Book Marketing Now: Heather Kelly
Author & publisher Heather Kelly talks about her new workbook, JUMPSTART YOUR WRITING IN 30 DAYS + kickstarter projects, self-publishing, and building community.
Welcome to Book Marketing Now, a new monthly feature of Books, Marketing, & More where I share interviews with writers about their marketing and publishing journey as they share the inside scoop on releasing books into the current market!
Check out past interviews with Namina Forna, Tara Sullivan, and Andrea Wang!
Heather Kelly is a powerhouse author, entrepreneur, mentor, and publisher. She founded the Writer’s Loft (where I co-lead a Spec Fic discussion group!); ran the New England SCBWI conference for four years; is self-publishing her own work and others; and has started a non-profit, Little Free Book Locker, to get books into communities of vulnerable kids.
In this month’s interview, Heather shares tips and resources from her self-publishing journey; why she’s experimenting with Kickstarting a book; and the importance of community.
How did you initially envision marketing your books? How has that strategy changed now that you’re marketing directly to readers?
There’s this phenomenon in publishing that some people call ‘believing in the unicorn.’ Everyone I know who publishes a debut book (self or traditionally) thinks that people will magically find it and buy it. (Publish a book—>Magic Unicorn—>Book sales.) There is no magic unicorn. (At least not for book sales. I happen to believe in unicorns; they just don’t care if my book sells or not!)
Just because you publish an awesome book doesn’t mean people will find it. Marketing has to happen. The first step to marketing is direct access to fans, which means developing an email list. Interacting with fans on a regular basis and keeping them entertained with interesting and valuable information is essential. Then, when you have a new book coming out, you don’t have to start from scratch—you have direct reach into your fan base.
Who do you see as the audience for Jumpstart Your Writing in 30 Days? What is the best way you’ve found to reach them?
My series of workbooks is a result of twenty years of learning about the traditional publishing world, running conferences, mentoring writers and authors at the Writers’ Loft, and self-publishing anthologies, workbooks, novels, and illustrated poetry books. It’s my way of sharing what I know in a step-by-step, productive way for writers. My audiences are the writers and authors I hang out with at conferences and the Writers’ Loft! Aside from offering valuable writing expertise through my email list, writing conferences are my best way to connect with my audience.
What is something you wish more people understood about marketing and self-publishing?
Most authors think like an author, not like a reader. Being able to think like a reader is essential as you design your website, implement your email list, and choose the search keywords for your books. Readers and fans want a different experience than fellow authors. It’s important to give them that experience. For instance, a lot of times authors want to talk about beta readers or the trials of writing a book, when their fans want pictures of their cats instead. Someone who does this really well is Julia Koty. Sign up for her newsletter and see! If you want to know more about self-publishing, I wrote this detailed blog post for 24 Carrot Writing.
How has marketing your workbooks been similar/different from marketing the Loft Anthologies?
For my workbooks, my main priorities are speaking engagements at writing conferences and growing my email list. Using tools like BookFunnel and StoryOrigin to help bring fans to my list is really effective. Once I have three workbooks published, I’ll use paid Facebook and Amazon ads to help with visibility. Paid ads are a must!
With the anthologies, we do a lot of local events at schools, libraries, and bookstores. For our latest poetry anthology, we partnered with a local environmental non-profit, the Rozalia Project. We do events together, and the Rozalia Project spreads the word about our book, Friends & Anemones, and we spread the word about their message about becoming an ocean protector.
Thinking outside the book world, and connecting with outside brands and companies can really help find your fan base. We also utilize connections with mom’s groups, librarians, local booksellers, and use national holidays like Earth Day and Poetry Month (April) to help us get the word out about our anthologies. It’s so important to spend your energy marketing in the most effective way possible, which is different for each project.
You’re starting your own press via Kickstarter! What motivated that decision? What is your primary marketing strategy around choosing that path?
Kickstarter is a great way to gather your fans around you BEFORE your book is out. Pocket Moon Press is launching Tom Franklin’s steampunk book, The Pterrible Pteranadon, through Kickstarter with some awesome steampunk swag and extras! If you’re interested in learning about how to Kickstart, or supporting the dream of an author to see his book in print, you can sign up for the Pterrance Times, An Occasional Newsletter and check out its Kickstarter campaign!
I love Kickstarter because it makes you adopt the mindset of FANS FIRST. You gather your fans together first and ask them to be a part of the developmental process of creating your art—your book. Because they have skin in the game, the conversion from fan to superfan is a lot easier. I love this post about finding true fans.
How have you handled the shift to virtual marketing due to the pandemic?
I probably launched my first workbook at the weirdest time—right after everything closed down with the pandemic. All my conference speaking engagements either were postponed or became virtual events. Virtual events are wonderful but don’t translate to as many sales as having your book showcased in a conference bookstore. Instead, I focused on writing more workbooks, so when I can travel to conferences, I’ll have more books to promote. When you have more books to market, you get more bang from your buck!
What are some resources/guides/experts you’ve found helpful in your publishing journey?
Joanna Penn is a great resource for indie and hybrid authors. The Facebook group 20booksto50K is really motivating. For marketing advice, take a look at Mark Dawson, Nick Stephenson, and Bryan Cohen. And nothing beats finding a supportive group of authors who have the same goals as you—you can find these like-minded goal setters at the Writers’ Loft or in Facebook groups. I have friends that I have found along the journey who cheerlead, support, and learn with me on a daily basis. It’s so much more fun to do it together!
What advice would you give to writers just starting out when it comes to marketing themselves?
Don’t be afraid. Think of it as a great adventure. Too often we think of marketing as standing at a busy intersection, yelling, ‘buy my book,’ into the void. Instead, think of it as gathering true fans of your work.
Don’t go it alone. Join other people who are marketing for tips and tricks, promoting each other on email lists, and support.
Once you have multiple books out, use paid ads to find your fans.
Remember that a high tide raises all boats, so be excited when other authors find success!
Finally, is there a tea or beverage that has helped you get through preparing for launch?
So, I’m a coffee drinker, but I love Korean ginger honey tea! Especially when I have a sore throat—although I haven’t had a sore throat in a year. Masks and quarantining definitely have their upsides!
Founder of the Writers’ Loft community and developer of the Creatively WIN method for writers, Heather Kelly wears many hats. She is a professional mentor, publisher, editor, author, conference director, and Pokémon catcher. She strives to help all writers, big and small, tell their stories. She thrives on collaboration, creativeness, and community. Check out her website and workbooks for writers at www.heatherkellyauthor.com
Do you have a book releasing this year? What are you doing to market your book or what questions do you have about marketing? Drop them in the comments!
Happy reading & writing!
Allison Pottern Hoch has happily made books her life’s work. She spent four years marketing and publicizing academic titles at The MIT Press before she went to work for Wellesley Books as a children’s bookseller and event coordinator. She is now living her dream: putting her B.A. in Creative Writing to good use as a novelist and as a writing/marketing coach for authors. She enjoys science fiction, cupcakes, and a hot cup of tea. For workshops & consults: pottern.com
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