12 New Year’s Resolutions for the 12 Days of Christmas (part II)

Well, today marks my last blog of 2014, so it’s only fitting that I finish my list of New Year’s resolutions with both a bang and a whimper—or rather, with a mixed list of strategies that require me to take initiative and steer clear of some of my past faux pas!

I resolve to …

#6: Read more.

Yes, yes, I know it’s a bit trite to say that “good writers are good readers,” but there is some truth to the matter (as there often is, with trite statements).  I have let my reading lapse a smidgen this year, for a variety of reasons, and as a direct consequence I find my ability to verbalize my own ideas is suffering.  In general, I find that a deficit in input results in a deficit of output, and for me that translates to: “No reading, no imagination.”  I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but I for one resolve that this year I will reestablish my reading routines, and reintroduce my mind to the minds of others through the written word.  (Or, more written words.)  As with many things, I’ll try to remember to practice the “quality over quantity” adage.  It’s more important to have an enriching rather than a time-intensive experience!

#7: Try a new format.

There are so many formats in which we can publish these days that the list can grow overwhelming—hard cover editions, paperback editions, Kindle editions, Nook editions, e-book editions, .pdf files, audio book editions, and et cetera—and like many authors, I tend to channel most of my energy into work within my comfort zone.  This year, I resolve to try a new format for a book that I haven’t tried before.  I haven’t quite decided which of these formats I will choose and for which piece, but I promise you (and you can hold me to this!) that I won’t allow myself to get stuck in the “research” stage for so long that I neglect to actually produce a new product.  Perhaps you’d like to join me?  Let’s jump into 2015 by making it easier than ever for readers to access our work!

#8: Make more inspiration boards.

Ever heard of an inspiration board?  Essentially, it’s the practice of putting together a visual display of objects, quotes, and other things that create a focused touchstone for your writing.  For example, an author who’s writing a book set in the corn fields of Nebraska might put together an inspiration board that has some pictures of corn fields in various lighting, a couple of quotations about the hardships and rewards of farming, and maybe a song or two that really captures the desired mood or atmosphere of the piece.  In this day and age, it’s really easy to make inspiration boards.  You can actually put one together physically (see this excellent blog post by the Procrastinating Writer), or you can take advantage of tools like Pinterest (see this equally excellent blog post by Melissa Donovan over at Writing Forward).  Personally, I enjoy using my hands to put something together in the real world, but the interactivity of digital forms can be really great, too. This year, I resolve to play around more with this idea of the inspiration board.

#9: Build a community. 

I’ve already resolved to be more ambitious with my social media presence (see #6 on last week’s list!).  Much of a self-published author’s success lies in his or her relationship with readers, and in establishing a community of people who are just as invested in consuming good writing as the author is in generating it.  Over and beyond just creating more social media platforms to reach more social media users, this year, I resolve to build and broaden my community of readers by reaching them where they are at and giving them what they need.  By keeping my various blog posts about creating a social media platform in mind [here, here, and here], I will tweak my digital presence and refine my physical outreach to meet my readers’ needs, rather than just satisfy my own vision of this idea of ‘presence.’  To do so, I will first need to understand that community, perhaps through polls and surveys, and perhaps through a more effective use of Google Analytics.  It is my hope that understanding will lead to outreach will lead to genuine and authentic connection to my readership.

#10: Write more. 

I know we say this every year, but I really mean it!  This has been a year of major changes for me, as I’m sure it has been for many of you, my readers.  Changes in my family, my work, my health, and so on.  When you consider the fact that we’re social creatures, any change in my network comes rippling back to me, so that a new addition to an in-law’s family or a friend’s vacation plans can become a distraction—for me!  A large part of buckling down to do the thing I love is, I’ve discovered, narrowing my focus and eliminating distractions.  And the self-published author can’t afford to let writing lapse.  I can’t exactly stop change from happening, and I definitely don’t want my family to stop expanding or my friends to stop going on vacation, but I can take initiative in establishing healthy emotional boundaries that keep these changes from becoming calamities.  This year, I resolve to make writing as much of a habit as eating a healthy breakfast (another practice I need to improve upon, I’m afraid).  Whether it’s fifteen minutes or eight hours a day, I will get some words out of my head and onto the page!

#11: Celebrate success.

Because writing and self-publishing is my job, not just a hobby, I sometimes fail to celebrate the successes I’ve already achieved.  Perhaps you’re this way, too, in that it’s hard to justify taking a moment away from the stacks and stacks of to-dos in order to take pride in what has already been done.  But that’s not a rewarding way to live, as we all know well!  So, this year, I resolve to celebrate each and every success, as I check items off of my list of resolutions, or bring other goals through to execution.  You and I both love to celebrate other peoples’ successes, so taking a few minutes to practice joy over our own shouldn’t seem like such an outlandish notion.

