As many of you probably know, I review books. Lots of books—over 1,000 between my author website and my old Blogger site. Some are for books I loved, some for books I loathed, and some for books which were good books but not spectacular.
I review on my blog, and copy the reviews to other sites such as Goodreads, Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, Koorong Books, and Riffle. I also share a lot of my reviews on social media—Facebook, Google+, Pinterest … and Twitter.
And when I share a book I loved, I want the author to know about it.
That’s not me being egotistical. It’s me being practical: authors love reviews, especially positive reviews. It encourages them.
But I want my favourite authors to be writing, not stalking Amazon and book blogs looking for reviews. So when I post a review to Twitter, I like to tag them in the review so I can be sure they’ll see it when they do check. It also brings my review to the attention of other people looking at the author’s Twitter feed.
(Tip: only tag the author in positive reviews. It’s fine to write a critical review if you didn’t enjoy a book. But you don’t have to point it out to the author.)
An author will often share my tweeted review, potentially bringing it to the attention of more readers. Well, why wouldn’t they? They want reviews, especially positive reviews. They want their current and potential readers to know about those reviews, in the hope that will influence more people to buy their book. This is a biblical principle:
If I say something about myself, it’s not valid. If you say it, it is … especially if someone else agrees with you.
There’s even an internet buzzword for it: user-generated content (or UGC).
That’s a simple way of saying they author (the producer) gets shareable content (Tweet, book review, meme) from users (me). Because me (or you) saying something positive about a book is more powerful than the author saying it herself. Or himself.
It’s self-promotion, but not the annoying kind. Sure, Twitter is full of authors spamming the feed with “buy my book!” promos every six minutes. That’s the annoying kind of self-promotion, because it’s all about the author. The beauty of user-generated content is it’s from the user. An author who retweets me is promoting me as much as she’s promoting herself.
But not every author is on Twitter.
Or if they are, they have weird names that means I can’t identify them. And that means I can’t tag them in my posts. It means they don’t benefit from my user-generated content. It means they’re missing out on me promoting them—which means they have to promote themselves. Probably by spamming.
To plagiarise Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that authors hate promoting themselves.
Fine. I get that. But that’s not a good reason to avoid Twitter. It means you’re thinking about it the wrong way. Instead of thinking of Twitter as another social media network you have to be on to promote yourself, think of it like this:
Doesn’t that sound better? Pay it forward. Be relentlessly helpful. Make social media about other people, not you.
Some authors aren’t on Twitter because they think it’s going to be a lot of work. It’s not (or if it is, you’re doing it wrong). I’ll cover that in another post.
Meanwhile, if you’re not on Twitter, why don’t you head over there and set up an account?
While you’re there, follow me (@iolagoulton). Then leave a comment with your Twitter user name so I can follow you back (if I don’t already), watch for your Tweets and retweet you. If you’re on Twitter … well, that’s even more reason to follow me!
In Sell More Books with Less Marketing, Chris Syme talks about different levels of author, divided by genre (fiction or non-fiction), by the number of books and series you have published. Reading this was a lightbulb moment for me, because it explained why so much of the author brand and author marketing advice I read online felt “off” (yes, that’s a technical term).
It was because the advice was written for authors several levels ahead of me. Take Nick Stephenson’s Your First 10,000 Readers course (which I have bought), or Mark Dawson’s Ads for Authors course (which I haven’t). These authors are both multi-published thriller authors, and both have at least one long series of books available for sale.
I’m not, and I don’t.
Their information is excellent … but their tactics will work best for authors at that level. They are unlikely to work for authors who only have one or two books published, not one or two series. They are especially unlikely to work for pre-published authors, who are trying to learn everything at once. And there’s a lot to learn.
So what’s the pre-published author to do?
Does the pre-published author need to build an author platform?
If they want to be published, yes.
And that’s whether they want to be traditionally published, or if they want to self-publish.
I see authors out there building their platforms. Some are doing a great job. Others … not so much. They don’t know where to go to get good advice, so often it’s the blind leading the blind.
And a lot of authors stall their platform building efforts by concentrating on the wrong things. They focus on tactics, not strategy. They ask questions like:
Do I have to have a blog?
What social media platform/s should I be on?
What will I blog about?
Do I have to have an email list?
What should I email about?
Do I have to have a sign-up gift for my website?
What kind of website should I have?
How do I build a website?
How much does a website cost?
Do I need an agent?
Should I self-publish?
What marketing will my publisher do?
Do I need a logo?
What should my tagline be?
How do I get reviews?
How do I use social media to sell books?
These questions are all good questions, but they are all about tactics. Yes, we need to answer these questions, but they aren’t the first questions we should ask or answer. They aren’t the important questions (and for some of the questions, the answer is “no” or “you don’t”).
All the blog posts about how to grow your author platform are useless for someone who doesn’t have a platform to grow.
I did some investigating. I found books and courses on how do set up a website or how to sell books on Twitter or how to use Goodreads as an author. Those are all good things, but most treated Twitter and Goodreads as an add-on to an existing platform. They didn’t take the author-reader back to those early stages of creating that platform in the first place.
