One of Ireland’s most successful self-published authors, Catherine Ryan Howard
, recently sat down with The Writing Well
to talk about book promotion and social media. She self-published her first book, a travel memoir called Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida,
in March 2010 after failing to find a publisher for her tales of Space Shuttle launches, humidity-challenged hair, Bruce Willis, the Ebola virus and being an Irish girl working in Walt Disney World. Starting from scratch and using only social media to promote the book, Catherine has sold more than 12,000 copies
to date and has since released two other full-length books, Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America
and Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing
Below, she shares which social media platform she can’t live without, the three questions every independent author should ask before creating an online platform and the author she most admires for her social media moxy.
Why do indie authors in particular need to connect online with their target audience?
Catherine: Because in most cases, that’s their only opportunity to connect with their audience at all. The first step to selling a copy of your book is to let a potential reader know that it exists. If you’re traditionally published, generally-speaking, there are plenty of opportunities for this to occur without your direct involvement: the efforts of your publisher’s marketing department, a reader happening upon your book on a bookstore shelf, a mention of it in the media. But it’s rare that a self-published book will be “happened upon” in the same way. Therefore it’s vital that the author makes an effort to assemble a band of supporters — or at the very least, mildly interested blog readers or Twitter followers — who will help them launch their book just by spreading the word about it. Personally, I don’t know why a self-publisher wouldn’t do this, as it’s (a) free, (b) fun and (c) extremely rewarding to connect directly with your readers.
In your experience, what is the hardest part of book marketing for indie authors?
Catherine: Self-publishers are at a bit of a disadvantage because since we haven’t been vetted by an established publishing house, we have no credibility. We have to prove to the potential reader that — to put it bluntly — we’re not crap. There’s a number of easy ways to do this, though. Start by not being crap: write a good book, make sure it’s good by getting qualified feedback (i.e. not your mother) and then enlist the services of professionals (editors, proofreaders, cover designers) to help you self-publish it. Then assemble as much of evidence of your not-crapness as you possibly can: send complimentary copies out to book bloggers, do a Goodreads giveaway to encourage reviews there, write a killer author bio that tells us all about your writing history, your achievements and why we’re likely to enjoy your book if we buy it. Then add all this to your Amazon listing, and model it on the listings of bestselling books. Every single thing about you — your book’s cover, your website, your Twitter bio, your e-mail address, even your business cards — should help convince me that you’re a professional writer who’s serious about writing as a career and that chances are, the book you’ve written is good.
What three questions should authors always ask themselves before they create an online platform?
Catherine: 1. Do I really WANT to do this? There’s nothing more obvious than the tweeter who’s only there because someone told them Twitter was good for book promotion, or the blogger who started posting weekly with a book-shaped gun to their head. There is absolutely no point doing this if you don’t genuinely enjoy Blogger, Twitter and Facebook. It won’t work unless it doesn’t feel like work to you.
2. Would a professional author do this? As I said above, you must be professional in every single thing you do. Think of a mega-selling, traditionally published author and go look at their website. Do they have a series of amateur-made trinkets flashing on and off in their sidebar, things that proclaim them to have been awarded “The Loveliest Blogger Award” and the like, just for instance? Do they talk about how annoying their boyfriend is on their Facebook page? Do they tweet people pleas like “PLEASE review my book. I’ll review yours!”? Of course they don’t and so, neither should you.
3. Does my blog look like the example on WordPress/Blogger.com? Blogs aren’t just substance, they’re style too. So if you have a website that doesn’t look much different than it did immediately after you picked your theme from WP or Blogger, then you haven’t made it your own yet — and you should.
What are your favorite social media channels for communicating with your audience?
Catherine: Twitter always wins hands down for me. It’s the single thing that’s made the biggest difference to my writing career and not just in terms of book sales, but when it comes to getting speaking engagements and media coverage too. I also love using Buffer App to make it manageable.
Is there an author you admire for their ability to leverage social platforms? Who really gets this?
Catherine: I really admire (British author, digital publishing speaker and entrepreneur) Joanna Penn who was leveraging social media platforms before most of us even knew what that was! I think she’s a great example of the key being in the content; she is absolutely committed to providing her fellow writers with insights into her success. I’m an avid reader of her blog, The Creative Penn.