An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | Pinterest

We’re not the first to write about the ways in which you can use Pinterest to help market your book, and we won’t be the last.  Why?  Because books are first and foremost a tangible object with incredible visual (and tactile) appeal, and Pinterest is a social media platform designed and built to showcase beautiful things.  Emphasis on “things.”  Pinterest is often described as a kind of digital bulletin board, and whether or not you actually use bulletin boards in real life, it is a powerful tool for collecting objects–most of them real and actual physical objects–together into one easy-to-access-and-modify place.  It may not have been specifically designed for books, but Pinterest is definitely a book-lover’s dream … and a haven, too, for self-published authors.

Pinterest

How does Pinterest work?  Users create profiles, find and follow their friends, and have the freedom to tag these friends when “pinning,” not to mention respond to or “re-pin” these friends’ “pins.”  You can create just one Pinterest “board,” or many.  You can even determine which ones are public and which ones are private, and invite your friends to pin to your private boards with you!  (As with every other social media platform, Pinterest has created its own semi-exclusive vocabulary.)  Depending on whether you’re using the mobile interface on your smartphones or other smart devices, or whether you’re using the desktop interface on your computer or laptop, these pins are displayed tiled across your screen in a visual “feed.”  So far, you’ll note that Pinterest provides many of the same services as any other platform–like Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter–only with a more visual twist.  In fact, I would say that Pinterest resonates with Instagram the most, since both of these mediums were designed exclusively to showcase visual content, and as such have attracted users of a more artistic bent.

So, how does the indie, hybrid, or self-published author take advantage of Pinterest?  First, we have to address a certain … stigma … that Pinterest has acquired.

Debunking the Great Pinterest Myth: “Isn’t it mostly just recipes and wedding ideas?”

Forbes has published an article on it.  So has the London School of Economics.  And a whole host of marketing professionals (such as SiteLogicMarketing).  In the United States, yes, some 83% of Pinterest users were female–but in the UK?  That number drops to 44% female.  And even in the predominantly female American user base, many big brands are making use of Pinterest to market meaningfully to men.  In her Forbes article, Michelle Greenwald writes that Pinterest’s emphasis on “lifestyle” makes it prime territory for companies to “[add] brand value and [communicate] all the ways the brand can fit into its customers’ lives.”  Yes, wedding companies and Etsy entrepreneurs and watercolorists have a good handle on the marketing potential of Pinterest, but so too do companies like Bit9, Go Pro, ESPN, IBM, and GE.  When push comes to shove, purchasing a new washing machine or scoping out a new piece of tech is just as much a lifestyle-building decision as collecting ideas for bridal bouquets.

Top 5 Best Practices:

1. Take advantage of your own cover art.  Your book is beautiful.  Own it!  Throwing together a Pinterest board that features your own book’s cover art should be amongst the first things you do with Pinterest as an author; the existing visual impact of your book is simply too great a resource to waste!  You can fill the board up with illustrated quotations from your book, or perhaps photographs of your book in various locations–out “in the field, in its natural habitat” so to speak.  And don’t forget about your book trailer, if you have one!

2. Put together an “inspiration board.”  What inspires you when you’re writing?  Art?  Music?  A really well-executed NPR interview?  Set the mood for both you and your readers by putting together an inspiration board that features images, sounds, and atmospheres that evoke the world you’ve created within the pages of your book.  You know those playlists that authors will put together to go with their books?  An inspiration board is kind of like a playlist, only the content can be much more varied (and usually, much more visual!).

3. Pin contests and giveaways.  There are all kinds of giveaways, contests, and sweepstakes running on Pinterest at any given moment, but often the most exciting ones involve books!  Consider offering ARCs (Advance Reading Copies), singly or in bundles, to your readers via a Pinterest contest–and to enter, perhaps challenge each contestant to pin a picture of themselves holding your book in their favorite reading nook or space.  This kind of contest turns into loads of free marketing for you, in part because it requires creative thinking and engagement on the part of your readers, and in part because for every person who enters and pins a picture, dozens more of their friends and family will be exposed to your book as it crops up in their Pinterest feeds.  Just be sure you know how to navigate the fair use guidelines and contest requirements as stated by Pinterest!

