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March 2018 AskALLI Members’ Q&A with Michael La Ronn and Dan Blank – Answering 9 Key Questions about Self-publishing

askalli-podcast-squaresWelcome to Ask ALLi, the Self-Publishing Advice Podcast from the Alliance of Independent Authors. This week it’s our monthly Member Q&A where ALLi Member’ have their most pressing self-publishing questions analyzed and answered. Join your regular hosts for the Member Q&A: Michael La Ronn and Dan Blank.

Questions answered this week include:

  • What services does Alli recommend for outsourcing podcast editing/show notes?
  • What tips do you have for using a service like Fiverr?
  • Are box sets an effective marketing tool?
  • Is Kindle Scout worth it?
  • What is the best way to determine if a self-publishing service provider is reputable?
  • What’s the step-by-step process of obtaining book reviews?
  • Do you miss out on sales if you don’t go all-out during your book launch?
  • Should I copyright my work?
  • Is it truly possible to keep a pen name secret?

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About the Podcast Hosts

Michael La Ronn is the author of over 30 books of science fiction and fantasy and authors’ self-help books. His books include the Galaxy Mavericks series and Modern Necromancy series. After a near-death experience in 2012, Michael decided to dedicate himself to writing, and he hasn’t looked back.

Dan Blank is the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers and artists share their stories and grow their audience. He is the author of the book Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience. He has worked with hundreds of individuals, and amazing organizations who support creative people such as Penguin Random House, Sesame Workshop, Hachette Book Group, Workman Publishing, J Walter Thompson, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer’s Digest, Library Journal, and many others. Dan’s work has been featured by Poets & Writers magazine, the National Endowment for the Arts, Professional Artist magazine, and 99u. You can find Dan on his blog or on Twitter and Instagram at @DanBlank

Read the Transcript of Today’s Episode

Michael La Ronn : Welcome to the AskALLi Members Q&A Podcast. It is March 2018 and I’m Michael La Ronn , your host, joined by my cohost, Dan Blank, from WeGrowMedia. How are you Dan?

Dan Blank: I’m doing very well.

Michael La Ronn : Great. It’s another month and it just seems like it was yesterday when we did our first podcast and the months just kind of flew … The week just kind of flew by and here we are again and we’ve got quite a few questions this month. Thank you all for responding to our call to action and listening to the show and asking all your questions. We’ve got, I think, nine, 10, maybe 11 questions we’re going to talk about today. We’ve got a lot of content to get through. What we’ll do is we’re going to start. I’ll answer some of these questions rapid fire and there is one really good question that Dan and I thought would be worth spending some time talking on, so we’re going to answer all the other questions rapid fire and then spend some time talking about this question that has to do with marketing your book with limited time and money, that we thought would be a really good thing to talk about this month. Why don’t we get started with the first question?

Dan Blank: That sounds good. The first question is from John and he’s asking, “I’m learning to perform all the tasks in the entire podcast process, but I want to have the editing of the audio and the creation of transcripts, show notes, and links to someone else.” He says, “He knows there’s a lot of different kinds of skill requests. Any luck with Fiverr or a vetted VA that won’t leave me penniless?”

Michael La Ronn : I couldn’t think of two more extreme extremes, right? You got Fiverr on the one hand, where you can get services for $5 or maybe a little bit more, and then you’ve got a VA, which is going to run you quite a bit of money, depending on who you hire and where they’re located. John, thanks for your question. I think it’s a good question. I think it’s one that comes up quite a bit, especially when you’re thinking about podcasting. What I would say is marry what you can afford, versus quality, right? Fiverr is not necessarily a bad place to start for these kinds of services.

Michael La Ronn : If it’s a service that someone is doing something for you, I’ve had a lot of luck with Fiverr. I use Fiverr quite a bit in my business, just hiring different people to do different things and different tasks. Fiverr is a good place to start. I do think that if you’re wanting to build in a longterm relationship, it may be worth trying to find a VA that you can negotiate with. I would probably start on a website like Upwork. Upwork is good because it allows you to post your project and let people bid on it, so you can get resumes, and information from different contractors, and verify who’s going to be the best fit for your project, whereas you’re not necessarily going to have that flexibility with Fiverr.

