Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fortitude, Bird Style

There's been a sweet married birdie couple living in my backyard for a while. Mr. and Mrs. California Towhee, ground-hopping birds who have a nest in a tree on the side of my yard. They've been there a while, and they often come hopping right up to the sliding glass door to peek in and see what we're up to. (My cat does not like this and has bruised his forehead lunging into the glass like an idiot.)

A sweet little brown California towhee. He has a high chip-chip sound.

They've also raised a nest of little baby towhees, and although I suspected they had babies nearby -- the grabbing of an earwig and then flying off with it was a sure sign -- I didn't know where they were.

Last week, I heard a bout of mad cheeping, baby-style cheeping, and I got to the window just in time to see two large shapes falling from the tree, and a marauding scrub jay fluttering in the branches, and mama and papa towhee screaming and flapping at him. Twice they chased him off; twice he returned. Finally, from across the yard streamed a third towhee, and he aided his friends in chasing off the scrub jay. I ran out and did my best to chase off the jay too but I thought my presence stressed the towhees so I went back inside. (Also I did not want my head pecked.) The scrub jay, if you haven't guessed, had pushed the two babies out of the nest in an attempt to have a snack. I'm not a birder, so this was all high drama for me.

The babies sought cover under leaves, and they had feathers although they couldn't fly. I let them all be, not knowing what would happen to the babies.

A pretty, but very evil, scrub jay.

Four days later, we arrived home from Memorial Day weekend up at my mom's house, and again I heard a mad bout of cheeping. In a different corner of my yard, probably the same evil scrub jay was hopping around and he flushed out a towhee baby. The parents were again beside themselves. But this time, the jay managed to push the baby into the creek that runs through our backyard (really a glorified storm drain). I ran out, screaming, and the jay flew off. I got a shovel to get the baby out, but it was too late. Mr. Sierra put him on the grass so the parents would see him.

The awful jay came back and to my horror at the baby. The mama and papa towhee had to stand nearby and watch, and their soft chipping as they watched broke my heart.

It's a good thing I'm not a towhee.

I was pretty upset, but Mr. Sierra reminded me that this is nature. The towhee parents saw the dead baby before the jay returned to feast, and there was nothing they could do. They displayed an admirable amount of love and sorrow and protective instinct, but in the end, they understand that as birds, you've got to move on. Wikipedia tells me that towhees can lay eggs and they'll hatch pretty quickly; babies leave the nest in 8 days or so. That seems like a pretty quick turnaround and I don't know how often they lay eggs, but maybe they'll move on and lay more. They appear to live in my tree year-round.

After watching this awful drama, I had to think what it must be like as a bird to watch your baby survive being kicked out of the nest only to be drowned and then eaten by a mean scrub jay. Do they move on? Can they? Certainly humans would have a horrid time doing so, but do birds?

I don't know, but my guess is that Mr. Sierra was right. They have to move on and lay more eggs if you want anything in the world.

Naturally, I'm going to compare this kind of fortitude to how it is to write a book and see it through to publishing, either traditional or self. This is not to belittle the poor birds or to suggest that losing a baby to a nasty scrub jay is at all the same, but certainly if you want to make it, fortitude is in order. You get rejected, you've just got to go on. You get a nasty review, you've just got to go on. You've just got to keep doing what's important. And pray that the scrub jay gets his.

Monday, May 27, 2013

How procrastination works

Sit down.

Turn on DJ music stream.

Get tea.

Get yogurt covered pretzels.

Open Word.

Check email.

Open manuscript file.

Check Facebook.

Sip tea.

Get another pretzel.

Scroll in Word.

Stop and sip tea. 


One more pretzel.

Ooh! Twitter!

Look at ms.

Write this sequence of events down.

Consider new blog posts for next several weeks.

Open Adobe Illustrator, just in case.

Look at ms.

Sip tea.

Get another pretzel.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Newsletters for Authors

Newsletters. You should probably have them if you're a published author. But when I sat down to write this post, I felt overwhelmed.  Newsletters are overwhelming. And that's with me having designed, written, and sent them! But then I thought, okay. I'll  tell you how to do them as though I was talking to a friend who is probably going to set one up for her author site.

