The Beauty of Marketing

Beauty

Book Marketing

There isn’t just one way to do it. The fact that there are many different book marketing strategies is your opportunity. Find a way to look at marketing in a way that you can enjoy it.

You want to be successful, right?

  • It’s not about embracing someone else’s idea of marketing and carrying it out with due diligence.
  • It’s about finding an effective marketing method that you can embrace with a passion and make it your own.

Most indie writers are artists at heart, not businesspeople. Yet self-publishing success, both on and off Amazon, depends on effective book marketing.

  • That doesn’t mean that you have to switch from artist to salesman to sell books. That’s like hammering a square peg through a round hole.
  • It means you have to view marketing as an art or craft to master, and pursue it with passion. That will fuel your self-motivation.

Look at this article. It’s about book marketing. I didn’t use $ signs for the picture. I left my artistic hat on and turned marketing into a rose.

You, too, can wear your artistic hat successfully both as a writer and an artist. Successful indie authorship is a combination of writing and marketing, both of which are driven by passion and feature creativity.

The business side of marketing books can seem dull and boring to writers. Many indie authors think of the following features when they first encounter marketing:

  • Advertising.
  • Self-promotion.
  • Screaming loudest.
  • Generating hype.
  • Judging a book by its cover instead of its content.
  • Salesmanship.

Actually, most of the things on the above list aren’t effective when it comes to book marketing.

If you approach marketing as something that’s dull or boring, you’re definitely not going to succeed at it.

  • Again, this doesn’t mean you have to get excited about something that you naturally feel is boring. That has inherent limitations.
  • Rather, it means that you have to find a way to look at marketing that makes you inherently passionate about doing it.

Fortunately, marketing does have highly artistic and creative elements that can appeal to writing artists:

  • Marketing is about sharing your passion with others.
  • It’s a chance to interact with others and let them discover your excitement about your book. (Let them ask you what you’ve done lately, rather than advertise what you’ve done. This distinction makes a huge difference.)
  • It’s an opportunity to put readers in a positive mindset before they open your book. People you interact with in person and who enjoy the interaction are more likely to look forward to your book with a good frame of mind.
  • You can wear your artistic and creative caps when you get involved in the cover design (a big part of marketing—it’s part of the packaging). Even if you hire a cover artist, you’re still involved in the design of your cover.
  • Blogging is a great match for marketing books. You love to write, right? Not only that, you get to interact with people who read your blog. You get to be creative coming up with ideas for posts and finding images to use.
  • Creativity is a great tool for catching the attention of your target audience and engaging interest in your book. When you talk to people, you have the chance to show your creativity in the conversation.
  • Imagination can also be a helpful marketing tool. Come up with a creative marketing idea and you’ll enjoy carrying it out; others may enjoy your creativity and check out your book.
  • Even your curiosity can be a benefit here, such as your curiosity for how to think of marketing in a way that doesn’t sound like salesmanship. Use your creativity to find other ways to think about marketing.
  • Branding is an art form. Pursue it as an art. Brand an image for yourself.
  • You can even approach marketing as a scientist. Come up with different hypotheses about marketing strategies and test them out.
  • Embrace book marketing as an art form and strive to master the craft.

If beauty truly lies in the eye of the beholder, then you have the power to see how beautiful marketing can be.

Chris McMullen

Want free information about book marketing? Find all my marketing posts by clicking here.

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

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Marketing Children’s Books

Childrens Books

What Do I Know About This?

Children, tweens, and teens make up a significant portion of the target audience for dozens of books that I’ve published.

This includes my Improve Your Math Fluency series of workbooks (arithmetic, algebra, and trigonometry), my chemistry and astronomy books, projects where I’ve collaborated with other children’s authors, and books that I’ve published under a pen name.

(My audience isn’t just children, though. Many adults buy the same books. Most of my books have a grown-up look to them so that the same books can appeal to both audiences.)

I have implemented the marketing tips that I share below.

Math

Who Is the Target Audience?

Ultimately, you write a children’s book for the kids. If the kids who read the book don’t benefit from the book, it will be very difficult to achieve lasting success.

But the kids may not be involved in—or even present during—the purchase. Parents and educators are more likely to make the purchase.

Both the packaging (cover and blurb) and content must appeal to parents and educators, or the book won’t sell.

The book needs to appeal to the target age group, their parents, and the educators of this grade level in order to have a fighting chance.

You must target a very narrow age group or grade, such as Ages 9-11, preteens, or grade 4.

You would love to sell your book to everyone from age 0 to 115, but if you market your book this way, it may not sell to anybody.

Consider the parent or teacher who is shopping for the book. For example, a parent may be shopping for a book for a child who reads at the second-grade level. This parent doesn’t want to buy a book that has a kindergarten reading level because that would be too easy, and doesn’t want to buy a book with a fourth grade reading level as it would be too hard.

The parent also wants the content of the book to fit the interests and perhaps relevant curriculum standards for this grade level. The material must also be parent- and teacher-approved.

