6 Reasons to Add Postcards to Your Author Arsenal

There’s no doubt that book marketing can be challenging.  And giving advice or instruction on how to market a book is also not without its challenges. What works incredibly well for one author with one book may not deliver nearly the same results for a different author with a different book.  That is why the best recommendation of all is to start deliberately, slowly, and small – with measurable steps that produce measurable results. Then, once you find something that works, ramp it up.

postcards

For instance, some authors have a wide variety of branded and customized promotional materials at their disposal: business cards, publication announcements, postcards, posters, etc.  These are typically best suited for the extrovert author – the type of writer who loves the public eye and attends book fairs, book signings, and author events. At these events, every person you meet is a potential recipient of a branded piece of collateral, especially a business card.  Posters, too, are obvious in their purpose (book event signage to make your space stand out). But what about postcards? Well, stay tuned! If you are an extrovert author (or even if you aren’t), here are six great reasons to add branded, customized postcards to your book marketing arsenal:

  1. Invitations. If you’re attending an author event or book fair, postcards are the perfect way to notify everyone in advance. Sure, you should post the notice on Facebook and your other social media platforms, and email everyone you know, but in this day and digital age of electronic media, there’s still something about receiving a postcard in the mail that makes it stand out.  And standing out is what good book marketing is all about.

  2. Solicitations.  What if there is an event or conference that you want to present at? Same rule applies from number one.  An inquiry into a speaking engagement will literally speak volumes if said out-reach arrives in the way of a branded, customized postcard with your (eye-catching) cover on the front.

  3. Influencers. Speaking of out-reach, a successful book marketer never stops promoting themselves, their book, and their business (with diplomacy, of course). If you’re looking to catch the attention of influence-makers (other authors, experts, bloggers, and book reviewers), a handwritten custom postcard will certainly increase your chances.

  4. Media Chow.  Members of the media get bombarded with interview requests from self-publishing authors all the time, but most of those inquiries come in the form of email, Facebook, Linked-In, or Twitter.  Imagine the impact you would have on a local journalist or DJ if he/she actually received a handwritten postcard from you in the mail, with your eye-catching, full-color book cover on the front and a short pleasant note on the back introducing yourself and asking for a short meeting to pitch your story (remember, you pitch stories to the media, not books, and not yourself).

  5. Follow-Ups.  Many of the people you meet as a published author will present opportunities. In fact, you may not even realize what the opportunity is until later that day or even the following-week.  Sure, you exchanged business cards with them, but so did everyone else. Which author is going to follow-up with an email and which author is going to follow-up with a custom postcard in the mail?  And of those two, which author do you think those influence-makers are going to take the time to contact?

  6. Thank-Yous.  With all these book fairs and author events you attend, and all these media contacts, influencers, and writers you meet, eventually it will be time to thank someone. And that’s a great time for a personalized, branded, customized postcard. You can’t give a free book to everyone you want to thank, and a business card isn’t a “thank you” (it’s a gimmee), so postcards are the perfect compromise!  People typically only receive postcards from loved ones on vacation (if that anymore!), so postcards still possess a degree of intimacy while being entirely professional and appropriate.  And for that, not coincidentally, your recipient will thank you, also.

brent sampson
In 2002, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Semi-Finalist Brent Sampson founded Outskirts Press, a custom book publishing solution that provides a cost-effective, fast, and powerful way to help authors publish, distribute, and market their books worldwide while leaving 100% of the rights and 100% of the profits with the author. Outskirts Press was incorporated in Colorado in October, 2003.
In his capacity as the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Marketing Officer, Brent is an expert in the field of book publishing and book marketing. He is also the author of several books on both subjects, including the bestseller Sell Your Book on Amazon, which debuted at #29 on Amazon’s bestseller list.

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 Amazon.com

Much of the merchandising that we’ve examined over previous weeks has to do with the book as its own complete product, the sum of its parts (see: book covers and jacket design, interior design, special additions, and the blurb), feathered out around the edges with paraliterary addendums (see my posts on the book review, as well as how to get and give blog reviews).  But what about retailers?  Is there any work to be done there, when it comes to merchandising your self-published book?

Yes, absolutely!  Each retailer–including Amazon and Barnes & Noble–has its own built-in set of perqs and pitfalls, as well as its own custom-developed features designed to set it apart from the herd and create a better, more salable product.  I’m going to start with Amazon because it is, for better or worse, the most recognizable name in book retail and self-publishing right now.  And since it now owns CreateSpace, Amazon is even more a force to be reckoned with.  You want a starting point for launching your merchandising strategy?  Start with Amazon.

