It was around 2009, I was an editor at Quercus, and a young adult author Cat Clarke was publishing her debut novel with us. We were still 6 months from publication, and my inbox was getting what I thought was a series of spam email.
Entangled by Cat Clarke
Turns out I was getting emails from bloggers who wanted a copy of the proofs (review copies).These bloggers were from all over the world: Japan, China, Brazil, Greece, France, Spain. Places we might sell in, but certainly hadn't publicised in yet. It was still another 6 MONTHS till the book was going to be published!
With this pre-launch buzz, Entangled, Cat's first book, went on to sell a healthy number of copies. I think it sold around 20k in those first months but my memory is hazy. I just remember that the sales director was happy, (and it was a rare day that she was happy with the editorial team). For a small publisher and a debut author, in the UK, we were thrilled.
Cat Clarke, who has since written many books, essentially taught me my first lesson in marketing: build a tribe.
NUMBER 1 BUILD A TRIBE
#Social Media, #Content Marketing
Credit: William White, Unsplash
The moment Cat decided to write, she started a blog called Cat Writes YA, and engaged with reviewers, fans and bloggers in that niche.
Those requests I was getting? It was a result of her efforts to build a community.
Her approach, simple as it was, is roughly the advice that gurus like Gary Vaynerchuk and Seth Godin, give out today.
Find and engage with your community.
But what does this mean for the 2017 social media crazy world?
Well, whether it's Sci-Fi or Chick lit, or Children's, find the reviewers and fans of these genres and talk to them. There are lots of platforms, and you don't have to conquer them all, not just yet. Find 1-2 that you're comfortable with and where your audience might be (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr).
Now you’ve probably heard this sort of advice before and I’m anticipating objections here, and here are my answers:
Objection 1: I know I 'should be' online but I hate the idea/ am doing it already & bored by the process or I’m frustrated by the small results.
My answer to you is to just keep at it steadily, consistently. Use the Tomato Timer and just spend 25 min a day to post, or chat to someone in your world. Slowly but surely you will gather a community. Your fanbase won't be built overnight, but it won't be built by inaction. I’ve watched aspiring authors like Candy Gourley and Nikesh Shukla start with small platforms, and build momentum as they published books, and later won awards.
Objection 2: I have nothing to say! What can I contribute online?
There is no prescription for success online, but there are many options.
- Review your favourite books in a blog
- Document the frustrations and joys of being a writer
- Interview your favourite writers
- Create inspiration photo posts for other writers
- Critique your favourite and least favourite covers on pinterest
- Post the music tracks you listen to every week when you write
Here are some real-life examples of what authors have done to stay relevant online.
Choose what suits your personality and try it consistently for at least 6 months. Whatever tricks you need to help you enjoy the process (music, chocolate, coffee) bring 'em out. Get your 25 min a day in.
Objection 3: I don't have enough time
I hear you. Social media is a black hole for time.
So let's get more efficient it. And also, don't worry about your twitter numbers, focus on your engagement. As I said earlier, allocate time every day to respond. I'm a huge fan of the Pomodoro Technique (click for a link to an online timer) to keep you using time well. In the end, it's the quality of engagement rather than aimlessly scrolling through newsfeeds that matter. Don’t fall into the trap of using social media vacantly because you don’t want to write! Limit your time every day, but consistently engage. That’s what I tell my authors, and it’s what I’m starting to do myself, finally.
NUMBER 2 START EARLY & FOCUS -
Credit: Pablo Garcia Saldana
Over the years, working with authors and startups I've learned the importance of starting now.
Starting before anyone else shows up, starting before you have approval.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb
Authors and entrepreneurs have also taught me that the best time saver is to focus on what matters.
Joanna Penn and Brian Cormack talk about the Long Term Launch, which is about creating a series of ‘windows’ of promotion, a better, smarter way to think of promoting your book. So, for example, you might set aside two-three weeks around your book launch and within this period you would concentrate all your interviews and posts.
You could then repeat this over a summer promotion and a Christmas promotion period etc. SO it’s not all year round, and it’s not a one hit attempt either.
