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How can we reframe book marketing as a creative and essential part of the author life? How can we manage fear and self-doubt in order to write? How can we embrace our ambition and aim high while still managing the day to day writing life? Sarah Painter talks about all this and more in this interview.
In the intro, Spotify launches audiobooks [Engadget] and is now the most popular podcast platform [The Drum]; Story Rubric and Non-Fiction Rubric on The Writers Ink Podcast; How to get paid for poetry [Ask ALLi]; plus, we're still in lockdown here in the UK, so you can get 50% off my ebooks and audiobooks with coupon LOCKDOWN at Payhip.com/thecreativepenn and www.TheCreativePenn.com/learn
Today's show is sponsored by ProWritingAid, writing and editing software that goes way beyond just grammar and typo checking. With its detailed reports on how to improve your writing and integration with Scrivener, ProWritingAid will help you improve your book before you send it to an editor, agent or publisher.
Check it out for free or get 25% off the premium edition at www.ProWritingAid.com/joanna
Sarah Painter is the author of urban fantasy and supernatural thriller novels, as well as nonfiction for authors, including, Stop Worrying; Start Selling: The Introvert Author's Guide To Marketing. She's also the host of The Worried Writer Podcast.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- Experience with traditional and indie publishing — and changing your mindset around marketing
- Realizing the dream of hiring a spouse out of their day job
- Acknowledging self-doubt and ways of dealing with it
- Becoming intentional about who we listen to and whether they support our writing goals
- The important pieces of book marketing that authors sometimes miss
- A strategy for book covers that sell
- Why introverts are perfectly suited to book marketing
You can find Sarah Painter at Sarah-Painter.com and on Twitter @sarahrpainter
Transcript of Interview with Sarah Painter
Joanna: Sarah Painter is the author of urban fantasy and supernatural thriller novels, as well as nonfiction for authors, including, Stop Worrying; Start Selling: The Introvert Author's Guide To Marketing. Welcome back, Sarah.
Sarah: Thank you so much for having me.
Joanna: It's great to have you back on the show. Now, you were on the show in 2017, but for those who might've missed that or…obviously, it's been a few years.
Tell us a bit more about you and what has changed since then.
Sarah: I'm a full-time novelist and creative entrepreneur. And I have been running ‘The Worried Writer' podcast for five years, though I'm on a wee hiatus at the moment. And about a year ago, I achieved my ambition of hiring my husband out of his job so that we could work together on the publishing company that we've set up. So, yes, that's what's changed, I think.
Joanna: Wow. That isn't the topic of our conversation, but I have to mention it because in 2015, I hit that goal as well. We don't have to talk about numbers, but I had a number in my mind, we hit that number. I was like, ‘Right, you can leave your job.' And he did. That was 2015.
In 2020 during the first iteration of the pandemic, of course, as we record this, we're still in pandemic times, but he decided to leave our publishing company and go back to his day job in the pharma industry as a statistician. So it's really funny because maybe you don't know because this is a new thing, it's been a year. Is that something that you were keen on or something that he was also keen on?
Sarah: Well, I think both of us, honestly. But it's absolutely been my ‘why.' When you recommend people to find success for themselves and so on, and I took that advice, and I did it.
I looked at the why behind that figure, and it was absolutely this heartfelt desire to give my lovely, supportive husband freedom because he has worked and supported me to both be a full-time mum when our kids were wee and to pursue my writing. He encouraged me to give up paid freelance work to free up time to write novels. And I just wanted to give back to him partly.
And also we're both quite entrepreneurial and we did run a business together for a wee while and a few years ago…well, many years ago now, I guess, and we loved working together. So it's always been also like a joint kind of long-term, ‘Wouldn't it be amazing if we could both have that independence and work for ourselves.'
Joanna: That's great to hear. I would say to people that it's one of those goals that I think a lot of people do have, whatever side of the coin you're on is, ‘Can I give my partner freedom?' But then, of course, it's up to that partner to decide what freedom means to them.
Joanna: You also said something, that he encouraged you to come out of paid freelance writing to write novels. So clearly he's got a business mindset as well. But I know many people listening do freelance writing.
