GrubStreet held their annual Muse & the Marketplace conference for writers last weekend in Boston, where authors, agents, and editors hosted talks and panels on craft, the publishing process, and book promotion strategies.
We gathered lots of helpful publishing insights and promotional tips on a variety of topics, from marketing on social media to participating in bookstore events — and even to dealing with author envy! We’re excited to share some of these tips with our readers who couldn’t attend, and hope you find these takeaways useful.
1. How to optimize your social media strategy
Some authors avoid social media because it takes too much time — time in which they could be writing. But authors Jenna Blum and Sara DeVillo recommend all authors create and optimize a social media strategy to promote books and connect with the writing community! And if you’re a traditionally published author, keep in mind that publishers usually don’t create social media content for you; it’s up to you to post content, and your publisher’s publicity team can amplify your content by reposting and sharing.
Here were some of their specific recommendations for optimizing your social media strategy:
Post on a schedule
When you post, post consistently. If you post once a day, continue to post once a day. If you post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, maintain that schedule so your followers know when they can expect content from you. You can also use tools like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to automatically schedule content on certain platforms.
Use the rule of thirds
Your social media feed shouldn’t be entirely self-promotional. Instead, use the rule of thirds. For example:
- One-third: promotion, whether it’s for yourself or fellow authors
- One-third: insight into yourself as an author
- One-third: a personal interest (bonus if it’s something your audience would enjoy or benefit from hearing about, e.g. movies, politics, etc.)
Tailor content for different social media platforms
Keep your brand consistent across all of the social media platforms you participate in, but each channel should have its own look and feel. Decide what kind of presence you want to have on each social media platform. For example:
- Facebook: the watercooler; it’s a place to get more personal and tell anecdotes
- Twitter: a place to make quips, be snarky, and talk politics
- Instagram: a place to share pictures and book recommendations
2. How to establish an author brand on Instagram
It’s important to establish your goals for Instagram: What is unique about you that you can offer in your posts? Why should people follow you? Author Sara DeVillo shared some great Instagram tips for growing your following and developing a consistent brand:
- Optimize the bio: Make it welcome and inviting. Make the URL your website, but you can change it to offer something when you can (free content, guides, tips, etc.)
- Post pictures: Consider the value each photo offers, and optimize the lighting, angle, and color to catch followers’ eyes.
- Engage with followers: Respond to all comments people make on your photos, and reply to all DMs so your readers feel appreciated (don’t forget the spam folder!).
- Post Stories: This feature isn’t as high-pressure as the main feed, and can be more casual. Stories last for 24 hours unless you add it to your highlights.
- Use hashtags: You can include up to 30 hashtags per post. Look at other popular, comparable accounts and see how they use hashtags.
- Repost content: Create a hashtag for your book, and follow the hashtag so you can repost when other people post about your book.
Sara also shared some fascinating insights around what kind of content gets more engagement:
- Photos with faces get 38% more likes.
- Images with a high amount of negative space get 29% more likes — bright, light, uncluttered spaces are pretty!
- Images featuring blue as the dominant color generate 24% more likes than images that are predominantly red.
- There’s little correlation between caption text length and the number of likes — people care more about the picture.
- Hashtags with 10k posts are the sweet spot for discoverability. If you choose hashtags with tens of thousands or millions of posts, and you’ll get lost in the feed. (See more advice on Instagram hashtags here!)
3. How to use Twitter more effectively
Twitter can seem like an overwhelming platform at times, but it’s a great way to connect with readers and participate in the writing community — and it can even help you do research for your next book. Author Mitali Perkins shared some excellent pro tips for making the most of Twitter as an author:
- Optimize your header image. Include some of your published books, or the book you’re working on now, so people correlate your books with you.
- List your location. Even if you choose a state or broad region, this can help event coordinators know you live nearby when looking for speakers.
- Pin a tweet. Choose a tweet that you want to use as a banner tweet at the top of your profile. This could be a tweet including links to purchase your new release!
- Create a Twitter Moment for each book launch. Create a hashtag for your book to follow the conversation, and add individual tweets about your new book to this Twitter Moment.
- Build Twitter Lists. Lists let you follow subsegments of the community — this can also be a great research tool. For example, you can create lists for comparable authors, editors in your genre, art historians, and so on.
- Take regular breaks. Set periods in the morning and at night when you aren’t connected, and take regular hiatuses from the platform when necessary. You can also mute words and phrases to protect yourself from content you don’t want to see.
