I’m an emerging author. I have almost completed a novel and have written 20+ short stories, but I have not submitted them for publication. I understand it is important to have an author’s platform–a website/blog. My question, if you are as yet unpublished, what kinds of things should you upload to your website–a sample chapter from the book, sample short stories, all your short stories to show your range of style?
Jim: I’m James L Rubart but everybody calls me Jim
Thomas: I’m Thomas Umstattd Jr.
Jim: And this is the show for novelists who want to become bestselling authors but aren’t necessarily fond of marketing. And in this episode, Thomas, we’re going to talk about how to start building your platform before your first book comes out. And I’m excited to get into this because I think you and I might disagree on a few points but I’ve got to ask you about your recent trip. You and Margaret went out of the country recently, didn’t you?
Thomas: That’s right. So my book on dating and relationships has landed me on a documentary. So the documentary crew had me out to Canada to talk about my book and to talk about dating and relationships. We haven’t talked about documentary marketing and getting on those, so it will be interesting to see once the documentary comes out if it has an impact and what kind of impact it has on book sales. So stay tuned, we’ll let you know.
Jim: Well that’s going to be good! So they were actually filming you, you were part of this documentary, they were interviewing you and talking to you?
Thomas: That’s right. Somebody else who had written a very popular book on the topic is changing his views a little bit, and he’s making a documentary about that evolution. So I actually disagree with his original book, and so this was a discussion between us. It will be very interesting to see how it works into the documentary at the end. Hopefully I won’t come across as The Villain, so that’s always a risk when you’re in a documentary, in that it’s not a favorable documentary on a topic.
Jim: That’s true, you don’t know how it’s going to be edited right? So I know that things change in documentary and filming schedules and all this, but is there a tentative release date for when this is going to come out?
Thomas: Yeah, 2018. Sometime…
Jim: Sometime in 2018, alright. Well, we’ll keep everyone posted.
Thomas: So this topic about marketing for unpublished authors actually comes from a listener question. Carol Magai asks,
Jim: “I’m an emerging author. I’ve almost completed a novel and I’ve written 20 or more short stories but I haven’t submitted them for publication at this point in time. I understand it’s important to have an author’s platform, a website, a blog, some kind of exposure. So my question is, if you aren’t yet published, what kinds of things should you upload to your website? Should you upload a sample chapter from the book, sample short stories, all your short stories to show your range? What should I put on that website while I’m submitting and hopefully getting a contract for that first novel?”
Thomas: All right. So I will say , and Jim you may disagree with this, but I want to first talk about the things not to do, some very common mistakes that I see authors make. And one is spending lots of time on social media thinking that it is platform-building. And I just don’t see this work. I see a lot of authors spending a lot of time on social media that doesn’t end up helping them sell books once their book is ready to go. And that time is better spent doing something else, potentially just working on your craft and writing. Jim, what do you think?
Jim: Well, I think yes and no. Let me give you a specific example of a friend of mine, and I haven’t asked her permission so I’m not going to say her name, but she has spent the last number of years very engaged with a number of social media platforms, to the point now that she’s an administrator of a number of different sites, and she could easily, when she says “hey, my website’s up, my newsletter is ready to go, would you like to subscribe,” — she could easily, BOOM, have 12 to 15 thousand names come to her within a matter of days. And so I’m saying, oh my gosh, you’ve done all this work up front, you could have a huge list when your book comes out already, rather than start building that potential list once the book’s out.
Thomas: So, has she actually launched a book? Has she built the list?
Jim: No, she has not built the list yet because she is still in the process of writing that first novel.
Thomas: Okay. So I will bet you, we’ll see, that that social media following isn’t actually going to grow her list all that much. When she does post that post, saying “hey get on my list” I think she will be disappointed at the number of people. She’ll get someone, she’ll get some people to sign up, but the way the social media works now, it’s an advertising platform. If you’re wanting to promote something, you have to pay to play. And all of that time you spend on social media doesn’t make it cheaper to buy ads. I’m just not convinced that it actually works in a reliable way. Now yes, I know stories, every once in awhile someone is successful, there’s one author who’s successful using Twitter and there’s the handful of authors who used Facebook back when the algorithms were different. But again, opportunity cost, it’s comparing what you’re doing with the next best alternative. And I think the next best alternative, which we’ll talk about here in a second, is better in the sense of you get a better return on your time.
