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Month: May 2010

BOOK MARKETING: “A Christian Marketing Twist on an Old Concept,” by Lorilyn Roberts


As I continued to market Children of Dreams, make contacts, and converse with authors, I found I was not the only one walking this lonely road. There are many Christian writers out there with hopes, dreams and a passion for writing.

It is overwhelming to navigate the web and figure out where to spend money prudently to achieve the best results. There are boatloads of companies and individuals offering various packages. If you aren’t discerning, you can quickly invest a lot of money in things that may give you exposure but not generate sales, and there is a difference. You can do a Google search of my name and easily pull up twenty pages. So, to be honest, I am no longer interested in exposure. I want to sell more books.

I tried many things to increase sales. I suspect many give up believing it’s too hard and too expensive. How many excellent books will never see the light of day? Even with lots of exposure, it’s still tough to sell many books. Sometimes I think authors spend so much time writing and promoting their own books that it does not allow enough time for them to appreciate what others are writing. Finding the right balance can be elusive.

The idea of working hard to achieve your dreams resonates with my core beliefs that God rewards those who seek to glorify Him in whatever profession they pursue; and at the heart of glorifying God is hard work.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” You persevere, work hard to produce a product that others need or want, and eventually, if you are wise with the gifts God gives you, He will bless you.

With the downturn in the economy, it is increasingly difficult to market and sell books. The publishing industry across the board is hurting, but I believe the Christian market is suffering even more. The reality for Christian publishers is they must sell thousands of books to make a profit. If they don’t succeed, they won’t stay in business.

So when a mainline publishing company’s agent asks me, “How are you going to market your book?” I understand how important it is to assure him I can successfully market my book. Until recently, however, I was clueless about how I could do it effectively. So are many others, and that is something I hope to change.

Recently I listened to a well-known Christian author compare POD publishing to traditional publishing. He discouraged writers from going the POD route, claiming that a person who publishes a POD book is not really an author. I wanted to tell him that the way marketing is today, it’s almost impossible for someone like me to get traditionally published—without a platform and a lot of money, neither of which I have.

I came away discouraged like I was a second-class author. It isn’t enough to have a well-written book. The reality is, you could have a book as well written as Charles Dickenson’s Great Expectations and the world might never know about it.

I have read articles, blogs, excerpts, and books by unknown authors. There are some wonderful stories out there in cyberspace. That is not to say there isn’t mediocre writing also. But I want to help those Christian authors like me who have been inspired by God to achieve success. If God is all-powerful, and I don’t believe any Christian would deny that, He can get our books into the hands of those who will appreciate them and buy them. If anything, I think we tend to limit what God can do because our expectations are too low. We have an awesome God who is in the business of doing the impossible.

The other day I was on a Christian writers’ website. The blog mentioned how long it takes an unknown writer to get his book published by a mainline publisher—seven years. If I had dutifully followed the trail blazed by others before me, Children of Dreams wouldn’t be out into the marketplace until I was sixty years old (ouch, that hurts).

I will compare that to my former husband’s educational experience. I put him through medical school which took four years. His residency following that took four more years. In eight years, he went from building bikes for minimum wage at Toys R Us to treating cancer patients making hundreds of thousands of dollars. If the medical system can accomplish that, surely there is something the Christian world can do to make that nine-year process go a little faster.

I am a single mother with two daughters. I’m employed full time as a closed captioner for television. I am taking online classes to earn my Masters in Creative Writing. I am the president of a local Christian writers critique group in Gainesville which meets once a month. I follow up with the attendees after the meetings to encourage them (we all need encouragement, even those who have “arrived”). I home school my youngest daughter who is eleven. We also have four neurotic cats and two wacky dogs.

Of course, the above activities don’t include the stressful job of living—paying bills, cooking, laundry, running my eleven-year-old daughter everywhere (she’s a level eight competitive gymnast who spends twenty hours a week at the local gym), plus I am committed to a church, attend weekly, and am involved in a small, one-another group that meets once a week for prayer. I also try to swim laps every day at the Gainesville Health and Fitness Center (I want to be around for my grandkids). I am not complaining. God has blessed me with more than I could possibly do in my own strength.

My point is, in order to fit it all in, I must work hard, efficiently, and maintain an attitude that brings glory to God. Otherwise, I will receive the praise of man and not my heavenly Father. That’s one reason I am reluctant to enter into book contests.

