January 18, 2018
What's in this heart-to-heart?
Recent Goings On:
I AM NOW ON MY WAY TO MOROCCO. This was meant to be a last minute trip to help my husband and I heal from the miscarriage...Which now isn't over. If you follow me on social media, then you already know I just found out my miscarriage actually didn't complete.
It would seem my placenta passed, but the fetus itself did not. Which means I get to have a surgery when I return from my trip in a week. It's an easy procedure, but this whole thing has been a shock.
Honestly, I am the human equivalent of a train wreck. I thought I was finally done grieving, I thought now I could finally heal...But no.
I almost just cried in the security line at the airport because the TSA agent said, "Wrong line, honey. Go over there." Yeah. Yeah. That's where I am right now.
But hopefully Morocco is a wonderful distraction.
For the Misfits & Witchlanders:
Bloodwitch Tour Dates!
Huzzah!! We finally have tour dates for Bloodwitch!! Find out if I'm coming to a city near you.
If I'm not, don't worry! Just be sure to request me at your local store. It's up to your store to let my publisher know they want me. ;)
And Canada + UK: you are not forgotten! I am working on heading your way, and hopefully we'll have good news soon!
So where am I headed?
Powell's in Beaverton, OR
with author Kristen Simmons
February 12 @ 7PM
Kepler's in Menlo Park, CA
February 13 @ 7PM
Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, MA
February 14 @ 7PM
Barnes & Noble in Bensalem, PA
with authors Elise Kova and Brigid Kemmerer
February 15 @ 6PM
Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, KY
with authors Kristen Simmons and Sara Raasch
February 16 @ 4PM
St. Charles City-County Library in St. Peters, MO
February 17 @ 5PM
Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, MN
with author Kristen Simmons
February 19 @ 6:30PM
Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI
February 20 @ 7PM
Watermark Books in Wichita, KS
February 21 @ 6PM
Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, CO
February 22 @ TBD!
I really hope I'll see you along the way, my friends!! I promise it will be heaps of fun. :D
Don't forget the preorder campaign now running for Bloodwitch
! If you submit your receipt
, you'll get TWO enamel pins designed by Alex Castellanos!
And cool news, FaeCrate sales DO COUNT NOW
for the preorder gift!!! You'll get the enamel pins right in the box!
Just be sure to preorder a hardcover or ebook of Bloodwitch
before the release day (February 12, 2018), and submit your receipts to this website.
(If you have trouble uploading your receipt, please email firstname.lastname@example.org!)
And abracadabra! That's all you have to do! After the book releases, you'll get your pins!*
THANK YOU ALL!! I LOVE YOU!
*Note: Unfortunately, the campaign is US/Canada (minus Quebec) only. I'm sorry! That is not in my control. But if you want to get the goodies and you're abroad, then you can order from Good Choice Reading! Not only will you get the enamel pins, but you'll also get a signed copy too!
For the Daydreamers:
A Rough Guide to Self-Promotion
One of the hardest lessons for me to learn as a debut was that my book didn’t “matter.” I put matter in quotes because of course the book mattered – it mattered to me, it mattered to my team, it mattered to the readers who picked it up. But from a business perspective, it was not a priority.
This meant, of course, that I got little promotional push and limited store placement. Advanced copies were sent in bulk along with lots of other advanced copies. There was nothing to distinguish Something Strange & Deadly from the crowd save its cover, and when the book hadn't sold after three months, it was pulled from stores.
Over the course of my entire four years, I exchanged a single email with my publicist. Getting noticed by Epic Reads felt like being in junior high all over again.
This is NO SHADE on Harper Teen. Seriously: no shade. Yes, at the time, I was bitter. I felt ignored, I felt unimportant while I watched the book I was so proud of go nowhere.
But over the next few years, I learned that there was nothing for me to be bitter about. I learned I wasn’t ignored at all, and it was NOT my publisher’s fault that I wasn’t one of the Lucky Chosen Ones. Or as we call it in the biz, “a big book.” Epic Reads, my publicist, bookstores, and everyone else -- they were just doing what their jobs entailed for every book that was on their very long lists.
