Thanks to the Google Alerts that I have set up so that I can track mentions of various book-related terms, I found out that someone had added my book, Pajama School, to the Goodreads website. I had never heard of it before, but after a brief perusal, I was able to submit a request to be listed as a Goodreads author so that I could edit and add content to my page. Within 24 hours, my request was granted, and I just finished setting up a Goodreads Author Page. This looks like another great way for authors and self-publishers to spread the word about their books! If you have a listing on Goodreads, you should let me know so we can connect!
One of the most frequent comments I get when people see my book, Pajama School, is that they LOVE the cover! In fact, I’ve had several people tell me that they purchased the book just because of the cover. And, truth be told, almost without exception in any case, it is the cover that prompts one to take a second look at a book or pick it up off the shelf. For that reason, I think it is absolutely essential that authors who self-publish have a professionally designed book. There is nothing that screams “self-published” louder than an unattractive, amateur cover – and unfortunately there are lots to go around. I freely admit that if I had designed my own cover, it would definitely be included in that category. (Even now, I am horrified to think of what would have happened if I had stuck with my pathetic attempt at designing my own book cover!)
Thankfully, the Lord providentially led me to reconnect with a friend who is an incredibly gifted designer. After a brief e-mail consultation, Hannah Gleghorn agreed to take on the task of designing my book cover. Just take one look at her website and I can guarantee that you will fall in love with her work! Not only are Hannah’s designs gorgeous, but she is absolutely wonderful to work with. She freely offered advice, helped me think through some important design issues, and even spared me from making some bad decisions. And on top of all that, her prices are incredibly reasonable, and worth every penny!
In the same vein, the interior design and layout of a book should not be overlooked. In fact, this is a whole art in itself, in my opinion. I was prepared to tackle this difficult aspect of publishing myself, but oh how glad I am that this is one adventure I opted not to take in my self-publishing journey. My talented and highly qualified friend, Tiffany Hiebert, undertook this job for me and spent hours designing, tweaking, adjusting, and formatting in order to produce a book that is every bit as beautiful on the inside as the outside. The interior is seamlessly integrated with the look and feel of the cover, which definitely makes it stand out beautifully! If you are looking for someone to whom you can contract this part of your book design, I whole-heartedly recommend that you contact Tiffany for a consultation/quote.
It’s certainly not cheap to hire professional designers for the cover and/or interior design of your book, but keep in mind that this is a one-time upfront expense that will last through years and years of book promotion and multiple book printings. This is not an area to “cut corners”! Of course, I haven’t found any area yet in self-publishing where I would advocate “cutting corners.” In my opinion, you must view publishing a book as a long-term investment. It will require a significant amount of money initially, but the return can far outweigh the cost if you make every effort to produce an excellent, professionally designed book (and I’d say it’s a more stable way to invest your money than the stock market right now anyway!).
One of the best pieces of advice I received prior to publishing my book, Pajama School, was that I should carry a box of books around in the trunk of my car. I have sold more books this way than almost any other single marketing initiative. Don’t worry, I’m not advocating setting up shop in your car on a street corner with a homemade sign advertising your books – although who knows, maybe that would work, too! The way this has worked for me is that when I’m at a gathering with friends, invariably someone will ask about my book and comment that they’ve been meaning to purchase a copy, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. So I mention that I just happen to have some out in the back of my car that are available. The person usually perks up at this and is eager to buy one right away!
I also make a point to say something about the new book I’ve released in any conversation with someone I’ve just met. Often this leads to further questions and conversation, and if they seem interested I’ll grab a copy from the car and show it to them. Sometimes this also results in an unexpected sale. So, I pass on this bit of sage advice to all other self-published authors – always be prepared with a box of books in the trunk of your car!
I almost titled my last post, The ABC’s and F of Marketing, because the number one thing that I have learned on a personal level through this whole process of writing and publishing my book, Pajama School, is the value of Failure. Like most people, I have always had an aversion to failure and would do [or not do] whatever was necessary to avoid experiencing it. In many ways, my self-worth was tied to my success in various endeavors. Well, come to find out, particularly in the marketing stage of things, it is absolutely essential to take risks with a high probability of failure – most on a small scale, but some on a large scale. The only thing worse than failure is failing in a very public way!
Here are just a few of the ways I have experienced failure while working on my book project:
- I failed to receive some of the endorsements that I was hopeful I would receive for my book.