I believe Christian marketing is one of the most inefficient enterprises in existence. The way some of it is done now, I wonder if it’s working at all. Let me digress and make one more comparison, and then I will get on to my novel idea.

In February, I received an invitation from Steve Harrison to enroll in a class, “How to Make Your Book an Almost Instant Best Seller and Sell Tons of Copies—Even if You’re a Marketing Novice.”

Steve Harrison is a guru in internet marketing. He occasionally will have a free webinar where he will have a guest on promoting some aspect of writing or marketing. I had attended a few in the past—I like free things, especially when I don’t have to go anywhere—and so I signed up for this one.

The guest on his show was Peggy McColl, an author who has had many bestsellers. I listened to the seminar and was intrigued. She explained how anyone can take any book and make it a bestseller on Barnes & Noble or Amazon by following a few prescribed things exactly. It didn’t have to be a new book. It could be an older book. It could be fiction. It could be nonfiction.

Most of my books have been sold on Amazon so this was attractive to me (I was never able to get Children of Dreams in bookstores even though I paid money to provide a restocking expense if any books were returned).

What impressed me most about her Bestseller Coaching Program, however, was she guaranteed success if you followed all the steps in her program. I had told myself (and God) I would no longer pay for any marketing programs unless they came with a guarantee—literally. This program came with a one hundred percent guarantee.

Enrolling in the Bestseller Coaching Program is not cheap. It cost me $2,500. I would have to sell a lot of books to recoup the money, but if I sold enough books to make Children of Dreams number one, that would make me a bestselling author on Amazon. I figured I would do whatever was required to make it work. If I failed, then I would get my money back.

I was in the middle of my screenwriting course in February, March, and April (I just turned in my last assignment a few days ago), so I knew it would have to wait a little while, but the guarantee ran for a year. That also sounded good, so I signed up for it.

There were many others participating in the Bestseller Coaching Program, and we had a group that agreed to be mentors to each other as we launched our books. I have received emails from some of them, and I asked since I had not started my campaign, “How is it going?” Everyone responded saying the hardest part was getting people to support their “campaign.”

Let me explain a little bit about how the Bestseller Coaching Program works. The idea behind it is you have a launch date, and you direct people to Amazon or Barnes & Noble to buy your book. You do this basically in two ways. First, you get Joint Venture Partners to promote your book through an email to their clients on the day of your book launch. The idea is to have everybody know about your book and buy it on the designated date. You add value to those buying your book by having partners that will be willing to offer bonus gifts during that 24-hour period.

The basic premise of the program resonated with what I knew worked.

My parents owned a small map company in Atlanta. Each summer they would solicit orders for the new Aero Atlas to be published in the fall. Customers could buy the book map at a discounted price until September when the price would increase, so it created a sense of urgency. If the customer wanted to receive his new map at the discounted rate, he had to buy it within the timeframe given.

Each client was contacted individually—the emphasis being on customer service. I spent several summers as a teenager working in the business, making phone calls, and encouraging each customer to buy at the lower price, ensuring he received his updated map, emphasizing how many new streets had been added. Surely he wanted to locate his customers efficiently without wasting precious time and gas. That would increase his profit margin.

Fast forward about thirty years. I provide closed captioning for television. One of the channels that I captioned until recently was QVC. QVC is the guru of home shopping and it has its own network. The Q stands for quality, the V stands for value, and the C stands for customer service. One of QVC’s most successful marketing strategies is the “Today’s Special Value.” 


Each day QVC presents a product at midnight. I used to caption the 12 to 1 a.m. time slot so I saw it routinely in action. The Today’s Special Value is a spoofed-up, brand-spanking-new product that will make your life easier, better, or something you believe you can’t live without.

Sometimes it is jewelry. At other times it is clothing. Many times it is electronics—the newest gadgets in cameras, TVs, or computers; or maybe it is a kitchen product (yes, I bought a bunch of kitchen absurdities).

But besides presenting an excellent product (you must have that to start with; as a Christian, we shouldn’t accept anything less), there are several other factors that enable QVC to sell hundreds or thousands of a particular item in a short span of time.

First, there is a sense of urgency. The tagline could be something like, “You shouldn’t wait or it might sell out. Then you won’t be able to purchase it.”