Publishing is a business. As such, the publishers must put their money where they think they will make money.
Sometimes this means throwing all the push into an already established, successful series. Sometimes it means picking a new title that will be made into the Next Big Thing. Sometimes it means an unexpected title breaks out, and now the publisher needs to shift gears and throw money over there.
When I sold Something Strange & Deadly, publishers thought steampunk would be the next big genre in YA. By the time SS&D was due to release 2 years later, however, the reality was that steampunk had gone nowhere. Instead, the hot new genre was DYSTOPIA!!
So as you can imagine, my series was left to its own devices, and push was directed into all the potentially popular dystopian titles.
Does this mean my book sucked? No.
Does this mean those authors who got the push were better writers? No.
Nor does it mean they were more special or more worthy. It also doesn’t mean they were bad or less worthy. All it means is they had the Right Book at the Right Time.
This is why I always say that publishing is 90% luck and good timing. You can work your butt off and have the most incredible book ever written, but if it’s not the genre that’s selling well or the genre publishers think is going to hit big, then… Well, it doesn’t matter how good your book is.
And, I just want to add that sometimes, no matter how much money a publisher throws at a series, it never really takes off. This happens more often than you might think because you cannot MAKE readers pick up a book. You cannot MAKE them enjoy it.
In other words: good luck, good timing.
But here’s the thing: just because so much of publishing and success are out of your hands doesn’t mean you should slack off. Quite the opposite.
In fact, the harder you work and the more you hone your craft, then the more opportunities you’ll ultimately build for yourself.
So for example, you might not sell your sci-fi western today, but when that genre explodes in 5 years, you’ll be ready!
Or, you might not get all the publisher push for your series now, but if you manage to build a small, loyal fanbase that you nurture…Well, you might just see big results further down the road.
One of the most frustrating catch-22’s of traditional publishing is that the less your book sells, the more you have to spend out of your own pocket on push and promo. But of course, the less your book sells, the less money you’re making…Meaning you have less money to spare on said push and promo.
And of course, on the flip side, the more your book sells, the more money you’re making – and the less you’re having to spend on your own promo.
More money, less problems.
And as frustrating as it might be, the nature of traditional publishing is that one publicist is assigned to many authors. As you can imagine, these awesome people have to prioritize their time according to the “important books.” This leaves a few books getting all the time and attention while most are left to fend for themselves
This is NOT the publicist’s fault. They are NOT ignoring you. Publishing is a business. They are simply doing their jobs.
And in turn, we the authors must do ours: we must self-promote.
Why, I bet if you were to ask 90% of authors out there, “who made that graphic?” or “who designed those posters?” or “who ran this preorder campaign?”, the answer would be “I DID.”
In fact, I remember an incident during my debut year when a fellow debut told me how jealous they were of all the stuff Harper Teen had done for me. And I was a bit stunned. “Erm, what stuff do you mean?” I asked.
“The website they made you! And these bookmarks! And that trailer!”
Of course, you all know I made all that stuff myself, and I quickly explained this reality to my fellow author. But honestly, I was delighted that this person had misunderstood!
Why? Because it meant the things I had done looked professional. It meant that, to outsiders, my book looked important enough to receive push. Sounds silly, but “fake it till you make it” is great advice and really can make a difference.
And while SS&D never exploded and ultimately faded away, I replicated all that hard work for Truthwitch – and added even more promo too -- and that time around, the impact was huge.
Here’s the thing: with a little elbow grease, you can self-promote like a boss.
You don’t have to send yourself on expensive tours or pay for a fancy website. You don’t need to hire a graphic designer or pay for an outside publicist. You certainly can do all of that, but it’s definitely not a requirement for success. (And I don't recommend it for a debut, unless you just have money to burn.)