Jim: Okay, that’s possible, and it will be curious to see when she is ready to launch, when she does launch her website, because what I’m seeing is, she’s gotten to be friends with all these people over these years and she’s built them up to the point, say if I’ve got 30,000 people who regularly follow my posts, and we know that we can look at the analytics and say yes this is happening, maybe 50 or 20 percent of them will say “oh that’s cool that you finally got a website, you’ve got a newsletter, I’ve really liked you for the past 7 years, I’m going to jump on over and be part of that.” That’s what I’m saying.
Thomas: Okay. But Facebook only shows your post to about 5 percent of your fans on a fan page. And of those, only a fraction are going to click. So let’s say we have 30000 people, if we take 5 percent of that, that’s 1500 and then ten percent of the people who see it click, now we’re down to 150, and let’s say half of those people sign up for the newsletter, that’s only 75 signups off a list of 30,000 people on Facebook.
Jim: Well, it will be interesting to see what happens down the road.
Thomas: We want to hear your experiences. If you have tried social media and if it’s worked or not worked for you as an unpublished author, go to novelmarketing.com/112, we’ll have comments open for 14 days after this episode comes out. Let us know what your experiences are. Who do you agree with, Thomas or Jim?
Jim: Yeah, we’d like to hear. So Thomas and I are somewhat talking about hypothetical situations because it hasn’t been done yet. We’d like to hear concrete examples of either it’s worked or you go “wow I wasted a lot of time doing this.”
Thomas: So the next thing I would say don’t do with your marketing is don’t bother with blogging. If you’re writing fiction, no one cares about your blog. There’s nothing really to blog about yet because you don’t have a book out. Totally different for those of you who are writing nonfiction. When I wrote my nonfiction book it started from a blog post, half the chapters were blog posts before they were chapters, and the whole thing was born and crafted and molded from the blog. But for fiction, no one wants to read some chapter out of context and blogging is not a good use of your time. It’s not that it won’t do you ANY good, but the other things we’re going to talk about are going to do you more good.
Jim: Okay. Again, here Thomas, I disagree a little bit. I agree that the main thing should be the book, and writing the book, and honing your craft. However, if you have the ability, and not everyone has the ability to do this, but if you have the ability to create compelling blog posts, that’s not about your stories, that’s not chapters, I agree with you, but if you are someone who can create compelling blog posts about the themes that run through all of your books, your brand, in a sense, then it can be highly beneficial.
Thomas: Yeah, I can see that working if you’re writing novels that are educational, and the reason people read your novel is to be educated on something. So if you’re writing a business parable or a spiritual parable, I could see that working. But if you’re writing Amish romance, with people seeing the themes and then reading the book, I see that as a hard sell. But again, let us know what you think. Novelmarketing.com/112, to leave your comments.
So let’s talk about things TO do. Let’s see if Jim and I will agree a little bit more on this. So the first thing I will say, Carol, is those short stories are assets that you can use in terms of marketing. And I would start submitting them to publications that publish the kinds of short stories you’re writing. I think that’s a great opportunity to, one, to get feedback– if they accept you you’ll get some editing for free on those short stories, you’ll also potentially get a little bit of money, which can have really positive tax implications once you start to get paid for your writing. Suddenly this is not a hobby, this is a business, and you can start picking your range of tax deductions. We have a whole episode on taxes that you can listen to. But yeah, I would not let those short stories gather dust on your hard drive unless they’re really bad. So I don’t know if they’re good or not, and only good short stories will help you in your marketing.
Jim: Well, and if you submit these short stories, let’s say they’re good, they’re not GREAT. Let’s say they’re good. If it gets an editor’s attention and they come back and they give you feedback and shaping and molding, this is one of the best ways you can hone your craft, is getting that kind of feedback, resubmitting the story, getting it published. It’s a chance for not only to get paid potentially, but even if you’re posting those short stories for free, you’re getting paid in the editing that you’re going to get from a strong editor.
Thomas: The next thing I would recommend is that you create a one page WordPress website on yourname.com. This is the time to pick what your name is going to be. And in general, we have done several episodes on what to do if your name is taken, and I’ll just summarize it real quick: at this point, you’re probably going to have to go with a three point name, name. So it’s better to be James Scott Bell than it is to be James S Bell. Because people drop the middle initial, not that that EVER happens to anyone on this particular podcast, James L Rubart!
Jim: [laughs] no, never happened to me! So Thomas, so, funny, but I have to interrupt, I won this Christy award—
Thomas: Oh yeah! We forgot to mention that at the top! You won Book of the Year again in yet another category, so congratulations!
Jim: Yeah, thank you! So that was very fun and very honoring to win that. But a number of times during the ceremony and looking in the program, it’s like they got up to announce the winner “and the winner of the Visionary Christy Award is James Rubart!” and I’m going “L! L! L! Please!”
