Thoughts on Book Promotion

We’ve been talking about book promotion some in the Facebook Group, and I’ve seen something come up a few times that I think we need to talk about. I’m going to address it more widely in the upcoming weeks, but I want to hit on it a little today.

31 Days of Book Promotion

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I see something like this pretty often:

I’m not even published, do I really need to think about book promotion now?

The answer is an all caps YES.

You do. I know you don’t want to. You’d like to put the idea of book promotion or thinking about book promotion ideas off as long as possible.

Just thinking about it makes you want to throw up.

Trust me, I do get that. Author marketing is a big thing to wrap your head around and the learning curve is huge.

But digging in and deciding you’re just not going to think about it won’t help you be successful when you do have a book ready to put out into the world.

The best time to start thinking about making an author website, for instance, is a year ago.

The second best time is today.

No matter how you plan to be published, it’s up to you to promote your own book. Period. It just is.

I wish that someone had been blunt with me about that before my books were published by a Big 6 publisher. (I wrote about that experience here.)

I wish that I’d known that an email list could have changed the trajectory of my books.

I wish that I’d known that building an author website was more than throwing my book covers and some links to Amazon up on shauntagrimes.com and hoping that people would stumble on the site.

Or, even more naively, that my books would be enough to make people come looking for me.

Word of mouth works, but the people with the mouths have to know your book exists, first.

I know better now, and I’m committed to making sure that you do, too.

I’m going to talk about these things in depth in the upcoming weeks, but here are some things that are going to help you start thinking about book publicity.

  • You need to be blogging about something other than your own writing.
  • You need to be building an email list.
  • You need to let potential readers know who you are.
  • You need to be visible in the places where your readers are already hanging out.

I’m having so much fun with 31 Days of Being a Ninja Writer. So much fun that another 31 day challenge is definitely upcoming. If you want to be make sure you don’t miss 31 Days of Book Promotion, click here to learn more or fill out the form below. The challenge is set for January–just in time for New Year’s Resolutions, and after your Nano book has had time to mature.

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Day Fifteen: Grow a Thick Skin

Sample Agent Rejection Letter

I’m going to tell you something now that I think it’s very important for you to know. Like deep down, bone-level know. Here goes: There is so much rejection in publishing.

Seriously, it has to be the most rejection-filled profession on the planet. The only way to survive is to be tough. The only way to be tough is to realize that agents and publishers aren’t actually out to get you.

I’ve included a sample agent rejection letter below, because I want you to see that it’s not as scary as it sounds.

Even when a writer is successful (even highly successful), they face piles of rejection. It’s just a fact of the business.

Here’s an example:

When I signed on with my first agent, I had four offers. That means four agents told me that they wanted to represent my work. FOUR. That’s huge. It’s amazing. It felt so good.

But, I sent out 140 query letters.

That means that I was rejected by 136 agents. I was getting rejection letters from agents after my book had sold to Penguin.

Sample Agent Rejection Letter

I want you to see that they don’t tear you apart. Generally, they’re not personal at all. Here’s a sample agent rejection letter–one that showed up in my inbox yesterday.

Dear Author,

Thank you for your query. Although your project isn’t right for my list at this time, I appreciated the chance to consider it and wish you the best in your writing and publishing journey.

Sincerely,

Agent

This is otherwise known as a Dear Author Letter or a form rejection. I’d like you to notice that the fact that I have previously published books did not insulate me from generic rejection.

I’m only just starting to move into the indie publishing world, so I don’t know for sure, but I feel like there’s probably some less rejection involved when you’re not trying to hire an agent and sell a novel to a publisher. But there are still going to be critics who don’t like what you wrote. (Just go look at the 1 star reviews of To Kill a Mockingbird or any Harry Potter book. You’ll see.) There will always be readers who just don’t want to read your work, or who don’t feel it if they do crack the cover.

That’s just the way this world rolls.

I’d like you to think about this: Rejection is proof that you’ve been in the fight. YOU put your work out there. YOU were brave. YOU didn’t hide behind your right to keep your words inside yourself.

Rejection is proof that you are a Ninja.

Here’s Stephen King on this subject:

Stephen King collected Sample Agent Rejection Letters.

We get them in our email inboxes. I was going to assign you the task of driving a nail into your wall to hang your rejections on, but the times have changed since Stephen King was fourteen. Our rejection is digital. So here’s what I want you to do today: make an email tag and title it REJECTION.

Filling that sucker up means that you’re doing it right.

