Rising Through the Ranks | A Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization (Part I)

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve explored some of the benefits of tapping into social networks (read those blog posts here, here, and here) for self-published authors.  Even for beginners or newcomers, there are ways to take advantage of the complex tools now at our disposal.  And social media is just the beginning! 

This week, I’m going to launch a series of blogs to provide a primer to––or a launching point for future discussions about––another means of augmenting your digital presence: Search Engine Optimization (or SEO).  What does this somewhat obscure term mean?  Simply put, SEO is a constellation of processes that boost your visibility on the internet by making your digital content––whether book page listings, or blog posts, or book trailer videos––easier for the average internet user to find.

But first, a touch of necessary background:

These days, it’s much easier to find information online than it used to be.  The internet has gone through a number of changes, but if you hopped onto a computer in the early 1990s, you will remember just how different the experience was.  If you didn’t have a specific website address to type into your browser’s navigation bar––well, good luck finding anything other than an error message!  Lucky for us, we now have access to search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.  All you have to do is enter a couple of keywords into the search box, and a complicated algorithm takes those keywords, chews them over, and spits out thousands of websites that contain relevant information.  This search process has become so easy, and so subsumed into our everyday activities, that it seems both natural and obvious to hop online to answer even the easiest questions, including ‘what’s the weather like today?’ or ‘what time does the grocery store close?’

We tend to think of search engines as democratic tools, as likely to spit out one piece of relevant information is it is another, equally relevant piece.  All blogs dedicated to self-publishing should get their chance at the top of a list of search results, right?  Wrong.  The first thing you need to know about search engines is that the results they provide are strategically ranked.  Paid advertisers on Google, for example, spend a considerable amount of money to guarantee that their websites are at the very top of every list.  The second thing you need to know about search engines is that there are some extremely simple––and entirely free––steps you can follow to take advantage of, or optimize your digital content for, these algorithms.  That’s where this blog series comes in––we’re here to help!

Step 1: Optimize Your Keywords

Functionally speaking, a keyword is a word or expression that you and your readers both use to collect together related material.  The best keywords are not just those that show up often, statistically-speaking, in your book or in conversations surrounding your book.  Articles, pronouns, and ‘be’ verbs remain the most common words in the English language, so a truly effective keyword will be just common enough to occur in a substantial number of related texts, and just specific enough to exclude truly irrelevant material.  As an author working to amplify your presence online, it’s important to remember that you’re not just looking for more users to stumble across your website; you’re looking for the right sort of users––those users who will stick around long enough to fall in love with your written voice and, hopefully, your book!  Incorporate keywords in your website (or blog, or YouTube video) titles, meta tags, bodies or descriptions, and in your link profiles.  As Google converts to Latent Semantic Indexing (more on that in future posts!), make sure to identify and incorporate LSI keywords throughout your written materials.

[ For more free resources specifically related to keywords, check out Google’s AdWords indices, Wordtracker, and the Bing Ads Intelligence homepage. ]

Keywords are only the tip of the iceberg!  Next week, check back here for the next installation of this blog series.  I’ll be addressing matters of content––and how can you use the actual raw stuff of your digital presence to bolster your SEO.

Check back every wednesday to read more about the art of self promotion!  If you have a question about any of these tools for self promotion, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Navigating the Network | The Art of Self Promotion (part III)

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Three weeks ago, I sketched out a few of the challenges facing self published authors looking to build their brands in the digital marketplace, and I made specific note of how great social networks can be as tools of self promotion.  Last time I blogged, I looked at the second and third of my top five points to keep in mind regarding self promotion, and recommended cultivating your physical network as well as developing physical promotional materials.  This week, I’m going to wrap up my top five points with a few words that count both as caution and encouragement––simultaneously!

To get right to the point:

4. Self promotion of any kind takes time.  And energy.  And constant attention.

Perhaps this is my caveat.  As I mentioned earlier, you’re not just in the business of self-promotion––as someone who’s interested in self-promotion, you’re actually in the business of writing.  So when weighing the pros and cons of starting a Twitter account or creating a blog on Tumblr specifically with the goal of promoting your book, consider the learning curve.  Consider the fact that the time it takes to establish a presence and reach your audience through social networks is directly proportional to how much time you put in, and that there’s a considerable element of pure luck involved.  Most tweets languish in the ether unread, and most Tumblr posts are not reflagged, and most Facebook followers are dormant, or run by bots.  So while all of these networks have potential to launch you into instant and global success, they are often high-maintenance and low-reward.  And they are habit-forming

As with all other forms of promotion, you must be deliberate about your use of social networks, carving out time on a regular basis to devote to building your brand.  Thirty minutes a day, three days a week, or every day during your fifteen-minute break between work shifts––whatever it takes, but not much more.  Because let’s face it: As someone who’s interested in self-publishing, you have other things to do.  You need to not just leave time for the other facets of your life––writing, working a job, working three jobs, family, and so on––but be able to throw yourself into them with passion and energy.

