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In 2013, I published my first novel King of the Class (KOTC). Three months later I wrote a post titled "What I learned from Publishing my First Novel." It was a necessary integration of what I'd gleaned after three months of full-time, dedicated hard work—the kind of 24-hour work after which you can't even think about the topic. I was burnt out of book marketing and the post was cathartic.
Surprisingly, that post was my most popular and it was republished on three sites.
Now, three months after publishing my second novel Passport Control, I returned to that post. Some things have changed dramatically, while others remain the same.
Here are eight new things I've learned:
1. Accept that you can do more when your youngest child is older. I can read between the lines of my old post written when my youngest was five. Mother-scribes take note, you can allocate more time with marketing your second book, but your kids won't be in kindergarten again. Don't miss a year of your child's life because the "experts" have convinced you that sacrificing every minute to book marketing is the road to success. Very few first novels sell more than a few hundred copies beyond your inner circle of friends and family. You're in good company and in a much better position for book two. Take the long road.
2. More in the pipeline means you can invest more with less stress. It's motivating to market my novel knowing two novels are coming out on the heels of the first (see byline) and I'm willing to invest more financial resources. Yet, every expert I've ever read insists authors need professional websites yesterday. That's ideal for those who can afford it, but for those who can't, is it really worth spending that much on your first book knowing how little profit most first novels earn? No.
It's not worth the stress and pressure to break even. Now that I know the cost of my website is spread over four books, I'm relaxed about my investment. Yes, it was a six year wait. I don't believe the "experts" that KOTC would have earned much more if I had a "real" website instead of a low-cost blog and now I can enjoy my professional website guilt-free. Your health is never worth it.
3. You don't need as many reviews as possible. I took getting reviews on religiously for KOTC and the authors I contacted who shared my publisher universally blamed their "lack of reviews" for their nonexistent sales. I Googled them and discovered all had between one and three reviews. I was determined not to be one of them.
I read everything about niche reviews for your target audience and ultimately received 24 reviews, all of them "targeted." This was months of work (researching reviewers, querying them, mailing courtesy copies, follow-up on receipt of copies, follow-up on actual posting of review, sending a thank-you note...it's tiring just to write this).
Consider that more than 100 copies were mailed to receive those two dozen published reviews, all of those people had to be researched, queried, followed-up on.
The truth: two dozen reviews didn't do much for sales. I know now that targeted publications aren't enough. Unless your reviews have a large (L-A-R-G-E) following, they don't mean much and it's not at all easy to get "influencers" to review your book. Even when I used names of their friends, at most I got polite "Say hello to x for me" but that's it.
This time I conserved my energy. So far, I've only targeted a dozen people for reviews. I've tried to make them as high quality as possible (researched their social media followers/hits) but most importantly I went for the ones I'm hoping the influencers follow. I reviewed the personal blogs of the influencers in my niche and approached who they follow for reviews. With this strategy I'm hoping to get noticed by at least one influencer. I'll do a follow-up post to tell you what worked on request. Still, even if it doesn't work, I didn't waste my limited energy targeting reviewers that don't have the reach to increase sales.
4.Expect nothing. This one is a holdover from 2013 and it's as true today. I was wrong to assume some people would happily forward emails, post on Facebook, and generally help spread the word about Passport Control. Meanwhile strangers I met online and others I barely knew or didn't know at all went the extra mile (thank you again!) for me. A complete stranger in my hometown of Ottawa read my book and was so taken with it, he marched into the local Jewish library and within a week they had not only ordered it, but received it, displayed it, posted it on Facebook, and written to me that they'd made a note to order my two forthcoming books and they were happy to support locally-connected authors. I was bowled over. Compare this to people I'd known for years who didn't even forward my book release to a single person. Embrace all of it. That's the way it is. Assumptions will only cause needless disappointment.
5.Update all previous posts. The links are already there. Don't waste them. If you're a writer who has previously published articles and blog posts, email those editors and ask them to update your links. I updated posts that were years old and not a single editor turned me down.