#12: Take action. 

I find this perhaps the most important resolution of all, given my own predilection for procrastination in making good on resolutions in years past.  I hereby pledge not to let this list sit here just as a list, but rather to turn it into a tangible action plan for the coming year—not a list of obligations, mind you, that weigh on my conscience if I fail, but as a coda of potential ideas to launch me into 2015 in the best possible shape.  Carpe diem?  After all, as a self-published author, I understand that while I have to work hard to make what I love to do a success, I want to remain in love with what I do.  And that’s always the hardest part, isn’t it?  If I fall out of love with writing and self-publishing, well … I don’t want to allow even the seed of that thought to germinate in my mind.  And so, I will think of this list as inspiration, rather than obligation—inspiration that I can make good on, by decisive action.

 

And so we begin a new year, with hope, and an eye for progress.  I am so lucky to have had you all as readers, and I look forward to another year in partnership with you!  If you have any resolutions or ideas that didn’t make my list, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments box, and watch this space on Wednesdays in 2015 as I blog my way through some of these resolutions!

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.

12 New Year’s Resolutions for the 12 Days of Christmas (part I)

I know it’s a bit early to be setting my New Year’s resolutions in stone, so I’ll consider this post something softer than stone, more easily reshaped, but still very much real and solid and tangible––perhaps something like the digital version of putty or artists’ plaster, which will slowly resolve itself into fact. 

My real reason for getting started early is twofold: I want to give myself the time to really think through the list, and I want to give you the time to put some of my resolutions to your own good use as 2015 rolls in.  And so, with no further ado:

I resolve to …

#1:  Host a new kind of marketing event. 

I must admit, I’m fairly predictable when it comes to planning marketing events––I know what I’m good at, and what I’m comfortable doing, and that pretty much boils down to short readings and Q&As at local libraries.  In 2015, I resolve to try something new, or rather, to plan and attempt to execute at least one event that isn’t a reading or a Q&A session at a local library.  You’ll note I used the hazy word attempt just now.  I think it’s important to put together a plan and to make a few phone calls, but not to shackle myself to an impossible agenda.  If, for example, my (very-beginning-stages) notion to put together a bi-weekly podcast proves an enormous drain on my time and energy, then I may need to reevaluate in a few months.

#2:  Attend a new kind of marketing event. 

If I’m predictable about the kinds of events I host, then I’m even more predictable when it comes to the events I attend.  This last year, I’ve been a regular on the book-signing and book-reading circuits, but these are not the only events out there.  I need to diversify what I do so that I can become both a more well-informed reader and a more effective marketer myself!  In 2015, I resolve to attend at least one webinar, book festival, or other marketing event that is a little outside of my comfort zone.  Even if I have to travel a couple of hours to make it, or rearrange my work schedule for a few days, I intend to make this resolution a priority.

#3:  Learn some new code. 

I know a little HTML, but I’ve been out of the coding game for a spell.  It’s time to dive back in, particularly with an eye for coding––whether HTML, CSS, Java, or some other programming language––that can boost my digital footprint.  In 2015, I resolve to read at least one book on the subject, or attend a class, or otherwise broaden my understanding of at least one of these codes.

#4:  Try out a new digital device or software application. 

There are any number of apps out there which I can download to my iPad or e-reader which can help me keep track of my ongoing efforts at self-promotion––and many which can actually help me improve.  In 2015, I resolve to research, discover, and incorporate at least one new digital device, program, or app into my life, with a specific intention to boost my marketing efforts.  This resolution may actually pose a good challenge, since I have little to no idea of where to start.  There are so many possibilities!  The real trouble is narrowing the options down to just … one.

#5:  Launch a new round of SEO campaigns. 

I’ve written extensively about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) before.  Now it’s time for me to practice what I preach!  In 2015, I resolve to put into effect a rigorous and updated SEO program to boost web traffic to my websites.  I’ve dabbled in a great many of the strategies out there at one time or another, but with little accountability and thoroughness.  This time around, I want to be more organized about my SEO efforts––and more regular.  It’s not enough to apply some of the techniques some of the time––I need to apply most of the techniques on a regular basis, or else it’s all just wasted effort.  Readers respect reliability!

#6:  Establish ambitious goals and healthy boundaries for my social media presence. 

