During the last meeting of the Gettysburg Writer’s Brigade, we talked about marketing for the independent author. While marketing for the mainstream author and indie author overlap, some differences exist. This is mainly because an indie author can develop longer-term marketing.

While your short-term marketing will generally be focused on promoting your most-recent book, your long-term marketing will focus on your author platform or brand.

The basic elements of your author platform will be your author website and a Facebook fan page. These are the first two places that readers will search for information about you as an author. They should find an active, up-to-date page that lets them know about you, your books, and what you are up to. A webpage can be developed easily with sites like WordPress or Wix, and the cost is inexpensive. The Facebook page can be created for free.

From this basic platform, you can begin to add in additional pieces. This include:

  • Twitter – Visit it regularly to follow authors and readers. Tweet about your activities as well as your books. Readers want to feel like they know you and casual tweets are a way to do that.
  • Blog – If you have more to say than can be said in 140 characters, a blog could be a good way to do that. It also allows you to delve deeper into a topic of interest.
  • Podcasting – If you want to try a different medium to attract readers, try a podcast and fulfill your childhood dream of becoming a radio DJ.
  • E-mail List – This is something that I wish I had started building years ago. Collect names of and e-mail addresses of your readers. That way, you can communicate directly with them with news and book deals. If you post on Facebook or even your blog, you never know whether your readers will see it, but an e-mail has a greater chance of being read.

The key for your long-term marketing to last long-term is to provide information of interest to your readers. While you can mention special pricing or promotions within your author platform elements, most of the information should be non-sales. You are trying to build name recognition and goodwill. Continually trying to sell your books through your blog, Twitter account, etc., will only cause people to tune you out and unfollow you.

As the name suggests, long-term marketing is long-term. Don’t expect immediate sales. Your goal is to get your name out there and at the top of people’s minds when they think about your genre.

You want everything to become an interconnected web where you start to do something in one area and causes something to happen elsewhere.

Here’s a recent example. I do a particular festival every year where I sell my books (short-term marketing). A couple years ago, I met an author and we talked during the show. These events are good places to network (long-term marketing). This author later reviewed one of my books on Amazon (long-term marketing) and gave it four stars. More recently, he saw me do a presentation on C-SPAN (short-term marketing) and decided to review the book I walk talking about (long-term marketing). Also, the C-SPAN presentation came from doing a book signing (short-term marketing).

Can you see how everything is connecting? In some cases, it took a couple years for something to happen, but it did. Hopefully, the review will spur some sales, just as the C-SPAN presentation did.

It may sound like a lot to do, but you have time. As an indie author, you can keep your book in print as long as you want. You don’t have to make a quick impact like mainstream authors do (although if you can, so much the better). Do a little bit every day. Write yourself a marketing “to-do” list. Once you work your way through the list, evaluate the results and create a new list based on those results.

Go for it!

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UntitledI’m a big fan of Longmire the TV series and Craig Johnson books. I actually started reading/watching them at the same time. As I prepared for the final season of the TV series to be released on Netflix, I decided to build up my excitement by reading the newest novel in the Longmire series, The Western Star.

I enjoyed it, but it was surprising for two reasons. 1) It is essentially a prequel book, telling a Walt Longmire story when he was a new deputy under Lucian Connelly. 2) The book essentially ends on a cliffhanger. Now, I’m always excited when a new Longmire novel is released, but having to wait a year for the next book in the series will be excruciating.

The story begins with Walt enjoying a beer with friends after a weapons certification at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy. He is shown an old picture of a group of sheriffs and one deputy (Walt) standing in front of The Western Star steam locomotive.

This begins a series of flashbacks that tell a parallel story to what is happening in present day.

In 1972, Walt’s marriage is on the rocks and he gets caught up in a murder of a president of the Wyoming Sheriff’s Association. The sheriff believed that some of his fellow sheriffs might be going rogue and killing people they believed guilty of crimes. He enlists Walts help but is killed before things can go much further.

Meanwhile, in the present day, a convict who Walt arrested sometime in the past is trying to get a compassionate release from prison before cancer kills him. Walt is adamantly against this, but you only learn why gradually.

I knew the two stories had to connect at some point, but I think the book almost waited too long to do it. All was forgiven, though, because of some of the surprises Johnson packs into the end of the book.

I enjoyed getting to know Martha a bit more to see what type of woman could capture and hold Walt’s heart, but I wish this would have been paralleled more with his relationship with his undersheriff Vic Moretti.

The other thing that threw me off a bit was the jumps between stories. Sometimes there were multiple jumps in a chapter. I happened to be using the text-to-speech function on my Kindle to have the book read to me on a long trip to and from Ohio so the changes could disrupt the story for me until I realized what had happened.