What changed your focus from freelance to writing books? What's the difference business-wise?
Sarah: I was a bookworm kid. So this is my journey into writing, was mainly because of myself that I chose a shadow career in magazine journalism. So that was the freelance I was doing for many years, even while I was writing these angsty journal entries about why couldn't I write fiction and why wasn't I trying really properly to write fiction. And so that was kind of the paid work I was doing.
And my husband was this continual supporter of my dreams of being a fiction writer. So he would not bat an eyelid. And we were struggling for money, it was tight, but he would continually encourage me to drop paid freelance work so that the hours in the day I did have to focus on words I could use them writing fiction.
And I think that that's partly just, he's a very amazing, loving, supportive husband, but I do think it's also that he believed in me and he also could maybe see the long-term possibilities from a business point of view.
His career has been in software and he's in software development and so on. He knows that you can work on something for a long time before it will pay you back. So I think he did bring that perspective that I couldn't really see at the time.
Joanna: Of course, we create intellectual property assets with our writing. And you don't do that as a freelance writer. You're essentially writing for hire. The money comes in once, and you're never going to see that time again. Whereas with novels, the nonfiction books, you spend that time once, but the money keeps on coming, right?
Sarah: Absolutely. And it's a revelation when you get that. When the penny drops on that, it is fantastic.
Joanna: So also tell us, like how long did it take you to get to this point of hiring your husband out and going full time?
How many years did that take and how many books?
Sarah: Okay, sure. So first off, I went traditional and so we'll just push to one side the years of rejection, having the wrong agent, getting the right agent. We'll just push that under the carpet.
I got my first traditional deal in 2012 and the book came out in 2013. So it was my debut and that had been my dream. And very quickly I discovered that it wasn't maybe all it was cracked up to be, and it hadn't cured my self-doubt.
And then around that time, I discovered you, Joanna. So all of this is your fault, and I've told you before, and I will tell you again, I'm eternally grateful for you being my unofficial mentor without even knowing it because you explained that you could look at your writing as a business.
Until that point, I had been very business-minded about my freelance journalism. I'd been business-minded about the business I started. I had never, stupidly, I had never applied a business head to my writing career. And as soon as I did, everything changed. And so as soon as I could see that, I immediately realized with abundant clarity that the very best way to have a long-term business in writing was to be the publisher, was to go very much at least hybrid if not entirely independent.
So, everything changed for me there. But it took me a couple of years of being trad published, having some success, and having some good experiences to really get my confidence enough to dip my toe in going it alone, which did feel very scary to me.
I harbored this really daft idea somehow, deep down, that publisher's sprinkled some sort of fairy dust on books that you didn't have if you did it yourself, which I know a lot of my fellow trad authors have that deep down fear. And of course, it's simply not true, but anyway.
So it took me a wee while, but then it was 2015…let's say 2017, that's it when I released the Worried Writer book, which was my first dipping my toe in. And that was nonfiction, that felt less scary somehow. And then I loved that and I loved the control, I loved the whole experience.
Then I launched my fiction independent project, which was Crow Investigations urban fantasy series. And the first one came out in October 2018. The second one came out 2019, the third one 2019. The fourth and fifth came out last year.
So that's five books in the Crow Investigation series, and a couple of non-fiction, and a standalone supernatural thriller, which I also released independently. So is that three years and eight books if I'm counting? Yes, that's right. So that's independent. And before that, five traditionally published.
Joanna: Wow. Obviously, I'm really happy that I was able to help on your journey, but it's always interesting to me who puts these things into action and how successful it can be. So that's actually pretty quick, and obviously, you've learned your writing chops over more than a decade. You can write books a bit faster than other people.
And we're certainly not suggesting that…new writers might do it just as fast, but that's pretty awesome.
I want to come back to this self-doubt thing because this is one of those things. You thought the self-doubt would go away when you had a traditional publishing deal, but it didn't.
Has the self-doubt gone away now or how do you deal with it?
Sarah: No. The self-doubt I have accepted is never, ever, ever going to go away. But I have got a lot of strategies for dealing with it and just getting on with work anyway. And I think accepting that it's going to be there rather than continually fretting that it being there means something is very, very helpful.