- I failed to persuade a desired distributor to carry my book.
- I failed to garner the participation of a particular blogger to help spread the word about my book.
- I failed to get several catalog companies to carry my book.
- I failed to break even on booth space rental at a convention.
- I failed to sell the number of books I expected through a paid advertisement.
- I failed to interest a local bookstore in stocking copies of my book.
- I failed to secure a local book signing event that I proposed.
- I failed to generate the interest I expected in one of my biggest marketing initiatives.
And I’m sure I could come up with plenty more besides!
Although I have read the writings of numerous business leaders who advocate the benefits of failure, there is nothing quite like experiencing it first-hand. And in a convoluted sort of way, I am actually learning to accept and embrace failure because of the tremendous way it has helped me grow and instilled in me a drive and perseverance that I formerly lacked. It opens up a whole new world of ideas and possibilities if you approach each opportunity with an awareness of the risk, but the mindset that regardless of whether it is successful or not, experience will be gained and lessons learned. And maybe you’ll even sell a few books in the process!
It’s been a little over five months now since my book, Pajama School – stories from the life of a homeschool graduate, was released. As hard as all the research, writing, designing, printing, etc. were, I would say, without hesitation, that marketing has been the most challenging part of this whole self-publishing business! However, I have learned SO much, and so far I’m still really glad that I chose to go the self-publishing route.
After months of random and eclectic marketing efforts, I’ve finally boiled my personal marketing philosophy into a simple ABC list:
Aggressive – always be on the lookout for new opportunities and approaches. Every time I have a conversation with someone and they recommend a certain connection or idea, I write the information down and try to follow-up on it. This alone has resulted in some excellent connections and successful efforts. Above all, you can’t just wait for sales to come to you; it is essential that you brainstorm new ideas and try them out. Always be learning, connecting, and informing others about your book/product. Seek to increase your visibility in every way possible. You never know when it may be just what someone was looking for!
Blessing – look for ways to provide value for others. Everyone has many things competing for their attention on a daily basis. Rather than just trying to “sell” your book/product to them, ask yourself how you can do something that will integrate into their life and meet a need. Of course, foundationally, you must believe that your book or product itself will do this, but there are also lots of other creative ways to add value to people’s lives. This was the primary impetus behind the Pajama School Promo Video contest that I’m sponsoring.
Consistent – this is the hardest part! One thing that I’m recognizing more and more is the necessity of following-up on various marketing initiatives. Particularly in dealing with other people, it’s not enough to just send information and then sit around waiting for a response. You have to keep track of time tables, make the effort to get back in touch, motivate them to do what you’re asking of them, and then be willing to help see it through to completion. I tend to neglect this step more than any of the others because I don’t want to seem pushy or annoying. But if you haven’t received a negative response or rejection, chances are there is some level of interest and you just have to help translate that interest into action. Develop a good system that will enable you to manage contacts efficiently and see plans and ideas through to completion. [And then once you have this system figured out, contact me and let me know what it is so that I can use it, too! :-D]
Surprisingly, I really am learning to love the challenge of marketing and see it as an opportunity for creativity, personal development, and investing in the lives of others, rather than merely as a necessary evil in order to sell my books. And it’s a good thing, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to keep doing this the rest of my life in order to sell all my books!
I know I’ve been terribly negligent in keeping up this blog lately. There are a ton of things that I would like to add here that I’ve learned over the last couple of months, but for now I just want to give you a link to a wonderfully concise list of the parts that should be included in a book. Check out this great post by Todd Rutherford: Book Nuts and Bolts.
Every self-published author MUST know these parts of a book! And can I please just put in a special plug for the book foreword. There is nothing that screams “ignorant self-publisher” louder than picking up a book and seeing the foreward. I know this from personal experience – I was at a conference a while back and picked up a book written by the speaker. As I was flipping through it, the heading Foreward glared at me from the page. I know this will expose me as a book snob, but I put the book back on the table and refused to buy it. If an author/self-publisher hasn’t done enough research to at least get a basic thing like the spelling of Foreword correct, I can’t help but think that the rest of the book may lack elements of quality and excellence as well.
So, my fundamental piece of advice to all aspiring self-publishers is to do your research. There’s a reason self-publishing has earned a bad rap; many people don’t put in the time, effort, and resources to produce quality work – whether it be editing, cover design, page layout, printing, content organization, etc. I say, let’s do our part to change the perception of self-publishing!