Tag Archives: marketing

What is Your Value Proposition?

When some friends and I started our own business six years ago we sat down and took a look at our competition and how we would be able to stack up against them in several areas, such as price, selection, service, etc. We decided that we could beat our competition in several areas, and made plans to do so.

Six years later the only competitor left in town is a national chain that can beat us on advertising dollars and selection. But we beat them in every other category, and we continue to focus on that. We can’t be everything to everyone, but we can be the best where we can. And that’s enough to keep us doing well while others have failed.

Writers have a value proposition, too. Some are able to pull off amazing twists that leave readers stunned. Others are able to create characters we fall in love with. Some can create a setting that intrigues and fires the imagination. Still others are able to craft a plot that grabs the reader and won’t let go. Many are able to combine several of these strengths (and others), and that’s usually what makes them good enough to gain an audience.

But few–if any–writers can be good at everything. Most are able to polish up a few areas to stand out, but in many other areas writers are merely adequate. And that’s okay; so long as those areas are strong enough they don’t draw negative attention to themselves, they don’t necessarily need to be outstanding.

Still, it’s our strengths that define us as writers, and our specific package of strengths that constitute our “value proposition”, or style. Some elements are instinctive, acquired from our life-experience and the works of other writers that stick with us. Others are developed over time through conscious effort.

The point is, however, that we can decide for ourselves what type of writer we want to be. We can choose the value proposition we offer to readers. The key, however, regardless of whether we pursue a specific set of strengths or let it find us, is to be aware of what our value proposition is, and then consistently provide it in work after work. Not that you want to feel “mass produced”; you can wrap your core value proposition in original and unique concepts to both hit the right notes and keep your work fresh.

Can you imagine a Brandon Sanderson without any magic system at all? Or George R. R. Martin without the relentless introduction and extermination of characters? Or Stephanie Meyers without supernatural elements? A writer might be able to leave out one or perhaps two signature elements and still satisfy their readers, but leave out too many and you risk losing them–such as with J. K. Rowling’s under-impressive “The Casual Vacancy”.

Whatever your value proposition maybe, it’s important as a writer to know what it is. If you don’t know why your readers are following you it can be difficult to keep them coming back. So while you’re working with your peer readers or writing group, don’t just find out what doesn’t work or needs to be fixed. Take time to find out what others find most interesting and compelling in your work. Learn what your value proposition is so that you can continue to develop it, improve it, and continue to meet expectations.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

Of Authors and Audiences

I’ve been thinking lately about authors I’ve enjoyed through he years. Some I’ve “been with” a long time. Some I’ve discovered only recently. And some have fallen by the wayside. Considering how we are constantly told our success as authors depends on finding an audience, perhaps there’s some value to discussing the different ways authors might lose their audience and some ideas for keeping them.

People change. Authors change. It’s quite clear that some authors I used to love are not the same people they were when I first loved their work, and it shows. We’ve diverged over the years to where I just don’t enjoy their work as much as I used to. The things I loved about their earlier work are evidently not something they care about any more.

Now, the flip side of that is that I’ve undoubtedly changed, too. I may care less about certain aspects of their writing than I used to, too. Perhaps while our respective changes only “bumped the dial” a little bit, collectively it was enough to put us on different stations in the end.

Oh, I can still go back and enjoy the books that made me like them in the first place, certainly, but I just don’t pick up their new books any more. And while it’s probably flattering to an author to have people devoted to their old books, financially it’s a problem. We don’t get money from readers who only re-read the books we wrote years ago. We need to them to remain excited about our latest works as they come out.

Some of this may be related to our target audience. If we write children’s books we can pretty much guarantee our audience is going to outgrow us at some point. YA writers may be able to retain their audiences into adulthood, but it’s still going to be more difficult. If we’re fortunate, we can enjoy sufficient longevity as a writer to still be around when they grow up and decide to buy our books for their own children.

However, the interests of children do change over time, and as writers we would have to keep with those changes in order to appeal to subsequent generations. I’ve discovered on several occasions that books I enjoyed as a kid feel dated to my kids. If the writer is still writing that way today it’s doubtful my kids will want to read more.

But even among adult writers retaining an audience can be a challenge. Writers’ interests can change, and your readers don’t always change along with you. Numerous writers through the years have had a single break-out novel only to fail to find an audience with their next work, because it failed to meet their expectations in some way. Or worse yet, if all of an author’s works begin to feel the same, audiences can grow bored and go elsewhere for some novelty.