When should you start thinking about strategy? I don’t think it’s ever too early to start - but if you haven’t finished writing your book yet, you shouldn’t focus on marketing and publicity. Sure, start formulating a rough plan, and start to tap into a community (a blog, social media platforms) you guard your writing time at the same time.
4-6 months before publication, get in contact with people in your community and involve them - perhaps on the book covers, ask them if they'll be an early reviewer. Plan a series of guest posts, podcasts, interviews and articles around your subject area (I know this is a big ask) so that in your 2 weeks window of publicity, you are unavoidable.
NUMBER 3 BECOME UNAVOIDABLE IN SHORT BURSTS
Credit: Mike Enerio, Unsplash
Your aim during your publicity windows is to use the momentum of all the goodwill you’ve built so far (you started early remember!) to let your audience know your message, your personal story.
For non-fiction, it could be: How to get the body you want in 4 hours
For fiction, it might be: A Thriller better than Girl on a Train
The goal? To have people talking about you, recommending your book.
Which means you need lots of great, honest reviews, and a series of interviews, articles with you, the author.
Now, I don’t have a perfect one-size-fits-all plan for you, everyone’s plan is different, but I spoke to my friend, who used to be the Marketing Director at Random House, and here is a rough guideline to how you might structure your launch plan (during the windows of promotion) although you have to tweak based on what you’re trying to achieve.
60% reaching out to bloggers & press
30% offline meeting potential readers (e.g.bloggers at conferences, writers at festivals, children in schools, bookshop signings)
10% Advertising spend
What I've seen work? Tim Ferriss' approach to being 'unavoidable' in his publicity windows. Philip Ardagh the UK children's writer, relentlessly doing events at schools, literary festivals. Gary Vaynerchuk's documenting of his journey led to phenomenal sales of his book.
We're in an era of change when old media is being overtaken by new channels Medium, Instagram, Snapchat...
So cast your net wide during this period, be unavoidable.
To do this you might be reaching out 4-6 months in advance. Even as far as a year in advance you might attend conferences and spread the word.
If you can stretch to it, set a budget for Facebook Ads to help boost your profile during your publicity window, but again, you have to experiment with this and see if it delivers you the right results.
So to recap…
- Build a Tribe - tap into the community who will be your early supporters
- Start this process earlier than you think but be strict with your time. Don’t use it as an excuse to procrastinate
- Plan your long-term launch in good time so that when you do need to promote, you can be unavoidable in short burst
For inspiration on building Tribes & social media, I suggest you watch wider Seth’s Talk on Tribes (at 10min 35 he mentions authors but I recommend you watch the whole video) and Gary Vee’s advice on promoting a book on social media.
It was around 2009, I was an editor at Quercus, and a young adult author Cat Clarke was publishing her debut novel with us. We were still 6 months from publication, and my inbox was getting what I thought was a series of spam email. Entangled by Cat Clarke Turns out I was getting emails…Read More
Interview with an editor: Why I turned down books I loved and what to do if you are rejected by a Publisher
A first in the series of Publishing Uncovered interviews. Our first interview is with Kirsten Armstrong, a former editor at Penguin Random House Kirsten worked as an editor for 7 years, including at David Fickling Books and Penguin Random House. After editing hundreds of children’s fiction books, she now works as Creative Manager at…Read More
‘Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.’ Groucho Marx Tim Ferriss, Ramit Sethi, Gary Vaynerchuk, James Altucher and Seth Godin are Titans of Publishing. In my research about bestselling authors, their names kept coming up. Who are they? And they’re all entrepreneurs-turned-authors. They write…Read More
I was recently invited to a party by a good friend of mine. An entrepreneur. I arrived late and stood at the edge of the room. I’ve worked with startups in my previous jobs, and I’ve been to a gazillion entrepreneur events, they sort of blend into a blur of bland pitches and egos. But…Read More
A first in the series of Publishing Uncovered interviews. Our first interview is with Kirsten Armstrong, a former editor at Penguin Random House
Kirsten worked as an editor for 7 years, including at David Fickling Books and Penguin Random House. After editing hundreds of children’s fiction books, she now works as Creative Manager at Unicef where her job is to bring real children’s stories to life.
A year ago you were an editor at Penguin Random House: tell me about some of the authors you worked with’?
