Penn Attracts Readers to Books

Joanna Penn, How to Market a BookPenn Attracts Readers to Books

Joanna Penn. 2017. How to Market a Book. Bath, UK: Curl Up Press.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the banes of postmodern life is that successful professionals must communicate effectively across multiple media. Communication is more important than ever because technology has made all of us more productive. If one 2017 professional can now do the work of a dozen 1960 professionals, then that professional effectively functions as a team, including the team manager. Production, marketing, and sales all need to be done by that one professional. As an economist, I faced this challenge; it has only gotten worse now that I am an author and publisher.

Introduction

Joanna Penn in her new book, How to Market a Book, advises authors on trends in marketing and sales of self-published books. She sees five non-negotiable activities for all book marketing:

  1. Make sure that your book is the best it can be…
  2. Identify your comparison books and authors.
  3. Optimize your book sales page…
  4. …use paid promotions to send readers to your book page.
  5. …set up a professional looking website and an email list sign up. (281-282)

In my experience, each of these activities can keep you busy. During the past year, for example, I spent more than six months working with different webmasters to upgrade my three websites (T2Pneuma.net, T2Pneuma.com, and StephenWHiemstra.net), which is Penn’s item 5. Meanwhile, I spent an equal amount of time moving my titles from exclusively with one printer to be jointly with another printer, Penn item 1. These two activities ostensibly prepared me to be more effective in my promotions, Penn item 4.

Who is Joanna Penn?

Penn is an interesting writer for self-publishers to pay attention to because she is one of the few authors who has succeeded in quitting her day job and living off the proceeds of her writing. Less than five percent (one in twenty) of independent authors sell a thousand books (I have sold about six hundred) which implies that even fewer authors have broken even on their book sales. Most independent authors are supported by a dhealthy or by a spouse. By her own accounts, Penn started seriously writing in 2006 and quit her job in 2011, five years later (7-9). This track record makes Penn a credible source of recommendations for how to succeed in self-publishing.

A Healthy Mindset

Part of Penn’s success arises because of a heathy mindset. She writes: “marketing is sharing what you love with people who will appreciate hearing about it.” (13) This mindset is a form of “attraction marketing” which means that you find out what people want and offer it to them.

Why is this important? Two reasons stand out.

Attraction Marketing

First, when I studied marketing in the 1970s and early 1980s, I was taught “push marketing”. Push marketing means that the firm bought advertising and pushed it out to the reading, listening, and viewing public. Attraction marketing is new and many people have not yet caught on to it. Penn has done her homework which is an important reason for her success.

The Mindset Advantage

Second, Penn mindset comes as a relief for those of us who doubt our own credibility as authors. It is one thing to write a book; it is another to believe that anyone other than your mother would want to read it. This fear of being an unworthy author is pervasive and it prevents many authors from succeeding in their marketing. Penn mindset shows that she believes in herself and does not get in a muddle in reaching out to others who will appreciate her writing.

The Book Launch Thing

Another gem arises when Penn writes that “marketing is more than a book launch” (20). While I have learned to sell books in person and online, my failure to have a great book launch has always bothered me. Penn offers an important piece of background information on this point.

 Traditional Publishers Focus on the Launch

Traditional publishers, who work with retailers to stock and toss books all the time, focus on the book launch because they have limited time and resources to devote to each book. The launch is coordinated with a media campaign and a month later they are on to another book.

For small publishers who have no retail connections, no publicity team, and no media budget cannot easily host a successful launch following this model and probably should not try. Book marketing is more of a marathon than a sprint for the small publisher because resources are tight, relationships need to be built, and learning is an ongoing necessity.

Assessment

Joanna Penn’s How to Market a Book is a useful, readable, and timely book for authors who publish. I found her comments on podcasting and publishing audio books particularly insightful. Perhaps you will too.

[1] http://CurlUpPress.com. www.TheCreativePenn.com. https:/JFPenn.com. @TheCreativePenn.

 

Also see:

Penn Whispers to Professional Speakers 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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Scott Writes Pro Email Newsletters

email_marketing_review_10032016Eric J. Scott.  2016.  Email Marketing: Tips and Tricks to Increase Credibility. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The first widely circulated, bound book (a codex)[1] was the Greek New Testament; the first major, printed book (circa 1455 AD) was the Guttenberg Bible.[2] In both instances, Christians were early adopters of new technologies and used them to advance their evangelism. For example, the codex was important to missionaries because it was easier to transport than a scroll; the Guttenberg Bible was a priority for protestant reformers because Bible was considered to be the sole authority for the church’s teaching. In today’s environment it is therefore not surprising to see evangelists and churches being quick to exploit email and other social media in promoting the Gospel. But, how is that best done?

