How To: Book Marketing

Upon reading our prompt for this week, I turned to YouTube and typed in “how to market a book.” Original, I know. A long list of videos, mostly chats like the one above, appeared before me. As I started scanning the list, my eyes caught upon one video. It was Joanna Penn, the author I focused my marketing essay on! I clicked on the link, watched the video, and was good to go.

In this interview Joanna Penn, who writes thriller novels under the pen name J.F. Penn,  talks about how she goes about publishing and marketing her books. She self-published her first non-fiction book in 2008 but when it went unnoticed, she determined to learn as much as she could about the publishing and marketing world. She has now self-published over ten books and runs a website, The Creative Penn, that has articles for aspiring published authors.

Toward the beginning of the video (around 3:10), Penn talks about how learning the principles of marketing are more important than learning the tactics. She talks about how the websites and social media platforms will change and evolve over time but she has found that the principles are the same. I think that this was a very good point to make. In her opinion, authenticity, collaboration among authors, and generosity are all essential to the marketing process (4:15). She thinks that these traits are the ones that make readers remember you as an author, and she says that is the goal of marketing.

Another way Joanna Penn has been successful is through the ascetic choices she has made concerning her books (4:30). She stresses the importance of a good book jacket and “Back Blurb,” the short description found at the rear of the novel. These are the few things that can immediately attract readers. Another aspect she finds important is the key words used to describe  a book. She calls for “unsexy” titles of non-fiction work, saying that the easier it is for readers to find your book in an online search, the better off you will be. Making sure that the description of your book truly matches the contents of it will make it easier for readers to find and enjoy your book for what it really is.

I have great respect for Penn as a writer. I have read a few of her thrillers and they are the perfect Sunday afternoon read. Through my research for this post and my essay, I have come to have more knowledge of and respect for self-publishers and everything they must accomplish. I think that self-publishing is a great way for authors to get themselves out into the publishing world, and Joanna Penn is a great example of how to do that.

 

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Tools of the Trade

“College is my job.” “I’m a full time student.” These are both things that I’ve heard from many different people. I agree with them. I know that working during college is essential to paying the bills, while I’m here, my first priority is my education. With that in mind, there are a few things I find essential to my success as a student.

  1. A Good Laptop. This has been so incredibly helpful to me. Besides just its obvious capabilities like typing and internet connection, my laptop also helps keep me connected to the people I love. I can text my parents, FaceTime my best friends, and check social media to see what’s going on in the lives of people I know.
  2. A Good Roommate and Floor. The community I am experiencing here is something I have been so thankful for. My roommate is great, she makes jokes when I don’t want to do my reading, encourages me to go to the gym, and makes me eat when I get loopy. I am so glad that I have people around me that care for me and want to see me succeed. On that note…
  3. Engaged Professors and Advisers. One of the things that has been most beneficial to me is the availability of the staff here at school. Having approachable professors and career coaches that I can ask questions of has already helped me determine, in part, what I’m going to do in the future- or at least next semester.
  4. Sleep and Coffee. Would this be a post about surviving college if these two weren’t mentioned? One thing I’m frequently surprised at is the amount of sleep students don’t get. I aim for seven a night, and some nights even that’s ambitious. However, I know that sleep is important, and I can tell a difference in my ability to succeed when I have enough of it. And for those nights when I don’t get as much sleep as I want? That’s when I head to Coffee Cottage and bask in the warm and cozy smell of coffee and delicious muffins.

These are just a few of the things that have helped me make it through most of my first semester of college (That in and of itself is crazy to think about!). What are some of your essentials?

Kindle vs. Print

When the iPad first came out, I was enthralled, like any other 7th grader would have been. The colors, the touch screen, the apps; it was like something out of a science fiction novel. At the time, I was so preoccupied with the “coolness” of this new toy that I never thought about what its invention would mean for the fate of my precious books.

It took me a while to really begin reading on my iPad. When I first got mine, the titles available were very limited and there were very few books targeted towards younger audiences. However, as this started to change, I began to see the appeal of reading on a device rather than a physical book. For one thing, my iPad allowed me to stay up reading long past my sister, who always wanted the lights off in the room we shared, went to bed. When my family went on vacation, I could actually take clothes with me, rather than fifteen pounds of books. I could also buy books more easily; I didn’t need a parent to drive me all the way to the bookstore in order to get my latest obsession.

Even though I loved the iPad for its practicality, bookstores were (and still are) my favorite kinds of stores. Searching on Amazon will never compare to browsing through a Barnes and Noble or a Borders (Rest in peace Borders; I miss you). I have even read books on my Kindle that I loved so much I needed to have them in paperback for my bookshelf. The idea of people only reading on their iPad or Kindle saddens me, for I have always thought of books as beautiful. Something about owning them and being able to see them and touch them gives their stories a more realistic quality.

