You’ve nurtured your book and it’s about to be published. Congratulations! But the hard push isn’t over. Now is the time to roll up your sleeves and create a strategic marketing plan. There are countless ways to promote your book but only so much time, money and effort. After all, you want to carve out time for writing for your next book. The following initiatives form a strategic plan to help you reach out to, engage, and retain readers, not only for your current book but also for those you publish in the future.
Your author website is home base for you and your book. Everything you do should link back to your website so fans can buy your book, whether you direct them there from a newsletter, poster, bookmark, reading event, blog, social media, radio interview, video, or any other interaction, either online or in-person.
One benefit is that you have complete control over your site, unlike social media platforms which can change the algorithms and rules of engagement or shut down without warning. A simple and clean site is all you need. Include a Book Page, Author Bio, Book Store, Speaking Page, Blog, Social Links and Email Newsletter sign-up.
“It took me about six weeks (in my spare time) to build my author website using Wordpress and I have reasonable technical skills,” says Wood Barrett. However there are other free, simpler website builders out there, among them Wix, Weebly and Webnode. Alternatively, you can hire a web designer to create a basic site if you are not comfortable technically—and have the money.
The number one goal of your website is to get visitors/fans to sign up for your email newsletter. It’s how you stay in touch with your readers so they know about your latest book, book news, or speaking events. Unlike social media posts, which rapidly disappear in aging feeds, an email sits in the receiver’s inbox until they delete it.
However, people are more protective of their emails these days, so you need to offer something they want or find useful, whether it is: a monthly book giveaway; special discounts; upcoming reading events; how-to content; writing or publishing industry tips; info on your field of expertise; free content such as downloadable e-stories or e-books; or your latest news, blog post, or podcast.
Rather than take a scattershot approach by using all the platforms at once (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn), focus on the platforms where you actually enjoy engaging with others. Social media is the ideal place to interact with other writers and industry professionals in your genre and to connect with fans. Don’t use social solely as a bullhorn about your book, though; engage with others about their posts and share useful, informed or entertaining content of your own.
You can also use your social platforms to invite people to your website (which prominently features your book) to engage with your content (such as blogs, podcasts, and videos) and to subscribe to your email newsletter. A blog can feature content that allows people to see who you are, what you’re thinking, and why. It’s the way people get to know you, your work, and your expertise. A blog can also draw subscribers to your newsletter by offering helpful industry info, craft writing tips, or knowledge about your area of expertise.
Book trailers, similar to movie trailers, give readers a concise idea of your book, opening the door to their curiosity. Also, people love to watch and share videos on social. In the case of Stella Harvey’s novels, her publisher, Signature Editions, produced the book trailers for each of her books.
“I was involved in the direction, content and editing process. My trailers are part of my email signature and I often use them as a way to introduce a reading. They are my calling card, my introduction,” says Harvey.
But not all publishers produce trailers. For example, Wood Barrett created her own Author Tour & Trailer for her children’s novel, My Best Friend is Extinct, with her iPhone. It was filmed by her teenage son and edited on FinalCut Pro. If you don’t have basic editing software, even a short, simple video of you telling the audience about your book and the inspiration for your work will give readers a window into your process and story.
Harvey has vivid memories of every book club she’s visited. “From one man telling me he found one section depressing in my novel, Finding Callidora (yes, war is depressing), to a woman lambasting me for what I did to one of my characters (as if I have any control over my characters) in The Brink of Freedom, to another woman gushing how my descriptions reminded her of her time in Greece in my novel, Nicolai’s Daughters,” says Harvey. “Whether a reader’s impressions are positive or negative, it really doesn’t matter to me. Of course I’d rather all opinions about my books be positive, but what I really enjoy is the discussion, the fact that readers cared enough to invite me to their book club.”
For a time, because we were required to maintain a safe physical distance, gatherings like book clubs ceased. So, what did we do instead?