4. Never underestimate the power of similarity.  Those “if you like this, why don’t you try this?” ads are on to something, and Pinterest-savvy authors are taking note.  One of the best things you can do on Pinterest is to dedicate a board to books that resonate with yours.  Pin books (or book covers, with their Amazon listings linked in the descriptions, to be more specific) of the same genre, or featuring characters you like, or that employ plot devices that somehow exist in conversation with those you use.  What purpose does this serve?  As with any social media platform, you have to do a little creative manipulation to make yourself “findable” by your ideal readers.  The more links you generate, the more connections you make easily accessible, the more people will find you and follow you on Pinterest.  And don’t be afraid to “send” pins to or otherwise get in contact with other pinners whose interests resonate with your own; the worst thing someone can say is “no, I’m not interested in featuring your pin on my board of recently self-published historical fiction novels” … but they might be eager to pin it!  You won’t know until you ask.

5. Don’t be afraid to set up or convert to a “Business” account.  That’s right, Pinterest is doing its best to make it easy for you to build your brand!  There are certain advantages to using a Business Profile as opposed to a Personal Profile, including access to analytics and other platform-specific tools that help you track what pinning activities are proving successful, and how to focus your time, energy, and attention where it’s going to do the most good.

Most Overlooked Feature:

If you haven’t heard of your “source page,” then you’re missing out!  Pinterest sends out notifications when users re-pin your pins, but often these notifications don’t actually tell you how many users are pinning directly from your page and how many are re-pinning from other peoples’ feeds or from Pinterest’s built-in “suggestion” algorithms.  Your source page is pinterest.com/yoursite.com, so if your username was “selfpublishingchampion,” your source page would be pinterest.com/selfpublishingchampion.com.  Hop on over to your source page to see which pins are or are not performing well on Pinterest–it’s a good sign if users are pinning directly from your site, since that means they’re more likely to have seen more than just the one pin; they will have seen more of the content surrounding 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 | Snapchat

We’re five weeks into my unofficial primer for indie and self-published authors looking to master social media, and this week I’ll be examining what is often perceived as the most “faddish” social media platform of all, Snapchat!  In past weeks, we’ve taken a gander at some bedrock philosophy for social media marketing as well as peered rather more closely at Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.  But when push comes to shove, these three social media platforms–and Facebook, which I’ll get to in due course–are far more widely used by authors to reach their followers than Snapchat.  Why?  Because on Snapchat, everything is temporary.

Snapchat

Let me hit the “rewind” button for a moment.  What exactly is Snapchat, for those of us who aren’t already familiar?  It’s an app.  Specifically, it’s an app(lication) that can only be used and viewed from tablets and smartphones running Android or Apple’s iOS platforms.  Users take pictures or videos (“snaps”) and distribute them to a controlled list of recipients; these recipients (termed “friends” within the app) can view the snaps for only a few seconds (the length of time is determined by the snap-taker) before they are irrevocably lost to the ether (with a few exceptions).  Snappers can customize their pictures and videos with a few filters and the addition of some (limited) text before sending them, but the app is about as streamlined as they come.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard of aggressive marketing through Snapchat yet, it’s probably because the app interface prioritizes privacy.  Unlike Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and to an extent Facebook, Snapchat was designed primarily for use between people who know each other in real life, and for use on the fly.  Even Instagram can be viewed on a regular laptop or desktop computer by using an internet browser–but then, Instagram is a forum for the artistic and beautiful, and Snapchat is a forum for the wacky and weird and private and time-sensitive things.

Debunking the Great Instagram Myth: “It’s all about the nudes.”

We’ve all heard the stories: Snappers who find themselves in compromising situations when someone takes a screenshot of their latest snap, in which they are sans clothing, and distributes this screenshot without approval––and, apparently, a conscience.  The fact that snaps don’t stick around has led some to––and I’m putting this indelicately––regret their choice of friends, but those who use Snapchat for this kind of exchange are in the minority (as they are with every other social media platform out there).  Snapchat is not just about nudes, or even about the oft-reviled “selfie.” 

