An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | Tumblr

It’s kind of a big deal.  Such a big deal, in fact, that even the White House has one, and the President of the United States has done a Q&A on one.  What am I talking about?  I’m talking about Tumblr, the microblogging platform that quite literally causes and feeds a frenzy of conversations––many of them controversial.  And with over 81 million new posts going up every day, spread across more than 243 million individual blogs, the potential heft of any given piece of content is massive––particularly since Tumblr’s graphic-driven interface makes “reblogging” the posts of others so incredibly easy.

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So how does Tumblr work?  As with its distant cousins, Facebook and Twitter, Tumblr is a hybrid blogging and social networking platform.  Its structure is fourfold in that it allows users to:

  1. Post new content, which will then appear on both their blog and in the “feed” of any other user who “follows” that blog;
  2. View the blogs and “reblogs” of others, in a single streamlined and constantly updated feed;
  3. Share or “reblog” the posts of others, all of which will appear––with attribution––in their feeds; and
  4. Discover new content by searching Tumblr’s general database, using hashtags, keyword searches, and a variety of other built-in exploratory features.

In many ways, Tumblr’s user interface feels a great deal like Twitter’s––which we discussed in detail last week––in large part because in both cases the interface places great structural emphasis on the content of each tweet or post.  Facebook, which we’ll discuss more in weeks to come, is structured to emphasize the relationships between users themselves; this isn’t to say that Tumblr and Twitter don’t allow for personal connection, or that Facebook doesn’t allow for the production of content, but there is a subtle shift in the warp and weft of each platform which determines what gets seen and what slips under the radar.

On Tumblr, who you are is less important than what you post, and the “best” posts hit a sweet spot in respect to visual appeal, cultural relevance, timeliness, tone, and length.  (Don’t worry, I’ll expand on these five points in a moment.)  You can easily see which posts are successful; they’re the ones with the most “likes” or “reblogs,” both of which are tabulated as “notes.”  For self-published and indie authors looking for a bit of exposure, there’s nothing so handy as a website that is, quite literally, designed to take content viral.

Debunking the Great Tumblr Myth: “Notes are the most important thing.”

I’m not going to lie––notes are important.  But they’re not the only important indicator of success on Tumblr, and they’re not even an accurate indicator of a piece of content’s popularity.  Because likes and reblogs are conflated together into the note count, it’s impossible to winnow out how many people flat out “liked” a given post, and how many are commenting on it.  As you may know from other websites, comments on any given social media platform where anonymity is guaranteed (Tumblr users do not have to divulge their names or personal information to set up accounts) can range from fans going wild over their favorite things to people being downright mean.  Most of Tumblr’s many millions of users prefer to reblog content they like rather than content they dislike, but some use the “reblog” feature to elaborate upon, rebut, or otherwise respond to the posts of others.  This type of feedback can provide other benefits to you as an author, but it cannot be equated directly to “Yes!  My stab at self-promotion is a raging success!”  No, notes are not the most important thing.  Engagement is.

So how do you get the average Tumblr user to stop scrolling through the hundreds or thousands of blog posts and reblogs in their feed to look at your excerpt, or your book cover, or your “behind-the-scenes” video?

Top 5 Best Practices:

1. Make sure it looks good.  Visual appeal cannot be over-trumped as the leading reason why a pair of eyes will fasten onto your post.  Many of Tumblr’s most canny users won’t even bother posting any text at all if it isn’t accompanied by a pleasing graphic or photograph of some kind.  In fact, most Tumblr users will lead with the picture, rather than slipping it in as an afterthought.  Since Tumblr is a medium of fast consumption leading to speedy sharing, the image should be something that is easily comprehended after just a quick glance, so as to keep the reader’s eye moving, roving further into the text that follows.  It’s also a good thought to break up dense text posts with a .GIF file or two––the “reaction .GIF” is a Tumblr specialty, and not one to be underestimated. (There’s nothing like a perfectly on-point .GIF to inject a text post with a dose of humor and personality!)

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2. Keep it relevant.  This should go without saying, but a wise friend once pointed out to me that my own (private) blog was a confusing mish-mash of my interests (which are many) and my own material (which is quite specific in focus).  As an indie author looking to create a cohesive, effective methodology in dealing with social media, it’s a good idea to specialize.  That is to say, you should keep your posts––both of original content and any reblogged material that might catch your eye––focused on you, your book, and the authorial process.  If you become enamored of all of the different features that Tumblr has to offer, and if you enjoy reading an eclectic mix of posts by others, that’s wonderful!  … Just make sure that you create a separate blog for your author-related activities so that you don’t accidentally inundate your followers with Shia LaBeouf memes.