Oftentimes it’s a version of something you can’t get anywhere else. Perhaps a new style purse, for example, that might be in an unusual or different color; maybe it is a two-for-one pineapple slicer. There are many variations on this concept.

Another example would be the Keurig coffee maker I bought. They added in extra K cups worth about $20 as well as some other online freebies (which I never bothered to get). But the extra K-cups were used and I felt like I received a lot of value for my money.

That is what we want to create when we sell something. We want the buyer to be convinced he has gotten a bargain. The only catch is he has to buy the product when we want him to buy it.

I would be amused when QVC had the cleaning experts on. They loved their mops and microfiber pads about as much as I loved my Bible; and passion sells. As authors, if we can’t be passionate about our words and willing to market our book with that much zest, then maybe we should find something else to do.

There were many occasions when QVC devoted a significant amount of time to something I could have cared less about—maybe the newest version of a popular screwdriver or wrench. Of course, I would rather be captioning baseball anyway, but by the end of the presentation, I would be embarrassed to admit how many times I was cajoled into buying something I never knew I needed.

While not everything in the above examples applies to selling a book, the concept does. I knew Peggy McColl’s Bestseller Coaching Program would work if enough Joint Venture Partners could be brought on board. I’ve had several conversations with authors who have launched their Bestseller Campaign and the one comment I’ve heard is it’s very hard to get people to help you. Some don’t see the value. Others are busy and don’t respond back.

I surmised this might be the weakest link in the marketing program. One author told me for every twenty people she contacted, she received one response. That means to convince two hundred people to partner with you on your book launch, you would need to contact four thousand people.

As I thought about this, I remembered a comment a Christian author recently made to me: Writing is done alone, but you can’t get anywhere in this business as far as publishing without help from others. It’s impossible.

God did not intend for us to be loner Christians. He wants us to be involved in a church and reach out to others as part of the Body of Christ. The Gospel of John tells us, as paraphrased in a song by Jars of Clay, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”


Fast forward ten years. While the John 3:16 Marketing Network is no longer active, the concepts still work. I believe it’s harder now only because there are so many free books available. 

I recommend offering one or two free books to encourage readers to buy your other books. In my experience, books in a series work the best. Offer the first book for free, and charge for the remaining books in the series. Then find like-minded authors in similar genres and promote each other. 

A great website that does a lot of the hard work for you is https://bookfunnel.com/ I have used it several times. For a minimal amount of money each month (there are different levels), you can join with many authors on book promotions. Other features on the website make it an excellent marketing tool for any indie author. I do not receive any remuneration for my endorsement. I just know from personal experience it works.
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BOOK MARKETING: “The Very Un-novel Problem,” by Lorilyn Roberts

IN THE BEGINNING:

I began my presentation with the following statement: “You have no platform. You are not famous. You are not an expert in any particular subject. You have no fancy initials after your name. The reality is nobody cares about you or your book.”

As depressing as this might sound, it’s how I began my presentation to the First Coast Christian Writers in Jacksonville, Florida, in the fall of 2009. But I ended my comments with the following observation:

“If you were to present Jesus’ marketing plan for the Gospel, it would probably go something like this: Jesus had no internet, no TV, no blog, no books, and no public relations people. All He had were twelve disciples whom He loved and on whom He had to depend to spread the Gospel around the world.

“God was able to use those flawed human beings to bring ‘The Greatest Story ever Told’ to a world way beyond what they could have envisioned, both then and into the future. If God can do that, our books can reach those for whom they were written. We don’t need to overstretch our wallets, but neither should we sit idle. We should pray hard and seek His will not only in our writing but also in our marketing. Ultimately, God will get our book out there if we are good stewards of the gifts He’s given us.

I wonder what the marketing people would say today if we told them our marketing strategy was to have twelve people talk about our book to everyone they met and that was all. We had no money to spend either. This is just a thought to ponder as I think about how difficult it is to market.

On December 30, 2009, I wrote a blog, “Marketing a POD book in 2009: Reflections on What Worked and What Didn’t.” I shared what I had learned and my determination to “keep on keeping on” for what I believed God had called me to do—to market my Children of Dreams memoir the best way I knew how. I believed I had written a book that others would want to read if they knew about it. That is the key and the stumbling block for many Christian authors. You can find this blog.

