress others with your skill

Put the Reader First or Risk Losing ThemI recently read a nonfiction book. My assessment was that the author wrote to impress more than to educate. Though I did learn from her words, I’d have gained much more had she gotten out of the way and put me, the reader, first. I didn’t care how educated she was or about her sometimes sassy style. I wanted her to teach me.

Regardless if we’re writing a book, article, or blog post, we need to put the reader first. Our words need to serve them, not call attention to ourselves with our clever use of words or the way we weave a phrase. The same applies to sales copy and marketing efforts for our books.

Whatever our promotional activities, we must carefully consider each campaign from the perspective of the prospect. Before we launch our promotion, even before the test marketing, we should take a step back and look at our creation as if we were the prospect.

Consider an email I received. It was set up like an email newsletter. The first item caught my attention. The email only provided a two-line teaser, so I clicked on “more” to read the rest.

That took me to a website (as opposed to the full text, lower in the email). Unfortunately, that page only provided the first four lines of the text, so I couldn’t read further until I clicked on “read full article.” I was six lines into it when the screen grayed out and an ad popped up, covering the entire piece. Then I had to “skip” the commercial so I could close the ad.

As this happened an intriguing video played to the right. My curiosity was piqued, and I wanted to hear the audio, but there was no volume control or “on” button. Incredible!

By then I had lost interest in the article and was peeved by the entire ordeal. I closed the window and opted-out from receiving further messages from the company.

I doubt that was their intent.

What steps can we take to put the reader first? What do we need to do to get out of the way of our message? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

How to Build a Fan Base

Every writer needs avid supporters to help get the word out about his or her books

How to Build a Fan BaseWhen it comes to marketing our book we need a group of loyal followers. They are apt to buy our books and will be excited to tell others about them. We need a platform.

Most writers cringe at the word platform. That’s probably why some people use other words. One person says tribe and another prefers community, while others say street team. I prefer the word fans, which is short for fanatic. Yes, we all need fervent followers who are committed to our writing, our work, and us. But how do we find them?

Model What We Seek: To have a fan, we need to be a fan. Think about it. Look to serve instead of being served. Give without expectation. If they reciprocate that is a bonus, and we have found a new fan.

Share Freely: We need to give to our fans. This might be our time and attention. It might be personal messages via email, Facebook, and Twitter. We can offer them a nice discount on our book or even share advance copies for free.

Avoid Insincerity: No one likes a sleaze. Don’t become the used car salesperson of books. Avoid high-pressure tactics, false pretenses, and artificial limited time offers. We should avoid doing to others what we hate being done to us. It’s that simple. And if we are to error, lean towards humility.

Thank Profusely: We need to show our appreciation. We can do this with words and with gestures. We salute them: privately and publically. We let them know how much we appreciate them.

Reward Generously: We can recognize our fans in the acknowledgment section of our book. We can mention them on social media. We can let them read our next book before anyone else. How about sending them an autographed copy with a personal note?

Many book promotion gurus claim we only need a thousand ardent fans for a successful book launch. Though that’s a lot, it feels attainable. However, I’ve heard success stories from authors who only have a couple hundred. And I listened to a podcast interview of one successful author admit she focuses on about forty true fans. She lavishes them with attention, and they propel most of her releases into best-seller lists, and she makes a full-time living from her book sales. Finding forty followers is doable.

Cultivating fans is all about being nice. Everyone can do that – and every author should.

What do you do to find fans? How do you keep them? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Should You Be a Writer or an Entrepreneur?

Authors are advised to treat their writing like a business

Should You Be a Writer or an Entrepreneur?If you write solely for the fun of it or treat writing as a mere hobby, then don’t read this post. Seriously, it will just make you mad.

But if you want to succeed as a writer, regardless of how you define success, then this post should give you some ideas to consider. Please read on. Then let me know what you think about it.

Writing is a Business: When we treat our writing like a business it means we strategically pursue actions to meet the needs others have. We hope to earn a profit doing so. This need we strive to fill is information, inspiration, or entertainment. Maybe all three. For nonfiction we know things (or can find out things) that most people don’t know. For fiction we tell stories others want to read. We write to fill these needs. When we charge money for meeting the needs of others, we ensure we have the means to write more – and meet more needs.

