Today I have been fortunate to host Alannah Foley (aka The Pyjama Writer), author of Cosy Mysteries, Campervan Capers, Cycling Widows, and more…
I asked Alannah to give us an insight into the methods she used, from writing her books, through to marketing and promoting them. Alannah has packed a lot of information into her answers, so I will be splitting her wisdom into two parts. Today, Alannah begins by talking about building her author platform:
Building your author platform
How did you start that process?
It’s sounds obvious, but as a basic, you really need a website and some sort of social media presence. In our techno era, it’s kind of expected, isn’t it? Many authors are introverts and technophobes, people who just want to be left alone to write and not have to get their hands dirty with all that stuff. Now, if you want to keep your writing at more of a hobby level, then ‘no problemo’ – just keep on writing and don’t worry about it. BUT if you want to notch your activities up to earning money and want to self-publish rather than go the trad route, you need to get online by doing the work yourself – or hiring someone to get their hands dirty on your behalf.
Having a website provides a place for you and your work to shine. When I was first starting out back in 2010/11, and I was still in the process of discovering who I was as an author, I put just about every creative thing that I had on my site – unrelated articles, short stories, even some of my photography. Over time, I’ve written more books, watched lots of self-publishing videos, checked out author websites, learnt more skills, etc – all of which has made me rethink my direction. Along the way, my website got cleaned up, and I took off all the ‘hobby’ stuff, keeping only that which I wanted to sell. It gradually morphed into a ‘proper’ author website, and although it sometimes felt like I was losing something, I was actually gaining – more clarity, more focus.
If you’re serious about making your writing pay, focus is key. Visitors to your website need to know what you’re about without having to click around hunting for details. My challenge in terms of my public author persona is that I write in a few peskily-unrelated genres, but have never gone the pen name route to separate my different book genres from each other. So, in order to make what I do more ‘palatable’ to my website visitors, I’ve come up with an ‘elevator pitch’ or tagline to explain it.
Anyone visiting the homepage, Books or About page of my site right now will see my name, beneath which is ‘author of cosy mysteries, Campervan Capers, Cycling Widows, and more…’. People will know at a glance whether my work is for them. As time goes on, I can always update the tagline to fit where my focus is at. Of course, if your books are all in the same genre, you can still come up with a nifty tagline of your own. What does author Pauline Baird write, for example? ‘Perilously fun fiction’. With that tagline to describe her, you get a feeling for her work right away.
SELECTING A WEBSITE
In terms of the tech side, I started off with a free Google website which I admit was pretty cruddy by today’s standards. Something went wrong with that site, but it was a blessing in disguise, because I knew it was time to take a step up, and ended up moving over to GoDaddy who had a simple-to-use Website Builder, which uses ‘drag & drop’ to build your site. You can also select from a whole bunch of themes to give your site a professional look. I’ve recently rebuilt my site and am really happy with the new, cleaner look.
There are so many options now for websites – lots of companies with a shed-load of ready-to-go, professional-looking themes which look easy to work with, so there’s no excuse for the not-so-techie to get started. Click here to compare some of the top sites.
GoDaddy doesn’t rate quite as highly on that comparison site, but I’m happy with the simplicity of the Website Builder despite a few limitations (which you’ll get with just about any site, I think). The icing on the cake is that there’s always a friendly helper at the other end of the phone if I ever get stuck – a rarity these days! But after my experiences with the Google site, GoDaddy was like an oasis in the desert. I can’t see myself going back to having a site without tech support again!
Everyone raves about WordPress, although I have mixed feelings. If you want to make good-looking landing pages for your free giveaways, then you can get the OptimizePress plugin to use on WordPress, which is much more affordable than signing up for LeadPages.
If you’re just starting out and aren’t that tech-savvy, you could also try Wix. You can sign up for a free site, build it with drag & drop, and you’re off. Their sites are free, but if you want to choose your own web address, you have to pay. Vanguard of the indie world, Joanna Penn, also has a help video for those of you wanting to know how to set up a website from scratch. Steve has posted previously about some of the pros and cons of WordPress vs Wix when choosing a website. Check out that post here.
