Sidney W. Frost
The activities involved in selling yourself can begin before your book is released. Get your name out there as soon as possible so that when your book is published you will appear to be well-established. If you already have books on the market, read on because it is never too late to build interest in you and your products.
I began a blog called The Christian Bookmobile five months before my first book was published. During that time, I posted articles about why I wrote the book as well as some of the mechanics of self-publishing. At one point, I let readers vote for the cover they liked best. By the time the book was available for purchase, I had written and posted 85 articles. However, there's no magic number. Do as many as you can, though. It takes time to build a following.
Blogging is just one way to sell yourself. We'll also talk about building a website, using social media, joining groups, and other ways to get your name out for potential buyers to see.
Not everyone will want both a website and a blog so read the section on blogs before deciding. The ultimate purpose for an author website is to reach book buyers, entice them to buy your books, and recommend your publications to all their friends.
Here are some of the pages you'll find on the typical author website.
Home—this is where the reader begins if he or she types in your domain name. My domain name is sidneywfrost.com. The city of Georgetown's domain name is Georgetown.org. The Internal Revenue Service uses irs.gov. However, don't forget someone may reach one of your other pages first if they access your site as the result of a search. In addition to entering your site, you may sometimes direct them to a special place called a landing page during a marketing promotion. So, make your website easy to navigate. Each page in your website should include a simple way to get to the other pages.
Bio—This page, sometimes called Profile, Author, About, or whatever you like, often contains a recent photo and a biography slanted for your writing career. If you have worked in other areas besides what you write about, only include information that is pertinent. Since I write Christian stories that involve a bookmobile in one way or another I mention my experience as a Stephen Minister and the fact that I was a bookmobile driver at one time. The main character in my Vengeance Squad stories is a computer science professor, so I include the fact that I taught computer science for many years.
Books—Although you can highlight your books on the home page, there should be another page with more information about each book. This page could include purchasing information as well as buy links. You may want to sign up with Amazon as an associate and earn commissions when people buy from your website.
Events—This page is sometimes called Appearances or Calendar. It should include the date and time you will be at a book signing or doing a talk. Leave in those that have already occurred to show your activity. I include events such as being a guest on a blog.
Contacts—This page could contain a fill-in-blank form to make it easy for the reader to send you a message without knowing your e-mail address. Or, you could list the various ways a reader could contact you. Examples include Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, e-mail, etc.
Blog—This is a place where you post short articles periodically along with any other information you want to convey. You may choose to have a separate blog site. See a complete description of blogs below.
My website includes a blog, but I use this instead: http://christianbookmobile.blogspot.com/
Media—Some authors include information for the news media. Various-sized photos of author and book covers, expanded bios and press releases, for example. I'm not sure these are necessary for most authors.
Although not found on all author websites, I also include a Specials section because I think everyone is interested in a deal. This is where I show books that are free and discounted, or are scheduled to be soon.
Here are few examples of author websites selected from The New York Times bestseller lists at the time this book was written:
John Grisham: http://www.jgrisham.com/
Sue Monk Kidd: http://suemonkkidd.com/
Jeaniene Frost: http://jeanienefrost.com/
Anna Quindlen: http://annaquindlen.net/
Check these websites, or those of your favorite authors, to get ideas for your own. Find other sites to study, especially the websites of authors of books like yours.
It can be costly to hire someone to create a website for you. In keeping with our goal of not spending more for advertising than we can make from sales, you will probably need to look for a cheaper way to build a web presence. In the section titled "Blogs", you will see that a free blog can do most everything a website can do. This means you may only need a blog.
I like to have both. Therefore, I look for ways to do so without spending tons of money. I recommend Weebly.com. Even though I have a master's degree in computer science and am experienced in building websites, I didn't want to take the time required to build one from scratch that could be easily and quickly updated. Instead, I looked around for solutions and ended up with Weebly. They offer various levels of service beginning with one that is free. I signed up for the pro plan since it included some features I wanted, and by paying for three years, I could get the service for less than what Yahoo charged for a place to put my previous website. The only complaint I have about Weebly so far is that they are slow responding to questions. When I have more experience, I will blog about it. By the time you read this, there could be a better service available. Do your research and don't spend more than you make.
For an example of a website created in less than an hour, see http://sidneywfrost.com.