Michael La Ronn : In general, what I will say about Fiverr, and the next question ties into that a little bit, but I just think you have to be a little bit careful with it. I think that it’s a great platform. There are some great people on Fiverr. You just have to be careful and make sure you do your homework and do your due diligence in making sure that one, you’re going to have someone that’s going to do the job that you hired them to do. Two, that they’re going to do it well. Three, that you’re protecting yourself and your business. That’s what I would say. Marry what you can afford with quality.

Dan Blank: I would just add to that, because I’ve run a podcast for a while, you can start with the most bare bones podcast. You can start with your first episode not requiring editing. You can start without a transcript. You can start without show notes. There are many podcasts I listen to that have this incredible show notes, and the links, and transcripts, and it’s edited up, you just can’t believe, but some of them, and these are professional podcasts, they’re not. I think that if you want to get things rolling, you can start by getting the basics right and add one thing at a time over the course of one or two months.

Michael La Ronn : Absolutely. Two, doing a lot of that stuff yourself too, also makes you … It puts you in a better position when you do need to hire someone to do it down the road, because you understand the nuances of editing, and so therefore you can give better direction and command your project a little bit better. All right, let’s go to the next question.

Dan Blank: Next question is related, “What tips do you have for using a service like Fiverr?”

Michael La Ronn : All right. I kind of spoiled it in the last question here. As I said before, Fiverr is a great platform. There’s a lot of different services and things that you can get on there. You can think of it, you can probably find someone on Fiverr that does it. That being said, just in the spirit of this podcast, making sure that we’re giving you guys objective advice, advice that you’re going to be able to use in your self-publishing business, just make sure, like I said before, that you’re doing your homework on the person that is offering a service. Two, that they’re going to do a good job. For me, I always go to the Fiverr sellers that have a lot of reviews and that have a lot of positive reviews. I just think that says volumes to the type of work that they do. You’re always taking a chance if you go with someone that maybe doesn’t have a whole lot of reviews or is just getting started.

Michael La Ronn : I would also say with Fiverr, be a little bit more careful when you’re working on projects where someone is creating something for you. For example, if you’re going to get a book cover done, it’s probably not the place I would recommend you get a book cover done on Fiverr, but if you are going to get a book cover done on Fiverr you want to be relatively certain that that person who’s designing your cover has the rights to use the fonts, and the images, and any other things that are going to become part of your cover. Because if they don’t, and they infringe on someone else’s copyright, you’re going to be the one that they’re knocking … That is going to get sued, essentially. You want to make sure you protect yourself, but like I said, Fiverr, it’s a great place and if you do your homework and you do your research, you can really find some fantastic stuff there.

Dan Blank: One thing I would add is consider having a budget to do a test. I think you can look at this if you have a bigger project that needs a graphic, take 40 bucks and hire two or three people to do a smaller version of it. Not necessarily because you want that done, but just say, “Let me see how these three people approach it differently. [inaudible 00:06:19] understand Fiverr. Let me see who I like better. Let me see the differences in file types or turn around.” Where it’s a little investment upfront can get you very comfortable, and it’s not at a point where you feel like it has to get done right now.

Michael La Ronn : Yeah, I like that.

Dan Blank: All right. Next question is from Jeff and he asks, “Have box sets of books proven profitable? Is there data to support their success or usage? I fear they’re just a fad without a platform, without sales, why box?”

Michael La Ronn : Okay. The question here is, “Are box sets an effective marketing tool?” The answer is, yes. They can be effective and they have proven to be effective for a lot of different authors. For example, I think it was … If you’ve been around for at least a couple years, it was kind of hard to miss all those box sets that were climbing their way up to the U.S.A Today best-seller lists on Amazon a few years ago. That kind of level of 19, 20 authors in a box set, that has done very well. I will say that the effectiveness of those huge multi-author box sets in a way has waned a little bit. Primarily because a lot of the best-seller venues have started to change their rules and requirements for books that are eligible to get onto those lists, but in terms of reaching readers, and just selling more books, and building your audience, and expanding your audience, I think it’s a very effective tool and it’s one that you shouldn’t overlook.

Michael La Ronn : I think a lot of people overlook it because they see, “Oh, box sets aren’t working anymore, or readers are tired of them,” but if you write in a smaller genre, or if you write in the genre where readers are still craving those things, say urban fantasy, or space opera, or whatever that might be, I think it’s a good idea to think about. Don’t also overlook the single author box sets. Those are also an effective thing that you can do. If you have six books in a series, you put the first three books together into a box set, charge a higher price for them, that’s a great selling proposition for readers. If you have an audiobook, that’s also something that you can leverage, because readers like those big audiobooks.