A Book Is a Product: Yes, our books are creative works. Books are art, but they are also products; books provide a service to our audience.

A Series is a Product Line: If one book is a product, then a series is a product line. This is why beginning authors need to stay within one genre or one theme, so they can develop a product line and build a following around that line.

A Book Proposal is a Business Plan: At its most basic level an author’s business plan is a book proposal. Look at the elements of a proposal. It outlines the theme and purpose of the book (the product), it lays out a vision for what it will accomplish, it talks about the need for the book, and it addresses the competition. It also proposes follow-up books (a product line). At the very least, a book proposal informs our writing and guides us to producing a marketable book (product). No business will ever produce a product people don’t want. An author shouldn’t either.

We Need Backing: The purpose of a business plan is to raise funding, to procure investors. When it comes to publishing a book our business plan (our book proposal) is the means to get a publisher to back us, to invest in our product (our book). In theory an advance is money to live on while we develop the product (write our book). Our publisher will produce the book for us, distribute it, and sell it.

If we self-publish our book, we may go to Kickstarter to raise funds or solicit friends and relatives. They’ll want to see a plan before they fork over cash. Even if we self-fund our book, we would be foolish to do so without treating it as an investment.

Marketing Plan: Our marketing plan – often part of the book proposal – addresses how we will let others know about our book. Even if we go with a traditional publisher, they will expect us to market our book. If we self-publish, marketing is even more critical.

Writing and publishing a book requires thinking like a businessperson; we must become an entrepreneur, especially if we choose to self-publish.

Do you think of your book as a product? What do you think about treating writing as a business? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

8 Ways to Measure Success as an Author

Author discusses possible ways to measure publishing success

What Are You MeasuringAs an author how do you measure success? Here are eight possible ways:

1) Number of Books Published: What do you think when you read an author bio and learn they’ve written over one hundred books? You may think they’re successful. I wonder if they do. How many books does a writer need to publish to be successful? Many will likely say, “Just a few more.”

2) Number of Copies Sold: Looking at the number of books sold is another common measurement. However not all sales are equal. Do we count books given away? How does a 99-cent ebook compare to a $17.95 print book? While the total quantity of copies moved may be an encouraging (or discouraging) number, it is also misleading because not all sales have the same value.

3) Total Dollar Volume: Instead of looking at the number of units moved, a better way might be the dollar amount of those sales.

4) Amount of Revenue Earned: Equalizing the disparity between units sold and gross dollar volume is looking at revenue earned. This more practical evaluation looks at our writing career as a business. Though revenue earned from books is a great way to measure business and financial success, it may not fully reflect author success.

5) Reader Response: Other authors fixate on reviews and the number of stars, social media interaction, fan mail, blog comments, and email list size. These, however, put authors on an emotional rollercoaster, where success follows the latest whim of reader opinion. Some days are good and some, not so good.

6) Earning a Living as a Writer: Another consideration is being able to make a living as a writer. Meeting basic living needs through writing is all some authors want. But for others this is an unattainable goal, while another group finds it insatiable.

7) Personal Satisfaction: The knowledge of a book written well drives other authors, knowing they did their best. Similar sentiments are seeing ongoing improvement or having sincere pride over our work. But these are internal evaluations, which vary with our emotional state. One day we may feel successful and the next day, not so much.

8) Enjoying What We Do: There is much value in simply enjoying what we do as writers. Yes, numbers are great, earning a living is a bonus, and seeing improvement is affirming, but enjoying what we do is key.

While the initial question was how do you measure success, the better question is how should we measure success? I’m not sure how I measure success as a writer. It might be a combination of these; at times it may be all of these.

How do you measure success? How should you measure success? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Let’s Make the New Year Your Best Year Yet

Happy New Year!In The Book Blog we talk about writing books, producing books, and marketing books. Successful writers must do all three. Neglect one element and your book will fail to meet your expectations and reach its full potential.

Even if you find a traditional publisher they will only handle the second requirement: publishing your book. Unless you are an A-list author they will do little marketing for you and expect you to put forth most of the effort.