Similarly, some writers try something different and find their audience doesn’t follow them. For whatever reason their readers as so interested in their original works they just don’t even want to give the new work a chance. I remember enjoying Terry Brooks’ Shannara books as a teenager, but when he came out with “Magic Kingdom For Sale” the tone was so different I was turned off and stopped reading Brooks altogether. J.K. Rowling, whose initial readers are surely adults by now, still has some difficulty getting her audience to read her adult novels.

Other writers just accept that their audience won’t follow them and instead reach out to build a new audience. Richard Paul Evans switched gears entirely to write YA adventures and did quite well at it, and yet it seems unlikely that the fans of his original adult novels got excited about his Michael Vey books.

Brandon Sanderson likewise has targeted the adult, YA, and middle grade markets with his work and found at least respectable success in each. And yet large portions of his audience do cross over with him. I’m one of them. While his Alcatraz books were different enough they didn’t grab me, The Rithmatist is one of my favorites. I enjoyed his Reckoners series of superhero-esque YA books, but I love his Stormlight Archive series so far and can’t get enough of his modern-day, largely reality-based Legion novellas.

So how do we successfully keep our audiences reading us? Well, looking at the above examples there are a few strategies:

  1. Don’t try. Some writers just accept that their readers are going to rotate over time, whether it’s because they write children’s fiction and they’re going to outgrow those books eventually, or because the writer likes to try different things. If you are prepared to have to continually keep earning new audiences you can still build a career on it. Just learn what audience it is you’re trying to attract, learn what it is they’re looking for, and deliver it in spades.
  2. Stick close to home. Many writers find one genre they’re comfortable in, perhaps even one setting or set of characters, and focus on that ad infinitum. Or if they do branch out a little, it’s within the same genre or sub-genre, or with novels of a similar tone or theme.
  3. Write really, really well. Some writer are able to write so well and/or consistently deliver an intriguing style that their readers will follow them everywhere. In the case of Brandon Sanderson much of his success comes from his consistent style and magic systems. No matter what he’s writing, his readers know what to expect, and it’s what they like most about him. So whether it’s the Mistborn series jumping from fantasy to quasi-Westerns, or epic fantasy jumping to near-future dystopic superhero fiction, his readers know they’re in good hands, and they follow along. Stephen King is another author who seems to be able to do this.
  4. Make sure your marketing is solid. The one things you absolutely don’t want to have happen is for your marketing to convince your reader they’re getting one type of book and instead they get something very, very unexpected. I bailed out on Terry Brooks because I was hoping for more Shannara, and instead got something that almost seemed to be mocking the genre I was expecting. Michaelbrent Collings somehow manages to keep his horror readers, his children’s readers, and his YA readers clued in on what type of book they’re looking at via careful consideration of covers and marketing. It would be a disaster for him if one of his Billy fans were to pick up “The Apparition” expecting it to be a children’s book.

The main take-aways here are nothing new. Write well. Tell a good story. Know your audience. But even if you change things up it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some of the authors I’ve parted ways with through the years are still happily producing and publishing and making money without me. I may not be reading them, but clearly someone else is. The key is, whatever route you take, make it a conscious effort. Know what you’re trying to do and have a plan for how you’re going to do it. Most lengthy careers don’t happen by accident.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

What’cha Sellin’ ?

My 2016 WRITER’S MARKET DELUXE EDITION just arrived. Do you buy this? I always get the “deluxe” edition because it includes a year’s access to the online publisher database at WritersMarket.com. That means, if an editor moves from one house to another, you can find out at their online source. If a publishing house closes down altogether, you’ll be in the know.

IF you are serious about SELLING your writing, particularly if you write short pieces like articles, essays, etc., for the magazine market, I think it’s a Must‑Have. On the other hand, I generally only buy it every other year. It’s not ALL about their wonderful lists of info on ALL kinds of publishers. They also include lots of informational essays on writing concerns.

For instance, this edition is listing:

  1. From the Editor
  2. How to Use Writer’s Market

FINDING WORK

  1. Before Your First Sale
  2. Query Letter Clinic
  3. How to Find Success in the Magazine World
  4. 9 Secrets of Six‑Figure Freelancers
  5. Earn a Full‑Time Income from Blogging
  6. Funds for Writers 101

MANAGING WORK

  1. Building Relationships in the Publishing Business
  2. 4 Ways to Create a Productive Home Office
  3. Removing Invisible Splinters
  4. Contracts 101
  5. 7 Habits of Financially Savvy Writers
  6. Making the Most of the Money You Earn
  7. 6 Apps That Make Freelancing Easier
  8. How Much Should I Charge?
  9. Use Video to Promote Your Work
  10. Blogging Basics

Then there is the actual list of various markets and so forth:

  1. Literary Agents
  2. Book Publishers
  3. Consumer Magazines
  4. Trade Journals
  5. Contests & Awards
  6. Resources (Includes Professional Organizations, and a very helpful Glossary)

All is followed with Indexes on Book Publisher Subjects, plus the General Index.

