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Create If Writing

Kirsten Oliphant

Create If Writing is a weekly podcast for writers and bloggers dealing with authentic platform building online. You will hear from experts on list-building, connecting through Twitter, and how to utilize Facebook. But tools for building an audience would feel empty without a little inspiration, so these training episodes are balanced with inspirational interviews with writers who share their creative process, ups and downs, and how they have dealt with success or failure. Kirsten Oliphant is a self-published author with an MFA in Fiction who has been blogging for 11 years and is in the top 20 of Houston's Social Media Power Influencers. She has spoken at Blog Elevated, Houston Social Media Breakfast, Adventure Con, Houston Business Advancement Conference, and Social Media Day Houston. She created the Free Email Course and loves to get nerdy about all things email list.
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I'm tackling a question that I think more authors (blogger, creatives, and influencers) should ask before they establish their online platform. If they don't ask before, they for SURE should ask soon after. The question is: how close should authors be to their audience?

You might be wondering what this question even means. Stick with me. I think you'll understand why I feel like this is so important.

FROM THE IVORY TOWER TO INSTAGRAM

We are living in a glorious digital age, where more than ever, authors and readers can connect. My 12-year-old self would have DIED to be able to tweet at or email or DM my favorite author online. I remember LOOKING in the backs of my paperbacks to see if there was an address so I could write fan mail. Usually? There wasn't.

Authors were in ivory towers, out of reach, out of sight, and far from readers.

Now? You might be able to find out what your favorite author ate for lunch, because they've posted it on Instagram.

You could know their kids' names.

What shoes they bought yesterday.

What they're struggling with personally.

The switch has completely flipped. Honestly, this all started with reality TV, as far as I'm concerned. We all got nosy (okay, humans have probably always been nosy) and enjoyed getting a front-row seat to all the inane (and dramatic) details of other people's lives.

Then: enter the internet and social media.

We have ACCESS now. You can choose not just to post your lunch, but to do a live video or create an Instagram story about your lunch. And your readers get INSTANT access to your life, lived up to the minute.

This is, on the one hand, really amazing! I love this ... in some ways. And as with social media as a WHOLE for people, this access can also be very, very unhealthy.

UNHEALTHY ACCESS TO AUTHORS

Here are a few things I've seen recently (a few details changed to protect those involved):

  • authors getting mad at their own Facebook group, make an offhand comment about killing a character to "show" readers, and a massive fallout off the hundreds and thousands of group members
  • readers DEMANDING that authors finish their favorite series faster and sending angry emails or posting public rants when books in a series take more than a few weeks to release
  • authors promising in their emails and Facebook groups that books are coming out, then readers getting angry because the author breaks those promises, then disappears from public view
  • readers bullying authors and personal assistants to authors
  • authors rallying their reader groups up to attack other authors or people on twitter or through low ratings on platforms like Amazon
  • readers in an author group getting nasty and mean with each other and the author not stepping in to stop it or moderate
  • authors receiving nasty personal emails about their families and personal lives because readers didn't like books
  • readers giving up on authors (and announcing it publicly) because the authors didn't do what the readers wanted OR what the author told readers they would do
  • authors apologizing profusely because they aren't doing exactly what the readers demand

These are all pretty general examples. I don't want to get more specific and share someone else's story. You get the idea.

All this access has allowed for some unhealthy relationships to form! It may sound GREAT to share pics of your new baby in a group ... until an angry reader makes a threat and names your child. (I know it's weird, but stuff like this happens, y'all.)

HOW TO CREATE HEALTHY BOUNDARIES

Look. There isn't one way to do this. It will be different for different authors. And you could do the best job ever, feel great about it, and still have someone lash out. (I've had readers freak out at me for things I 100% never did. Once I responded to an angry email and it turned out they sent it to the wrong person altogether! Still, though: yikes.)

We won't all agree, but here are some things to consider and best practices for keeping and maintaining healthy relationships.

