More Author Career Investments You Should Be Making

Last week I talked about what I think are some of the most valuable investments you can make in your author career. I started off with the basics in that post, but there are a lot of worthwhile investments you can make to improve your career. A lot of the investments listed in this post are much more optional–the question of which tools you choose to use isn’t going to make or break your career–but they can be beneficial tools if you have the resources to invest in them.

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Education: For Marketing, Connection, & Communication Skills

This is the one item on this list that I do think is almost as foundational as those listed in last week’s post. In order to get your books to the right readers, you need to be able to effectively communicate what your book offers and what readers it’s intended for. (I’m sorry but your book is not going to appeal to “everyone.” That’s just not how it works.) Learning to not only communicate your story (i.e. write the book) but also communicate about your story and know who you’re communicating to are critical skills for your writing career. If you don’t learn to understand your ideal audience, you’ll cast your net too wide (or too narrow, but the former is more likely) and end up losing readers through the gaps. And if you don’t learn how to highlight and communicate the key selling points of your book, then even the right readers won’t realize your book is for them.

Marketing is one of the more difficult elements of building a writing career, at least for a lot of authors, but the nice thing is that there are a lot of ways you can approach it. It just takes a time investment to experiment and learn what actually works, and then to repeat the process.

Another nice thing about marketing is that, at its core, it’s built around relationships. You want to connect with readers and engage with them on common ground, communicating how your book can benefit them in the process–why they’ll enjoy it, how it will make them feel, etc.

So learn to build those relationships, study how marketing works, and learn to communicate your story well. The biggest investment you’ll make in this area is time, because it takes a lot of trial and error and simple practice. But there are also courses you can take, coaches you can work with, virtual assistants you can hire, etc. if you have the money to invest in additional resources.

Of course, there are a lot of educational resources you can find for free. For example, there are some marketing bloggers whose newsletters I follow (Leanne of Passive Income Superstars is my favorite; her emails are always valuable and practical!), and Coursera* offers college-level marketing courses that you can audit for free (or purchase the complete certificate and get full access to submit assignments and the like).

Whatever route you choose to take, find a way to consistently improve your communication and sales skills.

Resources: For the Writing Process

Here we get into “bells and whistles.” Obviously, you can build an effective writing process with nothing more than a notebook and pen, or a basic Word document, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

If you would like to try some additional tools and potentially improve your organization, however, there’s some cool stuff out there.

As you’ll know if you’ve been here a while, I love World Anvil* for worldbuilding organization (and presentation). It’s sleek, it’s thorough, it’s inspiring, the interlinking capabilities are excellent. Beyond a worlbuilding braindump document, it’s my favorite worldbuilding tool. I’ve talked about some of my favorite features and more of why it’s my favorite before, so I’ll link you there if you’d like to learn more!

For more of the planning and actual writing process, I use Scrivener*. Scrivener enables you to keep all of your files related to a single project in one place, as well as to break up your story by chapter, scene, etc. while still being able to view it all together if you want or need to. You can show as much or as little of the interface as you need, and there’s also a distraction-free mode that I love designing to match the setting or mood of my book. And when you’re done writing, Scrivener can compile and export all of your story documents into a single document for editing! I use Scrivener for 90% of my projects, using it to hold everything from my initial plot bunny notes before I even focus on a project all the way to edited drafts, in some cases.

Campfire is a similar program, with more templates and–I think–more complexity. I intend to explore Campfire more thoroughly and write up review posts–both attempting to judge it on its own merits as well as comparing it to things like Scrivener and World Anvil (since it boasts its worldbuilding organization, as well)–but for now all I can say is that it has similarities with Scrivener, it offers a lot more built-in options for things like character sheets and world information–so if you don’t already have means of organizing that information, I can see the appeal–but it can be a little overwhelming and there’s no good way to import information that you already have elsewhere without just manually inputting everything. I personally wouldn’t choose it because I’m well established with Scrivener and World Anvil and the other assorted tools I use, but I can see it being beneficial if you’ve never used a “fancy” writing tool and you don’t find the interface overwhelming.