4. How to proactively deal with author envy
Envy is an issue that many authors deal with, especially when scrolling through social media. Authors Grace Talusan and Patrice Gopo shared their tips for releasing yourself from the clutches of the green-eyed monster and dealing with envy in the writing world. By freeing yourself from this envy, you’ll free up more of your brain space for writing and promotion!
Step 1: Acknowledge the existence of author envy. First, it’s important to acknowledge the existence of the green-eyed monster. Develop awareness of your particular response to jealousy, and figure out what exactly sets you off. Make a list and begin to recognize what (and what doesn’t) cause you to feel envy. This will be different for everyone!
Step 2: Move away from whatever triggers the envy. Take a break from social media, or use the “mute” or “snooze” features. You may even want to take a break from connecting with certain writers or reading their work. Grieve your losses rather than pretending they don’t exist, and don’t condemn yourself for your envious thoughts. Do something that makes you feel joy or reminds you of your strengths. Also, remember that you are loved!
Step 3: Outsmart your envy. Dedicate yourself to honing your craft, and practice writing so your work is as strong as possible, and so you feel proud of it. Celebrate your successes rather than waiting for others to celebrate them. Acknowledge all the ways, big and small, that you’re accomplishing your writing goals. Journaling exercises can help you reconnect with yourself and why you write. It may also help to find inspirational quotes to help you focus on why you write.
Step 4: Disarm your envy. Cultivate a spirit of willingness to help others, and celebrate other authors’ success. When you’re aware that you’re feeling envious, try to reframe your thoughts before you go down a painful path. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can.
Step 5: Find the root cause of your envy. Once you’re ready, explore the causes for your envy with trusted friends (writers or non-writers), a therapist, or a support group. Recognize that sometimes, author envy may have nothing to do with writing or another writer, but stems from disappointments and pain earlier in life. Remember to focus on your unique journey!
5. How to build relationships with booksellers
From hosting events to stocking shelves, booksellers are an author’s front-line sales team. They often hand-sell books they love, and can recommend yours to their customers. So it’s important to foster genuine relationships with these booksellers, and find ways to help them help you. Author Leah DeCasare and Grub Street instructor Allison Hoch shared several ways to build these relationships:
- Attend author events. Post pictures and content from these events on social media. Being part of the literary community means that bookstores and sellers know of you.
- Join local literary groups. Moderate panels, attend events, and get involved in any way you can.
- Engage with booksellers on social media. Share and like posts from booksellers, and join the conversation.
- Research bookstores to reach out to. Find the stores in and around your community. Scope out their calendar and see if they’re a fit for your content.
- Mail postcards or handwritten notes. Whether you have a book coming out you want all the local stores to know about, or you’re traveling to a different city, a handwritten note can make a world of difference.
- Bring a press kit. When you go into a bookstore to meet a bookseller, have a press kit on hand to leave with them, so they can review it later.
6. How to prepare for your bookstore events
Once you’ve set up an event at a bookstore, it’s time to prepare! Planning ahead of time will help make the event as successful as possible, and cut down on event-day stress. Here were some tips Leah and Allison offered for preparing for a bookstore event.
To get more people to attend your event:
- Discuss recruiting other authors to bring a bigger audience.
- Ask the store about their marketing plan and see where you can potentially fill in the gaps — you don’t want to duplicate their efforts.
- Actively invite local people (friends, family, coworkers) and fans.
- Promote on your platforms early and often with links to the bookstore’s website or IndieBound to boost sales and preorders.
- Include the bookstore name, city, and date in graphics or book tour listings. Tag the bookstore in your posts.
- Work with your publicist (if you have one) on media coverage leading up to your event.
To prepare for the event:
- Check in with the venue the week before the event to make sure you have what you need; projectors, AV equipment, a mic, etc.
- Confirm any details for the event format, e.g. how much time do you have to speak before signing?
- If you’re going to read, time ahead and know how long it takes to read certain passages. Mark readings of different lengths in a copy of your book.
- If you’d rather not read an excerpt from the book, consider reading a short story instead. Attendees will become familiar with your work — and also get closure during the event!
- Keep reading time to a minimum. Focus more on interacting and telling stories, or doing a Q&A with another authors.
- Keep a book-event bag with bookmarks, signing pens, any other swag, and your reading copy with pages marked.