Many authors avoid mentioning the age or grade level, but this is a big mistake. The worry is that specifying grade 4, for example, will eliminate a great percentage of the shoppers. And there may be children in grade 2 who can handle the material, or children in grade 6 who are still reading at the level of grade 4 or who would benefit from additional practice with the easier material. Specifying grade 4 might lose those sales, right? But it’s just the opposite!

What parent is going to buy 50 books to find the one that’s the right level? None! Parents and teachers need to know exactly what they’re getting. Specifying an age group or grade level (not broadly, like grades 1-6) helps much more than it hurts. If the parent can’t determine the grade level, from the perspective of the parent, chances are that it’s not the right level, so it’s not a good gamble. When the level is clear, the guesswork is removed.

Some parents will say, “Oh, that’s the wrong level,” and that’s okay. First, they weren’t going to buy the book anyway if the level hadn’t been clear. Second, if they did, they would be unhappy with the purchase, which leads to a return or a bad review. What you gain by specifying the level are several customers who say, “Hey, that’s the level I’m looking for.” Catching the interest of 10% of the people who check out the book is better than having 99% of the people who check out the book pass on it because the level is unclear.

There are a few exceptions. For example, if you write a book on arithmetic facts or tracing the alphabet, parents know by the topic whether or not the child is in the right age group. But if your book is about math, reading, science, history, or fiction, for example, there are many books on each of these subjects in many different grade levels, so you must make this very clear.

Here’s a tip: Use the words “and up.” For example, kindergarten and up, or grades 4 and up. This is less restrictive.

Level

The Challenges

One difficulty is designing a cover that appeals to both the children in the target age group and their parents or teachers. Cover design is already challenging when there is just one target audience. It’s even tougher for children’s books because it must appeal to two audiences to result in a single sale.

Traditional publishers often indicate the grade level on the cover, such as a large “2nd” in the corner. (Note that Amazon has a new feature that hides the top right corner of the cover until the buyer looks inside.)

Similarly, the content must appeal to children, parents, and educators.

With self-publishing, it’s up to the author to determine the grade level. The writing has to match the grade level that you specify, the content has to match this level, and everything must be age-appropriate. It’s not easy to get this right, but one mistake can greatly deter sales. You can search online to find tools to help give your book a readability score.

The better approach is to talk with local teachers of the approximate grade level, ask for their opinion, and find out what standards they use to determine readability. For example, if there is a particular software program that can help you pinpoint the reading level that is more likely to be recognized in your state or country, then that’s the program you want to use.

Another thing parents and educators have on their minds is the author’s qualifications. This may be a relevant degree or teaching experience, for example, but not necessarily. A degree and educational experience may be more relevant for nonfiction. But even for fiction, parents and teachers want their children to read text and content that is free of mistakes. How will children learn to read and write well if they read books that have mistakes? It’s important to write well and iron out the blurb and content as well as possible.

K-12 educators are strongly oriented toward a curriculum, which follows state or national standards. You want to determine how your book fits, or doesn’t fit, into the curriculum. If you’re hoping to have your book used in a classroom setting, teachers will surely be thinking about how it ties into the curriculum. Your book doesn’t necessarily need to tie into the curriculum, though. For example, many schools are dropping cursive handwriting from the curriculum, yet parents buy cursive handwriting books because they still want their children to learn these skills. How you go about marketing your book depends on whether or not it fits into a school’s curriculum.

Formatting is generally more complicated for children’s books, especially if there are pictures. In many ways, it is easier to format text. For full-page picture books, the text and images must fit together, and full-page images must be designed to bleed past the page edges for paperback books. Full-page pictures with text are challenging in e-book design since an e-book may be read on a tiny cell phone screen or a large iPad: Text needs to be clear either way. The screen may have color, or may be black-and-white, but sometimes two colors that contrast well together don’t look different in grayscale, so ideally the images should look good both in color and grayscale. Image size and memory are two more challenges for e-books that have pictures.

New children’s authors generally find it difficult to get discovered by their target audiences, but it is doable. Ultimately, it takes great content, but it also requires effective marketing, patience, and developing an author platform that includes several similar books.

One more challenge is the perception of value. Beginning-level books, especially, often have very few words, so it may not seem, to the reader, that much work is involved in making the book, unless there are really intricate pictures (when, in fact, it takes a great deal of effort to write a book at the appropriate grade level, and to format most children’s books; but the shopper may just be thinking about the word count). Paperbacks and hardcovers printed in color may be quite expensive, and Kindle e-books with pictures may have a high memory. This means that the price may be higher than you or the customer would like. One possibility is combining multiple books together into a single book to help create the perception of better value, but it doesn’t always work out (if the page count is high for a full-color book, or if the images take much memory in an e-book, a larger volume may still turn out not to seem economical). Chapter books, consisting mostly of text, have an advantage when it comes to pricing reasonably.

It’s important to be aware of the challenges as you plan your book, write your book, design your cover, prepare your blurb, and establish the grade level.