5. Everything changes.

If the rise of self-publishing and the ebook has demonstrated anything about the publishing industry, it’s that nothing can stand still for long.  This may be a disquieting fact for traditional publishing and the markets that rely on it, but opening up one’s options to change can also be a diversifying, enriching, and rewarding experience.  The digital and self-publishing revolutions are beginning to reach maturity, but on the whole they’re keeping a weather eye out for new changes, and new opportunities.  Perhaps the most key feature for success in self-publishing (and self-promotion) is a willingness to take advantage of them.  Keep asking questions.  Figure out what options work for you, and what feels comfortable for you, and what is too frustrating or too complicated or taking too much time––and adjust your daily practices as necessary.  Keep interrogating your options.  If a new technology becomes available, or a new acquaintance walks into your life, or a new story drops into your mind, don’t hold back.  After all, this is a business built on dreams.

This was just a primer!  You can find the first and second posts of this series here and here.  Check back every Wednesday to read more about the art of self promotion.  Over the coming weeks, I’ll be diving deeper into the how-to details of managing both social and physical networks.  If you have a question about any of these tools for self promotion, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Navigating the Network | The Art of Self Promotion (part I)

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Ten years ago, self-publishing was by and large the province of wishes and dreams, and its successes were so rare that they warranted national attention.  In the early 2000s, authors like Christopher Paolini (author of the Inheritance cycle of fantasy novels) performed exhaustive regional trips to promote their books, visiting schools, libraries, and local coffee shops in a sometimes-desperate attempt to build a market base.  As the traditional publishing industry has struggled to overcome both infighting and growing competition from digital retailers––and as new avenues have opened up for authors looking to publish outside of these traditional structures––all parties have turned to a parallel revolution in hopes of finding assistance.  That revolution, you will have already guessed, is the tangle of startups, failures, and increasingly pervasive communications networks that we call, collectively, Social Media.

Fast forward to the present day, and you find yourself witness to the rise of these two new revolutionary forces––a self publishing industry with a substantial slice of the present ebook and print publishing market, and the aforementioned popular social networking platforms, typified by Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and so on.  It would be easy to link these two forces together, and to assume that a successful presence on the one side will equate to equal success on the other, but this isn’t strictly true.  Many new authors find themselves lost in the complications of navigating this network––so how might one make it safely through the white water? 

The task of building a brand, or finding a tribe, is tricky––but not impossible.  It is important to keep five points in mind from the very beginning.  Today we’ll examine the first of these points:

1. Social networks are fantastic tools.

Tweets can outdistance sonic waves, as the Daily Mail reported in May, and Facebook has proved invaluable in linking dissidents, outmaneuvering government censors, and supporting revolutions.  Social networks combine the appeal of a grass-roots movement with enormous computing power, a vast sociopolitical reach, and instantaneous delivery.  Authors like Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking have become internet sensations (and self-publishing success stories) in part because they are so intensely engaged with their readers online.  You can use Facebook to build a fan page and coordinate events in cities across the world.  You can utilize Tumblr’s built-in question function to respond to readers’ queries about purchasing details or the more obscure details of a character’s backstory.  And with its 140-character limit and endlessly useful hashtag feature, Twitter is the ultimate paradise for spreading news and reviews.  While it might be a bit of an overstatement to say that social networks can do everything and anything, they can certainly do a great deal for the burgeoning author.

Check back every Wednesday to read more about the art of self promotion!  Next week, we’ll be looking at the analog social network––that is, what you can do to build your platform as an author even before you plug in to Facebook and Twitter.

If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Use Any Holiday – Not Just THE Holidays – to Promote Your Book

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Santa might be the ultimate celebrity pitchman, but you don’t have to hold out till Christmas to take advantage of holiday promotional opportunities for your book. If you strike when the iron is hot (or heat a different iron entirely) you can create demand for your book any time of the year – and that is most wonderful!

The key to tapping into holiday sales opportunities is knowing your audience. If you can identify who your buyer is likely to be, you can make an educated guess about when they’re most likely to respond to the opportunity to buy.

