Connecting with People at Conventions

Happy businesswoman talking to colleague at lobby in convention center

Writers connect with people all the time through the written word. However, every so often, a writer might have the opportunity to connect with large groups of colleagues and potential readers at conventions. Think of conventions in the area of interest of your book, conventions of organizations to which you belong, and conventions attended by publishers and other writers. While each convention will vary in the number of attendees, the opportunities to exhibit books and materials, and the types of workshops offered, here are some ideas about connecting with people in three areas common to most conventions:

  1. Exhibit Hall Displays: In addition to being a great way to collect pens and small marketing freebies, exhibit halls offer the opportunity to learn about products related to your work and meet people in your field. Take the time to engage in conversation with people in display booths. If possible, take advantage of the chance to display your books and materials. Few writers will find it practical to pay for a separate display booth, but many writers can take advantage of shared display spaces. If your publisher has a booth at the convention you are attending, ask if you could have a time to greet people at the booth and sign books. If you are allotted a shared display space, prepare materials in advance that meet the set specifications for the space. In addition to your books, prepare small marketing materials that people can have for free that connect them to your business. Spend time manning your display space, but also set up the space to work for you when you are attending other events at the convention.
  2. Sessions and Workshops: The key to juggling time in the exhibit halls with attendance at the sessions and workshops offered at a convention is choosing the most relevant events to attend. If the convention involves voting during the organization’s business sessions, carve out time to make your voice heard by voting on the issues important to you and casting your vote for officers of your organization. If given the opportunity to present a workshop at the convention, prepare materials for participants and provide your social media and other contact information on the last slide of your presentation.
  3. Luncheons and Receptions: Luncheons, dinners, and receptions offer a more relaxed atmosphere to engage in conversations with people. Register in advance for the events where you will find people most interested in what you have to offer and  where you can connect with people that will help you grow in your career, business, or writing expertise. Remember that actively listening to other people is the key to making new connections. Talking to people from across the country or even around the world who have flown in to the attend the convention will expand your perspective and provide insights into the needs of the people you serve. Exchange business cards so you can carry on the conversation  long after the convention has ended.

How do you connect with people at the conventions you attend?

Power in Numbers

Inumbersequalsmile‘m an odd duck.

I’m one of those writers who, while I love crafting words to make a story, also have this strange love of all things numbers.

About 90% of you just had an icky shudder run down your spine.

I was chatting on the ride home from ACFW a month ago with Carol Award winner Patrick Carr. Patrick is a fellow numbers lover, a math teacher by day and former engineer.

In our chat, I finally found someone who does the same thing I do — follow the numbers!

Granted, the numbers can royally stink. I’ve known a lot of authors who purposely do NOT look at their sales numbers or Amazon rankings because it is depressing.

I get this. Oh BELIEVE me, do I get this.

But the thing is, there can be power in numbers if you use them correctly and don’t overly obsess.

Any savvy business person knows the key numbers of his business off the top of his head. In a previous career, I was a corporate payroll manager for a billion dollar company. (Yes, I knew their annual sales numbers…). One thing our executives required was that all corporate managers know their numbers. At any time, I needed to be able to spout off total annual payroll dollars, number of employees (and by company too, as we had 16 of them…), and a host of other metrics related to my department. The point was to be an expert on your area of influence, and an expert knows their numbers.

Numbers matter. They tell us a host of facts and help us make wise, educated business decisions.

Below is a list of numbers I think would be useful and necessary to all (published) writers who are treating this whole publishing thing as a business. (Because not all of us are… and that’s okay!)

1.) Profit and Loss. Basic accounting here. Income minus expenses = profit. If that number is a negative, it’s a loss. If you’re operating at a loss, two things to do: Increase income and/or decrease expenses. I suspect many of us operate at a “loss” for the first few years. It’s our start-up cost, if you will. But keeping an eye on profit and making sure you’re not overspending is a sign of a good business-savvy writer. Don’t wait until the end of the year when you do your taxes. At least once a quarter, do the math. Make a plan for the next month. You’ll be more fiscally responsible for it.

