Podcasts sell books

I have been helping writers develop their strategies to become guests on podcasts, which has proven to be a very effective way to sell books and grow their platforms. Today I want to talk about why this works, and how you can use the process yourself. Let’s dig in…

Why Podcasts?

Being a guest on some else’s podcast is a great way to make people aware of what you write, why you write it, and forge an authentic connection with your voice. These will often be interviews, where the host spends 20-60 minutes asking you questions and exploring topics together.

Podcasts have all of the ingredients that are necessary for what I call Human-Centered Marketing:

  • Effectively communicating to those you hope to reach. This is not just a quick sales pitch, but a meaningful conversation with another person that listeners get to be a part of.
  • Interviews, especially long-form interviews that podcasts specialize in, can cover a range of emotions, themes, and contexts. It gives you a greater chance to share, but also tap into something that will engage a reader. They are also good at building a sense of trust with your audience.
  • Regardless of the size of the podcast audience, one of the best parts of the podcast experience is the connection you make with the host. This is someone who would likely have spent some time researching your writing or your story, and is coming to the conversation with inspiration and curiosity.

This can happen at any point in your writing career. The most obvious time writers consider this is during a book launch, but you can be a podcast outside of that timeframe, even years before (or after) the launch of a book. Why do this? Because it is not only essential work to understand and connect with your ideal audience, but it allows you to develop your voice and the professional relationships you will need along the way.

If you are wondering, “Isn’t selling my book the entire point?! Why else do this?” I would just say that selling books isn’t like selling inner tubes to someone with a flat tire, a transaction that happens quickly and neatly. Marketing is about growing awareness of your writing, of who you are, and having people connecting with these themes in deeper ways. It is about communication and trust.

If you held a book launch party, would you walk in and yell, “Everyone, buy my book. Okay, goodbye.” and leave? No, you would engage in conversations, share stories, read from the book, do a signing, answer questions, serve food and beverages. You would engage in a range of human emotions. Yes, you want to sell books. But you also want it to be an enjoyable experience where people can find their connection to your writing. That takes time. Being a guest on podcasts is similar.

How to be a Good Podcast Guest

You may be thinking already, “Dan, I’m not an expert on anything, I have almost no platform, and I don’t have a book to promote, I can’t be a podcast guest.” But I disagree. If I consider some of the most engaging podcast episodes I have heard, they aren’t because that person had credentials or was famous. Instead, they are people who have an engaging message, share meaningful stories, or who help or provide inspiration.

I’ve hosted a podcast for years, interviewing dozens and dozens of guests. Some of the most memorable conversations I’ve had were not from the “famous” people I’ve interviewed. In fact, there are conversations that have stuck with me from interviews with people who had the absolute smallest platform. As I consider the guests I want to have in the future, I am focused so much more on who the person is, not what they have accomplished on their resume.

If you are still wondering what on earth you would talk about, consider this:

  1. Get clear on the themes you write about. Identify what do people who write in this same topic or genre love talking about? What readers mention in book reviews? What sessions would they attend at a conference on this theme? What do they talk to authors about at book signings?
  2. Identify stories you have on these themes, and how they may align to who you think your ideal audience is.
  3. Brainstorm everything you could talk about, even if it is way outside of what you write about. For instance, I’ve been a guest on parenting podcasts, and entrepreneurship podcasts, neither of which is a topic I otherwise write about.

When I do this work with writers, we make prioritized lists of ideas, and identify how this expands their possible reach to more podcasts, and of course, potential listeners/readers. It is not uncommon early in the marketing strategy process for a writer to tell me that there are just a handful of places who would possibly talk about their book or interview them. In our work together, we open this up to find dozens and dozens more places where they can possibly reach their ideal readers.

This is why I encourage you to start early in this process. That aligns to my advice in general on when to build your author platform: start now, before you need it. Do it when you aren’t desperate to pitch a book, when every connection you make isn’t overshadowed by the fact that you need for this person to promote something you are selling.

Platform takes time. Build your competence and find your public voice before you need it as part of a launch.

How to Conduct Podcast Research

Once we brainstorm all of the themes and topics a writer can talk about, we begin researching podcasts that may be a good fit. I create and manage a spreadsheet so that we can prioritize and track this process, as well as the pitches themselves.