3. Timeliness is key.  Tumblr is the home of revolutions.  More than half of Tumblr’s active users report being under 25 years of age, and the platform’s format encourages the Millennials’ activist leanings.  The Occupy Wall Street crowd?  It may have found a second home on Twitter, but its native land is Tumblr.  Ever heard of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag?  Or #WeNeedDiverseBooks?  One of teenage designer and activist Kyemah McEntyre’s handmade creations walked the red carpet at the BET Awards because of Tumblr.  Petitions have been signed, flags taken down, flags proudly shaken, politicians heckled, and, quite possibly, laws passed on the momentum generated by Tumblr’s dedicated, active, and socially-engaged user base.  They’re politically and economically diverse, and as feverishly clannish as any other group of Millennials, and if you can make them care about your work, you’ll never want for support.  All of this to say, it’s best to keep an ear to the ground.  If you’re willing to use Tumblr as a tool, you should “follow” as many other users as you need to in order to stay in touch with current trends, topics, and ongoing conversations.  If you know what’s spurring interest, you can reframe your own posts to touch on these hot-button issues, and generate more interest in your work.

4. Watch your tone.  I’m kind of holding forth here in this post, which I’d stress can be either the most effective approach, ever to Tumblr, or the most annoying thing, ever.  There are four main speeds when it comes to tone on Tumblr: ranting, reflecting, ridiculous self-posturing, and photo essaying.  Rants are passionate (and sometimes, though rarely, lengthy) attacks on the various injustices of life, whether humorous or serious in nature.  Reflective posts usually consist of brief narrative bursts, retelling past events or unwinding the implications of some thought experiment (Harry Potter and other fictional worlds inspire many of these, I find).  A Tumblr user might dip a toe into ridiculous self-posturing when looking to inspire a good laugh or let off some steam, and often these posts are spoken in the coded language of memes.  Some users eschew text altogether and simply post photo essays of their adventures; many hikers, climbers, boulderers, runners, and artists of all disciplines use Tumblr as a sort of interactive portfolio or photo album.  One of the many quirky realities of Tumblr is that a post which uses only one of these tones is more likely to go viral than another post that tries to use more than one tone.  Tumblr users are looking for easily digestible, bite-sized pieces of life.

5. Keep it readable by keeping it brief.  As with my last point, length is best viewed through a lens of digestibility.  The world of Tumblr moves fast, and sometimes sideways, and content has to be focused, brief, and either hilarious or achingly accurate in order to collect notes.  The most successful Tumblr bloggers post nuggets that are quick to read or view, and they post regularly.  I find that instead of encouraging simplicity and generalization, Tumblr users’ love of brevity actually encourages complexity and specialization.  The more direct the statement, the more likely someone else is to respond––and for a single sentence to provoke a snowball effect of comments and reblogs.

Most Overlooked Feature:

Most Tumblr users either upload text or photographs, but Tumblr actually allows for several other types of posts: videos, quotes, links, and chats.  As an author, you should most definitely take advantage of the “quotes” feature to introduce your followers to your voice, characters, and above all––your book!

I hope you’ll join me in building this Social Media Primer!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠

KellyABOUT 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, kellyschuknecht.com.

An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | Twitter

“There’s a lot more to using social media for book promotion,” I wrote last week, “than simply knowing the names of the most popular sites or even how to set up an account with and update each one.”  Twitter is no exception.  This social media platform is often described as a “microblogging” website, a descriptor which implies that Twitter users manage their feed and profile content the way they would a blogging website––only in smaller chunks.  This is only partially true, in that some Twitter users who also have blogs may use the same parameters to manage both platforms, or in that some Twitter users treat the site as a tool for unspooling narrative.

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If you spend any quality time on Twitter, however, you’ll rapidly discover that terms like “microbloggers” or “microblogs” only describe a small fraction of the feeds out there; some users compile data and statistics while others use their feeds to start conversations, and still others mostly neglect their own feeds while spending their time watching other peoples’.  Back in 2013, Steve Faktor deconstructed and described ten types of Twitter users in a 2013 Forbes article that still, for the most part, holds up beautifully.  For the indie, hybrid, or self-published author, Twitter can be a minefield––rife with potential rewards for the daring and discerning user, yes, but a minefield nonetheless.  This is, in part, because the fundamental operating assumption out there about Twitter––that is actually preached by its own PR team––is that it is awash with activity, engagement, and avid disseminators of information.  This is simply untrue.