2.) Trends. I tread lightly here. Paying TOO much attention to trends (i.e. checking our Amazon Sales ranking on a daily or *ahem* hourly basis, not that I would EVER do that…) can be counterproductive, because you waste WAY more time than it’s worth. But following trends, especially after particular marketing events you’ve done, is super useful. You can get an idea of the value of your marketing dollars, whether spending $X amount of money for an ad on that blog was worth it or not-so-much. I’ll be the first to say, I am a firm believer that marketing value is about more than the immediate hard-dollar sales impact. It’s about building your brand and getting your name out there, and a GOOD marketing campaign will have worth beyond anything you can see on immediate sales trends. BUT! If you have little or no impact on the short-term, chances are you’ll have little or no impact on the long term either. So check those numbers, know what they mean, know what your “normal” is. Then use that information when formulating your marketing plan.

3.) Goals. In the accounting world, you have “sales budgets” but in the writing world, I call these sales goals. What numbers do I WANT to hit and NEED to hit? Personally, I usually set my goal number really high, but not so high it’s unattainable. Mostly because for ME, I like to hit goals. I don’t always do it, but if I have a good, high goal, some internal oomph in me says, “Hey, I’m lagging, I need to step it up!” Other people need smaller goals, and that’s good too. Set that goal, and when you achieve it, set a higher one. Regardless your method, set sales goals and work to achieve them.

4.) Platform numbers. At ACFW, I sat down in a pitch session with an editor from a publishing house and in our talk, we chatting about social media. I rattled off a few of my numbers…total fans on my FB page, total friends, etc. She wrote the estimates I gave her in a notebook and nodded, saying, “Good. I was just going to ask you that.” Publishers want to know your numbers too. What is your reach? Even if it isn’t as big as you like, know your numbers. Be proud of them, because you’ve worked hard on your platform building. (Then see #3 about setting goals to achieve that next level!)

5.) Your agent’s phone number. Just sayin’. It’s a nice number to have for when you get overwhelmed at the numbers and need to be talked off of the ledge! (Not that I’d ever do that to Sarah…) Oh, and your accountant’s phone number would be helpful too if you have a little tic in your neck after reading all this!

A few numbers to not worry about….

– Hourly rate. I’ve known a few people who log their writing hours and then once they are published, calculate out how much they “made” per hour on that book. My advice: Don’t do it. If your sales numbers don’t depress you, THIS number surely will! It has no intrinsic value, because it’s hypothesizing that you wouldn’t have written those same hours at a rate of zero. And let’s face it: We probably still would have.

-Nitty-gritty details. Number of blog comments per year, number of Facebook likes on comments, number of tweets, number of gross sales vs net sales (really, you only care about the net). So borrow from the Bible… Meaningless, meaningless, they are all meaningless. Only spend your time on the numbers that have value in knowing them.

Let’s chat: How you do look at your numbers? Do you study them or just leave them alone, figuring they are what they are? Any interesting ways you’ve put your numbers to work for you and used them?

Half Baked: A Publishing Recipe

Is most of your writing only half-baked? It’s easy to get distracted with all the wonderful topics to write about, and many of us have manuscripts that are still rising on shelves in the garage. That being said, it’s sometimes nice to go through the steps of what happens when a book does in fact make it all the way to publication. Here is a basic recipe detailing the steps that are required in creating a fully baked book:

For a first time author, a book usually starts with a completed, edited manuscript for fiction, or a proposal and sample content for non-fiction. Published authors can sometimes sell novels on proposal, but not usually. Best practices suggest that unpublished authors should try and find a literary agent, once their manuscript is ready for submission. Few publishers accept work directly from authors sans representation, and a good agent can greatly aid a manuscript’s success rate.

After a literary agent has taken on a manuscript, they then send it to editors at different publishing houses. The literary agent targets the submissions to the publishing houses that they feel are most appropriate for the book. The editors take a look at the project, and if it’s something they are interested in they will share it with their colleagues to determine the level of interest. If the editor receives word that they can move forward with the manuscript, they will send an offer to the literary agent.