You can occasionally find copies in your neighborhood library, but I can’t promise they’ll be the most up‑to‑date. Still, the information, similar to what’s listed above, can be very helpful ‑‑‑even in a year‑old or two‑year old edition; especially if you’re new to selling your work, or even just curious about it.

Check It Out ! ! !

Building a Better Blog

The blogosphere is unique social construct, a community in which thousands of voices speak into the darkness and hope for a whisper in return. Even though nothing committed to the internet ever disappears entirely, the life of a blog is always uncertain. Some voices seem to continue to ring on strong, but these are the exception. Most speak out for a while and then die off into nothingness. There are several important differentiating factors that I have found as both a reader and a writer to be good indicators of the health of a blog.

The first predictor is the dependability of the people behind the blog. If they have a schedule set, do they fulfill those promises? If not, do they post regularly or is it months between new content? Do they have some way to communicate to their readership when new content becomes available? As a reader, I have neither the leisure time nor the inclination to browse blogs that haven’t been updated. Go too long without new material, and I will not be back. Chances are the blogger won’t be either.

The next sign I look for is the self-awareness of the blog and blogger. All writing must have a target audience, a group of people whom they wish to reach and influence. Whether you are trying to reach a niche, sub-culture or an entire demographic, it is essential to know what interests them and to tailor the blog’s culture to fulfill those needs. Do your readers seek entertainment? To learn something or keep up on news? To share in the thoughts and art of another? These questions change the nature of the posts themselves.

This leads directly into my third flag. Does the blogger produce high quality content, or can most of what they post be considered “fluff”? More importantly, is the type of content that they produce consistent to the needs and expectations of their audience? Both are legitimate strategies, after all. For instance, a blog that seeks to target geeks with science and entertainment news may be posting many short, graphic centric articles. They do not rely on readers going in depth, but rather depend on a high frequency of shares and new visits to spread their message. A blog that discusses the finer points of restoring classic cars, however, would rely on a small pool of devoted readers and discussions generated by more detailed content.

The final and most important aspect that I use to predict the success of a blog is its focus. Bloggers who write for their own satisfaction, who are internally focused, tend to be less reliable, and frankly, less interesting. They write for an audience of one. If that is enough for them, then I hope that they have fun with their little piece of the internet. Bloggers who are truly successful tend to be externally focused, seeking to reach people in order to share their passion and interest. They seek to form a community.

When I think of the blogosphere, I can’t help but picture the club fair that occurred during the first week of the fall semester at my college. Back then, we dragged tables out to the middle of our campus, and freshmen wandered around, trying to find what extracurricular they wanted to be a part of. These days I sit behind a digital table, but the goal is the same. I want to attract people who share my interests to stop and talk to me. If I’m lucky, they’ll even join my club and stick around. Community is what matters to bloggers, it is what supports and sustains us. It is our raison d’être.

The community that surrounds ForeverWriters.com and the Author’s Think Thank have become part of my personal blogosphere, part of my community. This community has done what most don’t. Not just grown, but thrived. Through reading their blog, listening to the podcast, and participating in discussions in the Think Tank, I see many of the indications I mentioned above that point to a long-lasting and healthy community.

Most of all, I’m thankful to all of you, dear fans and readers. Both my own, and those native to ForeverWriters. Without y’all, without your willingness to listen from within the darkness, and occasionally even whisper back, we would not, could not go on.

Nathan Barra

About Nathan Barra

Though Nathan Barra is an engineer by profession, training and temperament, he is a storyteller by nature and at heart. Fascinated with the byplay of magic and technology, Nathan is drawn to science fantasy in both his reading and writing. He has been known, however, to wander off into other genres for “funzies.” He is an active blogger, not only on his own site, NathanBarra.com, but also with a group blog called the Fictorians (www.Fictorians.com). Nathan is always up for a good conversation, so please drop him a line through his contact page, or write on his Facebook wall (www.facebook.com/WriterNathanBarra).

