Know When to Say “No”: Some Tips on Promotion and How to Avoid Taking on Too Much as an Author
If you are an author, then you know it’s not easy. You probably already know by now that the days of authors writing and publishers doing the rest are, for the most part, over. Authors are not only writers, but business people. They network, they seek out opportunities to spread the word about their books, and they do what they can to meet new people, to forge a connection with readers. Some even do more; they have other jobs, they raise families…they, for lack of a better phrase, have lives. Authors are not superhuman. We are, in fact, mortal and, just like with any other person who handles multiple responsibilities, it can get a bit overwhelming now and then.
So, how can you take on all of these roles as a new author?
How can you do all of these things? I can offer one crumb of advice. Know when to say “no”. But, before we get to that, let’s explore some of the aforementioned responsibilities.
1. Writing. You have a duty to yourself and to your characters to tell a story the best way you can. If you’re writing non-fiction, then you have a duty to get your point across in the best manner possible. You also have a duty to your readers to offer the greatest quality of writing that’s in you.
2. Your publisher. You have a duty to meet deadlines, answer emails and do what is required to make that book a reality. Maybe you self-published instead. Then you owe it to yourself and any potential readers out there to offer a great product – a nice cover, a great blurb and a story which is edited well. Always give 100%, and if you don’t, then find a way to make that happen by improving it. Don’t you want to be proud of your own product? It’s much like the inventor who finally sees his work in action or the advertiser watching his commercial for the first time. It’s so exciting to see the results of your hard work!
So, you’ve done the hard part. You wrote the book. You got it published. Now what? Well, if you’re lucky, your publisher will do a little promotion now and then, or at least teach you how to best market your work. Maybe you’ve hired someone to help you, a PR guru of some kind. Great! The real work has just begun, however. You owe it to yourself to try to market it anyway, to learn the tricks of the trade. But, you know what’s so great about the internet? There’s a plethora of information right at your fingertips. There are tons of articles out there with tips to guide you in the right direction.
But, how do you market or promote your work? I hate to tell you this. Despite all of the advice which exists in the public domain, there is no clear-cut method. Hmm…that’s disappointing, isn’t it? The best advice I can give you is to try. Try it all at least once.
3. Find blogs that take guest authors. Do author interviews, character interviews, promos with excerpts. Do blog tours just after a release. Write guest posts. You don’t know how to do that? Just try. Believe me, I never considered myself a journalist, but I’ve written more articles in the past year than I’ve written in my entire life. You will learn to get better at it, and you may even like it. I really enjoy it because it’s a completely different style than fiction. My advice is to write what comes to you, or what you think could have some real world application. Don’t forget to write in your own voice; just be you. There’s nothing a reader wants more than to get to know a writer on a personal level. Have some funny quirks? Made some mistakes in the past which apply to the subject? Mention them. Be real.
4. Hopefully before you’ve even received your contract offer, you’ve been building a social media presence. Well, have you? No? Uh oh. You’d better get to that right away. Readers need a way to connect with you. Start a blog. Commit to writing something at least weekly, and it doesn’t even have to be about writing or your new book.
Get accounts on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and whatever else is trending these days. Yes, I know you can’t do it all, but at least do the main ones. Add friends, and the number one thing? Start talking. Post on your timeline. Post pictures or whatever comes to mind. Keep it professional, of course. And especially throw in things related to your genre when you can. Show readers why you’re so passionate about it. Don’t, of course, talk about writing or your books all the time. Reshare your friends’ posts or pictures. Tweet on Twitter. Retweet your followers, and be kind enough to follow them back.
You’ll learn more as you go along. Spend twenty minutes to an hour every day, and devote it to social media. Share, share, share! Those share buttons on your blog posts and your timelines will save lots of time. Join discussion groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, and talk about your favorite books and writing. Offer advice if you have something to say. Join Facebook events as an author and a reader to get a feel for how they work. You can meet a lot of friends that way, and find some new books in the process. Who knows? Maybe something you said will resonate with a potential reader, and they'll look you up.