If you want to make sure your timeline is consistent while you write, if the storylines in your book are complex and interweaving, or if you just want to be able to see everything that happens in your book clearly laid out, Aeon Timeline is a great tool. It’s a little more complicated now than I remember it being when I tried it a few years ago, but I found it incredibly helpful for The Dark War Trilogy while I had it and I’m seriously considering biting the bullet and buying the full software so that I have it for current and future projects (and definitely The Dark War Trilogy whenever I pick that back up). And it integrates with Scrivener, which is pretty cool.

Resources: For Publicity/Marketing/Outreach

There are a lot of resources in this category, because there are so many options and opportunities for outreach and publicity!

As far as physical resources go, things like business cards and bookmarks fall into this category. Bookmarks can be great alternatives to business cards for authors, in fact, since they’re a practical item that’s relevant to those we want to gain the attention of–readers and fellow authors. Make sure your bookmarks have your name (or pen name) on them, as well as the book they relate to (if you have a design based on one of your books) and potentially your author website link as well. These are a few of the bookmark designs I’ve created to go with my books. (Do as I say, not as I do; I opted to forego information on some of these and just plain forgot on others.)

Watercolor credit goes to my little sister, artwork on the second horizontal design was done by RavenFire at 99designs, and the last design is part of my cover art by Alli May!

I’ve printed all of my bookmarks to this point with GotPrint, and I’ve been happy with the quality every time. And, as you can see, I’ve printed a lot of bookmarks! The only design here that I haven’t actually printed is the Lost Girl design.

Bookmarks are great for promo–whether for distribution in place of a business card or as advertisement in places like bookstores and libraries–but also as a fun extra to send your existing readers when they purchase your book or support you in other ways.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a traditional business card, either–especially if you do writing-related things beyond publishing fiction. For example, I intend to purchase business cards before I attend a writing conference next year so that I can not only talk about my fiction but also my editing services and any other ventures I’ve started by then (hopefully more in the sphere of worldbuilding).

If you want to display references to your books in other ways, “merch” like tote bags, t-shirts, and mugs can also be fun! While not merch for my own work, one of the tote bags I use for crochet projects has the Phoenix Fiction Writers logo embroidered on it (courtesy of my sister) and it’s always fun to carry that around.

Beyond physical promotional resources, there are some online tools and resources you can invest in. If you want to do a lot of social media promo, it might be worth investing in a social media scheduling tool that can help you streamline your automation process. Buffer has been my favorite tool for this. The difficulty with social media marketing is that it can easily become a time-suck without a lot of return on investment, so create a plan for yourself that enables you to steer clear of the pitfalls and use social media as a means of engaging with your audience, engaging with other authors, and getting people onto your mailing list.

Speaking of your mailing list, this is an important resource to invest your time in. Everyone says that, and for a long time I was like, “yeah, right.” For one thing, I hated writing emails for my list; it didn’t come easily to me, it was always a struggle, and it didn’t feel like it fostered engagement. But trust me, once you figure out what you enjoy talking about that your audience can benefit from, it can actually be a lot of fun! And in my case, it made a huge difference just to change email providers! Switching to MailerLite* was the best decision I ever made, and I highly recommend it as a place to get started.

You don’t necessarily have to invest in these tools monetarily–though you’ll give yourself more options if you do–but you’ll have to invest some time in getting set up and learning to use these tools to their full potential on whatever plan you’ve chosen.

There are also places you can simply invest time in connecting with people. Forums have been a great place for me to engage with other authors, helping to answer questions, asking questions of my own, and simply making friends with like-minded authors. I’ve mentioned some of my favorite writing communities before, but Story Embers and Kingdom Pen are my top two recommendations. These days, Kingdom Pen seems to be the more active of the two, but the demographics skew older and more experienced at Story Embers while they skew younger at Kingdom Pen, so which you join will depend on what you’re looking for. (Or you can just do like I did and join both.)