Balloon Marketing

Balloon 3Some of you have heard of my silly balloon marketing technique for book signings. But for those of you who haven’t, here’s what you do:

1. Purchase 2-3 helium balloons (enough to get the word around, but not too many to keep track of)

2. Request that the balloon fillers use “hi-float.” It’s a goop they put in the balloon just before pumping it up that keeps the helium from leaking out slowly–yes this step is necessary. If you use a mylar balloon, it’s not necessary. Be aware it usually adds 50 cents or so to the price.

3. Write on the balloon with a sharpie, something like, “Book Signing, taking place right now near the candy section,” with your name and the name of your book.

4. Cut the ribbon off so that you only have about six inches left hanging from the balloon.

5. Tie your business card or bookmark (relating to the book you’re signing, of course) to the 6 inches of string.

6. Find something to add additional weight to the string, such as paperclips or aluminum foil. I used half of a chocolate kiss, still in the wrapper. The idea here is to add just enough weight to keep your balloon in stasis, so it doesn’t float up or fall down. Obviously it won’t stay put, and will drift up and down some, but you want to get it as close as possible to balanced.

7. Walk your blimp balloon to a decent traffic area of the store and let it go.

8. Go back to your table, and enjoy the signing! You can now ignore your balloon.

Balloon 2

What will happen is the balloon will slowly drift toward any moving air. If someone walks by, it will follow them. If there’s a fan, it will do laps around the store.

If you have a quiet moment with no one around, you can check on your traveling marketers. If they’ve fallen asleep in an obscure corner of the store somewhere, bump them back out. But for the most part, you can totally forget about them and they’ll wander and advertise for you.

Don’t try to adjust the balance to make them higher flyers, unless the ceiling is within reach. Don’t weigh them down enough to get stuck on the floor. You want them to wander within an adult’s line of vision.

Balloon 1

If kids get them, let them play with them. Most parents will eventually tell them to let it go, and may even come by to see you and your book.

If nothing else, it will certainly invoke smiles, both from you and passersby.

About Chas Hathaway

Chas is an author, musician, husband, dad, and X-grave digger. He's always enjoyed writing. He started keeping a daily journal when he was 13, and that started a pattern of regular writing that has continued to this day.

His first book, Giraffe Tracks, a memoir of his missionary experiences in South Africa, was published in 2010, and in July 2011, Cedar Fort published his book, Marriage is Ordained of God, but WHO Came Up with DATING?!

Chas has been playing piano since 1994, and actively writing New Age piano compositions since 1996. He has long felt that the greatest factor in the influence of a piece of music is the intent of its author. He has also written numerous LDS Hymn arrangements, many of which are available in sheet music, including the favorite hymns, If You Could Hie to Kolob and Come Thou Fount.

So far, Chas has 4 albums out:

Tune My Heart, Released 2012
Anthem of Hope, 2010
The Ancestor, 2009
Dayspring, 2007

While music and writing are his most time-consuming work, he also enjoys gardening, inventing games, and most of all, spending time with his beautiful wife and adorable little kids.

Marketing to broad audiences?

The Independent in the UK recently published an editorial by Katy Guest which takes publishers to task for marketing books as specifically for boys or for girls. She cites the success of books such as Harry Potter or The Hunger Games as proof that we should just publish books as books, and not try to aim them at specific genders.

Harry Potter mixing it up - Reuters / Stephen Hird
Harry Potter mixing it up – Reuters / Stephen Hird

David Farland takes a similar view. Discussing what makes best-sellers popular, hour e includes having a cast of characters with broad appeal as one common factor. You don’t necessarily have to have a half-dozen demographically-targets protagonists, but mixing things up a little may help more readers to connect with your book. For example, Harry Potter includes a lot of different nationalities in the Hogwarts student body. And even though Harry is a boy, there are several strong and interesting female characters to relate to.

But Guest seems to take the idea even farther. Don’t assume because your protagonist is a girl that boys won’t be able to relate, or vice versa. Certainly the Mr. Putter and Tabby books I read to my children don’t turn them off because the main characters are really old (or a cat). We may do our children a disservice in assuming they can’t relate.

But can this be taken too far? Should writers of teen romance, for example, take great care to present a cover that will somehow appeal to both boys and girls? Would you be able to get boys to read romance books? Will readers be resentful if they get pulled into a book only to find it’s full of material that doesn’t really appeal to them?

For that matter, is it even okay to write teen romance for girls, regardless of how it’s marketed? Is there any harm in saying “I just want to target middle-grade boys, and if any girls like it too, well, that’s great, but who cares?” Do we need to to homogenize our writing in an attempt to appeal to everyone? Does there come a point when that could even be detrimental?