Michael La Ronn : They want to use their Audible credits, right? They like to use those for bigger books. I definitely think that there is a lot to be done in the box set area. I also think exclusive content, like short story collections, so having short stories that are linked to a larger story, or around a central theme. I was in a box set for space opera authors a while back and that did pretty well. I would experiment with it, play around with it, and if you can get some authors in your genre to participate, I don’t think there’s any harm in it.

Dan Blank: All right. Next question comes from our Facebook group and they ask, “Do you have any experience with Kindle Scout? Is it worth it?”

Michael La Ronn : Oh, Kindle Scout. I have not used Kindle Scout, but I have flirted with it a number of times. The reasons I didn’t end up going with it were personal, so I won’t share those. Essentially, for those of you who don’t know what Kindle Scout is, it’s essentially … It’s like going with a traditional publisher, so it’s a crowdfunding or crowdsourcing platform where authors post their books, they post the … They commit to posting their books there exclusively for 45 days. Readers can read it, or read the first excerpt of the book, and then vote on whether they would like for it to be picked up by Amazon. Amazon looks at that, they look at the ratings, they look at the exposure, and if they like the book, then they will make you an offer to publish with Kindle Press. If that happens, then you’re a hybrid author in a sense, right? If you have some books published already, self-published already.

Michael La Ronn : The thing about Kindle Scout is that a lot of people think that KDP Press is the same as an Amazon imprint, like 45North or Montlake, but they’re actually not. They’re their own separate companies. The advantage is that you do have the power of Amazon behind you. The disadvantage though with KDP Press is that it is not one of their imprints, so you’re not going to get the same benefits that an author that sends, say 45North, or 47North, I don’t know why I say 45North. 47North is going to get. There’s some confusion and inconsistency on just how much marketing support you receive. I’ve talked to a couple of different authors in preparation for this question. I actually did talk to a friend of mine who actually got accepted into the KDP Press program and he had nothing but good things to say, but he did say that it’s just not quite the same as some people that he knows that are published through Amazon.

Michael La Ronn : Just keep that in mind. There’s some positives to it, right? Easy reversion rights. You can get the rights to your book back if it doesn’t sell at a certain amount. You do have the Amazon’s black hat secrets, or they can do all those wonderful things that we can’t do for ourselves, right? You have to think too about, can you do better for yourself than KDP Press can? I think that’s a serious question that a lot of people have to ask themselves. Every time I think about it, I usually settle on the idea that I probably could do better longterm than signing a contract, but your career, your decision. I think just get the facts, talk to a lot of people. I believe there are lots of forum message boards and things out there on KDP Press and Kindle Scout, so just do your homework. If it’s the right choice for you, then go for it, but just like I said, think longterm and weigh the benefits of it versus what kind of marketing you can do for yourself.

Dan Blank: All right. Another question from Facebook and they ask, “What is the best way to determine if a service provider is reputable?” I assume they’re talking about a self-publishing service provider, but that was not specified.

Michael La Ronn : Okay. Yeah, so I would say that the question would be, “What is the best way to determine if a self-publishing provider is reputable?” I would say the first place I would start, if you’re an ALLi member, I would start at our ALLi watchdog service. ALLi provides a tremendous service where we basically look at and vet a lot of these self-publishing providers out there to determine if they meet our level of standards, right? We’re looking for those service providers that provide excellence, they’re fair, they’re objective, they’re ethical, right?

Michael La Ronn : We provide that service, and we rate them, and rank them based on how they perform. What I would invite you to do is if you’re an ALLi member, check your ALLi dashboard by logging in and there’s a link right there that says, “Via the ALLI watchdog report.” I would start there and see if the provider that you’re looking at is in that database. For those of you who are not listening who are not ALLi members, that is a great reason to become an ALLi member, so be sure to join us today to get that great benefit.

Dan Blank: All right. We’ve got a couple questions from Donna and the first is, “I still don’t understand how to get reviews on a book before it’s out.” There’s a few sub-questions here. “Do you send them a PDF or an advanced reader copy? Do you ask them to go somewhere like your website? How do you get them on the back cover?” Then the second part is, “How do you get instant reviews on Amazon on a book that isn’t published yet?” That’s the long and the short of it.