I found blog posts on how to use various cool WordPress plugins to add extra functionality to your website. But that’s no good for someone who doesn’t have a website. Or who only has a free Blogger site.
I found posts on how to use RSS feeds and scheduling programmes to curate, collate, and automate social media posting. But that’s no good for someone who doesn’t have social media, or who only has a personal Facebook page to share pictures of cats and children.
I even found courses on how to build an online platform. Expensive courses—a one-off cost of $399 or $499, or a monthly fee of $49 or more. And that doesn’t include website hosting or any other costs.
Most of the writers I know don’t have that kind of money.
Many are solo parents, retirees, stay-at-home moms, homeschooling moms. Cash is tight. Many haven’t decided if they want to do this writing thing, and don’t want to invest big bucks in case they change their mind. Many are apprehensive about putting themselves “out there” . Many are writing as a form of therapy or ministry, and don’t have the money to invest in an expensive programme.
The people I knew needed was a way of getting from absolutely nothing to the stage where the blog posts on how to build or grow a platform were useful.
So I developed the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge.
Instead of starting with whether you should use MailChimp or MailerLite, WordPress or Wix, we start at the beginning. Strategy, not tactics.
What do you write?
Who are you writing for?
In other words:
What genre do you write?
Who is your target reader?
These questions inform our high-level marketing strategy, because:
An author who writes fiction is going to have a different strategy to an author who writes non-fiction.
An author who writes articles or devotions or short fiction is going to have a different strategy to an author who writes novels or book-length non-fiction.
An author who writes picture books is going to have a different strategy to an author who writes adult thrillers.
If we understand what we write—our genre—that will help us identify and understand our target reader.
Our customer. Then we can build a brand that appeals to that reader or buyer. Part of that includes how we look—our visual brand. But it’s also how we act. Our values and beliefs. Who we are behind the pretty visuals.
Author brand isn’t about being everything to everyone. Author brand is about:
Understanding your genre.
Understanding your target reader.
Being true to yourself.
Choosing the parts of yourself to show online.
Connecting with your target readers.
I’ve developed the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge to do just that. The objective is to help pre-published and just-published authors develop the bones of their marketing platform. It’s an email Challenge, with one email a day for 40 days.
By the time they’ve completed the Challenge, participants will have:
A better understanding of their genre
A better understanding of their target reader
A branded author website
Branded accounts on the major social media platforms
An email list with a sign-up freebie
A list of topics to blog about, and share about on social media
Ideas for finding and connecting with their target readers
The GDPR is the General Data Protection Regulation, and comes into force on 25 May 2018.
If you process or hold the personal data of EU residents, it applies to you no matter where you are based.
In other words, GDPR applies to me even though I’m not based in the EU. It probably applies to you as well.
Since writing that post, I’ve read thousands of words of blog posts and watched or listened to hours of YouTube videos and podcasts to try and understand what we have to do by 25 May to comply with GDPR.
First, the PSA. I’m not a lawyer, so none of the information in this blog post is legal advice. It’s my best guess as a layperson who has studied the subject. If you want legal advice, you ask a lawyer who is qualified to practice in this area. In this case, that means a lawyer based in the EU with a background in privacy, data protection, or similar. You don’t get legal advice off the internet.
The first thing to remember is that the world is not ending. As British lawyer Suzanne Dibble says:
“The GDPR mandates organizations to put into place comprehensive but proportionate governance measures.”
“Proportionate” is important. It means that you and I, as a one-person organisations, aren’t going to be expected to have all the data protection bells and whistles of, say, British Airways. But we still have to be responsible about the way we collect and process personal data, and we’re still accountable for that.
It’s the Golden Rule in practice.
We need to treat the personal information we hold in the same way we’d want them to treat our data.
Note that personal information is defined as any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person. This includes name, email address, and can also include an IP address, and website cookies. At the most basic level, GDPR is about respecting the privacy of individuals. I’m sure we can all agree with that.
The other thing to remember is that the ICO isn’t going to be actively monitoring our GDPR compliance. Organisations will be investigated only if a complaint is made against them.
What Do I Need to Do?
There are actually a few things you can or should do if you have a website. Here are eight points I think are the most important:
1. SSL Certificate
If your website doesn’t already have an SSL certificate, it may be worth getting one for the added layer of security and the Google benefits. If you haven’t yet set up your website, I would definitely recommend using SSL from the beginning.
There are plenty of free and paid resources online to help you. I’ve checked out several options:
DGD Deutsche Gesellschaft für Datenschutz
The only free GDPR-compliant policy I found was from a German website (click here). The policy is customisable, and available in your choice of English or German. However, the stilted English suggests the policy has been written in German and translated. I’d rather have a policy that was written in English.
Privacy Policies charge $29.99 for a commercial policy (with “commercial” including anyone who is using affiliate links, or marketing or selling any product or service). The policy is customised, but I didn’t buy it so I don’t know how good it is or whether it covers GDPR.
Another good option is Zegal.com, which offers free privacy policies tailored for New Zealand or Australia. Mine was clear, easy to read, and easy to understand, but it’s not GDPR-compliant (although there is a paid version which is).