7. How to rock your bookstore events
Once the day of the event is here, it’s good to know what to expect so the event runs smoothly. Leah and Allison offered tips on how to handle the event itself.
The talk and Q&A portion of the event:
- Arrive at least ten minutes before the start time.
- Look over where you’ll speak and sign books.
- Be entertaining and make a personal connection with the audience.
- Embed questions into your talk (e.g. “While writing my novel, I did research at the British Museum; feel free to ask me about that during the Q&A”)
- Plant someone in the audience to ask the first question and get the ball rolling.
- Show-and-tells work well! Use visuals if they help you tell your story or if you have exciting photos or illustrations to share — but don’t use them to hide behind them!
- Watch the time. Move things along as necessary; ask for a set number of questions, and invite people to stay to get the book signed. Ask for help from the event planner if you need time checks or signals.
The signing portion of the event:
- Some stores will have a staffer place post-its in books with the signee’s name. Otherwise, always ask for the spelling of the person’s name, even if you think you know it (this also helps when you’ve forgotten someone’s name)
- Bring your pens and have one or a few phrases prepared to write above your autograph. Some authors even draw a little something!
- The store may ask you to sign stock for them. This is good news because it means they’ll have a big pile of your books prominently displayed for at least a week or so. (And if they don’t ask, offer to sign stock!)
After the event:
- Write a thank you note. Email is fine, but handwritten is better!
- Post about the event on social media, thanking the bookstore and readers.
- Let people know if the store has signed stock (for those who couldn’t make it to the event).
- Continue to be professional. Don’t bad-mouth the store if the event wasn’t what you’d hoped.
8. How to prepare for a debut launch 6-9 months in advance
The months after landing your first traditional book deal are an exhilarating — and somewhat stressful! — time. First, you’ll work on developmental edits with your editor, and you’ll further develop your relationships with your agent, editor, and publicist. And once your book goes through copy edits, you’ll likely be 6-9 months from your book launch, and it will be time to start preparing! Author Blair Hurley provided tips for preparing to promote your debut launch.
- Create a spreadsheet including potential events, bookstores, organizations, book groups, authors, influencers, or other communities that might be interested in your book.
- Launch an author website to make it easy for potential readers to find you and buy your book online. Feature any praise your book has garnered.
- Talk to the marketing team or the person in charge of marketing your book. Make sure your visions for promotion align.
- Prepare a talk or class about your book or pathway to publication. Universities, writing organizations, and book clubs might be interested in having you give a presentation.
- Reach out to local newspapers and magazines to pitch yourself for interviews.
- Write think pieces or essays on your area of expertise and pitch to online outlets such as Slate, The Rumpus, Electric Literature, or The Millions.
- Link to your website on all of your social media profiles.
- Participate in conversations on Twitter and Facebook; don’t just self-promote.
- Find your social media voice and make a regular habit of sharing content.
- Respond to messages and emails as much as you can.
- Coordinate joint events with seasoned authors; it’s hard to fill up a bookstore as an unknown writer.
- Query book festivals. Their deadlines are often a year in advance.
- Present your publicist with ideas for contacts you have or events you could attend.
- Offer to have Skype conversations with book groups or other organizations. Put this information on your website so organizations know you offer this.
9. How to juggle writing (and promotion!) with a day job
Writing full-time is the dream for many authors, but in reality, most authors do have full- or part-time jobs to supplement their writing income. But when writers are expected to be prolific and help promote their own books — on top of their day job — it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Authors Mira Jacob, Rebecca Makkai, Rani Neutill, Daniel José Older, and Maurice Carlos Ruffin shared fantastic tips on how to write while working.
- Remind yourself why. Write a postcard to yourself six months from now with your dream or reminder for what you want to accomplish.
- Build a support system. Create a network of different writers and mentors that can tell you how they juggled writing with a day job. They can be a great support system, and can also fill in the gaps of your publishing knowledge.
- Set boundaries. Protect your time, even if you love the hustle. Be cognizant of your bandwidth and say no to more things.
- Find joy in writing. Figure out what about writing makes you happy. When that happens, you’ll jump to run home from work to write, rather than thinking of it as a chore. Remember: Your job as a writer is what millionaires want to do when they retire!
Did you attend #muse19? If so, let us know what your biggest takeaway was in the comments below!
The views and opinions expressed in this event recap are those of the panelists and speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BookBub.
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