Decide how many and what kinds of personal things you want to share. Reevaluate, as this may change. Will you share the actual names of your family members? Are you going to share pictures of yourself and your family and friends? How much of your real life will your readers see?

Choose the platform that feels the best and healthiest for YOU. Where are you happy? What feels like a space that has a good vibe for YOU as a platform? If you choose too many places, you'll be stretched thin, and that may impact how you feel and interact with your readers.

Consider establishing a space that can offer you control. If you find yourself on the receiving end of an attack, what can you do about it? (Ex: On Twitter, the gloves are off. In your personal, closed Facebook group, you can ...

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It's a well-known fact that many authors hate marketing. But more and more, marketing is something authors must understand and take part in, EVEN if you're doing the traditional route. My goal? Is to help teach marketing for authors who hate marketing.

First of all, we need to reframe the conversation about marketing.

What comes to mind when you think of marketing? A sleazy car salesman? That person who is constantly shouting BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! on Facebook and Twitter? Maybe the direct sales rep who keep sending you private messages?

Put those ideas out of your mind. Let's shift how you see marketing.

For authors, marketing is about connecting with the ideal readers for your books. You are serving up your books to readers who WANT them. The end.

Sounds much better, right?

Whenever you're feeling frustrated about marketing and promotion, take a moment to shift your mindset back to this. You are writing books for readers, then helping those readers find them.

FOUR PILLARS OF MARKETING

While there are lots of ways to market, I'm going to break down four main ways that you can market your books:

  1. Direct: email
  2. Public: social media
  3. Paid: ads
  4. Networking: cross-promotion with other authors

Again, there are many other things you can do to market. But this is a simple overview of the largest avenues for marketing right now. Let's break them down a little!

EMAIL

Email is my favorite thing. You know this if you've been around for a while. Why do I love email so much? Email is a classic. It doesn't go out of style, though for some, it goes out of favor. It hasn't changed much in twenty years. It has no algorithm.

Email is the best way to connect with your readers directly.

If you are just starting out or trying to build your sales, start with building an email list. Here are some other resources on that right here on the site:

How to Grow Your Email List

Email Resources

SOCIAL MEDIA

Social media is not the best sales tool. It's great for engagement and brand awareness, getting your book out there in front of people.

ADS

More than ever, ads matter. But ads also have a learning curve. (Check out my longer post on paid promotions for more.) The main ad platforms that authors use are Amazon ads (formerly AMS ads) and Facebook ads.

NETWORKING

Other than email, this is my favorite tool for promotion and can have massive impact. Oh, and it's free. When you work with other authors, you'll not only learn what's working for them and find support, but also discover great cross-promotional opportunities, whether through newsletter swaps, Facebook group takeovers, or other events.

Look to connect with other authors of all kinds of genres. You won't share cross-promotion as much outside of your genre, but might learn what's working for other authors or get ideas there. Or just find moral support.

BEFORE YOU THINK ABOUT MARKETING...

If your book cover doesn't match your genre or look professional, you'll struggle with marketing. If your blurb isn't enticing, you'll struggle with marketing. Period.

Writing to market isn't about selling out. It's about researching where your book fits, or even better, researching a market that feels like a good fit FOR YOU, then writing books that meet reader expectations.

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After sharing how my co-author and I wrote and launched a book in (almost) thirty days, I wanted to have a simpler episode geared toward YOU. Here are some ways to market your book while you write and where to stop wasting your time.

You want to write a book. You want to self-publish (or, as I like to say, publish independently) on Amazon and/or other retailers.

But marketing?

Ick. Overwhelm. No. Help!

If that is YOU, then I want to help make this a little more accessible. Ready for it? Here are some tips for marketing your book WHILE you write.

HOW TO MARKET YOUR BOOK WHILE YOU WRITE

Many of you might think that you don't want to market while you write. You want to write a book and THEN figure out marketing.

