Penny Sansevieri is the bestselling author of Red Hot Internet Publicity and founder of Author Marketing Experts. She has been preaching the importance of online marketing, blogging, PR, and internet-savvy marketing tactics to authors for over a decade and is a true pioneer in the world of online marketing for authors.
Penny started her author journey 14 years ago. She was working in corporate America when she got laid off. Her first thought was to get another corporate job. When that company closed as well, she saw it as a sign that she should be working for herself.
Penny began consulting using her marketing knowledge. She also began to publish more books and produce more content. She decided she wanted to dedicate herself to working with self-published authors. Fourteen years ago, the self-publishing marketplace wasn’t a popular space to be in. Now, many people decide to self-publish without ever considering a traditional publishing contract. But back then, self-publishing was what you did when you couldn’t do anything else.
This is a great interview. We talk about how both fiction and nonfiction authors can market their books. We talk about how to create superfans. We talk about the importance of reviews and how to get them. Finally, we discuss making sure each book you write is a marketing tool.
“Create superfans: one true fan can be more valuable than a $50,000 marketing budget. You never know where your superfan is gonna come from. Make readers feel special, invite them to be a part of an early review list, and thank readers for their reviews.”
– Penny Sansevieri
Self-Publishing Marketing Strategies that Work Today
One of the great advantages of self-publishing is that you can test different marketing strategies yourself. You aren’t relying on a publishing company to do your marketing for you.
The biggest thing that helps self-published authors sell more books is to concentrate on reader engagement.
One thing that works really well is putting a letter at the end of the book inviting people to leave a review and connect on whatever social media platforms make sense for the author.
In Penny’s experience, adding a letter inviting people to review the book increased reviews and reader engagement by 80%.
Do What Your Readers Want
Penny tested a number of different tweaks to keywords and description pages on Amazon. All of that information is in her new book How To Sell Your Books By The Truckload On Amazon.com.
Penny was surprised to find that shorter books are selling better than longer books on Amazon right now.
The Power of Writing Shorter Nonfiction Books
How to Sell Your Books by the Truckload on Amazon.com was originally 58 pages…and it regularly outsells Red Hot Internet Publicity – Fourth Edition: The Insider’s Guide to Marketing Online! which is almost four times as long.
Penny attributes its success to the fact that people are looking for shorter books focused on a specific problem with solutions that are easy to understand and implement.
“We live in the age of Twitter, where we want that micro-byte of information.”
– Penny Sansevieri
There are three major benefits to writing shorter nonfiction books.
- Shorter nonfiction books are easier to write because they allow you to focus on a specific problem. It limits the scope of your research and the information you need to share.
- People want shorter nonfiction books. They are interested in finding a book that gives them a specific solution for their problem. They don’t want to wade through a larger book and distill the information from it.
- Dividing a larger nonfiction book into smaller books allows you to create titles that are keyword-specific so that your audience can find your information easier. It also gives your audience more entry points to find out about you and the information you have to share.
Writing shorter books also works for fiction. Penny has been hearing from publishers that 20,000 to 30,000 words is the new sweet spot for fiction.
Shorter books aren’t as big a commitment for the reader, so they’re more likely to pick them up.
But remember: it’s important to draw readers in at the beginning of your story so that they’re primed to read to the end.
What Soap Operas Can Teach Us about Creating Superfans
Penny was at the Daytime Emmy awards in Las Vegas one year working with Days of Our Lives, and she had their 45-year anniversary book with her.
A fan who thought she worked on the show came up to her and started talking to her in detail about the decor and setting of the show.
Actors on soap operas put a lot of effort into creating superfans. They do lunches, charity events, and giveaways, interacting with their fans and cultivating their interest.
How to Engage Your Audience and Create Superfans as an Indie Author
Creating a superfan as an author is no different. You have to engage with your audience and give them the opportunity to see behind the scenes. You want to make your superfans feel like VIPs. You want to engage with them on your blog and on whichever social media platform you use the most. There are several ways to engage with your fans.
- Create several mini book trailers, no more than two minutes long. This allows you to establish a visual palette for the story you’re telling. It also gives you a way to share your content on YouTube. Creating several mini book trailers gives your audience more entry points to find out about you and your work.
- Reply to every comment you get on Facebook or Twitter.
- Reply to every email you receive personally.
When your fans talk to you, respond to them.
Using Trading Cards to Engage with Your Readers
Trading cards are another way to engage with your superfans. Penny just had one of her romance author clients send a pack of character trading cards to every blogger who has reviewed her book.
The Twitter engagement has been amazing. People are taking pictures of the cards and talking about them.
The cards are simple. They have a picture of the character on one side and either a character quote or character description on the reverse side.
If you aren’t an artist, you can hire someone to design these cards.
Trading cards are another way to make your ebook tangible for your audience.
“You want to find different ways to stay in front of your reader.”
– Penny Sansevieri
Creating an Engaging Website for Your Reader
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you want to create a website that engages your reader and offers them an opportunity to become part of your community.
