by Elizabeth H. Cottrell
During the first year of the COVID pandemic, I wrote a book that had been in my head and heart for over ten years. During the second year of the pandemic—thanks in great part to Karen’s encouragement, support, and beta reading—I researched my options for getting the book published and did the arduous task of manuscript preparation for my publisher. HEARTSPOKEN: How to Write Notes that Connect, Comfort, Encourage, and Inspire launched this past July 2022 by Koehler Books in Virginia Beach. Since many of Karen’s readers are also writers and authors, I thought I might share a bit of the journey with you.
There are lots of valid reasons for writing a book and trying to get it published. There may be stories—fiction or memoir—that you feel compelled to write. You may have a message or ministry you feel called to share (my own primary motivation). You may have a consulting or speaking business, and a book gives you credibility and a product to sell. You may have a yearning to be a published author. Any of these is reason enough, but don’t harbor the illusion that a single book—especially your first book—is likely to make you rich and famous. You’ll be lucky if you break even.
The publishing industry, like so many, is experiencing a significant consolidation, and as the few remaining companies get larger it’s harder and harder for a new author to get noticed. Getting a literary agent is equally challenging—they only make money if your book makes money, so convincing them that this will happen is a tough sell. Self-publishing is becoming a much more appealing option, but there is a steep learning curve and you must take responsibility for every aspect of the journey from writing and editing to formatting and design. And then, of course, there’s printing and marketing.
It can be daunting.
You always have the option of paying a vanity press to do everything for you, but that is quite expensive—upwards of $10-15,000 or more. There are lots of small publishers, varying in quality and integrity, who will take your money and get a book in your hands, but they do very little, if anything, to help you sell or promote it.
I chose a “hybrid publisher,” which is a new breed that has emerged from all these industry changes. I purchased a “package” for about $5,000 that included acquiring ISBN numbers, editing, interior layout design, cover design, and getting my book listed with Ingram book distribution service and all the major online booksellers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.). Koehler provided lots of guidance and training for marketing, but much of this is still my responsibility. I signed a contract to give them publishing rights for three years, but I maintain the copyright and can do whatever I want with it after that three-year period. At no extra charge, they are also helping me explore the opportunity to create an audiobook.
I worked hard to “build the buzz” for several months before my book launch. I made a spreadsheet with quotable excerpts from the book and used Canva to create graphics (sized appropriately for each social media platform) to post several times a week on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest. I wrote to lots of other authors and influencers to request testimonials to include in the book and use on social media.
Now that the book is out, it’s tempting to want to coast, but since the number of books sold is largely dependent on my efforts, I know that’s not the wise choice. Fortunately, my topic is “evergreen” and won’t become dated anytime soon. I still want to push hard this fall in hopes of increasing holiday gift sales. Here are the highlights of my marketing plan for the next few months:
- Contact as many people as possible who were quoted or cited in the book and let them know – hopefully they’ll consider sharing information about the book with their audience.
- Be on the lookout for focus or interest groups or trade associations related to card and note writing (stationery, paper, pens, inks, etc.).
- Make myself available for speaking engagements.
- Make myself available (via Zoom) to join book clubs who choose to read my book.
- Continue to post (less often) about the book and share tips and advice from the book on social media.
- Try to identify major magazines that have Holiday Gift Guides and try to get listed in them.
- Look for guest opportunities on blogs (like this one—thank you, Karen!) and podcasts.
- Ask my followers to ask their own local bookstores if they will carry my book.
Long-term projects that support the book’s message:
- Consider developing one or more mini-courses for those who want to learn more about writing notes.
- Create digital e-books of sample notes (sympathy, thank you, etc.)
- Offer seasonal tips and support.
- Look for good values in quality stationery and writing accessories to share with my social media followers and those on my email list.
- Some have suggested I open an Etsy store to sell digital products, but this requires another round of research to identify pros and cons.
I’m surprised how often I’m being asked, “What are your plans for your next book?” I know many of my writer friends, especially those who write fiction, are teeming with ideas and stories they want to explore. My own writing aspirations are more along the lines of sharing the things I read and reflect on to strengthen the connections of our most Heartspoken life, and that is most easily accomplished through my blog, Heartspoken.com and my Compass Points newsletter.
I find it tricky not to let myself get overwhelmed with all the things I could be doing, but I want to focus on doing what I can and enjoy the process. It’s enormously gratifying to now be a “published author,” but I’ve learned that getting the book published is actually just the beginning of a whole new journey—one I plan to enjoy as much as possible.
I’d welcome tips or suggestions from any of you who are more experienced in this journey. I’m no longer young, but I’m still trainable.
Elizabeth’s circuitous career has taken her from published leprosy researcher to stay-at-home mother, to community activist and leader serving on nonprofit and corporate boards, to ham radio operator, to freelance writer/editor and blogger at Heartspoken.com. Above all, she is a connector and encourager whose expertise and passion for note writing is coming at just the right time to a world made keenly aware by pandemic that we humans are hardwired for connection.
For more information about her book, including options for ordering it, reading sample pages, and testimonials, go to Heartspoken book. If you order from Amazon, while you’re there, be sure to click the FOLLOW button to her Amazon profile.
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