While Christmas does indeed tend to be a hot time for book sales, it’s certainly not the only peak sales opportunity and not every type of book or book consumer will peak during this season. For instance, readers who buy a lot of diet and motivational books for themselves throughout the year may prefer a juicier indulgence than the usual self-help fare at Christmas. If your book is a saucy bodice-ripper, go for it! (In fact, you can push that romance novel again come Valentine’s Day.) However, if your specialty is, say, finance, self-improvement or inspirational, consider a New Year’s campaign to help readers get started on those resolutions.

Everywhere you look and for every type of book, there’s an ideal time to on which to focus marketing efforts. (Think at least a couple of months ahead for major holidays.) Here are just a few examples of holidays and books that may sell well at those times:

  • Halloween – horror, crime, mystery, thriller
  • Thanksgiving – cooking/food, crafts
  • Spring – gardening, romance, sports, home improvement, nature, travel
  • Mother’s Day – biographies, romance, fiction
  • Father’s Day – sports, humor, home improvement, auto
  • Summer – sports, fiction, romance, travel
  • Secular Holidays (Labor Day, Memorial Day) – patriotic, historical (fiction and nonfiction), ethnic heritage, political
  • Festivals – cooking/food, crafts, music, ethnic

In addition to the obvious possibilities, there are scads of anniversaries and national days or months recognizing just about everything: Black History Month, D-Day, National Doughnut Day, Administrative Professionals Day, St. Patrick’s Day, National Chili Day, Breast Cancer Awareness Month … and Elephant Appreciation Day, for Pete’s sake! If you’ve authored a biography on President Ronald Reagan, you can market your tome on Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day and the lesser known National Jelly Bean Day, in honor of The Gipper’s affinity for the sugary treat. Find one that aligns naturally with your area of interest and promote, promote, promote!

Elise Connors ABOUT ELISE L. CONNORS:
Elise works as the Manager of Author Support of Outskirts Press.  She also contributes to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com.Elise and a group of talented book marketing experts assist self-publishing authors and professionals who are interested in getting the best possible exposure for their book.

Getting the Good Out of Bad Book Reviews

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“No statue has ever been erected to a critic.” – Jean Sibelius

As much as every writer wants to bask in the accolades that come with a job well done, most of us don’t get through the writing process unscathed. If, by the time you publish, an editor or proofreader hasn’t zeroed in on all your writing flaws, at least one book reviewer is bound to do just that.

Let’s face it: Bad reviews sting! No matter how much praise your book gets, that one negative critique is usually the one that stands out. But as painful as it is to face the poisoned pen of a critic, it’s our mistakes that have the most to teach us. If you’re smart about your response, bad reviews could be the best thing that happens to you as a writer.

Before you fire off an angry retort or fashion a mojo doll in someone’s likeness, take a slow, deep breath. Don’t do anything in haste. Just cool your jets awhile, then take a few steps to get the ball rolling toward that silver lining:

  • Make sure the “reviewer” isn’t a competing author or a serial malcontent. Look up their other reviews. If they’ve posted an inordinate number of malicious reviews – perhaps all similarly worded – you can probably, at the very least, put very little stock in their comments.
  • Take action when necessary. If you suspect a reviewer is sabotaging your efforts to boost their own book sales or some other reason, contact Amazon, Nook or whatever book selling site is involved. You may be able to have bogus reviews taken down.
  • Answer your critics. Build a little goodwill by answering less-than-glowing endorsements with a personal reply. Let them know you’re sorry the book wasn’t their cup of tea, but you appreciate their comments (OK, you may have to fake that part). Solicit specific likes and dislikes, if they haven’t already spelled it out.

Once that’s out of the way, start making lemonade. It’s up to you to sweeten all the sour bits and turn them into something palatable. And believe me, there is something positive to be found in even the nastiest feedback:

  •  Look for specifics. A review that merely hurls vague insults is meaningless. It may be that the review was based solely on the reader’s preferences and personal biases and has little else to offer. Disregard those reviews, or those parts of reviews, and look for specific critical input. Did the reviewer complain about spelling errors? Were there factual errors in your book? Did he/she provide specific feedback about why the narrative failed to move the story along, or why the characters fell flat?
  • Learn from your critics. You may find that some reviewers have identified a weakness, your Achilles heel as a writer. Use that insight to buttress your flaws; it’ll make you a better writer in the long run.
  • Focus on what you can change. At times, reviewers are going to take a swipe at your style: the way you phrase things, the type of language you use, the type of characters you write about, the subject matter, etc. Often these choices make you you and aren’t up for discussion. Your style is your style. Period. As long as it’s not sloppy and incorrect, stay true to it.
  • Keep it in perspective. Even classics get bad reviews. Heck, huge bestsellers like Fifty Shades of Grey have received hundreds of negative reviews from readers and critics alike. Your story is simply not going to resonate with everyone.

