About Melissa K. Norris

Melissa K. Norris writes inspirational historical romance novels. Her stories inspire people to draw closer to God and their pioneer roots. She found her own little house in the big woods, where she lives with her husband and two children in the Cascade Mountains. She writes a monthly column, Pioneering Today, for the local newspaper that bridges her love of the past with its usefulness in modern life. Her books and articles are inspired by her family’s small herd of beef cattle, her amateur barrel racing days, and her forays into quilting and canning—without always reading the directions first.

Four Tips to Grow Your Platform–Part 1

I don’t care what you write, if you want to publish and sell books, you’re going to hear the words, “You need to grow your platform.” This is true no matter what route you take, traditional publishing or self-publishing.4 Tips to Author Platform Growth

There are numerous books, articles, websites, and programs, telling you everyone’s advice on how to do so. I’m going to tell you now, there’s no secret or quick one-time overnight trick. If someone is trying to sell you this, they’re probably trying to make a quick dollar. But there are tips and ways you can build a solid platform before, during, and after the book deal that are legit and work.

I’m going to share with you what has worked for me and ways you can do the same.

1. What do you have to offer? None of these tips will work if you don’t know what it is you have to offer people in the form of your books, blog posts, articles, podcasts, videos, and interviews. Once you know what it is you have to offer people, you can begin researching who your target audience is and how best to reach them. Need help defining your target audience and your brand? Here’s a free workbook to get you started.

2. Where and how will you offer it? You need to have a website that reflects your brand, immediately tells readers how they’ll benefit from your site, great content, social media share buttons (you’d be surprised how many sites I visit that don’t use these), and a way to capture the emails of visitors so you can stay in contact with them. Other things to offer on your website are podcasts, videos, articles, interviews, e-books, and e-courses. You don’t have to do all, but choose the ones that work for you at this time and for your audience.

3. Social media presence. You can moan and groan all you want about social media or you can choose to look at it as a chance to share your message with people who need it and can be helped by it. I guarantee you the latter response will take you farther and benefit not only you, but others. Choose which social media outlets you enjoy and your readers respond to. Don’t try to master all of them. You’ll go crazy.

Pick two until you feel confident and then analyze where to spend the rest of your time. I use my Facebook page and Pinterest the most frequently. My audience prefers these two sites. Pinterest (Using Pinterest for Writers) sends me the most traffic, but I get more reader conversation and interaction on Facebook (Using Facebook for Writers). Some folks love Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, or the new social site to watch, Instagram.

The main thing to remember about social media is to share relevant content with your audience. Everything you share should benefit them in some way or another.

4. Join or create a blogging network or group. Find a group of bloggers (or contact and start your own) who write similar or complementary content to your own. Agree to share each other’s content on your social media pages. This gives you great content to share with your readers and gets your work in front of other readers who want what you have to give or say. You can also work with these people to brainstorm new projects or marketing endeavors. This has helped my own platform take off. Plus, I get the added benefit of advice from people who have been there and offer support when needed, because at some point, we all need it.

Here are some of the most helpful books I’ve read regarding growing your platform and marketing:

Platform by Michael Hyatt
Sell Your Book Like Wildfire by Rob Eager
Pinterest Savvy by Melissa Taylor

What has helped you grow your platform? Where do you need help? What books have helped you the most with marketing and platform growth?

How to Plan a Multi-Author Cross Promotion Event

Every writer I know feels pressure to build their platform. From the pre-pubbed stage, sending out proposals to an agent, then editor, to published authors working on keeping their numbers up, it can be a constant maze of hunting through websites telling you how to do it the best way.

Despite how you package promoting, be it in a contest, giveaway, or ad, there is only one thing that truly matters to determine its success. Are you giving your target audience something they find of value?

Join five mountain fiction authors with our virtual cookie recipe exchange, and downloadable Bible verse garland and gift tags.

Notice I didn’t say something valuable to a reader. There are many readers out there, but not all readers are your target audience. You need to have a deep understanding of your reader before you plan any promotional event, especially a multi-author one.

1. Start by identifying other authors who have similar target audiences or readers as yours. For cross promoting to work, the audiences must be linked by a similar interest.

2. Decide what will be the common theme for the event. You’ll need to decide before inviting the other authors to your event what the theme or purpose will be. And it is not to sell books. This is what you hope will be the end result, but the purpose of the event will be to somehow reach readers and enrich their time spent with you.