Kirsten: I edited many fantastic authors, ranging from established bestsellers to debut writers. I was incredibly privileged to work with the late great Sir Terry Pratchett on his later children’s publishing, including Dodger, Dragons at Crumbling Castle, The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and The Shepherd’s Crown.
I also edited Andy McNab’s action-packed books for young adults, featuring battles, blood and bullets; I worked with Jamila Gavin on a beautiful fairytale collection; I even found myself working on abridging Bradley Wiggins’s autobiography for children.
How many submissions did you get a week? How many could you actually read?
Kirsten: Our editorial team would get anywhere between 10–30 submissions a week, depending on the time of year and whether a book fair was taking place. At any given time, I’d have around 8 submissions queued on my Kindle. I would try to read at least the first three chapters.
I prioritised ‘buzz books’ that I knew might get snapped up quickly. As an editor you build relationships with individual agents, so they have a good idea of your personal literary tastes and what you are looking to commission. So submissions from certain agents would get bumped to the top of my reading pile, as I knew the material they sent would be more relevant to me.
Editors turn down manuscripts they love, right? Do you remember you doing that? Why did you turn it down?
Kirsten: Sadly I’ve had to turn down a number of books that I thought were brilliant. A lot of it depends on your acquiring remit and the focus of your publishing house.
I once fought hard to acquire a book that I loved — a very brave, literary YA that I felt was incredibly powerful. But to secure in-house support I needed to be able to edit the manuscript to make it more commercial, and we would have needed the opportunity to buy certain rights in order to make the P&L sheet look healthy enough to get signed off.
Ultimately we were unable to offer for the rights we wanted, and so the business case just wasn’t strong enough. Also, after exploring potential edits with the author, it became apparent that they felt strongly about changing certain parts of their story.
While their reasons were completely understandable, I felt that the changes suggested would have enabled the book to reach a bigger audience. I still think that the submission had incredible potential — I remember it vividly many years later — but as a result of these factors I had to turn it down.
It’s easy to romanticise the publishing industry — after all, there is certainly more than a pinch of magic to be found in the incredible story or first finished copy that has just landed on your desk.
But publishing is fundamentally a business, and for the industry to survive it needs to make money. So even if a submission was really strong, I needed to ask other questions: what would be a realistic sales level, based on the market? Is there a knock-out USP or story hook that would help the publicity team create a splash around the book? What level of advance would we need to pay to secure the rights we wanted? How are similar books performing in the market?
Are there colleagues who share my passion for this project, who would help me champion the book internally? Based on all this, what financial margin do I think this book could make? And am I so convinced of this book’s potential for success that I would invest all my own money in it?
There are always exceptions to the rules, and editorial passion can go far to galvanise a sales team. But as the industry faces increasing pressures, business considerations come to the fore.
Would you recommend that authors submit directly to publishing houses or to agents? Why?
Kirsten: Always submit to agents. They will leverage their networks to give your manuscript the greatest possible opportunity. The best agents will also provide early-stage editorial feedback, so your manuscript is in the best state possible when it’s sent out to editors.
Becoming a published author is a lonely and sometimes challenging experience, and so agents can be an invaluable source of moral support — as well as using their expertise to negotiate the best deal for you when it comes to advances and royalties.
What advice would you give an author who is getting rejected from publishing houses and/ or agents
Stay positive. As I said earlier, there could be all sorts of factors at play, and it isn’t necessarily a reflection on your writing ability and talent.
Listen to the feedback you are receiving, and if you are consistently hearing the same comments then try to take them on board. However, if you fundamentally don’t want to change your manuscript, or if you have exhausted all your contacts, it may well be worth exploring self-publishing.
I think a lot of it depends on your motivation for writing. If you simply want to share your ideas with readers, go for it and self-publish. If you want to become rich from writing then stop right there! Regardless of how you become published, the reality is that very few authors make a lot of money from it. Most have part-time or even full-time jobs alongside their writing. Write because you are passionate about it, and have ideas you want to share.
Do publishing houses always get it right, with what they accept?
Kirsten: No! There’s always a risk in accepting any manuscript. Even with vigorous interrogation, there are some books that end up losing the company lots of money — and others that got away and went on to perform brilliantly elsewhere.
