Steps to self-publishing, Part 4: Marketing

Still feels good, doesn’t it? Checking Amazon or Barnes & Noble to look at your book listing. Realizing all over again that you wrote a book, damn it! You wrote it, and you did the work necessary to get it out there to the world.

You’re all kinds of awesome, you know that?

dean-awesome

But, and there is a but, what you’re going to find is that listing your book on Amazon isn’t nearly enough. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people have books listed on Amazon. You need to stand out from the crowd. You need to get noticed. You need people to care.

There are many ways to shine a light on your work. One way is a good social media presence. Social media is simultaneously one of the best, and worst ways to try to market your work. It’s very, very bad, for example, to keep tweeting about how awesome your book is and telling people to buy it. People don’t like being sold to, especially in their social media feeds. So tweeting the price of your book over and over is likely to get you unfollowed and consigned to the social media phantom zone.

phantom-zone

Seriously. No one wants that. Also, spoiler for Superman, I guess.

The best way to get people interested in your book, is to pretty much never mention your book. Yeah, it sounds weird. But trust us. Just be you. Be authentic. Offer something, whether it’s funny cat GIFs, cool writing advice, humorous observations, sharing interesting or unusual news stories… Basically, curate a feed that you would want to follow, and make sure it reflects who you are as a writer. Authentic is the key word here. Find the channels that work for you, don’t do a bunch of Snapchat dog or star filters if that’s not you, and fill them with cool stuff. Interact with others genuinely. This isn’t to say you can’t ever mention what you do. It’s fine to drop it in here or there, but don’t make that the point of being on social media. If you put your book on sale, it’s fine to tweet or post about it a couple of times, but keep the other stuff coming too.

Paid social—paying to have your posts appear in the feeds of people who don’t follow you—is challenging to pull off successfully, if you’re too on the nose about it. If the tweet or post is compelling, hilarious, and not exactly about telling people to buy your book, you might get people to respond, but on the whole, you’re better off spending your money on other things.

Paid ads on blogs and Goodreads and the like might work for you. They can be hit or miss, and will be expensive. Think about your behavior on websites… do you ever click on banner ads for books you’ve never heard of? Again, it all comes down to the ad itself. If it’s visually astonishing, genuinely hilarious, or just utterly fascinating, you might get people to click through. But it’s not the most compelling way to increase sales.

However, what can work is a good review from a book blogger. Reach out to your favorite book blogger and offer them a copy of your book in exchange for a review. It is a legit and great way to get word out there about your book. Book bloggers are awesome, and that community is a wonderful place.

Giveaways on Goodreads work well too. They’re really easy to set up, and you just have to follow through when winners are selected, by mailing your book out to them (including a personal note is a nice touch too, as long as it’s simple and polite!)

Another route you can take to get the word out there is to submit to contests. Some examples include the Writers Digest Self-Published Book Award, and the Bath Novel Award. Getting long- or short-listed (or, you know, actually winning!) one of these helps make your novel a little bit noisier out there.

So far, we’ve focused on the online side of things. But, of course, that’s not the only way to get your book the attention it deserves.

yoda-another

There is another…

We’re talking about bookstores. Actual real-life, wonderful bookstores.

We love bookstores. They can be beautiful and transcendent temples to other worlds. Ann Patchett owns one of our faves, Parnassus Books in Nashville; check out her incredible guide for bookstore lovers, and then spend a small fortune in plane tickets to all those cities.

We digress. But just mentioning bookstores got us all dreamy-eyed…

Now, to get your self-published book into a bookstore takes legwork, and, way more importantly, also being a nice human being. Build relationships with your local store, genuinely. Support them by buying books from them. Be nice. Talk about books in general, because it’s always fun to talk about books. And, then, in a reasonable, non-creepy way, ask if they’d consider stocking books from a local author. The local author being you. To be honest, quite a few indie bookstores are set up for that anyway, and are happy to if you just pop in and make the request. Some will ask for you to bring in copies, so it’s good to have a few extra copies on hand. Others prefer to order via their distributor. But you gotta get out there and ask. You have to build your career, one book at a time, one sale at a time. No shortcuts.

In the end though, when all’s said and done… the best way to market your book is to write another book. And then another. And another. The more books you have available, the more you’ll sell, and the more the sales of each title will impact all the others.

In other words, just keep writing.

 

 

Books about songwriting

Sometimes putting a song together is easy — like when you beatbox to your pets as you put out their food. (Don’t worry, we don’t judge and they don’t judge… unless they’re cats, because, you now… cats.)

But if you want to put something together that will please more than Mr. Wooferson’s floppy ears, a little research is recommended. Songwriting is an art and a science, and you can study it just like any other art form. Anytime you’re reading about writing (songs, or novels, or scripts), you’re learning and getting inspired. You can’t stop it; your brain loves this stuff!

Here are three books that we’ve found particularly useful and inspiring when it comes to country music, but to be honest, most of what you’ll find here could apply to any kind of musical storytelling.

First up, we have Writing Better Lyrics, by Pat Pattison.

Writing Better Lyrics

This is a sharp, insightful, unflinching, not-taking-any-of-your-BS look at writing lyrics. It’s jammed with great perspectives and exercises to help you get out of the familiar and easy pattern, and find genuine and fresh inspiration. Whatever level you’re at, you’ll find something here that will jolt your imagination. It’ll get you thinking about lyrics, choruses, verses, the flow, and even words, in a different light. Whatever genre you write in, this book will have something for you. If you’re struggling through writers’ block, try one of Pattison’s exercises — you’ll be writing a new song before you know it.

Next up, Nashville Songwriter, by Jake Brown.