Writing

Blurb Tips

Parents and educators are most likely to read the blurb. If you write to a teen audience, this improve the chances that the “child” will be reading the blurb. Younger kids may also read the blurb, but even if they do, they probably won’t buy your book unless their parents also read your blurb.

So you want to have the parent and educator in mind while preparing the blurb. But the child is important, too.

It’s important to establish the specific grade level, target age group, or reading level. Parents and teachers don’t want to take a chance; they want to know the proper level.

Note that grade levels can vary considerably by country. For example, it may be more appropriate to identify the key stage for UK children’s books. Also note that Amazon uses the same product description for all countries, so if your primary audience resides in the USA, for example, it’s probably not worth indicating the appropriate level in the UK (also, spelling and wording would be different there).

A parent isn’t just looking for the grade level, but to see that the material is age-appropriate, the reading level is a good fit, the content is what the parent or child is looking for, the material will engage the child, etc. Think about the best features that your book offers. These should be clear from reading the blurb (but not explicit for a fiction blurb).

Concise blurbs are often more effective. A fiction blurb should grab interest quickly and arouse curiosity. A long blurb runs the risk of boring the shopper or giving away too much. You want the buyer to look inside.

A nonfiction blurb can be longer, if separated into block paragraphs. Use bullets to highlight key points. You can format blank lines, bullets, italics, boldface, and underline by signing up for Author Central.

Blurb Girls

Category and Keyword Tips

Unfortunately, the BISAC categories that you select when you publish your book are different from the categories that you find on Amazon. You must choose the closest match.

Tip: There is a “secret” to getting into special categories. A hard-to-find page in the Kindle help pages (check it out even if you publish a print book) reveals how to use keywords to get your book listed in certain categories:

https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A200PDGPEIQX41

Once there, click on one of the categories (such as Children’s or Teen & Young Adult) to pull up a table. The table lists the keywords that you need to use to get your book into a specific category.

In particular, to get listed in a specific age group, you must use one of these keywords:

  • Baby to 2 years old: Keyword = baby.
  • Ages 3 to 5: Keyword = preschool.
  • Ages 6 to 8: Keyword = Ages 6 to 8.
  • Ages 9 to 12: Keyword = preteen.

It doesn’t say, but if your audience is teens, it seems logical to include “teen” as a keyword (without the quotes, of course).

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows you to choose two categories, but CreateSpace only lets you pick one. Well, that’s not quite true:

Tip: Contact CreateSpace after your book appears on Amazon and politely request that it be added to a second browse category. Browse through the categories on Amazon, and when you find the best second category, copy the browse path (e.g. Books › Children’s Books › Fairy Tales, Folk Tales & Myths › Collections) into your email to CreateSpace.

In the past,  I have been advised that the BISAC category must be within Children’s in order to add a second category under Teen.

Rank 2

Getting into the Classroom

Just enabling a distribution channel that’s available to academia probably won’t generate many sales to schools. It’s worth having access to such a channel. For one, you can then say that your book is indeed available through that route if the topic comes up in a conversation. But you’ll probably have to market personally to generate sales among educators.

Well, I have had multiple sales of 25 to 200 books directly from Amazon. It doesn’t happen often, but it has happened periodically with me. Teachers are looking for material that they can use in the classroom, and some do have a budget for additional classroom resources. If your product page appeals to teachers, there is potential. This is like winning the lottery. You can’t plan for it. You can make your content and packaging as appealing as possible, and if you get lucky, enjoy it. If not, well, you should have realized it was unlikely. If you do get bulk orders this way, it’s likely to be rare unless you’re motivating these sales through personal interactions.

I’ve also had upwards of 150 copies of a book purchased in bulk through the Expanded Distribution. That academic outlet is open, but, in my experience, is quite rare.

The more likely way to get a book adopted for classroom use is to personally interact with teachers. You may have to suffer many rejections along the way. First, you have to have content that’s an excellent fit into the teacher’s curriculum. Then the teacher may already be quite happy with the materials already on-hand or accessible online. The teacher may not have a budget. The teacher just might not like your book. The grade level might not match up as well as you’d hoped. There are many reasons that your book might not get adopted. However, there are books that appeal to teachers, and if you happen to have one of those, taking time to personally interact with teachers may pay large dividends.

If the teacher wants to adopt your book in the classroom, it could be ordered directly from Amazon, it could be ordered through the Expanded Distribution (though not all teachers may know how to go about this), or if you publish with CreateSpace you can create a discount code and direct the teacher to your eStore. The per-book shipping is pretty reasonable for large orders, and a sufficient discount may be enticing. If the teacher is investing his or her own money, rather than placing an order from the school through the school’s budget, the optimal solution is for you to order author copies and sell those at a discount in person. You probably can’t sell author copies if the school is purchasing the books through school funds (since auditors will examine records, hoping to prevent schools from overpaying for products through personal transactions of this sort); in this case, Amazon, Ingram, or your eStore are best.