If you have no idea where to start, then you can go to a search engine, type in the name of a topic, add the word “podcast” and then see what comes up. You can also go to a podcast player and do searches there, such as Apple Podcasts, overcast.fm, listennotes.com, player.fm, castro.fm, podchaser.com, stitcher.com, or many others.

If you already know of at least one podcast or podcaster on a certain topic, you can start there. Look up that podcast in a podcast player, and then see if they recommend similar podcasts, categories this podcast is categorized within, or related podcasts that subscribers also enjoyed.

When you do find potential podcasts that you think may be a fit, read the podcast titles and descriptions to see how they promote each episode. Likewise, listen to an episode or more to get a sense of the focus and style. If you worry you don’t have time for listening, consider using headphones while doing some other task, such as walking or folding laundry (this is when I listen to podcasts!)

Note whether you enjoy the podcast and if the host is someone you would enjoy chatting with. Don’t think of this as a transaction, where you are only drawn to shows that feel popular to you. Focus on the conversation, the kinds of stories, and not only what they would ask you, but what you would ask them. Focus on the experience you want to create for the two of you, and the listeners.

How to Write a Podcast Pitch Email

If you find a podcast that you feel you would be a good fit for, go to their website and see if they have instructions on how to request to be a guest. Often, you can email the host.

Keep the email short and to the point. Make sure that your “ask” is clear — that you would like to be a guest on their podcast, and why you think this would be a good fit. If you are concerned that you somehow don’t have some kind of credential they may be looking for, instead focus on the stories you can share and why they would enjoy a conversation with you. Only ask one thing in the email, don’t make it a menu such as “I could be a guest on your podcast, or we could do a giveaway on social media, or I could write a blog for you, or…”

And of course, share a bit about who you are, and any applicable links.

If you want my help in pursuing this or any other strategy to reach your readers, you can read more about how I work with writers here.

Thanks!

-Dan

Improving your author website

I have been helping quite a few authors with their websites recently, and have been making updates to my own. Today I would like to share some lessons and advice that I’ve been thinking about in this process. If you are a writer or creator who wants to establish or improve your website, this may be helpful.

Let’s dig in…

Focus Your Reader

Don’t make your website a mile wide and an inch deep. Too many websites offer a too many links, a crowded website navigation, and unclear direction. Yet when you do arrive on a specific page, they are all really short.

Do the opposite.

Have a clear sense of who your ideal readers is, consider why the are there, and how you can lead them. Whenever possible, have the fewest links you can in your navigation bar. Every time you ask your reader to choose, you are giving them a problem.

For instance, if your “Books” link in the navigation goes to a dropdown listing 4 book titles; well, now the reader has to try to figure out which book to choose. Is the first one in the list the most recent? Are they all in the same genre? Then, they have to click back and forth to go into one page, then back out of it and into the next.

Instead, give them one link — Books — and a page that lead them into what you write and information on each book.

Why do writers create too many links in their website? Their intentions are good. Often, they are hoping to appeal to the widest possible audience, and worry that someone will come looking for something that is hidden. So they crowd the website navigation and give all of the options.

For years, I have been trying to reduce the number of links on my own website at wegrowmedia.com. I recently removed a huge section of my website in order to get the navigation down to four links:

  • About
  • Work with Me
  • Blog & Podcast
  • Contact

To get to this point has required me to make tough choices about who my reader is likely to be, and how I can best help them.I could easily feel justified in expanding the navigation:

  • About
  • Work with Me
  • Book
  • Programs
  • Blog
  • Podcast
  • Newsletter
  • Testimonials
  • Resources
  • Start here
  • Contact

Every single one of those options would be filled with meaningful things I have created over the years. But I’m guessing that when people arrive on my site, they don’t want a table of contents of my entire life. It is my job in building the website to lead them to the best resources I have, and to make it easier for them to see who I am and what I do.

For your website, consider what are the three things you would most like a new reader to know about you. Can you focus only on that?

Go Deep With What You Share

For what you do choose to share, go deep. Don’t just share the bare minimum about what you write or why. If someone has come to your website, they want to know more.

