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Guest post: How smart book marketing got me a second publishing contract

I first met Heather Shumaker when she took my Book Marketing 101 for Nonfiction e-course before her first parenting book was published. I was impressed by her willingness to do the hard work required to succeed — rather than to wait for it to happen. I wasn’t surprised, then, to see that just a few years later, Heather has become a national speaker on early childhood topics and an advocate for play-based learning and no homework in elementary school. Her new book, It’s OK to Go Up the Slide, features options for parents and teachers who want to opt out of homework, along with other renegade topics like “It’s OK to Talk to Strangers.” Learn more at her website.

Guest post: How smart book marketing got me a second publishing contract

By Heather Shumaker

In the months leading up to my first book’s publication, I worked with Sandy Beckwith to come up with a promotion plan. She was ever professional, ever polite, but the words that stuck in my head were when she said kindly, “I’m amazed you got a book contract with absolutely no platform.”

It was true. I had nothing to start with. No credentials, no fans, no Facebook Page, no blog. All I had was hope and hard work.

That hard work paid off. Since my first book, It’s OK Not to Share (a renegade parenting book), was published in 2012, I’ve earned out the advance, my sales are still steady four years later, and was I invited to write a sequel by my publisher.

Defying the odds

As I’ve learned, that defies the odds. My agent tells me the average traditionally published book sells 3,000 copies total, and sales drop off dramatically after the first six months.

My goal was to be a writer, not just a one-book writer, but a career writer. It took me four years or so to get an agent and secure a publisher for my first book. I devoted the year after its publication to continual promotion. As I’d heard, publishing a first book was hard, but publishing a second book could be harder. Publishers might be willing to take a chance on a new voice for a first book, but after that you had to have a track record of sales. I wanted my book’s track record to be strong enough so I could write a second book.

smart book marketing 2

I tried to do everything when I first started. That resulted in feeling that promotion was a big, black hole. No matter how much of my life and time I poured in, there was always more that could be done. I wasn’t writing. Promotion drained me.

So here are seven things I learned that led me to my second book contract.

1. Limit social media.

Unless you absolutely love it and social media makes you feel fulfilled, don’t try to do all social media. Pick the ones that fit your personality best. For me that ended up being a blog and a professional Facebook Page.

Concentrate efforts on social media venues you mostly enjoy. Don’t try to be everywhere. Besides, you might already be in more places than you think. By the time I explored Pinterest, I realized my book was already there: Readers who like Pinterest best had already pinned my book cover and pinned blog posts.

Focus your time on selected social media that fits you. Then make it easy for readers who like other venues better to post in their worlds (ex: add Tweetables at the end of your posts. That makes it easy for Twitter fans to spread the word).

2. Collect email addresses.

This is a tip I learned from Sandy and it’s proven its worth time and again. I’m doing this when I’m speaking. At each event I passed a clipboard and collected emails. When my second book came out I had easy access to 1,000-2,000 people who cared about my writing. Now I’m moving to a digital clipboard and passing a tablet – no data entry!

3. Speaking pays.

I was told “First you write your book, then you speak your book.” So true. I started speaking for free at libraries, then charged $100 for an appearance, then moved up to bigger events. Three years later I’m keynoting at national conferences and speaking brings in half my income.

4. Keep your book “new.”

Publishers move on to the next book when your book is barely a month old. News media like things to be “new,” too.

But your book is always new to readers who are just discovering it. Word of mouth has its own timeline.

When I speak to a new audience, it’s as if the book were published yesterday. People are on fire with the novelty. This probably works best if you decide to do long-term speaking, but it also works well with book clubs. Book clubs don’t just choose newly released books. Often it takes years for a title to work its way in and get chosen. Go ahead and contact book clubs or online read along groups and suggest your book as their next pick. Guaranteed to be new again.

5. Write a good book.

Of course, we can’t sit on our laurels, thinking “I wrote a great book, now readers will find it.” Helping people discover your book takes effort. But if your book finds true fans, it will have staying power. People buy multiple copies and share them with their friends. Readers suggest bringing in an author to speak.

