Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Networking Miracle

Get out there. Keep meeting new people. Take an interest by asking what they do. Offer your assistance or help. It's called networking, and there's something very mysterious about it.

So last night I almost skipped a networking event - a local alumni gathering for the university my wife attended. But I went because I always seem to meet someone I need to meet at these type meetings. Also, they offer free food.

So the first few people I met were interesting, nice, and I felt like I was able to encourage or offer some direction in their pursuits. We exchanged business cards. It's always fun to be useful to someone.

The fourth and last person I met was a financial planner, so we naturally hit it off - my latest book is on personal finances. He mentioned that he was raising two boys, trying to help them toward independence, so I mentioned that getting my own 7 boys independent inspired my recent research and writing. Finally, I offered him a free copy, thinking he might find it useful. And, who knows, he might could recommend it to clients or when he teaches seminars or something.

So he says, "Hey, my wife works with a textbook distributor to schools. I'll let her see it."

I thought, "A textbook distributor to schools? A TEXTBOOK DISTRIBUTOR TO SCHOOLS!!!"

It just happens that my top marketing goal for this year is to figure out how to get my book into schools. I don't have a distributor to schools. I need one.

This is so bizarre that it almost defies imagination. On the way home, after giving him a copy (always, always, keep copies of your books in your car), I looked at all the lights of stores in Kennesaw and thought, "Out of the 30,000 people in Kennesaw, Georgia tonight, what are the odds that one of them works for a book distributor to schools? And what are the odds that I would meet that person's husband at a random event that had nothing to do with book marketing, and that the meeting would occur in the very month I was prioritizing marketing to schools?"

Coincidence? Because of my faith, I have to believe that this was a God thing. As someone once said, "a coincidence is when God works a miracle and decides to remain anonymous."

On the other hand, there tends to be a human part in miracles - someone prays, someone is out helping the needy, then God shows up. Networking gurus would say that miracles tend to happen more around people who are out there doing something, rather than to people who are sitting on the couch eating nachos and watching TV.

Whatever you make of this, I think it pays to get out there and meet people. I help them; they help me. That's when miracles happen.

J. Steve Miller
President, Legacy Educational Resources
Author of Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It
"The money book for people who hate money books."

A Writer's Weaknesses: Try Teamwork

Here's a note I wrote on a forum to someone who said he's a great idea person, but his grammar sucks. I assume that he's tried to work on his grammar, but it's just one of those things that he can't "get."

Dear _____,

If you're aspiring to be an editor, you'll have to be an expert on Grammar. But if you're wanting to write books and articles, that's what a writing team is all about. Whenever I write an article or a chapter, I read it over and over it, trying to perfect it. Then I give it to my wife, who's a fast reader and can give me big-picture ideas. Then I make corrections and give it to my mom, who's a stickler for grammar - she's the comma queen, agonizing over whether this or that comma is really necessary. If you're in a writer's group, that's where they come in handy.

For a book, I'll give the manuscript to many other people, besides my wife and mom, to critique. They keep finding errors - some of fact, some of grammar, some of consistency or logical development. These are not typically professional writers - just people who like to read. (They're typically glad to look it over, honored that I respect their opinion. I give them a free book after it's published, then ask if they'll give me a review on Amazon. Since they've already read the manuscript, I get reviews right after it comes out.)

By the time I give a book to a professional editor, she's having to look hard to find mistakes.

Sure, there are some writers who can do it all, then turn it in to an editor for final polishing. Steven King used to teach English on a college level, so he can do it that way. But many, many others think of it as a team approach. James Patterson, the most prolific, best-selling author of our time, will "write" 9 books this year. He's the idea person; then he gives it to a team member to flesh it out. George Lucas can't spell worth anything - but he's a great idea person and can tell a great story. Lloyd Braun hatched the idea of the TV series "Lost." He hired Abrams and Lindelof to do the writing. And they involve others in their writing sessions as well.

Do you involve others in your writing? In what way? How does it work for you?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Author Shares What Publicity Worked for Her and What Didn't

This article by a POD author tells frankly what worked and what didn't for her. Shows that just putting money into things that give you exposure don't necessarily sell books.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Book Marketing: The Snowball Effect

When I first published Enjoy Your Money!, I narrowed down a distributor who targeted selling to libraries and applied for their services. They turned me down flat. Now, eight months later, two library distributors are requesting my book and one, a distinguished distributor, (Follett) has signed me on as a vendor.

What brought them to me? Follett said that they had received some orders, which, I assume, came from libraries. But how did the libraries hear of my book?

My best guess is that it's either from VOYA Magazine - a review magazine that targets youth libraries (which I pursued), or The Librarian's News Wire - to which I sent a free press release.