So here's what you need to know.

1. Think it through first.
You might think they're a good idea, but are they? Are you going to write one yourself? What will you use it for? How often will you send one out? Did you know you have to obey anti-spam laws? Do you know what those are?* Did you know it usually costs money to send them out? OK. Calm down. Here's the skinny:

  • Yes, you will write one. You will write one that alerts your mailing list group to a new release, a contest, a giveaway, or an appearance. You will use it to invite feedback. You will write the newsletter in a cool way that will not make your newsletter readers feel instantly nauseated when your newsletter arrives in their inbox. (I have tips below for preventing that.)
  • Yes, they cost money. But they are very inexpensive. We're talking pennies (3 cents per email). Why do they cost money? Because you're using a service. Yes, you can write and send your own newsletters for free from your own email account. Have fun with the subscribe and unsubscribe system.
  • Yes, you will send them out on a schedule. That is, one that you choose. No, it doesn't have to be every week. Just not never. 
  • Anti-spam law, or the CAN-SPAM Act, which is a fabulously contradictory name, generally says that you need to have a real, physical address to send out a newsletter (a PO box will do) and that you cannot harvest addresses or put people on mailing lists without their express permission, usually given through an opt-in form. It's why we have all those annoying emails that say "Click here to verify that you want to sign up for Stripper Poles R Us." You can read more here. (About the CAN-SPAM act, not stripper poles. You're on your own for those.)

2. Sign up for a service.
There are a bunch of services out there. They're probably all fine. Here are some:
  • Vertical Response. I use them and I like them. You don't have to. 
  • Mail Chimp. These guys are good. 
  • Aweber. I know nothing.
  • Constant Contact. High user base. Never used them.

3. Configure the list and signup form.
This is the tricky bit. Don't be afraid, though. All newsletter services let you say what you want to say both on your thank you for signing up page and your enter email address box. Yes! You can customize it all! And you should. The best way to figure out how you want to customize it is by subscribing to your own newsletter and watching what happens when you do. You'll likely get confirmation emails and things. See the Scott Stratten link in item #5 below for a tip on how to make this a nice experience.

  • Definitely use pictures and graphics
  • Use the same graphics as your website so there's a branded, cohesive look
  • Customize your thank you page when people sign up--most services have a place for you to put your own link for this

4. You can Lead a Horse to Water....
So how do you get people signed up for your newsletter? 
  • Invite them on your website with the code -- usually provided by your service (see above)
  • Ask friends and family if you can add them. ASK FIRST. Not asking is rude--no, it's worse than rude. I have gotten a few newsletter type emails from people who got my email off their blog. This is spamming.
5. Keep people reading.
  • Have a nice design to your newsletter. You can hire me to create a custom, beautiful design, or you can use one of the pre-made designs offered by your newsletter service. Either will work. Most newsletter services offer a bunch of nice pre-made designs. 
So, ready to see how it works? Sign up for mine. Why do I have one? For purposes of this post, of course! (And also to begin building my World Domination list.) If at least 5 people sign up --and I have it set to tell me when people sign up, oh yes-- then I will send out a newsletter and you can see what I do with it. In it, I will tell you all my good news. And I will share super secret links with you.

Sign up for my inane and irrelevant newsletter full of way cool stuff and other ephemera.
* required

Social and Email Marketing by VerticalResponse
P.S. Author Amy Sue Nathan put this out on Twitter today --her first newsletter-- and I thought it was a good example of how to do one as well. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Marketing Tactics for Authors

Last week I talked about how your readers are your brand ambassadors. People commented about their own experiences with authors who were less than gracious, as well as good celebrity encounters that were humble and cool.

One type of encounter leaves you a life-long fan, and the other type turns you off forever.

Today I'm going to give some marketing ideas for dealing with readers who love you (this is targeted toward published authors). In other words, this is how to turn readers into your brand ambassadors.

