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Marketing, Publishing, Social Media, Through the Veil, Uncategorized, Writing

Building Communities: Takeaways from the Marketing Trenches Part Two

Hey, it’s me again. I received a lot of really interesting, private responses to my blog post yesterday from some writer friends, and it should come as no surprise that I have more opinions. So many opinions.

One of the big reactions to my post yesterday was to bemoan the lack of marketing publishing does for writers in our current state of affairs. And yes, I hear that. It’s true. Marketing budgets are shrinking and it’s not fair. Here are more cookies for your feelings.

But in this post, I want to examine what it means to “market” a book in the 21st century because I think it’s inherently different to what marketing looked like twenty years ago, and hell, even ten years ago. To explain, I will start with a story from my classroom and how my teaching approach has drastically changed in the past ten years, specifically when it comes to technology.

Let me take you back to 2002. GW was President, Kelly Clarkson had just become the first American Idol, and a young Colleen Halverson had just begun her first year of graduate school as a TA teaching freshman comp. Now this year was a special year for the TA newbies because this was the year the university decided to start a new initiative involving technology literacy (or some shit buzzword. I have no idea). Basically, the university handed freshman comp a curriculum and for one extra day a week, we had to trudge up to the computer lab and do…stuff. Techy stuff.

The curriculum basically went like this:

Week One: Have students make a PowerPoint.

About what? Why? For what purpose?

Week Two: Have students create a website.

Again? Why? What should be on it? What purpose does it serve?

You can see the flaws in this pedagogical approach, I’m sure. Education without context or meaning is doomed to failure, and of course that first semester was pretty rocky. Half the time, my smarter, hipper, more tech savvy students ended up teaching the class and in the end, those websites never really got off the ground.

Fast forward to 2012 where I was teaching freshman comp full time in a computer lab, where we did create PowerPoints and we did create websites using WordPress, but this time the tech was fully integrated into their writing assignments. So, for example, their big project was to write a research paper but share it through the medium of a blog, which, because of the online medium, requires a different mode of writing and formatting. They also had to have different pages for shared PowerPoints, an annotated bibliography, an ongoing reflective research journal, etc. These blogs were shared publicly on the internet and on our library’s homepage. They served a purpose, and their academic labor was meaningful. They helped create a learning community.

It strikes me oftentimes that writers are asked to work under the 2002 model of marketing.

Create a website!

Why? About what? What purpose does it serve?

Get on twitter!

And do what, exactly? What do I tweet about?

Make a facebook page!

Ok, and what do I do with it?

We are working out of context without a purpose.

You’re probably saying, “But Colleen, I do have a purpose online! My purpose is to sell more books!”

To which I say, no.

No.

Stop.

No, I don’t think that’s our purpose (and I don’t mean that in the philosophical sense either, lulz). I think if we’re hopping on the internet with the sole purpose to sell more books, we’re internet-ing wrong.

Our purpose is not to sell a product but to build a community.

Our books are not widgets. We are not used car salesmen. But we can do something publishing houses can’t do, which is to create human connections with our audience. The internet is an amazing place to make that happen. For me, “marketing” is no longer something tangential, a “necessary evil,” or as this “extra” chore I have to do. It’s an intrinsic part of being an artist in the 21st century. It’s about building, sharing, and being a part of a community.

I wish I could tell you what should be on that facebook page or what you should tweet about to create that community. After that failed first semester, I set about shifting my curriculum to something much more meaningful, and it took me ten years to figure out an approach that felt genuinely engaging for my students. It was trying things and failing, seeing what works, and honing those strategies. Come back in ten years, and I might have more answers for you about marketing your book online.

But in the meantime, here are two people who, I think are at the forefront of rethinking what it means to exist as a working artist online: the poet Saeed Jones and rock and roll extraordinaire Amanda Palmer.

I started following Saeed Jones on twitter and immediately noted his incredible web presence. In an interview, he talks about how the boundaries of art and social media are breaking down, that art is not something that happens “out there,” beyond social media, but something that is happening on and through places like Twitter and facebook every day. A poem is a tweet. A tweet is a poem. While some might argue that this diminishes creative output, he disagrees by citing an example of a poet whose poem recently went viral.

“I think quality is even more important now. To use the social web as an example: What’s great about the web is it’s easy for something to be shared. Patricia Lockwood’s rape poem. Excellent work can get out there and take off in a way that even just 5 years ago, the idea of a poem going viral? A literary poem? A poem about rape culture? But it’s possible.”

Jones’s point is that more than ever, an artist needs to be excellent. She needs to walk the walk. The whole world is watching.