I suppose that’s something for every writer to answer for themselves. There is much to be said for simply writing the story you want to tell and letting the readers decide for themselves if it’s for them. Perhaps we don’t need to purposely go out of our way to broaden our appeal, but then perhaps we shouldn’t limit ourselves unnecessarily limit ourselves, either.  If there’s no reason why a character couldn’t be a different gender or nationality, why not try it?

I’m one to believe political correctness can and should only be taken so far. But perhaps Guest has a point. Why limit our audience if we don’t need to. Most of us are wanting to sell books, and as many as possible. Why not consider casting as wide a net as possible?

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

Come on, sell it!

Recently my local bookstore put on an event featuring around 30 local writers selling/signing their books. My kids and I get excited about these events, and usually come home with tons of bookmarks–and books. But lately I’ve been paying less attention to what the authors are selling and more to how they sell it. After all, that’ll be me someday. And I’m not a particularly out-going, sales-y person.

There are authors who are so popular they don’t have to sell their books any more–they just show up and sign. There are authors who don’t want to sell their books. They just put them online and pray. And there are authors who write only for themselves. But for the rest of us, we need to know–or learn–how to sell.

Signing with Brandon Sanderson
Signing with Brandon Sanderson

The good news is that there are many different approaches, and very few of them involve straight out asking people to buy your book. Here’s a few general approaches I’ve observed:

Sell the book – Seems obvious, but we’ll start here. This involves talking about your book: what it’s about, who the audience is, why you wrote it, what’s cool about it. You can approach this in many ways, from giving your pitch to asking what the person likes to read.

Sell yourself – If you’re a friendly person (or can pretend to be for a few hours) you can start off with a casual conversation. Talk about who they are, who you are, what things you enjoy, etc. Make a friend rather than a sale. Sooner or later it’ll get around to your book, and as often as not they’ll buy the book because they like you.

Sell someone else’s book – Counter-intuitive, I know, but if your conversation reveals they would like something written by someone else, go ahead and recommend it. They’ll appreciate the tip, and it’ll make you more memorable.pendragon

Encourage writing – This works especially well for children’s books. Find out if the kids (or adults for that matter) like to write. Encourage them to keep writing. Give them pointers. Parents love it when people pay attention to their kids. I know. My daughter said she’s a writer and suddenly not only was the author she was speaking to paying closer attention, but several authors on either side were focused on her as well. She got a ten-minute writing boot camp right there in the store. She loved it. I loved it. I ended up buying books from most of them.

Much of this could be distilled down to one main point: Make connections, not just sales. Be friendly. Be memorable (for good reasons). You might not make a sale today, but you may very well the next time. I remembered some of the writers from the previous year, and I was surprised to find I even remembered what their books were about. I hadn’t bought before because my budget is only so big, but since I remembered them this year, I bought.

Finally, there is no one way to do any of the above. Some people are natural talkers, and some aren’t. Those of us more reserved need to find the approach(es) that work the best for us. I’m not a natural salesman, but I can find ways to work it in if I’m already in a conversation. Start where you’re most comfortable. Brainstorm different tactics for getting a conversation going. Practice “pick-up lines”. Find what works for you and focus on your strengths.

Now then, back to writing! You have to have something to sell first!

We have many members of our writing community already in the selling stage. What works for you? How do you approach selling, especially if you’re not a natural at it? Share your thoughts and ideas with us, please!

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom Stratton was born and raised in Idaho, and now lives in Utah with his Finnish wife, three amazing kids, three distinct cats, and a big, goofy dog. He works for a regional bank, and is part owner of a video game store. He enjoys writing, photography, war gaming, music, theater, building things, and reading. Though active in writing as a teen, he convinced himself it could never be a career. Decades later upon moving to Utah, where there’s something odd in the water, he has decided to get serious about writing. To date he has written five novels to be published posthumously by his greedy estate and is polishing a set of short stories to start submitting. Any day now…

A Rose by Any Other Name…

I’m just going to say it here: I use a pen name. That’s right! Those of you that “thought” you knew me were a little wrong. My first name is Mikey, short for Micheal (notice that different spelling). The last name Brooks, actually comes from my wife. It is her first name. I use my wife’s name for several reasons: first because she is my partner in everything, second because my last name is commonly misspelled or mispronounced, and third because I like the way it sounds.

Why would you want to use a pen name?