I think that my love of physical books is echoed by many people. Because of this, I think that the printed book will never die. I read an article recently saying that as the prices of Kindle books rose to be equatable with that of printed books, more and more readers were choosing to buy physical copies of their favorite books. This was encouraging as a reader, but I think the more important thing is that people are reading. While I love a good book in my hands, not everyone feels that way. Book sales are indeed changing, but I do believe that passionate, die-hard readers will continue to support the sale of books until their dying breaths.

The Cave

This past weekend I spent most of Saturday underground. Two friends and I went to the Ape Caves in south-eastern Washington for the day. These caves are actually lava tunnels formed about 2,000 years ago by Mt. St. Helens, long before it was ever called that. The first half of the cave is a walk in the park, but the second reminded me of something out of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

While we were in no danger of flowing lava or dinosaur-like creatures that roam beneath the surface of the earth, we did encounter large rock piles we needed to summit and short walls to climb over. As Marrissa, Hannah, and I precariously picked our way over the small boulders, I was forced to think about being underground, and all the implications that came with it. There’s no sunlight, or fresh air. Darkness is all around, pressing into you; it can feel oppressing after a while. But, besides the physical aspects of being underground, I was also thinking about the allegorical ones.

I recently read The Republic by Plato for one of my classes. I had never read anything like it before. I was intrigued by a lot of what Plato had to say about knowledge, and true wisdom. He presents his famous cave allegory as a way of showing what knowledge and wisdom really are. He tells a story of a few people kept in a cave their whole lives, and finally one of them is freed and lead into the light above ground. This person is forcibly shown that what he had believed his whole life was not the real truth, but rather a shadow of the truth.

I can relate to this person who has been forced to examine his ideas of truth. Through the honors program and other classes here at school, I have been exposed to so many new ideas and beliefs that it can be hard to sort through them all. Our professors encourage us to think about what “we know to be true, or right or good.”

I have been doing more real thinking these last few months than I have ever done before. And it has been good for me, but right now, I’m still feeling a lot like that guy who’s being blinded by the sun after years underground. Here’s to the day when my eyes finally adjust and I can see clearly!

eBooks, Technology, and Blog Posts: OH MY!

I love the smell of old books, something musty and inky. I love the way books feel in my hands, I think the weight of them is comforting. It gives a sense of physicality to the words I am reading. Being able to turn the pages helps me to gauge my progress, which is helpful during boring school reading and frightening once I realize there aren’t enough pages for a resolution to occur while reading for pleasure. I like the way they look stacked on a shelf, they give off an air of knowledge and education, regardless of their genre.

I love books.

How I feel about eBooks and technology is a more complicated thing to tell. I write this blog digitally (obviously), I own a Kindle, and I often search for books to read online and take advantage of the many book lists that are published on the web. I like the forums that it has created for writing, both through blogging and other advertising sites. I think that technology has ushered in a new age of writing, not necessarily a bad one or a good one, but just a different one.

The marketing of a book seems so much different than it used to be. Sure, books may gain popularity through word of mouth, as we saw in this week’s reading, but I think that many of the most popular books “go viral.” They becoming insanely popular, items of pop culture that reach a wide audience. They develop fan followings online, creating websites dedicated to the books and FanFiction writing that refuses to let the author have the final word. Fans become hooked on the world and characters of a novel, developing backstories and spin-offs and telling parts of the story they felt did not receive enough attention. All of these things are dependent on technology and they are all a part of the reading experience in this day and age.

I think that technology has its perks. It can be a useful tool when writing and reading, providing access to online tools and resources for better understanding. I like the ease of using my Kindle at night, and it makes it easier to travel with books. However, there is something about actually holding a book in your hands. I love the feeling of books and bookstores. Books have been around for hundreds of years. eBooks, technology, and blog posts haven’t, and they will never have the timelessness of a real book.

Royal Servants

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Getting ready to play some soccer!

About this time three years ago I was a sophomore in high school, trying to come up with the answers to the questions people kept asking me about college and majors and life choices. I was definitely feeling the weight of all the decisions that I had to make, even though I still had two years before any of that would start to matter. In the midst of trying to deal with my homework, stage managing the drama play, thinking about college, and being involved in youth group, a good friend of mine told me about a missions trip she had been on the summer before. I was entranced by the stories she told. Who were these people, that she could come back so full of love and on fire for God? More importantly, how could I meet them?

