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?

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Will It Ever be Enough?

worried head

I love the turn of the year; it’s one of my favorite times. There’s just something that happens when a fresh hope stirs the air. And, yes, in this season of countless commitments for less of this and more of that, I’ll admit I’ve shared more than a few words with myself about change. Not resolutions per se but rather affirmations, things I choose to think about in a positive manner in the hopes of moving in that direction.

Some of those have to do with folks finding my book. I shared recently how my publishing dream quickly turned to a real-life marketing responsibility after the book was released. My dream morphed into a product—a product that competed with many others for incredibly scarce bookshelf space and reader eyes. And while I was passionate about sharing the hope of God’s truths tucked between my words, I knew well that readers sense motive and I felt {more than} a little funny chasing numbers and progress.

Until my days of interviews and Facebook parties and twitter chats turned to nights of laryngitis and pneumonia and cancelled engagements and disillusionment because I could no longer directly engage my audience.

You see, as newly published authors there’s this window of opportunity to which we respond in launching our books, this newness that either ignites and spreads like wildfire or burns a quick blaze and dies out. And sometimes, in an effort to fan the flame, we new authors nurture this mind-numbing over-fixation to be everywhere at once so we can personally touch each one of our readers.

Will it ever be enough?

I imagine it’s not too far from how the disciples felt that day they walked alongside Jesus by the lake in the country, that day they found themselves responsible for a crowd of hungry mouths yet held only five small loaves of bread and two fish. {Remember the miraculous story in the gospels of Jesus feeding five thousand folks?}

“We have here only five loaves and two fish,” they said.

Will it ever be enough?

“Bring them here to me,” Jesus said.

That’s when we watch the miracle unfold, when we see Jesus take what they had, bless it, and return it to the disciples so that they could do what needed to be done.

I’m learning this the hard way, how God blesses what we bring to him, shares what we offer through him. I will never have enough, never be able to be everywhere I need to be {for countless reasons} but Jesus takes what we’re willing to bring him, blessing and multiplying it.

Walking this marketing journey, sometimes I forget that. After several weeks of an unexpected illness, I’m now back out there sharing the word about my book with my intended audience. As far as those weeks I missed that couldn’t be helped, I’m earnestly praying that God will multiply my loaves and fishes.

Deeper Still: How about you? Do you ever struggle with the need to be in control? What do you do when things don’t go as planned?

A Book Marketing Retreat

On Wednesdays, the authors here at the WSWC blog write about book marketing.

As I prepared to write this post, I thought about the marketing I do every day. I wondered if those activities are unique to me, or if they are common to fellow authors.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a WordServe Water Cooler retreat where we could combine our strengths in an effort to multiply our knowledge? When I close my eyes, I imagine all of us coming together in one place.

We’re in a retreat center, far from distractions, but close enough to nature where we could take breaks in a hot tub, forest, or dining room. I guess what’s coming to my mind is The Hideaway near Monument, between Colorado Springs and Denver. (In my former life, I was a Creative Memories Unit Leader and we had many scrapbooking retreats here.)

So play along, in your mind’s eye: Pull up an Adirondack chair, grab a cool glass of raspberry tea and a lemon scone, and dream with me.

A Stock Photo of Two Red Adirondeack Chairs

At our retreat, each person would be responsible for giving a short talk about the ordinary tasks they do to market their books. Just because an activity is mundane to me doesn’t mean other authors are aware of it, or understand how and why to do it. For example, today I learned Instagram wasn’t just a photo enhancing app. It’s a social media site too. If every author shared their regular activities, we would all benefit.

For instance, each day I check my Google Reader (*Google Reader is ending June 30th, so I’ve switched to Feedly). I have about 60 blogs I subscribe to which feature material related to my brand of selfcare. Feedly compiles all my unread posts in one place. When I have time, I skim the posts. Ninety percent of the time they aren’t worth noting, but occasionally I land on a gem. I email myself the link (because usually I’m downstairs in my pajamas looking from my iPad). I post these on my Facebook and Twitter pages later.

*As an aside, it’s important to be giving your audience material other than you own.

Here are the other daily marketing activities I do:

  • I take a glance at my Google analytics just to see which of my blog posts are getting read and where my hits are coming from.
  • I do a quick search on Twitter under “#selfcare.” I try to re-tweet some of those posts, for the benefit of my followers and as a way to attract new followers.
  • I scroll through my Facebook page and share any posts I think would be helpful to my friends and fans.

Then at our WordServe author retreat, each person would share some of the less ordinary marketing activities they do. These don’t have to be remarkable. Instead, these are the activities you do from time to time, or even once, that might spur the imaginations of the other authors.