3. Send out the invites with a time frame for response at least two months before the date of the event. Expect to have some authors not be able to join you. Be gracious and thank them for considering. Move on to the next authors on your list.

4. Ask for ideas or comments on how to make the event better. Allow the other authors to have a say in the event, but be sure you have one person who is the leader. When planning the Mountain Hearth Christmas, it was my original idea to just have it be a virtual cookie recipe exchange. Amanda had the idea of incorporating the printable Bible verses for garlands and or gift tags.

5. Be very clear on what is expected of everyone. While all of the fabulous authors in the Mountain Hearth Christmas worked together, it’s best to let everyone know what you’d like them to do. For example: everyone is expected to share links on their social media pages each day of the hop, not just the day it’s being hosted on their own website. Cross-promoting only works if everyone helps.

6. Send out reminders leading up to the event. The leader should send out reminders as things draw nearer. Keep them short and to the point. Always be respectful of others’ time. Three weeks before, two weeks before, and the day before are a good time frame. You may want to have the leader send out daily emails the morning of the event with the link to that day’s highlighted article and composed social media updates for people to copy and paste if pressed for time.

Want to see a multi-author cross promotional event in action? I’m thrilled to be part of A Mountain Hearth Christmas. 

What multi-author events have you been part of? Have you attended any multi-author events you thought went well? What did you like about them?

The Best Marketing Tool

Authors are constantly on the lookout for the best marketing tips and ideas. We want to get our books in the hands of as many readers as possible. This isn’t always just from the monetary end either; most authors I know truly believe in the message of their book. They believe it will help people and have a true desire to enrich the lives of their readers.The Best Author Marketing Tool

But sometimes it seems every where we turn, someone’s spouting a new marketing trick. I can’t remember how many posts and articles I’ve read about marketing. Some of the ideas are great, like the Hope and Trust Chronicles put on my by some of my favorite authors.

Then there are the not so great ideas, like buying fake Twitter followers. It’s not all about the numbers; it’s about connecting with people. Purchasing fake followers is a misrepresentation in my opinion.

The best marketing tool you have is you. The content you write and how you interact with people on your website, your social media sites, and in person is the most influential marketing you will ever do. Because if you do this with sincerity, passion, and genuine caring, your readers will talk about you.

And there is nothing that carries more weight than word of mouth. Think about it. You’re trying to decide between purchasing two books and your best friend comes up. She points to the book in your right hand. “You have to buy this book. It’s the best book I’ve read in years. And the author’s website has these amazing behind the scenes looks and a free e-book you can download. I’d loan you my copy, but I already gave it to my mom, and you shouldn’t wait until she’s done with it. It’s too good not to start today.”

Which book are you going to purchase? The one with the prettier cover, or the one your friend is raving about?

Invest in your readers. They’re real people and worth your very best. And if you invest in them, don’t just look at them as numbers, they’ll invest in you.

And that’s the best marketing tool a writer can have.

What are some great marketing efforts you’ve seen? What is the best marketing tool you’ve used? What’s a marketing endeavour you’d never do again?

Why Ignoring Your Author Brand is Career Suicide

Have you heard the term branding? Does it make you want to reach for the remote and turn the channel? If so, you’re not alone. Author branding has a lot of writers confused. It did me.Why Ignoring Your Author Brand is Career Suicide

I first thought author branding was something your publisher did for you when your first books came out. Then, I thought it was a cool author tag line or slogan. And while part of both the previous statements are true, they’re not your author brand.

Knowing your author brand will help you promote yourself before, during, and after your book releases. Your author tag line is what evolves from your brand, not the other way around.

What is an author brand? An author brand is the unique combination of personality and passion you bring to products or services based on your actual or potential abilities. Your author brand won’t look like anyone else’s, because no one else has your insights and perspective to offer to the world.

Why do I need an author brand? Knowing your author brand lets readers, agents, and publishers know immediately what they’re going to receive from you and your writing. In this fast paced world, people won’t take the time to dig through the many books, websites, and blogs to find what they’re looking for. If it isn’t apparent immediately, they’ll move on.

Think about your favorite authors. You know exactly what you’re going to get from their books. It’s the reason you purchase their newest release, read their newsletters, and like their Facebook pages. They deliver on the promise of their brands.

