Before you publish, Part 9 – Book events and pretending to be a people person.

Before you Publish - 9

I meant to have another post published yesterday (08/14/2019), but I didn’t put it up in favor of writing a different post which is, I’m sorry, pretty darn long. Not to worry – the original post is coming in a few days.

In the checklist I put together at the outset of this series, I noted that you should be prepared to approach local book shop owners to see about signing events. I also said that you need to be prepared to talk about your book. When I said that I was thinking about going beyond your pitch. That’s just the thing you do to quickly communicate what your book is about so you can efficiently identify potential readers and not really offend or bother people who aren’t interested. Tackling someone who isn’t interested just sort of looks desperate and it’s pretty awkward. However, it’s just as awkward to not be able to chat with people. I had planned on setting this particular post later in the series, but seeing as how I’ve got a book signing event on Saturday, August 17th at Black Birch Books in Wasilla from 2-4 for Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, I felt now would be a pretty darn good time to talk about these things.

At face value, talking with book store owners and talking about your book aren’t really super related. In fact, they could be two different posts. However, these two things make a point, which is, as an indie author you’ve got to be ready to sell yourself. As I said, the pitch is only the introduction and the seed for your Amazon or Goodreads ads. However, in the event you’ve found someone interested, they’ll ask you questions and might want to talk about other books, reading and writing in general. You need to be prepared to do this. It takes quite a bit of social courage, just like it takes courage to call your local bookstores and see if they’ll list your work or host an author event. Some will and some won’t. Either way, this is where these two topics are related. You have to talk to people you don’t know about a thing that is very close to you and wound into your ego like nothing else.

On Saturday, I’m going to need to turn up in what I consider ‘business mode’. I’ll have on my biggest smile, and be absolutely ready to be sociable while focusing on making sure I’m watching for social cues. If you take anything away from this post it’s thinking about social cues. Not everyone wants to talk to the author, some are there to see if they’ve got a book by _______ for their _______ or some such (in any other setting this holds true, and a lot of people aren’t readers keep that in mind). You need to start by looking for body language. If a person doesn’t want to deal with you, they’re not going to make eye contact and they’re only going to spare the briefest glance at your table. You might get a smile, but then that person will make a lot of obvious signals they’re off to do something else. Let them do that. Other folks will be brought in over the course of their normal day or curiosity about the author and might approach me out of general interest or politeness. This is where the pitch comes in, a “Do you like fantasy or humor?” followed by “This book is about witches….” And so on. If they’re interested they will ask questions. If not, they’ll politely examine the back of the book without reading it, put the book back down, smile and move on. That’s when a “Thank you” is in order, and that’s it. Others yet will come in specifically for the event and want to have a chat about the book and what’s next and how things are going etc… You might also get the odd person who you didn’t expect who comes in and wants to talk books, maybe even about their own books – Go ahead and engage them, but don’t ignore other interested parties.

The whole point is: Be Prepared to talk about your book, you, your writing, and other related topics to include what YOU like to read and your favorite books. Also, you need to pay attention to what people are telling you without saying it. This is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT. An interested person will ask questions or make eye-contact or linger if they’re also more of an introvert, but someone not interested will make every sign they want to ignore you without straight-up telling you to jump off a bridge. You are not going to find a reader by pestering a person. I fully understand that a lot of writers write specifically because it’s a solitary endeavor. Publishing and bookselling, however, is very much NOT. I know I put this in the context of my own upcoming event, but my main experience actually goes beyond that, and I’ll relate that because I’m not an outgoing social butterfly. I’m more of a talkative toady.

I used to be painfully shy. Actually, I still get a tremendous amount of social anxiety. To wit, I didn’t ask out my wife for our first date, she approached me. I’m confident I’d still be single if she hadn’t. Then, my first summer at college, I took a summer job at Kenai Fjords Tours in Seward, AK. The job was data entry, which meant I got to sit in a room with manifests and a database. It was awesome. I never had to answer a single phone, make a phone call or generally talk to anyone. Workplaces, however, are social places and I struggled for the first several weeks doing little more than being able to politely grunt or smile and nod in the best of cases. In retrospect, this was just as well as many of the gals there seemed keen to kick up a conversation and I was not. This put them off the hunt and I wasn’t any the wiser until I was older and a hell of a lot more equipped to deal with a social situation that I’m unlikely to ever encounter again.