  • To have anonymity. Example: you don’t want people in your church to know you write horror novels.
  • It allows you to be the person you want to be. Example: most authors who are introverts can hide behind the role of their pen name. You play the part. It becomes your secret identity…kinda like Superman and Clark Kent…Superman-Secret-Identity-3
  • You’re a female writing for a male market or vice versa. Example: Joanna Penn writes under the pseudonym J.F. Penn so as to appear un-gendered in a market saturated by men.
  • You have multiple genres and want to separate yourself. Example: One name for picture books, one name for steamy romance.
  • Marketing reasons. Example: your name is just plain ugly. It’s hard to spell or often mispronounced. It happens to start with a letter towards the end of the alphabet (which always puts you at the end of a long list).
  • Your name is already being used by someone else.
  • You’ve blundered your real name with previous published books and need a new start.

HOW to pull off a pen name:

You are not going to do anything with a pen name that you wouldn’t already need to do with your real one. Of course if you are getting paid by a publisher you will sign all legal documents with your REAL name. If you accept a check, make sure it is your REAL name or that you have set something up with your bank under a business name titled the same thing (example: Joe Shmoe Books).

  • Your name is your brand. Whether you are using your real name or a pseudonym, EVERYTHING about you should reflect that name. OWN your brand!
  • Get a website under that name. If you can’t, get one close to it. Get a blog, anything. Something to reflect a web presents outside of social media.
  • Get a social media following under that name. Example: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest.
  • THIS IS YOU NOW! You must act the part of that name. Introduce yourself as your pen name in business settings (your writing is your business).

Other Questions:

How do pen names affect publishing contracts?

  • They don’t. Everything will be done with your REAL name when it comes time to sign the contract.

Can you keep a pen name identity a secret?

  • Yes, no need to worry about your name getting out there. Publishers, agents, ect will keep your identity secret. The only one you need to worry about is yourself. Most can find out that I use a pen name if they just go onto Facebook and see who my wife is. Chances are, her last name is mine…this won’t always be the case.

So there you have it. I use a pen name and I like it. I think it’s a fitting name. I have accepted it as my alternate identity and don’t mind telling the world that I am Mikey Brooks, author, illustrator, and cover designer. How do you feel about pen names?

Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is an award-winning author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. His other middle-grade books include: The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis and The Stone of Valhalla. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie, and Bean’s Dragons. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works fulltime as a freelance illustrator, cover designer, and author. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’ (emblazoners.com). You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com.

To Use or Not to Use a Blog Tour Service

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Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The blog tour. You’ve all heard about them. They have been very popular lately. So popular, that I have seen an increase in hosting sites (basically you as the author pay a set amount of money for a certain amount of blog posts about your book for so many days). I like the idea of blog tours. If done effectively, they have the potential to reach readers you might not otherwise have gotten. They can get your name and book showing up in search engines. They also have the potential of getting you sales. The question is: are they worth paying someone else to do them for you, or are you better off doing this yourself? I hope to give you some insights with my latest experience and let you make that choice.

When my first middle-grade book, The Dream Keeper, came out in June 2013, I set up my own tour. It was a month long with at least one post per day. It took a lot of work. I spent a good month trying to find various blogs, focusing mostly on reviews and sites dedicated to the same genre as my book. I think I spent about 2-3 weeks just writing guest posts and answering interview questions alone. I put together some giveaways (incentives to get readers to the blog) and set up a list of stops on my website. The tour went really well. I was able to connect with new readers and get my name out. Like I said it before though, it was A LOT OF WORK!

When the time came to release my second book, The Dreamstone, I wanted to alleviate some of the burden of the launch. I decided I was going to outsource my blog tour to one of these hosting sites. Now there are a bunch of these places and they range in prices, quality, and experience. I first looked into hosting sites that were in my genre. However, the ones that focused on children’s and middle grade charged upwards of $400-$600 for a 2 week long tour. Of course they guaranteed reviews, original posts, and the promise to reach your target audience. The ticket price, however, was out of my price range—out of many indie authors’ price ranges. So I looked around at smaller tour sites. I found one that had the price I was able to meet and started asking the host questions. Please DO THIS! Know what you are getting into before you hand over any cash to author help sites.

  • Are they going to reach your target audience?
  • Will you be getting reviews and will those reviews be posted on sites that matter?
  • How many posts per day?
  • Are they original posts or the cookie cutter post?
  • What time will the posts go live each day?
  • Will the host keep in contact with you?

The host assured me that I would be totally satisfied and gave me all the answers I wanted. What I got…well…let me share that with you.

