Two Things that Sell a Lot of Books: #2 A Trusted Name with an Extensive Platform

Whether you have a popular web site, a radio show, an informative newsletter, or professional credentials, selling a book requires a personal connection. Selling a lot of books requires this level of personal trust on a large scale.

While reviews, social media, and web sites are all part of extending a marketing platform, these pieces should not be confused with making very personal connections with readers. Twitter and blogs are great, but they have their limits.

The Kind of Connections Authors Need

From what I can tell, my greatest success in selling books has come from personally talking with readers whether through personal conversations, events, e-mail, or interaction on web sites.

When I have a chance to share my passion for my book, I have a much greater chance of convincing readers to spend their hard-earned money on it. However, reaching potential readers with your personal message and creating enough trust for them to spend money on your book requires a fairly significant number of connections with readers.

I personally would not endorse every method used by authors out there to sell books and some will be more difficult for new authors to use effectively, especially radio and television, but there are lots of ideas out there about building a platform that will help you speak directly with readers and develop a level of trust for you and your book from a monthly newsletter with valuable information to a niche-focused public event.

How to Connect with Readers

Building a platform begins with the question, “How can I effectively connect with readers interested in my topic?” Keep in mind, this isn’t the same as advertising, and posting to a web site is probably the least personal way to do this, making it generally less effective.

I’m building my e-mail newsletter, working on some videos, leading workshops with local community and arts organizations, and connecting with various podcasts, but the possibilities are endless. I’ve been encouraged to hear from a respected author and friend that he finds my newsletter very valuable, and many of those who attend my workshops give me positive feedback. It’s good to know I’m doing a few things right, even if there’s always a lot more to do.

The hardest part about building these connections with readers is starting small. You may begin with twenty newsletter subscribers and workshops with only five attendees. However, if you continue to make connections, to help people with your material, and to build on those relationships, you should be able to connect with enough readers who will not only trust you enough to buy your book, they may also recommend it to others.

Previously in this Series:

Two Things That Sell a Lot of Books: #1

Also in this series: Five Great Things That Don’t Sell a Lot of Books

Great Endorsements

A Great Forward

Great Reviews

Social Media

A Web Site

A Courtship with Twitter: The Why’s and How’s of Tweeting

When I give presentations on blogging and social media, I often hear folks expressing concern over the difficulty of finding readers for their blogs. I know the feeling. You’re going through all of this trouble to post something special, and then no one shows up to read it.

It’s one step removed from having a conversation with yourself.

I’ve heard lots of people unfamiliar with Twitter deride it as a silly exercise in narcissism. For those new to blogging and social media, it’s either intimidating or simply beyond their comprehension.

However, if you want people to read your blog, to learn about your work, and to hopefully pass it on to others, Twitter is an indispensable tool that you’ll learn to love once you figure it out. By signing up and then learning a simple program such as Tweet Deck (or HootSuite), you’ll soon find yourself tweeting the praises of this service. Here are a few reasons why you need to start tweeting:

It’s Easy to Follow and Connect

Start off by following all of your favorite bloggers and authors. Also do searches for those with similar interests. Using a tool like “Twitter Local” will enable you to search for users in your locale.

Following them is as easy as a click, they’ll receive an e-mail that you’re following them, and they may even follow you back. Over time you’ll notice mentions and “ReTweets” (RT) that are particularly interesting, and now you have other interesting folks to follow. After you have a few followers, sign in to Mr. Tweet to get recommendations of others to follow.

It’s Easy to Share Information

OK, now you’re on Twitter and you have a few followers, but what’s next? Did you just finish a blog post and begin to worry that no one will read it? Copy the link to your post, type something like this into the status update in Tweet Deck: “New blog post ‘Title’”, and then paste the link in there. Tweet Deck can shorten the link for you automatically.

Once you send it out there, you’ve just alerted folks to your blog post. About three to four hours later post a reminder tweet that your blog post is our there just in case anyone missed it. If someone loves your post, they may Retweet it and share it with others.

It’s a Community

As you post your own updates, share links, and send out blog post alerts, you’ll find yourself in conversations with other users on Twitter. You can either reply with a public comment or you can send a private direct message to someone who has reciprocated your follow.

You’ll find your network of friends and colleagues expanding, your knowledge of blogs and other valuable information growing, and your own work reaching new readers. I find that I rarely check my RSS subscriptions these days since I’m already following my favorite bloggers in Twitter.