In mid June, Harvey was fortunate enough to receive a grant from the BC Arts Council’s Microgrant pilot program to produce a video discussing her novel, Finding Callidora. The grant was made possible by a generous donation from the Yosef Wosk Family Foundation. (A side note about grants: do your research when applying and remember to match your ask with the grant requirements. This doesn’t guarantee you’ll secure the grant but you’ll be that much closer.)
Harvey recorded the book club interview using Zoom with the help of Wood Barrett. “It was another inexpensive way to promote my book, and you can get Zoom recording capabilities with a $20 subscription for one month. Here is the video I produced with Rebecca for Finding Callidora.”
These are a few interconnected strategies to get the word out about your book and build a community of readers and fans for the long run. Now, it’s your turn to go out and shine! Build an author website and home base for your books, reach out and connect through social media, and keep fans returning because they want to read, watch, or listen to your content. Figure out what works best for you, change it up if something’s not working, and get your stories out to those who have been waiting to read your words.
Rebecca Wood Barett is the author of the middle-grade novel, My Best Friend is Extinct.
Stella Harvey is the author of three novels, her most recent being Finding Callidora.
This past quarter, I’ve gotten several questions regarding authorship. The questions in this first group can be boiled down to the following: How many authors can one book have? And can royalties be paid to more than one person?
This type of question is something that comes from authors who want to self-publish their book. (Traditional publishers handle royalty payments themselves—the authors are not involved.) Often, the example given is of an anthology type of work—a publication where several authors have contributed. There are many examples of this. Just think of the Chicken Soup for the Soul publications: one book and many contributors or authors. Additionally, it is quite common for authors to contribute to a “box set,” or bundle of books. Many writing groups create multi-author anthologies as well. In fact, the Federation of BC Writers is looking forward to publishing an anthology of its annual literary contest winners this fall. These examples let you know that one book can have many stated authors.
Let’s move on to the idea of being paid. This subject is treated differently by various retailers and distributors. Amazon and IngramSpark allow royalties to be paid to only one person whom they consider the “publisher” of the book. Draft2Digital and PublishDrive have mechanisms for multiple authors to be paid independently. Each author will have to provide tax and banking information so that payments can be transferred directly to them, and tax documents must be produced.
The second subject that we are going to address in this issue is that of reviews. Whether we use the term literary review, reader review, or social proof—a marketing term for the trust we place in mimicked behaviour, such as reviewing—there is a lot of misinformation swirling around about this subject.
If we go back quite a few years, publishers often sought out “blurbs” for books before they were published. This activity ranged from full-on literary reviews from noted experts or well-known authors to short, snappy sentences of praise. I'm sure you’ve seen examples of these displayed on the front covers of books. “A delightful romp through Regency ballrooms” is on the cover of my latest read. I'm sure you can spot something similar on the paperback covers in your collection.
This seeking of reviews or blurbs still exists but has expanded in format. Publishers and authors still seek out what I would call “literary reviews.” An example for fiction would be a review from The New York Times. An example for non-fiction might be a leading subject matter expert reviewing a book for a niche publication. These reviews are still sought out. With the millions of books published each year, the ability to score this type of review is becoming more and more difficult, according to many sources.
Authors and publishers may turn to writing contests with the hope of winning a prestigious award. There are a ton of contests available. As you would suspect they run the gamut of professionalism and validity. Most have an entry fee, and most will offer you a shiny sticker to put on the cover of your book if you win. Many come with some sort of review or critique.
Reader reviews are often seen as a great starting point for beginner authors. It seems that we are all encouraged to share our thoughts about anything we purchase these days—books are no different. Whether the reader’s review is posted to a site like Amazon or Barnes & Noble or to a blog, there is a reason for them all. In a future issue we’ll talk more about the subject of reader reviews and the rules that must be followed. We will also talk about the power these types of reviews can have.
To end this column, think about what you do when you finish a really good book. I suspect you want to share that book with a friend. I know I do! There is no greater feeling than someone telling you they loved the book you recommended to them. Readers will seek out a trusted source when making buying decisions. A reader may also choose to only trust books featured on major publications, or they may read their way through books featured by BC and Yukon Book Prizes or something similar. They may pay attention to Amazon reviews or they may have a favorite blogger they trust. See what varieties of social proof you can collect for your book.