And if you self-publish you must master all three: write a great book, produce an excellent product, and sell it effectively. Few authors naturally excel at all three. These are learned skills.

What do you shine at? What do you struggle with? Look at your weak area and commit to improving it this year.

The first step is writing a great book. Without compelling words, the rest doesn’t matter. Not really.

However writing a great book is just the first step. Next is producing it. This includes careful editing by skilled editors and a professional cover by an experienced designer. I’ve seen otherwise good books fail because of sloppy editing or an amateur cover.

Last, and perhaps most critical, is telling others about your book. We call this marketing. And though some artists think of marketing as the dark side of their craft, it is essential if you want to make money from your book and put food on the table.

Marketing starts with a great website, an email list, and an engaged social media following. Then there are ads, promotions, and pricing strategies.

Whether it’s writing, producing, or marketing, look to round out your skill set for this year and make it your best year ever.

Where are you at in the book publishing process? What will you do this year to shore up your weak area? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

The Power of Podcasting: Four Reasons to Have an Author Podcast

It seems people are jumping on the podcasting bandwagon. They want to grow their audience and build their platform in order to sell their books (or whatever other product or service they have to offer).

The Power of Podcasting: Four Reasons to Have an Author PodcastThis makes sense. Look at the recent surge of interest in audiobooks, with people who “read” books by listening to a recording. They do this during their commute to and from work, as they exercise, or when they attend to projects around the house. They have become voracious “readers” without ever opening a book or turning on their e-reader.

Podcasting extends the audiobook mindset. A podcast simply becomes another audio expression for these folks to consume.

Here are some of the benefits of author podcasts:

Another Channel to Reach Readers: A natural communication channel for writers is the written word. Blogging connects nicely with that. Readers read books; readers read blogs. It makes sense, a lot of sense. However readers who listen to books won’t likely read a blog, but they will likely listen to a podcast. With podcasting writers have two ways to reach their audience.

Another Means to Connect with Readers: When we read a book or blog post we use the sense of sight to see the words. When we listen to a book or a podcast we use the sense of sound. With audio we use voice inflections, interject emphasis, and add timing to each sentence as we speak. These benefits of audio all allow us a better means to connect with our audience.

Another Creative Outlet For Authors: Writing is a creative art; so is speaking. Both communicate but in different ways. Both provide creative outlets, but which tap different aspects of our creativity.

A Fun Break From Writing: No matter how much we like to write, we all need to take a break. After all, once we spend a full day working on our book, do we really want to spend another hour writing a blog post? Not likely, but spending that hour on podcasting provides a nice alternative to writing. Then we can return to writing with a refreshed perspective.

Given these great benefits you might be ready to jump on the podcasting bandwagon. Not so fast. First you need to consider whether podcasting is right for you. Next week I’ll look at my experience with podcasting, which should provide some more insight into this intriguing communication option.

Do you listen to podcasts? Have you ever done a podcast? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Know Your Target Book Length Before You Start Writing

It seems many writers start writing a book without knowing how long it should be. Often they end up with a length that lacks marketability, can’t be economically produced, or will require substantial edits to make it the right size. It may be too long; it may be too short. Both problems take time to fix – if they can be fixed at all.

A friend recently finished writing her “book.” It was 8,500 words, she said with a smile; she hoped that would be okay. She was dismayed to learn it wasn’t even close. It even fell short of common length expectations for a novella. Most would call her book a short story.

Of course everyone can point out exceptions to “standard” book lengths. But invariably these come from established authors who have name recognition. New authors seldom receive such latitude.

Know Your Target Book Length Before You Start WritingWhen pitching my book at a writers conference, one industry person said my length was perfect, while another wanted it 20,000 words longer, and a third said it should have at least 25,000 more words. That’s a huge difference.

There is no universal answer for the ideal book length, but there are some generalities. To avoid wasting time and effort, we need to be close to industry expectations when we write. Here are some ways to find out how long your book should be:

  • If you have an agent or publisher, start there. What they say, goes.
  • Ask people in the book publishing industry who know.
  • Go to a library or bookstore and look at the length of books similar to yours. (A rough average is 300 words per page.)
  • Search online (like I did) and find a lot of conflicting information, but at least it’s a place to start.