The Love You Take…

Twitter is only as good as your last tweet, so be sure to write up valuable updates, share solid content, and ReTweet generously when you find something excellent. Twitter is one of those services that can become a huge waste if you don’t manage your time and content wisely.

As the Beatles said, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Put into it’s proper place, Twitter is an indispensable networking, marketing, and friend-making tool that in many cases thrives on excellence and generosity. For bloggers worried about finding readers for their posts, Twitter is the perfect place to spark the conversations all writers long to have.

Should Writers Give Their Away Their Ideas?

Should writers give away their prize ideas, the very content that becomes their currency? Writers have been struggling with answering this question with the popularity of the internet, the pervasiveness of blogs, and the recent surge in ebooks.

I’ve thought about this a lot, but I think the solution is a both/and scenario rather than an either/or.

Revisit and Recycle Ideas in Various Mediums

Experienced writers learn that they can explore ideas and topics from a variety of angles with differing degrees of detail. If a writer can revisit or recycle an idea for two different magazines, then why not explore your idea on a blog and then later in a book or magazine article?

One author was quite resistant to the thought of charging readers for the ideas of his book, but a friend added some clarity by pointing out that most of his ideas in the book were available at no charge on his web site. However, the material in his book had a higher degree of refinement and clarity that some would be willing to pay for, which leads to my next thought.

Different Mediums Require Different Processes

The book publishing process involves numerous drafts, editorial development of ideas and a team of publishing professionals walking authors through each step of the process. There is a lot of revision and planning involved in writing a book. 

Blogs on the other hand are typically the work of a solitary writer or a small team of writers. I look at a blog post as a really good first draft. For a blog post I won’t write a draft, revise it, send it to an editor who suggests major changes, make my revisions, send it back to an editor for additional comments, make additional changes, and then send it off to a fact checker. Even uber-blogger Guy Kawasaki can’t afford to put that much time and involve that many people in a blog post.

That isn’t to say that blog posts are poorly written, only that the content found in books has gone through a different process. We can debate whether the book writing process is worthwhile, and in the case of some books it is not, but the final product often looks quite different from a blog post.

Some Content is Worth Paying For

Content that undergoes a rigorous editorial and design process in magazines and books may carry a price tag, but I still believe it is worthwhile to make some ideas available in these forms. They carry greater authority because they have passed through editorial boards and will tend to be of higher quality because multiple contributors were involved in the production process.

That is not a guarantee that books or magazines will always produce better content than blogs or self-published books and ebooks. There are some rather notable exceptions. However, I guarantee that almost every book produced by a major publisher will have certain advantages over a self-published book or an ebook given away for free. Whether it’s distribution, editorial development, or layout.

The Big Decision

Writers face the big decision of deciding which process works best for themselves and their ideas. If an idea is big enough to merit a long series of blog posts, then perhaps it’s worth working with those ideas for a future book project.

There are a lot of books out there with fairly simple ideas that are not capable of filling a full-length book. In those cases it’s worth it for writers to consider turning them into several solid magazine articles that may well reach more readers than a typical book.

Marketing expert Seth Godin tells writers to spend at least three years working on a blog and developing a ready audience of writers who will buy their books once released. That is a great guideline for writers and one that I have found to be true in my own experience. Blogs give writers great practice are writing regularly for the public and provide a chance to find a particular voice, angle, or, dare I say, brand.

Amazon Associates Now Integrates with Twitter

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Amazon has added a great new feature for Associates that integrates an associates ID with links to books on Twitter. Users can now post links to books right from the Amazon home page, much like posting from a news site.

This is a great way to utilize Twitter in both making book recommendations and providing an extra revenue stream. This will not be for everyone, but for those engaged in recommending books, products, or in sharing expertise in a particular field, I see some potential for growth.

After using Amazon Associates for a good two to three years on my blog and e-mail newsletter, I personally haven’t seen too much of a need for it in those mediums. For the most part this is tied to my blog’s topic (Christian theology), the number of readers I draw, and the income generated per sale doesn’t make it worth the effort to embed my associates ID with every book.

To make it worth my while I would need a wider audience and more marketable products to sell. An economic recovery wouldn’t hurt either. If I blogged on politics, technology, marketing, or online commerce, I could very well see the value in generating revenue from an associates account on book and other product purchases.

Nevertheless, from time to time I recommend books, mark some for my wish list, or save others in my del.icio.us bookmarks. Using this Twitter feature is yet another way to share content with friends. The potential to earn even a quarter adds a little incentive to do something I would consider doing without the promise of revenue.