Besides orders from distributors, my Amazon sales have doubled in December and January. Yesterday, for no discernible reason, I sold 17 books on Amazon, although I average only 2 per day. Where are all the Amazon orders coming from? There's no way for me to know.

Apparently, some of those links from reviews or word of mouth from readers or links from my contributions to discussion groups - something - has made publicity take on a life of its own.

I suppose it's what publicity folks call "buzz." Being the skeptical type, I'd always been suspicious of those claiming that you could create buzz by doing certain things. Sure, it happens to some, but what percentage of authors can create it, even when they do all the right things? But I guess it can happen!

My lesson?

"Nobody wants you till somebody wants you;
then everybody wants you."

So the trick is to get somebody to want you and build upon that. Put your manuscript out far and wide to get blurbs and reviews. Use those reviews and blurbs to solicit more reviews and blurbs. Eventually, movers and shakers begin to notice. If you have 100 or 1000 links out there pointing back to your book, somebody who's searching for a book like yours is likely to find you. And occasionally, one of those buyers will be a person of influence who spreads the word far and wide.

Hey, this is pretty exciting!

Time Saver for Typing the Same Text Over and Over

I found a free clippings manager (multi clipboard) that's a free "ad on" with Firefox. Once I copy my five line signature (see at end of this post) into the program, I can hit ctl/alt/v and then click "n" (for "name") and the below signature magically appears! This should save me a lot of time!

Without a multi-clipboard, we copy text to put into another document or program, but once we copy a second text, the first text disappears. With a multi-clipboard, you can store any text that you find yourself regularly typing, so that you can paste it without having to copy it all over again.

It's called Clippings 3.1 and can be downloaded here if you're running Firefox as your browser:


J. Steve Miller
President, Legacy Educational Resources
Author of Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It
"The money book for people who hate money books."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pursue Niche Reviewers

Keep pursuing reviews beyond the big-time reviewers!

About 8 months after my book came out, I sent my book to VOYA Magazine, a niche publication that librarians consult for their young adult collections. They did a nice review, and within a month, I received a request from the Follett Corporation (http://www.follett.com/about.cfm), saying they'd received requests for the book and wanted to distribute it to school libraries. I looked up Follett in my book marketing books to find that they were indeed a respected (founded in 1873!), large distributor who actively market their books to libraries. They're starting to order my books and so far appear very professional. I give them a 55% discount off retail, but they provide free shipping through their Fed Ex account.

I've wanted to get my book into libraries, but I'm sure it would have been a long, arduous task for me to pull off personally. Since libraries are used to working with Follett and respect them, this should be a wonderful opportunity!

So, if you think your book might be valuable for school libraries or the youth collections of other libraries, consider sending a copy to VOYA magazine. Here's some of their information:

VOYA Magazine, Voice of Youth Advocates, "The Library Magazine Serving Those Who Serve Young Adults" "VOYA is the only magazine that matters for librarians working with young adults. . . . Simply the best there is."—Patrick Jones, public librarian and author of Connecting Young Adults and Libraries, 2nd Ed. (Neal-Schuman, 1998). Founded in 1978. http://www.voya.com/aboutus/index.shtml#history

J. Steve Miller
Author of Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It
"The money book for people who hate money books"

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Book Marketing: Think and Think Different

IBM's motto is "Think." Apple Computer's motto is "Think Different." Authors would do well to adopt both mottoes in their marketing strategies.

So far over the past year, I've read about 15 books on book marketing. I've found the lack of redundancy striking. Each book shares fresh ideas, new experiences and recommends new tools and resources just begging to be explored. As a result, I have a much better handle on how to sell my books - what's most likely to work and what will most likely be a waste of time.

But beyond learning from the pros, I find the need to do my own thinking. After all, no book is exactly like my book. Isn't it likely that the marketing of my book should be just as unique?

Yesterday a chance encounter showed me the need to keep thinking and learning. I walked into the gym to see Henry walking toward me. Now Henry's hard to not notice - he's built like a tank, with arms the size of my legs. He tells me excitedly that he's been selling my personal finance books (Enjoy Your Money!) at his video game store.

(Why did I put it on consignment in a video game store? Well, the owner of our local SOHO HERO, a home office printing and mailing shop, told me that a local author sells children's books at her store because parents come in with their kids, who start reading the books while their parents make their copies, and then they want their parents to buy the book. I thought, "Since parents are more likely to buy my book, I need to find a store where the kids are doing stuff and the parents have the time on their hands to pick up a book and check it out. Thus, a video game store.)

I responded, "Wow! I was ready to collect all my books from local stores. I'd concluded that, although Amazon sales were great, that people simply wouldn't buy my book from stores." Henry said, "Here's how it works. People are waiting in line and pick up the book. I tell them that I respect the author and like what I see in the way he's training his kids. Then they want to buy it. Here's the secret to your store sales: the person at the cash register has to believe in the book and be willing to sell it."