Michael La Ronn : Okay. Before I answer this, we have to give Donna a super thank you. She gets the Listener of the Week Award, because she asked quite a few questions that are going to show up in our podcast today. Thank you Donna for asking your questions. The question is, “What is the step,” or at least the first question or the overarching question is, “What is the step-by-step process of obtaining book reviews?” This is honestly a tough question, right? I think a lot of authors struggle with finding reviewers who are willing to review their book, because there are so few reviewers out there, and so many books. How I would answer the question is that if I were just starting out and I didn’t have any book reviews, or I didn’t have a big audience, or I didn’t have a big mailing list, what I would start by doing is start by taking stock of what you do have.

Michael La Ronn : Do you have at least a few readers that might be willing to read an advanced reader copy? If so, send out an email to those people, send out an email to your mailing list, and just ask. Say, “Hey, I’ve got my next book coming out, I’m offering advanced review copies.” Sell the perks of advanced review copies, that they get a free review copy gift in exchange for an honest review, right? You want to make sure that you put that disclaimer out there and just see who bites. Usually, most people can get one or two people that would be willing to read it. The next thing I would do is I would go to … There are lots of message boards, and lots of author social media groups based on genre where you can go and ask for advanced reader copies or at least ask where to maybe find some advanced readers. That’s always a good place to start.

Michael La Ronn : A place that helped me quite a bit early on in my career was Goodreads. There was a beta reading group that I used quite a bit where I was able to get some early reviews from people who just very kindly volunteered their time to read advanced copies of reviews and/or beta read your book. That’s another good way to do it. Another way, just use your social media channels. If you’re on social media, advertise that you’ve got some books that are available for advanced review copy. That’s a good way to at least drum up some interest in the book. Once you’ve done all of those things and once you’ve gone through the different book review sites, and there’s all kinds of them out there where they’ll … Book bloggers. You can look at databases where there’s tons of book bloggers that you can email, or fill out their submission forms to get your book into their eyes for consideration.

Michael La Ronn : After you’ve done all of that, there are some paid services out there that you can look at that will at least drum up some list of potential Amazon reviewers that you can pitch. I won’t list any names here, because I never know when people are going to be listening to this, so if I drop a name, three, five years someone’s listening to this, that service may be gone. They are out there. Just remember, with a huge disclaimer, size 72 font, bold font, exclamation point, exclamation point, don’t pay for reviews. Just don’t ever offer money for a review. It’s just not … It’ll just get you into a world of trouble. One, it’s not ethical. Two, it violates Amazon’s terms of service, as well as other book retailers.

Michael La Ronn : Basically, the long answer, the long and short answer to your question Donna is, I would just start with what you have and just build on from there. As you release more books, just make sure that you make a diligent effort to continue snowballing what you already have and make sure that those authors that you … Or the readers that you do have on your advance reading lists, that you communicate with them regularly, even if you don’t have something to give them, and make sure you treat them well too. Give them advanced exclusive content, or anything that you can dream up that will make them loyal to you and be willing to read your next book too.

Dan Blank: I’ll just add to that. I think people tend to wait far too long before they start this process. This is the kind of thing you want to think about a full year or more ahead of a book coming out where you think about, “Who is my audience? Who would support me?” I’ll tell you, I’ve had people in my own life, people I would never think, people who are colleagues or friends say, “Hey Dan, next thing you’re writing, if you want an edit, if you want an early reader, you want a beta reader, I’m here.” It’s you thinking strategically.

Dan Blank: It’s you, as Michael was saying, collecting people on a newsletter list, but a lot of it also is when you think ahead, you can ask people. You can get a sense of that and you’ve got to write that down. You’ve got to bring them along for the journey. You probably have more people that would be willing to be beta readers and be reviewers that you have no idea about, because if you don’t start early enough and make that overt, you’re just in that crutch time six weeks or eight weeks before a launch, and you’re just panicking, and we want to avoid that.

Michael La Ronn : Absolutely.

Dan Blank: All right. Next question is, “There’s a great emphasis on a book’s debut. Sounds like you’ll make a big splash when it’s first published, you might miss out on a percentage of what you could’ve got had it been … Could’ve lost out on some value. In other words, is a big splash that much greater altogether, or can you catch up and have the same success if you do it more gradually? Do you lose out if you don’t have all your ducks lined up for the big splash say within a month of a book coming out?”