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About a week after I paid (in full) I got my first and only email I would receive from my host without me tracking her down. She asked for a few things like the books blurb, cover pic, and PDF and eBooks files (for reviewers). I sent all the stuff and waited. About three weeks before the tour I was getting antsy because the host had not gotten back with me yet. I emailed her (with no response) and finally tracked her down on Facebook. She then invited me to be part of her secret group of bloggers and showed me that she had in fact set up the tour with a bunch of blogs. I had paid $75 for a 2 week long tour with a guarantee of 1-2 stops per day. I noticed I only had about one post scheduled each day. I wanted more so I started contacting my own bloggers. I set up my own 2 blogs per day and then emailed the host with my list and told her I’d get my bloggers everything they needed. A week before the tour I had yet to hear back from my host and I started again to get antsy. (Communication is always key for me. I want to feel reassured that my money is well spent). Finally I sent her an email with an attached HTML promo post that I created myself (something I thought she was handling—good thing I did it myself). The only email I got back was a topic for a guest post (mind you 2 days before it was to go live).

Day one of the tour I get online to find that not one of my posts I paid for had gone live. I sent several emails and checked the sites regularly. The posts were to be live by 8am each day. Finally at 2pm I got an email back from my host and she claimed one of the blogs had been up all day (not true—I’d checked) and that she was having the other blog posting theirs. Day one frustrated me, but it couldn’t get any worse right?—wrong!!

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Throughout the next two weeks I had several posts that never went up until after I emailed the host. I also noticed that my book wasn’t the only one to be featured that day. I would scroll down past 2-3 sultry romance novels before I found my middle-grade book—did you catch that? Sultry romance novels! I am being kind when I say “sultry”. It kind of upset me that my children’s book was surrounded by half naked people. What further aggravated me was when I went to visit my paid post for the day to find my book being featured on an adult content website. That’s right! I had to click a button saying I would accept to view adult content in order to look at a post about my children’s book. (I did not share the post on my website’s schedule—after all, my readers are mostly kids, teachers, and librarians). When I emailed the host she blew it off—she didn’t see the problem. After the tour was finished I had paid for a total of 2 reviews, 1 guest post, and 1 site with readers of my genre. Every other post was the same cookie cutter book feature I created and was featured on a blog that focused mostly in sultry romance. Lucky for me I had set up my own bloggers. Bottom line, I got screwed by the host. I will never use that tour site again. I ended up paying someone else to email my pre-generated post to a bunch of sites my readers have no interest in.

Does my experience want to make you do it yourself? Probably, but remember though, this was just one hosting site. There are many sites and they are not all this bad—I hope. I paid a hosting site to do my online book launch party and I thoroughly enjoyed it. That host site also offers blog tours, but after my bad experience with this last one I’m not so ready to toss my money their way.

Things to keep in mind if you plan on handling your own blog tour:

  • Give yourself enough time at least 1-2 months before your launch to set it up.
  • Have at least 2 posts per day for a minimum of 2 weeks.
  • Make sure the posts are all original posts. No cookie cutter posts. Those will not reach out to new readers or help your status in search engines.
  • Plan about 2 weeks to write guest posts and answer interview questions.
  • Have GIVEAWAYS. This creates incentives for people to visit the posts and read about your book. Plan a head and make sure you budget out postage for prizes. Use rafflecoptor! The same giveaway can be used on all your stops during your tour.
  • Try to use bloggers that have the same interests and genre that your book is. Don’t waste time marketing to a bunch of romance readers if you have a children’s book. I did, and it doesn’t work.
  • Follow up with your bloggers and remind them of their commitments. Double check everything. Once the post is live, go comment and thank them for sharing.
  • Share each post on your own social media sites.
  • Prepare yourself to work hard.

I hope I have given you some valuable information. I know how frustrating it can be for authors to handle marketing and promotion, and I want you to learn from my experiences. Just be smart. If you want to go with a hosting site, ask around for referrals. Double check to make sure you will get want you paid for. Good luck in your progress and happy writing!

Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is an award-winning author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. His other middle-grade books include: The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis and The Stone of Valhalla. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie, and Bean’s Dragons. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works fulltime as a freelance illustrator, cover designer, and author. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’ (emblazoners.com). You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com.

Online Launch Parties. Are They Worth It?

It is nice to be back on the blog. As many of your know I took some time off when we had a new arrival join our family. I’m still adjusting to the new sleep routine but I’m happy to play daddy to another little girl. I want to thank James Duckett, Jennifer Bennett, and all those others that took the time from their busy schedules to post for me.