But, I don’t need to develop my author brand until I have a book contract. Wrong. You’re already branding if you have a website, blog, or are on social media sites. Every post, tweet, and blog post is a reflection of you and your brand, even if you don’t know it.  It’s important to understand your brand from the moment you declare yourself a writer.

Your brand will help you develop your website, book proposals, manuscripts, articles, and newsletter. It will help you focus and go deeper in order to reach your audience better. It’s something you should embrace and not put off a minute longer.

Your brand will also aid you when creating visual images for your website and social media pages. For example, my author tagline (developed from my brand), is Inspiring Your Faith and Pioneer Roots. I created this image for my author Facebook page this past week. Branded Facebook Cover for Melissa K. Norris

Do you see how the pioneer roots is enhanced not only in the images, but also ties into the title and cover of my non-fiction book, Pioneering Today? The cabin picture also works for the historical fiction portion of my writing. Your brand should be an umbrella for all you do.

Developing your author brand isn’t something we can completely cover in one blog post, but don’t worry. I’m not giving you this admonishment and leaving you alone. My agency sister and business partner, Janalyn Voigt, and I have created a FREE author branding workbook to walk you through the steps. You can snag your copy at TriLink Social Media Mentors.

What are some of your favorite authors? Can you identify what their brand is, or the promise they always make with their work? What is unique about you and your writing?

Are You Pinterest Savvy? 1 Million Followers in a Year

Pinterest is one of the fastest and biggest growing social media sites. Unlike Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, it uses pictures to connect with other people. It’s a virtual pin board that allows you to share things with your followers and “repin” photos from others onto your own boards. If people like what you’re pinning, they can choose to follow your boards.

What does this mean for authors?

Pinterest has over 4 million daily users and is now the 3rd biggest social media site. You might be wondering how to harness the power of Pinterest. I just finished reading  Pinterest Savvy: How I Got 1 Million+ Followers (Strategies, Plans, and Tips to Grow Your Business with Pinterest) * by Melissa Taylor.

As an author, I know the power of Pinterest. I’ve been using Pinterest for about six months and other than Google, it drives more traffic to my website than any other social media site, including Facebook. But I wanted to up my game and Melissa’s book gave me some great tips and new ideas.

1. Be as specific as possible with your board names and descriptions. One of my boards was titled Best Recipes. I feature my own traditional from scratch recipes on my blog and these are some of my biggest traffic pins. However, after reading Melissa’s book I changed it to Best from Scratch Recipes and altered the description to include key words of traditional, from scratch, home-baked, etc. You can check out my boards at http://www.pinterest.com/melissaknorris

2. All pins are not created equal. When creating “pins” to be pinned from your website, there are some things you need to know. One, longer photos, rather than wide, show better on Pinterest. You need clear and easy to read type. Melissa gives great examples of what makes a good pin vs. an okay one. This makes a difference! I re-did some of my photos, repinned them, and they were reppined far more than the original version. Here’s an example of a good pin.

3. Protect yourself. Know copyright laws. Read the terms of use on Pinterest. Don’t repin any pin without following it back to its original source. Does the website give permission to “pin”? Is there a pin-it button next to the photo? If not, don’t repin. I recommend emailing the blogger to ask permission. Most will say yes, it only takes a few minutes, and protects you from a lawsuit. It also promotes good will. I emailed a blogger to ask if I could use her photo in a post on my blog and “pin” it. She happily agreed, visited my blog, and shared it with her own readers.

4. Create pin worthy content of your own. Take your own pictures and create your own pins. (I use the free version of picmonkey.com) You don’t have to worry about copyright issues and you’ll become known for bringing new fresh content. You want to be known for creating content on your blog and on Pinterest, not just rehashing what everyone else is already doing.

For a free chapter download visit Melissa Taylor’s website. She also has free worksheets to help you maximize each chapter. Pinterest Savvy takes you through the first step of signing up for Pinterest to helping those who want to increase their following and are already familiar with the site. Having just finished Melissa’s book and implementing a few of her tips, I’ve increased my following by 50 followers in a little over a week. I plan using more of her tips shortly.

Another cool tidbit: Melissa’s book doesn’t officially launch until tomorrow, but she gave me permission to give Watercooler peeps a sneak peek. How cool is that?