Michael La Ronn : Okay. This question, I want to tread carefully, because I don’t want people to hear what I say and take it one direction, and I don’t want other people to hear what I say and take it another direction. The answer to the question is, do you miss out on sales if you don’t go all out during your book launch? Part one of that answer is, yes, possibly if you’re talking about Amazon, right? Amazon has well documented 30, 60, 90 day cliffs. After 30 days, the Amazon algorithms will stop selling your book or recommending your book to readers. It’ll recommend your book to readers less frequently. Then after 60 days, that goes down. Then after 90 days, people talk … You hear stories all the time in message boards and on podcasts about people just falling off that cliff, right? You had really, really good sales on day 29, day 30. Day 31 hits and you see a noticeable drop, despite how much advertising you’re doing.

Michael La Ronn : On Amazon, yes, that cliff is there. I think we have enough anecdotal evidence to prove that it’s real. You do want to allocate some time and money to your book launch to make the most of that first 90 days, especially if you’re in KDP Select or in Kindle Unlimited. That just makes good sense. That being said, that doesn’t mean … I hear people say this sometimes and they tell me why I need to go max out my credit cards. I talked to one person that said, “I was going to max out my credit cards because I wanted to make sure that I had the most of my ads.” Don’t do that. Marry what you can afford. Marry what you can afford with what you’re able to do. I wouldn’t go out and spend money you don’t have to advertise your book and do things like that, but that’s part one of the answer. Yes, on Amazon, that early visibility is really important and you want to do all you can and put some time, resources, and money into leveraging that so that you can get the most out of that 90 days.

Michael La Ronn : Hopefully, if you’re successful enough, that the Amazon algorithms will kick in and continue selling your book after that 90 day cliff, and you can rely on that. Part two of the question, other retailers? Not so much, right? Because the other retailers don’t necessarily sell their books like Amazon does. If you look at Apple, or if you look at Kobo, they’re very boutique, right? There really aren’t any sophisticated algorithms that are going to help you sell books quite a bit. It’s not inconceivable that you could publish your book today on Apple or publish your series today on Kobo and it might not take off for another two years when you throw some ads at it down the road. Just keep that in mind. It varies a lot depending on where you’re publishing, but I would say just as a good business and author practice, to allocate what you can, time, resource, and money, to your launch, because I think that just helps you with the series. Like I said, the other retailers, Amazon, it’s going to be really important. The other retailers, not so much.

Dan Blank: All right. Our third question from Donna, “Could you speak about the importance of getting a book copyrighted? If you have an ISBN number, a unique book, and have a copyright symbol, and a statement on copyright page of your book, is it really necessary to then copyright the work?”

Michael La Ronn : Okay. Should you copyright your work? That’s a great question and I actually love copyright questions because they’re fun and it’s fun to dig into. My answer is going to be … I’m probably the only person that would say that.

Dan Blank: That’s why I’m laughing.

Michael La Ronn : Yeah, I know. Exactly. All right. United States, my answer is United States specific because I am a resident of the United States, so it’s hard for me to respond on other countries. I would assume the U.K. would be fairly similar to us, but if you’re in the United States, the legal answer is yes. You are afforded certain benefits by registering your copyright, or registering your work with the Library of Congress. For example, if you do register your work, it costs like $35. You go on the website and you put in your information for you book. Essentially, you can obtain statutory damages if a lawsuit’s ever filed. If you ever have to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement you can obtain some additional damages, as well as your attorney’s fees.

Michael La Ronn : If you don’t do that, you don’t necessarily get those attorney’s fees if you don’t register your work. Plus, it’s just good business practice to register your work with the government and protect your work. That isn’t necessarily … If you don’t register your work, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have your work copyrighted, it just means that you’re affirming it to the world that you’ve registered your work. A lot of people ask this question. There is a little bit of an expense with it, but I would always recommend that if you can spare it, just go ahead and do it. It just helps protect yourself and protect your work down the road.

Dan Blank: All right. Claire asks, “Is it really possible to keep a penname secret?”

Michael La Ronn : Ah, the penname question. I suppose if some hacker wanted to expose you and reveal your true identity to the world, I suppose they could. I guess I haven’t heard too many stories about authors pennames getting blown. I guess it could happen. I guess your bank would have to know who you are, right? If they don’t, how do you get paid? There are bound by confidentiality agreements and things like that, that you can be relatively assured that they’re not going to share your work. Is a penname 100% secret? Probably not, but if you wanted to give yourself some level of protection, I think a penname is still a good way to go.