Suzanne Dibble, a British lawyer and expert in the subject, has put together a full GDPR pack. It’s not cheap (GBP 197) but covers everything. To see what’s in the pack, check out this blog post from Shannon Mattern: How to Get Your Website Ready for GDPR.
Suzanne also has a free Facebook group and lots of videos. This is the most important (and the longest):
Your signup form must also make clear that they are signing up for your email newsletter, and that they will receive marketing information. You can also give them a free book or other gift for signing up, as I do. But it has to be in that order:
Sign up for my monthly newsletter and receive a free gift.
Is probably acceptable (probably. Not definitely). This is not:
Want a free gift? Sign up here.
Why is that second example not acceptable? Because it doesn’t make it clear that the user is being signed up to an email list. What about this?
Want a free gift? Sign up here, and I’ll add you to my email list.
This isn’t acceptable under GDPR because it ties the free gift to signing up to the newsletter. Yes, this looks the same as my first example. Semantics. Even the lawyers I’ve listened to don’t agree on this one.
6. Update Your Contact Form
Most websites have a contact form (e.g. Contact Form 7, Gravity Forms, or Ninja Forms). Contact forms collect information such as the person’s name, email address, and IP address. You’re allowed to collect this information, as it’s a legitimate business interest that will enable you to answer their query. But you still need to disclose you are collecting and storing this information (even though it seems obvious).
7. Update Your Comments Form
Most blogs have a comments section. This collects your name, website, email address, and IP address, as well as your message. This is private information, and is stored by WordPress, so we need consent to store this information.
The WP GDPR Compliance plugin also handles comments, which means you’ve covered two items with one plugin.
8. Create or Update Your Cookies Policy
Pinterest has made several changes over the last year. If you’re on Pinterest, it’s worth taking a little time to polish your profile
Today I’m sharing four tips to polish your presence on Pinterest, and one tip for pinning:
Choose your Profile Cover
Add a Board Cover Photo
Sort your Boards
Section your Boards
1. Choose Your Profile Cover
Pinterest have introduced a profile cover photo. But this isn’t the same header image or cover photo as on Facebook or Twitter—you can’t design and upload your own image. Instead, Pinterest forces you to choose from three options:
The most recent Pins saved to your profile, whether you’re pinning your own pins or other people’s pins. The advantage of this option is it is current. The disadvantage is that what you pin might be personal, not around your author brand. Do you want your Profile Cover to display your Pins and your books, or recipes for cauliflower pizza and obscure Dr Who memes?
Pins people saved from your site and linked accounts. This shows which of your pins are the most popular, which implies some of your pins are popular enough that other people are saving and sharing them. My Pinterest analytics say this is the case, but my Recent Activity cover doesn’t share the same message …
Pick a Board
I think this is the best option. For published authors, pick a board that includes all your book covers. For unpublished authors, pick something that’s consistent with your author brand, and interesting or inspirational (not the cauliflower pizza). Don’t pick a group board or something like writing tips unless that reflects your author brand and target market.
I share about reading and writing on Pinterest (that’s one of the beauties of Boards: people can choose to follow only the Boards they are interested in). I went through several Boards trying to decide which to use. Did I want to use a group board (no), a board about writing (no), or a board about reading (yes).
I eventually settled on using my Favourite Quotes board, as that highlights great lines from some of the books I’ve read. It does (unfortunately) include one quote three times, but hopefully that will change as I add more quotes to the board.
Head over to Pinterest, go to your Profile, and click on the grey pencil (top right-hand corner) to choose your preferred Profile Cover.
2. Add a Board Cover Photo
Did you know you can choose which Pin shows as the cover on each of your Boards? This gives you another opportunity to reinforce your author brand visually … and to give your Pinterest visitors a clear picture of what they can expect to find on your Board.
While Pinterest prefers vertical images as a rule, your Board Cover Pin should be square, as that is how it is displayed on desktop and mobile. My Board Cover Pins are 800 x 800 pixels, and I created them in Canva.
To Create your Cover Photo
Create a branded image in Canva.
Go into Pinterest.
Click the red + button at the top right-hand side of the page.
Select Upload Image.
Upload your branded image.
Add the URL of the relevant page on your website.
Add a description of the Pin (this could be the same as your Board description).
Go to your Boards page.
Click the grey pencil at the bottom of the relevant Board to Edit your Board
Click Change cover.
Select your branded Pin.
Repeat for each Board you want to brand.
Create and Pin branded Cover Photos for your author boards.
3. Sort Your Boards
In case you didn’t know, you can also sort your boards. This is a good idea, as it means you can position your branded boards at the top to promote and reinforce your visual brand. If you don’t sort your boards, then Pinterest will choose how they display the Boards (Last saved to, A to Z, Newest, or Oldest). This might not be the image you want to send …
Go to Pinterest.
Go to the Sort Boards menu to the right, and select Drag and Drop.
Drag your Boards into the order you want. Start with the Board you want at the top, and work across, then down.
Sort your Boards to reinforce your author brand by placing your most important Boards at the top of your page (but without looking entirely self-promotional).