One important thing when selecting a site is to make sure you get one that’s mobile-optimised. So many more people are surfing the net on their phones nowadays – and not just in the Western world! – so you need to ensure your book ‘product pages’ look good to site visitors.
In terms of social media, the received wisdom is that you should be actively posting & sharing to gain visibility (and not just posting ‘buy my book’ type stuff, but other content of ‘value’ as well). Personally, though, I’m not a rabid social media nut.
If you intend to go great guns on the social media front, I think you have to enjoy it. If it’s not your bag, however, I think a good work-around is to just spend small amounts of time dipping your toe in, checking in, liking or sharing a Facebook post or tweet and so on. I find this a good compromise.
I’ve signed up to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. All my blog posts get posted on there. I rarely go on Google+ or LinkedIn, but I think it’s still useful to have a profile up there, as a lot of people use those sites and it increases the chances of your work being discovered.
On Twitter, I notice that some go around following folk who might be interested in their stuff as a way to ultimately market to them. The hope is that the person they’ve followed will follow them back. If they don’t, they unfollow them within seven days. There’s an app/program which can automatically do all this for you. It’s not an approach I can foresee myself using, but if you love social networking, you might want to give it a try.
I think it’s OK to put out a few ‘buy my book’ posts, but no one likes people trying to sell them stuff all the time. So far for me, networking with ‘real people’ has been the best outcome of my time on social networking sites.
How did you prepare to launch your first book?
Any pre-launch tactics?
I admit I’m quite lazy when it comes to getting ‘out there’ and marketing my books, whether before or after launch. I usually put out (WordPress) blogs with sneak peeks at my upcoming books, and another when I launch. I also schedule these to automatically promote on Twitter, Google+ & LinkedIn (I have to do the Facebook manually because it only links to my personal page). I also make sure I use tags and hashtags along the way, so as to increase my chances of visibility with posts.
If you like getting out there with social networking and such and want to launch your book with more fanfare, a useful book to check out is Chandler Bolt’s Book Launch. In order to engage your audience, he advocates such things as putting up a couple of possible covers on your Facebook page and asking people to vote on which one they like best.
Despite all the advice out there on how to launch your book, I think it’s also worth keeping in mind that this isn’t a flash in the pan. Once your book is up on the virtual sales shelf, it’s there to be discovered by readers into the future. Maybe someone will find your book a year after that launch date which you believed to be your only real chance at getting your book noticed. Author Hugh Howey had written several books before Wool took off. Once that drew an audience, readers went back and bought his earlier works. Rarely does an author gain ground right out the gate.
If you’re enthusiastic about that first book launch, my words may feel like they’ve got a lead balloon attached. Yes, keep on celebrating the fact that you’ve passed the finishing post (after all, it’s no small thing to write a book), but also realise that, down the line, chances are you’re going to see that first book in a different light. You’re in it for the long haul. And if you haven’t got a plan, you might expend a lot of energy on that first launch, leaving your reader with nowhere to go next – and I’ve gone into that in more detail in the next question…
– Did you have a long-term plan? What was it?
When I started in my author life, I didn’t think strategically at all. Instead, I was rather ‘self-indulgent’ and only wrote what took my fancy. But over time, my thinking has moved towards a marriage of enjoying what I write and writing in a more mainstream genre.
Now, I’m not saying everyone should work this way, but if you want to earn money writing books, you do need to write something that someone wants to read. And if you pick a mainstream genre like romance, mysteries or whatever, you know you’ve got a ready-made audience – albeit a somewhat saturated one these days. There are dedicated websites and Facebook groups for these sorts of things, as well as hashtags on Twitter, so this just makes finding readers that much easier.
After writing Cycling Widows 2 earlier in 2015 (a satirical book about living with an obsessive cyclist), I ‘bit the bullet’ and decided to put my focus on more mainstream writing projects, and started a cosy mystery series.
Series are becoming ‘the thing to do’ right now. And for good reason… If a reader loves the world you’ve built, or your cast of characters, they’re going to want more. So why not write another book or two and give it to them?