If you want to take a masterclass on building online communities, watch and observe Amanda Palmer at work. She is definitely an artist who walks the walk. Palmer uses a patron model to fund her artistic pursuits, but part of what makes her efforts so successful are 1) She fucking rocks. Seriously. And 2) She works relentlessly to connect with her patrons and supporters online. It’s fucking Leaves of Grass up in her timeline with the boundary between fan and artist, artist and fan blurring and intermingling. If you want to understand how sharing culture is changing the way artists work online, please check out her TED talk here. She explains it much more eloquently than I can. And hey, support a writer by purchasing her book here. Regardless of how you feel about her model, Palmer understands something about art and our online culture that can feel very elusive to many of us. At least for me. Watching her use the internet as a means to be an artist inspires me, and I want to be her when I grow up, for real.

All I know is this. The last books I purchased came from either tweets, a blog, a reading community like Vaginal Fantasy, or a suggestion from an online forum on Goodreads. Whether we like it or not, our work as artists is a part of a larger online community, and it’s our job to make our work in that community meaningful.

Are you picking up what I’m throwing down? Would you like to support me and  my opinions? Consider showing your love by purchasing a copy of my new fantasy romance Through the Veil.

Now available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Amazon UK, and Amazon Canada

 

Cover Reveal, Marketing, Publishing, Social Media, Through the Veil, Uncategorized, Writing

Raising My Book Baby: Marketing Takeaways from the Trenches

The blog tour for Through the Veil is winding down, and things are slowly returning back to normal around here. That gnawing, hollow feeling in my stomach has dissipated, and I’m only refreshing Amazon now twice every hour as opposed to every two seconds (it’s my first book. Don’t judge me.). Things are good, and I can stand back from the past three weeks with a strong feeling of accomplishment and with the sense that I did everything I could to bring my book out into the world.

But book marketing is a strange, elusive beast, and I can say two months ago I had absolutely no clue how and where to even begin. On the first call with my PR person, I said, “Okay, I’ve never done this before, so explain book marketing to me like you would to a small child.” And she did! Beautifully! I can’t share all the trade secrets here (and quite honestly, I still don’t understand how all this goes down), but I can tell you some things I’ve learned and some things I wished I had known before I started. A lot of folks complain that publishing runs at a snail’s pace, but nothing can prepare you for the wild, fast-paced ride of a book release. They don’t call it a “blitz” for nothing. After the first week, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. But I also felt very pleased with the results. Publishing is weird like that.

Please note that I’m not a marketing person, and I can only speak from my experience. Not every approach will work for every author. This isn’t the Church of Colleen Halverson (well, maybe sometimes, hehe), and my words are not the gospel. But here’s what I know.

  1. Start blogging now. Right now. And it’s not for the reasons you think. I know building a platform is important, and having a nice back list of blog posts can help increase your visibility. Yes, yes, all these things are true. But here’s the real reason you should start blogging—so you are prepared for the epic marathon of writing guest posts. In total, I wrote 19 guest posts to help bring Through the Veil into the world, and this isn’t including interviews. “Wow! That’s a lot!” you’re probably thinking. Why, yes. Yes it is. I told my PR people that I would be open to guest posts and the demand was enormous. And it makes sense. Guest posts are free content and don’t require the same demands as a review or even an interview. I received great responses from my blog posts, and I’m really proud of the content I cranked out. But I tell you what, I’m so glad I began blogging three years ago. I don’t blog a lot (maybe once a month), but it was enough where I had an opportunity to settle into my blogger voice, which is different from my authorial voice. A good blog post demands certain criteria, and as you blog, you learn a lot about what sort of content, length, topics, and formats really work for people. So while writing all those guest posts was pretty intense, I walked into the task with confidence.
  2. Know your core audience. Do you know your audience? Like, really know them? I’m not talking about readers who might pick up your book, but the readers out there who want to pick up exactly what you’re throwing down. I honestly didn’t. Or maybe I just didn’t think about it too much. Like most authors, when I wrote my book, I just wrote something I would like to read, and it never really occurred to me until we started packaging it how seriously I needed to evaluate my core audience. Seeing as though I signed with Entangled and there’s loads of sex in my book, I figured…yeah, romance (Oh, Colleen Halverson…so much to learn…so much to understand…). It’s true that a lot of romance readers enjoyed my book, but after reading tons of reviews of my work, I understand now that my core audience, the audience who will enjoy my stories 99% of the time is a very particular kind of woman. Who is that woman? Well, not surprisingly, they’re a lot like me. They’re the woman who, every Sunday night, loves their Walking Dead with a Downton Abbey They’re all in love with Jamie Fraser, but like to deconstruct gender roles in Game of Thrones. As they say on Project Runway, “Who’s your girl?” That’s my girl. There may be ten of us in the universe, but that’s my tribe. Know your tribe. That knowledge will dictate all of your marketing choices.
  3. Follow Book Bloggers. Before I published Through the Veil, I followed one book blogging site: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (love them!). But now? I follow several. I read a fair amount, maybe two to five books a month depending on the length of the books and my deadlines. But these folks? They read dozens and dozens of books in like, a day. They blow us all out of the water. They know your genre backwards and forwards, and they know what they like. They also talk about books in ways that may seem very different to writers and to the greater publishing industry, and there’s so much complexity in that community as to what makes for a “good book.” I’ve learned a lot by reading urban fantasy/PNR reviews lately, and seeing how the community receives different kinds of books. Colleen Halverson is still going to do Colleen Halverson, but I feel like I have a much better understanding as to how my books will fit into this world, at least more than I had before. And that is some useful knowledge to have.
  4. Hire your own PR firm. I have the best PR support from my publisher with my own publicist on speed dial. We have met via teleconference several times and we email and correspond regularly. She’s also insanely hardworking and dedicated to marketing my book. With all that said, I still plan on hiring my own PR for my next book, maybe even a second one, and I’ll tell you why. For one, it’s like doubling down your reach. My book is a pebble in the vast ocean of the internet. Anything that can bring your book to more bloggers and reviewers can’t hurt. Also, I felt like my PR firm could focus on some particular action items that freed up my Entangled publicist to funnel her energy into other avenues. If your publicist isn’t doing your cover reveal, for instance, they can hustle more reviews and work on other projects that will help your book. My PR firm, my Entangled publicist, and I all collaborated to get this book off the ground, and our combined efforts were very successful.