4. Section Your Boards
You can now section (aka segment) Boards within Pinterest. This is a great idea, as it means you don’t have to have a gazillion separate boards. Instead, you can have one board for a topic (e.g. Food), then divide that board into appropriate sections (e.g. breakfast, lunch, keto, chocolate).
This is also great for authors, as it means you don’t have to have separate Boards for each book (which can look self-promotional and self-indulgent). Instead, have one Board for each series, with individual Pins sectioned by book.
How to Section a Board
Click into a specific Board.
Click Add Section.
Click Organise (at the top right-hand corner).
Select the Pins you want to move. Click Move.
Hover over the Section you want to move the Pins to until you see “Move X Pins here”.
This means you can combine and eliminate small Boards … which is good Pinterest practice anyway. To combine Boards, go to your Boards page, click Organise (at the top right-hand corner), and move Pins from their current Board into the appropriate Section of your new Board. You should have a minimum of five Pins on each Board (and ideally at least twenty).
Add up to four hashtags to each Pin (e.g. the hashtags you’re using when you post to Twitter or Instagram).
And If You’re Not on Pinterest …
If you’re not in Pinterest, perhaps you should be! Pip Reid, Kiwi author and co-owner of Bible Pathway Adventures, has collaborated with Mark Dawson of Self-Publishing Formula to write a short introduction to Pinterest. It’s available free from Amazon: Pinterest for Authors.
I have two posts in the Blog Hop this month—this post on GDPR, and I’m also guest posting on Publishing at Ronel the Mythmaker’s blog, as part of her April A-Z Challenge.
But here I’m talking about the General Data Protection Regulation: what it is, and why authors need to know about it.
First, the PSA. I’m not a lawyer, so none of the information in this blog post is legal advice. It’s my best guess as a layperson who has studied the subject. If you want legal advice, you ask a lawyer who is qualified to practice in this area. In this case, that means a lawyer based in the EU with a background in privacy, data protection, or similar. You don’t get legal advice off the internet. Now, on with the blog post.
What is GDPR?
The GDPR is the General Data Protection Regulation, and comes into force on 25 May 2018. It harmonizes data privacy laws across the European Union (EU), so it affects any organization holding personal data from EU citizens. Note that the EU still includes the United Kingdom, so GDPR still applies. The British government have indicated they will implement GDPR-like legislation following Brexit (if it goes ahead).
Why do authors need to know about GDPR?
GDPR affects all organisations based in the EU, or supplying goods or services in the EU. If you have a website or an email list, this includes you.
If you have an email list, you’re supplying services. Your subscribers may not pay you, but you are supplying a service. If your email list includes EU residents, or is likely to include EU residents in the future, the GDPR applies to you whether you live in the EU or not.
[The GDPR] applies to all companies processing and holding the personal data of data subjects residing in the European Union, regardless of the company’s location.
If you have a website, you’re collecting information on your visitors. If you have visitors who are EU residents, the GDPR applies to you whether you live in the EU or not.
‘Personal data’ includes data such as a name or email address. It also includes IP addresses (such as those collected by your website when someone comments), and posts on social networking sites.
‘Companies’ includes your email list provider (e.g. MailChimp or MailerLite), and includes clouds. If you use an email list provider and follow their recommended best practice (e.g. double opt-in), then you are probably operating within the law. Probably. As I’ve said before, I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.
GDPR requires that you collect the minimum data necessary.
This has always been best practice: if you are collecting email addresses, the only piece of data you actually need is the email address.
Asking for their first name might help you build a relationship with the subscriber (if they type their name correctly!), but it’s not necessary. Many sites also ask for a surname, and few people are going to object to that. But giving my business name, address, telephone number, number of employees … that’s over the top when all I want to do is download a short pdf file.
You have the option of making fields compulsory or optional. If the field is anything but 100% necessary, make it optional (most people will still complete it).
Note: this also applies to the contact form on your website, because that’s another way of collecting personal information.
GDPR requires active and explicit consent
The regulations say:
Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.
People must be actively consenting to join your email list.
Joining the email list can’t be automatic by filling out a form (as happened to me today!).
If you have a reader magnet or other free gift, then you can’t send the gift and tell people they are now on your email list. You have to give them the option to download the gift without joining your list, or invite them to join your list and send the gift as a thank you.
If there is a “Join my list” checkbox, it has to be unchecked. This means the would-be subscriber has to actively check the box.
Joining can’t be one item in a long and unreadable list of legalese.
I suspect people also can’t explicitly consent to joining twenty email lists at once. We used to see this in online giveaways. Now, giveaways must give entrants the option to opt in or not opt in to each participant’s list (which some giveaways always did).
It must also be easy to withdraw consent. All the major email providers make this easy, by offering instant unsubscribe options (a far cry from when I used to unsubscribe to a spam email list and be told it might take up to a month!). Subscribers also have the right to have all their information deleted upon request, and the good email list providers do their best to make that easy as well.
How email providers are reacting
The major email providers do have lawyers on staff. I’m sure they’ve all been busy reading and arguing the finer points of the legislation, and considering what they need to change in order to ensure their customers (you and me) remain compliant.
