I’ll admit my mind is blown knowing there are over 10,000 Emotion Thesaurus books out in the world. Becca and I are thrilled, and so appreciative to all the writers and teachers who took a chance on it. As aspiring novelists, we know just how hard it is to write and the perseverance it takes to create a book. Providing a tool to help other writers with emotion is nothing short of an honor (sappy, I know, but true. Writers rule and we love you guys!)
In that same spirit of wanting to contribute, we thought it might be beneficial to share our focus as we sent The Emotion Thesaurus into the world. We realize this is a non-fiction book, not fiction. Novels are a harder sell–instead of dealing primarily with what a audience NEEDS like nonfiction, it is more about what they WANT, and personal reading tastes are unpredictable. However, much of the strategy we used with the ET can be adapted for fiction, so hopefully novelists will find value here regardless. Apologies for the length, but we wanted to fit everything in one post for east reference. 🙂
A Bit of History…
As many of you know, The Emotion Thesaurus started on the blog as a ‘set’ of lists focusing on how to show a character’s feelings. Becca and I struggled with emotion, and when we could not find a good resource to help us, we created one. As it grew in popularity, readers asked us to turn it into an enhanced book version.
We chose self publishing for a few reasons, the most important being TIME. It can take years for a book to find a publisher and then be available to purchase, and writers and teachers needed it NOW. We also discovered someone pirating our content for profit, so waiting any longer to create the book would be foolhardy. We launched The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression on May 14th, 2012.
What We Had Going For Us
PLATFORM. Becca and I have worked since 2008 to build a place within the Writing Community, providing resources through this blog and forging genuine relationships with our audience. Our attitude has always been to contribute and do what we can to add value. It was our hope that our readers would be willing to help raise awareness for The Emotion Thesaurus book.
NICHE. Our book tackled a topic that writers struggle with, yet few resources were available to help. As writers, we knew exactly what type of tool was needed to help with emotion and body language.
What Stood Against Us
LACK OF CREDIBILITY. Becca and I were not authors (yet), nor accredited editors, and certainly not psychologists or experts on emotion. We had a platform, but no ‘book world’ clout. How could we possibly compete with the biggies in the Writing Resource field, names like Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, James N. Frey, The Plot Whisperer, or the dozens of other incredible, best-selling authors/experts?
SELF PUBLISHING. While the stigma is lessening, we all know bias remains. In some ways, creating a how-to writing resource and then choosing self publishing over traditional could act as a strike against us, meaning we would have to really prove ourselves with readers.
CONFIDENCE. This business is often a murky pool of feeling not worthy, not good enough. Without a book deal in place for our fiction to give us credibility or a degree/subject-specific education to hold up, we felt naked. Putting ourselves out there and donning the hat of authority that comes with writing any sort of how-to guide was terrifying.
The Scale Tipper
PASSION, BELIEF & TEAMWORK. As writers, we knew people needed this book. Heck, we needed it! We decided to create the best brainstorming tool we could and put all our effort into making it discoverable to those who might benefit from it. Working as a team allowed us to play off each others’ strengths and aided in decision-making.
READYING FOR LAUNCH
- Set up a business
- Paid for a professional edit
- Hired a cover designer
- Outsourced formatting to a HTML goddess because the book is full of links and redirects
- Test-marketed it with a select group of writers & used feedback to strengthen
MISTAKE: choosing a launch date and under-estimating the time it would take for setting up the business (two authors in different countries is a pain), uploading, formatting challenges, fixing last minute typos (again, our formatter Heather is worth her weight in gold!) This created lots of down-to-the-wire stress. Test marketing the book (while super valuable) also meant enabling changes late in the game.
First Hurdle: Launching A Book Without Feeling Like A Timeshare Salesman
For two writers who hate promoting, this was a massive challenge. Look at me! I have a book! Buy it! We needed a way to let people know about the ET but not be eye-bulging, book-waving maniacs about it. After many facetimes, we realized that to do this in a way that felt right, we needed to return to our AUTHOR BRAND: writers helping & supporting other writers.
“Random Acts of Kindness for Writers” became our secret plan: instead of making our release date about us, we would do something to celebrate & thank writers. This was risky in the sense that to do it authentically, we had to steer attention AWAY from our book’s release. However, we felt the reward was twofold–traffic to our site, and it allowed us a way to pour our flag-waving passion into celebrating people who really deserve recognition and yet rarely get it. This event aligned perfectly with our pay-it-forward beliefs, driving us to do all we could to make it a success.