Just as I’ve casually speed-dated most of the SEO stratagems out there without committing to any one plan, I’ve felt my way around all or almost all of the major social media platforms––Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Blogger, Goodreads, LinkedIn, and many others––without putting into effect any rigorous plan of action.  I’ll post a picture to Instagram one day and forget about it for a few weeks, then write ten tweets in quick succession, only to let my twitter handle lapse for months on end.  In 2015, I’ll put together a calendar, and a schedule, to better handle my social media accounts.  I pledge to dismantle the accounts I don’t actively use or am failing to use effectively, and pour my time and energy into the outlets that do effective work for my self-promotion.  I pledge, too, to make a habit of timing my posts, so that readers know when they can expect to see something new show up on one of my websites. 

… and you’ll have to stick around until next Wednesday for the other six.  In part because I’ve reached my word limit for the week, and in part because I want my final six resolutions to be even better than my first six!

Can it really be––almost––2015?  It’s hard to believe, sometimes, that this entire industry has been born and made, and remade, and evolved into endless permutations––all within my lifetime.  All within living memory.  The printing press has been around since the 1300s, but since then the process of making and selling books has never seen such a rapid and total transformation as it has within the last twenty years, and perhaps even the last decade.  Digital publication and distribution, e-readers, self-publishing, collaborative writing forums, viral marketing—we live in an exciting time that shows no signs of slowing down.  I, for one, hope to match the broad spectrum of these changes with a few, specific, targeted evolutions of my own.  I’m going to start small, here, in the new year.  In 2015.  I hope you’ll join me!

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!

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.

Christmas is Here Again | On Holidays and Happy Chaos (Part III)

I have good news and bad news, and it’s the same news.  Should I ever face a film-worth scenario in which I have to choose, I will always choose to hear the good news first, so here it is:  Today is the 17th of December, which means Christmas is fast closing in––and I mean fast.  Christmas brings plenty of delectable morsels into our lives, as well as gifts and gift-giving, and––if we’re lucky––a blissful trip up and down memory lane with the people we love most in this world.  But here’s the bad news: Christmas is fast closing in.  You read that correctly!  As I mentioned, the good and bad news end up bearing more than a close kinship to each other. 

But how can Christmas ever be bad news?  Perhaps I’m overstating the fact, but here’s the truth of the matter: Christmas is crunch time for self-published authors, especially those hoping to launch successful holiday specials.  The holiday season is when authors are, along with the majority of small business owners, most likely to recoup or finish recouping their operational expenses for the year.  Maybe an author turned to a hybrid self-publishing company to design, print, bind, or help market her book.  Maybe an author burned a couple of tanks full of petrol in order to host his book signings, readings, and luncheons.  Whatever the case may be, even self-publishing has its attendant costs, and Black Friday is a magic day for everyone.  But the precious commodity constituted by the time left between Thanksgiving and Christmas is shrinking rapidly––so what can we do to make the most of it?

Thought #3:  Breathe.  Write.  Publish.  But mostly, breathe.  (Rinse & Repeat)

Most often, you’ll get tip lists around Christmas from self-publishing gurus, somewhere along the lines of “50 tips to launch your book this Christmas,” or “3 unexpected ways to promote your book over the holidays,” or even “10 steps to self-publishing success.”  I’m not here to tell you these tidbits of advice don’t work––some of them certainly will, and some of them are probably destined for failure.  I am here to offer you something a little more offbeat than a rote list of hit-or-miss ideas.

I’m here to tell you it’s okay to step away from the phone, from the bookstore, the library, and your Amazon book listing.  I’m here to tell you it’s okay not to push your book with some wild and crazy Christmas party, or by setting up a quiet reading at a classy booklover’s club.  But hang on one second––I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t promote your book (at all).  I’m telling you that there’s more than one way to break a glass ceiling.

Think about it for a second.  What’s the most effective way to promote a book?  Writing a book people love.  That one’s a no-brainer.  But what’s the second-most effective way?  Writing another book people love.  No matter how many readers you earn with your first book, you are practically guaranteed to win more with each book that follows.  Name and brand recognition play their parts in authorial success, as does the pleasurable possibility of the serial read.  Whether you write self-help books or genre literature or poetry or something else that is wonderful and wild and perfectly unique to you, your sales will improve as you publish more books.  You know how we all like to marathon whole seasons of Doctor Who or How I Met Your Mother, or drop by a sick friend’s place with Tylenol and the entire extended edition boxed set of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings?  Readers treat your books the same way.  Once they find an author or a series or a genre they like, they’re likely to read all the books that author has written (so long as they’re easily accessible).  And I’ll admit, I’m one of those readers who will wait in line for a signed copy of a new book, then hurry to the bookstore register to purchase all of the prequels, sequels, and tangentially related volumes I can find. 