For instance:

  • I might post an article or photo to my Pinterest boards. I have boards about my self, my favorite books, counseling, videos, etc.
  • I queried IdeaMensch to do a feature story about me. A year later they let me do a guest blog post and a book giveaway.
  • I did two giveaways on Goodreads. This was a fabulous way to get thousands of readers to at least look at my book and put it on their reading list, while they registered to win a copy. (*In order to take part in the giveaways, your book has to be within six months of its release date and it has to be a paperback.)
  • I submitted blog posts to Michael Hyatt’s blog, which has hundreds of thousands of readers. He let me write a guest post two different times.
  • I volunteered to be a special marketing contributor for The Dr Phil show. Though my own book and brand are a priority, it won’t hurt to have this experience and attention.

If every author shared the regular and irregular activities they do to market their books, we would reap huge benefits.

So, let’s pretend we’re curled up someplace cozy. Whether or not you are a WordServe author, would you share some of your best marketing ideas? 

How to Get Started Writing: Hamster Wheels and Hurdles

type lettersOf all that a writer can and should do—how, actually, does one get started?

It would be possible, in assembling writing advice from just a handful of the people who are giving it, to come away with the impression that making it in this business requires doing everything all the time.

You must, people say, build and maintain a platform. Start or re-start your website. Pin to boards. Make things that other people will pin to boards. Attend conferences and conventions. Join groups. Pitch ideas. Hone your message. Know your audience. Study writing books. Edit incessantly. Post blogs. Find a writing schedule that works. Tweet and re-tweet updates about all of this. Plus string tens of thousands of words together and hope somebody will see fit to make a book of it. That’s just phase one.

Phase two is its own hamster wheel. With a book in publication you must, people say, promote like crazy. Speak at events. Do interviews. Pursue interviews. Write accompanying articles. Track reviews. Deal with disapproval. Build friendships with booksellers. Have catchy marketing stuff. Improve on sales. Aim for bestseller lists. Figure out your next project. Pin, post, platform-build, edit, update, and speak some more. Promise to tweet and re-tweet, always and forever.

The general question: Who can possibly manage all that?

The specific question: How, possibly, can I?

The general answer is that likely nobody can manage it all, when trying all of it at once. The other answer is that you, specifically you, can work toward all of this by doing so incrementally.

You will not start out on bestseller lists. You’ll begin at the beginning, with the whole unrelenting shebang left to do. Tweet This

There will be potential failures and rejections at every corner and turn. But if you begin—if you sit at a computer or a typewriter or even a small slip of paper, and if you start putting words down and then keep putting words down, you will be writing. Often it is as simple as that.

hurdleHere is a personal example. After having published three books by 30 (two as author, one as collaborator), late last year I didn’t have a single writing project to speak of. I wasn’t sure I wanted any, because being submerged in the mire again—see above paragraphs—seemed exhausting. Other concerns demanded my focus and time too, namely: my husband was on a seven-month combat deployment to Afghanistan, we had moved our lives across the country twice in less than a year, and I had just given birth to a baby, our first. Some days, accomplishing just laundry and dishes seemed out of my league.

But I knew that God had given me a love for writing and the opportunity to publish. He was percolating words in me that I wanted to put down. So on one harried morning, I dared draft an article query. On another day I bravely emailed some book ideas to my agent. It was just a baby toe stepped back into the pool, but from where I stood it was the all-important start, a jump at the big, looming hurdle.

That was trajectory, finally, and in a matter of weeks and months I was actually writing again: ideas flowing, plenty of potential projects on hand, a few materializing, and even (always miraculously) another book contract waiting in the wings. Perhaps more importantly, I was learning to chip away at this job, little by little, reminding myself that it would not be accomplished in a single swing. The laundry and dishes were waiting longer than before, but I figured I could deal with that.

Have you wondered, frustrated, how to get started writing? The solution can be as simple as a little trajectory. Tweet This

Stop trying to figure out how to start writing; instead, start. Aim at a goal and have the courage to start imperfectly and incompletely. As you get a handle on one area, add another. You will likely surprise yourself with all that can be attempted and accomplished. Writing is far more doable when you’re doing it.

What Food Network Star Taught Me About Author Branding

Marketing your Debut Novel: Part Two

Last month, I started this series on how to market your debut novel. You can find Part One here. We’re going to stick with the same time period of the writer’s life–the pre-contract phase.

In brief, I discussed those things an author should be doing pre-contract phase, which is identifying and building your brand through social media. You are working to build a well-defined tribe. (You are reading Seth’s book by now, right?)

The issue of branding became very apparent to me while watching The Next Food Network Star. Yes, hand straight up in the air, I like reality TV. If you’re not familiar with the series, earnest chefs attempt to win their own show on Food Network by doing next to impossible cooking tasks for a panel of feisty food judges they may work for someday.