If those who you follow with the app are the sort of people who spend their lives mountain climbing or heli-skiing, then you will end up watching a lot of GoPro camera footage.  If you follow a librarian, bookseller, or author, you’re going to be seeing a lot of books and, very likely, clips of their favorite shows (with bonus giggles and voiceover reactions!).  The sum of your Snapchat experience is determined by the people that you already like and trust.  Snapchat does not promote narcissism or self-absorption––it helps friends share the texture and material of their lives with those who are physically absent.  It also, importantly, promotes storytelling!

John Green on SnapchatJohn Green on Snapchat

Top 5 Best Practices:

1. Let people know you’re on Snapchat.  Because this particular app doesn’t operate on hashtags and a search engine (unlike Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and pretty much every other platform out there), you can’t quite make yourself “findable” on Snapchat the way you can elsewhere.  You have the option of adding people by Username, from your Address Book, by Snapcode, or proximity (even if another snapper is “Nearby,” you still have to opt-in to this feature––so again, your privacy is protected).  The easiest way to get others to add you is to make an announcement outside of Snapchat––on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on.  You’ll receive notification that someone else has added you, and you can decide if you want to become “mutuals” by adding that person back.

2. Think of incentives that make use of Snapchat’s time-sensitive nature.  A snap can only be viewed for 24 hours after you post it, and once someone taps their screen to view your snap, they only have 1 to 10 seconds to view it before it disappears (you determine how many seconds they have when you post the snap).  Snappers can choose one snap a day to “replay,” but once they choose to replay a snap once they can’t replay it again, or replay any other snaps that day.  This feature means that your followers usually only have one shot at getting your joke or viewing your behind-the-scenes footage.  And while this may seem prohibitive to self-promotion, it isn’t!

Retailers can tell you that a timed incentive––like a 24-hour promotional discount, or a 24-hour giveaway competition, or a 24-hour scavenger hunt––is a great way to hook in new readers.  Joe Warnimont writes that one streetwear company (Karmaloop) routinely grabs people, dresses them up with items from their clothing line, and then takes a snap of those people holding a picture of their latest promotional code.  It might seem convoluted, but this kind of time-sensitive and exclusive material (only available to followers on Snapchat!) can generate a lot of buzz for a writer.  You might take a leaf out of Karmaloop’s book and take snaps of strangers holding pictures of quotes from your book around town, or you might branch out and offer a one-day-only discount for your book on Amazon.

3. Take advantage of Snapchat’s “Stories” feature.  One of Snapchat’s more interesting features is the way it allows users to build “stories” out of multiple snaps.  Every snap you choose to post to “My Story” (an option visible in the “Send To…” tab) is compiled together.  If you post five short videos (or three short videos and two still pictures) to your story, your followers will view them all in sequence when they tap your name on their “Recent Updates” feed.  Some snappers go all-out with their stories, using the ten-second time limit as a jump cut to a new scene or clip, while others use their stories to quite literally tell stories(with illustrations, of course)!  As an indie author, you’re used to telling stories in at least one medium.  Why not try another?  Statistics show that the majority of Snapchat’s users do, in fact, enjoy viewing their friends’ stories in addition to their individual snaps.

[ SIDE NOTE: if you have a particularly awesome day, you can save your stories to your phone.  Just tap the ellipsis (“…”) to the right of your story and select the correct option to store it in your photo app. ]

4. Frame your content for Millennials.  The average Snapchat user is young––in their teens or twenties––and female.  This is painting with a broad brush, certainly, as there are plenty of snappers who do not identify as Millennials or female––but the statistics do create a big picture of who’s likely to find you Snapchat (as opposed to, say, Twitter).  On the whole, snappers are more likely to be deeply engaged with the content they view than the average Facebook user, so it’s worth considering what sort of material a young woman is going to respond to.

