You talk in this book about this is your 3rd attempt at doing a blog. It’s fantastic that you now have a platform, but you admit this has taken time and effort. You are 5/6 years in now, but how many years would you say it took before you could see a change from starting with nothing? After giving up 20% of your income, when did this actually become a full-time career for you?
I self published my first book in April 2008, and I started the site, TheCreativePenn.com in Dec 2008 to share all my lessons learned in self-publishing but also in marketing and creative business. I blogged every 2-3 days for a year, started a podcast and started on Twitter in the first 6 months but I think it took about a year before I started to get a lot of comments or traffic. I had a couple of blogs before that which lasted a few months – one around the topic of the first book (don’t do a book based site as you will grow and change!) and the other on a topic I ran out of ideas for. In terms of blogging, you have to do it for the love of writing and your passion for a topic. In terms of my income, I always intended to make this a fulltime career so I was blogging in a professional manner, learning about copywriting and search engine optimization etc. I did a virtual Masters degree in online marketing in the first few years! I left my job in September 2011 after nearly 3 years of working part-time on building my creative business, with income streams from writing books, sales of online courses and products as well as professional speaking.
Your advice on ‘When to start marketing’ is great. You also mention that launch sales are generally disappointing compared to what happens once the Amazon algorithms kick in. Would you recommend a launch for new books or just get it out there and start marketing?
The whole launch mentality is based on the traditional publishing cycle of monthly releases and the fact that bookstores change their front-list inventory every month. Publicists at traditional publishing houses generally work for a few weeks on one book, and then move onto the next book in the queue. For indies, we never need to have one specific launch period, as we can promote our books forever! A book is always new to the next person who finds it.
But in terms of my own launch strategy, I like to have a ‘soft launch’ where I load the books to various platforms, get the formatting all sorted and some early reviews from my list. Then once that is all sorted, then I will do some promotion, e.g. paid adverts on BookBub or Kindle Books and Tips, plus social media sharing. But the best form of marketing is really to build up an email list of fans over time, and then email them when the book is ready. ‘How to Market a Book’ made #1 in several Amazon categories because I had a lot of people who were ready to buy and so when I sent the email out, the book went up the charts. All other marketing efforts should be about driving people to your email list and growing that over time.
You have a section on experimenting and marketing, but if someone could only spare a small time marketing, is there any particular area you would advise them to concentrate on?
Get your book right first – a great cover, title, description, price and the right category. Then have at least a website with an email signup area so you can start building your list. Then everything else is jam! I suggest using pictures to start building up a following – pictures of your life, things you see, quotes from your books. Visual marketing is important right now as the space is crowded and people make a split second decision on whether to check anything out. The image can often make all the difference.
Many writers have jobs (or have experience in other areas other than writing). For example, I have an online wedding boutique, I’m a qualified wedding planner and have written three non-fiction wedding books. Do you think if fiction writers could find a non-fiction specialism (like yourself with Creative Penn) this can really help boost sales with their fiction writing?
I think the crossover from non-fiction to fiction is very small, unless you have books that are highly targeted. So I have two non-fiction books for authors, which sell to my blog audience at www.TheCreativePenn.com but then I never set out to write fiction – that came a lot later than my original non-fiction, career change focus! Only about 5% of my audience have crossed over to my fiction.
If I was starting again now, purely as a fiction writer, I wouldn’t be writing about publishing or book marketing, I would just be doing it! I would still be blogging about my research process and writing itself, which I also do on www.JFPenn.com, my fiction site. But for me, I have two businesses, two income streams, so I need both. You can read more about how I manage two brands here: www.thecreativepenn.com/2014/01/26/a-tale-of-two-author-brands/
We chatted briefly about when I was studying for my MA in Creative Writing, there was the belief that self-publishing wasn’t the way forward. You give some really great advice in this book, about sending off press releases to journalists, but do you think there is still a stigma in the media industry about self-publishing?
I think the stigma has gone away in the US, and is on its way out in the UK. In the last few months, I have been on SKY News Sunrise as well as in a British national paper, The Independent, plus the biggest free paper in London, Stylist. I didn’t pitch any of those myself, they all found me and none of them asked or mentioned who my publisher was. Another friend of mine, and proud indie, Polly Courtney, is regularly on the BBC and SKY as a media commentator, as well as in glossy women’s magazines and more. Basically, the story matters, not the publisher, so I think authors shouldn’t even mention how their book is published. Just have a professional looking cover, and no one will even ask!
Joanna offers lots for free at http://www.TheCreativePenn.com including a free 87 page Author 2.0 Blueprint all about writing, self-publishing and book marketing. She has two books for writers available in ebook and print formats, ‘How to Market a Book,’ and ‘Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives and Other Introverts.’ She writes Thrillers on the Edge as J.F.Penn including the bestselling ARKANE series, and Desecration, a crime thriller.