Miranda Beverly-Whittemore was an experienced author, yet still striving to identify herself as a successful author. Her first two novels—acquired together in a six-figure deal in the mid-2000s—had suffered disappointing sales, and two subsequent manuscripts were met with zero interest from publishers.
So when an editor at Crown Publishing fell in love with her next book, Bittersweet, Miranda experienced a pause. The folks at Crown were excited about Bittersweet’s potential, but Miranda knew this could be her last chance to prove her work had sales potential.
A full year before Bittersweet would be released, Miranda and I hatched a plan to change the direction of her writing career.
When Bittersweet was released, it spent three weeks on the New York Times hardcover best-seller list. Sales continued and a year later, Bittersweet was released in paperback. Overall the book has sold dramatically more than all of her previous work combined, and Crown instantly offered her a deal for her next novel.
What’s more, we were able to deepen Miranda’s connections with her audience, who has supported her this past year as she wrote her next novel, June, which will be published in 2016. Now that she’s established her community, she can pull back and focus on the part of her job she truly loves: writing.
While Miranda was ready to assume the responsibility for promoting Bittersweet, she first had to transform her view of self-promotion. She learned that self-promotion does not require flinging herself into the promotional chasm, and that online marketing is only sustainable (and enjoyable) if you’re exposing your deepest, truest self. Together, we embraced the idea of iteration—revising, reworking, and learning from our missteps. Because we could always change what we had made, we were emboldened to explore a variety of new initiatives.
Fueled by that confidence, we brainstormed a long list of possible projects that help Miranda find and connect with her audience. Our spreadsheet had more than 100 ideas.
From our initial list of project ideas, we chose five to pursue. They were:
- Blog the book launch. We created a blog that offered fans a behind-the-scenes look at our work together.
- Redesign Miranda’s author website. The updated design is more flexible and easier for Miranda to manage and update.
- Craft a social media presence. Like many authors, Miranda had not spent a great deal of time experimenting with social media, but we crafted a strategy that was comfortable and effective for her.
- Develop an email newsletter. We revamped an outdated newsletter and started anew, with a focus on developing genuine connections with potential readers.
- Create a compelling giveaway. A strategy designed to support fellow authors, reward readers, and create community. This really got a lot of attention, and more than 20 authors collaborated with us on it, including Roxane Gay, Megan Abbott, and Emma Straub. Full details on what we did with the giveway can be found here.
Yes, Bittersweet was on the New York Times hardcover best-seller list for three weeks, although there’s no way to know how our efforts influenced that accomplishment. But we do know we built a solid network–Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and newsletter subscribers — eager to spread the news at Bittersweet’s release.
Something that we do know came from this was an incredible network of colleagues throughout publishing. When we began, Miranda felt as though she was on the outskirts of the publishing world, looking in. Because of her social media presence and newsletter, she has established an incredible array of real relationships with other authors and those throughout the publishing world, including with readers.
It’s hard to express how meaningful this is to her: on a day to day basis, have interactions with other successful authors she admires, to be invited to events, to be asked to blurb books, to speak, to host others. So often, we like to express success as numbers alone — bestseller lists, sales rankings, and more — but the day in and day out validation of having colleagues and being seen is hard to underscore the importance of.
Miranda continues to publish a weekly newsletter that nurtures her relationship with her community. She regularly receives warm responses from subscribers, reinforcing the choice she made to remain a constant in their lives. The newsletter is now a reflexive part of her weekly ritual, and her subscribers have become a community.
(this case study was adapted from an article that Miranda and I wrote for Poets & Writers called “Launch a Best-Seller Without Selling Your Soul.”)