I've created an annual reading challenge for authors to grow their business and craft. I am sharing it becuase we are all in this together. You could probably apply it to any creative business with just a few adjustments.
As authors, we are no strangers to project management. We use it in all aspects of writing from planning the book to planning the book tour. But I feel like many authors don't do much planning when it comes to their website. We get tangled in all the things we are expected to have on a website between our blog and book buying links, back links to other resources and all the other attention-grabbing elements that are part of our brand. Often, we miss mark of creating a balance between usability and information access.
This is where project management even for your website becomes important. Planning the steps by creating a task list, research, monitoring progress and budget, implementation and review. Will help you fit the most important elements in a way that makes sense as well as decide where best to spend your budget, especially if it is a tight one. For example, if you only have $100 a month to spend, you need to know if you want to spend $20 a month on blogging images, or $20 a month on a newsletter list tool.
I suggest using a process called wire framing to outline the pages and plan each tag, hyperlink and button making sure you have everything you need to be successful and drive traffic and sales the way you hope to in the time frame you need them. I know you are thinking your time would be better spent planning the next book. But consider this, your website is the hub of your brand. It is the thing that all social media and platforms like Goodreads, Amazon and the like point to, your virtual store front if you will. Don't you think it warrants the same consideration any other large part of your business plan receives?
Networking and personal branding has always been hard for me. I have no problem walking up and saying hi to someone, especially if they are holding a cute baby, or puppy, or planner, something I can relate to. When that happens, just try to get me to shut up. It’s the next step that is difficult for me. The part when they say hi back and are holding your hand in a friendly shake looking at you expectantly. Bridging the moment between introduction and elevator pitch is like crossing the Grand Canyon for me. And I think it’s that way for many authors.
By nature, authors spend a lot of time alone in our heads. It’s what we do. But, being an author is not exactly a solitary job anymore. You have to get out there and mingle to sell books. Every once in a while we see an opportunity and jump on it, but have you ever been on a rope bridge? That is how those fleeting moments feel to me. I want a more solid, reliable way to cross that cavern. That bridge has come in the form of networking.
The very first day of school I asked my marketing instructor, “How do I stand out in a saturated market?” He answered, “In a world full of barking dogs, be a cat.” Okay, so do I walk around meowing, looking for a can of tuna? All semester I have been wondering what does that mean? Then, this week two of my classes tackled the topic of networking simultaneously. And the curtains flew back letting in the light! AaHaaaaaaaa!
I’ve been studying networking all week and really thinking about how it applies to us solitary authors holed up in our office or local coffee shop doing our thing. How do you network when you are literally alone? Well first of all, you get out of the mind set about trying to sell your book to every person who walks by. I have this term I like to use called ‘carnival barking’. You can’t sell books if the people walking by hear “Step right up, I’ve got something for you to see. Don’t miss out.” Do you know how many times I get an email or a post in my feed that actually uses the words “Don’t miss out”? It’s obscene. Instead focus on building a bridge (network) to people who care about the same things you care about (brand). See what I did right there?
Don’t run away screaming because I used that word from the 50’s that brings up connotations of men in smoky back rooms with sweaty handshakes wearing funny hats wheeling and dealing. That is not networking. That is film noir and if you come across it in real life, run. It ends badly for the innocent. No, networking is much easier than you think. Let’s say it again… Build a bridge to people who care about what you care about. Network to your tribe around your brand. Get it?
So how does a person who is used to solitary confinement network? As it turns out, the answer is pretty simple. Service. You may not be a Chatty Kathy, but you know how to help people right? Build bridges and leave them up for cross traffic. For example, I write zombie romance novels. If I find someone doing research on bug out bags, or survival bags in my snowmobile group and I say hey, I know a thing or two about bugging out and help them. The fact that I write zombie novels is just a happy side note. Then when a friend mentions they love a good zombie book, the person I helped is going to say, I know a lady.
Find people you can be of service to. Solve their problems. Don’t worry about selling them a book right now. You don’t even know if they read, or what they read. Focus on being helpful. In your blog posts, newsletters and online groups, solve a problem. They WILL notice you. 50 Shades didn’t spread like wild fire because everyone stumbled across it. It spread because people were talking about it. Be what people are talking about by building your bridges.
Do authors need to carry insurance for writing? The answer might surprise you.