So, maybe you’ve written just the one book.  Maybe that’s all you have in you right now.  That’s okay.  Don’t ever let anyone try and push you to conform to their expectations of what a writer’s life or method looks like.  As I’ve mentioned in past Wednesday blogs, there’s no one right or wrong way to go about this writing thing, or even this self-publishing thing.  It’s tough enough being a writer without feeling like you’re out of joint with someone else’s expectations.  This holiday season, take time to breathe.  Return to those ways and means that rejuvinate you.  Cherish the stories you’ve written, and the stories you have left to write, and live.

For the first blog in this series, navigate here.  For the second, here.  Look for my final holiday-themed self-promotional blog for the year next wednesday!  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!

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.

Christmas is Here Again | On Holidays and Happy Chaos (Part II)

Last week, I launched a series of blogs in conversation with the 2014 holiday season now rapidly drawing to a middle, and I began by addressing one of the common fallacies of holiday marketing for the self-published author––that is, I attempted to debunk the problematic concept of the Book-As-Gift (or B.A.G.).  So, if attempting to sell our books to new readers in the name of holiday spirit isn’t an automatic success story, what is? 

Thought #2: Not All Gifts Are Created Equal––Some Are More ‘Equal’ Than Others

What I mean to say is, while we can’t count on our existing networks to magically expand into much larger ones by asking our readers to purchase our books and slip them under the Christmas tree, we can hope for something much better.  We can dream much, much bigger dreams––and one of the ways to dream bigger is to build more durable networks by investing in our readers.  It is the holiday season, after all, and a time of year marked by a profound generosity of spirit.  To transform this intangible gift into a bankable profit may seem self-interested, but it doesn’t have to be. 

What, you might well ask, am I actually saying?  I suggest launching a holiday reading campaign.  It’s simple, and better still, it’s a gesture of good faith that benefits everyone involved.  How to begin?  [1] Look up the contact details for ten, fifteen, or twenty influential figures in your existing network––coordinators for your neighborhood 4-H club, presidents of your regional cycling club, board members for your local library, and so on––and compile them into a single list.  [2] Send each of these forces of nature a signed copy of your book, along with a truly genuine letter touching on both your desire to connect relationally and on the nature of your book.  You may or may not choose to mention that your book makes for a good holiday read––keep in mind that you’re not actively trying to sell your book, but rather establish and cultivate a social network that will get behind you in any and all creative endeavors you attempt from here on out.  [3] Make sure to include your contact information and a note saying you’d love to get in touch with them if they enjoy your book.  It’s not a bad idea to mention your status as a self-published author, and hint that you’re looking to build a support network or team to help spread the word that your book is out there in the world.  [4] If you’re hosting a reading or other event at which you and your book will both be part of the conversation, make sure to invite your gift recipients.  Keep the sense of obligation to a minimum, but assure them that you are truly––authentically––interested in connecting with them, whether in the public setting of an event, or the private setting of a small luncheon or coffee.

It is vitally important that you remember one thing: books don’t sell books––people do. As with all other ways and means of effective marketing––but especially around the holidays, a time set aside for family and friends and generosity––a holiday reading campaign must be centered on the people you want to reach, rather than just the product you want to sell.  As I mentioned last week, there’s a lot of canned advice out there, and there are a lot of people who ‘phone it in’ when the holidays roll around.  But if you truly love your book, and you truly love your readers, a holiday reading campaign may make for one great way to show that love and make effective use of the holiday fervor, as well.  You don’t have to sacrifice sincerity for sales figures.  Your readers will know you care if you take the time to make personal connections.

How effective are these sorts of campaigns?  Well, without a rigorous controlled study and resulting data sets to consult, I can’t quote you numbers.  But an anecdote: just this morning, a local author got in touch with the Head Librarian at my favorite library an—within the space of two brief phone calls over the course of an afternoon—set up a seminar and book reading.  This author doesn’t know our Head Librarian personally, but he did gift a copy of his book to a board member of our City Council, and that board member became a natural bridge between author and library––without the author ever having to ‘push’ the book on an unwilling reader.  The no-strings-attached nature of a holiday reading campaign is powerfully attractive in this world of many strings.

Why not give it a try?  If you do, please drop me a line here to let me know how it goes!

Check back every Wednesday as I continue my blog series on the happy chaos of self-promotion during the holiday season.  If you have any questions, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!
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.