She had gone on a trip with the organization Royal Servants. They are a part of Reign Ministries, a larger non-profit organization based in Minnesota. Royal Servants, or RS, runs trips across the globe for teenage and college-age students. The trips vary in length, lasting anywhere from two weeks to eight weeks. RS is just as concerned with the students on the trip as they are with the people they are serving overseas. They work to ensure that students grow spiritually and that they make good friends. They are service and street ministry based; each team takes choreographed dances, drama skits, and puppet shows overseas to perform. Royal Servants visit some amazing places and see amazing things. My answer hungry fifteen year old self couldn’t think of anything better to do over the summer than go on a Royal Servants trip.

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The girls soccer team after one of our last games.

I remember the night I signed up. I was nervous about telling my parents that I wanted to go to Costa Rica for five weeks, even though I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything so badly before. I filled out the whole application in one night, and I couldn’t sleep after it was finished. I got accepted, did all my fundraising, followed the packing list to a tee, and before I knew it, I was on the plane to Chicago to go to Training Camp and meet the people I would live with for the next month.

The week I spent in Wisconsin preparing for my trip and getting to know my teammates was one of the hardest things I think I’ve done. They push you to your limits. You’re sleeping with strangers in tents on the ground, while its pouring rain outside and there is thunder above you. You wear dirty clothes and do service projects early in the morning. You run all over the place, carry a backpack all the time, and only use port-a-potties for eight days.

Sarah and I ready to go zip-lining for the first time!

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Sarah and I this last August, when she came to visit me!

But, those eight days are also some of my favorite days. I met one of my best friends during that week. I learned so much about myself, and I was only a fifth of the way through my summer. My time spent in Costa Rica was equally as formative. Just thinking about it as I write transports me back to the warm, rainy afternoons of soccer, or fútbol, as the locals call it,  in fields surrounded by sugarcane. I can feel the humidity and smell the church that we stayed at. Royal Servants has changed me in ways I can’t even fathom, and I hesitate to think about who I would be without that experience.

An Open Letter to Grammar

Aw Grammar. We’ve had such a mixed past. Though I appreciate your ability to make me a better writer, you can get in my way sometimes. Occasionally, I get so preoccupied with the correctness of my writing that I forget the reason that I’m writing. You can be useful, and you do deserve some instruction. However, I think that at a certain level, too much instruction can hinder writing.

You, Grammar, are essential to writing well. I do believe that some grasp of your grammatical concepts are needed for one to be a successful writer. One should know a noun from a verb, and an adjective from and adverb. A writer should also know what kind of punctuation and verb form to use when putting words onto paper. The correct use of certain words and commas is essential. However, much to your dismay I’m sure, I don’t know how much more formal instruction is needed beyond that.

I think that to be a good writer, one needs to be a good reader. This not only helps to generate creativity, but it also exposes young children to your correct written form. They know how a sentence is supposed to sound without instruction. This, in addition to parents and teachers who speak correctly should be sufficient to get the average person through life.

I do believe Grammar, that a person should learn about you until they reach middle school. After reaching seventh grade, a student should know basic math, writing, and reading skills. After these foundations are laid, I think that they should simply build upon them. That means learning algebra, reading classic novels, and learning to write in more specific styles. Students will be introduced to your friends Pythagoras and Plato. But unfortunately for you, I think that unless one is struggling with a very specific grammatical error, you no longer need to be taught.

Now don’t dismay Grammar. There are some who will continue to know you. For example, those who become English majors, or who choose to teach, or who decide to become editors. They need to keep getting to know you. They will be your closest friends, the ones that know your inmost secrets. They will then be able to share those secrets with others when the need arises.

No doubt about it Grammar, you’re important. You’re needed and necessary. But I believe that there comes a time when you need to sever your ties with most of us Average Joe’s. We don’t all have to be bosom buddies. But don’t worry too much, you’ll always have your English majors and teachers.

Books on My Nightstand

As the school year progresses, I am finding it harder and harder to come up with my blog posts. Last week I wrote about writer’s block, but I knew I couldn’t do that again, even though it helped to get the creativity flowing. So I turned to the website every girl goes to when they are in need of a little inspiration.

Pinterest.

I typed in the words “Blog Prompts” and clicked search. I was a little skeptical of how this would play out. Would I like what I came up with?

What I found were deceptively long articles full of random prompts meant to inspire writing. There were “October Blog Challenges” and posts titled, “No More Excuses; Blog Every Day.” While I agree that these could be fun and helpful, none of these pins where quite what I was looking for. Something juicy and entertaining, that would elicit laughter and consideration from my readers. Finally, after searching through endless lists of photos I could post or articles I could write, I found a prompt that I liked.