I read an article this month about independent contractors carrying Professional Liability Insurance. My first thought was I wonder if book designers and editors carry this type of insurance. But I'm an author, I don't need it. Then I got to thinking... or do I? I did some research and the answer may surprise you as much as it did me. Turns out, yeah, yeah I do. And so do you. Self-published and traditionally published, all of us are at risk.
So what is PLI insurance, aka Errors and Omissions Insurance? Well, here I go quoting Forbes again...
"Professional Liability Insurance: this type of insurance is also known as Errors and Omissions Insurance. The policy provides defense and damages for failure to or improperly rendering professional services. Your general liability policy does not provide this protection, so it is important to understand the difference. Professional liability insurance is applicable for any professional firm including lawyers, accountants, consultants, notaries, real estate agents, insurance agents, hair salons and technology providers to name a few..." excerpt from 13 Types of Insurance A Small Business Owner Should Have
Back in 2008 Writer's Digest reported (read here) a general increase in authors being sued for all sorts of things from accidentally plagiarism to copyright infringement and liable. They noted even back then that it wasn't just the self publishing world being effected by this, depending on the contract, authors with traditional publishing house backing them were taking a hit in their royalties when and if the published house got sued because of something they wrote.
In fact The Balance reported a similar article as Forbes in 2017 focused specifically on what types of insurance a writer needs. Sure enough, PLI is at the top of the list.
Why insurance? Because by putting yourself out there, you put everything you have at risk. People get snarky when they feel their rights have been stepped on. Often times that can lead to ugliness even when it was never your intention. Why not protect yourself when all it takes is a phone call to your current insurance agent and a few questions?
I'd love to hear from you in the comments about any experience you have in this area, both good and bad.
Happy writing my friends!
You may have noticed with some of my past posts I am on a new kick. Treating your writing career as a business. Why, you ask? Well, it has come to my attention that the number question for authors is, "How do I sell more books?" It was my question too. So, I decided to go back to school, not to learn to write, but to learn to sell what I have written.
It's only taken one quarter to understand that us authors, being creative types, are looking at things backwards. You want to sell more books? Don't ask yourself, "What would an author do?" Ask instead, "What would a small business do to market themselves?" Because, an author writes (hopefully you have that part down), but a small business SELLS.
Back to the question at hand. How do I sell more books? You must learn to market them as any business must market its product. Oh, that’s a no brainer you say? Really? Then explain why in Forbes magazine's State of Small Business Marketing article published just 6 months ago, they indicate the struggle is real for ALL small businesses? See, it’s not just us.
Let’s hit that switch for a minute, think like small business owners and apply Forbes' points to our own business marketing.
1. Online reviews can help – or hurt - a business.
As authors we tend to take reviews very personally. But Forbes points out, reviews are a powerful tool, both good and bad. They are a direct feed into the customer's mind, point #4, but we’ll get there. Us authors live and die by reviews, yet if we get 10 bad ones we tend to shout "trolls" and "haters", when they are giving us invaluable feedback. They are telling us something is wrong. They can’t all be "haters". It means we need to polish the craft or adjust our marketing techniques to a more appropriate audience. How long would a restaurant who gets tons of bad reviews, without adjusting their service, stay in business? See how adopting a business mindset can improve your view of what is happening?
2. Few small business owners outsource their marketing.
A direct quote form the Forbes article, “Street Fight’s research on small business owners found that among business owners that either do their marketing themselves, delegate it to an internal team, or outsource it to an agency, the owners who do their marketing themselves are the least satisfied with their results.” Sound familiar? How many authors DYI everything, including the marketing?
Do you know why they are least satisfied with their results? Because they/we are not marketing experts. We are world builders and character developers, not marketing executives. In last week’s blog post I said authors/small business owners had to be willing to invest in their own business. Here is the perfect place to do it.
3. Small businesses tend to neglect their websites.
Forbes said it, not me. But, really? There are people out there who still don’t know the power of SEO? As authors we sure do, right? However, when you look at your website, if it were that of an author you’ve never read, would you click through? Would you put the time into searching for the links? Sometimes it’s hard to take the “I’m in love with my own product” goggles off and look at things from a neutral point of view. That’s a great time to get your customers involves and get feedback, which brings me to number #4. I told you we would get there.