What would you say to writers who have been rejected but are still keen to be published by a traditional publishing house?
Kirsten: Read widely and get to grips with the market. Build a social media following — having a good Twitter network can help to reassure an editor that you will be proactive in promoting your book but don’t prioritise it.
And develop a thick skin — if your manuscript is acquired by a publisher, it must go from being a purely personal work to a creative collaboration.
Even the strongest manuscript will be subject to some editorial changes. An editor is there to preempt any negative comments that a reader might have, and to give your book the best chance of getting stocked in bookshops and into the hands of readers.
You may not always agree with their suggestions, but remember they are on your side and want the book to be a success just as much as you do.
‘Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.’ Groucho Marx
Tim Ferriss, Ramit Sethi, Gary Vaynerchuk, James Altucher and Seth Godin are Titans of Publishing. In my research about bestselling authors, their names kept coming up.
Who are they? And they’re all entrepreneurs-turned-authors. They write compelling non-fiction, how-to guides or insightful commentary.
They are talked about all over the internet. They use blogs, emails, podcasts and books. They are sought after at conferences, they are celebrities, their customers will buy books and courses and sign up for conferences on their name alone.
What strategies do they use that you could also use?
So this is what this post is all about. I’m going to give you an overview of what these mavericks did and how you can apply this to your book writing and marketing strategy today.
STEP 1: LOOK BEYOND THE BOOK, BE CLEAR ABOUT THE IDEA YOU WANT TO SPREAD. MAKE IT A F***ING GREAT IDEA.
Credit: Riley Mccullough, Unsplash
Seth Godin nails this. He says that books are vehicles for ideas. Being a non-fiction author is about spreading ideas and starting a movement around your belief.
You have to accept that putting your writing out there is no longer difficult. What’s difficult is getting someone who encounters your writing to share it with someone else. — Seth Godin
It’s obvious but I have to say it. A shareable idea won’t have a chance of liftoff if you’re not 110% passionate about it. The super successful books by entrepreneurs are about subjects that they live and breathe: e.g. Tim Ferris writes about lifestyle design, Seth Godin writes about creating remarkable work, James Altucher writes about being happy and being free.
All these authors are platform agnostic. They publish on lots of platforms, including books. Which makes sense, don’t you think? Today we consume media over multiple platforms and devices.
The ‘book’ itself is less important than the message. So, don’t get hung up on tactics about which format might go first, simply repeat it across multiple platforms including blogs, ebook, paper, audio, video.
Your book must help solve problems that people have. Your number one focus at this stage should be influence. Worry about money and sales later — this will come as you are seen as an authority in your field (from agriculture to property, writing, baking etc)
Don’t get hung up on the format, experiment with one format: physical and ebook book, audio, other products as well. Don’t go in expecting to make millions from your book immediately (this will come with time, but go with the determination that you will give massive value. Publishing a book is great for building a brand for yourself and help grow your business but it’s unlikely to happen overnight.
STEP 2: YOU WANT A BESTSELLER? LEAD YOUR TRIBE
Credit: Anthony Delanoix, Unsplash
“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” — Seth Godin
Bestselling non-fiction writers have tribes behind them. Readers who are impacted and influenced by their message.
So you need a following. But it doesn’t have to be tens of thousands or even millions.
Both Ramit and Tim talk about Kevin Kelly’s marketing advice: the true fan rule.
The True Fan Rule: You only need, a ballpark figure of 1000 true fans to make a living from your work.
What is a true fan? Someone who will buy whatever you make, travel the world to meet you or hear you speak, someone who is your superfan. Kevin’s logic is that if you can make $100 per true fan, you will make a ballpark 100k which is enough for most people to sustain themselves.
Kevin argues that having 1000 true fans is enough momentum to push your fanbase to 2000, 5000, 10000. It’s the start of your journey to building your community. Depending on your profession and expertise this figure will vary. If you specialise in something super esoteric like creating Japanese Gardens, you might need less. If it’s helping executives break free from the 9–5 grind, then it might be higher, as it’s a larger niche.