Christmas is Here Again | On Holidays and Happy Chaos (Part I)

With Thanksgiving now in the rearview mirror, it seems like everyone is ready to pull out the tree skirt, boxed ornaments, and Mannheim Steamroller albums––if they haven’t already!  Out comes the fine china, the spiced cider, and the box of spare fuses for the Christmas lights you plan to wrap around the front porch.  Out, too, come the annual holiday-themed blogs, the admonitions that you too can take advantage of the sales frenzy that begins over leftover roast turkey sandwiches and concludes with the sound of a tape dispensor licking over the last cardboard box of holiday decorations, shuffled off to storage for another eleven (or ten, or nine, or eight) months. 

But there’s a problem, and it’s the same problem you face at every other time of year: How do you know which advice to listen to, and which tips to follow?  How do you know if the benefits of a holiday-themed special will pay off for you, the self-published author?

Let’s face the facts:  A lot of holiday-themed advice seems canned.  The same tips come rolling back around every year––offer a holiday special!  host a holiday giveaway!  throw a holiday-themed party!–and they do so for one of two reasons:

  1. They work, or
  2. They’re easy.

It’s hard to know which is which, but I hope to help you find your way through the confusion, whether you’re a newly self-published author, or a veteran who’s looking to try something new––and whether you’re working to plan something last-minute for Christmas of 2014, or thinking ahead to future years.  I’ve road-tested many of these strategies myself, and I hope my experience will prove a help to you.

the ultimate B.A.G.

Thought #1: Not All Gifts Are Created Equal

One of the first things you’ll be told as a self-published author is that you should try and promote your book around the holidays as a gift item; I’ll call this the B.A.G., or Book As Gift.  In fact, the B.A.G. is probably the most common of all recommendations for self-published authors around the holidays, period.  The basic idea is that you ought to ask your friends, family, and social media followers to purchase B.A.G.s to give away, to build a more diverse reader base. 

So, what’s the efficacy of the B.A.G.?  Well, in my experience, it’s rather a mixed bundle.  First of all, a book sold is a book sold, and every B.A.G. contributes to your paycheck.  Great!  But there’s a difference between having people give B.A.G.s and having your book reach your ideal readers, and the line is sometimes more distinct than you might realize. 

Think back to the B.A.G.s you have received––which ones did you actually read, and which ones did you put on the shelf for a rainy day that never came?  One Christmas, I received eight B.A.G.s from family members, and I read a grand total of two of them––the same two that said family members purchased after they saw me lingering over them in the bookstore.  The previous Christmas, I received only three B.A.G.s––all of them surprises, but all of them in a narrowly-defined genre that the gift-givers knew I loved––and I read them all.  I have on occasion enjoyed a B.A.G. that I never would have picked up in a bookstore, and had never heard of, but I can honestly say this is not the norm

The truth of the matter is that many B.A.G.s never get cracked open over one knee, a cup of cider balanced in hand and Mannheim Steamroller blasting from somewhere nearby.  It’s tough for B.A.G.s to compete in a market where so many books are available for such little expense––a market where I can load up my Kindle or Nook or iPad or other smart device with hundreds of free or inexpensive ebooks that I know are titles that I’m going to like.    We sometimes hear the term ‘time-poor,’ and the concept is simple enough: There are only so many spare hours in a day, and we tend to spend our dedicated reading time pouring over old favorites, classics, and other books we already know we’re going to enjoy.  Some B.A.G.s just aren’t destined for happy endings. And that’s okay.  Why?

the ultimate B.A.G.

Because you are interested in finding your ideal reader, and you already know that doing so is a years-long enterprise.  You already know that getting your book into a new pair of hands is just the beginning of a relationship, and that you have to woo a reader’s interest with more than just a dash of holiday spirit––you have to capture the reader’s eye with a clever cover, the reader’s attention with the weight of physical presence, the reader’s participation through interactive challenges and campaigns, and the reader’s imagination with your prose.  In short, you know the B.A.G.’s benefits and limitations, and you’re not about to put all of your eggs in one basket.  (Or is that a poorly-timed Easter metaphor?) 

So, what’s my advice, in a nutshell?  Go ahead and ask your existing network of readers to give your books as B.A.G.s, but see what you can do to hybridize your B.A.G. promotion with other efforts.  If possible, link your B.A.G. with materials, whether digital or physical, that help introduce you to these new readers.  Keep an open mind––and an optimistic outlook.  Develop a marketing plan that goes beyond holiday gimmicks.  Think big.  Holiday promotions are one tool in your toolbox, but they aren’t the full set. 

Check back every Wednesday as I continue my blog series on the happy chaos of self-promotion during the holiday season.  If you have any questions, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!
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.