While negative comments hurt, they’re not likely to sink a truly good book, and the innate desire to prove your critics wrong will inspire you to shore up your writing in the future. If you can muster the humor to laugh about your ugliest reviews, you might even frame the worst as wicked little good-luck charms or sorts – right next to your best-selling book!

Elise Connors ABOUT ELISE L. CONNORS:
Elise works as the Manager of Author Support of Outskirts Press.  She also contributes to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com.Elise and a group of talented book marketing experts assist self-publishing authors and professionals who are interested in getting the best possible exposure for their book.

Nail Down New Readers with Pinterest Book Marketing Tips

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Think of it as a highly sophisticated scrapbooking or bookmarking tool – one that allows you share with and borrow from other users. That element of sharing can be a powerful tool, if you use it to your advantage.

Pinterest is a unique opportunity to reach out to readers and to the writing community in ways you may not have thought of. Once you’ve signed up for an account, apply these techniques to make a positive impression:

  • Build your presence. Once you’ve signed up, get started by building the identity, or brand, you want to project to other Pinterest users. First and foremost, fill out that profile as completely and creatively as you can. The more information you give, the more likely it is that people will follow you and pay attention to what you pin. Then get started pinning the things that resonate with you and define you as a writer.
  • Build pin boards. Create a separate board for each of your books, and perhaps extra boards for other books in your genre that have inspired you.
  • Promote visually. Writers illustrate with words, but Pinterest represents an opportunity to attach memorable visual images to your project. Do you have a book in progress? Consider pinning photos of locations represented in your book, or even actors who resemble how your picture your characters.
  • Go behind the scenes. Don’t be afraid to demonstrate how the “magic” happens with pictures of your writing desk, photos from book signings or industry-related events you attended. Allowing readers a peek inside your world puts a human face on the writing process and helps build a virtual rapport.
  • Pin promotions. Are you offering buy-one-get-one specials or redeeming coupons for discounts? Pin ‘em! Post printable coupons, or offer a promotional code with links to your website or author page where your book is available.
  • Engage. Just as you would with Facebook, WordPress, Twitter and other social media, interact thoughtfully with other users. Post comments and useful links on their pinned items, and re-pin the ones you like.
  • Get “pin-able.” Pinterest is currently the fastest-growing site and some studies suggest that users are spending more time pinning than they are Facebooking. Feed the sharing need by making sure that distinctive red “P” appears on your own website.

How are you using Pinterest to further your own book marketing efforts? Let’s discuss!

Elise Connors ABOUT ELISE L. CONNORS:
Elise works as the Manager of Author Support of Outskirts Press.  She also contributes to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com.Elise and a group of talented book marketing experts assist self-publishing authors and professionals who are interested in getting the best possible exposure for their book.

3 Reasons Why You Should Constantly Talk About Your Book on Social Media

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Book marketing professionals often discuss the importance of brands (authors, books, etc.) embracing the idea of transparent and natural engagement with users of social media. What if you don’t agree? Are there ever good reasons for constant promotion of your book on social media sites? Sure, here are just a few of the best:

  • You like annoying others. Sure, people are on social media sites to start, build, and grow relationships, but they want to hear about your book book all of the time. Not really. People want to connect with relevant people who engage/participate in relevant discussions. If you annoy them, they will either ignore you or disconnect (unlike, unfriend, unfollow, etc.) from you.
  • You know that everyone needs to know about your book, and they all need to buy it. Target markets? Who needs ‘em? Your book was written in gold, and there’s no reason they wouldn’t want to read it. Not necessarily. Every product on the market has a target market. Think about it… not everyone is interested in even the most common things – TV, internet, telephone service, etc. Why would your book be any different? Define your target market and aim to connect with them in a natural way.
  • You want to be ignored. For every person who ignores you, there are 100 more people who will listen, right? Not exactly. People that you connect with are not “a dime a dozen.” They also don’t grow on trees. Cherish the relationships you have built with the goal of building even more meaningful relationships.

Social media can be a powerful book marketing tool – especially if used correctly by authors who take the scenic self-publishing route. You don’t have a traditional publisher standing behind you or throwing their marketing dollars at your book. So, you have to figure out how to “go it alone.”

Interacting with new potential readers on sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. could be a potential goldmine for opening the door to earning even more royalties from your book. You not only have a chance to connect with people that you already know, but you can meet new people and form new relationships. Make every opportunity count!

Elise Connors ABOUT ELISE L. CONNORS:
Elise works as the Manager of Author Support of Outskirts Press.  She also contributes to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com.Elise and a group of talented book marketing experts assist self-publishing authors and professionals who are interested in getting the best possible exposure for their book.

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