ASSIGNMENT FIFTEEN

Make a REJECTION label in your email inbox today. Then make a commitment to start doing the thing that will fill it up. (Hint: that’s putting your work out there.) Build up your own version of Stephen King’s collection of rejection letters. If you use Gmail, you do that by going to the sidebar all the way to the left and scrolling to the bottom. Click on “Create New Label.”

Come on over to Facebook and share your thoughts on rejection today. Let’s work on toughening our hides together.

 

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Day Fourteen: Build a Writing Craft Library

(Day 14) Build a Writing Craft Library

Being a Ninja Writer means constantly working to improve your craft.

One way you can do that is by building a library of writing craft books. You can buy them new or head to your public library and borrow them. Or keep your eye on used bookstores and thrift stores. Fill up your Kindle. This isn’t about getting all these books at once.

Just pick one. Get it. Study it. Then move on.

If you want to do that with the Ninjas, we’re starting a book club in November. The first book is Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. Click here to get signed up, so I can send you a free workbook when the time comes.

Yesterday we talked about how you’re the boss of your writing business. That makes you a professional. Part of being a professional is studying and staying on top of your craft.

Here are some of the books that make up my personal writing craft library. Click the covers to find out more about each book. (If you’re starting from scratch and need to add just one book, I suggest On Writing. If you can add two more, Self-editing for Fiction Writers and The Writer’s Journey. Those three are my trifecta.)

ASSIGNMENT FOURTEEN

We’re starting a Ninja Writer’s Book Club where we’ll study and discuss a writing craft book once every quarter. The first book is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and we’re studying it in November. Click here to get signed up for that.

Come by Facebook and share your favorite writing craft book!

 

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Day Thirteen: You Are The Boss

(Day 13) You Are the Boss

“The professional keeps his eye on the doughnut and not on the hole. He reminds himself it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.” — Steven Pressfield, The War of Art.

So, today’s post is a little more esoteric than most of the others in this series. It’s kind of a thought exercise, I guess.

I want you to understand something on a bone-deep level.

You are the Boss of your writing career. The Boss, capital B.

That means that you set goals for yourself and keep them. If you wouldn’t tell your day-job boss that you can’t come into work because you’re too busy or your kids that you can’t make dinner because your muse didn’t show up today–then don’t pull that shit on your writing career.

Set a goal for yourself. Write it in your planner. In ink.

And show up. Expect yourself to behave like a professional writer.

It’s okay if your goal is ten minutes of writing a day. You can write the first draft of a novel in a year that way, if you are diligent. But you have to show up and be all in for those ten minutes.

If you wouldn’t call up any other boss and give them the excuses you’re giving yourself, then don’t give them to yourself.

Here’s what I’d like you think about doing today. Head over to Vistaprint and buy yourself some business cards. You can order a hundred cards for less than $10. Google ‘Vistaprint Coupons’ and you’ll almost certainly find some. As I write this, there’s a coupon out there that will give you 500 cards for $9.99. Vistaprint is known for having good deals.

(I’m not getting a commission or anything from Vistaprint. It’s okay if you want to go with another company. I like Moo.com as well. Vistaprint is cheaper, but maybe a little less cool.)

Here’s the card I ordered for myself when I knew I was going to a Comic Con and a writing conference back-to-back.

It might seem silly, but I promise just having those cards in your pocket will help you feel like what you are: the CEO of your writing business.

ASSIGNMENT THIRTEEN

Head over to Vistaprint or another business card printer and get some made up. It’s a small investment, but it will make a difference.

When your cards come in, come share a picture in our Facebook group! In the meantime, you can share your design and get some feedback.

 

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Day Twelve: Build a Stable of Ideas

(Day 12) Build a Stable of Ideas

This is what happens to me practically every time I get into the second act of a new story:

The most brilliant idea that I’ve ever had pops up like a dandelion.

It’s just there, all of a sudden, full grown and beautiful. Full of wishes and dreams.

This delicate dandelion of an idea is the idea. The one that’s going to make me a bestseller. The one that’s going to be the best book I’ve ever written.

So, what in the hell am I doing still working on this other thing. This stupid, slow, sloggy thing that I hate only marginally less than I hate mayonnaise.

And I really hate mayonnaise.

Of course, though, there’s this one little thing: This stupid, slow, sloggy thing was my last brilliant dandelion idea. And it came while I was deep in the mire of my last great idea. And so on. And so on.

I told you about my one rule: no editing while drafting.