Make your About page long. Yes, you can have a short third person bio at the top, because that is what some people want. But then, say “If you would like to know more, keep reading…” and share a deeper look at your writing, your inspiration, your background — all written in first person.

For your Book page, don’t just share a short description if you also have a wonderful backstory about the book too. If you want an example of an amazing Book page, check out Jasmin Darznik’s website and the page for her new book, The Bohemians. She and I worked together recently, and it was amazing to see how she kept making this page better and better.

Your website is how you present your writing to the world. Don’t hide it. This is the place to go deep and open people up to your creative vision.

Review Every Word, Every Link, Once a Year

Several months ago I shared how I have been going through a creative reset. I do this the last quarter of every year, but sometimes the work that comes out of it takes months to complete. I am still working through a long list of changes that are the result of that work. One of those is to update my website.

I’ve had a website for 15 years, and my company site is now 10 years old. Yet, I’m always having to update it, going through it again with a fine-tooth comb. I’m surprised at how I missed some obvious updates that need to happen. If you have a website, regularly go through it and reread every word, check every link, go to every page. Consider what is outdated, what need to be updated, and what is missing entirely.

For my own site, I realized that my homepage was promoting a program I no longer offer. That my newsletter sign up box barely mentioned the newsletter itself. That there were dated photos that I could easily update.

I’m also looking at the site with fresh eyes. At the top of the homepage, I mention Human-Centered Marketing, yet I never fully explain it. So now I’m building out a new section to give people a proper introduction to it. I’ve also been creating new sections for core aspects of my work that were previously hidden, such as my Clarity Cards process, the Creative Success Pyramid, and more.

On an author website, you may be surprised how often links to buy an author’s books books are missing, or the homepage has language such as “Pre-order my new book now — coming in September 2017!” But there are likely smaller updates you can make about what you write, why, and how the reader can engage with you.

This is a work in progress, which is why I recommend you review your website once a year.

And I need to follow my own advice! The page on my website for my book has to be updated. It is way too ‘thin’ given how much has happened with the book in the past three years. So I’m adding that to the list of things to update.

Show Up as a Person

On so many websites, I can’t see the person behind html. They don’t really share much on what they write, why, or what drives them as a creator. Consider the lessons social media has taught us. Instead of worrying about your website being “professional,” which sometimes translates to something cold and distant, instead focus on making a meaningful connection with the reader. You can do this by showing up as who you are.

Write in first person, address the reader directly. If you are comfortable with it, share photos of yourself on your About page. On your contact page, provide an actual email address, don’t use a contact form.

Here are three other recent posts I’ve shared that may be useful:

Thanks!

-Dan

Redefining creative failure

I want to talk about the role of failure in our process to write and share our work. I will frame this in the stories of two people who create with joy, and took the initiative to reframe what failure meant in order to live a life filled with creativity and a wide network of people who appreciate what they create.

It makes sense that we work hard to avoid failure. Often, we seek “best practices” to ensure our efforts don’t fall short of expectations. But our fear of failure is more than that, isn’t it? It’s that often we feel a sense of embarrassment or shame when something doesn’t work out as we hoped. Why address this? Because I worry that fear of failure stops people from writing and creating. It stops them from sharing. It prevents new writing and art from coming out in the world, and how that art can truly change someone else’s life for the better.

Creating and failing is a core part of the work we do as writers. It is how we discover our creative vision, learn to share, and find ways to connect our art to those who will love it.

I recently talked to two successful creators, Melissa Bernstein and Skeme Richards, whose stories are incredibly inspiring to me.

Let’s dig in…

All around my living room are toys that my 3 year old plays with that have two names on them: Melissa & Doug. That is the name brand of many of the wooden toys he loves. Well, recently I had a chance to chat with Melissa, who to my surprise, is a real person.

 

Melissa BernsteinIt’s easy to look at the life of Melissa Bernstein and just see the incredible accomplishments. As the co-founder of Melissa & Doug, she has designed nearly 10,000 products, and built a $500 million dollar company.

But that isn’t what Melissa wanted to talk to me about. She just released a new book where she shares her own lifelong journey through anxiety, depression, and despair. As we discussed her life and career, I asked about failure. Her reply:

“Failure is my favorite thing to talk about. Perfectionism nearly killed me, because I thought that anything short of 100% meant that I was worthless. I came close to believing that I wasn’t worth being here.”

