End of Year Writing and Marketing

2017 was busy; hence, my long silence on my blog. Two of my books were published this year: THE POWDER HORN OF MACKINAC ISLAND (MG time travel, published in March) and WAR UNICORN (upper MG fantasy re-published in October through Books We Love Publishing). Both books need reviews, if you’re so inclined, since reviews on Amazon are like golden nuggets to a book.

I took a sabbatical this year from my War Unicorn series (I’m now working on the third book) to write what has turned into my memoirs. Hopefully, it will come out before Christmas. Yes, I’m talking Christmas of this year! It has the shockingly long title of THE ROAD LESS-TRAVELED OFTEN INVOLVES SMACKING FACE-FIRST THROUGH SPIDER WEBS (subtitle: A Life of Animal Encounters). It includes wild boar, bear, moose, otter, cattle, ticks, snakes, hawks, and bees, to name a few…and me, of course…and often my family. The book is 50K (50,000 words). That’s a lot of animal encounters!

Each of these books require a different marketing plan, different bookstores to contact, online sites, blog hops, ways to promote, etc. I am so foolish, and would never, ever recommend another author to do so. Why, oh, why didn’t I stick to just one genre and age group of readers? Why?

My end of the year writing and marketing tip: Stick to one genre and age group of readers and keep on writing.


Being A Writer Plus

Before I was published I was much more of an idealist. I actually thought being a writer had to do with writing. I quickly learned that writing was so much more. There was revising, rewriting, rearranging or deleting scenes or chapters or even characters, and giving up a thousand times. There was a constant improving of the craft of writing, including critique groups and conferences, both of which provided networking and encouragement. There are thousands of contests, most which require fees to enter.

Then came the submission process: how to write a query letter and how to research to whom to send it, and whether to find an agent or go directly to an editor (or rather, the assistant editor). In the postal days, you could easily wait six months or more for a form rejection with the publishing house asking for exclusive submission. All the while you are picking up the ever-changing vocabulary and shape of the business of writing.

As a writer plus, you must also keep your finger on the pulse of what is popular with readers, or what books are already published which are similar to your own, as well as to the national situations (e.g., eBook v.s. print, or a recession, or the government changing books from literary to product causing taxation on warehouse-stored products, etc.).

After publication comes an entirely new writing-connected world. Whether self-published or traditionally published, the writer now turns to marketing and promoting. There’s advertizing, book launches, signings, and speaking engagements. A published author is often asked to do free presentations, all the while having to spend lots of her own money. She must research, design and invest in cards, brochures, stamps, and a designated P.O. box on the hard-copy side. On the electronic side of the business, there is website designing, domain name access, picking your social media means (blogging, blog tours, book reviews, online listservs and writing groups, FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and dozens more).

Getting book reviews and awards are yet another aspect to being a writer plus.

As side-arm to post publication is the entertainment factor. Should you use Power Point or props? Wear a costume or do your speaking engagement in business casual? Will you get your vender fee back in book sells? Are you satisfied getting paid enough for gas money to speak at an event, or willing to do what you can to have your book(s) and face out in public to be recognized? Do you focus on one niche and age group, or morph into many types of presentation to meet the needs of the many?

Typing all this out makes me want to go back to pure raw writing, splattereing my words over a page or screen and letting the ideas flow, and not worrying at all about selling or promoting or entertaining. Good news on that front: NaNoWriMo is less than two weeks away. If you are participating, I am, too. My user name there is  sandycarl. Let’s be NaNoWriMo writing buddies and encourage each other to write-write-write.

Never give up.

More on Mad Marketing Skills

I just read an interesting post about marketing by Laura Wolfe: http://rockinghorsewriting.com/2015/09/02/eleven-ways-to-support-a-friends-book-release/

I couldn’t have said it better myself, so if you’re interested, go there (after reading here, of course).

Three things I would like to add to Laura’s words of suggestions using friends to help you market (buy a book as a gift, give a review, etc.). Mine are more like a pre-list:

  1. It helps if you have friends (and/or family), the more the better;
  2. The writing has to be very, very, very good; and
  3. Start local (local bookstores, schools, libraries, etc.).

Also, if you don’t have a book published (yet), it’s never too early to start beefing up on your mad marketing skills so there’s no fainting or panic on your book release day.

Oh, and keep on writing!

Writing AND Marketing — It’s All About Relationships

In fiction writing, character-driven stories are quite popular. These stories are about characters relating to other characters (as well as nature and self). All around you are characters from which to draw, each individual. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based Sherlock on an actual professor he had. When neighbors of Samuel Clemens read Mark Twain, they laughed as they identified which characters were based on people in their own town where the author had lived. “The Big Bang Theory” was created from real people the writer knew in grad school.

So you don’t have to do a lot of making up of individuals from your own imagination. There are unique characters all around you. And they make for very interesting characters. However, you may want to change the identity to protect yourself. For instance, that mean neighbor who terrorizes the willy-nillies out of you? My,  how he’d make a lovely troll. That boss who accuses you of things you never did? She’d make a great character who whines and screeches and threatens, “I’m gonna tell the teacher.” The ordinary boy who did a small kind act, like stopping in the hallway to help you pick up your books? Oh, yeah. He’ll make a nice YA love interest.