It’s also a worthwhile investment to spend intentional time listening to podcasts and reading blogs and the like. This is another great way to get to know and engage with authors and others who may be interested in promoting your work. Plus, it’s just a fun excuse to read and listen to cool stuff. If you’re interested in making guest appearances on blogs or podcasts, engaging with what they publish on a regular basis is a good starting point. But this is why I say to spend intentional time, because you do need to know that these publications are a good fit for you (if networking is your goal; obviously reading blogs and listening to podcasts for fun is also good!) and you need to engage if you want to really build relationships with the authors behind the screen.

Resources: For Sales

This category is all about resources to invest in for actually filling sales. A lot of these have the broadest application if you want to sell your books, etc. directly vs. through a distributor (e.g. Amazon), so let’s start by talking about the investment in direct sales themselves.

Direct sales have a couple of benefits. One is that you make more of the profit; you have to still pay to print your books and have them shipped to you, but there are no royalties taken out by a distributor, so you can charge the same amount for your books on your site and on Amazon but actually earn more of the price of the book through direct sales. (Of course, there is the math to consider by the time you’ve paid for the shop hosting and other sales materials, so there are priorities to take into account.) Another benefit is that it’s more personal! When you ship books directly to readers, you can throw in bookmarks, sign the book, include a personal note, package it your own way, etc. You can personally appreciate each reader who buys from you, which is my favorite part of selling directly.

If you do want to do direct sales, you’ll need a means of setting up an online shop. If you already have a website, that’s a great start; you can either create a shop page where your readers can contact you about a book and get a PayPal invoice, if you want to go really simple (but a little clunky), or you can download a plugin that does all the processing and information compilation for you. I personally use WooCommerce, which I’ve found pretty easy to work with. You have to make sure the plugin and any extensions you use remain up-to-date, but I’ve never had any issues with it unless I failed to keep it updated.

The first physical resource I want to talk about is worth investing in even (perhaps especially) if you don’t do direct sales: bookplates. These are stickers with a nice border and blank space in the center where you can write your signature. These are great to send to readers who acquired the book in a context where it couldn’t be signed, but still want the author’s signature. Whether they bought through Amazon or another distributor, won your book in a giveaway, etc., bookplates are a way to provide a “signed” book to a reader for the low price of postage. This means it’s really easy to send signatures to international readers, too, even if the price to ship an entire book is insane.

Another resource that can be worth investing in regardless of your sales system is a set of address labels. Especially if you write under a pen name, these make it easy to nicely label packages, notes, thank-yous, etc. sent to readers. And if you don’t use a pen name, they can serve double-duty for personal letters as well!

On a related note (no pun intended), it can be fun to have nice stationary on hand for reader thank-you notes. I have pretty plant-themed cards that I’ve been sending out with book orders since my shop opened with Calligraphy Guild‘s book boxes, and I like to think they add to the experience when a reader gets a package from my shop. They’re also nice if you want to send out standalone notes, whether to thank readers for their support or connect with fellow authors. I got my notecards off of Amazon, but if you’d like to support a small business with a variety of options, I recommend Peach and Poppy Co. on Etsy! (Her classic books set looks especially appropriate for this purpose.)

If you’re going to ship books directly, you need something to ship them in. Priority mail boxes are good for bigger packages. For single-book orders (or even some two-book orders, since most of my available books are thin), I use bubble mailers–and the fun thing with those is that you can get them in colors! Mine are forest green, but there are tons of available colors depending on what you want for your reader experience. You can also wrap your books before packaging them, whether with tissue paper, wrapping paper, butcher paper, ribbon, etc. I have some jade moss-green ribbon I’ve been wanting to use with brown paper to wrap books if/when I get holiday orders, inside the bubble mailers. There are a lot of options in this category, and you can use it to personalize your orders quite a bit.

That’s a wrap on part 2! Which of these investments is the most interesting to you? Which is the most intimidating? Comment below!

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