Nashville Songwriter

This is a fascinating series of interviews with some of Nashville’s finest and most storied songwriters, talking about how they wrote some of their biggest songs. If you want to learn about the process of songwriting, you go to the source: Merle Haggard, Ashley Gorley, Kelley Lovelace, Chris DuBois, Whisperin’ Bill Anderson, John Rich, Sonny Curtis, and many others. They each talk about the moment of inspiration for one or more of their hits, the way their initial idea was sketched out into the bare bones of a verse or two, before finding the chorus, then re-finding it with new inspiration, and how they got through to the final hit version. These are the people doing the work, talking about how they do the work. Even if you’ve never heard of some of the writers or songs, you’ll learn something about the many different ways that songs come into being.

Lastly, and more specifically focused on Nashville, is If You’ve Got A Dream, I’ve Got A Plan, with the epic subtitle How to get your songs heard by music industry professionals and get your foot inside a closed-door business. Damn!

Dream

It’s by the aforementioned Kelley Lovelace, who has cowritten many of Brad Paisley’s hits. It’s over ten years old now, but its core principles remain true. Lovelace looks at the business of writing songs in Nashville (and outside if you can’t move there) from top to bottom, giving useful insights into the mechanics of the country music industry, including writing, cowriting, pitching, open mic, royalties, and much else. Lovelace knows the industry from the inside out, and writes in an engaging, accessible and inspiring way.

These are just three — there are whole libraries of books about songwriting, as well as, of course, the internet. You can find countless interviews with songwriters recounting their moments of inspiration and the detailed process of how they shaped their song. Taste Of Country has a great series called Lyrics Uncovered on its site. This installment focuses on how Kacey Musgraves, Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark wrote Musgrave’s hit Biscuits. Check it out, then take a look through their archives.

What it all comes down to is this: keep exploring. That’s the best way to grow and to stay inspired, which means you won’t only be impressing Mr. Wooferson, you’ll also be ready when the muse comes knocking on your door.

How to make a short movie: The Real Quinn Hardy

This summer, we wrote, directed and edited a short movie called The Real Quinn Hardy, about an aspiring singer-songwriter who thinks she’s about to make it to the majors. When it all goes wrong, she digs deep to write a song that she hopes will change everything.

It all started back in April, in Nashville, at the Bluebird Cafe, where inspiration struck in the middle of eating a black bean burger, forcing us to actually stop eating (damn it though the burger was SO GOOD, the muse does not respect the burger) and start scribbling the first few ideas, beats and lines of dialogue.

Later that night (after an AWESOME Bluebird set by the way — shoutout to Jessica Roadmap!), we pretty much had a first draft. We spent a month polishing and rewriting it, because all writing is really rewriting, then a month in preproduction where we cast our brilliant and wonderful actors (Rachel Keefe, Ana-Lisa Gunn, Brian Gallagher and Brittany Kleban), storyboarded it, designed the sets, and wrote the song too (which our fantastic lead actress Rachel also sang!).

Then, yikes! We shot it. D went full Spielberg, while A basically ran the set. It was awesome.

Two kick-ass actors: Rachel Keefe and Brittany Kleban

Two of our kick-ass actors: Rachel Keefe and Brittany Kleban

11 hours, 3 scenes, 70 shots later…

Dean

…it was time to edit.

Editing

So, we edited. And edited. And edited. And six weeks later (glossing over Apocalypse Now levels of insanity), we had a short movie.

Like, we made a thing, guys. It’s real!

Charlie dancing

We learned SO MUCH from this experience.

The most important, practical thing? Write what you can reasonably shoot with the resources that you have. Think about who you might be able to cast (friends, family, nonunion local actors, your super famous A-list third cousin), what kind of props you can scrounge together, where you can shoot, and then base your story around that. Yes, spaceships would be cool. Couple of dinosaurs? Obviously awesome. Superheroes who can fly? Hell yeah. But, realistically, it’s more likely to be people drinking coffee. Which is FINE –two people talking in a room can be beautiful, epic, hilarious, devastating… As long as you write it that way!

No less a filmmaker than Judd Apatow summed up his entire filmography as exactly that — people sitting around talking. You could say the same thing about Cameron Crowe (the brilliantly mind-bending Vanilla Sky aside).

It’s all in the HOW, not the WHAT.

The what is “people talking.” The how is the kind of people, the subjects they talk about (and around), and where they’re talking. Are they in a cafe, on a space station, arguing about comic books, dealing with an alien invasion (you know, the usual short movie topics).

The question you need to ask yourself is how can you make your people talking interesting? What’s the hook? What’s the thing about your story that is purely you. The thing only you could do in that moment? Because there is something — you just need to find out what it is. Felicia Day was a hardcore gamer when she started writing her groundbreaking web series The Guild — it’s people talking, but the hook was gamers talking about gaming.

In our case, we love music, and we write music, and we were SUPER INSPIRED by the awesomeness that is Nashville. So we based our story around a songwriter.

Rachel Keefe as Quinn Hardy

Rachel Keefe as Quinn Hardy

Also important!! Don’t worry about whether you have expensive cameras, a crew, or access to all your dream locations. In the end, you have to find a way to make it happen on your terms, with what you have in front of you. If you can’t shoot in a real cafe, dress a room to look like one. If you don’t have RED cameras, use a regular camera, or even your phone. Make whatever you’re using work for you in the context of the story. Write the scene or the movie, find some actors, feed them, let them do what they do best while you point your camera at them. Then edit it together and…

That's a bingo

Over the next few months we’ll be posting regularly in a lot more detail about every stage of making a short, from concept to script to preproduction to shooting to postproduction and beyond.

But for now, we’ll leave you with this. We didn’t want to sit around thinking about why no one has offered us the next Star Wars movie (side note: Lucasfilm, please offer us the next Star Wars movie) — we wanted to make something — so we made something.

And you can too.