In Your Corner : The lonely road to self-publication

The road to self-publication is many things, and “frightening” can certainly register as one of those things, especially when you throw the word “lonely” into the mix.  Maybe it’s because we’re human beings and we’re hardwired to crave the affirmation and support that community brings, but there are few expressions in the English language that hold as much potential to inspire fear as “striking out on my own” or its close cousin, “in uncharted territory.”  And while it’s true that there are many other people out there self-publishing these days, there’s no exact way to translate that “head knowledge” into “heart knowledge” if it hasn’t been made real to us in personal experience––which is one of the reasons, I think, why digital communities hold so much potential for the self-publishing author.

frightened

Chances are that you or I will run across few others who will choose to self-publish over the course of our lifetimes, so where else are we going to turn for feedback or even for some basic know-how than the internet?  Blogs like Self Publishing Advisor and hybrid self-publishing companies like Outskirts Press provide important bridges to a successful and meaningful self-publishing experience for those of us who find ourselves stymied or at a loss, or even just lonely.

In this, my first post here, I’d first like to clear the air: it’s completely alright to be scared to self-publish.  Your feelings, whatever they happen to be, are one hundred percent valid.  My job, both as a contributor to this blog and––separately––as Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press, is to be your ally, cheer squad, sounding board, and advocate all at the same moment.  Everyone faces discouragement at some point when bringing a big project through from its beginning stages to its final execution and delivery, and self-publishing is no different.  But the challenges you’ll face or are already facing must be addressed as the specific things that they are, peculiar to your own individual experience.

There is no such thing as a cookie-cutter self-publishing experience.  But there are such things as insecurity, and fear, and trepidation.  These feelings are real, no matter what the reality of the situation is and whether they are built upon a factually accurate perception of what’s going on with your book.  And I can’t change what you feel simply by telling you “things are otherwise than how you see them in this moment.”  I’m lucky enough to have the (hopefully unbiased and wholly objective) perspective of someone whose work hinges upon being able to honestly and earnestly remind authors they’re not alone, and to simply be there, time and time again, when the authors I work with need someone in their corner.

It doesn’t hurt that I work for a company I really believe in.  As an employee at Outskirts Press, I don’t have to fudge on the details to make a sales pitch: we really are there to help authors before, during, and after publication.  Authors really do get to keep their profits, they’re really not stuck waiting for agents to like their books enough to publish them, and they really, truly, are not alone … even when it comes to the marketing process, which can often feel like the most isolating part of the whole experience, as the post-publication phase requires self-publishing authors to take responsibility for the course of their own careers in ways that more traditional avenues don’t.

Outskirts Press aside, self-publishing is now more common than traditional publishing––even though, sometimes, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.  (And there are a whole host of reasons why perception doesn’t line up with reality on this one, many of which can be traced back to the traditional publishing industry and its stranglehold on media outlets and therefore the larger public conversation.)  Self-publishing authors have a collective voice that resonates much more clearly now than it used to, maybe, but we still face an uphill battle when it comes to dealing with those fears and insecurities I mentioned earlier.  I’m here for you, though, and every week here on SPA I will keep on affirming your decision to self-publish and backing up those affirmations with a veritable onslaught of cold hard inspiring and encouraging facts, data, anecdotes, and proofs that I’ve amassed over a lifetime of experience in the self-publishing industry.  I hope you’ll check in every Thursday, and use the comments section, below, to ask questions and respond with your own insights.

You’re not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

From the Archives: “Soliciting Book Reviews for your Self Published Book”

Welcome back to our new Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: August 18th, 2008 ]

If your self-published book is available for sale at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble (BN.com), and other sites, you want to be sure your online listings have book reviews. You can always be sure your book has at least 1 review by asking one very close friend or relative to write a review for your book.

Once you have one review, your job is to solicit others. Obviously, if you’ve given some of your books away to friends or families, you should ask them to write a review in exchange for the book. As you continue to give them away, suggest to your customers that it would be helpful to you if they took the time to write an honest online review.  People like to help people, but usually only do so if you ask.

BONUS: Once you have reviews, you can use them in quotes for further promotion. For example:

“Best Book Ever!” — Amazon.com review.

Your book detail page on Amazon and Barnes & Noble have links for writing reviews of your book. If you haven’t done that yet, do it right away.