That's not BAD...necessarily. But you want to talk about overwhelm? That is someone who has written a whole book and now thinks, "Oh, I guess I should consider marketing."

Honestly, even if you aren't taking steps to think about marketing actively, you should at least consider marketing in terms of where your book FITS.

What category does it go in? What are the reader expectations for that category? What do the covers look like? How long are the books?

Those are things to consider before or AS you write. I mean, if you want to sell books. If you are just writing a labor of love, then do what you want. But I'm assuming that I'm speaking to people wanting to SELL books. In that case, you should look at the market, even if you aren't marketing.

But here is my very big, very simple advice on marketing while you write:

Write everyday. Do one marketing task daily.

That's it. The end. Simple.

Too simple? Yep. So, let's dive into some things that you can do daily.

DAILY MARKETING TASKS

I'd honestly love to make a freebie for this. I probably will... soon. But not today.

For now, I'm going to refer you to the GIANT post on how to write and launch a book in a month. There are so many action items there.

Overall, I would say that you should focus on things that have lasting power, like building an email list. Create a freebie that relates to the series you're launching, or give away a teaser of a few chapters in exchange for an email address with a site like Bookfunnel, Story Origin, Book Cave, or Prolific Works.

Join author group promos and send paid traffic to that freebie to grow your readership WHILE YOU'RE WRITING. So huge. When you go to launch your book and you have even a few hundred subscribers, that's POWERFUL!

Also see:

THINGS TO STOP DOING TO "MARKET" YOUR BOOK

This is where (if you listen to the audio) I get a little rant-y. Now, hear me: there isn't always ONE way to do things. So, take this with a grain of salt. BUT GENERALLY SPEAKING, these things will not help you sell more books. Period.

Wasting Time on Social Media

Realize that if you think that building your Facebook likes or Twitter followers is going to sell books, you're probably wrong. Email sells more books. Focus on email lists, not follower counts.

Facebook is amazing for groups and collaborations and newsletter swaps with other authors, but many authors go into FB groups for a genre and then just drop links to their books. Any group that is filled with authors dropping links to books with no likes or comments is a WASTE OF TIME. Look for actual reader groups with actual readers and see what their rules are for self-promo. Or just listen and learn what readers in your genre like.

Designing Your Own Book Cover

I once designed my own book cover. In the time it took me to create a cover (and I'm okay at stuff), I could have paid someone $15 on Fiverr to do it better and saved myself hours. Unless you're GREAT at book cover design (not just graphics) you'll waste time and money and lose sales because your book cover won't hold up against other books in your genre. Stop it.

Blogging

Blogging isn't dead. But it's shifted. People don't read blogs like online diaries anymore. Authors didn't get this memo. They either write blogs that are diary-esque (which really only appeal to hardcore fans) or they write blog posts that are not to the right audience. An example of the second one is a fiction writer blogging about writing tips. That attracts other authors and writers, not the people who'll read your romance novels.

If you want to drive sales on your blog, you'll have to actually take the time to create a content strategy based around things your readers are already searching for. You'll us...

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Have you ever wondered if should write under a pen name? Or why some authors choose to write using a pseudonym? In this post, you'll learn why you might want to write under a pen name (or not) and how to navigate having multiple pen names.

A year ago, I tried an experiment.

I found a genre that was selling well where I thought I could find success. I didn't really want to use my already-established email lists and social media, so I started almost completely from scratch.

You can see how that worked out after one year in this post. (Spoiler alert: month to month it's up-and-down, but has been four figures--sometimes closer to five-figures--a month for over a year.)

So why write under a pen name?

For me personally, it was more about marketing and testing the waters than anything else. In terms of marketing, I have a few nonfiction business books under my own name. These are NOT the same genre as the clean romance I wanted to write as Emma St. Clair. That can provide a muddy brand and reader confusion. A new name seemed like a good option.

To test the waters, I wanted to know if I could use the knowledge I've gained over the past however-many years in this online space to find success self-publishing without using my already-established platform.