With some basic self-teaching (Youtube is your friend!), you can learn all you need to learn to be your own publicist and social media coordinator.
No, I cannot guarantee you will suddenly see huge results. I cannot guarantee you will EVER see results. But I can guarantee that if you don’t self-promote, you’ll definitely see NO results.
I am always of the belief that it’s best to go all in for every book (and “all in” will look different for each person) because then at least I know I did my best, even if it doesn't pay off.
Graphic Design + Swag
Making your own graphics is the most important skill for an author (outside of writing). I cannot urge you enough to get comfortable with Photoshop. Or, if Photoshop is too overwhelming for you, then Canva is a fantastic free tool. It’s what I used to make the cover of The Executioners Three!
Don’t have an eye for design? That’s okay! Start looking at how publishers design quote graphics, posters, advertisements, etc. When you see something you like it, save it! And then use that design as a jumping off point for your own work.
Over the years, I have used my own rudimentary graphics skills to make websites (more on that below), bookmarks, stickers, posters, pamphlets, postcards, business cards, and the list goes on.
Some items cost more than others, and I haven’t necessarily found them to be worth the cost (t-shirts and tote bags, for example, were too expensive to be worth it). But it’s also fun to have unique swag items for online giveaways (mugs were a winner!).
That said, if there is one item I recommend making, it’s bookmarks. They’re easy to give away, you can fit a lot of info on them (covers + book info + quotes), and they’re cheap to print. You can give them to librarians and booksellers, to readers at events, and to anyone you might run into who wants to know more about your titles.
Websites + Branding
Every author needs a website. Luckily, you don’t need to know coding to build a strong website these days. This technology has advanced a lot since my site back in 2009.
Squarespace and Wordpress make building a website easy, and Wordpress remains deliciously free. (That's what I use!)
Just be sure you buy your domain name! Nothing screams unprofessional like having a website hosted by someone else. So buy your domain name, pay for the hosting, and set up a free site from there.
Again, if you're lost, look at author websites you like. See what info they include, how they lay things out, and build yours from there.
And of course, if you can handle some basic graphic design, then you can brand your site as well.
Branding is something you’ll hear authors talk about a lot, and if you want to see top notch branding, then foray into the adult romance world. Those authors really know how to brand their online selves to match the genres in which they write. You might see knives and lipstick on the website for a romantic suspense author or fans and petticoats for a historical romance author.
The great thing about branding is that it lets you know exactly what you’re getting when you pick up the author’s works.
Because I write lots of genres and teach writing advice and dabble in other hobbies (erm, games), I decided to make my brand more broadly “Susan Dennard”– which you can see in this newsletter and on my website. The pixelated Sooz + other 8-bit style features are meant to show off the “gamer geek” vibe I identify with.
Meanwhile, if you look at someone like Leigh Bardugo, you’ll see her brand is “witchy goth queen” (I added the queen bit because let’s be real: queen). That brand fits well for both her books and her actual persona.
No one can tell you what YOUR brand will be, but it’s definitely worth considering as early in your career as possible – and it’s definitely worth cultivating online.
Speaking of online, SOCIAL MEDIA! Get comfortable with it. Seriously, it’s the easiest, FREE-est way to promote yourself.
Of course, it takes time to build a following. And even with a substantial following, it can often feel like you’re just shouting into the void, “BUY MY BOOK! PLEASE BUY MY BOOK!”
Here’s the thing, though, you must give in order to receive. It isn’t interesting if all you do is ask people to buy your book.
However, people will follow you if you’re saying something they want to hear. I started sharing free writing advice ten years ago! I just kept on posting and posting and posting until bit by bit, people started tuning in. Then those people told other people who told other people, and eventually I built up a decent following.
Still, my following isn’t celebrity-level huge. Especially when you consider that it has taken me ten years of providing free, regular content to get this far. Not everyone has the luxury of doing that. Not everyone wants to do that – and that is 100% okay.