Dan Blank: Yeah, it’s a tough question, because clearly there’s a lot of, I would imagine, fear involved in that.

Michael La Ronn : Yeah.

Dan Blank: There’s lives that are separating, they’re being separate for specific reasons, so that’s a tough one. I don’t really have anything else to add, but it sounds big if you’re asking it that way as well.

Michael La Ronn : Yeah, it does, it does. I guess I would say that authors have been using pennames for centuries, right? It’s worked out pretty well so far and I think there’s some benefit to using a penname, especially if you have a professional career, kind of like I do where I don’t use my real name because you don’t want to mix your professional with the writing. For a lot of people it doesn’t make sense and so I just don’t think it makes a lot of sense in today’s age.

Dan Blank: All right. Which comes to our deep dive question from Facebook, which is simply, “How do I promote my nonfiction book with limited time and money?”

Michael La Ronn : All right. We like this question, right? Because it’s so open-ended that you could spend a lot of time talking about it. I think that there have been a lot of podcasts that have spent some time on this topic. What would your thoughts be first, Dan?

Dan Blank: When I think of a nonfiction book, I think that there is an interest there with the person who’s writing it. There’s an expertise, there’s a hobby. This is not just something that is totally random where you have an accountant, worked for 30 years, and on the side wrote this little sci-fi book and they said, “I just want to do a little bit with a little bit of time and money.” When I think about this question, I’m thinking that they have very little money, because people tend to not have a lot of money, they have other priorities in life, but I’m imagining that they are somehow an expert in this field. They’ve worked in this for a while and that they care about it. They want to be known in this field for some period of time.

Dan Blank: I’m trying to get my context in my head of how to think about this, because whenever I work with a writer, I talk to writers, a lot of times they’re not making a big outlay of time or money. It’s spread out slowly over the course of months or years. I tend to think of it more in that way, of not around the launch, but I start thinking about, “How do you identify your audience when you have limited time and money? How do you share with the world when you have limited time and money? How do you build credentials?” That’s the first way I start thinking about it, but tell me, do you come at it from a different direction when you hear that question?

Michael La Ronn : Yeah. No, I think my head is kind of in the same spot as yours. In that, at least with nonfiction, I feel like I have two different approaches. I have a different approach for fiction than I do with nonfiction, but for nonfiction, I think that the best way to think about building your audience is one person at a time. Start thinking about who that target person is, who that target audience is. I’ve seen some people come up with what’s called reader personas where you basically create this fictional person, and you ascribe all these different qualities to them. What are their demographics? What are their interests? What are their hobbies? Why is it that they would want your work?

Michael La Ronn : You can come up with this detailed narrative of why, so that you can start figuring out who that person is, so that you can start going after them. With nonfiction, it’s so much easier. There’s always that question, right? “Where do your readers hangout?” Fiction authors, they pull their hair out over this question all the time, because it’s not easy to find fiction readers sometimes. Especially if you have a really narrow genre, but if you have a nonfiction book that’s going to hit that sweet spot, you really should have a good idea of who would be wanting to read this book and where you can find them. Yeah, I think I would approach it in the same way as you, Dan, just thinking about the context, right?

Dan Blank: Yeah. One thing I think about here is when you don’t have a lot of time and money and it’s a nonfiction topic, you want to think about who are the amplifiers. If you don’t have time or the ability to reach dozens and hundreds and thousands of people, you don’t have time to go to all the conferences to be sharing all these blogs and a million tweets, you have to think very, very strategically. You’ve got to think about what are the specific communities where these people who would love this book, who would buy this book, where are they? Who are the individuals who are influential in this community, or the people that have access to those people?

Dan Blank: Sometimes you think about not just going to conferences, what’s the one conference, what’s the one event, what’s the one storefront? Who are the other authors that are known in that specific field? Especially in nonfiction, these are people who share … They have a shared passion, a shared expertise as you do, so there should be a way to connect with them where you’re not trying to just use them for a transactional nature, but where you would want to get to know them. The nice thing about that is that, that is always free, but it takes time. It takes you developing a sense of trust with them, so they should become aware of you. You want to not just kind of pop up out of nowhere and say, “Can you promote my book?”

