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Archive for October, 2009

This is a guest post by Colleen Coble. She is the author of thirty-five novels or novellas and has won numerous awards, including the Romance Writers of America prestigious RITA, the Holt Medallion, and the ACFW Book of the Year. She is also active on Twitter and Facebook.

Allen Arnold of Thomas Nelson and and Karen Ball of B&H Publishing Group recently presented a morning track for multi-published authors at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. When Allen started talking about building a tribe and using Twitter and Facebook, I saw the color drain from quite a few faces.

using-social-media-to-build-your-author-brand

Jumping on the social media bandwagon is easier for some of us than for others, but it’s so worth the effort it takes to connect with your readers. Allen sent all his authors this video, and it really shows the power of social media.

When Mike Hyatt first started talking about Twitter, I didn’t understand the value, but I’m always looking for new ways to connect to my readers. I decided to give it a try. It didn’t take long to realize this was the greatest thing to come along to help build my author brand. The results?

In the past year since I started using social media, my newsletter signups and website traffic have gone up nearly 50%. The pre-orders of my book from booksellers (i.e., “laydown”) between my last two books increased 40%. I’m not saying it’s all due to social media. Thomas Nelson has done a phenomenal job marketing my books. And, my husband has worked hard to get out bookmarks and signed bookplates to my readers who sign up for my newsletter. But I believe the defining difference is social media.

Here is how I’ve used it:

1. Tweet several times a day and have it feed over to Facebook. I respond to posts on my Facebook wall and to any mentions or direct messages that I get in Twitter. I get to know my readers so I can build a sense of community. I don’t follow everyone who follows me like some do. I am more excited to follow those who are following 50 people than those following 100,000 because I know that person is one of my tribe. If a follower is clearly a spammer, I don’t follow them back.
2. I blog and ask for reader opinion about covers, names, themes, etc. I always listen to my readers! For example, I recently asked for opinions on the cover for my first historical romantic mystery. When my readers didn’t think it looked suspenseful enough, my fiction team changed the sky to stormy. That touch was just enough, and it was all thanks to my readers.
3. Allen suggested I give away a free download of Distant Echoes and Alaska Twilight on my website so I did. I also created extra content with an epilogue to Cry in the Night that’s available exclusively to newsletter members.
4. I figure out what my hook is for each book and participate in blogs that might connect me with readers who are interested in that subject.
5. Participation in online reader groups like GoodReads helps me find readers who like my type of book.
6. Organization is crucial. I use TweetDeck to organize my Twitter feeds and stay on top of things that are happening in the industry.
7. I re-tweet posts of interest.
8. When readers email, I reply.
9. I run contests on the blog and my website and give away copies of my newest release to help create buzz.
10. When asked to guest blog or do online interviews, I make sure to find the time.

I know this seems like a lot of work, but I only spend about 15–30 minutes a day on it. My fabulous editor at Thomas Nelson, Ami McConnell, recently told me she’s come to realize we must love our reader. That’s what drew me to social media in the first place—that desire to connect to my readers and to consistently deliver the reading experience they expect.

Some people worry about privacy issues, but I haven’t found that to be a problem. There might be a few kooks out there, but most people are just average folks who want to feel a connection and to be part of something.

If this seems intimidating, start small. Start with Twitter and feed it to Facebook. You’ll find it doesn’t take nearly as much time as you think. Once you’re comfortable with that, move on to other areas and start building your tribe. The rewards are great!
Question: If you are an author—or want to be an author—how are you using social media to connect to readers and build your brand?

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Authors often ask what they can do to most help their novel be successful. Excellent question – because there really are specific things an author is best equipped to do from their unique vantage point.

Here are my top five suggestions for how you can increase your novel’s chances of success:

· First, walk daily with God. Yes – this comes before writing a great story. Because if you are disconnected from God, you are disconnected from a Christian worldview and the ultimate source of creativity. You’re stepping in the creative arena relying on your own talents and strength. Problem is – for those writing from a Christian worldview – your strength and talents are not your own. They’re God-given and to be used for His ultimate glory. Writing isn’t the main thing. Walking authentically with God is. Writing, story and creativity will flow from that.

· Second, write the stories you were uniquely gifted and created to write. Each author has a unique life story – and from that, a distinct voice and style. We call it your brand. We are your publisher because we believe in your voice and your stories. While we can help you refine it, shape it and grow it – you have to know it and chase after it wholeheartedly. How would you describe your brand in a sentence? Does it sound interchangeable with ten other author brands – or a frozen pizza? If you can’t succinctly describe your unique voice – readers sure won’t be able to. And most readers aren’t interested in homogenous fiction or interchangeable authors. Even within a genre, fanatical readers crave distinct voices.

· Third, know and grow your tribe. Publishing houses are best at finding new readers for your novels. But you must be connected to your current fan base. The goal is to know your tribe and keep them happy and hungry for more. Think of your role not as “a self promote hawking your books but as one hosting the best party for those who already have expressed interest in your novels. You’re creating the place for them to gather – and the better party you host, the more they’ll hang out and engage and buzz about your stories. And like any good host, your role isn’t to dominate the party but to start it and let fans enjoy talking with other fans. That’s good news for you because it means you really don’t need to spend much time at the party as much as starting it and keeping the doors open and the food flowing. This is done through an interactive, active website and regular communication via twitter, blogs and frequent calls to reading groups. Remember – this is not just for them to get to know you – it’s for you to get to know them (because they are the reflection of your brand) and for them to get to know each other!

· Fourth, have you discussed with your publishing team what the definition of success is for your novel? If not, how are you sure your definition of success matches theirs – or how you’ll know when you get there? I suggest you have your book agent discuss that with the publishing team so you remain free to write and engage with your tribe. But know the best publishers desire transparency on this front since no one wins when the goals of success are murky or unclear.

· Last, do your stories have what we refer to as a WOW factor? Actually, you can’t best answer this. Only your readers can. Not buying your novel really isn’t the worst thing a reader can do. Far worse is for them to buy it, read it, yawn and place it on their shelf…never to think of it again. The goal is once they finish for them to rave about it to a friend, buy a copy for a friend, discuss it via a blog or twitter. That’s how novels move from a few weeks or months of sales to an evergreen seller. A great marketing campaign and cover can create initial interest. Only rabid fans can create long-term, ongoing bestsellers. In the end, marketing may get the book in readers hands but only the content can deliver the WOW that creates major brands through strong word of mouth that no paid campaign could ever match.

So there they are – my top recommendations for authors. Next time, I’ll blog about the top things a publishing house can do to make your novels as successful as possible.

Sincerely,
Allen Arnold
Senior Vice President & Publisher, Fiction

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