I also know that it is just trying to protect me because all of this stuff is super scary. So whether it's publishing a book, giving it to a friend to read or a beta reader, or whether it's doing some marketing, all of these things give us the fear because it's the same fear as is fear of failure, it's fear of success, it's fear of exposure.
So whether someone's reading your book or whether you're promoting your books or encouraging people to read that book, either way, it just triggers those same fears.
And what's transformed for me, what has helped me, and means that I can still just carry on doing the things, the essential thing is recognizing that that is completely normal. We are weirdos as writers, but in this area, we're all the same.
Running my podcast and listening to your wonderful podcast time and time again, no matter how externally successful or confident, even, an author appears, the same things come up, they still feel imposter syndrome. They still feel self-doubt.
So that's really the difference for me is that I am aware of it. I look at it square in the eye, maybe journaling about it, and then I come up with a plan with lots of really tiny wee blocks of tasks that I can do, and then I just do them.
Joanna: I still suffer from fear of judgment. It is my big one. I think we all have one particular thing and that is mine. I just want everyone to like me. And if they don't we have to separate ourselves from our books. Not everyone's going to like our books or people might think, as you say, we're weird.
And even still…not with you because we know each other now, but sometimes I'm sitting here waiting for a call like a podcast interview and my heart is banging and I'm like, ‘How can I do this?'
Sarah: It's terrifying.
Joanna: This is just ridiculous. I wanted to share that with you because I still think that this never goes away. I've seen and heard authors who you think are the top of their game after decades and they still have self-doubt about something.
And maybe that was just because we care. If we didn't care, we wouldn't have these feelings about it, I suppose. And we do have to learn to live with them. I don't think you can get over it, but you just have to put them to one side and carry on with your work.
Sarah: I'm nodding away here because I agree so wholeheartedly with you that it is because we care. It is and that's such a good way to look at it because you can reframe it a wee bit that the reason you're feeling sick is that you care about this.
Speaking of the about to chat thing, and I'm still terrified before things like this, even though I know you and I know how lovely you are and I was looking forward to it as well, but what's something that I've been doing, which again, you may well have recommended this, but it's thinking about the reader or, in this case, of course, thinking about the listener.
Trying to move away from my feelings about it. I'm terrified that I'm going to babble and make a fool of myself, but why am I doing it? I'm doing it because I am hoping that maybe one person will hear something useful or feel reassured or feel some sort of sense of community or encouragement.
That's why I'm doing it because I want to help other people. And so when I focus on that side of it, it just seems to make it a wee bit easier.
Joanna: Absolutely. And when I get nice emails, I print them out and I put them in my journal and it really helps. But I think these waves of self-doubt are just completely part of the creative process. So people listening, if you're feeling it, that is normal.
Let's talk about being introverts because it's so funny. I don't take phone calls. I don't get on the phone. It's funny being a podcaster because I just have my phone on ‘do not disturb' all the time.
I don't like speaking to people really. I really struggle in conferences and I've admitted many times, but I do have a few drinks to help me actually interact with humans. Pretty introverted when it comes down to things.
Your book is The Introvert Author's Guide to Marketing. Now, I feel that most people think, ‘Oh, I'm an introvert,' or, ‘I just want to write, I don't even want to engage with marketing.'
Tell us when you realized that you actually had to learn this and what is the mindset we need to have around marketing?
Sarah: I think it was quite soon on because again, you go to the magical land of being a traditionally published author. I'd somehow imagined that maybe sales and marketing would take care of sales and marketing. And of course, they do to a certain extent, dependent on the sort of contract you've got and so on, but really it all comes down to the author because you are the brand.
And there is a lot of stuff that really is better done by the author when it comes to, certainly, content marketing, of course.
I realized then I was going to have to do it, but I still resisted it. I felt like I'd made all these great strides and I wrote, Stop Worrying; Start Writing. I nailed down my self-doubt for writing books and so on, and I felt really great about that.
But then I realized that I was still resisting marketing and I was still being very negative around it. And I was falling into the patterns that a lot of authors do, to be fair.