4. The customer is priority #1.
Remember those reviews? That’s your customers telling you what they want. Listen to them, interact with them. Get to know them. Do you know who your customer is? Where does she hangout? Do you hang out there too? Are you marketing in the right places? Are they foaming at the moth to buy your next book? Or are they unsubscribing from your daily emails? Listen to them. They are talking to you. Giving the customer what they are looking for will boost your sales as it does for every small business.
5. Facebook is still the social platform to be on.
HA! I knew it. People still hangout on Facebook, they just do it differently as the algorithms change. You are a business not a person, for the purpose of this post, and customers are still looking to Facebook for interaction and information on businesses. I know there are people out there who say Facebook is dying, but have you been on it today? Sure you have. Changing is not the same thing as dying and Facebook Groups and Facebook Live gives us new opportunities to interact with our customers in new ways. It’s not just about the number of follows anymore. Remember number 4? If we are doing that correctly and building a relationship, getting that return business and really connecting with people, then if Facebook does decide to disappear one day it won’t matter, your loyal following will follow you to the next place. Concentrate on the task at hand. Taking care of your customers and building the relationships, not chasing the next best thing.
What can you do different to market your writing like the small business you are, and sell more books? It’s the question we all want answered so if you have any ideas, or thoughts on my interpretation of the Forbes article, I’d love to see them in the comments below.
So you want to be an author, but don't know how to get started?
If you are considering jumping in the deep end of the writing pool, let me be your water wings. Writing can feel like a blind leap of faith into unkown waters for sure. Read and follow these seven tips that all the pros already know, then you too will know what direction to start swiming in when you break the surface.
1.) Read everything you can get your hands on. Stephen King said, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write." It's not because we are a snobby group that thinks you have to jump through our hoops to become one of is. It is because reading hones your writing skills.
2.) Write EVERY day. Yes, every day. I don't care if it is one paragraph. Every day. Writing every day creates a habit. The habit of writing gets you through that dreaded "writer's block", which when you are a professional on a deadline you don’t have time for. Have you ever heard of Surgeons getting surgery block? No? It's a job, one you practice over and over until you become so in tune with it obstacles don’t stop you. You learn ways to work around them.
3) Network. A very wise agent one told me early in my career, "You cannot write in a vacuum." Why? Because you must learn to be a writer. You may believe it is your calling, you may believe you were born with talent. But talent and skill are two different things. You don’t think Leonardo da Vinci sat down and painted the Mona Lisa his first run out, do you? He learned at the feet of other artists until he became a great artist himself. There are many groups you can join, etc. However, take a good look and make sure they are not just back scratching, you give me a shout out and I will give you one. I find in most of those cases, no one is really listening. A good group to join is INKSLINGERS DEN. (okay yes, mine) I have industry professionals come in once a week and do live chats and seminars for free. Yes, that means you can ask a publisher or agent a question in live time. It is free, safe and no strings. We are all in this together.
4) Decide who you are early on. To pen name or not to pen name could be an entire different post. But decide who you will be and as you network (remember #3) do it as this person. The name you will write under. You may not realize it, but as you network, you are already building your tribe. (Side note: Google is your friend. Do a search for that name before you settle on it to make sure there aren’t any famous strippers who share your name.)
5) Claim your universe. Once you know who you are, go out there and grab it. Set up all your social media accounts with the same name so it is easy for your future fans to follow you. If they know you on Facebook, they should easily be able to take that name to Instagram and find you there too, if that is one of your 'hang-outs'.
6) Pick your hats carefully. You cannot be an expert at all things all at once. The number of things we seem to need to learn to do can be overwhelming. Most authors discover it is not all about writing a book. There is designing a website, promotion and marketing and social media networking. It can get overwhelming. But remember first and foremost, you must write. You have to have a book in order to promote it right? Decide if your time is better spent learning the craft of writing or learning the craft of book cover design... Consider farming out some of those hats. Ask around, (another reason for that networking I mentioned earlier) get recommendations. Sometimes a good PA (virtual personal assistant) is worth their weight in gold. Sometimes you meet authors (like me) who have a side business helping with that sort of thing.