My early book promotion was a never-ending time of reaching out to people. People often contact me now because they like the book, and promotion takes much less work.

6. Go gradually.

If you have nothing to start, the way I had, take one step at a time. Today I have the Starlighting Mama blog, weekly Renegade Rules podcast show on iTunes and Stitcher, business fan Page on Facebook, a Twitter account, an email newsletter, videos on YouTube, and an active speaking calendar booking up more than a year in advance.

I started with only a website. I would have been overwhelmed to do everything at once. Since every new step added on gradually, it doesn’t seem hard to balance.

7. Set a deadline.

Slide cover Give yourself a timeframe to devote your best effort to promotion. Then stop and get back to writing. Once you have a book out you should never go cold turkey and banish all promotion, but give it a discrete time to be top priority, then shift it down to maintenance level.

My second book, It’s OK to Go Up the Slide, comes out this week. I’m offering early bird gifts as part of the launch: Order a copy before March 13, 2016 and receive free gifts (special edition one-hour podcast taking you behind the scenes plus a set of inspirational quotes for your fridge). Simply buy the book before March 13, then send me an email saying where you bought it.

I’m excited to share its newness with the world but I also have confidence it will continue to find new readers years from now.

What’s the most important thing you learned while marketing your book?

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  1. Brilliant advice! I work with many writers who need to read this and will be sharing it. If one thing stands out p, it’s what I’ve always told my associates: success with your book takes a lot more than “Write it and they will come!”

    1. I’m so glad Heather’s excellent advice resonates with you, Viga! Two things really stand out for me here: Heather invested time and effort to learn about book marketing, then she worked hard to apply what she learned. Knowledge and action are essential to success, and she’s Exhibit A for that! Thank you for sharing this with your networks so Heather’s messages reach more people.


    2. Thanks for sharing with fellow writers, Viga! Nothing makes me happier (besides writing) than sharing what I’ve figured out with other writers. As an author friend told me, “no one will love your book as much as you do, so you have to promote it.”

      1. My pleasure Heather. And I’m a huge believer in writers helping and promoting other writers too. That’s why I started my other site for memoir writers at http://www.memoirabilia.ca where I not only try to advise on writing memoir, but also love podcasting and sharing short pieces written by members of my Memoirabilia group on Facebook. We all need all the promo and help we can get. I’m looking forward to podcasting this article for you there too. Thanks for granting permission.

  2. Heather, what an inspiration! I’m glad you advise limiting social media and going slowly. Trying to emulate the “gurus” who seem to be all over the place is a path to disappointment and failure. (After all, they didn’t succeed overnight nor alone.)

    Learning about book marketing first from experts like Sandy is wise advice, perfect for newbies and veterans alike.


    1. Thanks for such a positive comment, C.L. I also love what Heather shared here! Please feel free to share this link with your networks so that more can benefit from her wisdom.


  3. Such a great article! While it is best to build your author platform before you publish your book, it is important to remember that all is not lost if that doesn’t happen. With some planning, follow through, and consistent hard work, you can build your platform as you go.

  4. This is great advice. I’m sharing on my social media sites, but also keeping this handy for repeated reference. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

  5. I’m a fan of both you and Heather, Sandy. I met Heather when she came to Portland to speak at a conference. Her book had been out for a year already, but she was still showing the hustle of a newly published author.

    In addition to the conference where she was keynoting, Heather made a point of lining up several other speaking opportunities during the handful of days she was in town.

    She’s a quiet, sweet, unassuming person, but a book-promoting dynamo. Also, not coincidentally, an exceptional writer. Definitely someone to emulate.

    Many thanks for this informative post.

    1. Thanks, Tina! That means a lot coming from you, since you’re another author who has worked hard to successfully market your book! I love what you had to say about Heather. Lucky you, getting to meet her in person. I wish I could say the same!

      Thanks so much for the feedback and insight. I always love hearing from you.


  6. Love how this makes it seem achievable. It makes all the difference to people starting out to know it is what they out into things that pays off and it doesn’t have to be everything, just the right thing(s).

    1. It IS achievable, Barbara, so I’m glad that message came through. A good book must be at the core of it, for sure.


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