It’s still worth interacting with teachers even if the chances of your book being adopted for classroom use are very slim:

  • Teachers can help you judge the reading level of your text and the grade level of the content of your book.
  • Teachers can help you determine whether or not your book fits into the current curriculum.
  • Teachers may give you good ideas that you hadn’t thought of.
  • If the teacher likes your book, he or she could recommend it to parents, other teachers, etc.
  • The teacher may be able to help you arrange a local reading of your book to children and their parents at the school or a library (you may need to go through a fingerprinting process with the local police to ensure safety).

Most teachers are very busy people, and if you catch them at the end of the day, they’ve been dealing with kids all day long. Keep this in mind. If you show up seeming like a salesperson, you may not receive the warmest reception.

Don’t forget librarians: They can also help you judge the reading level of your book. They may even be willing to order copies of your book through Baker & Taylor to stock. Or you might be able to volunteer to read your book to children.

Another great opportunity comes with specialty bookstores that specifically stock educational materials. It’s like a teacher resource store, filled with educational workbooks, supplemental books, and all kinds of classroom materials, from dry erase boards to highlighters. If you can find any of these in your region, you may be able to sell them author copies at 40% to 55% off the list price (or on consignment).

20131102_090534

Opportunities Beyond the Classroom

You may have better success among parents or home school teachers. For one, they may not be as tied to the standard curriculum.

One way to meet parents is through local readings at a school or library.

There may be another opportunity. Many parents are looking for after-school help. This could include tutoring or additional practice for students who are struggling. But it also includes advanced sessions for students who are breezing through school.

I know a local parent who used to offer advanced math lessons in the evenings. She was very good at helping advanced students learn math ahead of the curriculum. Parents observed this, news spread quickly, and her after-school program was in-demand.

You can try to find parents or home school teachers willing to use your books. You can also create your own after-school program (or perhaps even an online course) where your book is part of the required reading. There are many opportunities if you have good content, personal marketing skills, the ability to think outside the box, and the motivation to do the work.

20140118_184900

Personal Interactions

Authors intuitively search for marketing strategies that involve little time or interaction, hoping to reach a large audience with little or no effort.

This is why so much money is squandered on ineffective advertisements, promotions, and hiring people to do the marketing for the author.

But personal interactions have the potential to be far more effective.

For one, it’s easier to get people interested in you—a living, breathing, interacting person—than a book that just sits there.

For another, parents and teachers will judge your character and personality. They can ask you questions to learn things that aren’t evident in your blurb, but which matter to them.

People who meet and interact with the author—and who enjoy this interaction—are more likely to check out the product page, buy the book if it’s a good fit for them, and leave a review if the book was helpful or entertaining.

20131102_104248

Marketing Children’s Books Online

You can’t interact directly with your target audience because you’re an adult. But you can interact with parents and educators.

It’s hard to find your target audience through social media, discussion forums, a blog, etc.

But you may be able to help your target audience find you. It may involve some work, but if you pull it off, it might be the most effective marketing that you do.

One way is to post an article in a high-traffic area. The article must be relevant to your target audience and your book. The end of the article needs to state Your Name, author of Your Book.

Another way is to create content for your own website or blog that will appeal to your target audience. Most authors who attempt this become quickly discouraged, and so never realize the full potential.

The problem is that if you write one article today, or a few articles this week, you can pour hours into the writing, yet even if the content is incredibly valuable to your target audience, it might get only a handful of views when it’s first posted, and then may not be viewed at all after that. It’s really tough to post more articles when the initial results are so dismal.

It can take months and several content-rich articles before a content-rich website begins to show its effectiveness.

A blog receives initial traffic from followers, reblogs, and the reader. But it can also receive continued traffic through search engines.

Your goal is to get regular search engine traffic. These are people who search for keywords on the internet, then find your article in the search results.

For this to be effective, the articles must be highly relevant for your book, and the keyword searches must be highly relevant for the articles. You don’t want to write about something so popular that your article will be virtually invisible, but you do want the keywords to be searched for with some frequency. It can take several articles before you hit the magic combination that pulls in traffic from search engines.

If you can direct dozens of people to your blog from search engines every day, this adds up to thousands or tens of thousands of people in your target audience discovering your book (assuming you mention or show your book somewhere on your website or at the end of your article, with a link to it). Presently, I have over 100 views of articles on this blog every day, on average, with at least 70% of the traffic coming from search engines. It didn’t start out that way. In the beginning weeks, I had just a handful of views of any post, with none of it coming from search engines.

The potential is there. You can’t realize it if you don’t try.

Wacky Sentences

Feedback Is Vital

How do you know if your book is good? Get it into the hands of your target audience.

You need beta-readers. (Don’t make your first customers beta-test your book. Then critical feedback comes in the form of a permanent review.)

Find out what children in the target audience like and dislike. What do the parents think?

Ask teachers, too. Their feedback can help you establish the grade level and see how your book fits with the standard curriculum.

Reviews 3

Who Are You?