 

The John 3:16 Marketing Network would emulate what Jesus taught His disciples, enabling them to share the Gospel despite persecution, opposition, and hardship. At its heart, the John 3:16 Marketing Network would be one Christian author helping another Christian author, and ultimately, advancing HIS WORD around the world. It’s different from what is currently being done, but let me give some background first.

In 2009, I attended a well-known Christian writers’ conference in Florida. Before the conference, I worked diligently to complete Children of Dreams, an inspirational and spiritual book about the adoption of my two daughters. Throughout the book, I compared their adoptions to God’s adoption of us. I spent three months writing Children of Dreams and six months revising and editing it. An English major did the first bit of editing. The second round of editing was done by a high school English teacher. Then I had a professional editor who read it and loved it so much that she critiqued it some more. She also gave me tips on how to improve my writing for the future. Before the final version was printed, I had a friend with a Ph.D. in communications take one last look at it. She offered a few more suggestions.

Twenty-two people from different walks of life read Children of Dreams. Some I didn’t know personally. Several volunteered when I asked for help from the church’s reading group (which I had never attended). I begged some people. Some sweet souls offered to read Children of Dreams because they knew my children and wanted to read their complete story.

All those who helped in the early drafts are acknowledged in the “forward” section of the book. I graciously accepted the advice given and looked at every note and comment. I swallowed my pride and learned how much I didn’t know, but I also realized how blessed I was to have so many willing to invest their precious time reading the pages.

It is time-consuming to read a book and evaluate what you like and don’t like. I don’t take it lightly when anybody gives me his thoughts, even when I don’t agree. At least he is thinking and processing my words, and usually, if the comments are given in kindness, there is something I can use. It might give me an idea I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise.

After months of going through this process, spending a few hundred dollars making review copies, followed by additional editing, I believed I had a good book to present to an editor at the conference. I expected further revisions. I had attended this conference on three previous occasions and figured someone would recommend more changes. I even spent $50 and bought an eBook about proper etiquette at a writer’s conference—to make sure my heart was right and I wasn’t setting myself up for failure.

I sent my submission ahead of time as per the requirements of the conference. The critiqued submissions from the editors were to be returned to the authors after lunch on Friday.

The conference started on Wednesday. Lunchtime arrived on the anticipated day and nervous participants lined up to receive their packages. Each person in front of me received his submission. The volunteer looked everywhere for mine but couldn’t find it. She reassured me that some were still out and to check back later.

I did not receive my critiqued submission until the following day when I insisted they find it. I looked at the notes jotted down by an editor of a well-known publishing house. His only comment was: “This doesn’t meet our needs. You might consider submitting to a magazine.”

I walked away upset but kept it to myself. I was okay with the thought my book might not be what he wanted, but to tell me to submit it to a magazine was an insult. Children of Dreams was 235 pages filled with twists and turns and unbelievable complications. There was no way he could have read my submission and gotten that impression.

Because of the long delay in receiving it, there were no openings left to meet with another editor. I stared at the sheets with all the appointment slots filled. I wondered how I could have paid such a huge sum of money to attend the conference and invested so much emotionally into my book and then not even have an opportunity to meet with anyone. Devastation might come close to describing my emotions.

I scrambled around to sign up with editors and agents who had slots to open up when people scratched appointments. I eventually met with three agents and two editors. Each time after the perfunctory greeting, I showed the listener my completed and bound book (if you are not a published author, you must have a finished manuscript before an agent or editor will talk to you).

Two agents asked me, “Do you have a platform? Do you have a mailing list?”

“No, I don’t have a platform. But I do have a website, and I’m willing to do whatever you ask to get my book out there.”

One agent replied, “Come back and see me when you have one thousand people on your email list.” I thanked her.

Another agent told me to send him a proposal. I returned home and spent three weeks typing up a proposal and mailed it to him. He emailed me back to the effect, “I’m not sure when I’ll get around to reading it. If you haven’t heard from me in a month, ring me up.” I never bothered.

During the conference, I tried to show my book to anyone who would look at it. “Is it a memoir? Oh, nobody is publishing memoirs right now.”