Barb Drozdowich is the FBCW's resident expert on publishing, promotion, and technology for authors. Do you have a question for Barb? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and your question could be featured in a future Ask Barb column.
By Ruth DyckFehderau
Invariably, for me, memorable stories have one thing in common: believable, well-developed characters. In fact, I’d say a good story is driven NOT by plot at all, but by a character managing obstacles. “Plot,” Stephen King says, in On Writing, “is…the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored.” Or, worse, clichéd, brittle, exhausted, and stereotyped.
If readers are to buy into a character, they need a vivid, utterly convincing, sensory reality. If it’s not specific enough, they won’t buy in. If it’s clichéd, then it’s not specific enough. They need characters complex enough not to be exploited by reductive everyone-in-this-category-is-the-same fantasies, rich enough not to be boring, fleshed out enough that any single event doesn’t define her/him/them. “Nice” is not a detail, and “queer” is not a personality trait.
The best technique I’ve found for creating that believable reality is to really know my characters so that I can anticipate what they would do or say in any situation. I do this, first, by researching real people who have a thing or two in common with the characters. People in the same line of work, perhaps, or people who move in similar social circles, or who’ve lived in the same region at the same time. I look at catalogues or newspapers they may have read or television shows/YouTube videos they might have watched. Increasingly, even for researching historical fiction, such resources are online.
The second thing I do, and which I’ll explain here at greater length, is to create an emotional resumé for each character – an imagined backstory that explains the character’s feelings and mindset and worldview, that drives the choices she/he/they make, that can determine how the character negotiates the obstacles I throw in the path.
On what side of the tracks was her childhood home? How did that affect her? Does she have siblings? What was the family dynamic? What is it now?
What was his first summer job? What were his high school grades in chemistry? In music?
Do their dialogue and diction reflect their hometown? Their reading habits? Their education? Do their gestures and body language reveal their mindset? Or is there something of a disconnect or façade? If so, why?
Is she articulate? Or does she fumble her words?
Does he have an iPhone? If so, what colour? How old is it?
Are they near-sighted? Does their voice take a nasal tone? If so, do they know?
Is she handy with a spade or an axe? Where did she pick up the skill?
Has he ever lied on a resumé? About what?
What does he read/watch? And in what format?
What do they prefer to wear? How often do they wear hats, and what kind? How do they feel about socks and sandals? About unpolished shoes? About stilettos?
What kind of car does she want? What kind of car does she drive? How does she feel about standard transmissions? How does she drive? Where on the steering wheel does she place her hands?
Manwich or croissant? Steak or tofu? Deep-fried or broiled? Beer or prosecco? Food allergies? To what? How do they feel about the Carolina Reaper? Or the much-milder Scotch bonnet? About tartare? About flavoured liqueurs?
What/who does he really need to control? Or not need to control? What happens when he loses control of something important to him? Does he have vestigial anxieties from formative events in which he was powerless? What does his anxiety look like? White knuckles? A super-human calm? Instant body heat? An addiction?
How would they defend, say, an act of theft? Or a cheating partner?
How would they respond to forgetting their wallet? To accidentally emailing the whole listserve? To deadlines? Barking dogs? Snow falling down the collar? Wearing black pants that rip on the day they wear yellow underwear? To Trump being re-elected? To recycling services being shut down? To electricity going down for a week? To missing the last bus?
Does she ignore or stomp in or prance through puddles?
How thoroughly does she clean her flat? Does her demeanour change if someone is watching her clean? Or if they’re angry at her?
Would he use the word “panties”? How does he feel about Bitcoin? Rihanna? Chopin? Board games? Vaccines? Winter camping? The Indian Act? A Black Lives Matter protest? A Pride march? Evangelicalism? The Gaza strip being bombed? About whatever event is in the news right now?
If they lived next door to you, what would piss you off?
What are their short- and long-term goals? What are the goals they won’t admit to having?