5. Get yourself listed. Get listed as an author in as many places as you can. You want to ramp up your social media presence so that when someone searches “[Name], author” on Google, there are a LOT of hits. Off the top of my head? Try Poets & Writers directory or Authors Database. There are a lot of other places too. Definitely have a Goodreads author account. You want an author page on there where you can add your books. And use Amazon Author Central to do the same. Come up with a good bio – both a short one and one that is a bit longer – so that readers can learn more about you. Use the short one whenever you find there is a limit on word count. Be honest, but you don’t have to say everything. Some of that will get revealed in author interviews.
Why do you need to be listed? Readers want to know more about authors and if they can find all of your books in one location, that’s even better. Make sure you have done the same on your website, if you have one. Anyone who glances over it is going to want to navigate it easily.
6. Book cover ads and other promotions. Do as many freebie options as you can, but now and then you will come across something that requires an investment. Mostly they are between $5 to $30, which isn’t too bad. Anything more, and you should seriously evaluate it. What’s your budget like? Can you afford it? And what are other authors saying about the site? Does it seem like a good bet? Just think about it carefully.
Do you have a book trailer? You should consider it. It’s a great way to show readers an overview of the book, and entice them to read it. You can post it on Youtube and promote the link.
There a lot of places out there that will do book trailers for you. Yes, you have to pay. But that isn’t the only option. Fancy trying it on your own? Are you a DIY kind of person? Great! Here are some tips on making your own book trailer. Mostly, the only things you’ll have to pay for are the photos, unless you can find royalty-free images. But, whatever you do, pay attention to copyright laws.
Okay, so I mentioned freebies. This is always an option, but use it sparingly. Do giveaways now and then for events and offer a free copy. Most authors do e-books because they can afford that option, but now and then an author will offer a paperback. This is a good option during a book release party. But, make sure your readers work for it with fun contests or whatever else you can think of (send them to like your Facebook author page or Amazon page, and randomly pick a winner). Decide up front how many free copies you’re giving away. Run events very occasionally on your blog or even with other authors (multi-author book giveaways).
Another free promo is simply offering your book for free on Amazon for a few days. Amazon only allows five days per year, I think. They have to make a profit too. You can also lower the price to 99 cents for a period of time. The only thing that will make this freebie successful is if you promote it everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Pay special attention to sites that list specific free or low priced books, and make sure they show the time period it’s available. These promos can be very effective if done correctly.
7. News and other media. Heard of online radio? It’s not a bad option. I did one awhile back and I have another coming up in a week. They’re mostly free, and any promotion can’t hurt. Try press releases too. You can do a lot of free ones online. Ever thought of contacting your local paper or TV station to see if you can get something done about you and your book? It’s worth a try. I know quite a few indie authors who have been very successful with it. Make sure you have another message to convey besides “Buy my book!” Did you win a competition? Is there an underlying message in the book you think people need to hear? Don’t be afraid to use it. Basically, what’s in it for the reader or the news source? Why should they buy or feature you/your book? Maybe a topic in the book relates to something in current events. Think about it.
8. Contact book reviewers. This one can be a bit time consuming, but worth it. Some publishers take care of this, but not always. You might want to look for book reviewer directories. This is where you look for official reviewers or at least bloggers who love to review books. And as Lois W. Stern mentioned in a recent article here on Writing in the Modern Age, you can always hit up top reviewers on Amazon.
Please read reviewers' guidelines carefully. You want to follow their rules, and make sure they even accept your genre. They’ll just delete your request if you don’t pay attention. Make your emails/requests professional and kind. They don’t have to read anything, but offer a free copy for an honest review anyway. Most accept it naturally or require it. It is an even exchange and you can’t get accused of “paying off” a reviewer with cash. Very occasionally, you’ll come across reviewers who require a hard copy of a book. Only go that route if you can afford it. Another tip: never expect an awesome review. This is a subjective business, which means that what works for one person may not work for another. Always handle things professionally. Never retaliate against a reviewer or reader for a not so great review. It just makes you look bad.
If you have done all of this and you are down because sales are low, I do understand. There are times when being an author feels like a thankless job. There is a lot of competition. But, it’s not thankless! Look at all you’ve accomplished! You have published a book. You probably even have some reviews, and I bet you have quite a few friends or followers. That’s an accomplishment!