5. Don’t panic.  Snapchat feels different, so very different from the Big Five (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest).  Its basic architecture and interface is alien to folks who sit in front of computer screens larger than three by five inches.  It takes a while to get used to, and to figure out how to use, and to enjoy working with.  It can also be highly addictive––which is one reason why it’s a good idea to give it a try.  New readers might just become addicted to your book!  Still, it’s not for everyone.  (It turned out not to be for the King of Young Adult literature, John Green, who gave up on it within minutes of his first snap.  (Although it’s worth noting that he was already so incredibly popular that he didn’t exactly need to try any new avenues for self-promotion.)  Snapchat isn’t for everyone, but it is for the young and up-and-coming Millennial generation, which also happens to be one of the greatest per-capita consumer demographics when it comes to books––physical books and ebooks!  Which is to say … give it time.

Most Overlooked Feature:

Live video.  You heard me.  Live video.  If you’re in the midst of a Snapchat conversation with a friend or reader and your camera button flickers blue (it’s normally yellow) and you hear a strange noise, that means that both parties are actively viewing the conversation and you can start a live video chat.  Essentially, you can do the Snapchat equivalent of Skype or Google Hangouts or FaceTime with your fans.  All you have to do is tap and keep your finger down on the camera button.  A circular image pops up––live feed from your smartphone’s camera––and you drag that circle to the bottom before releasing to keep the video going.  Each party has to do this step separately in order for both people to see each other: which is nice, because you’ll never be forced to show your face, if you’re not in the mood or not free or not sure what’s happening.  It is entirely possible to have a one-sided conversation as a result, which is slightly less fun than it sounds.  Still!  Imagine all of the possibilities for you to surprise your fans with quick hellos and insider information!

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 : Extras & Special Editions

Last week, I launched a new blog series on the ins and outs of merchandising with a quick definition.  (“Simply put, merchandising is any and all practices and methods which boost product sales in a retail environment.”)  And definitions are great and all, but we’re here to talk shop.  To get under the skin of merchandising, to inhabit the world of successful merchandisers, we have to tackle each and every aspect of the process–in depth.  This week, we’ll be taking a closer look at two of these aspects: “extras,” and special edition releases of your books.

What are “extras”?

“Extras” are anything you send out into the world related to your work that is not (quite) your book.  Or at least, it’s not your book as most people know it.  They’re the fiddly bits, the sweeteners, the “guess what I got this week?” element of book marketing.  The no-frills approach to book sales is to put your book, and only your book, into the hands of your ideal readers.  But we all know the process is more complicated than that, if we want to make profitable sales.

Identifying our ideal readers is one complicated conglomerate of issues unto itself, and connecting the dots between book and reader yet another (seemingly) hopeless tangle, and transforming the market so that more readers become ideal readers is … well, you get the picture.  The creation, distribution, and controlled availability of “extras” is one highly effective way to unpick some of these knots.  Why?  Because they make your ideal readers feel privileged and affirmed in their good taste, while also serving as a siren call to new readers–a declaration that you, the author, are willing to go the extra mile to bring others alongside you, into the world of your book.  And I’m not just talking about fictional worlds, here: every good book is a world unto itself, a universe even, that enwraps its readers in a shared sense of wonder, urgency, or belief.

“Extras” come in every possible form we can imagine, and sometimes figuring out what “extras” suit our books and our needs best is the larger task.  But simply identifying them can be a challenge, too, so here is a short list of some of the more effective extras that leap to my mind:

  • creating swag, like bookmarks or postcards or tee-shirts, etc, to give away or raffle off at book readings and signings;
  • putting together a regular newsletter, physical or digital, to distribute to eager readers;
  • orchestrating giveaways, scavenger hunts, and other participatory contests to boost interest;
  • offering limited-offer “buy a physical book and unlock free digital content” sorts of specials;
  • publishing select chapters online for free, using interactive services such as WattPad; and
  • hosting quizzes, ask-and-answer sessions, or other author-centric material online using social media networks such as Tumblr.

(This is just to name a few.)  As you can see, many of these “extras” fall into two loose categories: the physical fiddly bits, and the digital fiddly bits.  It’s worth noting that, while focusing our talents into bundles that seem all of a kind–say, pairing a digital “extra” with an ebook release, or a physical “extra” with a physical book launch–may be an effective use of our time, it may not be the sole best way to boost our sales.  Many readers who are highly engaged on social media will treasure a physical book or a physical “extra,” while many readers who hold fast to their physical libraries are ready and willing to branch out and experiment, if they’re invested in you, the author, and your vision of your world.  Strategic cross-fertilization may be the best approach, so make sure you’re providing “extras” on both sides of the digital/physical divide–if possible.