In his book, Email Marketing, Eric Scott observes these business values as helping establish credibility in email marketing:

  1. “Precipitate positive change in the world.
  2. Resolve all types of issues…
  3. Be a moral agency.
  4. Generate enthusiasm in employees and clients.
  5. Make things happen. Have a positive outlook…” (2-3)

Supporting these values are internet standards like:

  1. “Customer service—how you treat your clients.
  2. Transactions—the amount of time purchases take or the way they are handled.
  3. Handling of currency—the protocol you follow in case of theft, where you store money, and who is allowed to handle the money.
  4. Client demands—the requests of your customers.
  5. Marketing—the way you advertise your company.
  6. Organizational tasks…” (3)

The drift in all of this is that in an environment where time is precious and expectations are high, many details are involved in establishing the trust of customers. Scott observes: “People these days see everything as black and white. You are either trustworthy or not.” (4) Today’s readers are a tough crowd to please.

Although I have had an email newsletter since my early seminary days (circle 2009), I never really understood how to use the medium properly. When I graduated in 2013, I had three separate lists of supporters who I would write periodically which I merged into a common list and started using MailChimp to manage each month. I established a blog (T2Pneuma.net) with the hope that my email readers would migrate to it, but really few did. Email remains more familiar to people and, because they resisted migrating to the blog, I got into the habit of writing both a monthly newsletter and the blog. Only in the past couple months did I come to realize that I needed to focus more on the newsletter and treat it as central to reaching my most dedicated readers. This realization led me to Scott’s book, which  focuses on email marketing.

Scott’s tips are priceless and it is helpful to think of the book as posing a conversation with you about your email practices. For example, Scott writes: “In your welcome email, make sure you have an about you.” (20) I certainly did not have an “about you” in my welcome email (which I crafted only last week), in part, because I have always written to an audience of friends and family who obviously know me. As I encourage other readers that I do not know me personally to read my newsletter, it is helpful to insert this “about you”, even if ever so brief. In some sense, Scott’s book substitutes for the lack of a consultant able to tell me such things.

Some of my email hang ups arise because my identity as an author is changing. As I have upgraded my internet presence to reflect a “professional author” persona, attitudes about merchandising need to be amended. For example, my newsletter (and my publisher Facebook account) now sport buttons encouraging readers to purchase my books, which Scott certainly encourages (21). However, surprisingly he cautions the newsletter writer to focus on being a friend (24). Friends are helpful; friends are truthful; friends are, in a word, friendly. (25-27) This advice transfers across technologies. Other authors encourage online entrepreneurs to be social on social media, rather than treat social media like another advertising forum.

Scott’s tips are in many ways confirmation of many of the practices that I have evolved myself over the past few years. For example, he cites the “90/10 rule” which reads that 90 percent of your content should be helpful advice and other things while only 10 percent should consist of sales pitches (36). This rule is, in effect, an application of the social part of social media.

Eric Scott’s Email Marketing is a helpful book. The focus on building credibility with your audience is actually critical when you consider how easy it is to unsubscribe from a newsletter—reminders are help. Scott’s book is short and easy to read, but don’t discount its content. Newsletter writers will want to take a look.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gutenberg_Bible.

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Grahl Connects Authors to Fans to Books

tim_grahl_review_09162016Tim Grahl. 2013. Your First 1,000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book.  Lynchburg: Out:Think Group.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The word on the street is that less than 5 percent of self-published authors sell 1,000 books. Most sell none at all which means that the first book sold, even to your mother, is a critical threshold. Thus, when I noticed a book entitled—Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl—it got my attention and I bought a copy.

Grahl[2] writes:

“This short book will solve that problem [knowing how to sell] by providing a clear, actionable and proven system to author platform building…A platform is whatever plan and method you use to connect with your readers and sell books, whether it’s traveling the world to speak, hand-selling to friends or building a popular blog.” (ii)

This is a big promise for a small book so what is the plan? Grahl calls it his “connection system” which he describes as:

“Our journey into online platform building will start with the best way to get Permission to communicate regularly with your fans. Then we will discuss how to engage your readers through Content that you will make freely and widely available. Once you have permission and content, we will examine how to find and connect with new readers through Outreach. Finally, we will talk about how you use Permission, Content, and Outreach to naturally and ethically Sell your books.” (iii)

A couple of very interesting principles are mentioned in Grahl’s system. For example, the idea of permission means that this system is not your traditional marketing framework which assumes that you are selling to people that you do not personally know at any level. Fans know you and you know your fans at least well enough that they have trusted their personal email address to you. In fact, Grahl redefines marketing as two things: ”(1) creating  long-lasting connections with people through (2)…being relentlessly helpful” (8-11) They are willing to trust you in this case because they have read your free content and identified with it helping solve one of their problems.

After a chapter about marketing, Grahl’s book is organized around how to apply these principles in your own connection system. Let me turn to each in turn.