Here’s what some of the main email providers have to say about GDPR:
Aweber is self-certified with both the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield, and intend to be fully compliant with GDPR. They say Aweber customers need to ensure they comply with Aweber terms of service to help ensure they are GDPR-compliant.
ConvertKit are building new features to enable users to identify their EU subscribers and provide explicit consent, including providing a specific opt-in checkbox for EU subscribers.
ConvertKit recommend users:
Use double opt-in wherever possible.
Perform regular list backups.
Make your intentions clear on email signup forms and landing pages (e.g. what will they get by signing up to this list? Will they also be signed up to another list?).
This is good advice for everyone.
MailChimp have introduced a specific opt-in box on MailChimp-hosted forms, and recommend users clearly explain to subscribers how their data will be used. MailChimp is certified with both the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield.
MailerLite have developed a GDPR template to help users reconfirm their email list to be sure everyone has actively and explicitly consented.
What should I do?
If you’re not 100% sure all your subscribers have opted in to receiving your emails (e.g. you haven’t always used a double opt-in), then you should check out what templates or services your email list provider offers, and use them to clean your list.
Have you cleaned your email list lately? Have you deleted the people who never open your messages? Sure, it will mean fewer people on your list. There are advantages to cutting the dead weight from your list. It will increase your open rates, cost you less, and mean your emails are less likely to end up in spam. Isn’t that a good thing?
I also briefly discussed online giveaway tools. There are many, including GiveawayTab, Giveaway Tools, PromoSimple, Punctab, RandomPicker, Wildfire, and Woobox.
Today I’m discussing the three online giveaway tools I see authors using most often:
These tools are used when running a giveaway that selects one (or more) winners from the eligible entrants, and where entrants have do do more than simply comment on a blog post. The other kind of online giveaway is where everyone receives a free ebook in exchange for signing up for an email list. I’ll discuss that next week.
There are several advantages to using a good tool:
The winner is picked at random.
The tool probably complies with general giveaway laws (although laws are so different that no tool will comply with all state and international laws) e.g. disclosing the prize and the value of the prize.
A range of entry options to fit your individual strategy.
Integration into the organisers social media profiles and/or email list, which reduces administration time.
The email integration probably complies with the CAN-SPAM Act and the EU GDP Regulations.
The giveaway is more likely to look professional.
The main disadvantage of using a giveaway tool is cost: while there are free options, the premium features such as viral sharing and email list integration will come at a cost.
Gleam integrates with a wide range of social media platforms, including Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and more. It provides options for entrants to undertake a variety of actions, but the entrant doesn’t have to prove they have completed that action (e.g. a Tweet or Facebook share). This means the organiser has to confirm the entrant did undertake the required action before declaring a winner.
Gleam is available via a website, or as a WordPress plugin.
There is a free plan with limited functionality (i.e. you only get the email addresses of the winners). Paid plans start at USD 10 per month, which includes a downloadable email list but not full email integration. Gleam offers email integration and viral sharing options on the Pro Plan and better (from USD 49 per month). That makes it an expensive option for most authors who are just starting out.
One of the advantages of Gleam is it offers incentives for viral sharing.
Viral sharing is when the entrant earns additional entries for sharing the contest, and having other people enter through their unique contest link. This means instead of having one chance to win, a contestant could have dozens or even hundreds.
The objective of a KingSumo giveaway is to increase the number of subscribers on your email list. KingSumo does this by encouraging viral sharing. As with Gleam, KingSumo adds each entrant to your email list, sends them a unique code, and encourages them to share it on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
As an entrant, the more people enter the giveaway using your unique code, the more entries you get and the more likely you are to win. KingSumo picks the winner using some secret random algorithm.
KingSumo have recently announced a new web-based version anyone can use.
The basic app is free, and there is a premium version available for USD 8 per month (billled annually). The free version integrates with MailChimp and Zapier. Future upgrades will include limiting the location of contestants, adding multiple prizes, and editing the giveaway rules (all of which you can do in the plugin version).
The older WordPress plugin is still available, for USD 195 for a single website and USD 595 for a multi-site developer licence (they may offer a Black Friday or Cyber Monday discount in November. Their 2017 offer was a 75% discount). You do need a self-hosted WordPress site to host the giveaway, but once you’ve created the giveaway it can be embedded in non-WordPress sites—just add the relevant html code.
The KingSumo plugin links with more email providers than the free web version, incuding:
If you use another email service provider (e.g. MailerLite), then I’d recommend adding the giveaway entrants to a MailChimp list with an autoresponder, then moving them to MailerLite once the automation sequence is complete and the winner has been announced.
Rafflecopter is a free giveaway tool that’s integrated with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and various email providers. Giveaway organisers can set a variety of tasks for entrants to complete, such as commenting on the blog post, following the author on Twitter, liking their page on Facebook, sharing the giveaway on social media, or signing up for an email list. I’ve never run a Rafflecopter giveaway, but I understand email addresses can be downloaded at the conclusion of the giveaway.