Last night I had the opportunity to have my online launch party for the release of my second book in The Dream Keeper Chronicles: The Dreamstone. It was a fantastic event and that is what I want to focus on today. Not because it’s another place to shout out my book, but because of what I learned last night with the launch party. I’m always a skeptic when it comes to using author service sites. So many of them are just rip offs or something we can do ourselves. I’m always concerned if they are worth the cost, time, ect? Using myself as the guinea pig, I’m giving you my results.

With fans spanning the globe, it is more important than ever that we as authors have a way of including everyone in our book’s release. Whether you have a reader in Iowa or Oregon, you can bring them all together in one place to discuss you and your book. The internet is an amazing tool for us to use. My launch party was hosted by Loving the Book Launch Party (LTBLP), one of several online event planners. Becca Lamoreaux (creative genius behind LTBLP) couldn’t have done a better job!

1385689_537903782970937_657036312_nSo what’s an online book launch? It’s a party—seriously. We even had refreshments (albeit virtual). LTBLP created an event on FB and used the page to have games, Q&A’s, giveaways, and more. The event was open to the public so anyone could join. The great thing about it was I got to connect with people I’ve never met who lived all over. Could I have planned something like this on my own? Maybe—but the work behind the scenes would have been too much for me, especially with a blog tour (another post coming on this next week) and having a newborn at home. Plus, I don’t believe my reach wouldn’t have expanded as far as it did had I not used LTBLP.

Online Book Launches have several benefits:

  • They bring people all over the world together in one venue.
  • They help authors, who are introverts, be able to talk openly with readers in a comfortable atmosphere. You can be as entertaining as you want. I’m a social butterfly so I spread my wings and strutted my colors.
  • They generate sells and social media chat for your book.
  • They help other authors that have donated prizes to the launch.
  • They are affordable.

I had visited a few launch parties before but never committed myself to the whole time, so I had a lot of questions for LTBLP. I wanted to know the success rate before I jumped into the deal. I needed the best days, times, and length that was going to make my party worth my cash. Expect to get straightforward answers—this shows your host knows what they are doing (if they skirt you around they might not be seasoned enough to host you). Prices vary with the host you use. LTBLP charges $25 an hour, but expect to get amazing results with that price. LTBLP suggested a 2 hour block for better results, so I went for it. I’m glad I did. The time went by fast (like most good parties should). After it was over, I felt it was money well spent. It helped me, it helped other authors, and it helped my book.

Things to expect and do:

  • A book launch party should make it worth the guests’ time. Having games, giveaways, and humor is a great way to keep people involved. The better the entertainment—the better results. Example: we had one guest post in the comments, “I’m trying to watch Turtle Man and play Spider solitaire on my phone during the lag time of these games. You guys are making it really hard to do that!” This showed me the entertainment was spot on!
  • Have GIVEAWAYS! Who doesn’t want to win something? In fact, one person admitted they only came to win a prize but ended up buying two of my books. How to get prizes at no cost to you? I contacted several authors and asked if they’d be willing to donate an eBook. In return I would have the guests at the party go like their Facebook page or share the link to their book. Most hosts will set these up for you but it’s always nice to include your author buddies in your event.
  • Plan on having at least a 2 hour party. People come and go and it’s best to have a longer party so more people can join in.
  • The host should be doing all the work! As the author, you’re the guest of honor—so sit back and enjoy the party. Have fun and reach out to these new potential fans.

I don’t want you to just take my word for it that online book launches are the way to go. This is what one of the guests said as the party was wrapping up:

“Here is why these launch parties work. I had so much fun and Mikey, who I’ve never met, is so hilariously funny that I just went to Amazon and bought both his books. Seriously. I had thought about getting the books before but was iffy about it. This launch party pushed me off the fence.”

I can personally recommend using Loving the Book Launch Party as your source to host your event. I know there are plenty out there, but the comments I got from others told me LTBLP knew what they were doing. So if you have a book coming out soon, plan on doing this! Happy writing!

Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks

Mikey Brooks is a small child masquerading as an adult. On occasion you’ll catch him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is an award-winning author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure series The Dream Keeper Chronicles. His other middle-grade books include: The Gates of Atlantis: Battle for Acropolis and The Stone of Valhalla. His picture books include the best-selling ABC Adventures: Magical Creatures, Trouble with Bernie, and Bean’s Dragons. Mikey has a BS degree in English from Utah State University and works fulltime as a freelance illustrator, cover designer, and author. His art can be seen in many forms from picture books to full room murals. He loves to daydream with his three daughters and explore the worlds that only the imagination of children can create. As a member of the Emblazoners, he is one of many authors devoted to ‘writing stories on the hearts of children’ (emblazoners.com). You can find more about him and his books at: www.insidemikeysworld.com.