I am glad that isn’t a long tradition. Otherwise, my kids would never have known about the incredible Christian witnesses of such folks as George Meuller, Martin Luther, J. Hudson Taylor, George Elliott, Corrie ten Boom, John Wycliffe, John Huss, and Johannes Gutenberg. I felt the Red Sea parting in front of me when people thought my book was only a memoir.

I never liked it being identified that way because memoirs are usually about dead people, and I am still very much alive. Besides, anyone who read Children of Dreams would strongly attest to the fact it is far more than just a memoir. Far be it for me to convince someone of that, especially when no one wanted to read a word.

One blessed editor did give me “the time of day.” He was someone I had met at a previous conference. I wasn’t going to present it to him because I knew it wasn’t the kind of material he was looking for, but I was discouraged. It turned out he was interested and even read a page or two. I felt like my year’s labor was validated by someone who appreciated my passion. He ranks high in my opinion of what an editor should be.

When our time ended, I reached over to grab my book, but he asked if he could take it with him. I was thrilled. Although nothing ever materialized from that meeting, I later received a personal letter from the president of the organization thanking me for God’s testimony in the lives of my family. It wasn’t the endorsement I had hoped for, but I appreciated the fact that he took the time to write me.

I returned home still determined to publish Children of Dreams. I had vowed early on not to use Print on Demand (I think the Bible says we shouldn’t take vows). I had previously published a beautiful children’s picture book, The Donkey and the King, as a POD book, and while I never regretted it, I learned from that experience how difficult it is to market a POD book. I wanted Children of Dreams to “get out there” and receive the exposure it deserved.

I was also tired of the prejudice that POD authors receive. I wanted to be taken seriously. After all, I had done multiple rewrites and had many people read it. I had done everything I could humanly speaking to make it one of those books that resonates with inspiration, hope, and redemption.

When I returned from the conference I did not let my disillusionment with the Christian publishing world dissuade me from looking at the secular market. I went to the bookstore and bought one of those expensive marketing guides and searched for what was hot.

Unlike the Christian market, secular publishers were seeking memoirs and publishing them. As I methodically put together my list of possible publishers, I began to wonder, “Why am I doing this?”

I had to wait till the summer to submit it to the XYZ Publishing Company. Another company only accepted submissions during the winter. As I examined the various requirements for submitting queries or manuscripts, my frustration mounted when it seemed like I couldn’t submit Children of Dreams anywhere right away.

“Why don’t I just POD publish it and work my behind off to market it?” I thought. Besides, I’m fifty-four years old. I wrote Children of Dreams first and foremost for my daughters. I wanted them to know what I went through to adopt them, and ultimately, to see God’s hand in all of it. I wanted them to know it was God who brought them out of depravity to a new life where they would know love and security—and most of all—their Savior. While I spent years knocking on doors that might never open, I might die. Then they would never know their story.

I prayed about it because, until this point, I was resistant to POD. Was it my pride? God made it clear to me to publish it POD. I have never regretted it. Not because I’ve sold tons of books—I haven’t. But because God has taught me so much I would never have learned otherwise.

My book was published on April 30, 2009. If you read the article I posted in December 2009, I share some of the things that worked and didn’t work. There were a lot of things that did nothing but cost a lot of money. I won’t repeat them here (see my previous website reference).

I gathered reviews on Amazon and many other websites. As of this writing, I have thirty-seven reviews on Amazon with five stars. I received five stars from the Christian Book Review, Midwest Book Review, Allbooks Review, and the FaithWriters Seal of Approval for Outstanding Read.

While I was marketing Children of Dreams, I realized how much I loved what I was doing and enrolled in graduate school to work on my Master’s in Creative Writing. I couldn’t find a good local Christian critique group, so I started one. I feel blessed that someone was willing to help me in this endeavor.

Where there is a will, God provides the way. I continue to remind myself, that I must be the best that I can be, not for my glory, but for the one that gives me the opportunity. To whom much is asked much is given.

 
Fast-forward to 2022. Children of Dreams has been published for many years now, and people still read it. I give it away as an e-book to anyone who asks, and thousands of sold and free copies have been downloaded from Amazon. Do I regret taking the marketing path that I pursued? Absolutely not. While the John 3:16 Marketing Network is no longer active, the Christian approach we used still applies today, although much harder because of all the free books available.
 
Despite that, I believe God will help each of us to sell books if we commit our hearts to Him and to His Good Work.

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