There’s one other thing. You know how we always hope to affect readers? Well, once in awhile, a reader makes an impact on you. They reach out and thank you personally for something you did. Maybe you helped them or gave them advice. Perhaps they are thanking you for writing a character or story they could relate to, and, believe me, it’s a truly humbling experience. Whether in the form of a review, an email or message via Twitter or Facebook, you made an impact on someone. There is nothing more rewarding than when a reader just “gets” a character the way you meant to write him or her. And if they learned something, if it changed their life in the process? Wow. You really should feel proud of that.
So, are there other things you can do as an author? Yes, there is always more to do. But, that’s not the focus of this article. The point is to learn when to say “no”. After reviewing all of the options above, you may have one big question.
“Why would I even want to say ‘no’?”
Indeed. Shouldn’t we learn how to do everything? Well, sure, if you want to get burnt out on being an author after a few months. Here is my main advice. Only do what you can.
We’re all human, and we all know what it’s like to feel frazzled or stressed when there is too much going on. So, how do we combat that with bills and family and God knows what else which is pulling at us all day? How do we do everything and still do what it takes to be an author?
Again, and it’s something I have to tell myself constantly, only do what you can. We don’t have superpowers. Well, maybe some of our characters do. LOL. But, that’s fiction. Are you Super Mom? Or Super Dad? Do people call you that? Yes? No? Well, they should! I have a lot of respect for parents who manage to do everything in their lives. Add being an author to all of that? I am simply in awe of you if you are. Somehow you’ve managed to do the impossible. But…it’s not impossible exactly, is it? You’ve shown it can be done.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m not just a writer. I’m not just an author of 19 books. I’m a human being. I have hard times. I get sad or angry or even happy. I run the whole gamut of human emotions. Besides being a writer, I am a fiancée, a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a niece and a cousin. I am the proud mom of three adorable felines. Sometimes I’m a cook. Sometimes I am the designated trip planner. Sometimes I am asked to pick the movie of the evening. I have had many jobs in my life. Executive consultant, appointment setter, customer service agent, tech support specialist, reservation agent, hostess, busser, waitress, shirt department personnel in a tuxedo warehouse. Wow. All of that and still a writer? Hmm. How does she do it? I do whatever I can.
Does any of this sound familiar? Are you struggling with life plus being a writer? Maybe it’s the writing you don’t have time for. My good friend Matty Millard has some great tips on how to fit writing into your everyday life, no matter what’s going on. My advice? Know when to say “no”.
Of course, you shouldn’t blow off your publisher. And you really should write your book. But, everything that goes with being an author? The promotion? Everything else? You need time management skills, or at least the ability to pick and choose what is important at the moment. How do you go about doing that?
1) Focus on what you can right now. Don’t lump everything into one pile or you’ll go crazy. Have a bunch of things to do? Great! Make a list. Try to keep organized. “Let’s see…today I need to write my weekly blog post, then check in with Facebook, Twitter and Google+.” Why did I say “check in”? Well, those notifications can really stack up. Did I mention that with Twitter, you should probably thank the people that retweeted your posts and respond to the tweets that were directed to you? If I get busy, I try to check those every few days. I have a system and I thank everyone at once. Believe me, it has become a lifesaver. Will you be able to keep up with everything, do everything at once? No, of course not. You do what you can.
2) Keep organized with a planner, notes, et cetera. Always know what you need to do next. Write notes to yourself, use a virtual calendar, whatever you need to do to keep yourself on track. I still use post-its, even when my task is just about working on my book. It is an often neon reminder that I’ve got to get to work on something.
3) Favors. This is often something I’ve encountered in the social networking hemisphere, and it drives some authors completely crazy. Now and then, right at the moment you connect with someone (a potential reader or fellow author), they ask you for a favor. This is one thing I’ve never done to anyone, and yet I see it constantly. Sometimes it’s a completely harmless request. For example, “Please go vote for this or like my new Facebook page/Amazon page.” Or it’s about following their blog. Okay. Yeah, that’s doable, as long as it’s something that doesn’t offend you. So no problem there. Sometimes a new writer seeks me out for advice. If I have a moment, I try to spend a few moments and help. If I’m out of time, I give them a few links so they can find the answer. I want to help when I can.