Debunking the Great Twitter Myth: “If I tweet regularly, followers will appear.”

Twitter, like any other website, has its active users and its passive users.  Many people set up Twitter accounts and then forget about them, or never really learn how to use them, or find that the website isn’t as cozy and endearing as it was made out to be.  (Lady Gaga doesn’t respond to every tweet her followers tag her in?  What?!  And your most engaged followers turn out to be spambots?  Uh-oh.)  It’s actually rather difficult to “break into” the Twitter community, which largely relies on name-recognition and a blend of appealing content, interactivity, and incentives to keep people coming back and checking their feeds.  As Faktor writes in his article, “Of the billions of tweets sent, 71% get no response, only 36% are worth reading, and a majority is generated by a tiny fraction of users.”  This isn’t to say that it’s pointless to try and become “Twitter Famous,” but it is important not to tie your entire book-promotion strategy back to a mythical welcoming Twitterverse.  “Twitter is a personal announcement system,” Faktor tells us, “that captures the collective pulse of a world screaming for attention––or revolution, or discounts, or Kanye.”  There will always be an element of unpredictability, as well as social utility, to what “makes it big” on Twitter.

So, how do we ensure that our time on the site isn’t wasted in producing content no one will ever read?

Top 5 Best Practices:

1. Set it up––all of it––correctly.  Most Twitter accounts are “dark,” which means they’re either in hibernation––that is, they’re only rarely updated, if ever––or were never set up properly and are therefore the amputated leavings of someone’s digital footprint.  Your first task is to make yourself “findable,” which means that you use every detail of your profile––picture, avatar, short biography, and yes, even your Twitter name or “handle”––as a marketing opportunity.  A polished photograph of you and/or your book, a tagline that includes keyword-rich phrases that will show up in search engine indexing, and a distinctive yet readable handle (I.E.: neither “jane-doe17” nor “sweetROMANCEauthor4u”) will go a long, long way toward rendering you findable.

2. Set yourself a daily and weekly Twitter task.  In addition to being findable you have to be visible.  If you are competing with other Twitter users who are selling similar products (READ: books) and therefore producing similar content, then you absolutely must differentiate yourself from these other users.  Celebrities can get away with taking a haphazard approach to what material they post and when and how often, but you can’t.  Set yourself a routine, and stick to it––and you’ll develop a dedicated group of followers who know they can rely on you to produce, week in and week out, something that they wish to read.  Whether this means you post a link to a longer blog post every Monday, a revived “From the Archives” post every Tuesday, a “What I’m watching or reading or listening to now” post every Wednesday, or something else each day of the week is up to you.  Make sure you respond to all (legitimate) direct messages and public tags (when someone else uses your Twitter handle to mention you) on a set schedule, also, and that way your followers will know you care!

3. Use a third-party website to schedule your tweets.  There are plenty of options out there, these days, and it doesn’t matter which one you use so much as the fact that you are willing to use them.  (I personally have used the very simple TwitterFeed website, but I recommend looking at a couple before you decide.  Kristi Hines over at KissMetrics has reviewed quite a few of them, and several look like they show promise.  But first: What does it mean to “schedule” your tweets?  It means that you write them all at once, but spread out when they actually post to your feed so that other people can read and respond to them.  You can go on vacation, for example, and rest easy knowing that your Twitter feed will run smoothly in your absence, without interruption.  The best part of scheduling your tweets is that you can develop better personal time-management skills––you can write all of your tweets for the week on a Saturday night, and that frees you up to chase as many bunny trails and respond to as many questions and maybe even spend more time offline than you would otherwise.

4. Listen to your followers, and don’t overdo it.  A lot of people, including myself, are tempted to give up Twitter because it can quickly devolve into a hot mess of confusing data, links, conversations, and other disconnected tidbits.  There’s quite literally way too much to keep up with going on at any point in time on Twitter––we live in a restless world, and everyone wants to announce their place in it.  Don’t be afraid to trumpet your own fine product (READ: book), but be aware that an effective tweet isn’t always a simple declaration of “here’s a thing you should buy.”  An engaged and interested follower will be far more likely to plonk down the money for your book or ebook than someone who just sees that “here’s a thing” tweet without any context.  Especially if that tweet is buried amidst a whole bunch of other content that isn’t interactive, and isn’t encouraging them to enter your world in a personal and fun way.  Before you know what constitutes “too much” and “just right” for your followers, you have to listen to them.  Don’t pile on tweet after tweet without pause, without taking a breath, and without waiting for followers to retweet, reply, or “favorite” your last tweet.  Don’t waste your time; time is a precious commodity when it comes to shaping your digital identity.  Save it for tweets that matter––and that speak to what your followers actually respond to.