That’s really a kind of sub-rule to the actual, true one rule. The only rule that really matters.

Finish that first draft.

No matter how much you hate it while you’re writing the second act and no matter how great your next idea is, finishing your manuscript is the only thing that matters.

Let me put that more concisely. (I’m going to curse. Plug your ears if you’re sensitive.)

Finish the first fucking draft. Just. Finish. It. Ninja. Writer.

Here’s what you do with that great idea that’s poking at your brain, trying to distract you from your prime imperative: Write it down. After you’ve done your work for the day on your current work-in-progress, spend some time developing it and testing it.

Do that as often as you want to. As often as new ideas pop-up in the lawn of your creative brain.

Develop and test a whole stable of ideas so that when you’re finally finished with the book you’re working on, you can have your choice for the next.

That’s how you take the long game view of this writing career thing.

ASSIGNMENT TWELVE

If you haven’t done it already, go on over and get signed up for How to Develop + Test a Story Idea (H2DSI.) It’s free. It really works. It’s the exact method I use to make sure that I never get to the end of one story and find myself with nothing to start. And it’s the method I use to make sure those beautiful dandelion ideas don’t blow away on the wind before I can get to them.

I have a separate notebook just for my developed ideas. You can do that, or just use a fresh page in your current notebook.

Come on over to Facebook and check in when you’re all signed up for H2DSI.

 

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The Magic of 100 Days

The Magic of100 Days

My 100 Day Experiment saved my life. I know that sounds dramatic–but the results really were THAT dramatic. Whether you want to make a habit or break a habit, there is something special about 100 days.

The 100 Day Experiment is a game changer. Whatever habit it is you want to make (or break)–there’s something magical about picking a thing and doing it for 100 days. It’s enough time to make a difference, but not enough time for panic about doing something uncomfortable FOREVER to kick in.

In December 2013 I decided I had to do something. I was sick. So sick. Everything hurt all the time. My whole body was swollen and miserable. I was starting to have trouble moving. I was so tired that I could barely function.

Then I came across this blog post that talked about how much a person needed to to eat just to survive. It was way more than I would have expected. In desperation, I decided to try eating at or above that amount (instead of continuing an insane cycle of eating far too little, followed by far too much) and exercising for 10 minutes a day for 100 days.

It changed my life. By the end of the 100 days I felt better. A lot better. Better enough to keep going for another 100 days.

Since then, I’ve used the 100 Day Experiment in lots of ways. Including helping me get back on track when I lost my way with writing. Seriously–try writing for 10 minutes a day for 100 days. Just see what happens.

I think there’s a kind of magic in 100 days. It’s long enough to internalize a new behavior and make it your new habit. I know, I know–that’s supposed to happen in 21 days. It doesn’t for me. After 21 days, it’s still too easy to go back to my old habit. But after 100 days–just about three and a half months–whatever is going to stick from what you’re doing is stuck. You aren’t doing it just because you’re supposed to anymore. You’re doing it because it’s just what you do.

It’s also short enough not to trigger panic at the idea of doing something new FOREVER. I don’t know about you, but that’s the worst feeling for me. Even if something feels good, the idea of just never not doing it makes me anxious. I love that 100 days is just the right amount of time. Long enough, but not too long. There are plenty of things that I don’t worry about doing forever. I don’t panic at the idea of having to read books until I die or never being able to stop going to the grocery store.

Turns out that 100 days is long enough for something to stop being what you have to do, and start being just what you do. And if it’s not–well, it’s a good thing there’s another 100 days coming up right behind the first, right?

I propose that we make the 100 Day Experiment the lynch pin of the Slow Down Revolution. Instead of trying to find the shortest route to a new habit, we’ll take it slow. Make habits that stick, instead of constantly trying to beat them into ourselves, three weeks at a time.

Here’s how to set up a 100 Day Experiment of your own.

CHOOSE A THING YOU WANT TO INCORPORATE INTO YOUR LIFE.

Don’t get overly ambitious or complicated here. Think of something simple, but that will have a big impact. It can be BIG and difficult to do (trust me when I say that in the beginning, the idea of exercising for even 10 minutes made me want to cry)–but it should also be simple. That way there’s less wiggle room. 

If you’re trying to build a daily writing habit, my suggestion is: Write for 10 Minutes a Day.

MAKE A COMMITMENT TO DO THAT THING FOR 100 DAYS

Write it down. Tell someone. Tell everyone. Get a calendar and some gold stars and give yourself one for each day that you follow through.