Oh, right, I mentioned special editions too.

That’s right–I haven’t forgotten.  The reason I save this second aspect of merchandising for after my discussion of “extras” is simple: many of the same rules apply.  We’ve written about releasing special editions, whether ebook editions or other kinds of editions as a kind of promotional venture, before.  We’ve even written about releasing special editions for holidays and for Kindles, respectively.  The simple distillation of all of these prior posts might be to say: “The more editions we put out there, the more accessible our books, the more people who will hear of our books, and the more books we will sell.”  The parallels between special editions and “extras” are fairly clear–just substitute “extras” for “editions.”

The key to successful merchandising for the self-published author is to make our readers feel special!  We can make this happen with strategic bundles of “extras,” or by releasing new editions of previously published books.  Both of these merchandising methods are built upon creating and distributing new access points to our works.  Generating special offers that are limited in some way–in respect to time or quantity–whether on swag or giveaways or special editions–heightens the competitive edge to what we’re offering, and makes our books a topic of conversation.  We want to balance ubiquity of our works–making it is available to as many people as possible–with an urgency to acquire it in certain incarnations or circumstances.

Next week, I’ll be examining merchandising through book and jacket design.  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.

On Self-Publishing and Merchandising

You are a self-published author.  Fantastic!  And you’re a self-published author looking to boost your book sales through strategic self-promotion, and by diving into the ofttimes terrifying world of … merchandising.  You’ve written your book, which everyone told you was the hardest part of the whole writing-and-publishing process, and you’ve plugged it into a self-publishing engine like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, or BookSurge, or Xlibris, or Outskirts Press, or any one of a dozen other self- or hybrid publishing websites.  But what comes next?  For most writers, it’s not automatic instant success.  For most writers, what comes next involves a lot of hard work, and finesse.  Because for most writers, what comes next will involve merchandising.

So what is merchandising?

Simply put, merchandising is any and all practices and methods which boost product sales in a retail environment.  Once you get used to thinking of and treating your book as a retail product–which is harder than it may seem, in personal experience–the process of selling and marketing your book becomes infinitely easier.  Why is this?  Since books are more than just a piece of wood pulp and ink–because books are ideas and stories and occasionally, magnificent works of art–we understandably think about them as these things, these intangible things.  And it can seem, well, rather low-brow to treat an idea the same way that I treat a sandal or a bottle of shampoo.  Low-brow, and possibly even vulgar.  But the fact of the matter is, we want our books to sell, not just to sit all neat and pretty on our own private bookshelves awaiting discovery after we pass on.  We want–no, need–our books to sell for all sorts of reasons: the dissemination of ideas, the collection of profits, and so on.  We need to sell our books, and merchandising helps sell books.

Unfortunately, self-published authors often find themselves daunted by the notion of self-promotion via merchandising.  Authors who survive the knuckle-bruising process of traditional publication have an entire company to help them navigate merchandising, if not take it on entirely.  Self-published authors face the same fears, the same doubts, the same tangle of fine print–only, without the clout and muscle and well-fleshed-out personnel of a publishing firm at their back.  And it’s virtually impossible to know where to begin.  Do you begin with mugs and notepads and tee shirts?  Do you begin with book design or haggling with local retailers?  You may not have a publishing firm’s PR department on hand, but you do have us.  (Not to mention, your legions of fans.)  You have us, your loyal digital cheer squad and sounding board for ideas.  We’re here to help.

Over the coming weeks, I’m going to unwind a few key strategies for merchandising success, specifically in regards to self-published authors seeking entry into the world of merchandising that the privileged traditionally-published author never has to think twice about.  A few of these strategies will include:

  1. Extras & special edition releases
  2. Book & jacket design
  3. Blurbs, reviews, and blog reviews
  4. Dealing with Amazon, CreateSpace, and others
  5. (And yes, we’ll deal with mugs and notepads and tee shirts, too.)