If you hang around author groups or chat to other authors at any time, people say things like, ‘I just want to write,' you know, as you said, or ‘I hate marketing.' I realized that all of that negativity was not helping me and I was going to have to reframe it.
I was going to have to change my attitude to it. And so I got very, very intentional about who I listened to, where I spent time, and I continually questioned people's phrasing.
If somebody said, ‘Oh, I just don't want to market,' I would think, ‘Well, okay. What does that mean? Does that mean you don't want anyone to read your books? Does that mean you don't want to sell any books? Does that apply to me? No.'
And again, it's going back to your why. I recommend journaling for this, just continually interrogating yourself like an annoying therapist person, just keep on saying, ‘Well, what does that mean? And what does that mean?' and ‘Why do you want to sell books? And what will that lead to? And why? And why? And why?' until you write out getting to the core of why you want to do these things, but also getting to the core of your feelings of ambivalence or negativity around it.
I truly believe that if you said to yourself, ‘Okay, well, I want to sell more books and have loads of adoring readers and make six figures a year so that I can have this life of freedom that I want. And in order to do that, I have to spend an hour a day writing…' get specific about the marketing activities, but let's say an hour a day of marketing activities, and it is guaranteed to give me those things that I want, I really do believe that most folk would immediately feel more positive about the marketing.
I think it's because we feel at sea with it. We feel like we don't know what's going to work. So we're flailing and nothing seems to make any difference, or we're not sure what made a difference if that makes sense. So we've got that lack of control, we feel a sense that we're out of control or that we don't control it.
If you can work on your mindset to develop optimism that it is going to work, patience because it's going to take a wee while, and also to really get very clear about the fact that you don't have to market.
If you want these certain things in life, or if you want these certain measures of success, then you have to market, but nobody is holding a gun to your head. You can just write, you don't even have to publish. So again, don't use that language. You do not have to do it.
You are choosing to share news of your books because you would like to sell books and you would like to give readers a wonderful escapist experience that you love and spread a bit of joy in the world or whatever your other success goal is. And so always just catch yourself. Don't let yourself say those things.
Joanna: That's great.
Sarah: I've gone very much off a tangent there, sorry.
Joanna: I don't think you have because I think that mindset shift is a really important thing. It has to be the first thing. You have to acknowledge that, for example, being an author is not just about writing first draft words.
You get that question at conferences all the time, I've had it so many times. You say you're a full-time author, although I say I'm a full-time author entrepreneur, but you say you are a full-time author, and yet you don't spend all your time writing. And it's like, ‘Well, I mean, seriously, how many full-time writers do spend all day writing?'
Most successful writers spend some of their time writing and the other half of their time marketing, doing business things, answering emails with readers. You must get this now. The more popular you are, the more books you sell, the more emails you get.
Answering your emails from your readers is actually part of marketing. That's really important. People love to be heard.
So let's talk about a few things. One thing I think is fantastic about your urban fantasy series…I mean, obviously, your books are all wonderful, but your urban fantasy series has very clear branding. Because people who now hear marketing, they think, ‘Oh, Amazon advertising,' but your book covers to me are a huge part of your marketing.
How did you specifically do that process?
Sarah: Well, thank you so much. I'm very, very proud of them, even though, obviously, I didn't do the designing. But yes, you're absolutely right. The marketing, a lot of authors don't realize that the most important bit of marketing your core marketing package is your book cover, your branding, your series branding if you have a series, your blurb, your keywords, the categories you're in, all of that sort of core package is the most important thing. And nothing else after that will have any effect if that's all…or have a minimal effect if that's not correct.
What I did was I decided to start top level. I thought about what was my overall strategy, what was my overall publishing strategy for going in deep, what did I want to achieve? I wanted to not have a pen name because long-term, I don't want to be running loads of pen names. I'm too lazy and I didn't want to do it.
Also, I wanted to try and keep as many of my existing readers that I had through my trad books. And so I wanted to make sure that the books were absolutely indistinguishable from my trad-published books, not just in terms of quality of cover, but in a more subliminal way.