So my conclusion about sales in local stores was apparently all wrong. They could sell. But I'd missed one little component that was sabotaging my sales: make sure that I sell the owner on the book and give them enough information to be able to encourage people to buy it. If someone asks the store owner about the book and the response is, "I don't really know anything about it. It's just a book by some local author" then why would anyone buy it?

It's just one little trick. But perhaps there are 50 subtle tricks to getting my books sold in local, non-bookstore outlets. Odds are, reading all the marketing books in the world wouldn't tell me all the tricks that would work for my book. That's why we need to keep trying new things, keep listening, keep thinking, and keep thinking different.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

When Marketing Meets Magic

I'm sure some low-profile authors, by some inexplicable stroke of fortune, publish their books, get a phone call from Oprah within the first month, become instant media darlings, and watch their books quickly climb to best-seller status. It's like magic, but a magic that graces far less than one in a million authors.

The more typical magic comes as a complete surprise in the midst of an author doing the daily, mundane tasks to get her book noticed. Sadly, the great majority of authors will never experience the tap of the fairy's wand, not because their books suck, but because they failed to create the context frequented by fairies. Fairies quickly lose interest in authors who hope that their mother and brother will start an unstoppable word-of-mouth campaign. Soon, they flutter off to visit a more worthy author - the one passionately speaking at an obscure school to a bunch of half-interested students, wondering how in the world her life came to this. But then, quite unexpectedly, the fairy arrives with her wand. A teacher recommends the presentation on a popular teachers' forum, and you arrive home to find school after school begging you to speak at their schools and sell your books.

In broad strokes, that's how young author Christopher Paolini was touched by the magic. He tried doing the book signing thing in bookstores, but soon discovered that it didn't work very well for unknown, first-time authors. So he tried doing school presentations. He called school librarians in Houston and several of them allowed him to speak. Then the first fairy appeared, in the form of a librarian who posted an enthusiastic recommendation on a teachers' forum. That one recommendation allowed him to book a solid month of school talks in Houston.

He ended up doing over 135 presentations. In the summer of 2002, the second fairy appeared, in the form of novelist Carl Hiaasen, who was vacationing in a city where Paolini was speaking. Hiaasen's stepson showed the book to his stepdad, who recommended it to his publishing house. They signed Paolini and his book placed on the New York Times Best Seller list for 121 weeks.

You might wonder, "How lucky was it that one of those librarians frequented such a forum?" Or, "What are the odds that a novelist with connections just happened to find Paolini's book?"

Well, I'd argue that, although the odds of either of those specific events happening may be quite remote, the odds of something happening, given his 135 presentations, was almost certain.

At first, I didn't understand the magic. I thought that if one of my marketing efforts didn't produce immediate sales, it was just one more failure. But just getting out there and trying stirs things up. Fairies notice. Eventually, wands come out tapping and truly extraordinary stuff happens.

During my first few months of book marketing, I felt much like the pastor who went to watch the train go by every day. When someone inquired about his unusual habit, he said, "I just love to see something that moves without my having to push it." For the first few months, my book sold only when I was out there doing something. If I let up for a day, nothing happened. And 90% of what I tried seemed to have no impact at all.

But somehow, all that cumulative publicity made things start to happen. Some may call it word of mouth. Others may call it reaching a tipping point. Some may say I was touched by an angel. Whatever you call it, it certainly appears to be magic.
  • A book reviewer to school libraries wrote a positive review.
  • A respected distributor to school libraries started getting orders and requested a contract.
  • Twice as many sold on Amazon last month, without any promotion on my part.
  • Today, someone at the gym told me how he was successfully selling my book at his video store. Someone else found my website and said he's moving a branch of his organization to Atlanta and was interested in partnering. Yet another e-mailed to say he'd love to read my book, review it in his blog, and write an article for a popular youth-leaders publication.
Some may say I'm having lucky breaks, but I think luck tends to fall upon those who've been doing the daily, mundane stuff for nine months straight. Today, I felt the brush of the fairy's wand. It's pretty cool!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Cheap, Quality Mailers

Leaders of early Wal-Mart said that they made money by saving money. Publishers would do well to follow suit. I find myself mailing hundreds of books to media and potential reviewers, so that buying bubble mailers from office supply stores or even Wal-Mart for $1 or more adds up.

I've been saving 71 cents per bubble mailer, including shipping, by ordering from http://valuemailers.com , when ordering 100 mailers. That's a savings of $71 on 100 mailers!

Always, always shop around and find the best rates on printing, mailing, and the other basics of the trade.