Now, let’s fast-forward. I’m in a job that requires sociability, public speaking, and talking to random strangers as if my sole goal in life is to get them something they need or want. I’m not talking about my colleauges here – I’m talking about researchers across the pacific northwest who have an interest in the data I help manage or members of the public who expect public service to be just that – service. That experience has acclimatized me to talking to strangers without passing out. All this leads me back to the topic of talking with people. I’ve gotten a lot better at being able to talk to random people in unfamiliar circumstances. Not that I always talk about books or my books or writing. However, what the launch of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks has taught me is that this ability is one of the KEY elements in being able to market. Remember, you’re selling yourself as a story-teller almost more than any individual book you’d like people to read. We talk about favorite authors quite as much, if not more, than we talk about favorite books. If I were still shy Dave, I would NEVER have been able to launch this book or even begin to discuss with people, and that’s just a total deal-breaker.

I think my whole point here is that learning how to go into ‘business mode’ and become a sociable person who can engage a potential reader a conversation about reading and books and the stories you like to tell is critical. Knowing when you’ve met someone who is not interested is also important. Remember, if you make a positive impression on a person, you might actually get a referral even though they DON’T read your book – this HAS happened to me. Further, from the reader’s perspective, the vast majority of authors I’ve picked up in the last several years have been via word of mouth and once I get hooked on an author I’ll keep going back to the well for another drink. I can think of only a single exception to that in recent memory. To leave off, I want to make it clear that I do like people and I like to talk, actually, it’s just getting beyond that self-infliced awkwardness is where the pretending comes in. So, on Satuday, I’ll be down there smiling and chatting with anyone who is interested, but my blood pressure will be making my head spin.

What’s your experience? Am I over-selling the people-person thing, can you sell yourself as a story teller without the direct human interactions? Leave a comment.

Before you publish, Part 8 – Networking with other authors

Before you Publish - 8

In the initial post to this series, one of the items in the checklist involved networking with other authors. In a lot of ways, most of us do this through critique groups, conferences, meet-ups, and social media. Some of us don’t. I don’t participate in a critique group and haven’t in about 10 years. It’s not that I don’t want to, but there are a lot of reasons for it. Really, if I expect to be serious, none of the excuses are particularly good. In retrospect, if had I spent some time pushing Wine Bottles and Broomsticks through a critique circle, it would have been made a stronger product. The characters aren’t as good as they could be, and the plot could use a bit of patching. Not only that, there are a lot of things you can learn from other writers, even if it’s a better sense of what not to do.

The other aspect of this that I feel can be a little bewildering is trying to understand the publishing process better. I did spend a lot of time connecting with authors and researching this side, and if I were to start over, I’d do even more. Trying to connect with writers on social media can be a bit of a mixed bag. To start, my experience on Twitter and other social media platforms tend to stick to the writing side of the business, like characters, editing, motivation, and none-too little self-promotion. While this is great for that side of things, more detail and coaching is necessary for the business side. I mean, it does come up, and not infrequently, but you’ve got to ask for specifics to really get useful stuff. In my experience, authors help one another out.

The frustrating part of networking can be some groups miss the point a bit. I’m in a couple of Facebook groups where most of the time these groups wind up being: “Please give me advice on this cover/blurb,” or “I’m going to humble-brag about my sales.” When folks bring up nuts-and-bolts mechanical publishing stuff, they are often shut down with a “this is not what this group is for” or a “We’ve already covered this topic elsewhere on the group, go looking for it.” It’s a bit irritating and not particularly helpful. Not that the content or groups isn’t useful, it’s just very, very focused. When you’ve been turned off the group by thirty straight humble-brag posts, and start ignoring these groups, you’re potentially missing out on a valuable resource.

I think what I’m trying to say is: Yes, you’re going to get into groups and discussions that aren’t helping you at all. Maybe they’re even somewhat irritating, but don’t let that discourage you from connecting with other authors. One of the most valuable things I did leading up to the publication of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks was reaching out to ask authors what their experience had been and what they would recommend. If you want to know about keywords for Amazon – throw that question out to a group. If one group shuts you down, reach out to another. Frequently, someone will have a moment where they really want to pay something forward and will give you precisely the roadmap you need. This happened to me more than once, and it makes me want to reach out and help others in a meaningful way. Really, this is a community –a loose, disorganized community, but a community nevertheless. We all have to stick together and help each other out, and a lot of people feel that way.

I think my point is that before you publish –do this. Don’t just connect with fellow writers for a critique or editing, reach out for advice on all aspects from font choice to advertising tactics. Most importantly, keep in mind that other authors aren’t your audience, they’re your colleagues, and the sales pitches need to stay somewhere from minimal to 0 when reaching out. When you hit publish and begin letting folks know, they’re likely to lend you a hand getting the word out as you’ve probably done for them.