Another way to sell yourself is with a blog. Blog is short for weblog, a way to provide discussions or information on the worldwide web. As we saw above, a blog could be included as a page within a website. Often, however, authors use one of the free blog services. Two popular ones are Google's Blogger and WordPress. I've tried both and only recently settled on Blogger. There are many useful features on WordPress, but I wanted all my blogs on the same service and most of the people I worked with used Blogger. Before deciding, check them both. Plus, see if there are others available.
If possible, start your blog before you publish your book so that by the time your book is out your blog will make you look like you've been around for a while. My blog, the Christian Bookmobile, has more than 500 posts and 60,000 pageviews.
Successful blogs include posts that keep readers coming back. Your overall goal may be to sell books, but you can't do that without attracting someone to your blog. Don't think about selling. Think about providing a service. An interesting story works. Some useful bit of information. How to do something. Where to find something. A contest with a desirable prize.
Statistics show that my blogs get more visitors when I have a giveaway. I'm not sure if all the visitors are potential book buyers, though.
Another blog post that draws many viewers is an exclusive interview of a major author. Of all postings, including contests and giveaways, the one visited most is a book review of Unconditional: A Novel by Eva Marie Everson. It has had more than 6,000 pageviews since it was published in September 2012.
Have a way for visitors to sign up, or follow. Some way for them to leave their e-mail address so you can contact them later. Encourage comments.
Blogging takes time away from writing the next book, so you will need to decide how much time to spend on blogging. One way to easily increase your blog count and pageviews, both signs of success in blogging, is to join forces with other bloggers. This can be done in several ways.
One approach is to join an alliance where you offer to post an article provided to you. I get one once a week and all I have to do is post it. Make sure the content is something your readers will appreciate. Participating in a blog alliance not only increases the number of posts on your blog, it also leads to more viewers.
Another way to simplify blogging is to create a blog with other writers who have similar audiences. When you all write articles, you don't have to write as many. And, if you all publicize the blog, you'll reach more people.
The third way to increase your blog count and get help directing people to your blog is to open your blog to guest authors. Authors with or without their own blogs may want to post an interview on your blog. But, don't worry, it's not hard work. Many will write the questions and the answers. All you have to do is upload it and post it. You should let the author know when it will be posted so he or she can direct readers to your blog.
How many blogs do you need? At least one for each group of readers.
Twitter is my favorite way to reach people quickly and perhaps convince some to buy a book. But, tweets are like blog posts in that you must be subtle. First, build up a following of people from your target audience, then keep them following you because your tweets are interesting or useful. A secondary goal is to get them to retweet your tweets to reach a wider audience.
If possible, set up a Twitter account before your book is published. This will give you time to gather followers. I see no benefit in buying followers unless a person's goal is merely a high follower count. I only want followers who might buy my books or recommend them to someone else. Building followers is slow. Initially I looked for people with similar tastes for me to follow. My reason was that Twitter makes it easy to follow back. The more people I followed, the more followers I'd get. At least that was what I thought.
I currently have 2,500-plus followers and the numbers continue to grow. Follower count goes up and down, so it is a constant effort to get more followers. I cleaned the list of people I follow by removing all corporations, non-profits, and government agencies. That gave me room for more people to follow. People who might follow me back. Now, when I get a new follower, I don't follow back unless they are in my target audience and then only if they have fewer than 2,000 followers.
I use Twitter mostly for automated tweets which I schedule to announce book specials. Look at TweetDeck for details.
One last comment about Twitter. I've seen some authors create a new Twitter account for each book and others use only one. I think multiple accounts may be needed if your books are for different readers. I only have one, but I can see how multiple accounts might be helpful.
I’ve had limited success with Facebook, and have stopped using it to reach readers. I was spending much more for ads than I could possibly make selling books.
However, I have found Facebook groups useful. I have one called Christian Writers Support Group. The purpose is to encourage each other by liking and sharing information. Anything you can do to join forces with others will help sales, and increase book reviews.
Another way to get your name out there and attract followers is with Pinterest. Pinterest lets you easily create a collection of photos to share. I think everyone enjoys viewing pictures. Sometimes I look through randomly selected Pinterest boards just for the beauty I might find.