*I used my affiliate link for Melissa’s book on Amazon. It doesn’t cost you anything more and I only recommend things I truly stand behind. To read my full affiliate disclosure go to the footer of my website.

Are you on Pinterest? What do you find the most daunting? How do you use your boards to promote your books and website?

The Results Are In-Did Free Help Sales?

Most of you have heard the arguments for and against offering your book for free to increase sales. I did something a little different by offering a free bonus gift for people who purchased my book, Pioneering Todayfor a limited time.

I ran the promotion for two weeks. Because I started the promotion on the launch day of my book, it’s hard to know what my sales would have been without it. I did have several people take me up on the offer. I also had sales where people didn’t request the bonus material.

It made me wonder if they didn’t want the material or they purchased without seeing the offer. (Amazon allows you to see the sales of both Kindle and Paperback to help track.)

I did have the most amount of requests for bonus material on the last day of the promotion. This confirms my belief that you need a time limit on any promotion and shorter may be better. In fact, I had two readers send me the proof of purchase an hour before midnight on the last day.

I’ll definitely offer bonus materials again. I do think for ease of delivery and time-saving, that I’ll make sure all materials are electronic only. Trips to the post office, cost of delivery, cost of the cards, and mainly the time to address material helped me make this decision.

By far the single most driving force of sales has been not the bonus material or free things offered, but the readers. After reading the book, I’ve had numerous people purchase copies (some up to ten) as gifts.

The take away from all this: the best promotional tool you have is your book. Make sure it’s the best it can be. It will speak for itself.

What promotion has prompted you to buy a book? Authors, what marketing or bonus gifts have worked the best for you?

Marketing Beyond Social Media and the Internet

We know how powerful social media and the internet can be in marketing and building our author platform. But have you been overlooking your own back yard?

Backyard

With the launch of my new book, Pioneering Today-Faith and Home the Old Fashioned WayI embarked on  traditional on-line marketing with guest posting, blog tour, and special bonus gifts for those who purchased the book.

But I’ve had the most sales from my home town. I asked our local pharmacy and grocery store to sell copies of my book. They agreed and I’ve sold out at both locations. I made sure to let the owners know I’d be announcing on my social media pages that copies would be available there. (It needs to be a win for both parties)

We have a local movie theatre that is in the homestretch of fundraising for a new digital projector so they can stay in business. The owner is running an ad for my book in the previews before every movie and selling copies with part of the proceeds going to their digital fund.

I’m teaching two classes for the community. The first was a bread class where I showed how to make the artisan bread and thin crust pizza dough. The second is a jelly making class (all from my book). I sold out of books at the first class with more ordered.

Social media is great, but don’t forget about local. Think of places in your home town where people go frequently.

Tips for making businesses say yes to your book:

1. Make an appointment ahead of time with the owner or manager to discuss putting your book in their store. Remember they’re busy and show up on time. Think of this like a job interview.

2. Think of ways their business will benefit from having your book.

3. Don’t expect them to just let you sell your book without giving it to them at a discount so they make money off the sale too. Be sure you know what your bottom line price per book is so you both make a profit.

4. Bring a large amount of copies with you, but ask them how many they’d prefer to start with on their store floor.

5. Keep a file at home noting how many books are at each place. Check in on a regular basis to see if they need to be re-stocked. Make sure they also have your contact info. One of the store’s employees called me to let me know they’d sold out and needed more books.

What ways have you marketed your book in your home town? Are there businesses you could tie the content and theme of your book to beyond bookstores?

Does Free Really Help Sell Books?

As I’ve been working on the launch of my new book, I’m struggling with how much to give away for free. I’ve read conflicting reports on offering your book without cost.

Some say you’ll gain so much word of mouth that we all should do it. Others say you devalue your content and make those who have paid for it feel cheated.

What is an author to do?Melissa K. Norris new book Pioneering Today-Faith and Home the Old Fashioned Way

My new book, Pioneering Today: Faith and Home the Old Fashioned Way, launches today.

I decided to give something away for free and a bonus gift. But I put a time limit on it. If I know I’ve got a limited time frame it makes me get to it first. I’m thinking I can’t be the only one who thinks this way.

I’m offering up my first chapter for free. Now that’s nothing new, you say. Authors do this all over the place.