What’s been your experience networking? Leave a comment below.

Before you publish, Part 7 – Identifying your audience

Before you Publish - 7

I want to preface this post by saying that I don’t claim to be an expert. The advice and recommendations below are based on what I’ve experienced in my journey and what I would do if I were to start over – or at least do for my next book.

In the initial post to this series, I had a few questions in my checklist that involved knowing your audience. There is a whole pile of reasons this is important. Most writers are going to say ‘Well, duh.’ Really before saying that, we should make sure we fully understand why the hell we should care. I got an agent review for The Dark Queen of Darkness, where I was asked: What’s the audience for this book. My response: I don’t know. What I should have said was: young adult, appealing more toward the female end. I didn’t know/accept this until after I was crushed by his hyper-critical review. What this experience taught me was that knowing your audience is relevant no matter how you hope to be published. Now that I’ve committed to self-publishing, knowing exactly who I am trying to tell stories to is a critical piece of the puzzle.

The reason you need to know your audience is advertising. As I said in an earlier post, you’re going to be responsible right down to the most nuanced aspect of publishing. You’re going to waste money on advertising if you don’t know who to target. If you’re paying Amazon, you only need to know about your book and similar work. If you’re using Facebook, knowing sex and age-group is going to help you even further because you can target readers based on demographics as well. This might not seem like much of an advantage, but recall the whole point of marketing is reaching readers who are most likely to want to read books like yours.

From everything I’ve learned to this point, publishing is all about volume. When you make two dollars on a book, you’ve made two dollars and found one reader, but at this point, you’ve likely spent at least a few hundred dollars getting it all together, not including your time to actually write the book. To get to the break-even point, you’ve got to find hundreds of readers –Thousands if you want to move into making money. You can’t do that without effective targeting.

As I’ve been saying throughout, I’m brand new at this, and all of this is what I can see for having dipped my toe into advertising. I’ve spent a couple hundred dollars on Amazon and Facebook. The reach has been good, but the clicks poor and purchases non-existant. For every 5 or 6 thousand impressions, I’ve gotten 1 click through and 0 purchases. This tells me I’ve got a few potential problems. The first is that my blurb, cover, and hook aren’t working. The second is that nobody actually wants to read the book, the third is that I’m not actually getting this work in front of the most likely readers. Either way, it’s hard to spend that kind of money to have absolutely no return on investment.

In my experience so far, the best way a new indie author can work out their target audience is beta-readers. If you get ten or fifteen people to read your book from different backgrounds and perspectives, you’re going to start noticing patterns among the people who read and liked your work and those who didn’t. Those perspectives will give you the necessary demographic clues you need to successfully target your advertising dollars.

All that said, if you’re writing in a specific genre, it might be that you already know your audience. Romance writers, for example, seem to have reasonably well-defined categories and target audiences. To start, it’s probably the largest segment of the publishing industry with a lot of very avid readers hungry for new material. Of course, it also appears to be incredibly competitive. One of the most expensive Amazon key-words I’ve run across so far is “Paranormal Romance.” This will cost you $2.00+ per click. If you’re like me, however, and you write satire that follows in the footsteps of Christopher Moore, Douglas Adams, and Terry Pratchett, identifying your audience is a hell of a lot harder. I’m too inexperienced to know just how to get this in front of potential readers. In any case, using your beta-readers for this kind of insight should help.

This is where reading a lot of other work or searching for other books similar to yours and reading those comes in handy. You can absolutely use other people’s work as a guide to finding your audience. If you’ve written a book similar to another, you’re going to want to try to get in the “If you like this title, you’ll probably like this title…” list in Amazon. This is super hard to do if you’re not exactly sure what your book is like or have a limited perspective. I’d hazard a guess to say most indie authors don’t have this issue and avidly read what they are writing. I’m afraid I’m one of those people who wrote a book that appeals to me but without spending a lot of time up-front reading similar books. I’m looking at Wine Bottles and Broomsticks from a slightly different perspective than most readers, and now that I’m actually trying to sell copies, I see the problem pretty clearly.

So, once again, I’m giving advice from a thoroughly inexperienced lense, but this has been my initial impression, within just a month of advertising. If I were to start over, I’d have spent a lot more time with both beta-readers and in researching similar books from several different angles. Had I done this, targeting would be going much easier, and I wouldn’t be wasting hundreds of dollars on advertising with absolutely no return on investment.

What’s your experience been with targeting your audience? Do you think Beta-readers are helpful there? Have you written something that doesn’t fit your usual patterns of reading? Leave me a comment.