For the foreseeable future, then, this will be the focus of my writing time, with an initial goal of getting up three books in the series. From there, I could write more in the series (I have several more books outlined), or I could dogleg off for a bit and write books in another genre. Obviously, if that series starts to do well, though, I’ll want to have more books for the readers to move on to. So it pays to stick at something for a while.
By the way, I’m not suggesting you put out that first book and wait to see whether people like it. Have a plan. Outline three books as a minimum, get them written, and get them out. If you have ideas for other books, note those down, too, while it’s all flowing. You might be glad of it later.
Successful author, Liliana Hart advocates writing three books then launching them in quick succession – one every month – in order to gain momentum. According to some, there’s an algorithmic cliff books fall off after about 30 days (if I remember correctly).
Now, if you’re writing part time and are at the stage where you’re not going to get a book finished in less than six months or a year unless you give yourself a coronary in the process, then you’re going to be rather reluctant to squirrel away those books and launch them in the aforementioned fashion.
But don’t panic – there’s hope!
Let’s put this into perspective here… When you’re starting out, it’s easy to think you should be able to crank books out. But it takes a while to find your feet as an author, so take a deep breath! Write at your own pace and keep enjoying what you’re doing. That’s important to remember.
So if you’re not a super-fast writer or don’t have much spare time (yet!), what do you do?
Well, my advice (in contrast with the above!) is to put out the books anyway – BUT make sure you give your readers somewhere to go next! When your first book goes out, have a mailing list set up and a signup link to that in the front and back of your book, as well as on your website. That way, you’ll net the email addresses of enthusiastic readers and will be able to sell book 2 to them when it comes along – even if it’s six months or more down the line.
Also bear in mind that your books don’t necessarily have to be great epics. You could start off with a novella instead of a novel. That’s much more achievable, especially if you’re working at a day job and have family to look after. Check out Steve’s post on setting realistic and achievable goals for yourself. And along the way, you’ll be gaining experience of how self-publishing works, and honing your craft. Some writers have serialised their novels.
A couple of years ago, I wrote 5 novelette-length stories and was going to publish them as individual ebooks, but decided not to because I’d only be able to sell each one at 99p/cents, which earns you a lower 35% royalty rate on Amazon. Sales aren’t fantastic, but given the fact I’m not promoting them, they’re trickling along OK. I’m now about to experiment with that book and will be going back and releasing each story as an individual novelette of 10/11k words. I’ll be doing covers that better reflect each story and will have them available at 99p/cents each – but I’ll also put them in a box set at 2.99. Buying all 5 stories offers a bargain to the reader and earns me the full 70% royalty rate.
Basically, my long-term advice is made up of two parts: one is to get the actual writing done, the second is to ensure you’ve got all your systems in place such as website and mailing list signup.
For a long time, I listened to top authors going on about mailing lists, but I didn’t understand how important it was. Come the time to launch those later books, though, you’ll be glad to have a bunch of people to email about your new release. It’s better to have a captive audience of readers like this who are actively interested in your work then to spend lots of money on blanket advertising, or posting like crazy on Facebook or Twitter (although, yes, you do need to get people in the door in the first place). But you only need one or two thousand ‘true fans’ to buy your book every time you have a new release, and you’re starting to rock.
I admit that I’m still at the early stages in terms of building my email list, so patience is the name of the game here. I know an author who has been writing a long-running series for some time now, and it’s been successful. But now that she’s launched a romance novel under a pen name, she’s starting from scratch and is feeling invisible.
Make sure you have all the basics in place then, as bestselling author C J Lyons would say, give people time to find you. Writing isn’t for the short haul!
That’s where I’ll break off today. Some info on Alannah:
Alannah Foley… aka ‘The Pyjama Writer’
Author of cosy mysteries, Campervan Capers, Cycling Widows, and more…
Born in Australia, raised in the UK, Alannah writes both fiction & non-fiction, spanning topics as diverse as capers in a campervan, the vagaries of living with an obsessive cyclist, light-hearted tales – and, more recently, cosy mysteries.
If you want to visit her site, and see what’s on offer, click here. Next time Alannah will be talking to us about marketing and promoting your book.
How did you approach the launch of you first book and was it successful? Leave a comment to let me know.