What do you see as her strengths/weaknesses? What does she see as her strengths/ weaknesses?
Do his behaviours make sense to you? To him? To whom might they seem irrational?
And then there are all the questions about specific cultural, racial, or religious backgrounds…
Believable characters grapple with power, with their place in the world, even when they think they’re grappling with the condo board or with dandelion roots. Beyond identity, what does your character grapple with? Why, exactly, do the condo board or dandelion roots stir up emotion? A well-crafted story has no good or bad characters, no sassy gay sidekicks or heart-of-gold sex workers. In their own stories, all the characters are protagonists. So who do they think they are?
Obviously, even over the course of a long novel, I’d never use all of this backstory. The point is that, with the answer to each question, I understand a little more about the personality behind the character. And the more I understand, the easier it is to write her/him/them in ways that are credible and compelling.
About the Author
Ruth DyckFehderau writes fiction and nonfiction, and teaches Creative Writing and English Lit at University of Alberta. Her shorter pieces have appeared in literary journals and anthologies, her book The Sweet Bloods of Eeyou Istchee: Stories of Diabetes and the James Bay Cree (2017 CBHSSJB, distrib WLUP), written with James Bay Cree storytellers, is currently being translated into five languages, and I (Athena), a novel, is forthcoming in 2023 (NeWest). Currently, Ruth is working on another commission for the James Bay Cree: Finding Our Way Home: Residential School Recovery Stories of the James Bay Cree (Vol 1 forthcoming 2022, CBHSSJB, distrib WLUP). She has won many literary awards
The Federation’s annual conference for writers is one of the highlights of our year. In 2021, things looked a little different than they have in years past. Due to the pandemic, we were unable to gather in person, so we offered an online event instead: the BC Writers’ Summit. This week of Zoom-based programming encouraged writers to cross genre boundaries, write in new mediums, and engage with new audiences. It was a week of insights and inspiration for attendees and staff alike.
I caught up with a few of our newest staff members post-event and asked them to share their favourite moments from the Summit. Here are their responses:
What was the highlight of the Writers' Summit for you? Did you have a favourite presentation, insight, or moment?
Tara: I loved Nisha Patel's performance!
Amber: I was brought to tears by two readings over the course of the summit. One was from Angie Abdou during Megan Cole's Creative Non-Fiction Panel. The other was by Vicki McLeod during the closing gala. I can't say why each overwhelmed me. Ms. Abdou wrote about a changing marriage and how to weather the moments of scarcity in a long relationship. Ms. McLeod wrote about her grandfather and what it meant when he brought music to a small town. Each touched me profoundly and surprised me in doing so. The highlight of the summit was the connection between the words and my heart that every reading evoked. It's hard to measure how much it means to connect with someone's work during such a disconnected time but it meant so much to me to be able to absorb so many stories in a deep way.
Meaghan: Just one? Oh wow, that's a toughie. Top my list was Cooper Lee Bombardier's presentation about the embodied voice in memoir, which included practical ways to write yourself as narrator onto the page by means of vigorous self-examination and questioning. Can't wait to apply some of these techniques into my next project!
Cristy: I loved everything in which I was able to participate but found the soothing Writing Sprint Serenades really helped me to focus in on my own writing and were wonderfully calming.
The Summit sessions spanned a range of topics and genres. What did you discover that will inform or alter your writing practice?
Tara: I really enjoyed Lorri Neilson Glenn's workshop on lyric writing. Her discussion of the different ways lyric writing can work in a narrative were really helpful as I work on a novel in verse.
Amber: I have never considered myself a writer of creative non-fiction though I've had essays published in a variety of places. My novels have always been what I talk about when I talk about writing. My essays felt indescribable or odd - something I did when I needed to work through something. I didn't really have a category for what I did. Sometimes, I called the work true stories. Other times, I loosely described them as "confessionals". Now, thanks to Megan Cole and the amazing panel, I realize that what I write is aligned with a genre of honest, personal, raw pieces that find truth in the everyday.
