We Can’t Do It All—Play to Your Strengths
My memoir, Blood Brother, was accepted for publication this past spring. The tag line of the book: To survive, I had to find a brother who hadn’t been seen in thirty years. I was desperately sick and needed a bone marrow transplant from someone who had vanished.
But this blog is also about you and your marketing efforts vis a vis what I learned on this fun and frantic trip towards publication.
As a first-time book author, I was delighted but unsettled by the offer. It is well known that getting a publisher for a cancer memoir written by an unknown author is difficult at best. Case in point: A few years ago, I was pitching Blood Brother in person to an agent. Her first question: “Are you famous?” I said, “No.” Had I really been on my game, I would have said, “Not until this book is published. Then we will both be famous.” Of course, I did not think of this snappy response until days later.
There is so much I didn’t/don’t know. The publishing contract stymied me. Fortunately, a writer friend of mine referred me to her literary attorney who was excellent and far less expensive than I’d feared. He helped me see where the contract was fair and where I had some wriggle room to make changes in my favor. A word to the wise: Find yourself a reputable attorney to help you understand and possibly improve your contract.
Start Marketing Now. Really? Yeah.
We’ve heard it hundreds of times: It’s never too early to start marketing our books. And that’s what I’ve been doing for a couple of years, way before I actually had a contract. I’ve been making LinkedIn connections, pitching magazine editors, gathering blurbs and reviews, querying podcasters, building an email list, studying digital marketing, SEO, Google analytics, Amazon ads, etc. I’m angsting over my website. Yes, some days it’s truly daunting.
All of these marketing to-dos are not a surprise. I knew they were required; but I am still in the position of not knowing what I don’t know about many of the topics listed here. As a sparsely published author, I must also be a canny businesswoman. It’s not that I desperately dislike all of this marketing—some of it is fun—but if I didn’t have to do it, I could get back to writing my next book, a novel, tentatively titled Flask.
Oh, I love that title. But marketing nonfiction is much easier than marketing fiction. And, as most of you write nonfiction, I’ve made nonfiction work for me. So, here are a few things I’ve learned.
How Your Book Can Be Expanded into Other Media Platforms
I’m discovering areas where one of the main threads of my book—cancer—has been broadened into other writing formats. For example, my first idea came from remembering that I denied the most significant sign of lymphoma (the lump on my neck) for an entire year. Well, I did see one doctor about it who said I was just fighting a virus. This wholesale denial of a serious symptom got me thinking that others might need to be reminded of cancer’s warning signs and be advised not to ignore them.
Then I explored the Choose Hope website and downloaded the monthly cancer calendar. February is nation cancer awareness month. Bingo. I wrote an article reminding readers of the warning signs and personalized it by my own story. Made it funny, more or less. Revealing. And ultimately encouraged readers that if they have their own dark suspicions of malignancy, to get to their doctors right away.
This story, “My Symptoms Glared in Neon,” was published in Survivor’s Review, a journal that celebrates the creative expression of cancer survivors.
What theme or thread in your book could be utilized for an article in a large-circulation magazine? Try for the big publications. (Survivor’s Review does not qualify, but it was a baby step I took a couple of years ago). And before you send it out, have your writer’s group critique it. I can’t tell you how many times I thought something I wrote was comma perfect only to get it back from my group with insight and changes that would never have occurred to me. Okay, my first response might be the tiniest bit defensive, but I get over that and adopt those suggestions that improve the work. If you have a well-written piece, get it in front of as many people as you can. The heavy-hitter publications will even pay you and promote your book at the same time. Win. Win.
My efforts are paying off. I’m currently under contract with “Psychology Today” for an article on what finding a brother is like after not seeing or speaking to each other for decades. I’m pitching AARP, WebMD, Huff Post, Spirituality and Health, among others.
Let’s not forget podcasts. I’ve just begun to pitch all the major cancer and nonfiction-related podcasts—after listening to them for many hours so I can make the pitch relevant to their audiences. I’ve had one prominent podcast already interview me, and I’m scheduling another. Again, because I don’t know the pub date, I can’t commit to a broadcast date. Timing is something that authors have little control over and it can be frustrating. Go with the flow and do what you can while you wait.
SEO makes me hyperventilate. So does SSL and meta data. Did you know it’s important that your web developer contribute to public repositories? Whatever that means. Have you heard of the purchase funnel? Yikes.
I have recently discovered—to my immense chagrin—that my name and website don’t show up on Google. What? I’ve owned the domain susankeller.com for years. I’ve built and published my website with Go Daddy. My website has been crawled by the Google bot, but it’s as if it still doesn’t exist. Never mind all the money I pay every year for hosting. No surprise, I was told yesterday that I needed to pony up a chunk of cash to get Google to recognize me. Google thinks of my website as just “personal,” where I might be doing nothing more than announcing what I had for lunch. Yes, I know how to go to the Google/webmaster/tools/ website and get my site “re-crawled,” but it has no effect. So frustrating. This is clearly not my area of expertise. I’m going to pay the money and get the experts involved. Maybe I’m being duped, but I can’t and don’t want to spend the time it will take me to make a dent in this labyrinth that is technology.
Because I was a medical writer for many years, I have professional connections in the healthcare field who have agreed to review Advance Readers’ Copies of Blood Brother. I will ask them to blurb it on their social media platforms where they have about a million more contacts than I do. Plus, I’ve seen what appears to be valid research that relying on our social media contacts for book sales is generally disappointing.
Recently, I heard an interview with a memoirist who said that she personally didn’t care for social media engagement. It just isn’t her. I get this. Plus, it seems that there are enough Face Book, LinkedIn, and Instagram posts already floating around the cloud. Contribute to others’ social media platforms where your expert content—i.e., your book—will be shared by the influencers. Who are your influencers? Even if you don’t know them personally, find a connection and help them out by offering them an ARC of your book that will enhance and inform. Believe in your work.
Not All Readers Live in the U.S.
Another opportunity that I heard about recently on a podcast: The woman being interviewed had a much more international focus than most of us Americans do. She was discussing contract language and the importance of not forgetting markets frequently left out of the standard literary contract offered in this country. Her mention of India was particularly interesting. A literary magazine, called “The Reading Hour,” came from India. A few years back, they published a short story of mine, titled Daisy Chain, about a couple who—while hiking up a mountain in Southern Utah—attempt to make a life-changing decision without really talking about it.
Okay, here’s the problem. “The Reading Hour” now seems to be out of print. Too bad for me. But you get the idea. Look beyond our borders for international markets for your work.
What’s in Your Wheelhouse?
This is where I come back to my comfort zone. Months of marketing have forced me to look at what I can and cannot do. I’m clear that I can write a guest blog, pitch magazine editors about articles that relate to the many themes in my book, contact editors of literary journals for story publication, and get myself in front of local groups and conferences (in person after Covid or via Zoom). I can work on my next book. Those activities are in my wheelhouse. What’s in yours?
If SEO makes you tremble, outsource it. If I’ve taken away one crumb of wisdom in all these months of marketing, this is it: Get help where you need it. Play to your strengths and let the experts deal with what you don’t know. The Google crawler will reward you for it.
Susan Keller is the author of the memoir, Blood Brother, to be released in 2021. She has a degree in Immunology and Public Health and a twenty-five-year career as an award-winning medical writer. Her poetry has taken prizes in national contests. Her fiction and essays have been published in anthologies and literary journals. She is working on a second book, a novel titled FLASK.
Originally published on the Nonfiction Authors Association blog.