Whether this is your first, second or tenth book it’ll be your true fans that will pre-order your book and give you reviews and recommend your books to their friends. They are the foundation of the tribe that you need to build.
If you’re a business you will have or want to have a tribe already. A tribe consists of the people that your message is for, who is yours? Perhaps, entrepreneurs or frustrated writers or college graduates or stay-at-home mothers?
STEP 3: DON’T TAKE THE SHORTCUT. TAKE THE LONG CUT
Credit: Pablo Garcia Saldana, Unsplash
“The longcut is truly the quickest route to get to where you want to. The longcut is the Beatles playing in hamburg, the longcut is ‘what does this community need and how do I do a piece of work that matters, that’s difficult.” — Seth Godin
Nothing good comes quickly. If you wanted to you could churn out a 20–40 page book and publish it on Amazon. Maybe you’d make a few thousand dollars, maybe a few more with some clever marketing and persistent hard work. If you game the system you could even hit a niche category bestseller status for an hour or a day.
But here’s a better scenario: what if your book sells itself, not just for a year or two years but for decades? Rather than sending your poorly-selling book to conference organiser to get speaking gigs, you get so many invites that you have to start turning the invites down? To get this sort of result you need to play the long game.
To really make an impact, you have to create material is miles better than the everyone else. It’s better to spend an extra few months or even a year creating truly evergreen content than mediocre work.
You do this by researching what in the market, and improving on it, consolidating what’s already out there on your topic, in your niche and adding your own flavour. And you need to speak to your audience specifically, not to everyone, but the people that you know need and want to hear what you have to say.
Ramit Sethi, Seth Godin and Tim Ferriss are masters of doing this:
- Tim Ferriss talks about how his first draft of the 4HWW being “stilted and pompous and using $10-words where 10 cent-words would suffice.” His solution? He “drank wine, sat down, and literally opened up an email client and started typing The 4-Hour Workweek as if I were writing it to two of my closest friends.”
- Seth Godin talks about how he keeps his chapters to 2–3 pages to reflect how our attention spans today.
- Ramit Sethi says he spent over 6 months on just plotting the book to get it right. He says it wasn’t easy and he felt like giving up.
- There are the exceptions who can write for 10 days and churn out a wonderful book (Seth’s Ideavirus was an exception, even for him) but it’s dependent on the person and the idea.
We’re part of a culture that gives us meaningless likes and hearts for short pithy statements. And our senses love the rush of being validated this way. But to create meaningful work, dig deeper, put your toys away and do the hard work to create something remarkable. You should be pushing yourself to write the best content you can.
While writing your book, consider ways that you can share your message now. Start giving away material and advice NOW to help build your tribe. Most businesses blog, but it’s common for this to be delegated to an intern, or whipped up in a few hours. It’s better to create posts that are definitive guides on a topic.
“There are three steps: write, ship, share. The more you write and ship and share, the more people will come to depend on what you’re doing and the easier it’s going to be to spread your ideas. At some point, people will come to you and say, ‘I’m not getting enough of what you’re doing. Here’s some money’, or ‘I’m not getting enough of what you’re doing. Please come speak to my group’, or ‘I’m not getting enough of what you’re doing. Please coach me so I can do it too.’ But none of that happens until you write and ship and share.” — Seth Godin
If you liked this piece, say hello and let me know what challenges you're having publishing your book.
Do you have any tips for being a better writer? Leave me a comment or give me a shout-out on Twitter!
I was recently invited to a party by a good friend of mine. An entrepreneur.
I arrived late and stood at the edge of the room. I've worked with startups in my previous jobs, and I've been to a gazillion entrepreneur events, they sort of blend into a blur of bland pitches and egos.
But there were two things I noticed about this particular crowd. Something I haven't seen before.
1. Almost all of them had laser focused pitches.
I'm a high-end life coach
We provide personalised fitness plans based on your DNA
I'm a peak performance coach
Not everyone can get away with making bold claims, but these entrepreneurs sounded sincere, authentic and they spoke with no hesitation.
2. Most of them were also authors.
They were proud to say they were self-published, and all were doing very, very well.
My friend later told me that they had been on the same course about cementing authority (KPI programme).
This was new to me.