Then she reframed how she thinks about her career:

“[I am] someone who has to fail for a living. A consultant we hired once calculated my ‘failure/success rate’ because they believed that if they lowered my failure rate, Melissa & Doug would be even more successful. They calculated that in three years, I was successful 40% of the time. Which means I failed 60% of the time. Which I absolutely loved. That became such a source of pride for me, because I realized that I failed more than I succeeded, and yet we are a $500 million dollar toy company now.”

To hear Melissa talk about failing 60% of the time, and that leading to success is astounding. She continues…

“Behind my desk at work, I have a wall of failure. I call it my ‘greener pasture wall.’ It’s about 500 to 1,000 of my favorite failures. The ones I truly thought were going to be the biggest thing ever. What you realize that the line between success and failure is so fine. It’s like a spider web. Failure is actually a fluid process from failure to success that every failure — if you can have the courage to look at it for what it is — you can see that is a tiny little thing that you could have tweaked. And I did. So many of my failures, I brought back, sometimes a decade later, and became a huge success. Or sometimes I tweaked a tiny little thing, like the packaging, and they became huge successes. Sometimes I tweaked the wording, how we communicate what it is and what it does, and became huge successes. Other times, I changed the price point. I began to see it not as buckets of success and failure, but as a rich process that went from spark all the way, following it, to failure, to plowing through the failure, to get it to be a success.”

Within what she shares here is so much of the creative process. As a writer, you may recognize aspects of the editing process that resonate with you, how you have reworked a chapter again and again, before finally hitting upon the missing ingredient.

But this also applies to one’s author platform and how we share what we create. All day I work with writers on this, and “success” is not just following a script or a “best practice.” It is the act of creativity, of honing, of trying again and again to find what works, and connects with your ideal audience.

The book Melissa just released, LifeLines, digs deep into this topic. She talks honestly about that space that I think so many writers and creators get lost: that line between what we create and our identity. She described her own journey this way:

“I do have every material bit of success you can imagine. In conventional definition, I’ve achieved it all. We have a $500 million dollar company, I have six children, I have every material need you could ever want, it is all perfect. But what I realized so clearly is that if you haven’t accepted yourself in totality and truly been able to revel in who you are authentically, you will never find a sense of fulfillment and peace.”

That word, “authenticity” comes up a lot when people talk about social media and marketing. What is amazing about seeing her book is that it is, well, kind of unusual. At 637 pages, it weighs more than 3 pounds, much more than longer books. Why? Because the page stock is ridiculously thick. It has an embossed cover, sewn binding, and throughout the book is not just the prose, but loads of verse and more than 100 high quality photos of nature. She laughed when I asked about this, understanding why I was asking:

“I could have created a commercially successful book. We sell 65 million toys a year. I know with my eyes closed how to create a product that will sell a lot of units. I could have easily made this that quintessential self-help book, tell the cute stories about my kids and forming Melissa & Doug, and make it that rags to riches story, that maybe would have been a best seller. But I know so deeply in my soul that was the antithesis of what I wanted to do. That is what I had done for 32 years at Melissa & Doug, to appeal to a lot of people through those toys. And this wasn’t about that at all.”

But then she said something so inspiring, and so emblematic of why I work with writers and love books:

“This book was about, for the first time, sharing who I was. And with the courage to do that with vulnerability, that it would encourage others to do the same thing. I wasn’t speaking to the masses, I believe myself to be speaking to the creative misfits in the world. Those who feel so stigmatized for being that way, and that the world will not want what we create. “To finally be able to give brith to verses and journal writing that came directly from the pain I felt my whole life, was accepting that part of myself for the very first time.”

I mean, there it is. That is why we create. That is the power of writing of art, and the value of a book. She said of the book: “I’ve created close to 10,000 products for Melissa and Doug, but creating this book was the most incredible experience of my life.”