Relationships for writers is more than just our characters. How could I continue writing another word without the encouragement of my critique group or other writers I’ve met over the years?

And now that I’m published and involved in the crazy world of marketing, I’m finding relationships continue, but in an entirely new area. I have multiple contacts and relationships with school and library visits. What a joy it is to work with these people who want the best for their people and believe I am the best for them.

I have multiple contacts and relationships with booksellers which have developed over the years. Just last week, I met an indy bookseller who has regularly reordered my books since the first one was published in spring of 2013. Even though her store is in a delightful touristy town, it’s still ninety minutes away from my home. In the past, she was always gone when I was there. This last week, meeting Pam Haferman face-to-face was a delightful and emotional experience and I left her store bouncing from cloud to cloud — a feeling which stayed with me all the way home.

So whether you’re experiencing potential characters, writing about characters, or working with others to make an event be superior, it’s all about relationships.

Bkst owner Pam H 'n Sandy 4-2015

Pam Haferman of Black River Books, South Haven, MI, and Sandy Carlson, April, 2014

Results of a Left-Brained Marketing Trip

Yesterday I took a five-hour drive, stopping at twelve places to see about donating or selling my middle grade book, THE TOWN THAT DISAPPEARED. Ninety-two miles in eighty-six degree heat. (Giving thanks for air-conditioned vehicles. Wouldn’t have been that way last summer.) The result: 3 books left on consignment and 7 given to libraries.

The sad news part of yesterday’s trip was going to three indi bookstores which had closed down. The great news from yesterday — and my last stop to make me float home — was a librarian who told me that they already had a copy of my book and the boys were reading it and circulating it all summer. I still left her a donated copy because I told her that was my plan. They’re going to use it as a raffle later this year. Libraries and librarians are so awesome.

Came home to work on the formating the text of a middle grade fantasy I hope to publish soon. And still on chapter fourteen on my Great Lakes sea adventure.

Note to self: Learn to separate marketing days from writing days. Perhaps the left brain can have the left side of the week and right brain can have the right side of the week. (But only my right brain knows what I’m talking about.)

Keep on writing!

Marketing Plan for Self-Published Authors, Amazon and KDP

By doing a three-month crash course on marketing and promotion and publicizing, I figured I would be prepared for when my first children’s novel, THE TOWN THAT DISAPPEARED, came out last month. These past decades, I’ve focused on becoming a better writer, and each new story, I feel I accomplish some better piece of literature. But marketing is new to me. It’s like learning a foreign language. I’ve learned enough over the past four months, that each morning when I wake up, I check my pillow, certain things leaked out of my ears overnight.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be prepared, but so far these are the things I’ve learned:

1) Get over yourself. In other words, talk about your book whenever you can. After all, it’s an awesome book! Share about it with others, even if you are the author. Personally, I find it simple to be social and can easily talk to anyone and nearly about any subject. What I find difficult to do is talk about my book and me. I reiterate: Get over yourself.

2) Get your domain name, web host, and website up so you have something to point to for curious or interested parties.

3) Bite the bullet and plan on doing a lot of freebies A certain American soda pop became very popular about one hundred years ago because in the beginning, the majority of income from the product was reinvested into advertizing. How does this translate to a self-published author? Do free school visits, donate copies of your book to both schools and public libraries, advertize free Kindle days with Amazon,  etc.

4) Get reviews. Ask for several — like from the people you’ve given your free books to — and expect to have a few do it. If you have the money, pay some of the big reviewers to do it.

5) Aim for a book promotion once a month, e.g., a book launch, a book signing, a blog tour (with book giveaways), making a book trailer, and certainly use your free Kindle days under the KDP plan.

6) Start locally, and then spread out. Locally may include newspaper, magazines, radio and TV, as well as schools. (Keep in mind point #1 when you do this.)

7) Contact places relevant to themes in your book. For instance, if your book involves horses, contact riding stables, camps, horse supply stores, etc. to see if they would stock your book.

8) Prepare presentations for various ages or various topics. For me, as a former literacy teacher, teaching about writing comes naturally. My book also deals with history and ecology issues. I have eight separate presentations for kids K-8 and one for teachers. The talks, of course, vary with the age group. Plus, I like to ask the teachers ahead of time what they would like to see presented to their kids. I also give the teachers a presentation evaluation sheet so I know what worked and what didn’t. Just as with writing my stories, I also need to revise my presentations.

9) Make reasonable goals: contact X number of bookstores to stock your books; contact 100 schools in a year for author visits; follow-up on every bookstore and school you contacted. Realize that this goal is only the number contacted, not the number who agree.

10) Do not neglect contact with your fellow writers. The nature of writing is to do it alone, but we are not alone. If you are not already a member of a writing organization (like SCBWI, RMA, etc.), join one. Learn from those who have gone before.

And always remember, you are a writer. You may give yourself permission to take a writing break in order to learn new things, like researching the marketing field, but do not neglect that next story which you are sending through your critique group. Keep on writing.