I also wanted to make a promise to the reader that I could keep. Because I'm all about a long-term career, a long-term sustainable business, I only want to make promises that I can keep. So part of my strategy was that I'm only going to be releasing once or twice a year in fiction because I'm not a fast writer.
I didn't want to make a promise, like I said, I didn't want to suggest that I was going to be on a fast release schedule, again, possibly subliminally, but that's what I thought about.
Having decided that I was a wide author again, mimicking trad, and also for other business reasons, I looked at other traditional authors, in urban fantasy. Now, urban fantasy as a genre, if you do the usual suggestion for this kind of research, you look at your genre, and you look at the top-selling in your genre, and you see how many are in KU. And you used that to decide whether to go into KU or not. And you look at the covers and you sort of match those.
But of course, the top in urban fantasy are majority KU because, and majority indie and they all had the covers with a figure with a weapon or some sort of magic around them. I love those covers. They look great.
But the traditionally published books that were sprinkled in around that weren't in KU tended to have more symbolic covers, a set of symbols, they maybe have a silhouette, they would have framing, or maybe a map. They looked very, very different. So I deliberately chose those as my model because they matched my overall publishing strategy and my long-term strategy.
I used those as my comp authors. And when I worked on my design brief up for the series and I worked with the wonderful Stuart Bache, who is absolutely the reason why the covers looked so great because he just nailed it immediately and was fantastic to work with.
Another thing that I did when I was coming up with the branding for the series is very unlike me, so I'm quite proud of myself.
I really want to share it because I'm always saying to people when I'm giving advice and being very wise, I'm always saying don't make decisions out of fear. Make decisions from a place of abundance, make decisions from a place of joy, make decisions based on you succeeding. I'm always saying that, and whenever I've managed to do it, it feels great. And it, every single time, has turned out to be a decision I'm thrilled with.
This is a really good example of it because I also thought if this series was actually really successful, a symbol-type cover would really lend itself to merchandising. I've got the symbols for the different families. So you've got, the Pearls, the Foxes, the Crows, and the Silvers.
And I thought those symbols could go on badges and all of that. And I pictured that and got excited. And so that was another reason I went with that was this idea that if it was successful genuinely, I didn't believe it would be that successful really. I didn't imagine it would be that successful, but I planned as if it might be. Does that make sense?
Joanna: I love that. Do you have the merch now?
Sarah: I do. I've got badges. At the moment, they're one of my reader club exclusive perks, but with this year, one of my plans is to do more selling direct and also nurturing the fans, nurturing my readers. I'm looking to expand the merchant range and make the badges available and things.
Joanna: That's awesome. I love that. And what I could ask you then, because I'm also like you, I have an abundance mindset. It drives me nuts when people say there are too many books in the world, or too many authors and how is it fair? No, you just don't get it. The more the merrier, we're a self-sustaining industry. The more people write books, the more they buy books.
Joanna: That's literally how it works.
Do you have any particular self-help books that you recommend for people who might be like, ‘I really just don't think that way, how can I change my mindset?'
Sarah: I absolutely recommend your own books. I know you weren't fishing for that, but, oh, my goodness. Yeah, I've read Business for Authors a couple of years ago, and I believe you've got a new edition coming out haven't you? But anyway, definitely your stuff.
Joanna: I haven't got a new edition of Business for Authors, it's How To Make a Living with Your Writing.
Sarah: I think I've read that one as well. But yes, you're very good on that, but also and again, I think I discovered Kristine Kathryn Rusch via you. And so thank you again.
Kris and Dean Wesley Smith are very, very good on this stuff because they've got that long-term view. So I think they're very good. And Dean Wesley Smith is very good at articulating how to value your IP as well. And in terms of the abundance, I'm not sure if I can leave any books in particular.
I'll have a think. If I think of them after I'll let you have them. But it was really curating what I paid attention to. I came out of a lot of quite useful Facebook groups because you think that you're looking away quickly. You think that you're not being affected by seeing that person moaning about more books or more authors or somebody moaning about marketing or somebody moaning about a retailer or whatever.
You think because you've refuted it in your mind, you think that you've got away with it. But my experience is that all of our work goes on in our heads.