When people discover your book, that’s what they’re wondering.

Are you qualified to write this book? Do you have relevant expertise or experience? These are things you want to highlight in your biography if you have the qualifications that parents and teachers are looking for.

You’re not just selling your book, but partly yourself, too. Ultimately, you’re trying to create a brand as the author of a children’s book or series.

Your author photo should portray the look of someone who could write a children’s book.

Author Picture 4 Cropped Small

More Than Just an Author

Chris McMullen, more than just the author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Marketing with a Blog

blog

Milestones

This blog is relatively new: I’ve been blogging actively here only for a little over a year.

Things started out very slowly. In the beginning, the numbers could easily have discouraged me, but I didn’t let them. We see many new bloggers show up, write a few posts, and vanish, which shows that many do get discouraged. But there is hope.

In my case, I just passed 20,000 views and 2,000 followers recently. Over the course of the first month or even the first few months, there was no reason to expect that I’d reach these numbers in a little over a year. Things can improve. There are reasons to expect improvement, which I will describe later in this post.

About Marketing

I don’t blog to market. I blog because I love writing, I’m thrilled to be part of a revolutionary time in the publishing industry that offers much more freedom, and I see thousands of authors taking the indie approach.

At first I strongly loathed the concept of marketing. But I became increasingly curious about it as I realized that it’s not really about advertising or salesmanship. I discovered that this crazy concept we call marketing can be a means of sharing your passion with others.

I’ve become passionate about this perspective of marketing. I enjoy studying ways that marketing can help you share ideas that you have a passion for without seeming like advertising or sales. Traditional textbooks approach marketing like a business. Many people in the marketing world who are most qualified to discuss the underlying principles also view marketing with regard to business.

But I’m a writer who, like thousands of indie authors, doesn’t view writing as a business, but as an art. Sometimes it’s handy to think about the business side, but when I write, I want to feel like an artist. I can motivate myself to write when I feel this way. Similarly, I can’t motivate myself to market thinking of it in a business sense. But I can put time, effort, and thought into marketing when I view it as an art.

Marketing can be viewed as an art. You can be creative with it. You can market to share ideas that you’re passionate about, rather than market to stimulate sales. The end goal might be the same, but how you feel about what you’re doing is different in each case, and the distinction matters. It affects your motivation, your confidence, the passion you show in interactions, how easily you give up, and more.

Again, I don’t blog to market my books. I blog because I love to write and blogging lets me do that. I blog to connect with other writers, and have made some good blogging friends and connections this way. I blog because I see thousands of other indie authors who I feel might benefit from my perspective on marketing. It’s easy to get discouraged in the publishing world. I hope a few of my posts provide a little encouragement.

In the Beginning

My first trip to WordPress was somewhat embarrassing. I actually joined WordPress in May of 2011. I signed up, did one quick post called “A New Kind of Word Puzzle,” and vanished into thin air. The post consists of one paragraph describing puzzle books that I coauthored. It’s nothing more than self-promotion and doesn’t read well.

It had 3 views the entire month of May, zero likes, and zero comments.

I could delete this post, but I leave it there as a reminder. That’s my experience with trying this the wrong way.

From May, 2011 thru November, 2012 (that’s 1.5 years), I didn’t make a single new post.

In December, 2012, I tried a second time. I posted “Customer Book Reviews – Can’t Live With ’em, Can’t Live Without ’em.” As of this morning, this post still has only 5 likes and zero comments. If you’re one of the 5 and reading this post over a year later… wow, you deserve an award. 🙂 There were 6 views of this post in December, 2012, and it’s now been viewed a whopping 7 times.

This post was, I felt, a huge improvement over my Hello, World post on word puzzles. It relates to writing and publishing, the same theme as I adopt today.

My next two posts didn’t fair much better, but I finally received a couple of comments. I started to get a few followers. It was very slow: a few views, a few likes, a few follows. By few, I mean like 3 to 5. Few. It can be really tough starting out. I felt like my posts were helpful.

I felt, as many writers can relate, that it was easier to sell a book on Amazon than it was to get discovered on WordPress. In fact, it took several months of active blogging before my average daily views finally exceeded my average daily sales. The author who starts blogging with the intention of marketing a book could get really discouraged by this observation. Fortunately, I wasn’t blogging to market my books, so this never concerned me.

On January 5, 2013, I had the inspiration for one of my favorite posts of mine, “Reading & Writing with Passion.” Some other bloggers apparently liked this post, too, as it received some comments, a reblog, and a couple of pingbacks. This post had 39 views that month. That was huge for one of my first handful of posts.

Meanwhile, you check out your Reader or Freshly Pressed and discover blogs with hundreds of thousands of views and posts with hundreds of likes and dozens of comments. The grass isn’t just greener on the other side—it’s made out of 24-karat gold.

It Should Start Slowly

Wouldn’t it be great to achieve instant success? (Nope. It would be easy, but not great. You wouldn’t appreciate it at all. You wouldn’t feel like you earned it.)