Remember, in order to write a review for a book on Amazon, each reviewer must have an Amazon account with which they have purchased something. This is how Amazon verifies the identity of the reviewer. They don’t need to buy your book, per se, they just need to buy something, anything, from Amazon. But it is nice if they DO buy your book, so suggest that to your friends first.

book review

Seven years on, and we’ve had ample time to expand upon the notion of book reviews and how beneficial they can be for your self-promotion strategy as an indie or self-published author!  And when I say ample, I mean that we’ve literally written essays on the subject.  For a litany of our best book-review-related material, check out this link, and this one, and this one.  Oh, and don’t forget our last in-depth primer post on the matter!

If the intervening years between 2008 and 2015 have taught me anything, it’s the power and influence of positive––and authentic––book reviews.  Which is why, when I look at my words from so long ago, the ones I want most to revisit are these: “[Reviewers] don’t need to buy your book, per se, they just need to buy something, anything, from Amazon.”  While the fact remains true that an Amazon reviewer isn’t strictlyr required to buy a book or an ebook to review it––and there are certainly many circumstances in which readers may legitimately acquire a book without purchasing it through Amazon or purchasing it at all––I see now that my words, out of context, might encourage authors to strong-arm their friends and loved ones into posting Amazon reviews out of obligation, rather than genuine interest.  I cannot stress how wrong I would be to encourage this notion.  Reviews should never be given unwillingly.  

Let me say that again: Reviews should never be given unwillingly.  We should try to avoid creating situations in which false approval is the platform upon which we launch our careers as authors.  As indie and self-published authors, we’re striving to shake off the constraints and residues of the so-called “Big Bad Publishing Institution,” a process which puts the torque into the word “spin” and serious money behind works and authors that critics are paid to laud.  We can work the system, yes––and self-promotion is in large part knowing how to cultivate a certain degree of cunning––but we should never sacrifice our self-respect.

Which is why we keep revisiting this idea of the book review.

There are so many ways in which we can be both cunning and conscientious, both the serpent and the dove.  Our past posts will lead you deeper into the specifics, but suffice it to say: don’t be afraid to go after reviews, and to openly and honestly ask for them, to outright challenge your readers and those who fall within your social sphere to offer them up … and also, don’t forget that the best review is an honest review, and the best way to keep hooking in good and honest press is to write another brilliant book.  Even better, if that’s possible, is helping out a fellow indie or self-published author by exchanging books and promises to support each other with favorable––and honest!––reviews.  What better way to cut through the bureaucratic red tape of traditional publishing than to participate in the broader exchange of thoughts and ideas with the whole self-publishing community?  Up and at ’em!  ♠

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 | 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 | YouTube

You already use it to watch every video your friends send you on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and elsewhere.  Chances are, nine out of every ten video links you’re ever going to click (in this decade, at least) will link to something on YouTube.  It’s about time that indie and self-published authors get in on the action, don’t you think?  Only, wait a minute: they already are!

YouTube Screenshot

But before we dive into just how you can use YouTube to launch your self-marketing campaign, let’s address some of the basics.  What is YouTube?  It’s a video storage and hosting service which allows pretty much anyone who signs up for a free account to upload video files for public consumption (or private; like every other good social media platform, YouTube allows its users to toggle a number of privacy settings for each individual video as well as for their profile pages).  Once a video is posted to YouTube, fans and followers can distribute the link themselves, which makes it a great platform for viral campaigns.  And because videos are visceral in a way text sometimes isn’t, they make a fantastic impact on viewers’–and readers’!–imaginations.

Debunking the Great YouTube Myth: “It’s all cats, cats, cats.”

While I’m not above clicking a link to a good cat video every now and again (see what I did there?), I do think we’re doing a great disservice to the platform by claiming it’s all cats, because pretty much anyone who is anyone worth knowing about has a YouTube channel.  I’m talking VICE, John Green, Oprah, CNN, The New York Public Library … the list goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on … ad infinitum.

Top 5 Best Practices:

1. Post a book trailer.  We here at Self Publishing Advisor have written about the merits of book trailers before (here and here), but I just can’t emphasize enough how awesome a book trailer is–especially as regards your self-promotion and self-marketing agenda.  A book trailer provides a bite-sized (or “eye-sized”) bundle of information about your book to new readers for easy consumption.  A good book trailer will add drama and flair to your book’s public image … and it will also reach far more people.  YouTube’s algorithms will ensure that its users will stumble across your book whenever they search for similar videos or book trailers by other authors in the same genre.  Just make sure to take advantage of the metadata!