I'm actually about to launch a second pen name (Sullivan Gray) who will do Young Adult paranormal and contemporary books. I'm planning the same strategy as I used to launch Emma and we'll see how it goes.

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PEN NAMES

Listen to Episode 169 - How and Why to Write Under a Pen Name

WHY DO AUTHORS WRITE UNDER A PEN NAME?

Authors might choose a pen name if the subject that they're writing about might cause conflict with their actual life. I've seen this a lot when authors write steamy romance and don't necessarily want their mom reading it. Some steamy romance authors also write clean romance and don't want any crossover.

In this case, authors will be very careful to keep their pen name completely apart and separate from everything else they write. It's a lot more hidden.

Authors might choose a pen name if they write in multiple, unrelated genres. This is the main reason I chose a pen name. When we shop online, we don't realize how many quick snap decisions we make on things. Having a pen name can keep ultimate clarity in terms of branding.

Are my sweet romance books that different from my Christmas devotionals or my book on email lists? No... but the readers aren't the same. The crossover is likely minimal at best. And when a reader glances at my author name and the books that customers also bought on the Amazon sales page, it presents a problem to see unrelated books. It would be confusing to see a romance book next to a book on business. Readers need quick and easy cues with clean author branding.

Whenever you're as big as Stephen King or JK Rowling, you could write whatever and people will buy it. (Big authors still sometimes write under pen names!) But when you're starting out, it's much easier to have one author name PER GENRE for crystal clear marketing and branding. I've seen personally how well this has worked for me and I've also seen authors struggle trying to keep multiple unrelated genres under one name as they start out. It was HARD.

  • Some people in the space (whom I really respect) say that you don't need to worry about a pen name. I disagree when it comes to branding and marketing, but if you want to see another side to this, check out a post by Anne R. Allen.
WHEN SHOULD YOU NOT USE A PEN NAME?

Amazon will only let you have three pen names under one Author Central account. It isn't TERRIBLE to have multiple pen names (more on that below), but if you can keep things easy, DO.

If you're writing books that are related or might have a larger crossover audience, then don't do a pen name. An example might be writing clean romance and clean romantic suspense. These are the same steam level in terms of sexual content (which matters to readers), though the audiences might not be a 100% match.

That said, my Emma St. Clair clean romance books will have a similar steam level to my YA content, BUT the YA books will have more violence and intense action. Some have paranormal elements. The crossover might be there (I read both genres!) but it's going to be a way smaller number. Just look at what these different covers convey!

You can see how these are likely not the same audiences, right? Everything from the color to the tone of these book covers sends signals to the readers, even subconsciously. Pen name = good plan.

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This post comes after the news that Mailchimp is making some big changes in 2019. I'll break down what these changes mean for YOU and whether or not you should switch. Spoiler alert: YES. I'd recommend changing.

When I very first got started with email in 2013, I used Mailchimp. I heard a speaker talk about the importance of an email list and that's what she recommended. They had a free plan for up to 2000 emails and were a trustworthy company. I stayed with them until 2015, when my goals were different and Convertkit won me over with their fabulous features. I haven't looked back.

I've still recommended Mailchimp to readers as an okay place to start, though they aren't my favorite. But coming on the heels of their announcement in May 2019, I'm changing my tune. Here's why and what YOU need to know.

WHAT'S CHANGING IN MAILCHIMP

Mailchimp has been providing a service: allowing businesses big and small to send emails to their customers. (LEGAL emails. Read more about being legal HERE.)

Now Mailchimp is moving to become a "marketing platform." They are adding features that allow them to be more of a CRM (customer relationship management) tool. That tells us a lot. The keyword being: CUSTOMERS.

In simplest terms, Mailchimp is moving its focus toward bigger businesses and business as a whole. Not mom-and-pop blogs or authors (as much as we really are running businesses). Most of the email services I've recommended handle that ONE thing: email. Other big companies like Infusionsoft call themselves a CRM rather than an email service provider. The difference is a different features and a heckuva lot more money.