So we have to protect that environment as if it were…well, it is incredibly valuable. We have to protect that environment. If you're at all suggestible or prone to self-doubt, as I am, do not let any of that stuff even cross in front of your eyeballs, come out of that group.
Do not talk about writing with that person and all of that. So that's what I've really done is really prune who I pay attention to online and on podcasts and so on.
Joanna: Dean and Kris, obviously, have like 40 years each or something in the publishing industry. They are my mentors from afar as such as well. But it's also the money side.
You'll hear writers say I can't make money writing, or you can't make money writing, or there's no money in writing, or all authors were poor authors in the garrets. And I agree with you, your language and other people's language train your brain into certain grooves. And getting out that is so important for us in order to make success happen.
And in fact, it's interesting it happens at different levels. So this is going to come back to your goal of getting your husband out of his job. Because I hit that level, and then I was like, ‘Oh, wait, I've just spent almost a decade aiming for that, what next?'
What are you doing with your mindset now that you've moved up to the next level?
Sarah: It's such a great question. It's so true. I've always just immediately moved the goalposts. First off it was, ‘Well, if I could make the same amount of money that I'd get working in a library, like a real-life job, then that will be success.'
And then when I hit that and I didn't even notice hitting hit, Joanna. I'd already moved the goalpost. So yes, I did find myself doing that this year. At the last few months of immediately kind of feeling down because income fluctuates, book sales fluctuate.
I'd have my best month ever and then the next month would be lower, funnily enough. And I'd find myself thinking, ‘Oh, that's worrying,' or I had failed somehow.
Even though all of that was still so way above any of my initial goals. So yeah, ‘That's a work in progress,' is my blithely answer to that.
I think I do always need something that I'm aiming for. So I think the next thing is saving up for more financial freedom or/possibly a bigger house depending…but saving. We've got quite a small house. And I mean, actually the kids are leaving home, so it'll seem bigger then, but, I have this dream. I'm not very mercenary but I do like fantasy house shopping.
Joanna: That's awesome.
Sarah: occasionally I think, ‘How amazing would it be as well?' We're very lucky. I'm very, very proud of the fact that we've paid the mortgage off on here because of writing. That feels great, but the idea of buying a house and looking at it and thinking the stuff I made up out of my head bought this house, how cool would that be? That would be very cool. So I've kind of got that, which I can't even believe I'm sharing because that's quite embarrassing.
Joanna: No, it's brilliant. And this is really important around money mindset as well, because the moment we try and put a break on what we dream and want…and a home of whatever kind is absolutely a part of know human nature to want these things and to provide for your family.
And look, financial success is one side of the coin and, and creative success is the other, but financial is much more easier to measure than creative success.
Sarah: I've always wanted financial success. I just couldn't admit it for a long time.
Joanna: Oh, well, well done.
Sarah: But I have always wanted it. Success for me was not just getting my husband out of job or providing him with that opportunity but it was to pay the mortgage, to pay for the kids at uni, buy the food, to be successful by that measure has always been very important to me.
And now it's also about freedom. if I decide not to buy a house, then that big chunk of money that I would have saved could then be for that sort of financial independence thing where I wouldn't worry so much about each book maybe, or it would take the pressure off financially. I'm not planning to retire, but you know what I mean.
Joanna: It just gives you more choice. And that's one of the reasons we do this. We want to create a freedom to write the books we want, but also financial freedom.
I think it's really good to talk about these things. I talk about these things because it normalizes it, but within the traditionally-published author sphere, it's a big no-no to talk about money, mostly because most people either don't have any or some very few authors get paid the big, big bucks and most people don't.
Sarah: So true.
Joanna: So it's not really talked about, but we've gone deep into mindset, which is very cool.
I did want to circle back on being an introvert because the book is The Introvert Author's Guide to Marketing.
How is being an introvert actually a superpower when it comes to online marketing?
Sarah: I did use that in the title because I'm an introvert and I also know lots of us are, and I wanted to make it clear that you could still market and sell as an introvert.