2. Post regularly, if not weekly.  You may or may not be familiar (and comfortable) with the term “vlogging,” internet slang for “video blogging.”  Authors like John Green verge on being professional video bloggers, in that they post videos of themselves with updates on their writing, answers to readers’ questions, or more generally, responses to fans, fandoms, and greater cultural trends.  You may not be a titan of Young Adult Literature like John Green, but you can definitely walk away with a few ideas from his channel.  Namely: provide new content on a regular basis (feed your followers!), consider tweaking your on-camera surroundings so that posts are well-lit and free of visual clutter (keep it simple!), and edit your posts before they go up in order to re-craft the posts for easy consumption (keep it short!).

3. Ask to join an existing station as a guest speaker.  Many channels such as Self-Publishing Roundtable will invite authors to serve as “guests” on their YouTube channels, in part to promote variety, and in part because they welcome the opportunity to provide new authors a voice.  Run a quick search on YouTube for channels to do with self publishing, navigate to that channel’s “About” page, and then click the “Send Message” button to contact the people on that channel directly.  You have literally nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting out feelers for folks who might be interested in helping you launch your new (or existing) book.  A few might say “No,” but there are (as my grandmother used to remind me) plenty of fish in the sea.

4. Pay attention to the details.  I mentioned lighting, time length, and editing before.  A good way of figuring out how to frame and film your first couple of YouTube posts is to watch a whole bunch.  Not just Lady Gaga music videos, mind, but videos that are doing something similar to what you aim to do.  Find those self-publishing-related YouTube channels and see what they get up to in terms of audio quality, clutter, editing techniques, and so forth.  You can always choose what to take and what to leave from these videos–they’re just a sounding board, not a structured guide, but they’ll still give you ideas.  You’re not chained to anything that they do!  Just make sure that you’re making conscious and conscientious decisions about content and presentation.

5. Don’t overdo it … on your first video, or any following video.  You’ll notice that some of the most successful author-related YouTube channels preserve an element of spontaneity, of freshness, and of personality.  You definitely don’t want to scrub your YouTube videos of what makes you you.  But another, less acknowledged quality of successful YouTubers is that they pay attention to length.  A long video, even a long and professionally-made video, is daunting to the average watcher.  In 2014, Adweek ran an article full of infographics about the ideal length of everything digital (I’m not even kidding), from Twitter tweets to hashtags to YouTube videos.  And what did they find?  That of the top 50 videos on YouTube at the time, the average length fell somewhere close to 2 minutes and 50 seconds.  Amazing.  Any longer, and the video is no longer “eye-sized” and runs the risk of losing a new reader’s interest.  Once you have built up a substantial network of faithful YouTube subscribers, you can fudge around with limits and goals and things, but for a newcomer?  Stick to a quick hearty blend of style and substance that will hook new readers in without taking up too much of their time.

Most Overlooked Feature:

Without a question, the most feature most authors forget about when it comes to YouTube is the playlist.  What’s more, there are plenty of great resources out there that will walk you through the minutiae of how to set one up (this one, for example).  It’s not an “undiscovered” feature for hearty and dedicated YouTube users, but it is overlooked by many content providers.  Essentially, a playlist allows authors to group together videos to be played by others in a specific order.  It creates a narrative out of your video collection, and helps a lot with the whole “findability” thing.  They’re sharable on social media just like individual videos, and they’re easy to create and edit.  Really, there’s no reason not to use playlists to organize your files on YouTube.

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.

An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | Tumblr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 5 Best Practices:

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

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

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

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

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

Most Overlooked Feature:

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

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

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Self-Publishing & Merchandising : Book Cover and Jacket Design

So here’s the thing: you’ve written a book.  Now you have to sell it.  But you’re going to self-publish, and you’re just self-conscious enough to do a little field research, so you drop on by your local indie bookstore, and you start thumbing through covers to see what you like and what you don’t like … and you start noticing a pattern.  The self-published books on the shelf are, for one thing, pretty thin on the ground, and they’re also often less … attractive.  What’s going on here?  And how can you prevent your own book cover and jacket from fading into the background?  Here are five tips to designing a standout, quality book cover or jacket.

[ Right now, I’m just going to deal with the outside of your book––and I’ll save the design components of the inside for next week. ]

1. Design with an awareness of genre.

Some of your greatest assets––and, potentially, stumbling blocks––as a book designer are the legacies of bygone books and the expectations of current readers.  Designing a book specifically to fit in may not be the wisest move––it may remain undiscovered by blending in too well––but there are enormous benefits to paying attention to the visual brand of your book’s genre.  Just think about it!  We know in a flash––in less than a tenth of a second––and with great accuracy whether A, B, and C are all of a set in those popular web-based IQ tests.  We will absolutely know if a book “fits” with its shelf-mates in the bookstore, because we can pause and linger and physically pick up the books involved.