5. Remember to incentivize.  Incentives can be tangible (like a giveaway or a discount), or intangible (like special “insider” or “behind-the-scenes” content), but they perform at least two vital functions: they make your followers feel valued, and they keep your followers coming back for more.  One of the greatest failings of the “here’s a thing” tweet I mentioned above is that there’s absolutely nothing to it that hooks a follower and reels him in.  There’s no privilege or sense of inclusion or outright benefit to someone reading that tweet, much less deciding to follow through and buy your book.  Twitter, at its best, is a conversation.  At its worst, it is a one-sided conversation.

Most Overlooked Feature:

Twitter’s most overlooked feature is its hashtags.  I’m not saying that people don’t use hashtags––believe me, they do, and they do and they do and they do and they do––but they rarely use them effectively.  The best hashtags will group related tweets together so that when you click on one (like #weneeddiversebooks), all tweets with that particular hashtag will show up in a separate but continuous feed.  If the hashtag is too common (like #love, for example), far too many tweets will show up and it will turn into a big bowl of nonsensical mishmash.  If the hashtag is too specific (like #ramennoodlesareforqueens), then it’s unlikely that anyone else will ever tag their tweets with that same hashtag––and while that can definitely be useful, if you are up for the challenge of starting your own hashtag movement, it effectively excludes everyone else from the conversation.  (And, well, there goes the “social” part of “social networking.)

The current trend is, of course, over-tagging.  (There’s even a hashtag for that!)  You can end up with a hilarious Jimmy Fallon & Justin Timberlake skit, but you can also end up with a whole lot of confused or disinterested followers.  (In real life.  The skit is hilarious.)

Build your own hashtag(s), absolutely.  Build them wisely.  And shape them, as you do all of your Twitter habits, to structured and intentional ends.  I have every confidence you can use Twitter effectively to promote your book(s)––but it’s not the only way to do so, and we’ll be examining many other ways as the Wednesdays roll around!

I hope you’ll join me in building this Social Media Primer!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠

KellyABOUT 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, kellyschuknecht.com.

An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | First Thoughts

Everyone’s got an opinion on how best to use social media.  These two simple words have become the locus for more blogs, podcasts, and even heated offline debates than any other subject in the last five years––or more.  In part we can attribute this pervasive conversation to the fact that the advent of social media has radically altered the average Westerner’s daily routine as well as that person’s basic expectations of relationships, whether we’re talking about relationships with other individuals, or with the companies and other institutions with which you or I might have some connection.  These days, for example, it’s entirely reasonable for consumers to expect their favorite companies––whether Nike, or Denny’s––as well as their favorite celebrities––be they Rihanna or Neil Gaiman––to have active and responsive presences on social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  And while Lady Gaga won’t be able to respond to each and every tweet lobbed her way over the course of a day, the fact that she responds to any tweets renders her a more accessible figure to the average Twitter user.

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But we’re not just here to gab about the latest and greatest in Facebook updates and how to use the Twitter app––even though, certainly, those two will rank among many other topics we’ll examine over the coming weeks.  We’re here, first and foremost, to talk about how to market your self-published book.  It’s already hard enough to break into the market when it comes to books, especially self-published books––talk about a daunting proposition!––without a guide or even professional assistance; we exist to make your life a little bit easier.  To that end, each and every social networking tool I address will be tied back to this notion of marketing, and marketing specifically as a newly-published or on-the-verge-of-published indie, hybrid, or self-published author.

The first social network that everyone thinks of is still, by and large, Facebook.  And don’t worry, we’ll absolutely talk about how to use Facebook effectively.  It is important to note, however, that the bigger a platform is in terms of user base, the more “crowded” the market will seem to a reader seeking new material.  It is vital that an indie author knows the ins and outs of Facebook updates and feeds and public profiles and so on and so forth, because the vast majority of any author’s potential readers will have Facebook accounts; however, it’s just as vital for a self-published author to establish a certain degree of comfort with at least a couple of the lesser-used platforms, because they will be both more “discoverable” and more visible without the throng of other authors competing for attention.  To that end, I will take a stroll through each of the quote-on-quote “major” social networking sites, including:

  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • Instagram
  • Snapchat
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest

… but I will also examine lesser-known or more specialized platforms, such as:

  • Goodreads
  • Etsy
  • LinkedIn
  • Flickr

… because, ultimately, it’s the tools we’ve neglected that end up most surprising us with their unexplored possibilities.