The Longmire novels are great modern westerns and mysteries, and The Western Star is an illuminating addition to the series.

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096b0d8946bc2b824034ba68d473b09b647f2bb2-thumbIt’s been a year of firsts and new things in my writing career. It has paid off. By the end of September, I had made as much money and sold as many books as I did in 2016. It’s a testament to how beneficial stepping outside of your comfort zone can be.

One of the new things I’ll be trying tomorrow is my first, albeit mini, book tour. A group in Orrville, Ohio, has set me up to do five events in two days. They will also focus on promoting my biography of Chuck Caldwell who grew up in the town. I’m both excited and scared.

Who knows what the attendance will be? Will I be so exhausted after the drive there, that I come across as sluggish? Will I do Chuck’s story justice with the attendees?

I have to do my first event after a 5.5-hour drive. It’s a meet and greet and book signing at the community center there. Then I get a few hours where I can check into the hotel and take a nap before speaking at an invitation-only event at one of the historic sites in town. This is a dinner for people the historical society hopes to make a major donation to a fundraising campaign.

 

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Me and Chuck Caldwell at his house.

 

The next day, I will be spending all day at the high school talking to different history classes about Chuck. Then I have a couple hours on break before speaking at an informal dinner with the historical society board members. Following the dinner, it’s back to the high school for a presentation for the general public to help the high school alumni association.

Then it’s a good night’s sleep before heading back to Gettysburg on another 5.5-hour drive. With luck, I will have sold about 100 books, and that makes it worth all of the trouble.

I only wish Chuck could go along. He really wants to visit his hometown again. The last time he was there was in 2011 for his 70th high school reunion! He will turn 94 this month, and he doesn’t make long trips any longer.

My point with this post is the one I made earlier. I consider myself fairly introverted, but I have had to force myself outside my comfort in order to market my books. It has gotten easier over the years, and when it does, I take another step forward. I don’t always make the best impression when I begin trying something new, but I keep at it and improve.

It works for writers, and it works for just about everything else in life, too.

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McLGX78KiWriting can be stationary work. Sure, I get to go out and do an interview, attend a meeting, or do an interesting activity from time to time. Most of the time, however, I’m sitting behind my desk. That’s not the healthiest way to live.

I get up from time to time and walk around the house. The creaking in my joints lets me know it was a good choice.

I try to use the treadmill desk, but I’ve never gotten over the awkwardness of it. I do use it, but for probably only an hour or two a week.

My point here is that writers need to stay healthy. Besides helping you live longer, the less you are sick, the more productive you can be. My grandfather used to tell me a story that after he went deep into debt borrowing from anyone who would lend him money in order to build a small grocery store so that he could go into business for himself. He told me that every night he would pray that the Lord would keep him healthy so he could work and pay back all those people whom he owed money.

If you are ill, you won’t be writing and earning a living. So stay healthy.

I do a lot of bicycling during the summer. I like getting out and exploring my county. I also do resistance training with resistance tubes. This hasn’t been as effective for me as the biking.

I decided to rejoin the YWCA in town and use their fitness center. I love spin classes. I can also start using the free weights for resistance training again.

Meanwhile, I have also started jogging again. (Some people may call it fast walking.) I haven’t done this is decades because of a bad knee. My body does not like this much, but I am slowly getting better at it.

It’s all in the effort to improve my health, keep me away from the doctor’s office, and keep writing.

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20170624_092912            Writers need to network. It’s necessary to help improve your ability to write better and sell books.

One of the places where I’ve been able to grow my writers’ network is at the festivals and other events where I sell books.

I usually two or three writers at these events. Some are other writers like me who are selling at the festivals. Others are writers who are visiting the festival.

Unpublished Writers

The first type of writer I meet is someone who has written a book but is not published. Some of them are afraid to put their books to the mercy of the public. Others just don’t want to put in the time to do the marketing that books need. Others still think that it’s very expensive to publish a book.

Published Writers

The second type of writer is one who has a couple books published but they aren’t selling. If they were published by a mainstream publisher, they often feel that it’s the publisher’s job to market and sell the book. If they are indie published, they aren’t putting in the marketing time.

The result is that the books aren’t selling. These authors are cutting their own throats because publishers aren’t going to want to publish their next books if they can’t show a strong sales history on their previous books.

These authors believe that a successful author just has to be lucky. They ignore the fact that they need to work just as hard at the marketing as they did at the writing. When talking to these authors, I always tell them that they need to spend just as much time marketing as they do writing.

I’ve learned about new festivals. I’ve gotten the names of businesses and organization to contact about speaking or carrying my books. I’ve gotten tips to improve my sales. For instance, I learned about selling additional product lines from a fellow author.

Entrepreneurial Writers

The third type of authors are writers who are doing better than me. I love these authors because I get to pick their brains what they’re doing, what they like, and what kind of results they are seeing.

Yes, I do festivals to sell books, but I’m always looking for new ideas and new techniques to try and see what works and what doesn’t. I keep what works until it stops working for me or until I find something that works better with which to replace it.

This persistent move forward has allowed me to grow my business. It might not be happening as fast as I would like, but I am moving in the right direction.

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The keynote speaker at one of the annual writer’s conferences sponsored by the Washington Independent Writers.

For a job that relies on connecting with readers, writing can be a lonely profession. To start with, I have no workmates. I work in my den in my house. Now, that’s not the case for all writers. I have worked for businesses and newspapers where there were desks next to mine and I could speak and joke with the person sitting next to me.

 

Writers do a lot of talking to people for interviews, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to relationships. I do get to know some of the people well. These are people in the geographic areas that I frequently write about or experts on topics that I frequently write about. The vast majority of people I speak with, though, I only talk to once for a single article.

With that feeling of isolation, I find that it’s important for writers to have a support system in place. This includes family and friends, but it also includes other writers. I participate in a weekly writer’s group. It’s nice to meet with other people who share an interest in writing and talk about the craft or simply joke around.

This network comes with some benefits. First and foremost, it reinvigorates me for my work each week. This is important for me, particularly during weeks where I’m feeling very stressed out.

You also find the benefits that come with other networking groups. I hear about writing opportunities, and I can find people I trust when I need some help.

It also gives me a chance to pay things forward and help other writers when I can because I like seeing writers succeed. I might get a little jealous of their success, but I’m always happy for them.

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I’ve been a professional writer for 30 years (Wow! Seeing that number applied to something I’ve done freaks me out a bit.), and I’ve done a lot of different types of writing. My first novel was published in 1996, and since then, I’ve been trying to improve my writing and sell more books.

In all that time, I’ve finally started to recognize some things that work consistently in selling books. (What can I say, I’m a slow learner.) I have found that some of these things have a cumulative effect like a snowball rolling downhill and growing and growing.

20170624_092912

  1. Write a good book. This should be obvious, but I see lots of books being published that are thrown together haphazardly. They might sell well initially because the authors do the other things I’m going to mention, but the books don’t have staying power. Plus, I just would be proud to call some of those books mine. Many of the authors don’t. They use pen names.
  2. Write more than one book. I’ve now written 19 published books and a few e-books. This has really helped by sales. I look at the number of books that I sell at a festival, and if I was only selling one book, I wouldn’t be able to make back my costs. Now, with 19 books, if I sell two or three of each book, I will have made a decent income from the festival. Also, if you have a series, you can use the first book in the series as a loss leader in your promotions to hook readers into the series.
  3. Have an author platform. This is why celebrities get book deals. They might not have much to say, and they probably use ghostwriters, but people know their name and follow what they do. That’s an author platform. For writers, you want to have Twitter and Facebook followers, subscribers to your blog, a large e-mail list, and people who turn out to hear you talk. The more you have, the stronger your author platform is, and the more attractive you will be to publishers. If you go the indie publishing route, you will be able to sell more books quicker. I wish that I had started compiling my e-mail list years ago because it would be huge now and making my selling job easier. Start building you author platform now. It will be a continual activity that you should do all through your career.
  4. Market, market, market. Writers want to write, not sell. Sorry to tell you, marketing’s part of the job. Even Nora Roberts does book signings. Part of your marketing efforts fall into building your author brand, but other activities will be book specific. I still give talks about books that I wrote years ago. Plan on doing as much marketing as you do writing.
  5. Try new things. While it will be tempting to stick to things that work, you can’t be afraid to try new things with your marketing. You don’t have to dedicate a majority of your marketing budget to new stuff, but plan on a portion of it going to try new things. I’m always looking for new shows to sell books at, new groups to talk to, and new methods to reach new readers online. I keep what works and don’t continue what doesn’t work. The more I do this, the more effective my marketing efforts become.

Writing is a great career, but to make it great, you are going to have to work at it. Be willing to go outside your comfort zone and reach for new heights. You might not succeed each time, but you will probably do so more than you would guess.

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Here I am at The Book Center in Cumberland, MD, on Nov. 19. I’m the one on the left, in case you couldn’t tell.

I have entered my busiest time of the year. For the next few months, I have virtually of my weekends booked up until Christmas. I’ll be doing book signings at retail stores, selling books at festivals, and selling books at holiday festivals.

It’s an exciting time because I get to meet a lot of my readers and, hopefully, future readers. It’s also exhausting, and I have to wonder why. I have to admit that I’m not highly active at these events. I exert some energy setting up, which takes about an hour and also taking down my booth, which takes about the same amount of time.

In between, though, I’m just standing and sitting and talking to people. I rarely even get to leave my booth because I’m the only one there.

So why am I exhausted by the time I get home?

I’m not unique in this, either. I’ve talked to other writers and festival vendors who feel the same way. So it can’t just be because I’m getting old. (Which I’m not, by the way. I have a younger sister who passed me in age a few years back and now she’s my older sister.)

I have a trip in November to Ohio where a historical society is bringing me in to do five events in two days. I’m excited about the opportunity, but I’m also wondering how I’m going to feel at the end of each day, especially since I’ve got a six-hour drive to get there and get home.

It will definitely be an adventure. I just hope that I’m awake enough to enjoy it.

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RULE

Ann Rule

Last month, I had the opportunity to take on a true crime book, but I turned it down. It wasn’t an easy choice. It was an interesting cold case, but I felt that I wasn’t ready for the project at this time. It would have required travel that I didn’t want to do, and time that I just couldn’t commit, at least not if I wanted to finish the book in less than a decade.

 

While I was considering the project, I also studied how to do true crime books. I have covered criminal cases when I was a newspaper reporter and even done investigative pieces. I’ve read some true crime books as well, but I wasn’t sure what goes into writing one. For instance, should you have your manuscript vetted by a lawyer? If so, that would have made it very different from other types of writing.

I found an interesting article that had some good tips from the “Queen of True Crime” Ann Rule. If anyone knows how to write a true crime book, it’s her. She is the author of books like Small Sacrifices and Heart Full of Lies. Her first book, The Stranger Beside Me, was about her co-worker, serial killer Ted Bundy. 138454

While she has great advice for being a writer, in general, here are her tips for being a true crime writer.

  1. You can usually get a press pass, but there’s often a deluge of writers trying to obtain one. Rule calls the prosecutor’s assistant.
  2. Study the witnesses, watch the jury, and soak up the entire experience. (I used to try and take notes during trials, but I finally started recording them so I could do just this. If a writers soaks in the experience, it helps in setting the mood and scene when you write.)
  3. Try to obtain the court documents from the court reporter or the prosecutor, or purchase them.
  4. Observe the other reporters in the room, and analyze what they’re doing.
  5. If you’re sitting out in the hall with potential witnesses, don’t ask them about anything. You can comment on the weather or the courtroom benches being hard, but “Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth pretty shut.” (She says this to keep you from getting in trouble with the judicial system, but it also follows the old adage, “If you’re talking, you aren’t listening.” You never know what you might hear if you are quiet and sitting in the right place.)
  6. Don’t take newspapers into the courtroom.
  7. Know what you’re getting yourself into. “You don’t want to start a nonfiction unless you’re really in love with it, and usually you want a go-ahead from an editor.” (This was one of my hesitations with the true crime project I was presented. I was interested in it, but I wasn’t obsessed by it. Because of that, I was willing to let other things get in the way of me writing the project.)
  8. Absorb detail. “When I’m writing a true-crime book I want the reader to walk along with me.” Rule describes the temperature, how the air feels—“I think it’s very important to set the scene.” As far as the writing, you can novelize, but keep all of your facts straight.
  9. Don’t use the real name of a rape or sexual crime victim in your writing. (Though Rule has written about a few who have asked to have their names included.) As Rule said of her subjects at large, “I always care about my people. And if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.”

x4459True crime is an interesting genre because you might actually have a real-world impact, such as catching a criminal. However, it also has plenty of things that could cause you headaches if you aren’t careful. Maybe one day I’ll find that true crime project that I can’t forget, and when that happens, I’ll take the leap.

Here’s the link to the original article where I found Ann Rule’s tips.

 

 

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gjon-mili-writer-damon-runyon-working-on-script-at-deskI’m trying a different type of post today. The Gettysburg Writers Brigade is a group of writers who both support each other and learn from each other. Our group’s founder, Will Hutchison, usually moderates discussions different topics. He also teaches more formal lessons from time to time.

You can click on the link below and download the slides from one of these lessons about creating a story.

Would you like to know how to structure a novel? The slides will give you tips from Will and famous writers on how to find your story and develop it.

Let me know what you think.

And if you would like to participate in the group, we meet every Wednesday at O’Rourke’s Eatery and Spirits at 44 Steinwehr Avenue in Gettysburg, PA. We meet in the second-floor dining room at 7 p.m. Come find us.

Story Story Story

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