And, handily, Amazon has created a system which makes it easy to centralize all of your hard labor in merchandising.  It’s called “Author Central,” and every author gets one, whether you’re in the business of publishing physical books or ebooks or both.  Author Central allows you to create a biography, list your books, connect your blog and social media feeds, and generally create a polished platform for presenting yourself to the reading public.  Most of us know how to centralize our own personal digital presence using apps or other programs that condense down all of our different presences–Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Flickr and Goodreads and Skype and iMessage and blog feeds from WordPress and Blogger are so interconnected that a post to one will ripple out through the others without any additional effort.  Author Central allows you to centralize your public presence in much the same way.  Readers will have incredible access if you take the time to set it up right early on–take advantage!

The second feature of Amazon you can use to your benefit is the book page.  Every book you publish through or list on Amazon will have its own unique book page, and the more information you input, the more findable you will be, as Amazon’s smart algorithms scan and index them to generate their internal linkages.  (Those “If you like …. you might try …” recommendations?  They happen because authors maximize their use of book pages and Author Central, among other things.)  The book page also has the power to make or break a reader’s decision to purchase–the more eye-catching, the more polished your book page, the more likely a reader is to click a button and buy your book.  It’s never a bad idea to use high-resolution images, strongly written excerpts, blurbs, book trailers, and the like.  It’s also worth checking into Amazon’s various “deals” features, including Amazon Associates and the Kindle Countdown promotion, though you must be willing to sacrifice some revenue in the short term by running specials to do so.  Amazon also allows you to offer pre-orders on your Kindle books, which is handy for generating preliminary interest.

The long and the short of it is, Amazon sells so many books because its interface and its algorithms really, for the most part, work well.  Now, Amazon may not always be working for you, the self-published author–and especially you, the brand spanking new self-published author without a wide reading base–but for the majority of authors, Amazon is the Starbucks of the indie book world.  It works well for most people, and exceptionally well for a few why pull the right strings.  Which isn’t to say it’s an irredeemable system–after all, just as Starbucks made mostly-delicious whole-bean coffee affordable for most people, Amazon has created a mostly-viable self-publishing program and made it possible for most authors to sell books through it.  It’s well worth studying their model before you decide how else you can elevate your game!

“Thinking outside of the box” will only take you so far if you think book trailers and social media connectivity is avant-garde.  You can bet that once a feature comes built-in with a company like Amazon, it’s assumed that these are just the “done things.”  They’re no longer innovative–they’re expectations. To be truly creative in your merchandising, you’re going to have to take the box apart and play to your strengths.  Do the “done things,” yes, but also the undone things.  What isn’t everyone else up to?  There may be an unexplored opportunity there. ♠

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 : A Book’s Interior Design

When we speak of books, we mostly speak of them as one of two things: an object, made up of surfaces and contours and textures, or as a vehicle for ideas.  We rarely pause to consider the interior design of a book, unless of course it is a book that draws attention with smart graphic design and accentuation.  What readers and producers of comic books, graphic novels, and illustrated fiction take for granted, the prose community has by and large neglected; that is, when we crack open the cover of a new book by Hugh Howey or Rachel Swaby or Sarah Taylor, we forget that every letter on those pages, every jot of ink and swathe of white space, has to be carefully arranged in order to make for a pleasant––and submersive––reading experience.

For the self-published author, a book’s interior aesthetic can spiral out of control quickly.  This is because a self-published author is not, generally speaking, a renaissance man with phenomenal powers of writing and artistry and graphic design.  A beautiful cover may seem like a more worthwhile use of a self-published author’s limited time.  Though there may be the rare exception, the average person who chooses (or is required by circumstances) to bypass traditional publishing also lacks the legion of highly specialized editorial staff who comb through manuscripts and ARCs looking for even the tiniest flaw––an orphan sentence, a snafu in line spacing, you name it.  And believe me, even though we don’t tend to think of readers as detail freaks, they have a sensitive nose for anything that feels “off.”  Your job as a self-published author is to keep your reader reading your book, not caught up in the intricacies of its design.  For that reason, a book’s interior should look as polished as possible.

Here are a few tips:

1. Choose your typeface carefully.

Whether you decide to opt for a serif or a sans-serif typeface, make sure you know what it will look like on whole blocks of text at once––pages and pages of text.  Also keep in mind that while sans-serif fonts have a sort of “cool” factor and are often evocative of popular science and science-fiction––and therefore add a dash of visual interest as well as genre resonance––serif fonts are actually easier to read at length.  That’s what the serif tags are there for, to help your eyes track seamlessly from one letter to the next.  Still, your choice will come down largely to preference (mine is for Monotype Bell and MVB Sirenne, both of which read well in multiple sizes, as well as in italicized passages and headings).