Basic Rafflecopter giveaways are free, but you’ll have to pay for premium features like Pinterest entries (USD 13 per month), email list integration (USD 43 per month) or viral giveaway links (USD 84 per month). Rafflecopter does offer a free 7-day trial, but it’s limited to 50 entries. Contests can also be run through Facebook.
I’m not a fan of Rafflecopter.
Although that’s not necessarily the fault of the tool.
Organisers often set up a huge list of ways to enter. This can seem overwhelming to a potential giveaway entrant. In addition, there are often a lot of hoops to jump through e.g. find the tweet URL and paste it into your entry to prove you’ve tweeted about the giveaway. As an entrant, it feels like more hassle than it’s worth—especially if the prize is a cheap ebook.
It’s also a question of whether these activities provide any ongoing return for the author. Given the recent changes in the Facebook algorithm, it’s possible your new followers might never even see posts from your author Page, let alone Like, Comment, or Share those posts.
From a reader-entrant point of view, the best Rafflecopter giveaways are those that only require one action to enter e.g. a blog comment. But as I discussed last week, this is the action that has the least ongoing benefit for the author.
Which Tool Is Best?
Which tool you use will depend on the reason you’re running a giveaway. If you’re trying to build brand awareness, then Facebook integration is probably more important than email integration. If you’re trying to build an email list, then email integration is going to be a major deciding factor.
Cost is also a factor—can you afford the one-off cost for a more expensive tool like King Sumo, or do you prefer the monthly subscription model? Paying up-front is probably cheaper in the long term, but it does depend on what you are looking for in a giveaway tool.
What giveaway tools have you used as an organiser, or as a participant? Which would you recommend for cost, ease of use, and functionality?
Two weeks ago, I introduced six ways to build your email list. One was offering giveaways. This week, I’m going into more detail on the “how” of giveaways, and touch on some of the legal issues.
There are several ways to conduct an online giveaway, but first you need to:
Consider Your Giveaway Objectives
Keep Your Giveaway Legal
You then need to consider what kind of giveaway you want to participate in:
Run Your Own Giveaway
Join a Group Giveaway
Join A Paid Giveaway
Consider Your Objectives
What are your objectives in conducting or participating in an online giveaway? Your objectives will determine which is the best approach for you. Do you want to:
Build overall awareness?
Increase blog engagement?
Build your social media following?
Build your emai list?
Do you want one winner, or will you give every entrant a book?
Your objectives will help determine your priorities in choosing how to organise your online giveaway.
Keep Your Giveaway Legal
There are laws governing how people run giveaways, contests, and raffles. If you are running any kind of giveaway, you need to ensure you comply with these laws … which is difficult, because the laws are different in every state and country. No giveaway can comply with all international laws (or even all the different state laws in the USA).
All online giveaways are illegal somewhere, which is why many giveaways restrict entrants to their own state or country.
Here are some principles for running an online giveaway:
Limit Participation by Geography
For example, limit entrants to USA only, or Australia only. At the very least, say “void where prohibited” (although this means you need to know where your giveaway is prohibited).
If you say one random commenter will win the prize, the prize has to go to a random commenter. Not the person you like most.
Don’t Require a Purchase
I’ve just received an email offering me the chance to win something if I buy the author’s new book. All I have to do is forward the Amazon email purchase receipt, and I’m in the draw to win. But this is an illegal giveaway, in that it’s not actually a giveaway. It’s a raffle, and that’s a whole different set of laws. For example, many states and countries require you to provide a way for people to enter without purchasing.
(If you want to give readers an incentive to purchase, offer a limited-time sale, or offer bonus content to purchasers.)
Make Your Giveaway Easy to Enter
Don’t require entrants to jump through hoops or answer hard questions, especially not questions they could only answer by having already bought and read your book (because that again turns your giveaway into a raffle).
State the Prize
State the exact prize up front, and the value of that prize. I’d also suggest you keep the value of your prize relatively small. A $4.99 ebook or $50 Amazon gift card is unlikely to attract attention. A Tesla will.
Provide the Odds of Winning
This can be as simple as “the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants”.
Note: This is not legal advice. I am not lawyer and am not qualified or licenced to give legal advice in New Zealand or anywhere else. If you want legal advice, you pay a qualified lawyer who is licenced to practice law in your location. You don’t get legal advice from websites or from anyone who isn’t a qualified and licenced lawyer.
Following these guidelines means you’re unlikely to run into trouble.
Unlikely, because the people who care have more important things to do than prosecute authors giving away a book or even a dozen books on their website. But that doesn’t make your giveaway legal. It just means you’re not likely to be caught, just like you’re not likely to be caught going 53 kph in a 50 kph zone on your way to church on Sunday morning.
There are two main ways to run your own giveaway. Giving a prize to a blog commenter is probably the easiest, most common, and most enduring.
The newer method—and the method that will better help build your online platform—is to use an online giveaway tool that encourages social sharing and/or email list signups. Lets look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Comments on a blog post encourage interaction. But it’s not always positive interaction, especially if the comments are of the “I’d love to win this book!” variety, rather than true engagement with the post.
The problem is this: encouraging people to comment on your blog post doesn’t contribute to your larger goals.
Blog comments don’t help more people find out about you because they don’t encourage entrants to share your giveaway.