Why do we want brand ambassadors, again?
Simply put, a brand ambassador sells your books for you. Also:

  • A happy reader will buy all of your books the second they are released.
  • A happy reader will go buy more copies of your books for their friends and relatives as gifts. Don't think they do? Think again. I've done this with all of my top favorite authors. Multiple sales. 
  • A happy reader will blog, tweet, or rave online about you. I did this about Liza Palmer and guess what? It resulted in at least one book sale that I know of. 
  • A happy reader will engage with you (if you're accessible) and give you adoration.
  • A happy reader may just turn into a peer -- and as a fellow published writer, that's a resource in your corner. 
Pop quiz time. 

Let's say you have a book out there. You get an email or a tweet or a blog comment from a reader saying, "I could not put this book down. I loved it. I LOVE you [author name].  New favorite author!"

Do you:
a) Enjoy the praise and grin quietly to yourself
b) Reply and thank the reader
c) Ignore the reader 
d) Thank the reader, remark about how cool that is, and invite that reader to be on your super elite inner circle list of people who get your news first including galleys and other book related merchandise, because you recognized that this reader is going to be your champion

I hope you answered D.

Too many authors, unfortunately, do C. I get it. I do. Big authors especially get this kind of praise all the time. And they're not marketers. Sheesh, that's what PR people are for, right? Writers write! This post is not for those authors. This is for people who understand that marketing takes work, and that rewarding your customer means repeat business and untold goodwill when that customer then goes and sings your praises.

So, what do you do with that gem of a reader? Here are some ideas, from least engaging to most engaging.

Make it easy to approach you. Tweet, blog, be on Facebook, put your email out there and say along with it that you love hearing from readers. Give an email address. Provide a newsletter signup. Then....

It only takes a second and a reply tells the reader you're listening and you appreciate it. Sadly, one of my most favorite authors, Marian Keyes, only replies on Twitter to her friends--possibly because she's got a fat massive readership following and commenting at her in every direction. It's not just Marian--I've tweeted to many people who are some kind of celebrity and actually never gotten an answer from them. While I don't love Marian any less (to do so would be sacrilegious), does a non-reply chip away at my adoration? Honestly? Yeah. It does. I'll still buy the book, though.

So why is it important to reply, then?

Because if you reply, the reader LOVES YOU. They're really happy. They're ecstatic! And they'll do MORE than just buy your book. They'll buy for others. They'll talk about it. They'll be your own publicist.  

Talk with your readers. Have a conversation with them. Yeah, scary, especially if you get a lot of mail that's on the inane side. No! Do not nod along with that sentence! Your readers are not inane--and if they are, it doesn't matter, because they are your customers!
  • Start a conversation with them (very easy to do on Twitter)
  • Invite them to talk with you more by email or blog
  • Offer them stuff. Offer to sign their books if they send them to you. Offer to send bookmarks. Which is part of... 
If you have someone who took the time to approach you online and who isn't overtly psycho? This one is a slam dunk.
  • Invite them to join your top-echelon mailing list that gives them first-basis access to your news and books
  • Give them a galley proof -- or add them to the list of people who receive pre-release book copies. If that seems like you're kissing a sale away, then send them the first chapter or two before a new book comes out, by email. It'll get them excited and talking. 
  • Offer to do an interview on their blog. Again we're talking about the devoted reader here. Is this really so hard to do? And the benefits go so far. If you're thinking, yes, but I don't have time to do this for everyone who asks, I'm not saying do it for everyone who asks. Do it for the readers who have reached out and adored you rather than the ones who are fishing for a big name. You know the difference. 
  • Offer a signed bookmark or book-related promo item-- this seems silly but it's something and sometimes if this is all you have to give, it's enough.
  • Take it a step further and include that reader in a public thank you on your blog or Twitter.
Here's Why You Should Do It
Understand that what you're doing here is making your reader feel rewarded, special, and part of an inner circle. I'm not suggesting that you spend oodles of time on every one--or maybe I am. Readers are your customers, after all, and offering people a reward pushes like into love. One of the reasons for that is that we are totally accustomed to seeing businesses offer first-time customers a reward, but it is very rare that existing devotees of a brand get anything at all. But giving them something transforms them from fans to brand ambassadors.