6.Guest posts. This is a big one, worthy of its own article (I will write one by request so comment below if that's what you're looking for). Use much of the same logic I applied to reviews. Guest posts take time and effort, so get ready to research three things: reach, audience, and diversity.Reach: You want to guest post on sites with large audiences because large audiences = wide reach. I definitely went for and landed big names such as Joanna Penn's The Creative Penn and other high-ranking writing sites. However, never let that question about defining your goals stray too far when it comes to marketing.If your goal is to increase your name recognition (I won't get into increasing web traffic with links as that's a whole other subject) then sites such as The Creative Penn receive thousands of regular, devoted monthly visitors and use Joanna Penn as a trusted filter for good quality articles. Bingo!But you also want to sell books. Are your readers really on popular writing resource sites?This takes us to point number 2: audience.Because my heroine in Passport Control is Jewish and the novel is set in Israel, Jewish women are one of my niche target markets. So, I spent a lot of time seeking publications online that target that audience and offered to guest post.Another great way to find your audience is to Google the words used by readers searching for your type of book.
You want to be in those top websites. If you've written a romance, Google something such as "best romance novels." Those top sites are where your readers land up, too. Join them! Guest post on at least a couple of them or send in a flash piece or novel excerpt, one top ranking site is worth more than dozens of obscure sites.
Diversity. You're a novelist but you know a lot about other topics that might include: parenting, your profession, past occupations, hobbies, and travel. Consider guest posting on diverse popular sites. I recently guest posted on a parenting site and my books were only mentioned in my byline but this site has 24,000 Twitter followers and the person running it is listed as an influencer. It was worth it to me to attempt to broaden my appeal to such a large audience.
7.Social media. Since 2013, the range of social media options is dizzying and growing. If I clicked on all of the social media icons on my own website daily, I'd never sleep. Social media and book marketing is a huge topic that encompasses age range (more young people on Instagram than FB, YA writers take note); goals (do people who go on FB really go there to buy books or would you be better off with targeted FB ads?); time (can you have a day job, a family, write great novels, and spend a lot of time on social media? No.); personality (can you do something you don't enjoy well and for a sustained period of time? No. Or the opposite: do you tend to enjoy social media so much that you never actually write?) and other factors.The various social media options are all worth trying once. I never imagined I'd enjoy vlogging but I tried it (with nothing but an Iphone, no stand, no lights, no script, no microphone, a thirteen-year-old filming) and they get more views than any of my posts. More importantly, I enjoyed making them. If you would have told me I'd vlog back in 2013, I would not have believed you. Not only do I find them fun, they take a fraction of the time it takes me to write and edit posts such as these and that's invaluable for a writer who wants to transition out of a full-time marketing phase and start a new novel (which by the way, is your best marketing tool!).Choose one or two mediums that you genuinely enjoy, limit your time with them, and forget about the rest. From my own experience newsletters and personal emails are still the most effective ways to engage your fanbase, far outstripping social media.
8.Press releases. A press release is a news article about your book. Not all publishers will request press releases and not all writers use them, but you should. Press releases are organized around facts, something many novelists aren't used to emphasizing.Secondly, writing a press release is an excellent way to focus you on the content of the book beyond a good read, not why someone would want to read it but why they should. For example, I wrote a press release for my young adult, environmental novel No Entry. It challenged me to put on a journalist's eyes.Fortunately, my editor is an environmental writer herself (well, Stormbird is an environmental press), so she is close to the subject and, therefore, provided excellent guidance. I ended up writing a press release titled, "How Young Adult Literature Influences Conservation."My press release attempts to answer questions far beyond the novel's plot, character, and setting and has nothing to do with writing techniques. Rather it explores: why write a novel as an effort to help the environment? What possible effect could it have? Why do I think it is not only desirable but essential?This really helped sharpen my thoughts about how to present my novel to the book-buying, English-speaking world that is far from Africa, has only ever seen elephants in zoos, is more familiar with poached eggs than elephant poachers, and probably has never considered what it would mean to them if their grandchildren only knew elephants in the way we know dinosaurs. Skip your next writing prompt exercise and try writing a press release instead. It will really help you formulate your thoughts on your work and that in turn will help you market it.
In conclusion, I reinforced my thoughts from 2013 that writers mustn't forget they are writers first and marketers second. Writers write. Turning yourself into a full-time marketer is fine temporarily. There are new facets you might discover about yourself that will delight and surprise you. Expanding the repertoire of activities you find enjoyable and that raise your feelings of competence is a positive thing.
Still, set a real deadline for your full-time marketing phase and be yourself. If you dislike posting photos of your kids online, definitely don't pretend you do because you think hyper-sociability is a must for "successful" authors. Don't lose your values, identity, or risk your health to sell one more book. Your ultimate goal is to succeed as a person and successful adults are not the ones badgering themselves to do what everyone else thinks they should. If that were the case, few of us would attempt to write and publish novels to begin with.