When it gets hard, remind yourself that it’s only 100 days. Just focus on doing what you’ve promised yourself you will do today. Instead of focusing on the end goal, when the going gets tough put your effort into just making sure that today isn’t the day you quit.

KEEP A JOURNAL

This is optional, but I found it really helpful. I started a Tumblr blog and wrote about my experiment everyday for 200 days. It helped. If you’re not quite the over-sharer that I am, just get a notebook and jot down a few lines everyday. Write about how you feel. Record your little victories. Pay attention to how doing your thing is affecting your life.

TAKE ANOTHER 100 DAYS IF YOU NEED TO (OR WANT TO)

I wasn’t ready to stop after 100 days. I didn’t feel like I was ready to. So I didn’t. I just kept going for another 100 days. It was obvious to me when I didn’t need to formality anymore–I stopped wanting to write about it. My journal entries started to be come routine, instead of full of new discoveries and wonder at how good I was feeling. If you’re afraid you’ll go back to your old habit when your 100 days is over, that’s okay. Just keep going.

Want a PDF of the steps to starting your own 100 Day Experiment, enter your email below.

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Day Eleven: Make a Long Game Plan

(Day 11) Make a Long Game Goal

NANOWRIMO is coming and I know that a lot of you are planning on giving it a go. And some of you, if you finish your novel, want to self-publish it at least in part because it’s considerably faster than the molasses-slow traditional publishing process.

There’s this feeling sometimes that we have to slam out a novel and get it on Amazon as fast as humanly possible.

I want to make a case today for looking well beyond next month, or even next year.

Here’s a quote from a great article written by author Hugh Howey:

My plan was to write two novels a year for ten years before I ascertained whether or not I had a chance of making this work. . . . If you set a long term plan like this, and stick with it, you will succeed. Because you’ll find yourself in the top 0.1% of aspiring writers. 99.9% of your colleagues will drop out before they finish their plan. But you’ll outwork them.

I love that.

What he’s saying here is that if you set a long game goal for yourself and stick with it, you’ll win simply by virtue of working harder than everyone else.

You’ll win, because you’re still there.

Notice that he didn’t say, “My plan was to spend ten years writing one novel perfectly.”

His plan was to write two novels a year for a decade, and then decide whether or not he might be successful. That’s twenty novels. Twenty novels is somewhere in the vicinity of 1.6 million words.

Guess what, Ninja. You can’t write twenty novels without getting better at it.

You can’t write about 1.6 million words without learning something about writing a novel.

Today, I’d like you to think about your long game goal.

ASSIGNMENT ELEVEN

Open to a new page in your notebook, title it “Long Game Goal,” and write down yours. Come on over to Facebook and share it there, too. Because you know, a goal you make public is far more likely to happen.

 

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Day Ten: Start an Email List

Day Ten- Start an Email List

I know. I know. You hate the idea of marketing or promoting.

You don’t even want to think about building a platform.

It all makes your stomach hurt.

But here’s the thing: an email list is an author’s most powerful tool.

I can’t stress that enough.

Book marketing guru Tim Grahl says that an email list should be the main platform for any author. (If you haven’t read his book, Your First 1000 Copies, I can’t recommend it highly enough.)

Look. The best time to start building that list is five years ago. Second best time? Today.

So today, we’re going to get started with that.

Figure Out Where You’ll Keep Your List

I use ConvertKit to manage my email list. If you have a little money to invest in this part of your business,  ConvertKit is amazing. Of all the things you could spend your writing business money on, ConvertKit would be high on my list. Like number one.

ConvertKit super simple to use, the people who run it are amazing, and it’s just got a lovely interface that even a techie-black-thumb like me can’t screw it up.

If you don’t want to or can’t spend any money right now, you can start at Mail Chimp, which has a limited free option.

If the idea of an email server overwhelms you right now, you can also just open your notebook and start writing down a list of emails. But I would really like for you to get signed up with either ConvertKit or Mail Chimp today. It won’t take you more than a few minutes.

And then, go out and get your first emails.

First, ask someone you know if they’d like to be on your list. It can be your mom. Your best friend. Just tell them that you’re building an email list and ask if they’d like to be on it.

Next, copy this:

Hey, Ninjas! My name is __________ and I’m writing a _______________ book about _____________. If that’s your thing, would you like to be on my mailing list?