There’s a lot more to using social media for book promotion, however, than simply knowing the names of the most popular sites or even how to set up an account with and update each one.  There are a whole host of other behaviors to discover, observe, and adopt––”best practices,” so to speak––than just generating content.  Authors have to know, for example, the inside tricks.  They have to know the whys as well as the wherefores: why does engaging your readers on multiple platforms translate to better book sales?  Why is it important to track your social media efficacy using analytics?  And most importantly of all, why is it necessary to create a strategy, a plan for your social media campaign?  I’ll walk with you through the theory––and together, we’ll peel back some of the layers that lie between us and a social media repertoire that actually makes a difference.  We’ll debunk some myths, learn some new things, and slowly work our way through.

Together.

(Since that’s kind of the point, in the end, of social networking.)

I hope you’ll join me in building this Social Media Primer!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠

KellyABOUT 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, kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Summary Edition

Ten posts and eleven weeks ago, we started out on this foray into merchandising together.  My original list was only five items long, but as the weeks ticked by, I realized there was just so much more to unpack––so, so much more.  There were weeks when I faced a great recurring quandary, the same quandary that every book-to-film adaptation seems to face these days: “Do I stick with the original vision for this piece, or do I split it into three shorter pieces and fill in the gaps with editorializing?”  Which is not to say I quibble with the unstoppable Hollywood machinery; in fact, it’s entirely apropos, I think, to compare merchandising to such a vast and powerful cultural institution.

Ultimately, in the end, merchandising is about making money off of your books, and making money off of books is a difficult enterprise, even when your book is published with a major traditional publishing house.  It might sound mercenary to say so, and thereby take books out of the lofty world of ideas and philosophies and re-shelve them among the lower reaches of the sticky-fingered common folk … but at the same time, we must recognize that a book which sells well spreads its ideas well.  A well-marketed book is an effective vehicle for those lofty ideas.  We cannot shy from the twin facts that merchandising is a) good for us, the indie authors of the world, and b) good for our readers, who are presented with more options, and drawn into more worlds of ideas.

There’s also a third completely parenthetical side benefit … which is to say, c) merchandising can be loads of fun.  Who doesn’t love to participate, in some small way, in the stories that taught them to dream big?  (….and I’m saying this while I wear a tee-shirt that literally glows in the dark with the schematics for the Space Shuttle.)  It might be escapism to try and keep dreams alive a little while longer––whether by slipping on a tee-shirt, or purchasing a special edition––but it may also be exactly what someone needs to forge ahead.

There’s simply no way around one fact: Merchandising can be a lot of work.  For the self-published author, it’s a daunting idea at the very least and quite possibly even a paralyzing one.  In my first post, all those weeks ago, I wrote that publishing a book does not always equate to instant success––in fact, it only very rarely catapults an author past the breaking-even point.  But merchandising, specifically, and self-publishing in general are made so much easier by the presence of a dedicated and supportive community of fellow-laborers, and hopefully by the resources that blogs like this one compile.  This series of blog posts (listed below for convenience) may only represent one feeble drop in the bucket when it comes to the resources you can turn to, but I hope that I’ve managed to find a balance between the “Big Picture” (AKA “Concise and Readable”) and some of the finer points of merchandising (AKA “I Should Probably Break This Up Into Twenty Sequels”).

SELF-PUBLISHING AND MERCHANDISING : THE SERIES

Thank you for sticking it out and being a part of this series––your feedback and suggestions have always been of such great use, dear readers.  The comments box remains open, but in the meantime, get ready to come at self-publishing from a wholly different angle starting next week Wednesday!  I’ll be examining a whole host of social media platforms and breaking down the most surprising ways in which they can be of use to you.  It’s going to be a blast!  ♠

KellyABOUT 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, kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Mugs & notepads & tee-shirts, oh my!

And so we come to the penultimate branch of our ever-growing merchandising tree.  The list of possible merchandising strategies just keeps on growing: first, we looked at extras and special editions; second, we examined book covers and jacket design; third, we perused the possibilities in respect to a book’s interior design; fourth, we lifted the lid on the all-important blurb; fifth, we took a wander through the basics of book reviews; sixth, we took note of how to get and give good book reviews; seventh, took tips for working with Amazon; eighth, we took a long hard look at what Barnes & Noble (still) has to offer; and ninth (but not last or least) we listed a few more publication options, including CreateSpace and Outskirts Press, for the (discerning) independently published author.