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It was perfect! “I love to read, I’m always reading. That’s a perfect post for me!” These thoughts rushed through my mind upon seeing those words. There’s only one small problem. The books on my nightstand are not the kind that one usually finds when reading blog posts of this type. I mean, I don’t even have a nightstand. Instead I have a tiny bookshelf that straddles my bed.

The contents of my bookshelf would take me a long time to explain. It contains two of my favorite books, The Book Thief and Code Name Verity. It also has a series of books my cousin recommended to me that I foolishly thought I would have time to read (Maybe some day Becky!). In addition to those, this small shelf holds all of my honors books. These range from the Odyssey to the Bible to the collected works of Plato. There’s a Modge Podge letter “A” and two pumpkins. It also holds an old edition of National Geographic featuring the Pope.

So there you have it, my Pinterest Prompted Post. Maybe an odd collection of words, but all of them true. A simple search inspired this post, and those are the contents of my meager bookshelf. Someday I’ll have a much larger bookshelf, and maybe that day this short article will be more informative. And until then, I’ll keep searching for prompts, hoping to find a source of inspiration.

Writer’s Block

I always thought of writer’s block as some sort of giant cube that old, wizened authors sat upon when they wanted a day off. I just figured it was a place for them to stop and relax, but now I know that is not the case. Writer’s block is far more serious than that. It is a near chronic disease that affects everyone of a certain profession.

I almost always find that every time I am cursed with the dreaded writer’s block it happens right as something important is about to be due. Every time I forget about the project at hand until its due date is pressed upon me. Every time I pull some bit of writing from the recesses of my brain and put it onto paper and turn it in.

And so, that brings us to the present.

I am sitting in my dorm room with my roommate, who is very studiously being productive. We have all of our string lights and lamps on in order to avoid turning on the harsh overhead lights. I’m hovering over my key board, trying to formulate some semblance of a blog post that is readable and enjoyable to the public. I’m snacking on my $0.99 raspberries that have half frozen from being too close to the freezer part of our mini-fridge trying to figure out what to write about. Finally I realize that I have my topic right in front of me.

At this point, I’ve decided to write about writer’s block, as you have probably deduced from the title. I don’t know what causes writer’s block or how to make it go away.If that’s what you’re looking for, you might just want to google it, or look on Pinterest for those lists of topics that are supposed to inspire you. I suppose that I could have also done that, but this seemed like more fun.

And so, in writing about the very thing that plagued me tonight, I have found a subject matter. I guess that goes to show that sometimes all you have to do is sit down and go for it.

But What About Gender?

We have been reading a lot about gender in class, and its something that has been on my mind a lot. I say that I wouldn’t consider myself a feminist but I’m beginning to wonder if that is true anymore. I have often disagreed with “radical” feminists. I actually think that men are OK and that they can hold jobs. I also think that being a stay-at-home mom is a perfectly acceptable job, if that’s what a woman wants to do. In my head, feminists were always out to ruin men and take their jobs and not ever have children. However, since coming to college, I’m realizing that there is more to feminism and gender stereotyping and sexism than I thought there was.

Last night I attended Melanie Mock’s presentation on gender in the church. I thought that it was fascinating, and it opened my eyes to things I had never noticed before. I never would have thought that sexism would still exist here, at a 21st century Christian college. To me, sexism, and gender stereotyping goes against all that I know of what Jesus taught. The split between men and women is one that I find fascinating, but it is also cause for concern.

I never thought that gender was something that affected how I write or what I write about. I always just figured that I wrote about what I wanted to write about, no questions asked. And I do think that I care about the subjects that I choose, but now I’m wondering whether I choose them because they’re what I like or because they’re what I know. I do think that I can write about whatever I would like, but would those pieces be successful? Would they be read and published?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but as I look back on what I’ve read, I know that women and men get published. Both genders can become critically acclaimed authors of best selling books. Does my gender affect how I read those books? I’m not sure that I can fully answer that yet. I know that I have read books and recognized that they are specifically targeted for either boys or girls. I know that I often dislike female protagonists and like male heroes. I think that as a society trying to create “Strong Female Characters” we have gone from one end of the scale (prim and proper princesses) to the other (female warriors who care nothing for themselves and only want to defeat the “evil” in their worlds). I often find myself thinking that the women in these stories seem a little cartoonish and exaggerated in their behavior. They are frequently so extreme in their actions that they seem comical.  Writing a strong, accurate,and inspiring female character seems hard for most authors to do.

Gender, and how it relates to writing and reading, is not something I had ever given much thought. I always just assumed that personalities drove writing styles and topics, and maybe even the goal of writing. Are men more likely to become published authors than women? I don’t have hard, fast answers to these questions. However, you can rest assured knowing that I will be thinking about and looking for them.