The submission process can take anywhere from weeks to months (or even years), depending on how long it takes to find an interested editor. An offer may include advances and / or royalties. Sometimes the offer may even be a contract for several books. If more than one editor is interested, there may even be a bidding war situation to determine which publisher can create the best offer. When the terms have been agreed upon and the author accepts an offer, the publisher will send a contract to the literary agent. The literary agency may have a contracts expert review the fine print and negotiation points. Once the contract has been signed, it’s time for the author to get writing (if the book was only sold on a proposal).
Little Chefs

Once the manuscript is completed (non-fiction), or after the contract is signed (fiction), the editor will usually send a letter recommending changes to the manuscript. These changes are more or less negotiable, but authors usually follow the recommendations of editors. After all of the recommended changes have been made and the manuscript is deemed ready to go, it is copy edited. Spelling and grammatical errors are corrected. The pages are laid out to show what the book will look like. The author reviews the different versions of the completed manuscripts. The publisher works on the design of the book (including cover, trim size, font, paper type, and other details).

The editor manages the process of having marketing experts write copy for the publisher’s catalog, come up with the cover details, create buzz, and launch marketing plans. Several months before the book’s publication, sales specialists will coordinate with their bookstore partners and take book orders. This part of the process helps determine how many copies of the book will be printed. The agent might oversee this process to verify everything is on track. It usually takes a year or more for the publication process to go from finished manuscript to book for purchase. It can be fast tracked if it is an especially hot project, but the process usually requires quite a bit of lead time. When the publication date arrives, the book goes on sale. The book is now available to customers, and the customers often take it from there. Positive feedback, great reviews, and word of mouth are still some of the best forms of marketing. After that, the author is launched into instant literary stardom (or not). The author then writes a second book and the process repeats.

Hopefully this recipe for completing a half-baked book has been helpful – and now, I’d better get back in the kitchen.

Building the Perfect Brand

I recently attended a branding seminar for authors and wanted to share best practices with the WordServe Community. Here are 4 Sizzling Secrets to Branding You and Your Book from speaker Liz Goodgold, Branding Expert for www.RedFireBranding.com:

1. WIIFM: What’s in if for me?

Your audience wants to know what they are going to get out of buying and reading your book. Sell a benefit or a result – think in terms of a call to action. Will your reader learn a skill, come away with increased knowledge, or be entertained? Knowing your endgame is a huge part of selling the benefits and the results.

2. Consistency is Key

Brands have to be consistent. In-N-Out Burgers always taste the same, and they have since the forties. That is consistency at its finest.  Your audience is looking for that kind of consistency. Once you have established your brand it’s important to stay with it. Think in terms of household names like Chicken Soup for the Soul, or the ‘Dummies’ do-it-yourself guides or perhaps the Mars and Venus books. For writers who tackle random subjects without a real sense of continuum, Liz recommended that the books should still appear consistent with regards to style, size, type, and font. Branding by color is a popular way to go.

3. Book Title – Easy Recall

A well-branded book title is catchy and simple to recall; it also carries over easily from one book to the next. In hindsight, my book, Gumbeaux, was probably not the perfect title as it can be considered difficult to pronounce. However, I have the opportunity, based upon Liz’s learnings, to title my next book: “Rancheaux” or something with a similar suffix. The suffix could work as well for me as “itos” does for Doritos, Cheetos, Tostitos, etc.

4.You Are the Brand

You are not building a book, but an empire. Don’t create a website that is only useful to promote a single book unless you are positive you’ll never write another one. It should be fluid enough to support your blog, sales channels, books to come, a potential series, etc. Check out the websites of your favorite authors and notice how they position themselves not just as writers, but as brands. Use jargon that resonates with your writing platform. You are the brand – not your book – so think big.

How are you building your brand?

Judging a Book By Its Cover

We’ve all heard the saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but that’s not completely realistic. Buying habits have shifted heavily and more people are buying books online than ever before. The digital images we use on our book covers and websites need to be decent looking. Poor images are distracting and only serve as comedy relief for all those book snobs out there. You worked too hard on that book to just slap any old photo on the cover. No one wants to be represented by a grainy image that screams, “I don’t care enough about my work to take this part of the process seriously.”

Hesitant to use digital images you haven’t taken personally? That’s understandable. People can get in a lot of trouble for using a photo without proper permissions. Just because a photo is accessible via Google Images doesn’t mean it’s okay to upload to a website or use on a book cover. I highly recommend going to a stock photography vendor and purchasing the high-resolution digital files of your heart’s desire. Stock photos are ready-made, categorized images for promotional materials. Just like when you go to insert clip art into a Microscoft Word document, you can search for images by subject. If you want a photo of a horse, just type in the word ‘horse’ and see what comes up.

