“Have I Arrived?” Defining Your Expectations as a Writer

I recently went to a fabulous wedding. It was held at a vineyard in California wine country and everyone was dressed to the nines. I was able to interact with many acquaintances I rarely see.

“You’ve published a book!” A friend’s mother cried, hugging me with enthusiasm.

“Self-published,” I felt obligated to mention.

“Yes, but you always wanted to be a writer, and now your dream has come true! You have arrived!”

As she ran off to be photographed next to the bride, I let her gracious words marinate in my head for a while. Have I arrived? Not by my system of measurement. In many instances, a writing career is something that can take a lifetime to establish. So, how do authors know when they have ‘arrived?’

On the outset of any undertaking, it is important to determine what success looks like. Writers can only benefit from defining their own expectations of success. Does success mean self-publishing a book on Amazon for friends and family to enjoy? Does it mean filling a need or service in the community? Does it mean a lucrative career and multiple bestsellers that are optioned for film?

Plane red carpet

If you aspire to have your work read by as many people as possible, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a popular writer. However, if you only recognize success as a big time book deal and an over-sized cardboard novelty check, you may never reach your ultimate goal. The writing journey is a long one, with many milestones on the path to success. Reaching a milestone goal might be cause for celebration. How about celebrating the first time a stranger approaches you and asks about your writing? Why not celebrate your first book review that goes online? Maybe one of your milestone goals is selling three hundred books and you celebrate by going out for sushi. There are people who have sold three million books and it doesn’t feel like enough to them. That’s the difference between people who walk the earth happy and those who are vaguely dissatisfied and unfulfilled. They never established the finish line, so all they can see is what they have yet to accomplish, not what they have already accomplished.

If your goal is to be the best writer in America, that’s not possible to quantify, and trying to measure your success will only frustrate you. Whatever your endgame, the point is to determine the location of the finish line and create goals and expectations for building your writing career. It’s important to be honest with yourself about where you want to end up. If you can clearly define and articulate where you want to go, you have a much better chance of getting the help you need to reach your destination.

Emily Bronte only wrote one book in her life, but it was Wuthering Heights. She did not live to see the widespread acclaim for her book, but we can all agree that she was an exceptionally successful writer. Many writers wait for their audience to decide if they have arrived. They are waiting for a stamp of approval from the world, a bestseller list placement, their parents, friends, or maybe their high school creative writing teacher. At the end of the day, though, only the writers themselves can determine if their goals have been met and they have finally arrived.

Do you think that success as a writer is about the destination or the journey?

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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).