Suffice it to say, this is a big topic.  Epically, profoundly, unmentionably big.  (Which is exactly why we’re here, reading this blog, isn’t it?)  It will take us a while to step through all of the angles, so plan on checking this space every Wednesday morning as we dive in!

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.

Diversity & Self-Publishing (ep. 3)

Week before last, I began to examine the ongoing conversation centering on diversity in self-publishing that has sprung up over the last couple of years, and only risen in importance and visibility since then.  Last week, I addressed two questions:

  1. What’s the track record of diversity in publishing? (and)
  2. What about within self-publishing, specifically?

This week, I want to address two more questions.  The first, as you’ll see, follows on immediately from number two, above:

Are there differences between the track records of traditional publishing and self-publishing in regards to diversity, and why or why not?

As MediaShift’s correspondent Miral Sattar notes in her excellent article for PBS, diversity has always had a little bit more of a foothold in the world of self-publishing than it has elsewhere.  In large part, this can be traced back to the blue-collar, anti-establishmentarian streak that gave rise to the self-publishing industry in the first place.  Wanting to place profits in the hand of an individual author as opposed to a company or a collective?  When it comes to books, that’s a radical idea.  Wanting control over the entire authorial, publishing, and marketing process?  That, too, falls outside the established framework provided by traditional publishing.  All of this independent thinking and hungering after self-realization has led to an environment that fosters rebels and self-starters and free-thinkers and otherwise marginalized peoples.  That includes, of course, people of diverse origins, pursuits, and identities.

In her article, Sattar mentions a whole host of self-published authors, including CJ Lyons, Orna Ross, Lara Nance, HM Ward, Kailin Gow, Margarita Matos, Abdul Qayum Safi, Lozetta Hayden, Manuela Pentagelo, Tejas Desai, and Aleysha Proctor.  And these are just a very few of a very great many self-published authors currently putting their books out there.  There are others: Mary Sisney, Liz Castro, Nadeem Aslam, Johnny Townsend, Qasim Rashid, and so, so many more.  The fact is, if you want to publish something that the mainstream publishing industry isn’t prepared to market, and which isn’t angling to be a blockbuster seller, then the generous spirit of the self-publishing world is always waiting.  We live in a day and age, thankfully, when the self-published book is no longer synonymous with “I’m selling this out of the trunk of my car” (although that may still be the case), and with a whole host of resources out there, from internet forums to hybrid publishing firms, the self-publishing author can count on sending a high-quality–if radically counter-cultural–product out there into the world.

Why does diverse representation in literature and the industry matter?  Why should we authors and readers and (self-)publishers care?

This fourth question is, in some ways, a much harder one to answer.  As with many things in life, it might seem easy to fall back on a rote answer (you either do or you don’t), or to fall into the trap of trying to heavy-handedly preach readers into one perspective or another (because I said so!).  The fact of the matter is, caring about something as radically life-changing as diversity and representation is more than just a private act, but it’s also something you can’t just tell people to do.

When someone leans in over the dinner table and asks me why they should care about diversity–as has happened fairly often this last year–I fall back on a whole retinue of explanations: the statistics about social stratification and advancement or regression, the ethical and moral ground upon which we build healthy and just societies, and the anecdotes of people I know who have found themselves on the wrong side of the line when it comes to representation.  And of all of these arguments, the most effective one is, appropriately enough, one that requires a little imagination.

Imagine you are a child, any child who doesn’t look like a descendant of a hundred Caucasian family trees, who maybe doesn’t tip the scale quite to quite the same number as any of a thousand Disney Channel stars, who maybe comes from a faith background or an ethnic background that isn’t mainstream Christianity or undecided, who maybe has physical or emotional disabilities, who maybe identifies as something other than cisgendered or “straight” or is questioning their identity, who maybe comes from a dysfunctional family or society.  Imagine you have any one of these attributes, or a whole heady cocktail of them, and ask yourself this question: Have you seen yourself in a popular book lately?  How about on TV or in a movie–as the main character?  Have you seen yourself anywhere but in the bathroom mirror and have you seen yourself compassionately rendered there?