The e-mail notice I received from Amazon said the following:

By clicking on the Share on Twitter button in the Site Stripe, a new window will open and an Amazon-generated message is pre populated in the ‘What are you doing?’ text area of your Twitter account (you may be asked to log in to your Twitter account). That message will include a shortened URL that already includes your Associates ID. You’ll have the option to edit this message or simply hit the ‘Update’ button to post to your Twitter account. When Twitter users click on the link in your post and make a qualifying sale, you’ll earn referral fees.

With the immediacy, large number of potential readers, and ability to share that Twitter provides, I think this is a great idea. Though I’ve given up on using Amazon Associates on my web site, I think I’ll give this Share on Twitter feature a shot.

Selecting Influencers for a Book Release: The Solution

Wrapping up my 3-part series on selecting influencers for a book release…

The goal of an influencer mailing for a newly published book is to put your book into the hands of folks with trusted names, contact with a large audience, and a willingness or ability to endorse your book. Missing any of these three things will mean your book either ends up on someone’s shelf or at least doesn’t reach a wide group of potential readers.

The solution is to carefully balance the kinds of influencers you contact. It is rare to find an influencer who meets all three criteria perfectly. Nevertheless, it’s worth sending copies to well-known influencers in the media or in your field, especially if you’ve had contact with them in the past.

Let’s say you send out 5-15 of your 50 influencer copies to folks in this camp. Maybe they won’t have the time to take a look at your book, but should they endorse it, you’ll have a chance to reach a broader audience. It may be worth taking a chance on some radio personalities, especially if their shows connect with your potential readers.

The next 20-30 copies should go to those who have a solid following or niche that trusts them and will be willing to interact with your work. There are a lot of very good blogs and podcasts out there with readers and listeners who may very well give your book a shot. In fact, because these are highly interactive networks with a higher trust factor than perhaps those with a bigger name, the potential readers in these networks may be more willing to buy your book.

I think this segment is easy to overlook because their reach may be in the hundreds or low thousands. However, keep in mind that these influencers will be easier to contact, more likely to interact with you, and have a lot more to gain if you can provide content for their blogs/podcasts as opposed to a major media player with lots of options for their shows. In addition, providing these bloggers and podcasters with a free book or two to give away always helps.

Lastly, never underestimate those the power of those with small audiences who are still very trusted and willing to endorse your book. Be sure to set aside about 10-15 copies for this group. With Twitter and Facebook even the smallest blogs can easily plug a book among hundreds of people. If you can provide an influencer who is passionate about your book with some great interviews, excerpts, and a free copy to review, your book may receive a lot more attention than a brief endorsement from a well-known influencer.

At the end of the day, it’s most important that authors connect with influencers who are passionate about their work and willing to talk about it. If you can put a free copy of your book into the hands of someone willing to talk about it, you’ve done the most important part of an influencer mailing.

Nevertheless, your work is not done. Authors need to make themselves available to help each influencer talk about their work, supporting them, and driving traffic to their web sites. Book publicity is always a two-way street. There is no room for the entitled author.

Previously…

Selecting Influencers for a Book Release: The Problem

Continuing my 3-part series on selecting influencers for a book release…

When you begin selecting influential people to help spread the word about your book, keep in mind the three qualities that you’re looking for: trusted names, contact with a large audience, and a willingness or ability to endorse your book.

In compiling my own list of influencers I worked very hard to contact those with large audiences and a trusted name, but I didn’t necessarily gauge the likelihood that they would plug my book. Keep in mind that the bigger a name, the more books he/she will receive. They can’t read every book that comes onto their desks, and so the question is, “Will this person both read and talk about my book?”

If an influencer doesn’t read your book, it’s nothing personal. There are only so many hours in a day. In addition, some may hope to read and talk about your book with their audience only for your book to fall through the cracks. Within days of receiving my book one well-meaning influencer realized he wouldn’t have time to read it and so he gave it away on his web site.

No exactly the ideal publicity you’re aiming for.

And so the challenge you face is balancing the audience size and trust of an influencer with that person’s ability to plug book whether in conversations or in an online or on-air review. However, the right kind of influencer for your book may not have that large of an audience and may even look quite different from what you expcet.

The next installments in this series…

  • Selecting influencers for a book release: The Solution

Previously…

Selecting Influencers for a Book Release: The Goal

Before a book releases it is important for authors to assemble lists of influencers who can help promote and possibly add a public endorsement that will prompt others to buy their books. For instance, if a respected author, radio personality, or, in my case, pastor of a large congregation recommends a book, especially saying it’s a must-read, then a book may well receive a bump in sales.

