7 Things I learned about book marketing

It’s no exaggeration to say that I started this year with only a little bit of a clue about book marketing. I’d attended a couple of podcasts last year and had read the amazing Joanna Penn. Those activities gave me some places to start.

  • Research the Amazon categories that are closest to the book project
  • Use keywords when setting up the book in amazon
  • Use a title and subtitle on the book cover

However, these starting places ended up being more tactical than strategic. I wasn’t looking at this from the top down. I was still looking at it from the ‘things to do’ rather than approaching marketing from a classical perspective.

When I attended the Smarter Artist Summit this year, my ideas got turned on their head. Michelle Spiva gave a great talk about how  to stop trying to trick your fans into following you. Her approach was to teach them to love you instead. Michelle had a couple of key things to share. Tactics are not marketing. Strategy, it turns out, is about having a goal for what you want to do. The classic push and pull marketing strategies can be leveraged to build an overall plan. Michelle demonstrated how using both push marketing (like targeted advertising) and pull marketing (like a newsletter) can work together.

The seven main things I learned from conferences this year about marketing:

  1. Figure out what your goal is
  2. Write your ‘I am’ statement. For me:
    I am a great kids author and illustrator
    I am an awesome designer and maker
  3. That ‘branding’ is who people think you are when you’re not around
  4. Organizing events into push and pull categories helps you strategize better
  5. Push is a pattern interrupt. It is repetitive, qualified, trusted
  6. Pull is warm traffic with no intermediary, like a sale
  7. Go to where your traffic is

Michele Spiva emphasized having a long term marketing plan in order to avoid churn and burn. There are three main areas to focus on. Those are Traffic, Conversion and Sales. Oddly enough, my dad would have said much the same things. Traffic is about getting attention, conversion is about giving the traffic something to do. For conversion and sales, as an author I’m looking for true fans. To find the traffic, you need to go where they are. You need to hang out and be a genuine member of the community. Authenticity cannot be faked; they need to be your tribe.

To get back to the seven things I learned, a few words about each of these.

  1. Figuring out what your goal is
    Do you want to be a great blogger, a popular author, a celebrated illustrator?
    Your particular goals will differ. Without a goal, it’s hard to pitch to people.
  2. Write your “I am” statement 
    It helps to figure out what you’d put on a sticky note. Something that happened at the Smarter Artist Summit this year was people asking “what’s your superpower?” That was a clarifying question. Try it out for yourself.
  3. Branding
    Who people think you are when you’re not around. Huh. That means all of your messages need to be consistent. You get to understand some of this when you read your book reviews. Branding is as much about opinions as it is about what you think you’re putting out there.
  4. Push and pull strategies
    I found this super helpful. It allows me to draw a couple columns and work out where the events are, and what the tactics are for each event. Brilliant.
  5. Push  – an event that is aimed at getting traffic
    Advertising can be incredibly targeted. Amazon ads, for example, target people who  have bought books like yours. The value of the ‘also bought’, those recommendations that are shown to people when they are browsing for a new book, cannot be underestimated. Other entries into a sales funnel are free things that can be managed through Instafreebie, Bookbub, or Goodreads. Competitions are good ways to get a mailing list in place. As that’s something I haven’t done yet, this was all a bit new. My takeaway was being picky about who you have on your list.
  6. Pull events are what you do with people who already opted in
    You need to give your mailing list a reason to open your newsletter. It arrives in the mailbox, which is grand. However, it needs to avoid being annoying or too frequent. Making it valuable will build true fans.
  7. Go where your traffic is
    If you’re on Goodreads, you can recommend books you like. That gets you known in the community. When you have something of your own to contribute, like a new book, then it’s not spammy to mention it. Hang out in the forums, join lists for things you are interested in, and make conversation. It’s good to be a welcome visitor in the room.

I am continuing to learn more about publishing and book marketing all the time. Attending workshops and podcasts with indie authors like Michelle Spiva gives me inspiration.

This year, my strategy is to start is building an overall marketing plan. Then I’ll work on the top of the funnel for one project area at a time. Thank you to everyone who shared their tips and tricks with me. I’ll keep telling you what I find out along the way.

Design for the right size screen

The monitors are larger,

so we can fit more on the screen

vectorstock_18712444One of the challenges of design is to have a response to the desire to fit more on the screen, as it seems obvious (to some) that a larger screen means more real estate to fill. Periodically, we also hear a proposal to have wider text, beyond the 75 characters that a person can read without turning their head. And that really depends on whether the device is at 10 feet, like a television or hand-held, like a smart phone.