That’s quite a lot to keep in mind, I know, when setting out.  My primary goal in starting this series was not to overwhelm, or even to provide a kind of self-publishing and merchandising bible for newcomers, but rather to start asking questions.  Hopefully I’ve done that–and hopefully we’ll all keep doing that–as the weeks go by and I begin looking at other topics.  My secondary goal was to inch a little closer to my original concern in writing these Wednesday blog posts–that is, to zoom in on the book as an object, transformable and malleable, and as a product we can treat as such in addition to treating it as it deserves to be treated–as a vehicle for ideas.

It’s fitting, then, that the second-to-last post in this series would deal with other products, the objects that we purchase or acquire that mean something to us because of the books and ideas they conjure up.  Merchandising is, in a lot of ways, about nostalgia.  If we encounter a book that we absolutely love, or get wrapped up in a world of someone else’s making, we tend to want to wrap ourselves up in a little bit of the feeling that that book or world gave us.  I say this as someone sitting at her desk, wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned with the schematics for the Space Shuttle, which I got to watch leave twin trails above the mangrove swamps on its way into orbit, and which I got to listen to as it returned to the atmosphere with its signature double sonic boom.  You see what merchandising does?  It gives us a way to hold on.

In the spirit of holding on, I put together a quick list of some of the more reputable places where you can go to create merchandise to wrap your readers up in your world.  Everyone knows about Etsy, of course, which is a wonderful site (and even provides holiday merchandising guides!) but requires its users to do all of the creation/printing/manufacturing work, and merely manages the sales of things which have already been brought into being.  If you aren’t wholly confident in your knitting or screenprinting or jewelry-making skills, these websites may be more your speed:

  • CafePress has an entire Print on Demand (POD) page.  All you need is an image or slogan to upload, and you can leave the rest of the design and print work to them.  You can sell on the CafePress marketplace for no additional cost, but setting up your own “store” will cost you (and for each store you set up, you will incur an additional fee).  CafePress’ default commission is 10%.
  • Zazzle operates in much the same way, and if you know Google is willing to pour money into it, it’s probably doing something right.  It even offers customizable options, so you or your fans aren’t necessarily stuck with one unworkable design.  Zazzle offers 10-15% commissions to its sellers.
  • DeviantArt is a golden oldie of the POD merchandise market, but users who were there in its years of infancy will be happy to know it has expanded its options to include more options when it comes to printing high-quality visual files.  If you have some pictures, posters, or other visual leaving-pieces to take to a conference or exposition or reading, DeviantArt has got you covered.  The DeviantArt Prints store offers a 20% commission on retail price for its sellers.  Websites like RedBubble and FineArtAmerica are similar in scope and offerings.
  • If you’re looking to print tee shirts, specifically, websites like SkreenedSpreadshirt, and Wordans will do for you what DeviantArt and its ilk do for art prints.  (There’s also AcmePrints and Atlas Embroidery for your larger orders.)
  • Printmojo offers classic screenprinting, with minimum orders (say, 24) and a low setup fee (around $3.50).  They offer a lot of options, though, and ordering more than the minimum can have its uses–more profits for you if you sell the merchandise rather than give it away, for example.
  • If you’re looking for a web retailer that can cut you chenille letters or embroider pennants or generally make enormous things to decorate your space (say, a booth at a fair) with, check out Custom Pennant.   Their website offers a lot of really out-there stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as being useful, but actually is.  Weird how that works.
  • Last but not least, don’t forget your hybrid publishing firms, which will often offer merchandising bundles among their other listings. The advantage is that you pay one lump sum, but still (often) have a hand in the design process, and you don’t have to deal with the hassle of commissions and set-up fees.

And there you have it!  If you think of any retailers I may have forgotten, let me know in the comments section below!  Next week, I’ll be taking us back to the beginning, and forward into the future.♠

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

KellyABOUT 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, kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Working with CreateSpace & Others

In this, my tenth post in an ongoing series about Self-Publishing and Merchandising, I’ll be taking a close look at how you can optimize your use of the CreateSpace platform––as well as recommending a few others for your consideration––just as last week I put together a few words about working with Barnes & Noble to merchandise your work, and the week before I examined Amazon’s platform to similar effect.  (And really, these brick-and-mortar or digital retailers end up doing much of the work for you, which is lovely of their algorithm-wranglers.)  I also mentioned the fact that much of the merchandising we’ve looked at together over previous weeks takes for granted that the book is its own complete product, the sum of its parts (see: book covers and jacket design, interior design, special additions, and the blurb), and the sum of other parts, too (see my posts on the book review, as well as how to get and give blog reviews).  While retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble certainly have a head start and therefore an enormous edge over their competition, it’s still worth taking a peek at a third party or two to see what they have to offer!