The main thing is don’t waste time writing a book that is way too short or too long for anyone to ever publish it. The closer our book is to our publisher’s expectations, the easier it is to tweak to meet their requirements.

Have you ever written something that was the wrong length? How are you at editing something to hit a word count? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Seven Marketing Touches Are Required for Success

Marketing experts says it takes an average of seven marketing touches before a consumer buys a product. Advertisers who run a couple of ads and give up are giving up too quickly. As writers with a book (or service) to sell, we need to keep this in mind if we want to maximize our success.

Seven Marketing Touches Are Required for SuccessWhile we can accomplish each of these seven touches via the same promotional channel, we should tap multiple ones for greater effectiveness. What options might we consider?

Start with a press release; it’s not much, but everything helps. Email blasts, assuming we have an email list, are a great way to connect with our readers and potential book buyers. Website ads on destinations our audience frequents offer a third option. Guest blogging is a fourth consideration, followed by social media mentions and ads, especially Facebook and Twitter. There is also direct mail. Another consideration is print ads, providing we find the right publication.

This is seven options for seven touches, but don’t use every option. Pick the ones that feel right. Regardless of which ones we select, we must have our book highlighted on our own website. This is essential; it is key to success.

When it comes to book promotion, keep in mind that just because something is available, doesn’t mean we should use it. Carefully test each option before investing time and money into it. While some options have relatively minor cost, there is still the cost of time – time that we can’t spend doing something else.

What promotional efforts have worked well for you? Have you had any epic fails? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Three Reasons to Comment on Blog Posts – and One Reason Not To

Three Reasons to Comment on Blog Posts – and One Reason Not ToThere are several blogs I follow; I read them whenever I can. Sometimes I just read, and other times I read and comment. Only a small percent of blog readers take time to comment. The reasons are many: too busy, a lack of confidence, not knowing what to say, fear, and so forth. There are, however, some reasons why we should comment. Here are three:

1) To Interact With Others: The biggest reason to comment is to connect with other likeminded readers. Some do more than just comment on the post, they also comment on other comments. Just remember to keep things positive and civil. Don’t say something online you wouldn’t say in person to your closest friends.

2) To Connect With the Author: As we read blogs, we get to know the author, but the author doesn’t know us at all, though most want to. Adding relevant comments, with appropriate self-disclosure allows the author (and other readers) to get to know us. And don’t we all want to be known?

3) A Link to Our Site: Though it’s secondary, most commenting programs allow us to include a link to our website when we comment. This is good for search engine optimization (SEO), and it provides a means for others to learn more about us if they wish.

4) Not to Promote Our Book: Commenting on blogs is not the place to promote ourselves or our books. Comments are for dialogue not marketing. Avoid the temptation.

What reasons would you add to the list? If you don’t normally comment, why not try it today? I’d love to connect with you. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Public Relations and Promoting Your Book

Book publishing is more than just writing and producing books; it is also about selling them. Selling books requires a host of skills, including marketing, promotion, and public relations. Yes, public relations – PR for short.

At its most basic level, public relations is managing the flow of information from an entity (a company, organization, or an individual) to the public. As in the case of authors, the goal of this flow of information is to increase awareness of a book, both published and soon to be published. The intent is to produce interest for the ultimate purpose of generating sales. In between awareness and sales, lies intermediary goals such as sparking dialogue, fueling a buzz, encouraging word-of-mouth promotion, and even the hope of the campaign going viral, all of which is publicity.

When people think of PR, they think of the time-honored press release. But a press release is just that: it’s the start; it’s not the end. There is also advertising, interviews, email marketing, influencing the influencers, networking, book signings, book tours, and so on.

Though selling books and PR is more the concern of the self-published author, it also comes into play with traditionally published books. Publishers expect authors to promote their books, and often the publisher’s PR department’s budget for the book allows little more than sending out a press release.

Here are some general articles about public relations. Though many are geared to business, the principles apply to individuals, including authors and their books. When considering these articles, remember: being an author is a business, your book is your product, and you are a brand.

While most authors will not master the art of public relations, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way.