The nice thing about Pinterest is that the photos can come from the Internet. You don't need permission to use them since the photo will link to the site where you found the photo, giving them credit. There are some places that don't allow sharing of their photos, but Pinterest knows which ones they are, and you won't be able to pin those photos to your board.
How can using Pinterest help you as an author?
If your book is not yet published, create a board for your future readers. If you're writing a cozy mystery, for example, create a board called "My Favorite Cozy Mysteries." Your photos could be book cover images and you could add a short note about each book and why you selected it. Once your book is published, it would become one of the prominent pins on this board.
While writing The Vengeance Squad Goes to England I created a board with photos of locations and items used in the book. As I wrote the book, I added additional photos for each new scene. This served two purposes. First, the images helped me describe the scenes more realistically. Secondly, once the book was published, I included a link to the board, so readers could see photos of the places described in the book. See http://goo.gl/B6UFcX to check it out for yourself.
Another prepublication Pinterest board I made was one called Bookmobiles. The reason for this board is that bookmobiles are featured in each of my books. I'm still adding images to it. You may think of a similar use of Pinterest for your books. See http://goo.gl/NEXeZO for the bookmobile board. While you're there, follow me and check out the rest of my boards for other ideas.
Goodreads is a place for readers to post their personal libraries. It is an excellent place for an author, publisher, or publicist to visit often. This is where readers hang out and talk about books. There are many opportunities for you to tell members about your books and we'll discuss these when we talk about implementing the marketing plan. For now, join Goodreads and start using it for your personal library. Ask book reviewers to post reviews here as well as Amazon. Even though Amazon owns Goodreads, they are still treating them as separate organizations.
Goodreads provides an easy way to promote your books with giveaways.
You might also want to start making friends and joining some of the many groups there, especially friends and groups in your target audience. Amazon purchased Goodreads in March 2013.
While we are discussing selling yourself, take time to decide whether you plan to review books or not. When I first got started in the business, I read a book about getting the most out of Amazon and the author recommended reviewing books like my own to help build name awareness. I did that, but I have since decided the author was talking about nonfiction books only. I'm not sure there is a benefit for fiction authors to review books other than trading reviews with other authors to increase review count.
Perhaps you may want to join a group on Facebook or some other social media where you can trade reviews with other authors. It seems the more good reviews you have, the more Amazon and other sites will publicize your book. The Fussy Librarian, for example, requires ten Amazon reviews with a 4.5 out of 5.0 rating to be included in their paid advertising. The thinking is that the number of reviews is associated with the quality of the book. Some bloggers require a certain number of reviews before they will advertise free and discounted books
As an author of nonfiction, reviewing books in the same category may make you look more creditable. Good reviews can show you know the subject and you know how to communicate. However, reviewing your competitor's books could be a problem. You either end up helping them or coming across like sour grapes.
There is a discussion in the implementing the plan section about how to get reviews. For now, all you need to do is decide whether you want to do reviews or not.
AUTHOR AND BOOK AWARDS
Another way to sell yourself is to get recognized in some way. There are writing contests for unfinished books as well as those already published. When I was writing my first book, Where Love Once Lived, I entered many contests. At that time, I thought it was a romance. I joined Romance Writers of America and learned there was a contest going on somewhere in the United States most of the year. I also learned entering contests was an excellent way to get feedback. Some of the suggestions made by contest judges ended up in the final book. In addition to grammar corrections and suggestions for descriptions, one judge warned me against including an abortion in the story, so I changed it to a miscarriage.
There was a charge for these contests, and back then, more effort and expense to copy and mail the manuscripts. Today, you can submit your writing electronically, but many contests still charge a fee.
To my surprise, I ended up winning several contests and placing in others. This helped validate my writing, and, I suspect, caused more agents and publishers to evaluate my work more closely. Each win got me closer to finding a publisher, but I eventually published the book myself.
When you look for contests to enter, evaluate the cost vs. benefit. There are some organizations that make money holding contests. There are others who I believe simply sell awards. That is, you pay, everyone wins. These types of awards are not the ones that will help you to sell yourself.
When looking at ways to sell yourself, another consideration is whether to emphasize yourself or your books. I see some people have a Facebook author page for each book. My feeling is that you should sell yourself by grouping similar books. I have published mostly Christian fiction, so my audience is the same for each book. However, if I decide to publish a book for authors on how to market books, I will have a different audience and may need to brand by book rather than name.