However, the proportional relationship described by the distance between eyes, the reach of the arm, the amount a person can view without turning their head – those hold true, regardless of the size of the screen, console, device. For most practical purposes, designers use the width of 45-75 characters as the optimal width for reading. That’s actually why we have columns in magazines and newspapers. It makes it easier to read. We can cheat those numbers a bit, but beyond around 80 characters, we need to understand how we’re hurting readers.

As designers of human-computer interactions and experiences, we find ourselves drawing pictures to show people how that works. We draw the distance between human eyes, the viewing distance of the screen, at arm’s length away from the person, and the cone that represents the field of vision. We show a novel held in the hand, and examples from movies such as star wars, where there are a few large words across the screen, but those words fill the whole visual field

A long time ago

In a galaxy

Far far away

We show a person holding up their thumb, and moving it around at arm’s length. This simulates how we parse information, the thumb being the point of attention, and moving the thumb shows the bite-sized chunk of information we see at a time. The size of the monitors has changed, but the focus of human eyes has not. Human-machine interface follows the same rules as the other proportional relationships found in nature, and in the human body.

Fibonacci  described the relationships as part of the sequence of numbers and geometry found in the body, and in nature, as part of a spiral known as the divine proportion, or golden ratio. Though we more popularly know of Fibonacci from the Dan Brown novel, The DaVinci Code, his explorations of numbers in nature and the body are fascinating from a design perspective. They remind us that defining space, and designing within that space, can be made more pleasing by paying attention to the golden ratio. We can choose rectangular shapes that follow that ratio; we can also place information in places that the eye will naturally follow, along the curve of the spiral.

Changes in perception are occuring, however, not in ways we may have expected. More often than not, those large screens allow us to switch rapidly between different screens, rather than expanding just one. We can fit more windows on the screen, and move our attention between those windows, and the information contained in them. We also move perceptually between multiple email conversations, surfing, games, and writing, all in parallel. However, unless working on a full-game immersion, or a graphics program, maximizing a window is out. It makes it harder to mouse across to the far edges, adds to fatigue, and frankly too much is missed if it is on the periphery of our vision.

As a user experience designer, I need to be aware of these balance points, and not design experiences that make the user work too hard for the reward of the information they are trying to get to. Making it easier, quicker, more responsive within the frame or window, that’s the ticket.

Ultimately, we design for a variety of screens and devices. We use media queries to determine which stylesheets to use, and how the responsive widths will display the information. We have come a long way from the old world of print, with fixed layouts that are static. The end user wants control of their device, and of their experience. If we listen to that, and pay attention, we will design in a way that respects the person’s wish to change their screen contrast, the fonts, the sizes and the colors. Good design can take all these things into account, and become even more relevant to the person we are designing the experience for. That’s what modern design aims for – the right sized experience in the hands of people with all kinds of different needs.

Brolga: A dancing Australian crane for a children’s story

As long as I can remember, I have loved images of Brolgas. They are a crane-like bird that lives in marshes and on the plains. One of my favorite images is from Sidney Long called Spirit of the Plains. It has a woman with pipes, walking through long grass, followed by a dancing set of Brolgas.

Here she is the piper, and they her companions. Dancing, weaving, living spirit beings. It is almost as if the flute and grasses dance together to create their wild energy.
Long_Spirit-of-the-plains

Along the way to finding my own art style, I found these illustrations for inspiration. I particularly admire the metamorphic image towards the right. The transformation image by Judy Prosser is brilliant. This image gave me the idea of playing with watercolor for my own images.

BrolgaInspiration

My first drawing steps were in pen and ink. I typically like to use a .01 pen as it creates very fine lines. I use a gestural style, where I don’t try to fill in all the details. Later, I come back and add the color, let the watercolor dictate the color blends. Then I take it into digital and push the values, erase where needed, and focus on areas around the ‘face’ of the animal.

Brolga stories
These images are the sketches for the Billabong Flats children’s stories. Brolga dances in the grasses, down by the water.  The spirit of movement, the play of wings and wind, these are her ways.

BrolgaDancingRiaLoader

The graceful cranes, high-stepping in the marsh make me want to move. I am drawn to the rhythm, the sweep of the wings, and the capture of lively abandonment to the moment. Watching and drawing these birds gives me joy.