Do what feels natural to you. Talk about what you love, what interests you, what you have to share with the world -- that's what people want to see. That's how you build real, organic relationships online. If you go into social media and share because you want -- and not because you're hoping to push copies of your book -- then people will come.
Take note, though!! Social media can be a TRAP. It feels like work – I’m promoting myself! – but it isn’t actually the work that matters. Writing more books is and always will be the most important part of your job.
Right now, because I have a book coming out in 25 days (!), I am on Twitter and Instagram a lot. But once the book is out, I will have to taper off that online time and instead focus on my books.
A Few Other Promotional Options
These are some other things that can be great to do, but aren’t necessarily worth the cost. If you’re working in a tiny budget, then I would say skip the things below. If you do have a bit more money to spend, then maybe give one of these things a try!
And of course, this list is by no means exhaustive! Just a few ideas.
- Art commissions – I have commissioned a lot of art over the years, from character portraits to the map inside the Witchlands books to the creature symbols for the Bloodwitch preorder campaign. Art is NOT cheap (since you must not only buy the art, but then buy the right to use it), and I have definitely seen a range in return-on-investment. While it can be fun to have art to use for swag and online promo, it’s just not always worth it.
- Conventions & Conferences – If you’re comfortable networking and your publisher will provide you with a signing while there, it can be worth it to pay your way to events like Book Expo or a local comic con. Great networking and you meet readers! Win! I paid my way to every event prior to my Truthwitch book tour, and honestly, it was always worth it. That said, I was very careful to pick which events I attended – and I almost always stayed with friends to cut back on costs.
- Tours – Touring looks good and can add a level of “glam” to your name (plus, meeting readers is amazing!), but real talk: you will almost never make back what you spend. I mean, publishers rarely make back what they spend on tours! So don’t go into a tour and expect to make your money back. Seriously.
- Book trailers – Book trailers aren’t particularly effective, but they can also add a layer of importance to a book. I have made all my own book trailers (with the exception of one), and it takes a long, long time to create something that looks professional. But I love working in Adobe After Effects, so I just view this an excuse to dabble in a fun side hobby. I don’t actually expect any return on my investment.
- Preorder Campaigns – A lot of authors run their own preorder campaigns, and phew! That is a lot of work! Not only must you design and order an item to give away, but you must then gather all the pre-order information and mail the items out. That is expensive, and while it can certainly be worth it sometimes, it might not always be the best bang for your buck. Especially because recent years have seen a big decline in preorders. Thanks to fast shipping times, people just don't feel the need to preorder anymore.
- Street teams – I have seen a huge increase in street teams lately, and I think the success of them varies. Like I said with social media: the more you give, the more you get back.
The general idea is that you gather fans to help promote your series in exchange for swag and extra content. My particular street team takes ~1 full day per week to manage (not including the time I spend chatting and engaging) and a few thousand dollars a year. We have 670 members, of which about 200 are consistently active, and real talk: they are some of the most important people in my life.
I'm not sure what other street teams are like, but I love mine with a Mama Bear fierceness not to be crossed. (Grrrr.)
Before being published, I thought authors just wrote the book. I thought we turned in the book, edited it with an editor, and DONE. Off it went to the other teams, and they made Big Things happen!
And it's true: the many teams inside a publisher do make Big Things happen, but as you can see, one of the things publisher can't do is make a book break out. And they can't put equal push into every book that crosses their list.
The reality is that most books and most authors will never publish a "big book" and will never have someone make graphics for them or send them on a tour or host a preorder campaign for them. (And authors who HAVE had this: be grateful. You are a rare, lucky unicorn.)
So it's good to learn a few side skills early in your career and to focus your efforts on promotional areas that have a high return-on-investment.
Even if you ARE a rare, lucky unicorn, no one stays on top forever. Learning to hustle and self-promote now will only help you in the long run.
And like I said, my list is by no means exhaustive. So you tell me: what have you seen work when it comes to self-promo?