For brevity’s sake, I won’t get into the nuts and bolts of how we set up the RAOK Blitz (but if enough people wish it, I can expand on this in a future post). Suffice to say it drew thousands of visitors and hundreds of writers participated, becoming a huge ‘feel good’ week for everyone that showcased the generous spirits of our Writing Community. 🙂
Marketing Boost: Becca and I gave away a free PDF called ‘Emotion Amplifiers’ as our RAOK gift to writers. This PDF booklet is a companion to The Emotion Thesaurus and has a similar layout. Our hope was that if a writer found it helpful, they might check the ET as well. (It’s still in our sidebar if you want a copy and helps with describing conditions like pain, exhaustion, stress, inebriation, etc.)
Second Hurdle: Reviews
A self-published book that is also non-fiction? Rough. Many professional reviewers will not take on SP books, and those that do usually only read fiction. So, instead of seeking out review sites, we put out a call out to Bookshelf Muse readers and asked if any of them were interested in reviewing the book. After all, the ET is BY writers FOR writers. Who better to review it?
We could not accommodate all the requests that came in, so we chose some reviewers strategically for their audience reach, and others through a random draw.
MISTAKE: We should have arranged for reviews much sooner. Due to not leaving ourselves enough time to get the book ready to go, we were unable to get a decent version out to reviewers until close to launch or after.
LUCK! Many people, after buying and using the ET, were so excited about it they wrote reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
MORE LUCK! These reviews swayed even MORE people to take a chance on the book, and they in turn became avid word-of-mouth spreaders, telling writing friends and critique partners all about The Emotion Thesaurus. This led to better sales, top 20 ranking in several (paid) writing categories for print & kindle, a strong Amazon Best Sellers Rank, and placement on the Top Rated, Best Selling & Most Wished For lists (writing).
Marketing Tactics: Swag
We chose to invest in a postcard-sized bookmark that doubles as a Revision Tool. Many bookmarks lie forgotten in a drawer, or they end up being recycled. We wanted ours to stay right beside the computer during revisions, so we printed a ‘Crutch Word List’ on one side–words we commonly overuse and need to weed out. Our hope was that by making our swag useful, writers would hang onto it!
Spreading the word about a book can be difficult, so we put out a call (again utilizing our blog readers) and asked if people would be willing to take our bookmarks and hand them out to critique groups, or give them out at conferences and workshops. This allowed us to reach out beyond our own circle and hopefully reach new readers.
MISTAKE (?) This was a bit pricey considering the postage involved (some were sent worldwide), and took time to get addresses and mail out. We had no way to track the effectiveness. And while I have heard from people who said they saw them at conferences or were given one by another writer, we are not sure if the ‘mail out’ idea brought a significant return. But, the postcards are super handy to have at events where Becca and I are presenting, and we can pass them out afterward to keep the ET in people’s minds. So overall, this swag was worth it!
Marketing Tactics: Discoverability
The bulk of our marketing energy went into discoverability. Because we have such an amazingly supportive audience at The Bookshelf Muse, we chose a ‘grassroots’ approach rather than solicit big bloggers/sites for exposure. In our initial blog post asking for assistance from readers, we utilized a sign up form so the people who wanted to help us could, and in a manner that most appealed to them. The results of this was amazing–so many people offered to help get the word out!
One of our biggest needs was bloggers willing to host us for a visit. We were overwhelmed with gratitude to see how many people were willing to do this (have I mentioned how great you all are?) and we actually had to change how our form was worded to include offering book excerpts and reblogging previous TBM posts to accommodate the response. We ended up with over 115 hosts all told.
Attempting so many guest posts caused panic attacks, obsessive chocolate binging, feelings of inadequacy *coughs* was daunting. But Becca organized everything (SHE IS AMAZING!) and put us on an aggressive schedule that would allow us to finish them all within a 4 month window. We created a master list of topics, most centered directly on content that would tie into Emotion & Body Language, so that each post was a planned, quality post. The best thank you to those who offered to help us was to write content that would bring them strong traffic, not just exposure for us.
GUEST POST TIP: We did our best to thank personally every person who hosted and helped. We also shared all links on our social networks to bring new people to their blogs. We truly appreciated their time and energy, and their desire to see us succeed.
MISTAKE #1: biting off more than we could chew. This was an enormous amount of guest posts (with more requests coming in as a result of this visibility) and so it meant we were both unable to write anything but blog content for a good 4 months. We managed to get them done and we have no regrets because of the great exposure, but it also meant other things slipped. There were a few blogging relationships and opportunities we were unable to stay on top of because we were so busy posting elsewhere. We also had a tough time commenting on blogs and getting email written. With such a strict timeline to adhere to, I worried about messing up and forgetting something vital, letting a host down.
MISTAKE #2: not thinking enough about how to keep up with our own blog AND everyone else’s. Luckily as we met new people at different blogs, we found folks who wanted to guest post for us. We were able to give them exposure in return and bring some good content to the blog (LUCK!) So while we made a mistake about over committing, it worked out.
MORE LUCK! These ‘seed’ guest posts led to some writing communities and bigger organizations contacting us. This resulted in book reviews and giveaways that were included in newsletters and offered exposure with bigger audiences. The Discoverability Tour worked!