The judges want to know what their POV is. This season one contestant, Malcolm, was often heard saying, “I don’t need a POV. I just need to cook great food. That will speak for itself.”

I’d like to indulge a few different words. “I don’t need a brand. I just need to write a great novel! The words will speak for themselves.”

The problem is where do said judges, or in our world, publishers, place you?

If you’re seeking publication and you’ve not been published before (particularly in fiction) you are going to have to 1. finish your novel and 2. write a book proposal.

A book proposal is essentially a marketing tool for your book. It’s the sales plan. It’s the blueprint of how your tribe (again, reading it?!?) will purchase your product.

One section of the book proposal is the dreaded “comparison” section. It can be called other things. Market analysis. Comparable books. In this section, you list books that are like yours (and what sets yours apart in a nice, professional way.) The purpose of this section is to help a publisher identify what type of audience you’re trying to reach. Is there consistency amongst the authors you picked and what type of novels they write? This helps a publisher know that you know yourself pretty well. You have brand awareness and can plug into the group of people who also like those authors.

But say I have little brand awareness. My novel is a Steampunk, alien invasion set during Roman times with a population of Amish quilters–and if a book like this makes it big, you heard it here first! My website looks like a Steampunk machine tossed out a Roman gladiator who just tousled with an alien on the prairie–and throw in a couple of Amish looking bonnets for good measure since those books sell really well.

In your comparable books section, you list these books: Proof by Jordyn Redwood (a medical thriller), The Half-Stitched Amish Quilting Club by Wanda Brunstetter (Amish gives a clue there), Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman (this is Christian non-fiction), and Francine Rivers’s A Voice in the Wind (which is historical fiction).

A publisher is going to be scratching their collective head. How can one fiction book possibly be placed by each of these novels? They’re so different. Not even in the same section.

But, you say, my book will satisfy all of those readers. A publisher shakes their head. No, it won’t. The books above represent very diverse readers. I’ve personally read two: my own and Not a Fan. Not to say the other two by Wanda and Francine are not excellent novels– but they don’t appeal to me and what I like to read.

Don’t be Malcolm. Discover your brand. BE the BRAND (think Miss Congeniality– BE the CROWN!)

So, you may ask, what happened to Malcolm? Voted off midway through the season. Great chef but “we don’t know who he is.” They didn’t know how to brand him.

What about you? How did you like writing your book proposal? How easy or hard was it to write the comparable books section?

In the Wrong Place at the Right Time

This may not be the place to admit it, but I’m having an affair. We go on dates, doing things together that we love. Other times we pull down the shades, dim the lights, and cuddle up close. And–dare I admit–sometimes we whisper in agreement about our future.

Yes, I confess, I am having a torrid love affair with books. We were meant to be together. I believe in them; they believe in me. We’re inseparable.

The intimacy of this relationship explains the uncontrollable urge that surfaces each time I finish reading a great book, this impulse to write my own hope-filled book that leads women right to Jesus.

As a new writer, I used to scour the bookshelves coveting the author names on the spines. I traced my fingers across compelling covers and inhaled the new-book freshness as I dreamed of my very own name gracing the art. I envisioned countless days spent whittling my words and learning to be a master craftsman.

Later, as a career writer, I fell into a whole new world. Today’s publishing culture demanded I become an expert not only at writing, but marketing and social media as well. A bit disconcerting to a shy writer who simply wanted to write well.

How could I improve my craft if I had to concentrate on building my platform before I was ever published? How would I offer both a high-concept idea and a stop-you-in-your-tracks platform that agents and publishers couldn’t refuse?

It was time to reconsider. Instead of my name on a book spine, maybe, for now, my place was a magazine byline? While focused on writing books, I couldn’t discount that writing for magazines might help me reach my goal. I couldn’t ignore the platform-building opportunity that freelance writing offered.

While an average book may sell 5,000 copies, the readership of some magazines hits millions. Last month, I wrote a feature for Guideposts that offered me an audience of five million readers. My audience expanded as I cast my writing net a little deeper, a little wider. That article led to about 10,000 hits to my website within a very short period of time and connected me to some amazing new readers and relationships. Oh, and I sold books like crazy.

I didn’t start out with Guideposts, I started regionally. My first published print article was for a women’s magazine in my hometown—monthly circulation about 50,000. But from that article came a couple of joint ventures and writing assignments that led to later features in national and international magazines. Today, I have a healthy following of women with whom I am honored to share hope and inspiration on a regular basis.

Without taking time to go to where my readers were (to build my platform), I imagine my first royalty check would have come from a small base of hardcore fans (all relatives). Not only did writing for magazines allow me the chance to make new connections, but I also honed my craft while cushioning my bank account—not a bad deal overall.

Ready to get started? Here’s a helpful article I found online on how to break into the national magazines.

By the way, feed my curiosity. What book can you not live without?