Here’s what mine would look like:

Hey, Ninjas! My name is Shaunta and I’m writing a Robin Hood retelling that’s set in modern Las Vegas. If that’s your thing, would you like to be on my mailing list?

And then post it on our Facebook group. A bunch of people are going to be posting something similar. When you see a Ninja writing something that peaks your interest, contact them. Trade email addresses with them.

I think that you can get your first ten email subscribers today. I know for sure you can get at least one.

Both ConvertKit and Mail Chimp have a way for you to make pages where people can go to fill out a form to get on your list. Do that, if you’re up for it and can figure it out. Teaching you how to do it is beyond the scope of this post. For now, it’s okay to just collect the email address and manually input it into your brand spanking new email server.

ASSIGNMENT TEN

Head over to either ConvertKit or Mail Chimp and get set up for an email server account.

Collect your first email, but really–aim for at least ten. If you already have an email list with more than ten names on it? Get ten more!

Post your request on Facebook. Respond to some other requests.

It’s going to be an email party over there! I. Can’t. Wait.

 

 

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Writer With a Life: Meal Planning

Writer With a Life-Meal Planning

I have a lot going on. A lot, a lot. There’s Ninja Writers. And managing a new business. And working on my next book.

Plus, I have three kids. We’re deep into soccer season. My parents-in-law live in my basement apartment.

I’m super busy. Like non-stop from 5 a.m. until I fall into bed at night busy. And I have a feeling that you’re reading this (I almost wrote ‘sitting there,’ but chances are pretty good you haven’t sat since lunch), you’re crazy busy, too.

So here’s what happens when I’m this busy. Especially on soccer nights, when Ruby and I don’t get home until after seven.

Me: I’m hungry.

Ruby: Me, too. Let’s call Dad.

Kevin (on the first ring): Don’t even say it. I already picked up pizza.

It’s so easy to fall into a pizza-run or drive-through habit when you’re insanely busy and time just slips away from you. Alternatively, it’s just as easy to spend your writing time cooking. Because your family needs to occasionally eat something that isn’t pizza or a five-dollar foot long.

There is literally no way to be as right-brained as I am, as busy as I am right now, and successfully have a home-cooked meal most nights if the first time I think about it is on the way to soccer practice or as I’m finally coming up for air in the afternoon. It’s just not going to happen.

I’ve tried every single meal plan out there. I’ve ordered eMeals, which was fabulous, but not flexible enough for me. I’ve at least considered a fairly complicated system I read about on a blog that involves an online calendar and a lot of looking up recipes to load it up on the front end. (There is no way. No. Way.) I’ve tried just writing down a meal plan once a week like a normal person. I’ve tried winging it.

Just like with everything else in my life, I need something that’s both flexible and structured enough to help me get out of my own way. And something that leaves me room for writing, somewhere in the day. So, way, way less than someone else telling me what to eat every day or (shudder) using a computer program to track Pinterest recipes. And more than me scribbling something in a notebook and keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll stick with it.

After months of thinking on this and trying things, I’ve finally hit on a system that works so well it’s almost like magic.

Click here to download a free download of the Meal Planner Checklist.

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Day Nine: Keep a Story Journal

(Day Nine) Keep a Story Journal

If you ask anyone who’s known me for more than, oh, twenty-four hours, they’d probably tell you that books are my favorite thing.

The truth is though, that’s not precisely right.

I do love books, don’t get me wrong. But the thing I love the most is a story.

I love to read a good story. Or watch it. Or listen to it.

I’m drawn to a story like a bee to a flower.

For a long time, I’ve wanted to keep a story journal. This is one of those things I’m going to do for the first time right along with you. For the rest of October, let’s keep a little log of the stories we take in.

Nothing too elaborate. Just the date, the title, a little about who wrote it or made it, and a line or two about how it effected you or what you took from it. Something you loved. Something you didn’t. Something that stood out. A favorite quote. I almost added ‘and a star rating’ here, but changed my mind.

This isn’t about judging stories. It’s about paying attention to them.

ASSIGNMENT NINE

You can do this in your challenge notebook. If you think it’s something that might take root, though, you might want to grab another notebook. I have a fancy one that Kevin gave me for my last birthday that I’m going to use.

Start keeping a journal or log of the stories you take in: books, short stories, movies. Even a great conversation or a spectacular blog post. Anytime someone tells you a story, in whatever form, and it moves you–write it down. Don’t worry about writing a lot or being perfect. This is just a log that you can turn to when you need to goose your muse a little.

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