Selling a book tends to be a very personal, one on one process. Advertising may raise awareness, but anything from a friend’s recommendation, a book seller’s comments, or an online review often makes the difference between a book staying on the shelf or ending up on the nightstand. In addition, a series of solid reviews do not guarantee brisk sales, just as negative reviews do not equal a book’s doom.

There is plenty of competition these days for not only the public’s attention, but also for the public’s disposable income. When trusted authorities recommend a book, authors have one more way to connect a book with readers. Influencers can vouch for an author’s credibility and provide a broad point of connection with potential readers.

The ideal influencers will have trusted names, contact with a large audience, and a willingness to endorse your book. Influencers may lead to direct sales or at least give readers another reason to recommend your book.

An influencer without one of these three qualities may not be a helpful contact. In the next post of this series I’ll look into some of the problems authors encounter in putting together an influencer list.

The next installments in this series…

The Best E-Mail Newsletters Service for Writers and Artists

I’ve spent a lot of time and even a little money looking into e-mail newsletter services. I think my search is finally over.

A friend of mine who’s an editor and an agent, a guy who strikes me as pretty smart and sharp, sent out a very professional-looking e-mail newsletter with Mail Chimp. I’m pretty sure he used the free option.

I’ve already been using the Mail Chimp two-column newsletter template for two years. It’s sharp, easy to customize, and easy to read. Now I’m sold on Mail Chimp as a newsletter service.

Most services either have a monthly fee or a steep one-time fee. In my own case, I’m sending out a newsletter once a month to just over 100 subscribers. I have no longer have any interest in buying a service such as AWeber with all of the bells and whistles. In fact, I found AWeber a bit too advanced and expensive ($20 per month) for my needs. Perhaps it’s the best bet for a large company, but all I want to do is safely send nice-looking newsletters and look at a few stats regarding who opened it and what they clicked on.

That’s right, I know who reads my newsletters.

Mail Chimp does all of that, and now is offering a plan called Forever Free. Your contact list can grow to 500 subscribers and you have 3,000 sends per month. So even at the top end of your subscription limit, you can send 6 newsletters per month. In addition, the newsletter set up, subscriber list import, and dashboard features are ridiculously intuitive.

I found AWeber unnecessarily difficult to navigate, and the newsletter set up features confusing. I lost a couple e-mail drafts because it’s so darn quirky. They constantly offered webinars to teach you how to use the service, but I’d much rather use a service I can figure out the first time I use it. I know AWeber has its evangelists, but I’m now a believer in Mail Chimp.

For a writer or an artist who simply wants to keep in touch with friends and to offer some free content and promotions, I can’t imagine ever needing anything other than Mail Chimp.

When Does Self-Promotion on Social Media Go Too Far?

As a writer I’ve been regularly confronting the concept of self-promotion for a solid three years now. With online applications such as Twitter and Facebook many worry that we are not only falling into a nasty pattern of narcissism, but some businesses and sole-proprietor businesses will abuse their networks of family, friends, and acquaintances to make a buck.

I’d like to tackle this from the perspective of a writer. Writers face the tricky matter of essentially “selling” ourselves and our talents of weaving words together. Readers and publishers look for someone with name recognition, and so writers must think of ways they can “make a name for themselves.” If you’re familiar with the biblical story of the tower of Babel, you may recall that the attempt of humanity to do such a thing resulted in their language being garbled by God.

Such a prospect is not necessarily encouraging for writers—especially a Christian writer.

The only way I can see handling this delicate matter of self-promotion in a way that avoids the exploitation of friends, family, and acquaintances is the following:

  1. Only promote what may help them. If I’m hoping they’ll buy my book and I send updates and links their way to that end, then the book I write should be of value to them.
  2. Don’t bombard anyone. I try to only send a manageable number of updates about myself and my work via twitter and facebook. I don’t want anyone to become tired of my endless stream of self-promotion. Everyone has a different limit here, so be cautious.
  3. It’s not all business. Part of keeping in touch with friends and family is adding some color from your own life, sharing pictures and stories that may be funny, interesting, or unusual. Don’t stick to mere work concerns in social media.

I can’t say for sure if I’ve done this perfectly, but as a writer who has to walk this fine line, I find that friends and family generally want to know what I’m up to. Therefore, it’s my job to keep them in the loop without wearing them out with my updates.