My least favorite request is for something that sacrifices my personal integrity. If it is a blatant advertisement for a service or their own book, I acknowledge it, congratulate them and move on, unless it’s something I would like to add to my Wishlist or bookmark for future reference. Again, I personally never do this to people. That would be like knocking on my neighbor’s door, shoving a book in their hands and saying, “Okay, give me $3.99.” What am I going to do? Hold them at gun point so they buy my book?
No. It’s rude. If a reader is going to make a purchase, it’s their decision. I’m not going to shove it in someone’s face with a direct message.
The last thing I want to mention in this section is something you should politely avoid as an author if you want to keep your sanity and integrity. Very occasionally, an author will ask for a review exchange. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Okay, I’ve never done this and the basic premise isn’t bad. BUT, it can be abused. Avoid the following scenario at all costs: “It’s so easy. Give me five stars and I’ll give you five stars. No big deal. A win-win for both of us, right?” What?! With this, I either politely decline or ignore the request if they get too pushy. 1) I don’t need the drama. 2) Why sacrifice my integrity for a measly five star review? What if I didn’t like their book? Why would I give that rubber stamp of approval? I want to earn my reviews the honest way.
For this reason, I almost never promise to give a review. First, I don’t want to turn one of my blogs into a book review blog. I have heard the horror stories of the select few authors who pitch fits or publicly ostracize a blog for doing honest reviews, for not giving automatic high marks.
Second, how awkward would it be to promise a friend a review (or even if they’re not a friend), you read the book and it rubs you the wrong way? I prefer to read the books I want when I have the time, and give an honest review when I can. For the reviews I promised in the past, I get to them, but I will never rubber stamp anything. So, just keep in mind what’s more important to you when you get this kind of request. The review or your integrity as an author? You decide.
4) Try not to schedule things (interviews or posts) close together, and not in the same day if you can avoid it.
With a blog tour, you have to violate this rule. But, during regular times, it’s best not to schedule things too close together because you still need time to promote them via social media. There are limits to promotion as well; some of these sites will try to block you if you get crazy. So, it's better if you make it easier on yourself. It will, at the least, preserve your sanity.
Remember those share buttons I talked about? If the blogger/interviewer gives you no choice about a date, then take what you can get. You can always promote one the following day or two in the same day if possible. And remember, if you don't have anything to promote at all, go back to those old posts and reshare. You may find some new readers.
5) Self-control. Sometimes that “no” isn’t directed towards other people. It’s for yourself. It’s so easy to become obsessed in the quest of being an author. Try to avoid that. Know when to tell yourself “no”. That actually relates to my next point.
6) Know your limits. Always think about what you can manage. Say you have a side job. You have a certain schedule, plus you need to write and promote. But, there’s a Facebook event with a one hour time slot where you can promote your books. Be prepared for the fact that you may have to pass up the opportunity for your job or another obligation. Yes, promotion is important, but with most things there is always another chance in the future. Of course, if you have the ability, get off early to handle it. But, just know it’s not the end of the world if you can’t do it either. Do something else instead. Always do what’s manageable and nothing more. Prioritize when necessary. “Today, I am only going to work on my manuscript. I will promote tomorrow.” Just do what you can.
7) Take frequent breaks. We can all get burnt out on promotion. We can even get exhausted by writing or researching too much. You need the distance to refresh your brain. And don’t forget to have fun! Cook a meal. Go on a date with your significant other for a change. Take the weekend off. It will all still be there when you come back. A month or so ago, I took a technology-free vacation for about five days. I cut myself off from social media, blogs or any kind of promotion. It was a lot of fun and I learned that the world still went on without me. Imagine that! LOL. Anyway, I came back refreshed and ready to handle the next task.
Take vacations. I encourage it, and you may find that you need them after all your hard work.
I hope I haven’t missed anything and I truly hope I’ve helped you put being an author into perspective. Know your limits. Do what you can. Realize you are only human, and learn how and when to say “no”.
I bet you’ll thank yourself for it later. :)