You may think that with her success, with being the head of a company, that meant she had a lifetime of feeling free to be herself. But she described it quite the opposite, and it underscores why this book is so powerful to her:

“I was never trying to be authentic and honest. I knew that doing so would be so stigmatizing, because my true self is really overly sensitive. I had never accepted that in myself. It made me odd, it made me weird, it made people give me this look that is a combination of terror and disgust. A look that made me say, ‘Oh my, I’m showing them too much.’ It made me, from a very early age, hide all that stuff from the world, and adopt a facade of ‘I’m fine today, I’m perfect today.’ I felt I could never share [my authentic] qualities. Something in me wanted to fit in.”

Along with the book, she has created a LifeLines community. Her goal is to show people that you are not alone, that you can create a sense of purpose and hope in your life, and that accepting who we are is a critical part of our journeys.

You can listen to my entire interview with Melissa Bernstein here. At the end of the interview, she shares her email address, promising to give a direct reply to anyone who emails her.

 

Skeme RichardsI want to share the story of one more person who I met recently, DJ Skeme Richards.

When Skeme was 10 years old, he got his first set of turntables. He says, “I would buy records with my lunch money,” skipping lunch to instead save up buy the music he loved. His first DJ gig was when he was in 6th grade, providing the music for the big party at the end of the year, carrying his equipment three blocks to the school. I asked how he got this opportunity, and he said simply, “I just asked.” That is so powerful to me, he didn’t wait to be chosen by others, He saw a chance to play music in front of a large audience, and he created the opportunity that would define his life.

As he went through school, he told me how he found mentors and honed his skills as a DJ turned into a finely honed skill as be became a teenager. But then he said something that really surprised me. I asked about what career he thought he wanted to pursue when he was in high school, and his answer was immediate: “Not DJing.”

Instead he got a job at a teleconference company, saying, “Suit and tie every day, making amazing money, 18 years old.” For more than two decades, these were his days, moving from that company to Bell Atlantic as a directory assistance supervisor, to the SmithKline Beecham clinical laboratory, and finally to BMW.

Why am I telling you — the writer and artist — about these jobs? Because I was inspired by Skeme’s wisdom in this choice. Too often, I think our creative dreams die because we equate “success” with it as being a full-time career filled with monetary reward that derives directly from our art. But sometimes that can kill one’s creative muse.

So much of managing our own narratives of failure can come into play when we get clarity on our creative goals and expectations. Skeme knew this instinctively. Instead of trying to build a full-time professional career as DJ, he said, “I never wanted this to be my 9-5. Music is the hobby I do every day of the week. Music kept me going.”

Yes, on nights and weekends, he was shopping demos and finding ways into the industry. But each day, he went to work at his job and developed a solid base from which to pursue his creative passion.

Something I noticed in what Skeme shares on social media is this: Skeme lives with total joy and celebration of his creative work and what inspires him. He also seems to regularly connect with others who appreciate the work he creates.

Something happened midway through his career. For the 80s and 90s, his DJing was mostly focused on his local market: Philadelphia and New York. But then the world seemed to open up. Around 2003, he began traveling around the world for DJing events. It started in London, where he paid his own way to fly out.

Since then, he has traveled all over the world playing shows and connecting with like-minded fans of the music and culture he loves. He says, “me going to work every day, funded my tours to Japan, funded my tours to Europe.”

In 2012 he took a corporate buyout and left his job. What did he do next? He went on a monthlong tour of Japan, and then booked gigs from April through October of that year. He says of the life he created for himself: “I’ve built up a network of people where I can go anywhere I want to go, with a phone call. I can just say, ‘Hey I want to tour there,; and make it happen.”

I asked about how he has adjusted in the past year, when travel and gatherings around music wasn’t really possible. He explained how he used the time to catch up on creative projects, and talked about this was an opportunity for reinvention in his work. He also said that, “Social media opened up a whole world,” of connecting his music and passions to like-minded people.

You can listen to my entire interview with Skeme here.

Thanks!

-Dan

Case Study: Behind the Scenes of a New York Times Bestselling Book Launch, with KJ Dell’Antonia

I want to share a case study of the book launch from KJ Dell’Antonia with the release of her novel, The Chicken Sisters. This book represented a huge shift for KJ, from being known as a nonfiction writer to a novelist. The book ended up being chosen as an Indie Next List pick, selected as a Reese Witherspoon book club pick, and becoming an instant New York Times bestseller.