    I know what you’re thinking. “But I don’t wanna market my book! Why is publishing making us do this?” Wah, wah, wah. Yep, I know. Here’s a cookie. Now go eat those feelings. In an ideal world, we would all have an army of publicists pimping our books, but unless you’re Stephen King, that shit ain’t happening. Also, hustling e-books in a one-click world brings itself new challenges that require a lot of people on deck. I’m in a private group with a bunch of debut authors, and all of our marketing experiences have been vastly different. They’re not contingent upon the size and scope of the publisher either. If anything, think of your own PR firm as insurance in case the marketing for your book is limited. It happens.

    I used Between the Sheet Promotions to market my book, and I found them to be very affordable, professional, and committed to marketing my book. But do your research! I hired them on a whim, and I really, really lucked out as not all Book PR firms are created equal. Also, make sure your PR firm will reach the kind of bloggers who are in your core audience. In the end, this was some of the best money I have ever spent. I have two kids, a full-time job, and two more books coming out this year. I don’t have time to contact bloggers, set up guest posts and reviews, and coordinate things like cover reveals or trailer reveals or rafflecopters. If you do? Awesome. I—don’t. And even if I did, I would much rather be spending that time writing!

So these are some of my big takeaways from the past few weeks. There are still some things I would love to chat about, but I may save them for another day. If you have questions or comments, please post below! If I can help, I certainly will. Solidarity, my writerly brothers and sisters! Marketing can be a ball, and it’s fun to see all those different facets of the publishing engine humming along. You wrote a book! Celebrate it!

AND SPEAKING OF MARKETING…

Do you like this content? Are you my tribe? Consider supporting my writing habits by purchasing a copy of my new fantasy romance Through the Veil.

Now available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Amazon UK, and Amazon Canada

Thanks for reading!

Cover Reveal, Feminism, Ireland, Motherhood, Publishing, Romance, Social Media, Through the Veil, Uncategorized, Writing

THROUGH THE VEIL is Now Available for Pre-Order!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, but it’s been a busy month for me. I finished the latest draft of Book 2 (the sequel to Through the Veil) and sent it off to beta readers, and I’ve been working hard on guest posts and articles for my book release on February 22nd. I’ve had a great time working on these as they’ve given me a chance to talk more about things I’m passionate about: Ireland, traveling, WB Yeats, Faeries…and so many different topics. I think it’s going to be a fun blog tour, so please keep an eye out for me as you’re surfing the interwebs. I’ve also been working hard to get a new project moving forward, and of course there’s the day job and the whole raising children business…

And then was this little detail of a cover reveal…

THROUGH_THE_VEIL_500x700 (2)

I know. It’s beautiful. I burst into tears (of joy!) when I saw it. The artist captured so many things about the book I can’t even begin to put into words (which is ironic because, you know, I’m a writer), but the mood, the spirit, everything, seriously everything about my story, is in this cover for me. I’m so grateful she is the face of my debut novel. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined a better cover.

Thank you to all the book bloggers who helped me share this cover to the world. I’m so in awe of this community. They do all this work for authors for FREE. They ask for nothing in return. Their unconditional love for books inspires me so much, and I’m so thankful they could be a part of this cover reveal. I thought I love books, but it’s nothing compared to their passion, and I’m in awe of all these wonderful people working so hard to promote writers and their stories. It’s amazing.