Whether you would like it to take off instantly or not, a blog is a seed that you plant, nurture, and grow. It starts out buried in the mud. After several weeks, you might see a tendril poke through the surface. If you watch closely for several days, it might seem to get a fraction of an inch taller. Months later, when you see the first sign of a leaf, you jump for joy. Many blogs get planted, watered for a short while, and abandoned.

And that’s the way it should be, to an extent.

Your blog is new. You don’t have a preexisting fan base to find your blog in the Reader or get your post by email. You’re struggling to get discovered.

You’re discovering other blogs. You’re interacting with other bloggers. You’re hoping to get discovered. But many of those bloggers have hundreds of followers. Some are waiting to see if you’ll be a regular, or just one of the many passing followers hoping for nothing more than a reciprocal follow. Those who do visit your blog see that you’re brand spanking new: They’re waiting to see more content, to see if you’ll be here for the long-haul, and to see if you have enough posts that will interest them. They already have a very full Reader, so they’re selective about adding new followers.

The numbers game doesn’t help. You start thinking things like… I’m posting 3 times per week… Blogging 1 hour per day… Typing 3000 words per week in addition to my book… Getting 2 new followers per week… Getting 6 views per day… Getting 4 likes per post. At 2 followers per week, it will take a year to reach a mere 100 followers. At 6 views per day, active blogging for a whole year will give you a mere 2000 views.

But while blogging starts out slowly, there is much potential for improvement. I started out with very slow numbers.  Yet I just passed 20,000 views and 2,000 followers after about 14 months of active blogging.

Blogging Potential

Everyone is different, but for most bloggers stats do improve significantly over long periods of time.

Your numbers probably won’t be identical to mine, but if you’re starting out, the growth of my numbers and those of many other bloggers may offer hope.

In January, 2013, I was getting just a handful of views and likes per post and follows per week. Slowly, over the course of months, this turned into dozens and then dozens more. Now, I have more than 100 views on my blog almost every day, even if I don’t post anything new. I usually get a couple dozen or more likes of my posts within the first couple of days. I get several new followers each week. Let me take a moment to shout THANK YOU to everyone who has been even a small part of this.

That’s a huge improvement, but I’ve only been actively blogging for a year and I’m still a small fish in a big pool. There are many bloggers getting hundreds of views per day, hundreds of likes per post, and who have over a hundred thousand followers. No matter how well you do, you can always find someone else who seems to be doing much better.

But I don’t blog for the numbers. If I did, I probably would have been one of the many bloggers who give up quickly and never return. I’m just sharing my numbers to possibly give some newbies a little hope.

One of the coolest things that happened to me was receiving an email from WordPress that one of my posts, “Once Upon a Time,” a poem made exclusively out of clichés, was being Freshly Pressed. Wow, they picked little ol’ me. They said I would be getting a lot more traffic at my blog, and they weren’t kidding. As of now, this single post has been viewed 1659 times. It has 167 comments (mostly clichés; these are among my favorite comments to read), 342 likes, and dozens of reblogs. I had my record number of views for a single day, 432, and received hundreds of followers during this period.

A blog can grow significantly over a long period of time, even if it might seem to do so very slowly. Several factors may help your blog grow:

  • A gradual increase in your following means a few more people reading your blog in the Reader or by email. Some followers are just hoping for a follow-back, and some followers are outside of your target audience. But as your following grows, your real following grows with it.
  • Discovery takes time. As you regularly interact with fellow bloggers and establish new connections, your blog will get discovered more. Not everyone will like your blog. Some will offer support, but won’t be in your target audience. But as your blog gets discovered more, your blog will grow. If you post a link to your blog from your books and other parts of your online platform, this will aid in discoverability.
  • It takes time to build relevant content and for the content to get discovered. If you post content that interests your target audience, it may eventually start to attract your target audience. Some posts get discovered through keyword searches through search engines. If you succeed in writing a few posts that get discovered a few times externally every day, this brings new people from your target audience outside of your blog-world to your blog. This is the idea behind a content-rich website. What starts out as a simple blog can grow into a content-rich website with material that will interest your target audience. This helps you share your passion with others. Your “target audience” is a wonderful group of people who share your passion.
  • The more you read other blogs and interact with other bloggers, the more you learn. You get ideas for how you might make your effective use of your blog. Your posts tend to improve over time. The appearance of your blog changes. You start to explore new features on WordPress. You have more content (i.e. all those posts you’ve written) to attract interest when your blog is discovered. Your most recent posts may be better than your old posts, helping you attract more interest.
  • You may expand, feeding your WordPress posts into Facebook and Twitter (but don’t cross-feed between Facebook and Twitter or you’ll get double or triple posts). Even if you don’t plan to make much use of Twitter or Facebook, this offers potential followers another way of following you. Some people prefer other forms of social media to WordPress. Let them follow you via their favorite platforms. If you do make use of other forms of social media, some of the people you reach over there will discover your blog that way.
  • The more posts you write, the better your chances of writing a magical post that goes viral. It can happen to you.