7) Get feedback. I am not talking your mom here. Your mom loves you and probably framed the first scribble you ever made. I know this because I framed my kids' scribbles. FEEDBACK. Get a partner, join a writers group, be willing to put yourself out there, and above all else, be willing to learn from what they have to say. Nothing frustrates people more, not just authors any profession really, for someone to say hey I want to learn to do this wonderful thing, how do I get started then be disappointed when they say there is more to it than snapping your fingers.
I am not the final word in writing. However, I get asked once a week how to do it. And I do have three traditionally published books, so I must know one or two things worth sharing. So, this is me sharing. I hope you find it helpful and feel free to ask me anything. I may not have the answer. But chances are I can direct you to a place you can find some.
So let's talk about building a brand. Did you know authors are a brand? Just like the coffee you drink and shampoo you use. It all has a name, yes. But more importantly it has an identity. I bet you thought all an author had to do was throw the words down on paper and crack open o bottle of wine once they type "the end". Nope.
How do you choose a good book? Same way you choose everything else. "Hello Google." You check out theie reviews, their website, their over all presence.
Welcome to modern publishing.
It works that way for every product you use. Google reviews, Amazon reviews, and Yelp lead the way to trusted brands, or lead you away from ones that are lacking. Everything from the lady who does your nails to the car you drive has a brand and an online presense to interact with. Authors are no different. In fact, that is how this author (me) got involved with social media. Building my brand. Letting you know who I am. In that endevor, I have learned that we all struggle to be seen and heard. In additon to having a passion for writing, I've discovered a passion for helping others find their voice in a sea of noise.
Kristen Lamb is an amazing source for authors to work with on branding. She knows her stuff and is full of amazing ideas. She has written books about branding for authors, which I have read and learned a great deal from. She also does speaking engagements and one on one coaching for a fee.
Mel De Paoli does the same thing on a broader scope. She works with everyone, not just authors. Her website walks the walk, including a blog that gives helpful information and tips. There is so much information avaiable on herwebsite, you can't help but learn something. I like how free she is with the insights into the socail media world.
Both these women have built a business based on helping others navagate the open sea of social media. I have decided to go back to school to learn the same. I've built a Facebook group, INKSLINGERS DEN for helping authors and got a taste for it. I intend to learn how to help authors even more and anyone else who needs it. See you in the deep end of the ocean! Who knows, I might even be the one tossing you a lifesaver.
Okay, so the boy get's the girl in the end, it’s considered a “romance” but… did it curl your toes?
What makes a romance novel a romance novel? We all know the answer… the HEA (happily ever after) in the end, right? I say no.
The hero always gets the girl. It’s part of the formula. It’s built right in like the crusty butt of a loaf of bread, you know the piece everyone bypasses to get right into the middle. In a romance novel, the HEA is the accepted inevitability, but that's not why we read the romance novel. Or what makes the romance novel the bestselling genre of the literary world, despite what the well read, highbrow book enthuastis would like to think. Statistics don’t lie. So what keeps us coming back for more if we know how it’s going to end before we even open the cover? Simple....the toe curl factor.
Regardless of what genre romance we might read, we all turn the page for that toe curling factor. That sigh, which a good author can extract even from the hardest shelled bi#@% out there. Because if done right, the words on paper can make us not only sigh, but giggle, loosen our clothes and even sweat a little. I'm not talking about the use of hardcore language and taboo fantasies to shock us out of our underwear. Nothing wrong with that, but that is not a romance novel. It's Erotica, a whole genre of it's own, which has it's place on the bookself when done right. But is it romantic? No.
The toe curl factor I am refering to is the romantic element, which keeps us coming back for more. For example, an author has the hero show up at the heroine’s door with a string of Halloween ghost lights that sing an eerie tune instead of flowers simply because it's October 20th, her favorite holiday is Halloween and all her decorations are packed away from a move. It’s when the hero sees inside her soul. The intimacy of seeing someone so clearly, and instinctively knowing what brings them joy is the very point of romance. Another example...when the hero has to touch his woman, even if it’s just her hair while she sleeps, because he can’t stand the space between them any longer. The hunger, the insatiable need for a connection so deep, is what keeps us turning the page.
The hero always gets the girl in a romance novel, otherwise it would not be considered a romance novel. It would simply be a good book with romantic elements. The toe curl factor is what makes a romance truly a romance novel. And what makes it worthy of a place on my bookshelf is how many times my toes curled while I read it.
Which book curled your toes and got you hooked on romance novels? Tell me about it in the comments below...