If you're still not convinced, here's another story. A few years ago, I went to buy some printer ink online. I went to and what I liked is that they were offering 20% for everyone--not just people who were first time customers. (Google "New customers only" in Google images and see the amazing amount of stuff that comes up if you want to see how many companies do this.) Rewarding first time customers is a huge marketing mistake because there's no brand loyalty for first-timers. But your repeat customers? Give them the discount code! DUH! They are the ones who will be back! It blows my mind how many companies miss the boat on this.

Anyway, I thought that was cool of 4inkjets so I blogged about it. And then tweeted that post. They were listening. (Listen) They saw it. (Reply) They thanked me, and then asked me for my address to send me a thank you token. (Engage and reward) It was a wireless mouse with their logo on it.

Pretty cool, huh? All because I was public about how cool they were. At no point did they ask me to blog about them, nor did they ask that I publicly mention that I got a gift. But am I repeat customer now? Of course! More than that, am I all about what a great company they are? Yes! When people ask me where I get ink supplies (and they do), guess where I direct them? And not just direct them, but tell them why to go there?

A final word. When your brand ambassador refers a friend to you, treat that friend like gold. That friend is primed to be another brand ambassador because they've already had good experience number 1 and it wasn't even their own-- it was the original friend. Build on that.

Comments? Questions?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Brand Ambassadors

Years ago, I worked with a guy who had worked for Apple, or so it said on his resume. His position was "brand evangelist." I remember thinking, an evangelist is a real title? WTF is that?

I don't know if he got paid for it, or if it was just an arrangement with Apple. But it was smart on Apple's part. What is was is someone who recommends Apple products--and not just recommends, but enthuses, and loves, and sings the praises of.

These days, we use the term "brand ambassador," which sounds much nicer than the religious overtone of evangelist. You might be wondering why I'm writing about this here. It's because anyone who is selling books needs to know about it.

We are told that blogging and blog interviews and blog tours and even book signings don't sell books long term. That is, they don't grow your readership. We are told it's really all about word of mouth. But how on earth do you get your book to be spread by word of mouth?

A story: at my local farmer's market there's this wonderful Afghani food vendor called Bolani. Bolani makes really delicious sauces and breads. Healthy, low fat, and drool-inducing. I've been a fan for a long time. A few weeks ago, I was at the farmer's market and stopped by the Bolani booth. The guy there offered me a sample, which of course I took (I'm not an idiot) and he asked me if I'd had it before. I launched into an enthusiastic account of how I've been buying their stuff since last summer and how much I love them, blah blah blah. I mean, I'm a brand ambassador for them. I tell everyone how good they are.

What does the guy do?

He turns, in the middle of me talking, to someone else, and starts speaking to them. He shut me off.

I closed my mouth with a snap. Wow, I thought. What a way to treat a customer standing right in front of you, telling you how much they love you. It was like telling me to go $#@%& myself.

Because now I had a bad feeling. I was made to feel like an idiot and that he didn't care at all that I spent money on his products. There was no way I'd be a) telling other people about them now, or b) buying their stuff when I had the choice.  Notice how I'm blogging about it, too. Now everyone gets to know how they treat their customers.

I was no longer a brand ambassador for them. Which was too bad, because their sauce is tasty.

This has happened before at book or CD signings when I've met authors or musicians. The experience has been so disappointing that I haven't bought further books or music from them. Pet Shop Boys are famous for being utter dickheads (Chris Lowe, at least), but it's different when he's a dick to you. I went off them after meeting them. Two authors at a signing couldn't care less that I was there--and I can't say I ever read another word of theirs. It's why I no longer go to book signings--invariably, the author will turn away just as I get there or scribble in my book and shove it aside like it's on an assembly line. I don't want that. I've read their work and I want to see the person who's behind it all. I don't want to be treated like cattle.

I think authors are really missing the boat on readers as brand ambassadors. If you have published a book and a reader contacts you and enthuses and gushes and says "I adore you!" then you know you have a future reader in them. Don't ignore them. Don't turn them off. Make it a priority to answer them. (I am not speaking of anyone I know here.) Don't take my word for it. Social media expert Scott Stratten has harped about this for a long time.

So, what are you going to do about it if you have a book and  enthusiastic readers? There are endless possibilities. Next week I'll do a post giving some ideas.