I have no idea if it's a superpower, but what I do know is that we have been in training for online marketing our whole lives because it's exactly how we prefer to deal with the world, generally. Again, introverts generally get their energy from being alone rather than being physically with other people. And we also quite like, generally, conversations and things that we control to a certain extent.
We're perfectly suited and that we can manage our energy because we're used to the fact that we gather energy when we're on our own, which is when we can do all this creation and all this batching of content or scheduling. And then we can communicate with a really large part of the world via the wonders of the internet but on our own terms.
Even if it's something that's involving more extrovert energy, like this conversation, I'm still sitting very comfortably in my pajamas, in my home office with this planned conversation, which is perfectly suited for my introvert side.
And I also think that because it suits our existing preference for communication and for creation and for connection, it means that we've got quite a wide variety of things that we can choose from. Online marketing is very multifarious, whereas I think the in-person marketing is more limited and it's more limited at the stage you're at.
So you can start your online marketing, whatever stage you're at as an author and whatever level of success and so on because it's very cheap or free and you don't need to have a load of people turning up to make it worthwhile. It can be evergreen as you can gather people over time.
Whereas obviously, in-person things, it's much more likely that you will need to have bang for your buck when you've hired a bookshop for a book signing event. So yes, as I said, I just think we're very well suited to it.
Joanna: What specific things do you find work for your book marketing?
Sarah: For nonfiction content marketing, all the way. So the podcast and sharing things on the website, articles, and so on. That's worked very, very, very well.
For fiction, I am still very much a work in progress for content marketing, and what I find works really well is my newsletter, having a website, and keeping that updated and sharing. I'm trying to get better at developing my social media sharing and content marketing that way, but honestly, it's early days. It's more plans.
Joanna: Do you use paid advertising?
Sarah: I do a tiny bit. It's on my list for this year, but last year, for example, was a comfortable six-figure profit year. And it was my second six-figure year as well, which was great. And I spent about £300 a month on Amazon ads, and that was my paid advertising.
Apart from, I think I probably…I mean, I haven't looked at all the figures, so I don't want to mislead anyone.
If I had a BookBub, I obviously would have paid for a BookBub deal or things like occasionally…if I haven't had a promo for a while, if I can't get a BookBub, then I'll use the other newsletter promo places like Bargain Booksy and so on. I haven't done a lot of that.
It's, again, on my list for this year. I have scheduled a few promo dates in 2021 to get a wee bit more organized and do some more concerted promotional efforts when it comes to paid advertising. And I'm just starting to dip my toe in Facebook ads. But, yeah, that's all new for me.
So the reason I'm saying that is not to boast but to say that it is possible. If someone says to you that it's completely impossible, you have to spend £10,000 pounds or dollars a month in order to sell books, it's not true.
Joanna: It's certainly not true. I've never done that.
Joanna: I mainly do content marketing. That's what I enjoy, but I think paid ads can play a part in a marketing schedule. But what I like about what you're saying is…and I think what we've talked about in general with the mindset and the attitude is you also have to find what works for you for the long-term that you're happy with because we didn't leave the day job, or we didn't do this in order to have a miserable life, right?
It has to work for you, your life, your personality.
Sarah: Definitely. I think the other thing from content marketing I've mentioned my newsletter. And again, this is nothing new for anybody, unfortunately, but I have a free reader magnet, and I have the newsletter sign up in the back of my books.
The core reader experience is optimized. So if someone has just finished reading the book, they are encouraged to either…if I want them to pre-order the next book, it's that, or usually it's to sign up for my newsletter. And that's something that I'm going to continue to work on because it is so valuable.
Joanna: Probably the most valuable thing. I keep coming back to it, especially…well, as we talk now we're recording this and the Biden administration has just begun. And regardless of whichever side of the house has dominated, everyone's coming after big tech.
So we could have a real shakeup of what regulation we'll have around the sites that a lot of people rely on. Whereas having our email lists mean that we can talk to readers, we can sell direct, we can do things that mean we're not entirely dependent on these big sites.
You've mentioned the word ‘freedom' a number of times and that's part of it, isn't it?
Sarah: Definitely. And again, I think when I was trad published, I had some reader interaction over social media and so on and some emails, but the difference between that and with my indie books, it's just exploded.