Blog comments don’t encourage entrants to sign up to your email list.
Think about it: if I find a giveaway or contest that has only one entrant and I also enter, I have a 50% chance of winning that giveaway.
If I share the giveaway and more people enter, I’ve reduced my own chances of winning. Who is going to share if sharing goes against their own self-interest?
If you’ve organised a giveaway and you’re the only person who is sharing it, that’s probably what will happen: you’ll only have a small handful of entrants, and the giveaway won’t be shared beyond your faithful readers. That might work for you if your objective in running the giveaway is to reward your faithful readers. But if your objective was to extend your platform, a simple blog comment giveaway is unlikely to work.
The answer to this dilemma is to incentivise participants to share the giveaway, which is where giveaway tools are useful.
There are a variety of giveaway tools available online. Giveaway tools enable you to
Popular tools include:
These tools are used for contest-type giveaways, where there are many entrants but only a few winners (maybe only one). Most group and paid giveaways use some kind of giveaway tool.
Join a Group Giveaway
Author networks often coordinate and promote group giveaways, usually based on genre or some specific theme (e.g. in January 2018, I coordinated an Australia Day Giveaway for members of Australasian Christian Writers. The winner received a $50 Amazon gift voucher, and twelve books set in Australia or by Australian authors).
Participants are expected to share the giveaway within their own networks via a blog post, email newsletter, and social media sharing. In my experience, the more authors in the group and the more committed they are to social sharing, the better the results.
Group giveaways can use an online giveaway tool such as those listed above. The Australia Day Giveaway was run using KingSumo, which I’ll discuss more next week. We offered one prize, but KingSumo does allow for multiple winners. The giveaway had over 450 confirmed entries (and many more who didn’t confirm, so weren’t added to our email lists).
Authors can also use tools like BookCave, BookFunnel, and Instafreebie for giveaway promotions where everyone who enters receives a free ebook. I’l discuss these in a future post.
Join A Paid Giveaway
There are many marketing organisations offering paid group giveaways. For example, RyanZee’s Booksweeps offers two genre-specific multi-author giveaways each week. All entrants are added to the RyanZee mailing list, and these people are contacted the next time that genre giveaway is offered.
Some paid giveaways (including RyanZee) allow entrants to choose which (if any) mailing lists they want to sign up for. In theory, this means participating authors should be collecting interested people who won’t unsubscribe.
Other giveaways sign all entrants up to the email lists of all participating authors. This can mean a large number unsubscribe once they start receiving emails (or, worse, report the emails as spam). There are ways authors can minimise this, as I discussed in 5 Lessons Learned from Signing Up to 20+ Author Newsletters.
I hope I’ve convinced you that a solid author platform needs all three: a website, email list, and a social media presence. It’s not difficult to set these things up (and if you want help, sign up to my Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge).
The next challenge is how do we, as authors, build an email list. Today I’m going to cover some good ways—and a couple of bad ways to build your email list.
First, the bad ways. Don’t:
Adding people to your email list without permission.
Buying an email list.
Adding people to your email list without permission.
Don’t add people you know to a list on Word or Excel or Gmail or Hotmail, then email them. It’s against the law:
The CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act applies if you live in the USA, or if you have anyone from the USA on your email list.
The GDPR (General Data Protection Legislation) applies if you live in the European Union, or have anyone from the EU on your email list.
I’ve received these emails. I even saw it recommended in a marketing book a few years ago, that authors “add people you know to your opt-in list”. Yes, this author was ahead of the times in actually having a newsletter list, but did she not understand the meaning of the words “opt in”?
Adding people to your list without their explicit permission is against the law.
You can only email people who have given you permission to email them (which is where Seth Godin’s phrase ‘permission marketing’ comes from). And you must give people the option to unsubscribe.
As I’ve said before, the best way to ensure your email list complies with relevant laws is to use one of the major email list providers, such as Aweber, ConvertKit, MailChimp or MailerLite.
Buying an email list.
Buying an email list is a waste of money. No one on that email list has consented to be on your email list. No one.
Sure, they may have consented to having their details passed on to “selected marketing partners”, but that doesn’t mean they want to be on your list. One of the organisations I’m a member of has passed my mailing address onto “selected marketing partners”. All their selected marketing mailings go straight in the round metal filing cabinet. It’s a waste of their marketing budget, and I’m now keeping a mental list of the credit card providers I’ll never use … the ones who waste money on mailing lists that could be spent on serving customers.
You have no way of knowing whether the people on a bought email list are interested in what you write (or even if they’re interested in books), because they haven’t opted in to your list.
Instead, try one or all of these tactics to build your email list:
1. Email and Ask
Email friends you think would be interested in joining your newsletter list, and ask if they’ll sign up. You don’t have to rely on email. You could also send a text message or Facebook DM, Tweet them … even talk to them. The point is that you’re asking for permission.
And they can sign up though the link you provide (which you’ll get from your mailing list provider), or you can add them directly into your mailing list. But only with their permission.