Marketing Tactics: Giveaways
We utilized giveaways to generate interest in our book and bring attention to some of the blogs we visited. We purposefully did not host book giveaways during the month of May to encourage people to buy, not wait to win. We had a few giveaways in June and then more in July, August and September. Some were bigger exposure opportunities like being featured in a banner at the Writer’s Knowledge Base and as a prize at Ink Pageant (thanks guys–you rock!) We tried to go where our readers would be, and took advantage of opportunities that allowed us to reach beyond the Kidlit & YA writer’s network we know best in order to create inroads with Christian and other Adult genres who might not know us or The Bookshelf Muse. We also utilized Goodreads and ran a giveaway through them.
Marketing Tactics: Distribution Channels
Becca and I talked about going KDP Select but neither of us could see the benefit to doing so right out the gate. In our minds, we wanted to ask a fair price for the books and have it available across as many channels as possible to reach readers where they are, not where we ‘chose’ to be. We distributed widely and included a PDF option for those who did not have ereaders or who felt more comfortable with PDF format. For those who like numbers, here’s the breakdown to 10,000 which we hit in September:
(click to enlarge)
*Prior to September, Kobo sales were bundled with Smashwords. Once Kobo created their own distribution, we uploaded direct. Sony sales are under the Smashwords umbrella.
You will notice that Print is quite strong. We believe this is partly because many writers like ‘craft’ books in paperback. We also have had feedback that some original digital buyers were so pleased with the ET, they later decided to invest in a print version, too.
Pricing: We chose the 4.99 price point for digital, and 14.99 for print. We have not changed the price nor offered the book for free. In the future we may change our pricing, but for now it works well with Extended Distribution, which we sell enough through to make it important to keep.
MISTAKE: not enabling Extended Distribution right from the start. Originally we didn’t think it would do us much good, until we realized without it, we could not get onto Amazon.ca. Seeing as I live in Canada, it is important that the people I meet at events or at my workshops have a way to get the book. Not doing this before May meant a six week lag of fielding emails from Canadians unable to buy the book.
Marketing Tactics: Paid Advertizing
We opted to not invest in any paid advertising. I think this was the right decision for us, but do see us choosing a few select ads in the future.
Where We Got Extra Lucky
- Winning Top 20 Best Blogs For Writers with Write To Done a few months before The Emotion Thesaurus released. This raised our profile significantly, and at a critical time.
- Once sales started climbing, Amazon would send out mailers to people who purchased writing related books, and sometimes The Emotion Thesaurus was listed as a ‘Those that purchased X might also like’ pick.
- A price war between B & N and Amazon. For the last week of September, the two duked it out, lowering the book’s price daily until the discount put it under 10 bucks. Average sales nearly doubled for print (although sales dipped that week for Kindle).
A Few Extraneous Mistakes
- Not soliciting endorsements. We didn’t do this in advance of publishing the ET because we were worried about being turned down, worried about getting the cold shoulder because we were newcomers and new authors. Now more than ever we are seeing an acceptance of SP, and of Traditional authors making the leap. Endorsements probably would have helped us greatly and so moving forward we’ll be seeking them out.
- Not believing in ourselves enough at the start. I think we wasted a lot of energy on doubt because we hadn’t published before (except in magazines) and we were afraid that while we felt The Emotion Thesaurus added value, others would not. The response to The Emotion Thesaurus has been nothing short of phenomenal and knowing that Illinois State University is using it in their Creative Writing curriculum makes us incredibly proud. A self published book going to University…who would have thought?
Thoughts to Leave You With
Looking back, I believe we did two things right that led to everything else:
First, we created a book that readers are very happy with, and it fulfills a need in a way that they want to share it with people they know. (We are so, so, SO grateful to this word-of-mouth. Thank you all for doing this!)
Second, we live our brand: writers who help and support other writers. This is who we are! We love writers and have forged genuine relationships with our readers. When we needed help to spread the word, people responded, and more than that, became our advocates. There are not enough thank yous in the world for me to say what this means to us.
If I can encourage writers planning to publish to do one thing beyond the above, it’s to be authentic in whatever you do. When you build your platform, start in advance and think very hard about what your brand will be. Be yourself, be likable, do what feels right and resonates with who you are. Understand your audience, their likes and dislikes, and search them out. Use keywords to find blogs, forum discussions and hashtags that will help you discover people who might be interested in a book like yours. Interact, be genuine and think about how you can add value, not how you can market to them. Focus on giving, not getting. Trust that the rest will come.
Do you have any questions about what we did or why? Becca and I are happy to answer if we are able. And again, the biggest, squishiest, bacon-filled thank you for all your support of us and the ET. Your word-of-mouth has allowed writers and teachers everywhere to discover this book!