I mean, sure, I knew a bit about self-publishing (Joanna Penn, Taylor Pearson had already impressed me with their books) but this bunch turned me around on self-publishing. Their drive, their persistence.
I wanted to dig deeper into what these entrepreneurs were gaining, in real terms from their books. After all, they were super busy running businesses, did a book really make a difference?
I interviewed 10 of them on the phone and over coffee. I asked them why entrepreneurs should write books. And for the purposes of making this readable, I separated their answers into 3 buckets.
The first is obvious, the second was interesting and the third I didn’t expect.
#1. Your book is talking to potential fans, friends and customers while you sleep
Having content, videos and books with your message and voice help you reach more people, at scale. Leanne Spencer, Founder of Bodyshot, offers fitness and nutrition based on genetics and DNA profiling. She explained that more often than not, by the time she had met a potential client, they had bypassed the introductions. Why? Because they had read about her, understood her philosophy and method through her online presence and her books.
So what is the potential impact of someone having access to so much of your content?
Daniel Priestly, author of Oversubscribed explains that it takes, on average 7 hours to make a big decision. This happens in business and is part of the process of taking a client through the sales funnel. Think about the hours spent building relationships with clients? In Japan, businessmen entertain and socialise with clients for hours before even discussing a deal. There’s a psychology to this.
“After you have a 7hr+ relationship two great things happen. Firstly, you don’t feel uneasy offering something of value and secondly, you are less likely to blow the relationship by offering something you don’t fully believe in… Strangely, the human brain can’t distinguish between digital media and real life (which is why we still feel sad when a celebrity dies even though we didn’t ever really meet them)” — Daniel Priestly, Oversubscribed
Using content, blogs, videos and books to distribute your message helps to do this at scale. If a blog or video offers an introduction to you and your message, a book is the second step, the equivalent of getting inside your head and understanding your mind. The third step is to meet you in person.
#2. Being a ‘best-selling’ author can boost your authority. Result? More speaking opportunities, more leads.
What do you send a conference organiser? Online links? A business card? How about a book? For all the entrepreneurs I spoke to, having a book made meant getting better speaking opportunities and more organic invites. It goes without saying that if your book doesn’t add value to the topics you’re writing about, then you’re wasting your time. But entrepreneurs like the elite coach and trainer Jean-Pierre de Villiers have used books to boost their brand and business. He is now one of the UK’s highest paid personal coaches.
Authors like Tim Ferris and James Altucher have hit and maintained bestseller status, which is a level that most authors find difficult to achieve. Some of the authors I spoke to had momentarily hit ‘**bestseller’ status but no one was earning more than 20k annually from their books. Not yet. However, almost all recognised that they had muddled through the process but were confident that subsequent books would read and sell better. All were working on 2nd and 3rd books and all of them saw Amazon as another platform to reach their potential allies, fans and customers. Only 30% were natural writers. The rest used grit, perseverance and a reached out for help including paying for professional editors. **Being a best-seller is a whole topic in itself, something I’ll cover later. But it’s enough to know that even if you’re not top of the pile in the Amazon charts, it’s worth considering writing a book.
#3. Writing will help you clarify your mission, your philosophy. Don’t underestimate how powerful this is.
What does your company truly stand for? Robin Waite, author of Startup Online said that the process of writing helped him his systems and belief.
The world’s most influential companies lead with their mission statements. com. Can you guess who they are?
“To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”
“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world”
“To create a better everyday life for the many people. We make this possible by offering a wide range of well-designed, functional home-furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them”
“Provide a global online marketplace where practically anyone can trade practically anything, enabling economic opportunity around the world”
These are mission Statements from Google, Nike, Ikea, Ebay. Having a clear sense of purpose is important. Connect with your customers to show them what you care about and how you’re making the world a better place.
If you want to stand out in a world of content, you need to underline your expertise. Publishing a book is not just putting your thoughts on a blog post. It’s an event. It shows your best-curated thoughts and it shows customers, clients, investors, friends and lovers what the most important things on your mind are right now — James Altucher, blogger, investor and author of bestselling title Choose Yourself
Do you know what your business stands for? Can you articulate it clearly? If you're thinking about writing a book, what is stopping you?