For most of us, Mailchimp is not focused on providing our needs. But they'll still provide email, right? Yeah. But I wanted to look at the big picture FIRST--they aren't here to serve YOU, the author or blogger or creative with a starting-out to average income and business.

Now let's break down some of the specific changes.

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

If you are still using Mailchimp and don't have more than 2000 subscribers, you're probably thinking that you're find and can just stay. You CAN. But there are current and coming changes that will affect you.

What's changing:

  • (as noted) the focus is now on bigger businesses as a CRM
  • free subscriber count now includes unsubscribes as well as active users
  • limited audiences for free plan members
  • pricing/credits for month-to-month users
  • changes to automation (looks like you can't add new ones now on the free plan)

More things WILL change, but we simply don't know yet. My guess would be that they lower the free plan to 1000 or less. There is no need for them to keep people on who are just using them for the free plan. Plus, if you've been cleaning your list regularly to stay under 2000, those emails you cleaned will now still count. Under that, my old list wouldn't be a free plan anymore.

If you've been on the legacy PAID plan, you're grandfathered into their pricing. If you are on the FREE plan, when you hit paying levels, you'll be getting the new pricing. And the month-to-month users' credits will stop being active.

In short, you're getting less bang for your buck.

SO, SHOULD YOU LEAVE MAILCHIMP?

You don't HAVE to. I mean, if you have 200 subscribers, you're probably thinking, why waste my time moving?

Here's the thing: before this, I was barely recommending Mailchimp. Their features are clunky and should be way better and easier to use for as long as they've been around. They are a powerhouse and should have had features where you could click a link in an email to add a tag or move you to a group. That kind of thing is so hard in Mailchimp that even after watching tutorials on merge tags, I didn't get it.

They kind of try to hide this by calling some of their features automations and tagging, but where other companies have sophisticated features called the same things, Mailchimps features just don't do the job.

The best thing about Mailchimp has been the giant free plan. That will likely change, and fundamentally does now that they are counting unsubscribes.

With average features, they are trustworthy in terms of a reputable company, but their goal isn't to serve YOU. They don't even have customer service AT ALL for the free plan.

If you have considered a move, I think this is the kick in the pants that you should use to just do it.

WHAT EMAIL SERVICE PROVIDER SHOULD YOU USE?

I've tried all the biggies. Well, almost. I haven't tried Send in Blue or Active Campaign or Infusionsoft. But I've tried Mailchimp, Mad Mimi, Tiny Letter, Aweber, Convert...

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SHOULD YOU PROMOTE YOUR FIRST NONFICTION BOOK?

The answer here is a little bit (maybe a LOT) different. I feel like there is a vast difference in how promotion looks for fiction and nonfiction. I've found WAY more free options for promoting nonfiction books.

Why?

Well, nonfiction books (other than creative nonfiction, like memoirs) often contain information that can be parsed out and packaged into other content. For example: I have a book on email lists. I have written a TON of content on this blog on email. (Find that here.) Many of the posts allow me to link to the paid book. I can also write guest posts where I gain authority and promote the book on email. I've heard tons of people go on podcasts to talk about the topic they wrote about in their nonfiction book.

Nonfiction books also may have a different purpose. Rather than just sales and money for the book, many authors write nonfiction books to gain authority. Want to start a speaking career? Write a book on something you know. Want to sell coaching packages? Write a book related to what you'll be doing in your coaching packages.

You can also use your nonfiction books as a sales funnel. I could use my book on email lists to sell a course (which I used to do, but don't anymore). Or coaching packages (which I also don't currently do). Your $4.99 nonfiction book could help sell your bigger-ticket items.

All that being said, your nonfiction book may be serving other purposes than just making money in and of itself. That makes the promotional aspect a little different ballgame.