Thomas: And so the reason why this is important for your website is, if your website is James L Rubart.com, and you don’t own JamesRubart.com, people are going to the wrong website. Which is very very bad for your marketing. So better to have a 3-name website that you can own. So pick a name, buy the .com, and you’re going to set up the world’s simplest website. And there’s several reasons you want a simple website. One, is that when your book does come out, you want your website to be able to rank on Google. And one of the things that Google looks at is how old your website is. So brand-new websites have a hard time ranking. Google’s very suspicious of brand new websites. So it takes time to build up that reputation, to build up that history, and you might as well start that timer now. So it takes you two years to finish your book, well now you’re launching your book with the website that’s two years old in the eyes of Google. Which is time you can’t get back. There’s no way to cheat that or pay money or escalate that time. You’ve just got to launch that website.
Jim: Thomas, let me ask you a quick question about that. Because this is something I heard years ago and I don’t know if it’s still true or not, but I’ve heard that when you purchase that domain name, Google and SEO likes the fact that you’ve bought it for 5 years instead of 1 year because that says you’re committed to it. And it gives you some more Google juice. Is that true?
Thomas: I’ve heard that that’s true. The other thing that’s really beneficial for buying your name for many years ahead of time is that it keeps your name from expiring. I will say, we host lots of websites for lots of authors and the number 1 thing that causes the website to go down is that they let their domain expire. They get it for just one year, then they get the email telling them to renew, and their credit card was lost 6 months ago so they have a new number, and they are on vacation and now they’ve lost their domain.
And we have one client, and there’s no way we as a company can help them with this because they own their own domain name, we have one client who let her domain expire and somebody else bought it and won’t sell it back to her for anything less than 500 or a 1000 dollars. And if she had just spent a little bit of extra money to register for 10 years, which was money she was going to spend anyway, it would have protected her from that. And even when you’re able to recover it, your site goes down. And when your site goes down, that hurts your Google juice. So there’s lots of reasons to renew your domain name for many years, even if the algorithm has changed and you don’t get much of a boost.
Also, with these hosting companies, they’re like “oh we’ll give you a free domain”. I don’t recommend that. Get your domain from a 3rd party. It gives you a lot more control in the relationship. You don’t want the company that hosts your website to also be your registrar for your domain. Too many eggs in one basket. So, the other reason it’s good to have a website is it makes you Google-able. Especially if you’re wanting to go traditionally published, being Google-able helps you exist in the real world.
If you don’t exist on LinkedIn, if you don’t exist on Google, it’s hard to believe that you’re for reals about this. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to set up a one-page website. And the other benefit of a one-page website is it allows you to start building your email list right away. Even if you’re growing it really slowly, you’re still getting something.
So Jim, like we were talking about at the top, your friend who’s spending all this time on social media instead of marketing her book or writing her book, and not building her list at the same time, if she just had a one page website with a signup form, she could be growing her list and seeing if what she’s doing on social media is effective or not! Right now it’s this huge gamble, right? She could have invested these hundreds of hours on social media and maybe it’ll pay off, maybe it won’t but she could find out right now if it’s paying off, because if it’s NOT paying off, she could redirect her energies and efforts somewhere else. So put a signup form, put your photo, put a little About paragraph, and put a progress bar about your book! And if you’re wanting to add a progress bar, you can add MyBookProgress. We have a plugin to help you do this very easily. You can very easily add a progress bar to your one page website.
And the only other thing I would recommend putting on this one page website is perhaps a “What I’m Reading” section where you list the books you’re reading at the time. Very simple website. And here’s the benefit of this. Since this website doesn’t have a blog, once it’s setup you can leave it alone, which means that you’re able to spend your time on the most important part of how to market yourself before your book comes out, which is working on your craft. Because if your novel’s not good, none of the rest of it is going to matter.
Jim: I’m assuming you guys know this, but just in case, Thomas and I recommend doing your website in WordPress. If you want to add a blog, that is very very simple down the road. So it’s not a matter of “oh but I want to add a blog eventually, I want to start blogging” — great, you can do that very simply, very quickly, that can be done.
