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.