Meaghan: As someone who writes primarily in creative non-fiction but is keen to dip my toes into fiction, I was excited to learn about writing between genres and merging different types of writing. Gail Anderson-Dargatz's session, Crossing Genres to Add New Life to Your Craft, was especially informative. In addition to practical lessons, my biggest takeaway was that writing is a broad, expansive medium - and I look forward to applying my creativity, curiosity, and research to my future endeavours, whatever they may be!
Cristy: The Darling Axe 'Setting the Stage - World-Building' session helped me hone in on the layers of world building and will further inform my writing practice as I edit books one and two in my trilogy, and as I set out to write book three.
How will your experience at the Writers' Summit inform your work with the Fed as you go forward?
Tara: It's always helpful to know there are other writers out there working through some of the same questions as I am. Connecting with community at the Summit helps me to feel less alone in the process!
Amber: Starting this position with a jaw-dropping showcase of the talent, depth and diversity of our writing community in BC was inspiring and energizing. My role at the Fed is largely fundraising which can be a bit dry at times but knowing the incredible people and programs for which I am raising money is majorly motivating and extremely exciting.
Meaghan: The Summit was a reminder of the value of community, and the importance of coming together to share knowledge, ideas, and experiences. Departing, I felt motivated. Excited to dive back into my writing life with renewed enthusiasm. Hopefully, my work compiling contest bank listings for FBCW members will continue to spark creativity in the coming months, and keep the momentum rolling.
Cristy: I loved meeting so many people over the course of the Writer's Summit; the energy and positive vibe was contagious! I plan to seek out future events from the Fed and to engage with more writers across BC.
Tara Borin is a poet and writer living in the traditional territory of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, Dawson City, Yukon. They are the membership associate at the Federation of BC Writers. Tara's debut poetry collection, The Pit, is out now with Nightwood Editions. You can find Tara online at taraborinwrites.com and @tara_borin on Twitter.
Amber Cowie is a novelist living in a small town on the west coast of British Columbia. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, The Globe and Mail, Crime Reads, and Scary Mommy and has been endorsed by numerous bestsellers including Samantha M. Bailey, Shannon Kirk, Kerry Lonsdale, Catherine McKenzie, Robyn Harding, and Blake Crouch. Her first novel, Rapid Falls, was a Whistler Book Awards nominee, hit number one overall on Amazon, and was a top-100 bestselling Kindle book of 2018. Her next book, Last One Alive, will be released by Simon and Schuster Canada in the summer of 2022. Her work can be found at ambercowie.com. Amber is also a devoted (if slightly distracted) mother to two awesome kids and a partner to the amazing head brewer of Andina Brewing in East Van. She enjoys skiing, running and securing funding for awesome organizations like the Federation of BC Writers.
Meaghan Hackinen is a west coast writer, ultra-endurance cyclist, and contest bank compiler for the FBCW. Meaghan's two-wheeled adventures have taken her from Haida Gwaii to Mexico’s high plateaus, across Canada and the United States, and from North Cape to Tarifa along Europe’s highest paved roads. Her debut travel memoir, South Away: The Pacific Coast on Two Wheels (NeWest Press, 2019) was shortlisted for two Canadian book awards. Find Meaghan at meaghanhackinen.com.
Cristy Watson has eight published novels for MG and YA readers. She loves entering writing contests and was pleasantly surprised to receive Editor’s Choice in the CV2, 2-Day Poem Contest in 2013, where contestants have 48 hours to write a poem using ten selected words. She also regularly participates in the Poetry Marathon in June, preferring the half-marathon where she writes twelve poems to twelve prompts in twelve hours. She is currently the Committee Chair for a secret, but very exciting, project that will be announced in the coming days. You can find Cristy here: cristywatsonauthor.wordpress.com and facebook.com/watsoncristy.
Jessica Cole is the Managing Editor of WordWorks Magazine.
The Federation of BC Writers is excited to announce the expansion of our WordWorks Magazine into the digital realms. We are still producing our magazine as normal, but wanted to offer more opportunities for members to learn and more opportunities for members to be published.
Check back over the coming weeks as our first articles land here.
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