Bold and blocky typefaced titles that occupy almost the whole of a book cover scream crime fiction; slim and minimal sans-serif fonts speak of literary nonfiction; distressing alludes to zombies and post apocalyptic literature; and a hand-lettered style hints at popular romance or young adult novels.  (John Green, I’m looking at you.)  There are, of course, a great many exceptions across all genres, but the clues are there: aside from title fonts and their size and placement, every genre has a long legacy of embedded symbols, imagery, and dynamic organization.  Silhouettes, guns, and blood splashes are easy to place in the crime genre, but do you notice the color balance in a Nora Roberts book cover?  How about the placement of carefully curated quotes on a nonfiction book, above or below the title?  Or the fact that nature guides will often crowd out the author’s name altogether in favor of a full-page still shot of a bluejay, or a slice of Sydney Harbour?  Before you settle, browse the aisles––and the Kindle store.  If you’re going to depart from your genre’s expectations, then do so knowingly, with every keystroke.  You may be setting your book up to stand out, but you may also be removing it from the visual radar of every reader who’s looking for a book in your genre.

2. Design with an awareness of spatial dimensions.

No, I don’t mean the astral plane, or the multiverse.  I mean you should examine the balance between text and image, busy and clean, light and dark.  Often a book cover will look radically different at different dimensions––say, as a physical book and as a thumbnail on the Kindle store––and seemingly small design choices can make your book look either extraordinary or extraordinarily terrible when the size of the image changes.  Keeping your book cover design free of unnecessary clutter––shapes and colors and forms that you don’t need to convey important information––is essential.  I can guarantee you that the titles leaping out at you as you’re scrolling through Amazon are the ones keeping their design simple enough––and uncluttered enough––that they appear beautiful, even as a tiny, 60 x 90 pixel thumbnail.  Again, browsing what’s out there is your best guide to designing a great book cover yourself.

3. Design with an awareness of industry requirements.

By this I mean, particularly, to watch your back cover.  You need to display your book’s EAN barcode somewhere on the cover, preferably without squashing or crowding the design.  You’ll need to include an author photo and biographical snippet (“John Doe works as a marine biologist at Eckard College.  He lives in Tampa with thirty mollusks and one delightful parakeet”).  You should also include the book’s genre or category, a readable price, and contact information.  The category may prove problematic, if your book is indeed cross-genre, but keep in mind this isn’t about smashing your book into a preconceived category, but about making your book findable for your readers.  If you’ve ever heard of a keyword search, your book’s category performs many of the same functions.

4. Keep it legal.

“Don’t steal other people’s artwork” sounds a bit strong, but this is essentially what you’re doing if you utilize an image on your book cover or jacket that you don’t have permissions for.  As you design your book, you absolutely must ensure you use only your own images, images you obtain by payment or permission, or images under the Creative Commons license.  Creative Commons can become complicated to work out after the fact, if you just pluck something off of a Google image search, but there are many fine websites out there that are dedicated to providing nothing but Creative Commons photographs.  Take a look at Stock.xchang (now FreeImages.com), Wikimedia Commons, Free Pixels, Fotolia, Image Base, Abstract Influence, and Flickr’s Creative Commons page (easy to find by clicking “Learn More” on their website).  Basically, there’s no excuse for taking someone else’s image if it’s not on a Creative Commons license … there are so many legitimate options to choose from!  (And if you really want, well, that image, then you should go to the necessary lengths to ensure you have the artist’s permission anyway, right?)

5. Make it yours.

One of the most commonly-heard questions in the self-published community is: “Should I pay someone else to design my cover, if it’s really so much work?”  Ultimately, the answer is up to you.  Will it significantly improve your quality of life by reducing the stress of learning new technologies and softwares and managing a writer’s life on top of all of that?  Possibly.  Never underestimate the power of a professionally-designed cover, especially in a world saturated with marginally acceptable self-published covers. 

On the other hand, will releasing the design process into someone else’s hands also take creative control out of your own hands?  Often, yes, it will.  Always remember where you draw your line in the sand––at which point you’re comfortable surrendering the artistic direction of your book.  If you want or need a designer, that’s great!  Just make sure to do a little research, and to make sure you choose someone who chooses you back––and chooses to get on board with your vision for your book.  That way, no matter who is out there shaping your visual brand, you can be confident that it will reflect … you!

[ 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. ]

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.