I remember the first time I found myself in a book, the first time I encountered a character who looked and felt and acted and believed like me.  It was absolutely, entirely, 100% life-changing.

Why should we care about diversity in publishing and self-publishing?  Because we want our children to grow up knowing that they don’t have to live in the shadows.  That they are lovable and loved.  That they don’t need to bleach their skin or get rid of their accent or faith or private struggles in order to be a whole human being.

Explaining to a child who has never seen a familiar face or life story told on television or in books or in music why they’ve never seen that story is absolutely heartbreaking, not to mention difficult.  One hopes that we don’t have to end that conversation with “…and it looks like it’s going to stay that way for a while.”  One hopes we can end that conversation with: “But see?  We’ve made progress, and here is a whole host of stories to get you started.”  Others have put together powerful arguments why diversity in publishing (of any kind) is important, too, so I think there’s a lot of hope we’ll see change within our lifetimes.

These thoughts barely scratch the surface of these questions, much less the conversation as a whole.   As I continue pondering how to go about touching on the other questions I posed two weeks ago, please drop me a line in the comments section below with your own thoughts or suggestions!  And of course, check back next week as we explore still more of this complicated tangle!

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.

Diversity & Self-Publishing (ep. 2)

Last week, I launched a series of questions addressing the nature and role of diversity in publishing, specifically within the self-publishing industry.  Before I return to those questions, a quick proviso: there’s been a lot of mud-slinging on both (or all?) sides of this debate, which can be both wild and wonderful (and occasionally, deeply problematic for all of us involved in getting words out of our heads and dispersed into the world).  But we’re not here to sling mud at anyone.  We’re here to ask questions and, hopefully, to listen.

Some of the mud-slinging can be interesting to read, or in some cases, listen to: just last month, NPR and Intelligence Squared U.S. hosted a debate over Amazon’s incredibly complex role in the whole mess of traditional versus self-publishing paradigms.  As I sat listening to the podcast this last week, I found myself both shocked and perfectly unsurprised at the ferocity of the debate––shocked, because we’re not used to our literary spokespeople literally shouting each other down on the debate floor, and unsurprised because, well, we’re talking about books and reading and literacy and therefore something both deeply, intensely personal, and also universal.  The debates over diversity in publishing are proving equally impassioned, and rightfully so.  Which brings me to last week’s first question:

What’s the track record of diversity in publishing?

It’s not a good one, particularly if we’re talking about publishing in the Western tradition, what with it being so interwoven the various other Institutions (with a capital “I”) that shape and influence society.  Which is not to say I advocate treating publishing artificially as if it has been cut away from every other element of life––not at all.  I do advocate paying close attention to how the social, political, and cultural institutions interact.  Hashtags like #WeNeedDiverseBooks have evolved beyond mere declarations of personal unhappiness to creating safe spaces for ongoing discussion about these complexities, and the data being mined is revealing.

Take the University of Wisconsin’s article on “Children’s Books by and about People of Color Published in the United States,” which shows that of the 2,500 children’s (trade) books published in the United States in 1985, only 18 were written by African Americans.  When you consider the demographics of the United States, wherein African Americans represent 13.1% of the population, that number should have been a lot higher.  Closer to 325 books.  Progress has been made, along all sorts of vectors, but of the 5,000 trade children’s books published in 2014, the CCBC reports that only 84 were written by African Americans and 180 were written about African Americans.  The percentages of other minority groups––ethnic, religious, gender, and others––show similar levels of underrepresentation.  Right now, a debate is raging over the representation of mental and physical well-being, and the current ways in which the publishing institution reinforces ableism and neuro-normativity.  Young Adult (or “YA”) literature has proven to be a particularly rich medium for addressing these growing concerns.

What about within self-publishing, specifically?