The first image above is available as a print from my store at Society6.

Sketching with the iskn tablet

isknpackageIt was a quiet day at home on Saturday. Picked up the iskn tablet for the first time and installed the software. It was a bit mysterious at first, with some back and forth to the manual. Once it was connected and charged, I was good to go. The tutorials were surprisingly helpful. The only thing I had trouble with, at first, was the orientation of the tablet and screen. I wanted portrait, and it kept coming up landscape. If all else fails, read the directions. Got that sorted, and started drawing. It was an intuitive and expressive tool to use. I’ll be giving it a good try out over the next week, to see where it fits into my drawing patterns. My first impression: how easy and fluid it was to use. It felt just as natural as drawing with a pen.

BrolgaStandingRiaLoader2018WebMy first drawing, using the iskn, was about getting used to the pen device. I played around with pressure and such, angle of the pen, and pretty much stuck to the default pen setting this time around. There’s a ring that fits around your own pen, and a couple of magnetic rings around a stylus and pen that comes with the iskn. The drawing tablet has all these magnetic spots that line up with what you are drawing. It’s really quite smooth. Using any paper of your choice, you are freed up to draw and have the illustration appear on the screen as you draw it. It felt quite a lot more expressive than a Wacom tablet, which I already have. It also has a cord-free mode and some online storage, so you can use it on the go. Haven’t tried that yet, but will do so in short order.

I’m in the midst of illustrations for a kids book that’s set in the Australian Bush. The place is Billabong Flats, a mythical place where everyone gets along and has fun. The story I’m working on is about a Brolga, a kind of crane, who likes to dance. She meets up with Koala, who has been wistfully watching her from her perch up in the big gum tree. Koala wants to dance too. The set up illustrations are of Koala and Brolga, down near the water. I decided to draw Brolga in a steady stance, much like a dancer being in first position, before movement.

The iskn will record a movie as you draw, showing the process. That’s a fun and unexpected delight. It records all of your movements throughout the drawing and allows you to export it at the end.

True love – after life and death

What is there to say when you have experienced ‘happily ever after’? When the song is done, the stage is cleared, and the players move to other roles? Raven Bond died peacefully on November 21st; we were married for 27 years, and together in spirit before that and forever after. We were married three times, the first by a civil authority, the second in a magical event where we pledged our vows, and one last time on his death-bed. It is not over. It is not done. Love is forever.

“You must have an amazing life, you hear me?” he wrote in his death letter. It was, appropriately, in a file called ‘death letter’ where I could find it easily. “I will be with you forever, even though I don’t have a body,” he said, and “I feel more for you than words can express.”

I feel the same way. He had the gift of unconditional love, and I found myself the recipient of that regard every day. Does that mean he was a saint? No. He was as gloriously flawed, as full of doubts and baggage as any other. His spirit though? That was as brilliant as a star, as courageous, as full of fire and hope and humor.

It is three months since he left the world of form. The body held the spirit so lightly, it was as if he were tethered by will alone. In the last year, we embraced the moments, one by one. We held hands and watched silly movies. We petted the cats. We invented characters and wrote books. Always together.

I traveled around the world to be with him, from Sydney to Seattle so long ago. We kept traveling towards each other all that long while, finding new countries, new worlds in the intersection of our wonderful romance.

I am surrounded by my friends of the heart, by extended family, and by those who called him friend, love, counselor, healer and teacher. He touched so many lives. Wherever he is traveling now, I’m certain he is being and becoming exactly who he is meant to be.

Raven told me a story about time, about being now. He said that if something happened, and that was now, even if that event was a long time ago, then that now is still Now. It comforts me to think that we are meeting for the first time, at Ancient Ways in the heat of summer in 1987; we are holding each other in the kitchen the morning that he died; we are celebrating life on a beach in Hawaii, and in some when, we are meeting and making love in other bodies. We are entangled, and that’s a good thing. We are now.

It is as if he has stepped into another room, yet his spirit lingers with me in between particles, suspended like motes in the glitter of stars, in reflected sunshine, in a dark obsidian mirror. I wrap his cloak around me; it keeps me warm at night.

Having been touched by true love, having lived within it, the embrace lingers.

We will meet and know each other again.

And yes, my love. I will have a wonderful life.