I’m also grateful to all of my friends and family who made this day so great. You shared, you chatted me up, you sent out links, you tagged people, you commented, you pre-ordered and posted about it. To quote David Bowie, “I never thought I’d need so many people…” I need you to make this book successful. I called, and you answered. Thank you.

So, yes, Through the Veil is now available for pre-order in both e-book and paperback. Please continue sharing and spreading the word. I believe in this book–for what is says about the strength of women and the redeeming power of love. I believe we need more super heroines in the world, however flawed they might be, and I believe we need to see them growing, changing, and falling in love. If you like those things, I hope you’ll consider adding Through the Veil to your bookshelf or your kindle.

Available for pre-order now at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Amazon UK, and Amazon Canada.

xoxoxoxo

Marketing, Motherhood, Social Media, Teaching, Uncategorized, Writing

You Don’t Even Look Like You

My hairdresser grabbed my phone and held it up to her nose. I was showing her my new website, and her eyes scanned over my author head shot.

“You don’t even look like you!” she exclaimed.

I laughed. “That’s the idea.”

With the release date of Through the Veil looming, I’ve been working hard to develop a good platform to sell my book. Part of that has been developing what the industry calls an “author brand.” What is an author brand? Think about a writer you love. The kind of writer who, when you hear they have a new book coming out, you race to Amazon and pre-order it right away. Maybe you’re walking down the street and see their name through the window of a bookstore , and you get this swirl of emotions, images, and feelings running through you. You smile. You have a secret. A secret you have shared with this author. Maybe it’s a secret love, a secret world, a secret adventure. You walk on, thinking about the last time you read their book, what you loved about it, what you love about this person–THIS WRITER–who is able to work magic through words. That feeling? That’s an author brand. It’s elusive, but every writer has one. Good or bad. And it’s not accidental.

Recently, I was on the road going to pick up my kids, and I happened upon this great interview on NPR with JK Rowling. I immediately paused on the station, sinking into the lilts of her lovely accent. I don’t know what she was talking about. Her mystery novels? I don’t know, but I was completely charmed by her wit, her warmth, and her intelligence. As in love I am with the great JK, I could also hear a professional at work, someone who knows and understands what her readers want from her and is willing to deliver–and then some. When you go to her personal website (not Pottermore, which deserves it’s own visual analysis, for sure!), you’re greeted with her signature. The design is clean. It’s smart, but there’s a bit of playfulness in the fonts and artwork. She smiles in her author photo, but she’s poised with a pen in her hand, ready to work. Everything about the way she presents herself exudes an unassuming confidence that readers just…love. I love it, anyway.

JK Rowling has had years to cultivate a public persona, but when you’re just starting out as a writer, it’s a strange mantle to cast over yourself. I was at a party the other night, and someone called me a writer. I swear I almost looked over my shoulder to see who they were talking about. But then I remembered, yes, that’s me. The writer. I have a book coming out. It’s a real thing now. Slowly, I have found ways to embrace that identity, and part of it has been about developing an author brand. In many ways, my author brand has liberated me from a lot of my own fears and doubts about releasing a book out into the world. When I worry about getting bad reviews, I think, “Well, it’s Colleen Halverson-author who will have to deal with bad reviews.” When I’m nervous about emailing my editor about a change I remind myself, “It’s Colleen Halverson-author who needs to address an issue.” And when I get squirmy about going out there and pimping my book, I think, “It’s the writer, it’s this confident professional who is going to talk up her book and get readers excited about it. I just have to sit back and eat cookies and watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.(They’re alive dammit!).”

I know for many of us who grew up in the era of Kurt Cobain and the hipster cult of authenticity might cringe at such self-proclaimed phoniness. The Colleen of her twenties would have shook her head and told her to fuck that shit. Be who you are! But being a professional educator has changed me. When I walk into the classroom, I have to leave my personal problems behind and facilitate powerful learning experiences. I have to check my ego at the door, not take things personally, and have faith in the power of my pedagogy because when I’m at the top of my game, I’m a fucking literary wizard. There have been times when the facade has dropped and I let out an “f” bomb or two (I’m still me, after all), but the professional identity I put on in the classroom has given me the freedom to tackle enormous challenges and overcome incredible obstacles. As Big Daddy Kane said, “Pimping ain’t easy,” (and believe me, pimping Jane Eyre to a bunch of nineteen year olds was never easy), but part of what makes it possible is having complete and utter confidence in your own abilities–even when you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. Especially when you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.

As I told my hairdresser, my photographer managed some damn good lighting for that head shot. Indeed, you probably wouldn’t recognize me if you saw me now in my yoga pants, no makeup on, two-day-old spaghetti sauce stain on my fleece hoodie, but you probably wouldn’t recognize me in front of a classroom either, or having a stern discussion with my five year old, or at the club doing shots with my girlfriends. Our identities are fluid that way, and sometimes being able to build one from scratch allows us to take risks we might not in “real life.”