I’m so glad you asked!  Self-publishing (and all of its hybrid forms) has proven to be another haven for the marginalized author and all sorts of minorities––both in terms of authors and readers.  Because one point of the publishing triangle has been erased––or at least drastically altered––there has always been more room for the nonconformist, the outcast, and the malcontent within the welcoming arms of the self-publishing industry than there has been elsewhere.  Without fear of expulsion, ostracization, or censorship, the self-published author can write what needs to be written, and publish what needs to be heard!  The welcoming legacy of self-publishing is one I’ve examined before––in fact, many of the Late Great authors I’ve written about over the last few weeks either found themselves unwelcome within, or otherwise distanced from, traditional publishing.

I don’t have any numbers for you about diversity in self-publishing.  It’s practically impossible to collate the data, given the diverse forms and outlets and types of self-publication out there.  Many self-published works aren’t catalogued the way traditionally published books are, and so the data set just isn’t there.  But as Daniel José Older writes so beautifully in his BuzzFeed article (“Diversity is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing”), “it’s not just a question of characters of color, [and] it’s not a numbers game. It’s about voice, about narrative flow. […]  We see diverse futures, laden with the tangled past of oppression and we re-envision models of empowerment and survival. But only a few of us make it through. There is a filter and the filter is white culture.”  Suffice it to say, it seems as though the self-publishing industry has provided a platform for diverse voices to be heard, and diverse readers to be reached.  There are ways to change the institution from the inside, but in the meantime, authors can count on finding at least a modicum of representation within the self-publishing industry.

These thoughts barely scratch the surface of these questions, much less the conversation as a whole.   As I ponder how to go about touching on the other questions posed in last week’s blog post, please drop me a line in the comments section below with your own thoughts or suggestions!  And of course, check back next week as we explore still more of this complicated tangle!

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.

What do you need to know about diversity in self-publishing?

The matter of diversity in the book industry, particularly in the arena of traditional publishing, has been discussed by many fine people in many fine articles.  (You’ll find a few of them here, here, and here.)  But what about self-publishing?   I’m not going to lie: even with a somewhat narrower gaze, there’s still a lot to take in––and a lot of opinions to consider, agendas to juggle, and complications to navigate.  But this is February––and therefore, this is officially Black History Month.  It is a month where we pay our respects to the pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement (or movements), and pay close(r) attention to the justices and injustices enacted within the United States.*  It is right and good that we turn that same lens on the self-publishing industry that we know and love.

But how do we even begin this conversation?  First, we have to start asking the right questions.  Mine are by no means going to be the only ones worth hearing, or worth answering.  Which is why right now––right now––I’d like to open the floor (or rather, the comments box) to you, our dear readers.  Pose a question, or two, or three, connected to this issue of diversity in self-publishing, and I will pull together a few voices that (hopefully) speak to them.

Here are a few questions to get us started:

  1. Broad brush strokes: What’s the track record of diversity in publishing?
  2. What about within self-publishing, specifically?
  3. Are there differences, and why or why not?
  4. Why does diverse representation in literature and the industry matter?  Why should we authors and readers and (self-)publishers care?
  5. What could healthy diversity actually look like?
  6. Who benefits from diverse representation, and who benefits from a lack thereof?
  7. Can we make it happen?
  8. Should we make it happen?
  9. How can we better foster a self-publishing community that welcomes diverse authors and readers?

And because we normally dedicate our Wednesday posts on this blog to strategies for self-promotion, I think it’s fair to ask:

  • In what ways can diversity be both a selling point and a barrier to new readers discovering our work?  And how can we take advantage of the former while overcoming the latter?

Maybe we can answer all of these questions quickly and easily, but my gut instinct is that easy isn’t a word we can throw around when it comes to fair representation of any kind.  But this, too, is fitting: Black History Month started as a single week (the second week of February) and has happily spread to take up more of our year, and also, more of our hearts and minds.  Maybe one day we will be able to say with perfect sincerity and disingenuity that every week, and every month, and every year is packed with conversations in which diverse voices are heard.

*  It is worth noting that the USA is not the only nation to celebrate Black History Month––it is officially recognized in both the United Kingdom (UK) and in Canada, and is celebrated unofficially in many other nations and communities.

If you have any comments, reflections, or suggestions, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments box, and watch this space on Wednesdays in 2015!

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.