But not all authors use this great free application called “Pay with a Tweet.” In order to read my first chapter, people can choose to pay with a Tweet or Facebook share. It represents word of mouth marketing for me and also gives the reader something for free. Want to see it in action? Go to my book page here. 

That’s not my only freebie. For every reader who purchases my book on Amazon and forwards me the copy of their proof of purchase, email, and mailing address, I’m going to mail them a secret recipe and the link to a full length bonus chapter, but only through October 31, 2012.

I’m hoping this will help people to purchase now, before it falls onto their to-do-list and is forgotten. I also feel that these items provide real value and content to the readers of my book.

Because that’s what great marketing boils down to. The reader asking what’s in it for me?

Have you ever bought something from an author because you enjoyed their free content? Do you think free is better or do you believe you get what you pay for? Have you seen a jump in sales from giving away free copies?

When to Tell Your Inner Editor to Shut Up!

We’re not supposed to tell people to shut up. We’re supposed to be polite and considerate.

 Icon Design by Creative Freedom  All copyright for Shimmer Icons belongs to Creative Freedom Ltd.  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/3.0/

Icon Design by Creative Freedom
All copyright for Shimmer Icons belongs to Creative Freedom Ltd.
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/3.0/

I’m here to tell you that sometimes we need to tell our inner editor to shut up.

I’m not saying we don’t need to edit our work. On the contrary, I even wrote this post, 7 Tips for Self-Editing, but there is a time and a place for said editing.

When you’re writing your first draft, I strongly advise you not to edit. Let your ideas flow. If you try to edit now, you may never finish your novel. Or worse yet, you’ll stifle your creativity.

There is another voice, one that may or not be your inner editor. The one that tells you this isn’t any good. Why on earth did you think you could be a writer? You should just give up before anyone discovers you can’t really write.

These, my friends, are the voice of the enemy. Do not believe his lies.

Recently, I heard these words burn through my mind. When you begin to hear the lies, turn to our source of truth. Pray that God’s voice would be the only one you would hear. Ask Jesus to silence everything that is not from Him.

I’ve started doing this every time I sit down to write. It is making a huge difference. We can choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.

If you’re trying to write your first novel or first draft of a new project, focus on getting it all out on paper or the computer screen. It’s fine to check and make sure your book is keeping in check with your outline and overall story and character goal, but don’t try to make it perfect.

Have you ever had to tell your inner editor to shut up? Do you have any tips to keep yourself going when you feel like giving up?

Do You Need to Schmooze an Editor or Agent?

I’ve attended over 7 writers conferences since walking the road of an author. One thing I’ve come to observe at these conferences is they way we interact with one another.

Editors and agents are seen as the gate keepers to our dreams. They are the ones who will accept our book and validate our work.

Janalyn Voigt and I at Northwest Christian Wrtiers Renewal

This is sort of true and sort of not. Editors and agents will let you know if your work is ready. They’ll let you know what you need to work on. They do not hold your dreams. You do.

Having our work published will not validate us. Only Jesus can do this. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your worth is measured by a contract and sales figures.

I’ve seen some writers completely crushed when an editor/agent declined on their pitch. I’ve been one of them. Jesus gently reminded me that He is my agent. And He’s yours if you’re willing to give your writing over to Him.

I don’t mean He will do everything. We still have to hone our craft, build our platform, and continue learning.

At conferences, I’ve seen editors and agents hunted down by well-meaning enthusiastic authors. They couldn’t get an appointment with the agent/editor they wanted, so they stalk them at meal times, breaks, in line at the bathroom….

I’ve had some wonderful chats with editors/agents at meals and in the hallways. But I’ve also seen a weary trapped look in their gaze.

We should never become so focused on what other people can do for us and our careers that we forget they are people and children of God first and foremost.

Take the time to ask them how they’re enjoying the conference. Chat them up like you would meeting someone at a neighborhood barbecue. Take the time to get to know them a little. They’ll eventually turn the conversation towards writing. After all, they’re there to discover great writers.

Even if they turn your project down, they’ll remember a friendly person. Later, circumstances may be different and your project will be the one. You can never go wrong investing in people and relationships.

You should spend some time schmoozing at conferences. Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. If we look at every person and situation with the attitude of how we can help them, instead of how they can help us, we’ll get much further.

Have you ever made new friends at a conference? How have you helped someone else and had it benefit you unexpectedly?