Readers also don't read nonfiction in the same way. They might read a how-to book on a topic they're interested in, but they aren't necessarily going to go buy ALL of that author's other how-to books. They'll buy if they're interested in that topic, whereas in fiction, if readers like that writer's story, they'll want more of that AUTHOR.

In case you missed it, YES YES YES YES YES promote your first nonfiction book. Yes. But before you dump in a bunch of money, realize also that you have a ton of other kinds of opportunities to promote that book for FREE by guest posting and going on podcasts.

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I hear a lot of confusion about writing to market and writing to trend. In this post, I'm going to explain MY personal view and my experience with both writing to market and writing to trend: how they're different, how they're related, and help you figure out what's right for YOU.

WHAT WRITING TO MARKET IS

Chris Fox coined the term "write to market" and talks about it in his book called ... (wait for it) ... Write to Market. In the Introduction, Fox states that the book will teach you "how to analyze the market, and to use that information to write a book that readers want." (Check out the book HERE.)

Often, writers start out by writing that story that's in their head. They have that one idea that they just can't shake, or the story they HAVE to tell. That's writing for love and it's author-centric.

Writing to market shifts the focus from the author to the reader. What does the READER want?

I mean, we all WANT them to want that story that's been on our heart to write, but that isn't always the case. (There are, of course, happy accidents where this happens, sometimes in a big way.) We learn what the readers want when we study the trends of what's selling on Amazon.

Indie authors can do this better, because we don't need two years to publish a book once it's done. I've decided to write a book to market and had it published in six weeks. It's a little harder if you're hoping to secure an agent, because if you study what's hot NOW, realize that in a few years when your book has been through the whole process, it won't be hot anymore.

So, we clear on the idea of writing to market? Study what readers are buying. Find a space that's selling and that you also love. Write that.

More resources:

WHAT WRITING TO MARKET ISN'T

I want to be CLEAR about this before we continue. Writing to market is not selling out. Most people who write to market find a market selling well that they LIKE. But even if not, even if you're an author who needs to write in a market they don't LOVE because you have a mortgage to pay, THAT'S OKAY.

Some people write for the love. Some for money. And some for both.

I'm okay with all three of those choices. As long as you're okay with YOUR choices, then go on with your bad self.

But I want to be VERY clear that if you think "writing to market" is a dirty term, this probably isn't the space for you. Or, maybe you should reframe the conversation. Remember that writers are writing for themselves, but also for readers. Writing to market is serving readers what they want to read.

If that's wrong, maybe I don't want to be right.

WHAT WRITING TO TREND IS

Writing to trend is something that I hear people talking around a lot, but it's not always called the same thing by different people. To me, writing to trend is taking the principles of writing to market, but applying them to a particular niche, genre, or trend that is HOT now ... and may or may not stay hot for long periods of time.

As I'm writing this, there is a hot trend for bully romance. Essentially, that's just what it sounds like. A guy (or group of guys) bullies a girl and she falls in love with him/them anyway. Not my fave trend (kind of an extreme example of the enemies to lovers trope) but one that went WILD this year and has made some authors serious bank.

Will this be around next year? Gosh, I hope not. But who knows. Another trend in romance (reverse harem-- one main girl with a bunch of male lovers) was thought to be a hot trend and is still going strong years later. There is a big tie between reverse harem and bully romance.

You don't always know how long a trend will last or when it will fizzle out. But trends tend to show up more suddenly, become THE thing, and might gain ground or lose steam. For a little while, at least, their star burns brighter and hotter than the others.

And they can make a LOT of money if you can hop on while they're hot.

Other resources:

AN EXAMPLE OF WRITING TO MARKET vs WRITING TO TREND

When I launched my Emma St. Clair pen name, my goal was to write to market. I made some mistakes (notably in covers and some tropes early on) but quickly figured out that romance needs a happy ending (ha!) and that adult clean romance readers like faces on covers, while photos without faces tend to be either more women's fiction or YA fiction.

My first few books eventually had the right covers, the right trop...

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