2. … And about those headings?

Not every book uses chapter headings on every page.  Take a look at the books in your genre, to get a feel for what’s normal there.  I’ve found in my collection that there’s a tendency toward headings in nonfiction and certain chapter-driven science fiction pieces, but that for the most part, fiction sticks with simple page numbers.  Also keep in mind that your inclusion (or exclusion) of headers and the positioning of your page number will affect your margins.  It’s absolutely essential that you leave extra white space on the edge of the page with a page number or heading––both of these things are considered extensions of your typewritten page, and they affect the eye as such.

3. Margins do deserve the attention, I promise.

Take a look at the nearest book.  (In my case, it’s Howey’s Wool.)  Compare the inside margins of the pages (the ones adjoining the binding) to the outside margins (the ones your thumbs touch as you flip pages).  In the standard book, the standard traditionally published book, those inside margins are significantly larger.  This is to allow the book’s binding to curve as you crack open the spine, letting the pages curl away and yet remain readable.  It is not uncommon for self-published authors to forget this tiny detail, and for the book to suffer for it.  If I have one piece of advice for authors looking to format their own books, it’s this: Don’t sacrifice your margins––for anything.  Yes, it’s cheaper to pack in more words per page, and so to save on printing fees.  But I promise, more people will want to buy your book if they pick it up and it feels gracious, spacious, and easy to read.  It’s wise to aim for about 12 words per line of text––this is the standard in traditional publishing, for good and time-honored reasons.

4. Justify your paragraphs.

Take a moment to modify your text alignment from “left” to “justified.”  This means that your text still begins at the left-hand margin of the page, but that it’s right-hand side also ends at its respective margin, creating a smooth visual block of text, all the way from the top to the bottom of any given page.  Leaving that text simply aligned “left” will create a jagged line along the right-hand side of the page, wherever the words leave off.  You want to check your kerning line to line before you release it to the printer, in order to ensure each page looks perfect, of course––that’s par for the course.

5. Leave no blank right-hand pages.

The first page of your book is going to be a right-hand page, and the first page of content––not the title page, not the copyright information, not the dedication––will be “Page One” and should be marked such.  (Page numbers should only appear once the content of your book begins, and not before.)  Every succeeding chapter should begin on a right-hand page, even if the previous chapter ended on a right-hand page.  The solution is to leave a blank left-hand page, which you can utilize for illustrations, quotations, or other related material.  The point, however, is to play to a kind of “psychology of reading,” which asserts that readers find it easier to begin new thoughts if there’s that reliable visual cue there.  Blank pages should be left entirely blank, including of page numbers and page headers.

6. Go easy on illustrations, graphics, and other addendums.

It’s easy to get carried away inserting pictures into our books––after all, a picture is worth quite a few jots of ink, right?  But there are a couple of dangers to watch out for here, as with everything else related to design.  First of all, your images need to look every bit as polished as your text.  If you’re inserting inexpert photographs, clipart, or hasty sketches, they’re going to negatively impact the reader’s opinion of your book’s quality.  (We do judge ideas based on their presentation, for better or worse.)   Secondly, they need to be important.  If they’re not somehow integral to a reader’s understanding of your book, then they don’t need to be there, and they shouldn’t be there.  Illustrations, like your words, have to work to earn their keep.  And finally, your images need to be high enough in resolution that they hold up and read well at different scales, both large and small, and on multiple platforms, including tablets and e-readers.  If readers can see pixellation, they’re likely to dismiss a book as amateurish.

And last but not least:

7. Fresh eyes are vital.

The best advice I ever received from a writing instructor was to work until I thought a piece was done, and then to walk away for days, preferably a week, and then to return for a final (or quarter-final) evaluation.  Invariably, coming back with fresh eyes led to me spotting weaknesses and glitches and errors that I would never have seen otherwise.  It’s also important to remember, as a self-published author, that there’s a promotional benefit to showing early readers advance copies of your book, with a plea that they give you feedback on what’s working and not working, in terms of design as well as content.  Their advice will help you tweak your book to perfection, while also spreading the word that you have an upcoming publication on its way!

[ NOTE: If you’re looking for the first blog in this post, a general overview of merchandising for self-published authors, you’ll want to look here.  If you’re interested in reading up on extras and special editions, take a look at my second post in this series.  For last week’s post, on book cover and jacket design, follow this link. ]

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.