More than Just a Blog

Blogging isn’t about marketing.

There is so much here at WordPress:

  • There are many wonderful bloggers to interact with. Many of us feel that the interactions are the best part of the blogging experience.
  • There is so much wonderful material to read. Browsing through your Reader or Freshly Pressed is better than any magazine, in my opinion, and it’s free.
  • The WordPress community can be very supportive. This can be part of your support network.
  • WordPress abounds in creativity. It’s fun and inspiring.

In addition, your blog can be more than just a blog. It can also function as a content-rich website. This is the latest trend in marketing. The hope is to attract people from your target audience beyond your blog by posting relevant content. But I don’t think of this in a business sense. I see it as a means to share your passion with others. I see designing and growing your website as an art form. I don’t think of it as marketing in the usual sense of the word.

Visualize what your blog can be and work toward that. Enjoy it. Don’t focus on the stats, which can deceive and discourage you. Think positively.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

Book Marketing Assignment: What Do Your Customers See?

Eye

Concept: The Customer’s Perspective

It’s a very handy perspective to see your book the way prospective customers see it. They are judging your book, deciding whether to buy it, never buy it, or think about it for a while. The more insight you can gain into this, the better you can perfect the marketability of your book.

Challenge: A Different Perspective

The customers and the author view the book through much different perspectives:

  • Customers are deciding if the book interests them. The author has a crush on the book, whereas customers aren’t sure if they even want to shake hands with the book, let alone take it out on a date or propose to it.
  • Customers have no idea what the book is about until they see the cover, read the blurb, and check it out. The author already knows what the book is about; the author even knows the story and ending.
  • Customers want to learn about the genre and content. The author already knows these precisely.
  • Customers stumble along the sentences of the blurb and Look Inside as they are written, noticing any typos or formatting issues. The author tends to read what he or she meant to write, not seeing what’s actually there (making it easy to miss typos). It’s difficult for the author to consider how each sentence might be misinterpreted.
  • Customers are comparing the book to similar books, noticing any differences with what they are accustomed to reading. Authors should be thinking this way, too, when preparing their product pages, but, unfortunately, usually aren’t thinking this way.

Assignment: What Your Customers See

Months after publishing, it’s worthwhile to rediscover your book. You’re no longer feeling that strong urge to publish it; you’re no longer overwhelmed with all the work that must be done to publish the book. You’ve forgotten parts of your blurb, which gives you a chance to see it with fresh eyes.

Here is your book marketing assignment:

  1. Search for your book on Amazon. See how it looks on a page of thumbnails. Imagine not knowing anything about your book. Would you be able to guess the genre and content instantly? Is the title easy to read in the thumbnail? If this were someone else’s cover, what criticism would you offer?
  2. Read your blurb as if you’ve just discovered it. Sound it out slowly, listening to it one syllable at a time. Check carefully for any typos. Does the beginning of your blurb grab your interest? Does the blurb engage you throughout? Does it arouse your curiosity to want to look inside? Are there any sentences or phrases that customers might find confusing, or could just be more clear? Do you see any words, clichés, phrases, or ideas that may upset or confuse your target audience? Is there any punctuation that you’re unsure about?
  3. Examine the biography on your author page the same way. Look at your author photo. Does it seem professional? Do you look credible as the author of your book?
  4. Look inside your book. Scroll back to see your enlarged cover. Read through your title page, copyright page, and front matter carefully; take breaks every couple of paragraphs. Note any formatting issues, no matter how subtle, that might have a little room for improvement; also note any editing issues. Does the front matter make a good impression? You want to roll out the red carpet to welcome the reader, not have the reader pull on a grimy doorknob, press against a splintered door, and walk down a dark, damp hallway.
  5. Read the sample chapters. Does it start out engaging the reader’s interest and hold it throughout? Does the beginning fit the target audience’s expectations for the genre and content? Look carefully for any formatting or editing mistakes. Imagine this is somebody else’s book and you’re determined to show that person how many mistakes there are. If the sample doesn’t make you want to buy your own book, perhaps there is some room for improvement; think of how you might make it more compelling.
  6. Check out other books in the genre or category that appear to be successful. How do those covers, blurbs, and sample chapters compare to your book? Look for ideas that could help you improve your book’s product page. What makes those books marketable? What might your book be lacking?
  7. Ask others to examine your book’s product page and encourage honest feedback.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

The Value of Marketing Books

value

Why are you marketing your books?

The wrong reasons are for financial gain or sales. I’m not saying you shouldn’t sell books or earn royalties. I’m saying these shouldn’t be your motivating goals.

Why not?