Dan Blank: Because nobody likes that. This idea of you understanding who they are, and what is that connection, why would they like your book? That gives you the opportunity to bring them on the journey, which I mentioned earlier, where you get to think about if you can’t engage a whole huge audience, who are the 10 people that you would love to know about this book? I’d start there. That’s very similar to what you said too about the idea of that one audience member. Here you’re thinking about if you can only contact one person, or five people, or 10 people, who would they be when you don’t have a lot of time and don’t have a lot of money?

Michael La Ronn : No, I like that. I like thinking about your audience and all of that too. A step before that as well, is you want to start building credibility. You’ve got your book out, so your book is the number one calling card, right? What else? How else can you build some credibility? One of the things that worked particularly well for me, and I’ll give some personal examples on this, and it didn’t cost me very much money to do at all, but the first was video. It’s amazing how few people are doing video, yet how many people are doing video, particularly in the nonfiction space, right? I started a YouTube channel called Author Level Up a couple years ago. I just did it because I just wanted to help other authors, but what that ended up helping me do and it was kind of a side thing, it wasn’t ever really my major focus or major intent, was it helped me build credibility, right?

Michael La Ronn : I’ve developed a channel of really awesome viewers who tuned in to watch me every week. I did three videos a week and while YouTube may not necessarily be the avenue, think about some promotional videos or some ways to tell your story in a way that hasn’t been told before. A lot of people take up blogging. The good thing about blogging is that it’s easy. The hard thing about blogging is that everyone’s blogging and it’s really hard to cut through. The nice thing about video is if you take the time and you develop a good looking video with good production, and none of that is very expensive. I talk about this when I was on [Joanna Pin’s 00:32:06] podcast, I talked about some tips on YouTube videos and all of that. If you can do all of that and you can find a different way to tell your story, that can help you resonate with some of those influencers that are out there, right?

Michael La Ronn : Because not only do you have your book that’s your calling card, you’ve got a video that you can send people to that has your personal story, and you can connect with them on a more three dimensional level. Yeah, so that’s the first thing I would say. The second thing I would say too is I just published a nonfiction book called Be a Writing Machine and it’s just basically how to write books faster and smarter. One of the things that I did with that was I just really focused on authors, right? What’s that pain point? If I’m an author today and I’m writing my next book, what is it that keeps me or wakes me up in the middle of the night about writing my next book?

Michael La Ronn : If you can tune into that, and then marry that with your video, and marry that with all the stuff that Dan talked about, about finding your audience and connecting with them, I think that’s really powerful, because you really want to think about connecting with those influencers, right? They get a lot of pitches every day from people that want to share stuff. What makes you different? I think video is something that really can help you stand out and that a lot of people should not overlook.

Dan Blank: Just to expand upon something you said, I think a lot of people think that they’re telling their story and they’re not. They’re trying to give this perfect third-person credibility building biography and they want to show that they’re credible. I think that you have to actually bring people into your story. When I work with people, when I work with authors writing their bio, for me, a bio should be this long. There should be sections. It should go deep. Often I find in people, they’re too quick with their story. They don’t give you something to sink your teeth into. When you look at all of these people on any social media channel who are succeeding, they succeed partially because of just who they are and it’s their charisma. I’m not saying that these people are charismatic in a traditional Tony Robbins kind of way.

Dan Blank: They can be shy. They can be nerdy. They can be whatever they are, but people have found also a way to know you and to like you. I mentioned trust before and I think that that’s part of this. One thing that I’ve found when you don’t have a lot of time and money and you want to be able to reach people who are somehow influential, I found that interviewing them and promoting them is a way to get on their radar. You’re sort of flipping this narrative in a way, where if you want to … You mentioned Joanna Pin, wonderful, wonderful Joanna Pin. She has so many people that read her, so many people that want to ask her for advice, or want her to promote something. Why don’t you flip that narrative. Why don’t you say, “I’m going to be Joanna’s biggest fan. I’m going to promote her stuff. I’m going to do a giveaway of her books. I’m just going to be really generous and then maybe I’m going to interview her for my blog.”

Dan Blank: You start thinking about this in reverse, where everyone, including people who are very successful, they notice that. This is what I love about following authors who are very active on social media. I’m thinking of Emily Giffin right now. Where she’ll share screenshots of readers messages to her on Instagram. It’s like, Emily Giffin is unbelievably successful.