She and I worked together for four months on the book launch strategy. Here is what KJ said of our work together: “Dan made connecting with readers—aka marketing—a joy instead of a chore. He changed the way I look at the business side of writing for good.” This describes how the outcome of marketing is not always just the tactics and the numeric results. It is the experience of how one feels about it, how it taps into creativity and possibility, and how it helps you infuse your life with the conversations around the writing that inspires you.

Okay, let’s dig in to the case study.

To Follow Your Creative Vision, You Have to Take Risks
With this book launch, KJ was making a huge creative and professional shift. After years of being known for writing nonfiction and essays, she was releasing her first novel. For years, she had written for The New York Times, and she had worked hard to develop her platform. But that didn’t mean that risk wasn’t a huge part of her shift to fiction.

She had taken leave from the Times to finish her last nonfiction book, and decided to not go back to instead write her novel next. This is how she described the pressure she felt to get fiction right:

“I felt I had one bite at this particular apple. I was in a position where agents and editors would 100% look at anything I sent. I was not going to sit in the bottom of a slush pile. It was going to get read, so it better be good. Because they weren’t going to give me a second look, if it wasn’t.”

Writing novels was a dream of hers, and she knew she had one shot to get it right.

Success Doesn’t Guarantee Success
KJ’s bio and accomplishments are incredibly impressive. As a writer, it is easy to think, “Gee, if I could just get an essay placed in The New York Times, then I just know my career would take off.” Or a thousand variations of that sentence.

Yet, success isn’t always obvious and linear. KJ told me about how her last book, How to be a Happier Parent, had “underperformed compared to hopeful expectations.” Don’t get me wrong, the book found an audience. But that is the issue with having a sizable platform — expectations can easily get raised. Suddenly, “success” is not selling X thousand copies of a book. The expectation is raised to selling X + 10,000. Meaning, we start setting minimum expectations, and then dreaming of how many more it could sell.

It’s easy to feel we “underperform” in these situations. And it also means that it doesn’t guarantee success for your next project. Just because someone liked KJ’s essays, did not mean they would resonate with her novel.

Invest in Collaborators
How did she move from writing nonfiction to fiction? She says,”It was long long long long, it was not an easy thing for me.” One day, when she interviewed book coach Jennie Nash for her podcast, and became enamored. She hired Jennie soon after to help make the draft of her novel even better.

I believe Jennie and KJ worked together for months to get the book in shape. Now, I’ve known Jennie for a long time, and she is basically a genius when it comes to how to write a book. Yet KJ said of the process, “Even with Jennie, it was still hard. This is where I’m back again now [with my 2nd novel]. It takes a long time.” Why? Because writing a book is difficult! This is why collaborators matter.

KJ described what she has learned of novelists in this process: “Now that I have a bigger community of fellow fiction writers, I am far more aware that almost everyone has, at a minimum, a serious critique partner.”

It took 1.5 years to write The Chicken Sisters. She said she is on track for her 2nd novel to take just as long, and even with her experience, she says, ”I’m still doubting. Am I really going to be able to pull this off?”

Planning the Book Launch
KJ and I have known each other for awhile. I’ve been a guest on a podcast she co-hosts, the #amwriting podcast, she’s been a guest on mine, and she had previously joined one of my programs.

KJ reached out to me about working together on her book launch six months prior to its release. Honestly, this is typically later than I work with a lot of writers, it is not unusual for me to work with a writer 12+ months before a launch. But KJ knew what kind of help she needed, she sent me an email explaining her goals and challenges. We began working together a couple of weeks later.

Some of what we focused on included:

  • Organizing all of the ideas and to-do’s she already had
  • Creating a system to turn this into a process, instead of scattershot approach
  • Knowing how to best engage with her network around the book launch
  • Revising her website and how she positions herself as a novelist
  • Creating a clear timeline and priorities
  • Brainstorming new marketing ideas to engage her existing audience and growing her readership
  • Working on her newsletter, podcast outreach research, Instagram and other aspects of content strategy

We began working together just as the pandemic was taking hold, and spent four months developing the marketing strategy week by week. Along the way, her book launch got moved from early summer to the end of the year. Because we were developing a system, we simply adjusted the timeline and tasks so that she could continue the work in the months leading up to launch.