CREATESPACE :

First, to clear the air: CreateSpace is an Amazon subsidiary.  Back in the days when it was known as CustomFlix, the company that is now CreateSpace was mostly known as a place to create “flix” or movies.  These days, its mission is “to profitably connect filmmakers, musicians, and authors to their worldwide audience,” a mission that has seen it rise to the top of companies offering Print on Demand (POD) books as well as Audio Books on Demand (ABOD)––a wonderful mission for readers and self-publishing writers on the whole, but not necessarily good news for those who wish to publish out from under the shadow of the giants.  If you’re looking for a platform that gives you glossy and polished POD books as well as the benefits of beautiful algorithms that will more or less take care of your merchandising for you, then keep CreateSpace on your list––and follow my directions for working with Amazon.

If you’re looking to branch out, here are a few more options for you!

  • BookBaby allows authors to distribute their ebooks through Amazon, Apple’s iStore, and elsewhere. This platform’s nonstandard payment model makes it a great fit for those authors hoping for strong sales of their books: rather than subtract from royalties, its basic package charges $99 in an initial sign-up fee and then $19 for every following year.
  • Booktango creates opportunities to convert, upload, and edit manuscripts, distributing through Nook, Amazon, and other digital retailers. Booktango claims to offer authors 100% of royalties from its own online bookstore as well as 100% of net royalties from other online retailers once they’ve sliced away their own commissions.
  • FastPencil serves as a publishing and networking service for authors and publishers by providing assistance with content, distribution, marketing, and workflow for both print books and ebooks.
  • Kobo Writing Life is the digital publishing arm of Indigo’s Kobo hardware program. It offers analytics, a learning center that helps guide new users through the (global) publishing process.
  • Lulu provides for-pay premium services, such as editing for manuscripts and promotional video creation, not to mention free e-book conversion.  In addition to commission fees charged by distribution websites like Apple’s iStore, Lulu charges an additional 10%.
  • Outskirts Press (and other hybrid self-publishing companies) offer paid publishing services for authors who are looking for entry into the self-publishing market without the hassle of taking on all of the work themselves.  The best part of choosing a hybrid self-publishing company like Outskirts is that authors get to keep their profits (thereby recouping the original expenditure of purchasing a publication package) while benefiting from professionals who really know what they’re talking about when it comes to editing, design, distribution, and––yes!––merchandising.
  • Printful + Gumroad have teamed up to create a simple payment and digital delivery system which will allow authors (or anyone else with digital products to sell) to weave e-book sales directly into their website. Websites like Sellfy, DigitalDeliveryApp and e-Junkie offer similar services.
  • Pronoun (formerly known as Vook) is currently going through a transition before it relaunches, but has a history of offering design work for both digital and print books, marketing, and distribution. It makes (made?) room for video and audio features, and polished, professional-looking POD books. Vook offered free consultations before it even provided a quote, and distributed through all major online retailers.  It also had a lovely dashboard.  There’s no reason to believe that in its next incarnation, Pronoun/Vook won’t continue to offer the same services.
  • Smashwords remains one of the largest distributors of self-published ebooks in the world, and its “Meatgrinder” program lets authors convert their Microsoft Word documents into any of the offered ebook formats for sale in any of the big online ebookstores. Authors get around 85% of net sales made through Smashwords’ online store, a bit less through other retailers.
  • Wattpad is a social writing and reading platform built for those looking to create visual design-driven projects, including interactive novels. The process begins with choosing a template, then text and images, animation and three-dimensional objects. It does not provide authors with ISBNs for their books, but those can be purchased elsewhere if necessary.

In short, if you’re looking for a new indie platform on which to launch your latest work, we’ve got you covered––or rather, the internet does, and we simply put a few words together.  We hope you take the time to explore them all––and to learn the peculiar quirks and wonderful merchandising benefits that each has to offer! ♠

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

KellyABOUT 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, kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Working with Barnes & Noble

Last week, you’ll recall that I put together a few words about working with Amazon to merchandise your work.  (And really, they end up doing much of the work for you, which is nice.)  I also mentioned the fact that much of the merchandising we’ve looked at together over previous weeks takes for granted that the book is its own complete product, the sum of its parts (see: book covers and jacket design, interior design, special additions, and the blurb), and the sum of other parts, too (see my posts on the book review, as well as how to get and give blog reviews).  As a massive online retailer, Amazon happens to be one of those parts, but what about Barnes & Noble?  Is there any work to be done there, when it comes to merchandising your self-published book?