My favorite vendor for stock photography is istockphoto.com. Since 2000, they have been a trusted source for media, design elements and royalty-free stock images. Royalty-free means that you only have to pay one time to use an image or file multiple times. They also offer a legal guarantee that content used within the terms of their licensing agreements will not violate any copyright laws. There is so much stock photography out there to chose from that the possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

Need a crash course in digital imaging? A pixel or “picture element” is the smallest part of a digital image. Greater numbers of pixels in a digital image usually mean a larger image and/or greater detail within said image. A digital file‘s resolution is determined by pixels per inch (ppi). Generally speaking, higher resolutions result in greater detail. The address of a pixel corresponds to its physical coordinates. Digital images vary in file sizes, which impact the pixels per inch. For example, one photo I reviewed was a picture of London Bridge. In order to purchase this photo, there was an option of an XSmall version (347 x 346 pixels) for $8.00. The same image had scalable options ranging all the way up to XLarge (3456 x 3456 pixels) for $34.00. With so many options available, there is sure to be one for your price point.

Maybe people don’t judge a book strictly by its cover, but it is still a representation of the author. Having a quality book cover and cover image never hurts, but having a substandard one sure does. You only get once chance to make a first impression. Why not exceed the expectations of your readers right out of the gate?

What are your thoughts on book covers and digital images?

Direct Mail – Cool As Ever

Have you ever sent a letter to prospective customers asking them to buy one of your books? If so, you have participated in direct mail marketing — one of the most efficient and effective selling techniques. If you think it’s too old school for you, then consider this: 55% of Americans read the news, 95% have telephones, 98% have television sets. However, 100% of Americans have a mailbox. Therefore, it is your only 100% opportunity to hone in on your targeted audience.

There are four components to a successful direct mail campaign: the Creative, the List, the Offer and the Results.

1) Creative: Of course you want your direct mail piece to be eye-catching and informative. How you present your offer to your list has to be done professionally so that all of the emotional hot buttons are triggered while also maintaining interest and going for the sale. Some of the best copywriters are paid thousands of dollars to write a single sales pitch letter, simply because the creative aspect of your campaign is that important. If your budget allows it, consider using variable data printing, which personalizes each letter to its recipient using demographics such as male/female, geographic region, etc. Even just a first name is effective in grabbing attention.

2) List:  Although your current customer base is incredibly valuable, it will be necessary to continuously seek out new customers as well. Your current customers will only buy so much. Aside from that, you will lose customers every year for various reasons. A good way to replace your eroding customers is by acquiring targeted mailing lists. It’s great to have a fantastic book but unless you can get it in front of the correct audience, it’s all for naught. The best list for you may be expensive, and you can expect to pay per name. The more targeted the list of prospects, the better. If you are selling a book on, say, surfing, you want to find a list of people who surf AND who buy books on surfing. If you get a list that is cheap or free, that doesn’t mean it’s a good one. In fact, you want to be absolutely sure you have a solid list before you start sending out direct mail offers and accruing postage fees. Acxiom® and Dun & Bradstreet® are examples of companies that sell lists. You can also work with a direct mail advertising company who can walk you through the entire campaign, such as Modern Postcard.

3) Offer: What you offer in the direct mail campaign needs to be exclusive to the group, while also being priced to make a profit for you. Make an offer that will get the recipient to act quickly, such as directing them to your website to see a sample chapter, free gift or autographed copy if they respond by a certain date. The options are unlimited, so you can test lots of different ideas to see which offers produce the best outcomes.

  • Keep the offer simple: One or two QUICK benefits: “Save time and money with our services!” or “Stay warm this winter!”
  • Give a reason to continue reading: “See the other side for big savings!”
  • Make a big promise and be sure you can fulfill it: “Order now and enjoy a full head of hair in three weeks!”
  • Include an expiration date… create a sense of urgency or exclusivity. The most compelling direct mail pieces have a call to action.