During this entire time, KJ did so much to speak directly to readers, engage with those who support books, and to show up day by day to not only share about her book, but to share as a writer who loves the literary world. What does that look like? Go to KJ’s Instagram page to get a taste of it, then keep scrolling back in her timeline.

Does this show the entirety of her book launch strategy? Nope! But you do see how she shows up, again and again, in new ways to share. Some elements are obviously focused on her own book: printable bookmarks, giveaways, a downloadable epilogue to her book, bookplates, illustrations, chicken-related props, and so much else. But what you see most is someone deeply engaged with books, readers, and writers.

So how did the book launch go? Well…

IndieBound added it to their Indie Next List:

 

Reese Witherspoon chose it as her book club pick:

 

The Chicken Sisters became and instant New York Times bestseller:

 

How to Get Chosen as a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick
In case you didn’t know Reese Witherspoon has an extraordinarily popular book club. She shares this with her 25 million Instagram followers.

This is how KJ framed how getting chosen by Reese changes everything around the release of a book: “The power of having Reese Witherspoon pick your book, dwarfs anything that my bookseller efforts, or anything else we could have possibly done. It’s [like winning] the lottery.”

She found out about it when she received an 8pm phone call from her editor. KJ was nervous to pick up the phone, considering that perhaps this call was to push back the release of her book until after the pandemic ended. But instead, she picked up the phone and heard her editor say, “This is the best phone call I have ever made in my whole career.”

I asked how Reese got a copy of The Chicken Sisters, and what KJ knew of the selection process. Her answer? Well, KJ doesn’t know how Reese got a copy of her book, and firmly believes that Reese’s selections are 100% her own.

If you are an author hoping to be a future Reese pick, what this means is that there is no system to try to game, no inside track that to figure out, and no way to get your book into a line to be selected. From what we can tell, it really is just Reese somehow finding books, reading a lot, and making choices that feel right to her.

In a way this answer is both expected and wonderful, because that is the entire reason people like her book club: authentic choices from Reese on what she loves to read. But I’m also sure that many writers would be disappointed to hear this, because it means there is no obvious way to pursue selection by Reese. I mean, I assume that Reese must receive hundreds of books each week, but that isn’t insider information. Sorry.

What was the result of Reese picking KJ’s book? One aspect we discussed was how it effected KJ’s Instagram followers. She had a goal of making Instagram a bigger part of what she does, and was hoping for more readers to follow her there. KJ made a concerted effort to ensure her Instagram spoke to readers, you will find post after post filled with book recommendations and celebrating books, exactly the kind of thing that would appeal to a book club reader.

KJ estimates that she gained 1,200 followers because of Reese. On December 1 when Reese made the announcement, KJ had 5,270 followers. Today, a several months later, she has 6,651.

Show Up For Readers
The other numbers matter here too: KJ shared 136 images and videos on the main Instagram feed in that time, and many more in the Stories feed.

If you scroll through KJ’s Instagram, what you see is someone who loves books, authors, booksellers, and the literary community that surrounds them all. If you are a writer who worries that you have no “book news” to share at the moment, so why bother to share anything on social media at all, look to KJ for inspiration. Share about your love of books, of story, of people who support literature and create it themselves. Share what inspires you, and if you have access to adorable animals, share them too!

It’s worth noting that none of this is “easy.” When KJ and I talked to review the launch, she shared her own battle with impostor’s syndrome as she writes her next novel. You can listen to my entire conversation with KJ on my podcast, The Creative Shift:

Oh, and of course, you can find out more about KJ and The Chicken Sisters at kjdellantonia.com.

Thanks!
-Dan

Finding your readers

I want to start with two announcements first:

Okay, on to today’s message…

A question writers often ask me is how do they find their readers. It’s not about finding the right hashtag, but understanding who you are trying to reach on a deeper psychological and human level.

To me, all of this connects to how we view our author platform. Why does that matter? Well, I want to focus on a grounded and practical discussion about the reality of this in our everyday lives as writers.