Despite the fact that Barnes & Noble seems to be losing its edge in the digital book market, it is still a juggernaut of a force to be reckoned with.  The decision whether or not to self-publish your book through Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Press ought not to be touched, yet, by rumors of the company’s eventual demise––a demise which may indeed come, but not before the retail giant sells many more books, of which yours may be one (or two, or three, or five hundred).  Instead of asking “Should I?” a better question might be, “How can I best take advantage of the service while it exists?”

GETTING STARTED :

Luckily, as with Amazon’s Kindle store, Barnes & Noble itself takes care of much of the heavy lifting for the independently published author.  The first step, of course, is to sign up for a NOOK Press account, a simple enough process, and one that is available to authors residing in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands.  With an interface not much different from that of Kindle Direct or Kobo, the NOOK Press website allows authors to publish in Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Dutch as well as the default language of English––and it allows authors to be paid in their local currencies, also, which is a nice touch.

PRESENTATION CREATION :

It is easy to upload manuscript files to NOOK Press, and while the uploaded ePub files often end up riddled with errors, the NOOK Press interface allows authors to make changes without uploading new files––a nice feature, and one that you should absolutely use, given my advice in weeks past about the importance of presenting a polished document to ensure a positive reading experience.  A beautifully formatted book is its own advertisement, after all.

The same golden rules of self-publishing applies to the Barnes & Noble NOOK Press experience as it does anywhere else––and the NOOK Press makes the upload of a book’s cover image incredibly easy.  All you have to do is access the “Cover Image” tab while creating a new project.  (It is easiest, I find, to create a new project through NOOK Press with all of the files you need already in hand, cover image included, than it is to alter an existing project or try to go back and forth between the tabs when creating a new project.)  It’s equally important to render your book ‘findable’ by entering in all of the book’s data at the beginning, including keyword-rich descriptions and summaries.  It’s best not to leave any of the fields provided by the NOOK Press interface blank, as each one generates computer code that subtly tweaks the algorithms that show your book in the NOOK Store and elsewhere online.

EDITORIAL REVIEWS

As with many other self-publishing venues, the NOOK Press interface allows indie authors to incorporate editorial reviews into their book listings, and this is an important feature to take advantage of!  It is, according to Barnes & Noble, only “optional,” but you should question the wording!  Editorial reviews may well be truly necessary to your book’s findability and salability.  Once you ensure you have the rights to publish a review, you should get to it.  You can include up to five (5) editorial reviews with each book you publish through NOOK Press, and every single one of them adds to the reputation and visibility of your book.  (And if you’re looking for more instructions, indie author Sarra Cannon has put together a detailed step-by-step guide to using the NOOK Press interface, complete with screen captures to illustrate each step.)

IN-STORE MERCHANDISING :

Unlike Amazon, a retailer which has found enormous success without a physical presence, Barnes & Noble retains a number of brick-and-mortar advantages in the book-selling market––and not least among their many resulting strengths is the company’s cadre of merchandisers, flesh-and-blood employees whose entire jobs revolve around marketing Barnes & Noble products to the eager book-reading public.  While Amazon and other companies also keep merchandisers on staff, they rely heavily if not almost exclusively on computer algorithms to group products with other products, and those who sell online through Barnes & Noble still benefit from the company’s understanding of what objects and pleasures a casual shelf-browser may find resonant with each other.

THE FUTURE NOOK :

There are plenty of reasons to be both excited and apprehensive about the future of the NOOK Press and Barnes & Noble in general.  The company is splitting, and has indeed shown quite a few fissures for years now, as its NOOK and college stores peel away from the parent company with its lasting brick-and-mortar experience.  This time, the changes run deep, down to the bone of the company.  Still, there’s no reason to expect this split to have immediate consequences for NOOK sales or ebook sales in general, even though I always recommend that the informed author should keep abreast of ongoing shifts in the hazy underworld of book-publishing and book-retailing board rooms.  The ebook market is stabilizing, not backsliding, and new overseas markets continue to open up the industry and inject it with fresh vim and vigor. ♠

I’m realistic, or I like to think I am.  This topic is bigger than just me and my own thoughts.  I’d like to open the floor to you, dear reader.  If you have any thoughts to share on the topic of merchandising, or questions you’d like answered, send them my way via the comments box below!  I want to hear from you, and I love nothing more than a good excuse to do a little research if I don’t know something off of the top of my head.  Jump on in!

KellyABOUT 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, kellyschuknecht.com.