4) Results: A direct mail campaign which produces more than a 2% response is considered successful. Lower than a 1% response is typical. You then need to take into account the conversion rate (the conversion of responses into sales), assuming the campaign is designed to produce responses or inquiries and not just actual sales.

Do not engage in a 100,000-piece nationwide mailing your first time out of the gate. Try 500 or so at first and see how it goes. This way you can tweak the results, eliminate certain demographics and introduce others. Think of this kind of marketing as a long play that takes some honing. Aside from sales, some additional metrics to consider are the number of orders, how many offers were redeemed, how many responses by phone / email you received and the estimated future value of your new customers. Track your responses carefully. Enter them into a CRM system like ACT!®, Goldmine®, Salesforce®, etc., put them into an Excel® spreadsheet, put them in a box or record them in a notebook. Track them and make sure they are updated regularly, if possible.  A mail house can assist you by checking your list against their national change of address software, and provide you with any move updates so you can follow your customer base.

Not all books can be sold successfully through direct mail. The topic must be of interest to the targeted audience and the price must be sufficiently low to encourage people to respond with an order. Tell them why the information in your book will be of interest to them. In closing, you might find it interesting to know that direct mail came back in a big way in 2011, increasing by $10 Billion and gaining another 5% in terms of total ad spend share. Each dollar spent on direct marketing yields, on average, a return on investment of $12.05. By comparison, each dollar spent on non-direct mail advertising yields an ROI of $5.29. (Source: DMA ‘s Power of Direct Marketing; 2011 Edition).

WordServe News: May 2012

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

Proof by Jordyn Redwood (Kregel)

Dr. Lilly Reeves is a young, accomplished ER physician with her whole life ahead of her. But that life instantly changes when she becomes the fifth victim of a serial rapist. Believing it’s the only way to recover her reputation and secure peace for herself, Lilly sets out to find–and punish–her assailant. Sporting a mysterious tattoo and unusually colored eyes, the rapist should be easy to identify. He even leaves what police would consider solid evidence. But when Lilly believes she has found him, DNA testing clears him as a suspect. How can she prove he is guilty, if science says he is not?

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New WordServe Clients

Judy Gordon Morrow is a lifelong lover of words and has published poetry, articles, song lyrics, and devotionals. Her first book dealt with pregnancy loss, followed by nine gift books. In her prior “word-lover jobs,” she served as a school librarian, newspaper copyeditor, and nonfiction editor at Multnomah Publishers. She speaks at events for women and writers, sharing her passion for the Word and words. Judy is called Mom by three sons and two daughters-in-love and Grandma by one (soon to be three). Judy lives in a charming mountain community in northeastern California, where she savors small-town living. (Agent: Barbara Scott)

New Contracts

Anita Agers-Brooks, a debut author, signed a contract with Leafwood Publishers for her non-fiction book titled First Hired, Last Fired: How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market. Anita manages approximately seventy employees at one of the largest river resorts in the country. She speaks annually at the National Professional Paddlesports Conference and also teaches at their national business school. She is a speaker for the National RV and Campground Association and the Missouri RV and Campground Association. Anita is a speaker on circuit with Stonecroft Ministries, an international speaking ministry for women, and a member of the National Association of Christian Women in Business, Women in Business, National Association of Women Business Owners, and the Christian Writers Guild. She is a graduate of Christian Leaders Authors and Speakers Seminar and is a certified Training Facilitator, Communications Specialist, and Personality Trainer. Check out her blog at www.freshstartfreshfaith.wordpress.com.  (Agent: Barbara Scott)

What We’re Celebrating!!

Pamela Binnings Ewen’s book The Moon in the Mango Tree published by B&H has won the Eudora Welty Memorial Award given by the prestigious American League of Pen Women in their 2012 Biennial Letters Competition. (Agent: Barbara Scott)

Barbara Scott and Sarah Joy Freese attended the Colorado Christian Writers Conference this month. Both Barbara and Sarah met with some aspiring writers, several editors, and current WordServe authors. Barbara presented two workshops at the conference including How to Impress an Agent and Branding. Marlene Bagnull, the conference director, is such a blessing to authors, editors, and agents. Although the days were long, the experience really served as a ministry to all who attended.

What can we help you celebrate this month?