Permission. After reviewing options in social media, Grahl highlights developing an email list as an author’s first priority (27).  Two reasons stand out: (1) you as author control the list and (2) people read their email daily. With other social media, access to your contacts is controlled by a firm which may or may not allow you direct access and people are much less committed to actually reading the content provided.

Grahl suggests using an email service—MailChimp, Aweber or Constant Contact (28)—and suggests making the signup process both obvious and compelling. He sees the most obvious signup mechanism as a popup box, delayed 20 seconds to assure that your website visitor is actually engaged, not just passing through (36-38). He sees compelling content in your newsletter as the primary way to keep readers engaged and willing to come back (38-39).

Content. Free is everyone’s favorite price, but authors know that free can be costly. Grahl sees 3 reasons why free content is essential:

  1. It allows people to interact with your content before signing up,
  2. It gives other bloggers, journalists, and other publishers something to link to and publicize your work, and
  3. It gives search engines, like Google, something to index so that people can find your work (51-52).

In other words, your free content helps make your work discoverable and gives them a reason to want to. Grahl suggests focusing on content that will not grow stale over time (74) and building on top of other people’s platforms, like blogging on LinkedIn (55).

Outreach. Grahl sees outreach as necessary to growing your platform. How exactly do you find new readers? (80-81) A key component of this outreach is empathy—“the intellectual identification or vicarious experiencing of feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” (82) The reason empathy is key is because it allows you to serve your fans in ways that we keep them coming back for more and your influencers to want to work with you in achieving your goals (87).

Sell. Once you have permission from your fans, you have offered them compelling content, and have demonstrated that you serve their needs, they will be willing and hopefully eager to hear about your products. At this point, Grahl advises authors to be enthusiastic about their own work—be your own fan (113). If this advice sounds easy, try working for a year or two on a writing project and still be as excited about it as you were the first day! If you are not enthusiastic, then who exactly will be? When you are excited, then your fans will pick up on your enthusiasm and asking for them to buy your book will come easier.

Grahl suggests offering the first 10 percent of your book online as a teaser to get readers interesting and asking for more (115). He suggests a “call to action” page with blurbs, a photo of you and a short bio, and hyperlinks to purchasing the book (116). If you are like me, this is not what your call to action page looks like, but Grahl makes the case that a call to action page should ask you to buy the book, give details, and be presented multiple times, although perhaps not all in the same way.

Tim Grahl’s book, Your First 1000 Copies, is a helpful and readable guide to how to market a self-published book. Grahl’s approach is believable because he works as a marketing consultant to authors and cites numerous cases studies taken from his own clients’ experiences.[3] His focus on email marketing also lends credibility to his advice because anyone who has tried to market books knows how hard it is to make online sales. In my own experience, about 10 percent of my books are sold online and the other 90 percent are sold in person—in other words, as a new author you are selling yourself, not your books, to most of your readers. Consequently, I expect to adjust my marketing strategy in view of having read Grahl’s book. I expect that you will too.

[1] http://www.OutThinkGroup.com

[2] If you are unfamiliar with Tim, this podcast with Joanna Penn (http://www.TheCreativePenn.com) is a great place to learn more about him: http://timgrahl.com/penn-replay.

[3] I recently reviewed one of Grahl’s clients: The Heath’s Stick to Communication (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-1zK).

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Bolme Guides Authors in Christian Marketing

Bolme_marketing_12092014Sarah Bolme. 2014. Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace.  Charlotte: Crest Publications.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One surprise when you become an author is how hard it is to sell books. This comes as a surprise because most authors are also avid readers.  If you are an avid reader, snapping up books recommended by friends and colleagues all the time, it comes as a surprise to learn that everyone does not behave that way!  Sarah Bolme book, Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace, works hard to make sure that disappointment not follow surprise for aspiring authors and publishers.

An important theme in Bolme’s book is the depth and complexity of the Christian book market. Christian books are bought and sold both formally and informally in marketing channels that differ by denomination, ethnicity, workplace, and region. It is not enough to publish your book on Amazon.com and cash your royalty checks.  At a minimum, Christian readers want to know that your theology is consistent with their own faith statements and that the people with whom they study, worship, volunteer, and work with find your book compelling enough to read and discuss.  The vetting process is important and it shapes book marketing and sales. Bolme likes to point out: Marketing and selling books is not a sprint, it is a marathon (4).

Bolme’s book is structured around this conception of the Christian book market.  Bolme writes in 19 chapters divided into 4 parts:

  1. Launching Your Books (chapters 1-6);
  2. Selling Your Books (7-15);
  3. Targeting Special Markets (16-19); and
  4. Reference (Index).

These chapters are preceded by a foreword and Introduction, and followed by a number of appendices on special topics.

