By Nancy Panko, Author of Guiding Missal
After ten years of researching, writing, resting, and repeating the process over and over, my book Guiding Missal was published. One of my crowning achievements as a human being and a writer was also one of the most difficult things I’d ever done. I had yet to find out that there was more hard work to come.
Throughout the process, I diligently followed the “Author Pre-Publication Checklist” laying a lot of groundwork on which to build. You have probably all done the same basic work now that you are a published author but if you haven’t, perhaps you may want to download that list.
If you have a book in your hand and many more in cartons sitting on your office floor, as I do, the job as a businessman or woman is ahead. Where do you begin? While certainly not in an organized fashion, I plunged in feet first taking advantage of any and every opportunity. Keeping an organized log of every appearance, complete with the contact information, the when and where of the event, is where I am organized.
Every self-help publishing site, book or blog emphasizes, “build your platform” and “establish your brand.” Confession: When I had to research what these things meant, it was my first clue that I was in trouble. Attending writers’ conferences, classes at local universities or community colleges on managing your business as an author or promoting your art are worthwhile endeavors, as are free on-line webinars hosted by well-known experts with valuable advice and information.
Because my book, Guiding Missal, falls into the historical fiction/military/inspirational category, my brand became the American flag and its colors. One of my first expenditures, worth every penny, was a 20” x40” poster of my book cover. Without a doubt, that poster alone makes prospective buyers stop at my table to see what it’s all about. At book signings, I dress in red, white and blue, including accessories. I designed flag-themed business cards, artfully placed my book cover image on my bookmarks, postcards, and tee shirts which have been used for prizes. Pens were designed in red, white and blue emblazoned with Guiding Missal. Staples and Vistaprint love me!
It’s more difficult to build a platform when you’re an-unknown author. My efforts began with pounding the pavement and my computer keys. From a generous Facebook friend, I learned how to do a radio pitch and submitted my completed pitch form to various talk radio shows extolling the advantages of having a guest appealing to a wide patriotic audience of faith. I searched the websites of local television stations for opportunities to advertise Guiding Missal events and book signings. On a side note, while on the website of WRAL-TV, I entered a contest and won a year’s supply of McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches with coffee. My attempts at building a platform were already paying off!
Networking contacts are a writer’s most valuable asset. If you don’t already belong to a supportive writers’ group, please join one ASAP. Ask fellow authors for suggestions on a group. Find one or more that meet your needs and fits with your personality, writing genre, and style. Example: If you write erotic horror books you probably don’t want to join a Christian writers’ group.
Here’s where my networking contacts came into play. In speaking with a friend who has a well-known TV segment about how difficult it is to build a platform, I listed everything I had done to date. As a fellow author he gave me suggestions on additional efforts, and offered to do a segment on the inception and inspiration for my book. Of course, I accepted and the beautifully produced segment was a God send! A week later one of my radio pitch efforts paid off and, with the help of a couple of friends, Guiding Missal was one of the featured topics on an hour-long radio program. This a great illustration of the advantages of networking, utilizing the contacts of fellow authors and not being afraid to put yourself out there. After all, the worst a contact can say is, “No.”
Be on alert for invitations from bloggers to do interviews. They’re wonderfully fun to do and get you and your work exposed to a wider audience. I answered an ad in our Sunday paper from a columnist who was looking to interview local authors. She did a fabulous job of explaining my complex book and I’ve gotten the opportunity for other events from her article. Find out who your local media people are. Learn their names and send them an email introducing yourself, tell them about your book. Introduce yourself to your local librarians, ask if the library does signings or readings with signings. You never know what will come of it and, again, the worst they can say is, “No.”
Contacting every social group to which I belong, and others I do not, to offer my services as a speaker and it has paid off in a big way. Many pay a stipend, many feed you as well (double bonus), and most all will allow you to sell your books after your speaking gig is done.
At signing events, I make it a point to engage with people who walk by. I say hello to everyone, extend my hand, introduce myself, and explain that I’m selling autographs for $15, the books are free. Laughing ensues, they usually buy a book, and they remember me. There have been events at which I’ve sold only a few books but scored another event from an attendee who happened to be in charge of obtaining the services of a speaker or, in my case, an author with her pro-military book at a fund-raiser for veterans.
Shamelessly promoting my book has become an art form. I utilize my regular Facebook page and my author FB page. Note that an author FB page is simply that, anything and everything to do with being an author and writing. Twitter has finally become my friend and after seeking out liked-minded people, other authors, and folks in the publishing and marketing business, I’m building a following. However, woe is me, I still don’t have as many followers as my fifteen-year-old granddaughter, Emily, even though I’m also on Linkedin, Pinterest, and Goodreads and Emily isn’t.
Building a website was something I started after becoming a frequent contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul and Guidepost magazines. I learned as I went along, updating and changing as I found ways to improve. It never fails to astound me at the number of people who actually visit my website. Someday I might be able to hire a professional webmaster. I recommend you research professional web designers and get references.
Sending out press releases or other news on your achievements is important for an author to continue building a platform. Remember people want to know about your successes and where you’ll be for the next signing or event. Using a site like Mail Chimp, which is free with up to 2,000 subscribers, allows a novice to easily navigate entering information and images in a pleasing format to send a mass mailing. Build your email base by having sign-ups at all of your events. If you attempt to send out a mass mailing on your PC, it will be detected as spam and your efforts will be wasted.
In seeking out signing events, target areas where people know you. Your church bazaar, your health club’s client appreciation day, a local business looking for a promotional hook to bring in customers. Remember, you have to ask, you may have to register and/or pay for a table, this is standard operating procedure. Have your biography and a book ready to show and tell. Prepare an elevator pitch, a one to two-minute synopsis of your sure-to-be best seller. At each and every signing, be prepared for questions. Again, people want to know you and how you started writing because they have “always wanted to write a book.”
My book covers a fifty-year time span in history with various wars and conflicts, I’m acutely aware of anniversaries and special dates that might provide an opportunity for a signing event for Guiding Missal. Knowing your material and being able to explain to an event planner the connection between your book and this event is an advantage to you both, and will land you a gig most of the time. Again, remember, the worst they can say is, “No.”
Writing is a labor of passion, it is rewarding and enriching. The business end of writing is competitive, cut and dried. Intertwining the two is important to convince the public why they need to have your book on their shelf. Learn to be a shameless promoter of your work.