Michael La Ronn : Yeah, she’s a pretty big deal.

Dan Blank: You can imagine, here’s someone just saying something nice and she’s a human being. She resonates with that. She likes that and it’s not that they’re pandering to her, it’s that it creates a conversation. You can sometimes flip it in that way, where if you don’t have a lot of time or money, you don’t feel you have the access, think about who those 10 people are that you feel like this would resonate with them, I think they’d like it, how can you not just ask of them, but how can you first give to them?

Michael La Ronn : Yeah, one of the things you said that I absolutely loved is that people, they just be themselves online, right? The most successful social media and the people that I’ve learned, a lot of the influencers that I’ve gotten to know over the years, it’s not that they’re doing anything unusual. They’re not putting on a show when they go on YouTube or when they go on Instagram. They’ve just figured out how to be themselves on the internet. Whereas, I think a lot of people don’t know how to do that. A lot of people are uncomfortable putting themselves in front of the camera or opening that door into their office and showing people kind of how they work. I think if you can get comfortable with that, that’s a good thing.

Michael La Ronn : With this question, Dan and I have been talking a lot about marketing, right? We haven’t really talked a whole lot about sales and promotion. We’re talking about that work that you need to do before you can start selling all of your work, right? Because if you can get that narrative right, if you can get that personal branding right, it makes sales and promotion that much easier, because when you start funneling people in, and driving traffic to your product, or to your book, or to your website, it makes it that much easier for people to connect with you, and it makes it that much easier for them to buy your book, because one, they know you if you’ve done your story right. Two, they trust you if you’ve done your work in building the repoire. Three, you’ve got a killer book, right?

Michael La Ronn : It all just marries together and if you do all of that legwork in the beginning, instead of focusing on the sales and promotion, which is what a lot of people do. A lot of people, they want to know that step-by-step process. “What can I do to sell my book here? What can I do to get my book in front of all these people?” But they haven’t done the … I call it the iceberg work, right? It’s all that work that’s beneath the surface. You can only see 20% of the iceberg that’s above the water, but if you go below the water, it’s huge. All of that work, don’t forget about that work that’s underneath the surface.

Dan Blank: Yeah, I would totally agree. I think that’s a really great way of putting it, is that very often we look at successful authors, and we see that much, and what we don’t see are the years of work. That is why I do interviews, for the most part, on my podcast. Even when I’ve researched people for weeks at a time on every interview, when I ask them about their journey from being totally unknown to success, I’m always taken aback by exactly how long it took, how much effort it took, how they got unlucky 20 times, got lucky one time. I never ever say that to make people feel depressed, or feel like, “Oh, so you’re saying it’s going to take too much time and too much money.” I say that because I feel that a lot of people quit too soon.

Dan Blank: When other people quit too soon, that is … It’s not that I want this for them, but it becomes a benefit for you. Because as they’re quitting too soon, if you just stick with it, you just keep doing what you’re doing, writing books, building an audience, thinking about that audience. It’s tough when you’re working on one book, because you think this book is it, but if you keep working on that, especially in nonfiction where you’re working in this field, you care about this field, it’d be awesome if your first book was a big deal. It might just be that your third book or sixth book is a big deal and that once those people find you on book six, they now have a whole back list to dig into. I think as a creator, this is a wonderful challenge too, to think about how are you going to explore this topic when it goes beyond just one book?

Michael La Ronn : Absolutely. We’re coming up on time, but I think that to wrap this all up, if we could leave you with one … Or a couple of different things. It’s one, know yourself. Personal branding is not terribly expensive. It’s something that you can do and learn to tell your narrative. Two, know your audience. Go out there and find out who they are, find out who the influencer are. Three, don’t forget that you’ve got a really good product and know that it takes persistence and it takes a lot of time and effort, but this is a path that Dan and I can both agree that has been immensely gratifying to be on. Just have fun out there.

Dan Blank: Totally agree, love it.

Michael La Ronn : All right. That brings us to the end of this month’s show. We want to thank you guys for listening to the AskALLi Members Q&A Podcast. If you have a question that you’d like for Dan and I to answer on air, feel free to submit it if you’re an ALLi member by logging into your ALLi dashboard. That will take you to a form, or there’s a link to a form where you can enter in your question and you may just very well see it answered here on air. With that, we hope you guys have a nice month and we’ll talk to you next month.

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