Reading Bolme’s text has taken me 3 months to read, but not because I have been procrastinating.  In September, when I began reading, I issued my first press release.  I had wanted to issue a press release in August when I began promoting my book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality (T2Pneuma.com), but it was not until I read Bolme’s discussion (122-123) that I learned how to do it.  I found myself requesting reviews (43-53), running book giveaways (www.GoodReads.com;180), doing radio interviews[1] (124-126), applying for awards (63-72), and joining new groups (e.g. Christian Small Publishers Association—www.ChristianPublishers.net; 7-17) as I read the book.  These activities distracted me from progressing promptly through the book and finishing a review.

I also learned why some of my early marketing attempts were unsuccessful.

An important problem facing authors and publishers today is the explosion of new book titles and the collapsing readership.  People read fewer printed books than they used to because of, in part, competition from other media, but the growth in independent publishing has also increased the number of authors publishing (73-75).  This means that retailers are inundated with titles and cannot respond directly to author requests; instead, they work through distributors who filter the available books on their behalf.  My requests that local retailers stock my book failed because I did not understand the stocking process.

For Christian writers and publishers, Sarah Bolme’s Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace is an important read.  Although I did not immediately become a marketing success having read this book, I did finally get an appreciation for the task at hand and got pointed in the right direction.  You may also find it helpful.

[1] See the list of interviews at the bottom of the page at:  T2Pneuma.com.

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Hyatt’s Platform Stands Solid; Gets Noticed

Platform_12212013Michael Hyatt. 2012.  Platform:  Get Noticed in a Noisy World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My introduction this fall to social media evokes memories of my experience with survival camping as a Boy Scout. Survival camping tested your skill with the equipment, with problematic colleagues, and with hiking through rugged terrain. Social media likewise tests your knowledge of technologies, ability to communicate, and dealing with numerous uncertainties. In preparing for survival camping, I studied the Scout Fieldbook [1]. In preparing in social media, Michael Hyatt’s Platform is a great help.

Hyatt is the former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, celebrity author and speaker, and professional blogger. His professional focus is on leadership, productivity, social media, and publishing—all issues of personal interest. Hyatt came to my attention online when I observed him promoting John Maxwell’s Sometimes You Win; Sometimes You Learn among bloggers (New York:  Center Street, 2013) [2]; at that point I knew that he was also a marketing professional. My curiosity about Hyatt led me to purchase Platform.

Hyatt’s basic thesis is that: “A good product does not stand on its own anymore. It is foundational, but it is not enough” (xvii). He defines a platform as: ”the thing you have to stand on to get heard” (xvi). A platform provides visibility, amplification, and connection (xviii). He writes: “This book is all about attracting [an] audience, turning on the brightest lights you can find, and building passionate loyalty so your audience stays with you through every line, every scene, every act” (xv).

Platform is divided into 5 parts: 1. start with wow, 2. prepare to launch, 3. build your home base, 4. Expand your reach, and 4. Engage your tribe. Before these parts is an introduction which declares that “All the world is a stage” (William Shakespeare; xv). After these parts are some helpful items: complying with FTC guidelines, post ideas for novelists, a list of online resources, notes, acknowledgments, a writer’s bio, an index, and contact information. Hyatt’s scope is comprehensive; his details are thoroughly researched.

In chapter 35 which focuses on generating more blog traffic, for example, Hyatt talks about how he was able to increase his traffic (measured by unique visitors) by 81.3 percent in a single month. After changing to a professional blog theme, he blogged more frequently; we wrote shorter sentences, paragraphs, and posts; he started optimizing his posts for search engines; and he became more engaged in comments (134). He then offers ten additional recommendations on increasing traffic, a focus most bloggers identify with.

What is interesting is that in chapter 36 he then argues that increasing traffic is the wrong focus. Focus instead, he says, on increasing the number of people who follow and promote your blog. Keep your best customers happy and they will keep you happy (137). Hyatt’s list of 7 strategies to grow your list of followers then makes it clear that he sweats the details. My favorite is suggestion 4: offer an incentive for subscribing. Hyatt’s incentive here is to offer a free copy of one of his e-books.

Hyatt’s Platform is a helpful book and a good read.  Authors, speakers, and other professionals in the public eye will want to take a look because the rules for success in professional life are evolving so rapidly. While many professionals will not be stepping up to a national platform like Hyatt, his advice should scale well to the local platform where most of us live. In my case, I have already given my blog a makeover and have developed a long to do list based on his advice.  I suspect you will too.

[1] Boy Scouts of America. 1967.  Fieldbook for Boys and Men.  New Brunswick.

[2] In the interest of full disclosure, I received a free copy of Maxwell’s book in exchange for an online mention.   I read the book and found it worthy of a review (http://bit.ly/1ktRxPI).

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