Consider this:

  • If someone hears about your writing or your name, and they Google you, what comes up? Anything? Is it what you hope they will see?
  • When you meet someone new, and they say “I hear you are a writer, tell me about that,” do you know what to say?
  • Do you have a sense of the way to describe your work that will draw your ideal reader in? To make them curious and lean in, instead of changing the topic?
  • Do you have a way to regularly share what you create in a manner that would resonate with those you hope to reach?
  • Are you showing up in the places that your ideal readers do? Not to promote selfishly, but as someone who loves the themes you write about?
  • Do you know other writers who may have readers that would love your writing as well?
  • Are you someone who gets attention with colleagues and readers through your generosity?
  • Do you share regularly, developing rapport and trust with readers, or do you pop up only when you have something to promote?
  • Do you have a sense of the marketplace and where you fit? If your book was in a bookstore, do you know exactly where it would be shelved? Would you know how to describe it to the bookstore employee that would lead them to it, without saying the title or author name?
  • Do you have a system to manage all of this in a way that feels cohesive and focused? Or are you all over the place, chasing trends that you are also skeptical of?

Sorry, I know that is a lot of questions. But too often, I hear “author platform” talked about in terms of followers and likes. Of promotions that are meant to go “viral,” but rarely do.

To me, the concept of understanding who your ideal readers are, and being able to share about your writing is focused more on the kinds of practical questions above. Of feeling that this isn’t about becoming a “marketer,” but instead being a writer who knows how to share and who they are sharing with.

I’ve always said that an author platform is two things:

  1. Communication
  2. Trust

Not followers. Not tweets. Not a newsletter. Not hashtags. Not ads. It is about expressing what you create and why. And engaging with other like-minded people in a meaningful way. It’s a human process, which is why I refer to my work as “Human-Centered Marketing.”

Can Twitter and a newsletter and Instagram and ads be a part of this? Sure. But they aren’t the goal, and they aren’t the point. We aren’t measuring effectiveness by the number of followers you have. Why? Well, because that is just a number. I’ve talked to writers who have thousands of followers, but can’t seem to get those people to buy a book. Yet, I’ve talked to writers who have far fewer followers, but these are people they have a high degree of communication and trust with. And wouldn’t you know it, those people buy books and engage in word of mouth marketing for it.

This has always been part of the work of a writer. Sometimes we like to pretend it isn’t. I’ve heard plenty of writers pine for the days before the internet. They will say how in the 1990s, 80s, 70s, 60s… you didn’t have to worry about author platform. As a writer, you just had to submit your work, and not worry about marketing. The publisher did that.

But… I don’t think that’s true. I think it is looking back on the past with rose-colored glasses.

Author platform simply happened differently back then: though lunches, letters, meetings, events, and professional relationships. It was slower, and also much more limited. You hoped a letter arrived. You paid for a long distance phone call. You hoped you said the right thing at the one meeting you could get. And if it didn’t work, you had few if any other options.

Today you can have a voice in the lives of readers. And you have access to like-minded people in ways that authors from decades ago never could have dreamed of. Is that a responsibility? Yes. Is it also an opportunity? Absolutely.

The basics are still there: focusing on sharing your work, on connecting with real people around the love of books and the stories and ideas within them.

Last week I shared my Creative Success Pyramid. When it comes to discussing finding your ideal readers and establishing your author platform, I tend to find that two levels are connected, the two highlighted here in blue:

At the “Build Your Author Platform” level, it may include your website, newsletter, blogging, podcast, social media, and marketplace research. At the “Create and Share” level, we have your content strategy, editorial calendar, generosity and curation, social engagement, and core audience outreach.

I’m going to review these levels in-depth next week in the March 19th webinar. To get started, consider these questions:

  • What do you know about your ideal readers? What do they care about? Who are they?
  • What other authors do they read?
  • Where else do they show up? Are there podcasts they may listen to, or events they may love to attend?
  • If you were to meet one of these people at a barbecue, what would you say to them that would resonate? That would draw them in to talking about topics/themes from the books they love to read?

Keep in mind, it is never too early to consider these questions. To begin establishing your author platform and considering your ideal readers. It is also never too late.

Join me today the Getting Creative Clarity webinar, and next week for the Finding Your Readers webinar.

Thanks!
-Dan