Thomas: That’s right. You go to Bluehost.com, you can get a WordPress website, it’s 7 or 8 bucks a month, and you can install WordPress with one click. Which, let me tell you, when I was a kid it was a LOT more clicks than that, it was much harder! So you kids these days, you do not know how good you’ve got it when it comes to setting up WordPress websites. The other thing that I would do, and I think this is really important psychologically as well as marketing wise, and that is get business cards to hand out, with your name on them, and underneath it says Author. So you are an author, and it’s got your website on it. You can pass them out when you’re at, whatever. You’re at a Christmas party and someone’s like “what do you do?” and you’re like “oh actually I’m working on a book, here’s my card” and that way you’re starting to bring people to your website, they may sign up for your newsletter. It’s a great way to start building that platform before your book comes out and to start seeing yourself as an author which is really important.
Jim: That’s good.
Thomas: Another thing to do to market your book before your book comes out is to sign up for Mailchimp. So I really like Mailchimp because it’s free fro your first 2000 subscribers. It’s going to be slow starting– passing out business cards is not the fastest way to grow an email list– but at least you’re not going to have to pay 20 bucks a month, every month, like you would with other services like Constant Contact. So, Jim, what’s the next thing people should do?
Jim: The next thing people need to do is the number 1 marketing thing for your first book, your second book, your tenth book, your two hundredth book, and that is —and you know where this is going — invest in your craft. We’ve said this many times but it’s worth repeating — 80 percent, 80 percent of your sales will come from word of mouth. Therefore your biggest brochure is going to be that 300 or 400 page book. If that’s done well, people are going to tell other people, [who] will tell other people. Consequently you need to invest the majority of your time in honing your craft, getting better and better and better. Even if you’ve been published, multi-published, award-winning, all that stuff, even if you’re in those shoes, you probably know more than anybody the number 1 one marketing advice is to invest in your craft.
Thomas: Now you’ll notice, we’re not recommending lots of active things. The thing you should be spending most of the time on is investing in your craft. And, arguably, most of your money, right? So we’re not recommending an expensive website here– a very simple one page website is not going to cost you much money to build. You want to be spending that time and that money on your craft. That is like taking courses, getting coaching, making sure your book is as good as it can be. And one of the things that you can do is send out a free short story to your email subscribers every once in awhile. You’re at that Christmas party, you’re at that cocktail party, and people ask what you do. “Oh I’m that author, if you want to see some of my writing, go to my website, I release a short story every few months and you can take a look at it.” And that way, you’re actually being read and your readers are starting to engage with your writing. And you’re very focused on the craft while you’re promoting your work.
Jim: And you often will get feedback from people saying, “I liked it, I didn’t like this sort of thing” and you’re getting– we talked about submitting short stories to editors so you get the editorial feedback. Now you’re going to be submitting it to readers, the ultimate audience, and you’re going to start getting feedback from them as well, which can be incredibly valuable. Because if you think “oh my gosh this short story is great!” and you don’t get a lot of feedback, you send out another short story and it’s like wow, you might surprise yourself. Often actors will be asked “did you know this was going to be a great film before it came out?” and they will say “we had no clue, we just did not know.” and a lot of times we’re so close to our stories that we’re not sure if it’s going to resonate or not. I’ve had some of my novels where I go “oh my gosh this is going to be fantastic” and it’s not as lauded as other novels. So that’s just part of the art form.
Thomas: The next thing we recommend of ways to promote your book before it comes out is to attend writers’ conferences. This is helpful in honing your craft and in helping to learn marketing. So, as you get closer to your book coming out, that’s when you want to start studying marketing and doing some of the more active things that we talk about in the rest of this podcast. Attending writer’s conferences is a great way to do this. It’s also a great way to build your network. Whether you’re going indie or you’re going traditional, having a network of other authors and other industry professionals is really helpful. I recommend starting at local conferences. They tend to be cheaper and you don’t have to pay for travel and lodging, but after a while you’ll want to start going to some of the national conferences that may involve leaving your hometown. And if there’s a national conference coming to your hometown, go to it! It’s so much cheaper to go to a conference in your own town than it is to travel to one on the other side of the country.
Jim: We’ve talked about this a lot in the past so we won’t go into it, but business ultimately, I don’t care what business you’re in, but business ultimately comes down to relationships and conferences are one of the best places to built relationships, yes, with editors and agents, but my gosh, with other authors! That can be a huge boost to your career.
Thomas: That’s right. And then finally, I just want to reiterate one more time: write your book! This whole episode is basically saying “Carol, you need to be spending most of your energy writing your book, not on marketing your book.” I think when marketing is taught to both fiction and nonfiction at the same time, novelists are really done a disservice, because they’re told the same advice goes for nonfiction and it’s all about platform.