If you’re writing on a nonfiction topic, you want to:
- Give people useful information for free via blog posts
- Give people the opportunity to join your mailing list
- Create a gift that makes members of your audience want to join your mailing list
- Give your audience different ways to connect with you personally
If you are a fiction author, you want to:
- Post on your blog about upcoming releases
- Create a free short story or novella for each of your series, and give it to readers who sign up for your mailing list
- Post about giveaways
- Give your audience different ways of connecting with you personally
As an author, you have to go far beyond just writing a book if you want to build an audience and make writing your career. You have to engage with your readers and create as many superfans as you can. You have to be willing to put in the work if you want to make writing your full-time career.
The Power of Sending out Review Copies of Your Book
A week ago, Penny was having a conversation with an author who said, “I’m getting a lot of requests for free books so people can review my book. I’m not sure they’re worth my time.”
The truth is, you’re not going to know whether something is worth your time unless you put in the effort and find out. If someone asks for a free copy of your book so they can review it, give it to them if at all possible. You never know where your next superfan is going to come from.
Penny has a client who is releasing a second book. She told her client to email everyone who contacted her about the first book to ask them if they would like a free review copy of the second book. The response her client got was overwhelming. Not everyone accepted the offer, but everyone who got an email from Penny’s client felt like a VIP. That’s how you develop a community of superfans: You make your audience feel special.
Every superfan matters. You don’t know how far one person’s word of mouth will travel.
Take the time to thank the people who review your book. You can go into your Author Central page on Amazon and see everyone who has reviewed your book. It will be possible to find out the contact details of a decent percentage of those people. Reaching out to them will begin to build the types of relationships you need to create a raving fan base.
The Value of Less-than-Stellar Reviews
You can actually learn a lot from people who don’t give you a four- or five-star review. You can learn more of what your readers actually want. In most cases, negative reviews come from people who’ve taken the time to read your book, and now they’re telling you what about your book didn’t work for them.
You can also get book ideas from negative reviews. If there is a topic you didn’t cover in your nonfiction book related to the topic that you did cover that people wanted to know more about, you can write a supplemental book, put it up on Amazon, and send a free copy of the book you wrote to the person who gave you the negative review. This can convert someone who doesn’t like your work into a fan who will promote your new book to their network.
How to Use Testing as a First-Time Author to Improve Your Sales
As a first-time author, testing is very important. Numbers don’t lie. Testing something out and recording your results gives you the best information to help you move forward and be successful in the future.
The trading card idea was something that Penny tested with a first-time author in the romance genre. This person got a lot of visibility in that very cluttered market.
If you decide to jump into the Facebook ad space, it wouldn’t be wise to spend $1,000 without tracking your results. You’ll want to start with a smaller budget and see what works. You’ll invest more money in the successful marketing plans. And you will learn from those marketing plans that don’t work as well.
“Book sales come from exposure, and the actions you want to take as an author are around exposure.”
– Penny Sansevieri
What you have to understand is that every author journey is different. What works for one author may not work for you. That’s why testing different sales strategies and recording your results is so important.
It gives you an objective view of what works and what doesn’t. Numbers don’t lie. Don’t be discouraged if something that worked last month isn’t working this month. Things change quickly in the Internet Age. Analyze your results and see if you can figure out why the strategy you were using isn’t working anymore.
Book sales don’t happen overnight. They take time. But if you take enough actions to get yourself in front of your ideal reader, and you continue to write books, you will be successful.
“Follow the numbers. Follow the reader. And just keep doing what’s working. You have to put the time in. This is a business.”
– Penny Sansevieri
“Most businesses aren’t profitable in the first year. You have to look at publishing your books as a business and have a 5-year plan or 10-year plan.”
– Tom Corson Knowles
You need to have more than one book published to be successful. The more books you write, the more opportunities people have to find your work. And the more opportunities they have to buy more of your work.
Use Your Blog as a Testing Ground
Look at the blog posts you’ve already put out into the world. What blog post gets shared the most? What blog posts have the most comments?
Use those blog posts as the jumping-off point for more blog posts, or combine them into a single book. The blog posts that get shared the most and have the most comments have the most reader engagement. The content that has the most reader engagement is the most commercial, because that content moves people to take action in one form or another.
In the Internet Age, stuff changes quickly, so the more up-to-date information you have, the better you will be able to react to changes in the market.
Use Your Book as a Marketing Device
Every book you write can be used as a marketing device to market your other books. Every book you write should have:
- A letter to the reader asking for a review
- Links to other books in your series (whether fiction or nonfiction)
- A way for the reader to connect with you after they’re done reading your book
Making sure those three items are in every book you sell maximizes your ability to sell more books, because every book promotes other books you’ve written.
“A book is one of the only things you get paid to produce that builds your business on the back end as well.”
– Tom Corson Knowles
“For nonfiction authors, your book is your business card.”
– Penny Sansevieri.
Businesspeople who write nonfiction books have a much easier time getting speaking and consulting gigs because the book gives them credibility and positions them as an expert.
People often throw away business cards. They will rarely throw away a book.
Links and Resources Mentioned in This Interview
The Curve: How Smart Companies Find High-Value Customers – a book about how to find and cultivate superfans.
https://www.goodreads.com/ – a good place to reach readers directly.
penny AT amarketingexpert.com – email Penny directly.