Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog
Many authors out there lean a little more toward the introverted side of the personality spectrum; but don’t mistake their introversion for shyness or social awkwardness because these are all different things. Most love people and socializing. What separates them from the extroverts is simply that they expend energy in the same social situations that fill the extroverts up, and they rejuvenate their reserves when they’re alone. Writing is a favourite rejuvenation pastime for many introverts; and, believe it or not, that can be an advantage when it comes to the T-shaped book sales and marketing methods many authors are now using to sell thousands of books each year.
What is T-Shaped Marketing?
Possibly one of the most succinct descriptions of T-shaped marketing was written by Rand Fishkin and posted on the Moz blog along with a useful diagram: “T-Shaped basically refers to having a light level of knowledge in a broad array of skills, and deep knowledge/ability in a single one (or a few). This model may not seem particularly remarkable or unique, but it carries qualities that are essential to great marketing teams. … By having multiple overlapping T-shapes, a marketing team can invent and evolve remarkably unique and powerful solutions to problems.”
Now let’s take this description and apply it to authors. Basically, the stem of the T (the deep knowledge) refers to an author’s genre and the content of his or her book(s). The horizontal part at the top represents all the other creative and analytical skills the author can learn in order to sell more books online. The good news is many of these skills require prolific writing—something that already comes quite naturally to most introverts. Just how powerful are these tools in the hands of an author? You may be pleasantly surprised when you read the below three real-world success stories.
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1. This UK Author’s T-Shape Combines Social Media Marketing with Email Marketing:
Email marketing goes hand in hand with books much like writing goes hand in hand with an introvert. Why? It’s because this type of marketing is about promoting, sharing, and selling information. And that’s exactly what a book is—an information product.
All you have to do is Google the name “Mark Dawson” and you’ll likely come across a Forbes article titled “Amazon Pays $450,000 A Year To This Self-Published Writer.” It’s an enlightening read. After a disappointing go at trade publishing that resulted in meagre sales of his first book, this author decided to take matters into his own hands and become an entrepreneurial self-publisher for every other book that followed.
Through some trial and error, Mark learned how to significantly scale his readership and book sales. He grew his email subscriber list organically by replying to each and every message he received from his readers—the compliments and the criticisms—so he could build a rapport with each and every one of them. As a result, back in 2015, he already had 15,000 subscribers that converted to “near guaranteed sales” (his words) every time he sent out a mass email to announce a new book in the series. According to the Forbes article, another effective tool Mark combines with email marketing “…is Facebook advertising. Dawson is pumping $370 a day into Facebook advertising and he’s receiving double that in return on investment.”
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2. This US Author’s T-Shape Combines Cross Promotion with Anthologies:
Liz Schulte is a self-published author with more than 20 mystery and paranormal romance novels, short stories, and audiobooks to her credit. Much like Mark Dawson, she is earning a six-figure income marketing and selling her books online; and she does it through a combination of prolific writing and clever cross promotion.
Where some authors may view their competition as “the enemy” to be avoided, Liz viewed hers as an opportunity for shared success. She partnered with several authors within her genre, and this group now cross promotes each other’s front and back list titles through their respective subscriber lists, newsletters, and blogs. What a treat for all their readers who now have that many more great books to choose from—not to mention the added bonus for each of these authors who have basically quadrupled their individual readerships through the partnership.
Not only does Liz write and publish multiple books every year to keep her fans engaged, but she is also one of several authors who contribute one story each to an anthology within their genre. This is yet another clever form of cross promotion that can be used to plug upcoming books to an extended audience while producing incremental revenue.
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3. This Aussie Author’s T-Shape Combines Abundant Publishing with Q&A Site Networking:
Here’s an author who takes “prolific writing” to a whole new stratosphere in order to keep his readers satisfied. Think you could write and publish a new 90,000-word novel every 60 to 90 days? This is what Timothy Ellis does to consistently sell 3000+ books every single month. According to him, “The single best way of promoting any book is to release another book.” He’s personally written and published 34 since 2006 (an average of three per year and growing).
The reason for publishing these many books, according to Timothy, is ranking: “Visibility comes with rank. I can only talk about Amazon’s ranking system, and it is very cut-throat. The single most important thing is release day debut rank. … After the debut, ranks begin to slide. About a week later, Amazon sends out emails to your followers, and this can spike you up again. But at about 20 days, you start being cycled downwards unless you have promotions which can hold your sales up. At 30 days you fall off the new releases lists. By 60 days, your book is gone into Neverland.”
No money for promotions? No problem. Publish another book instead. That will keep your name and overall book series on top even as individual back list titles start to slide.
Much like Mark and Liz, Timothy also has a mailing list and social media presence that he grows organically in a couple of different ways: first, by staying in regular touch with his readers; and second, by mentoring other writers and authors on Q&A sites such as Quora. He pays it forward by over-delivering on the value he provides to each and every person he encounters.
HERE’S HOW TO DO IT STEP-BY-STEP!
Authors Are Entrepreneurs
For some people, the very idea of authors selling their own books seems to be an impractical notion cooked up by contemporary publishing “gurus” who lack the influence within the book supply chain that the traditional trade publishers have. For many, the belief is still held that, as purveyors of “the greatest literary writers” in the industry, trade publishers always do (and have always done) everything that is necessary to ensure their authors’ success because they’ve carefully selected only the crème de la crème … the sure sellers that will guarantee a profit for them.
For those who balk at the idea that authors are entrepreneurs because they believe sales and marketing is the publisher’s responsibility—and that all traditional publishers do it for all their authors all the time—you are invited to pick up a copy of John B. Thompson’s Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century (Thompson, 2012, Second Edition, Kindle Edition, p. 263-265) where this myth is busted by “The Big Five” trade publishers—Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster—themselves:
“As soon as a book shows signs that it’s going to take off, the sales, marketing and publicity operations mobilize behind it and look for ways to support it with extra advertising, trying to get more radio and TV appearances, extending the author’s tour or putting together a new tour to cities where the book is doing particularly well, and so on. … the sales, marketing and publicity operations are geared and resourced in such a way that, when they see that a fire is starting to ignite, they are able to pour generous quantities of fuel on the flames. … But if further appeals fall on deaf ears and sales fail to pick up, then the marketing and publicity effort will be wound up pretty quickly – ‘In two to three weeks we might pull the plug,’ … So how long does a book have out there in the marketplace to show signs of life? How many weeks before it becomes a dead fish that will be left to float downstream? … I would say the life of a book today is about six weeks. And quite frankly it’s even shorter than that, but you probably have six weeks and that’s it.”
That’s the reality of this business. Unless a book takes off within the first three to six weeks (which usually only happens when the authors, themselves, already have a platform and are out there actively promoting that book alongside their publishers), then that’s the most time a trade publisher will spend on selling it: six weeks. Maybe even less. After that, it’s up to authors to sell their books completely solo … or let them die along with the rest of the ignored and forgotten back list titles.
Authors are entrepreneurs. Always have been. Always will be. And today’s authors need to be that much more savvy to stand out among the competition … or, as Liz Schulte does, stand beside the competition for everyone’s mutual success.
You’re not only a writer or self-publisher or trade author. You’re a marketer. You’re a salesman. You’re an online networker.
This is a Dream Come True for Introverts
For the introverts whose favourite rejuvenation pastime happens to be writing, T-shaped marketing is a dream come true. Don’t you think? Can you imagine selling thousands of books every month by doing what you love, what comes naturally to you, what you’ve already been doing for free for the past several years anyway? Mark Dawson, Liz Schulte, and Timothy Ellis are the real-world proof that it is indeed possible.
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