Several important reasons:

  • Would you rather read a book that was prepared by an author who was passionate about the subject or who was trying to get rich quick? The key point here is that it can’t be the same book. The writing itself will be different based on the underlying motivation of the author.
  • Positive personal interactions with your target audience can get readers interested in your book. If your main objective is money or sales, your mindset is apt to be more businesslike* and less personal. People can sense if you seem to be passionate about your work or come across more as a salesperson.
  • You’re more likely to be focused on quick returns and lack the necessary patience. For example, branding is an important part of marketing, but can take many months to pay off. A blog works best when it is interactive, but tends to start out very slowly. Word-of-mouth sales can make a huge impact, but often not for a long time. When you’re focused on sales, it’s hard to work hard at things that might not pay off for several months.
  • Interacting with others is important in marketing, but a sales-oriented author tends to focus primarily on the book and sales. When you market for better reasons, you see the value of interacting with your target audience, establishing connections with other authors, and other personal marketing endeavors that are quite important. Your underlying objectives also affect how you interact with others, which in turn affects their perception of you.
  • Many roads will tempt you with prospects for quick riches. If your heart desires instant success, your desire can shove logical reasoning aside, distracting you with a variety of ways to invest money with the hope of big short-term gains. Striving to build gradually toward long-term gains tends to be both much more plausible and rewarding.
  • Financial goals can deceive you into bending your natural ethical beliefs. You’re in the public eye as you try to create publicity for yourself and your book. One false step can ruin your reputation. Authors must strive to brand a positive, professional image in order to achieve long-lasting success. Strong character and good intentions are assets.

If not Money, then What?

There are other factors that make book marketing valuable to both authors and readers. These factors can also make the marketing more effective. Here are a few examples:

  • Passion for the subject, book idea, or story. Infuse your writing with passion. View your book as a work of art. Use your passion to perfect your masterpiece. If you can take this a step further and convince yourself to share your passion with others, letting your passion show through implicitly in your marketing endeavors can make a big difference. It also changes your focus from your sales figures to the positive experience you can share with others.
  • For the love of writing. In this case your passion is for the craft itself.
  • To pass your knowledge on. You’re a teacher in addition to being an author. Place your emphasis on what students can learn from you (not just your book), instead of how many books you can sell. Samples of your content knowledge can help you attract students.
  • Helping others. A great story can offer an escape from reality, and a self-help book can help people improve their minds, bodies, or spirits. Focus on what you (not just your book) can do for others.
  • It’s fun. Writing is fun. At least, it should be. Enjoy it.

How Marketing is Valuable

It’s not the money. Sales do come from effective marketing. But there are other rewards that are more valuable than royalties. Again, I’m not saying you should sacrifice your royalties. I’m saying to focus on these other rewards, then the royalties will come on their own and the experience will be more enjoyable and less stressful.

  • It allows you to share your passion with others. People must discover your book before they can enjoy it. They are more likely to become interested in your book when they discover your passion.
  • You can build meaningful relationships through marketing. This is more likely when you’re focused on other rewards besides sales.
  • If your intuition tells you that marketing is about salesmanship and advertising, it may be refreshing to discover firsthand that you can market effectively on a more personal level.
  • The sense of belonging to a supportive author community is a reward in itself. The author community can be highly supportive (in a positive, ethical way, of course). Interact with others in a positive way, build meaningful relationships, and support others. Share your passion with other authors, not just with readers. (But also manage your time wisely. Don’t get lost in your blog. Save time for writing, your family, and yourself. You have to learn to juggle.)
  • Interact with your readers. Not only will your readers benefit from this and see your passion for your work, but you can learn about your readers this way, too.
  • Have fun with your writing and your marketing. This way, it isn’t work. You might feel more creative and passionate, which can make a positive impact. More importantly, you may feel better. Writing and marketing can be stressful, but they don’t have to be. The power to change this lies in your perception and motivation.
  • Make gradual improvements. Strive for long-term success. Grow your online platform and selection of books. Start out with a few basic marketing ideas and add to this. Eventually, if you develop a complete, professional author package and much improved sales, you may find such long-term success to be more rewarding than any short-term gain.

Ask not what your readers can do for you (i.e. how can they find and buy your books). Ask what you can do for your readers (provide an amazing reading experience).

*Business vs. Art

You must balance this wisely. It’s smart to research books already on the market before you write to assess your book’s chances. It’s smart to learn about your target audience before you write and before you market your book. But when you do the actual writing and marketing, feel like an artist.

Who Am I?

Chris McMullen.

I’m not just a name. I’m a person, too.

I have a Ph.D. in physics, but don’t let that scare you. I love to read and write. If you just look around my blog or at the books I’ve published, you’ll see that I love to write. I’ve come to understand and appreciate the marketing aspect, too. I didn’t like it when I first started publishing, back when I naively thought marketing meant salesmanship and advertising. Now that I realize that marketing is more about branding, showing that you’re a person and not a name, and letting your target audience discover your passion—and more meaningful and subtle things like these—I’ve come to enjoy it. I hope to reveal the enjoyable and fascinating side of marketing—the parts that aren’t so obvious—to other authors. Focus on this side of marketing, and you may find yourself more motivated to do it, the process more rewarding, and hopefully better long-term results.

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles by clicking one of the following links:

Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers