The festival ripple effect

I’ve been increasing the number of book festivals and other festivals I’ve been taking part in for book signings. Some are very successful for me. Some I just barely break even at, and others, are complete flops.

The flops can be soul-crushing, but I have realized something as I’ve increased my appearances. The number of page views of my books and online sales increase after a festival, even a festival that’s been a failure. That doesn’t mean that I’ll go back to the flop festivals. However, it makes attending break-even festivals more attractive to continue attending.

Another benefit that I’ve found in attending these festivals is that I get leads and offers for speaking engagements. These speaking engagements are always successful. Even if I don’t get paid a stipend for speaking, I sell my books afterward.

The third benefit of these festivals is that I sometimes get leads for future story ideas.

On the flip side, festivals take up a lot of time and cost money to attend. This summer, I have a festival every other weekend, on average. The costs definitely add up as I do more festivals.

Overall, I think writers should definitely put themselves out there in the public and doing book signings at festivals where your potential readers attend. Just remember that sometimes the best festivals aren’t book festivals. You may find a craft or street fair that draws in many people who like your books.

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Have you ever done a blog tour?

Have you ever done a blog tour?

I decided to hire someone to help me set up a blog tour and I’m nervously awaiting the start of it not knowing what to expect. However, although I maintain a blog, I have very little clue for how to set up a tour. It seemed like a lot of groundwork would need to be done and, quite frankly, with my crazy schedule, I was willing to hire someone to do it for me. Plus, I figure it will get me exposure with some new blogs.

I actually was surprised at the different types of tours available. You can get tours that focus on reviews, interviews, excerpts, giveaways, and articles. I selected one that is a mix so I can get my feet wet with everything.

I’m curious if any other writers have done a blog tour. How long did it last? Was it useful? What did it involve? This is all new to me so let me know your experiences.

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Are you a marketing tortoise or hare?

blue-growth-chartWhen my book, The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg, launched, I worked to promote it and get it into bookstores. It felt like an uphill battle at times. There’s a lot more bookstores than there are me and my co-author.

This leads me to an observation that I’ve found as an independent author. The difference between independent authors and traditionally published authors is like the story of the tortoise and the hare.

Traditionally published authors are looking for their books to take off with a quick start. They have to have strong sales right from the start in order to keep their book in stores and in print. Independent publishers certainly would love to have strong sales up front, but tend to see steady sales that stretch out over a much longer life for the book.

I’ve seen that with many of my titles. They may be 5 or 10 years old, but they still sell well.

I think this is because while I can’t put an army of sales reps and publicity people selling my book hard for a couple months before they move onto their next project, I can continually work on promoting my older titles along with my newer ones. The efforts build on themselves, expanding the books exposure and sales.

The key to promotion is to keep at it. Do something every day to market your book. It adds up in the end.

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  • The birth of a story idea
  • Write & Wait vs. Write, Write, Write
  • Time to get busy!

The ripple effect in marketing

320004_10150370257646867_270838901866_8795066_1718063802_nYears ago, there was a popular commercial for either shampoo or hair dye. The woman in the commercial was so happy with the product she said, “You’ll tell two friends about it, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on and so on.” Meanwhile, the image of the woman kept doubling and doubling until there were a couple dozen images on the screen.

It’s a great effect to have duplicated in your marketing efforts. Nowadays, it’s called going viral, and if you can achieve it, the results are phenomenal.

The problem is that there’s no sure-fire way to achieve it.

I have found one way that puts me in a good position to have things happen, though. It’s going to festivals to sell my books.

While selling my books, I almost always get requests to do talks, book signings, or other festivals.

If attending the festival is equivalent to dropping a rock in a lake, then each book I sell is a ripple. Each additional event I attend because of the festival is another rock in the lake. With enough rocks and ripples, soon that lake is looking like boiling water because of my books.

 

While I love selling my books at these shows, I delight in the additional opportunities that come my way. It’s like getting bonus sales.

It makes it hard to measure the effectiveness of a show, though. A show might only be average in sales, but perhaps, it yields a talk where I sell another two dozen books. How do I measure those sales regarding the original show?

To set yourself up in the best way for these opportunities, make yourself approachable. I always try to talk to people who stop by my booth. I am not hard sell. I point out which books are fiction and which are non-fiction. I ask what they like. I may comment on a shirt they are wearing. I will ask if they are enjoying the festival. I am trying to strike up a dialogue so they feel comfortable talking with me. I also try to stay positive and be diplomatic about controversial topics.

The key is I listen and react to what the customer is saying. One of my school teachers used to have a poster in her room that said, “If you’re talking, you’re not listening.” If you are continually pitching a potential customer to make a sale, you might not give them the opportunity to ask you about another opportunity.

If you really want to encourage these opportunities, add a line to your business card that says you are available for presentations and workshops. You can make it more obvious by creating a sign to sit on your table that says you are available.

 

So, attend a show, sell a book, give a presentation, and have the reader tell two friends about you and so on and so on.

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Time to get busy!

20170624_092912It’s mid-March and my busy season has kicked off. For me, that means from now until right before Christmas, I’ll be selling books or presenting workshops three to four weekends a month. Plus, throw in a few presentations and classes during the week. This is on top of the normal writing, marketing, and research I do during the week.

I’ll be busy for the next nine months, but I enjoy it mostly (not counting all the rainy festivals I worked in 2018). It’s nice to get out and meet my readers and hear what they liked and didn’t like about stories. When the weather is nice, it’s wonderful to be outside. I also dictate a lot of notes and scenes between customers.

Getting ready for a festival is like trying to figure out a Chinese puzzle box in reverse. First, I have to decide how many copies of each title to take. As my son says, “You want to come home with one copy of every book.” That way, you know you didn’t miss any sales, but you don’t have to bring home excess inventory.

Then I have to make sure I have everything I’ll need for the event, such as a tent, tables, money to make change, signs, etc. I have forgotten things occasionally, and it can ruin an event. For instance, forgetting to take a tent when it is calling for rain. I did that once, and had to drive an hour and a half back home, load my tent, turn around and drive and an hour and a half back to my hotel.

Once I have gathered everything, I have to pack my Prius. Believe it or not, you can get a lot in that small car. It takes a lot of finagling to make it fit, but after years of doing this, it is second nature as to what goes where.

The loading and unloading of my car and set up is my workout for the day. Lifting and walking with boxes of boxes will definitely help you get stronger!

I have managed to carve out a summer vacation in the middle of all this activity. I’d much rather get away in the winter, but when you have a child in school, your window of opportunity is limited.

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Check out these great writer’s websi

thDuring last week’s meeting of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade, we looked at some of the favorite writer’s websites of our members. These are sites that have lots of useful information for writers. We took a look at each of the sites and what they offer.

I’ve listed the sites below so you can take a look at them yourself and save them to visit frequently.

  • Writer’s Digest – The website for the nation’s leading writing magazine.
  • The Creative Penn – Joanna Penn’s website has lots of usable information, particularly for indie publishers.
  • David Gaughran – David Gaughran’s website has good information for indie authors.
  • Brandon Sanderson – NYT Bestseller Brandon Sanderson’s website has a great podcast and a lot of behind-the-scenes looks at a writer’s life and his process.
  • Alliance of Independent Authors – This organization’s site is filled with news that indie authors can use.
  • diyMFA – Another website chockful of useful writing information.
  • Daily Writing Tips – Learn something new about writing every day.
  • Writers Beware – Avoid the scam artists out there before they take crush your dreams and take your money.
  • Romance Writers Association Online Classes – Don’t let the name fool you. There are plenty of courses offered that have nothing to do with romance.
  • Publishers Marketplace – Get the news on what agents are selling, the publishers that are buying them, and what the publishers are paying.
  • Writer Unboxed – A great site with information to raise your writing to the next level.

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A life-long publishing learner

18077251_10155179628818290_9156547952808988124_oLast month, I participated in the Kensington Day of the Book, my first outdoor festival of the season. It can be an iffy time for an outdoor festival, but the weather was perfect this year. I always enjoy book festivals because not only do I get to meet people who like to read books, I get to meet other authors.

I’m always interested to see what other authors are producing. I expect mainstream published books to look great, but I feel a bit sorry for the author if they only have one or two titles to sell. Knowing how little mainstream publishers pay in royalties and how much the booth space costs, I know those authors need to sell a lot of books to break even.

For this festival, my guess is that they had to sell between 25-30 books to break even. I only had to sell four books to cover my booth costs. I also had a lot more titles to offer. With this combination, I can make back my booth costs with one sale, and I did.

I’m more curious to see what the indie authors are doing, especially if they have multiple titles. This means they have been writing for some time, and hopefully, have learned some useful things about publishing and marketing. These are the authors who I try to talk to. I want to pick their brains for things that I might try.

It’s always interesting what I learn. Some authors don’t believe in doing e-book giveaways. Others have seen its benefit in boosting sales. Some authors only work in a single series while others write stand-alone books or in a variety of genres. Some publish hardbacks, and others only publish softcovers.

If I see a great cover on a book, I question the author about who designed it, and I get contact information.

I ask about other shows the authors attend and things they have done to promote their books.

I have been a published novelist since 1996 and an indie author since 2001, and I am still learning new things about the process. I hope that I always continue to do so.

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My book tour presentation

I had a mini-book tour in Ohio at the beginning of November. I did a book signing, a couple talks for high school classes, an invitation-only presentation at the historical society, and a general presentation all in two days. It was all to promote my biography of Chuck Caldwell called Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy.

It was a busy time, but I was happy for the opportunity to do it. The general presentation was also filmed for the local cable provider. Here’s the link to my talk. I hope you enjoy it.

Untitled

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Getting your long-term marketing going

 

 

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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How to become a successful writer

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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