And of course my books for Lake Union, for example, I know that I sold a good number of In the Light of What We See, but there is no sign up in the back for my newsletter. You're pointed to the publisher, which is perfectly fair. It's their business. I understand that.
But seeing the difference of getting that reader interaction, that sense that I'm building a readership, that I have a way to communicate with them, as you just said, that's independent of the changing landscape of Facebook or whatever, or of another publisher is, oh, it's just it's absolutely amazing. It feels incredible.
Joanna: Where can people find you and your books online?
Sarah: If you go to any of the stores, then you should be able to find me and my books. And, but for my website, it's sarah-painter.com, or if you want the back episodes of ‘The Worried Writer' and some other sort of writerly advice, it's a worriedwriter.com.
And just a quick note on this, Stop Worrying; Start Selling, I have a very cunning secret pen name for that, which is Sarah R. Painter. I'm sure you'll still find them, but yes, I just wanted to separate my non-fiction out a tiny wee bit.
Joanna: Yes and, obviously, I do the same. So thank you so much, Sarah. That was brilliant.
Sarah: Aw, thank you so much for having me. It's been great to talk to you.
Katarina Mayer says
What a useful episode! I really enjoyed listening to you both. What a strange mindset we all have, but ultimately passion for our projects wins. As you said, we worry because we care…which also means that if we didn’t care we wouldn’t worry and as such worrying is a part of creative process and without it we wouldn’t be able to create. So let’s worry a bit more to create fabulous things:-):-):-).
We do like you, Joanna. You are fab.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Tara 🙂 My insecurities bubble up sometimes on the show!
S.A. Schneider says
Fantastic! Grabbed the book right away – the title alone sold it to me. And I totally agree with the mindset – if you worry, everything suffers and what you worried about becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Stop worrying and treat it like you’ve already succeeded at it and you’re more likely to do well and actually succeed. Thanks!
Thanks for such a helpful podcast! I feel inspired now.
May I ask if the book is suitable for someone who is just starting to get acquainted with sales?
Joanna Penn says
Yes, definitely 🙂
Jill Stahl Tyler says
Thanks for this. I LOVE the thought of staying away from negativity. Every time I see someone who has tried for a long time, self-published a bunch of books and is still not getting traction… it stops me cold. Food for thought to just not let the negativity in.
Joanna Penn says
Glad it helped, Jill. We all have to find what works for our situation!
Always a pleasure & this was probably my all time favourite episode. So much positivity and joy 🙂
Joanna Penn says
Thanks, Lyn, I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
Claudia Disney says
Great episode, it made me realize I am not alone in having all these strange and unpleasant doubts. And that I’m not greedy for wanting my books to pay that mortgage! 😉 time to buy How To Make A Living With Your Writing, thank you.
Joanna Penn says
Glad you enjoyed it, Claudia. You are definitely not alone!
I listen to almost all of your podcasts and find them very informative… I wanted to ask one question about this one and an unrelated question: Somewhere in here you mention how to make money with your poetry, but I wasn’t able to make out the references or names you gave in that regard. Could you write them out for me in response and/or give me a link? (I don’t really write poetry, but find it intriguing that there is actually, potentially, a way to make money with it…)
Secondly, I wanted to ask, as an independent author, do you use ISBNs for your books or the international version of them…? You mention getting books into libraries (at least ebook versions) and don’t they require that they have ISBNs?
There is something of a debate about this now because there are so many published books on Amazon that don’t bother with ISBNs any more, so I’m wondering how vital they still are? The traditional book industry says they are a must have, but for authors starting out, buying them ourselves, it might be an unnecessary expense?
Thanks for all your advice and sharing your expertise!
Joanna Penn says
On making money with poetry – https://selfpublishingadvice.org/get-paid-for-poetry/
On ISBNs, yes, I use them – more here – https://selfpublishingadvice.org/isbns-for-authors/
But I didn’t use them for the first 7 years of being an indie so they are certainly not necessary. Only really for when you want to take print distribution seriously and set up an imprint as I did – https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2017/02/09/small-press/
All the best!