And with fiction it’s really not about platform, especially for your first book, it’s about how good your book is. So if your book is no good, it doesn’t matter how big your platform is. This is not the case for nonfiction. You can write a terrible book for nonfiction, and if your platform is big enough you will sell a lot of copies. Even if no one reads the book you’ll still sell a lot of copies because they heard you speak somewhere or they listen to your radio show or they subscribed to your newsletter and they’ve been reading your blogs, and they’ll buy your book and everyone is happy. Because they buy for the experience of buying your book and the way that it makes them feel. You’re a diet expert and people buy your book, and they don’t read it but they still feel healthier because they have a diet book on their shelf. Financially speaking you still win in nonfiction.
That is not how it works in fiction world! People actually, when they buy a novel they intend to read the novel. If you look at your bookshelf, the books that are unfinished are mostly the nonfiction books. The books that you finish, especially the books that are not started. If you look at your nonfiction shelf you will see a lot of books that you purchased and never started reading. That is not the case typically with the novels that you buy. And so it is so important for you to actually write your book and to actually write a good book. You would think “oh we’re the Novel Marketing podcast, we’re going to be all about marketing your novel.” Yes, but ultimately for your first novel, it’s really about writing the best novel you can. Marketing really comes into play with book 2 onwards.
Jim: It does. And let me just say a quick caveat, Thomas, and that is a lot of times, people will say “well 20 years ago, for nonfiction you had to have a platform, fiction you didn’t. And nowadays you have to have a platform as a novelist.” And I think you do. And if an agent or an editor is trying to decide between two novelists, and both books are right, they are going to pick the one that has, if they feel the similar about the stories, they are going to pick the novelist who has the better platform. So in that sense you DO need to be thinking about platform, but here’s where novelists have it backwards a lot of the time. They don’t realize that if you have a great platform and you have a poor book, it’s never going to get to this stage where they’re going to take a look at your platform. So always, always, always number 1, it needs to be the book.
Thomas: Right. For fiction, at best your platform is a tiebreaker for your very first novel. It doesn’t, like Jim said, it doesn’t make or break you. And I was just on the phone with somebody from a major publishing house, and I was talking with them about how they evaluate platform, they are not very sophisticated. Just looking at the number of Twitter and Facebook followers you have, if you’re intending to go traditional, just buy some fake Twitter followers. You can very easily have 30,000 followers. You can get there with 50 bucks just buying followers. It’s sad that they’re not more sophisticated, these traditional publishing companies. But the reality is if they were sophisticated, they wouldn’t be following social media! I ran marketing for a publishing company. We did tons of experiments with social media and we did not see it as effective as anything else that we did. Yeah we were able to sell books through social media but we were able to sell more books through every other effort we did, and on a per dollar basis social media was just not an effective tool, with the exception of Goodreads. And I see Goodreads as kind of a separate category when it comes to social media.
And real quick, I will say, get on Goodreads. One more thing I’ll add to this list is get on Goodreads and start reviewing the books that you’re reading. That’s all you have to do. Be active on Goodreads as a reader. That will actually build your following, because people will follow your reviews and then when you do post a book they’ll all be notified on Goodreads. And the kind of people who are on Goodreads are looking for book recommendations and that does convert. So this also doesn’t take a lot of time; you may already be using Goodreads as a reader but I do think that is one social network that I would actually give the Thomas Umstattd Stamp of Approval as worth your time and not a waste of time. Goodreads.com.
Jim: Yeah, and it’s not that social media is a waste of time, but the way to think about it is that it’s this big cocktail party. And at the cocktail party, it’s everybody from all different walks of life. Goodreads is a sub-party where everyone who loves to read happens to gather in this one room. And they’re talking about what books they read and how much we read and how we love to read on Kindle, or paper, and then they start sharing recommendations with each other. You want to be in the little subroom where they’re actually talking and recommending each other to read.
Thomas: Yeah, you do not want to be in the room where everyone is arguing about politics. That is not where people will be giving book reviews. That sadly is what all the other social networks are turning into: “what team are you, red team or blue team” and “let’s hate on the other team because they’re idiots” and that’s just not a good environment to talk about your book, about whatever novel you’re writing.
Jim: Okay so guys, the sponsor of the Novel Marketing podcast for this episode is the Five Year plan to Becoming an Overnight Success. Thomas?
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It’s based off Jim’s experience becoming a bestselling author who tends to win all the awards for best novel, he wins the Christy awards, he wins the Carol awards, and then my experiences as a consultant. I’ve worked with many many NY times bestselling authors and other bestselling authors and helped them grow, and I’m sharing what I’ve learned. So it’s an insider’s perspective and a consultant’s perspective in each quarter. I think you’ll really like it. You can find more at novelmarketing.com.