2. Ask at Events
Ask for newsletter sign-ups if you’re speaking at an event, such as a writer’s conference or retreat, or a book launch. The less technical among us have a physical sign-up sheet, then add people to the list manually. A more technical person could have a QR code on a bookmark, or a PC/tablet so people can enter their own data.
3. Ask Online
Use a plugin such as Bloom or SumoMe to prompt website visitors to sign up for your email list. Or see if your mailing list provider has signup forms. Pin a post on Twitter. Add a sign up button to your Facebook page. Include a link to your signup form in the bio you use for guest posts.
Friends, family and colleagues may well agree to sign up for your newsletter just because you asked them. But strangers are unlikely to give you their email address unless there’s something in it for them.
Natalie Lussier hosts a free 30-day listbuiding challenge, and this is one of her techniques. Plan a webinar on a topic of interest to your readers. When they sign up, give them a link to share the webinar with their online contacts. Everyone who signs up is then added to your email list.
Yes, this means getting over your fear of public speaking, and your fear of being on camera.
5. Host a Giveaway
A lot of blogs host giveaways, but most are of the ‘leave a comment to be in the draw to win’ variety. That isn’t helpful for collecting email addresses—no one wants to leave their real email address in a blog comment. But authors can use tools such as Rafflecopter or KingSumo to run giveaways where they collect email addresses in exchange for an entry.
But I’ve found having a giveaway isn’t enough. It has to be promoted. And that’s where my final suggestion comes in:
6. Join a Cross-Promotion
A cross-promotion is where you join forces with other authors to host a giveaway. There is generally some cost involved in this, as setting up and hosting the giveaway takes time, effort, and technical know-how. But the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. A cross-promotion means it’s not just you promoting your giveaway—all the other authors involved will be promoting it as well. This means you’ll get in front of a lot more people.
I’ve recently organised one cross-promotion and participated in a second. Both were very sucessful in terms of adding people to my author email list. In fact, they were almost too successful. I’m having to clean out my existing lists so I don’t have to switch to the paid version of MailChimp.
There are two main types of cross-promotion. The easiest to organise is when each entrant’s information is provided to each of the participating authors. The disadvantage of this approach is that entrants didn’t specifically request to join your mailing list, so you may have a large number unsubscribing. However, they did consent for their information to be passed to each of the participating authors.
The other type is where entrants choose which author lists they want to opt in to. These are more difficult to organise. The advantage is they produce more engaged subscribers because they have proactively opted in to your list.
But how do you host a giveaway? I’ll be back next week to discuss the main options for organising or participating in online giveaways.
Do you have an email list? What listbuilding techniques have you found worked?
In terms of building an author platform, you need methods of attracting potential new readers. Some people call this outreach. Social media is great for outreach. It’s not so great for selling.
The disadvantage of social media is that you don’t own the platform. If you infringe the rules of the social network, they can delete your account. This leaves you with no way of engaging with or converting potential readers. And that’s why a website and email list—things you own—are the two most important foundations of your author platform.
As I see it, there are two main functions of social networking for authors:
To help us connect with readers
To help us connect with other writers
This is why social networks are important. Writers often work in isolation, and online social networks provide us with valuable and necessary ways to connect with others. My favourite social network is Facebook, and I think of it as the water cooler in my virtual office, the place I head for a short break to recharge before starting the next item on my to-do list.
Connecting with Readers
I believe connecting with readers is more important to an author’s long-term success, because it is the readers who are going to buy your book (or books). For this reason, my suggestions around social networks are more focused on connecting with readers than with other writers–as this is the weak spot for most writers.
We need readers.
We need readers because they read our books. They talk about our books. They review our books. They buy our books. Sure, writers are also readers (or should be). But there are more readers than writers.
Connecting with Writers
Yes, connecting with writers is important, especially in the early stages of your writing. You need to learn to write, and other writers are going to be the people who help with that. Writers will be your first teachers, your first readers, your first fans. They will give you advice on what do, and what not to do. They will help you find a community, essential if your writing is ever going to be anything more than you and a computer.
But in the long term, connecting with readers is more important. Because while all writers are readers (or should be), not all readers are writers.
So what do you want or need from a social networking site:
The ability to connect with other users
A market demographic that matches your target reader
This means the social networks which are right for me might not be the same as those which are right for you. For example, I discovered as I was researching this post that there are specific social networks for specific groups (this probably shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did). For example:
MyMFB has 1.5+ billion followers, and is touted as the Muslim alternative to Facebook.
Twoo is a Belgian site geared to teenagers and twenty-somethings.
Renren (everyone’s website) is China’s largest social platform.
VK.com is the Russian version of Facebook.
None of these are appropriate social networks for me, as my target reader is a Christian with English as their first language.
But these social networks could be great options for writers targeting non-Christian readers in these countries and people groups.
Know you need to start building your author platform but have no idea where to start? Have a blog and a couple of social media accounts but don’t know what to do next? Have a website, but aren’t sure if you’re on the right track?
Last week I discussed the need for that elusive necessity, an author platform. This week I’m talking about the main foundation of an author platform: a website.
Your author website is your online home.
It’s where readers will go to find out about you and your books. I asked in a reader group and they confirmed this: they most commonly visit author websites to find out:
More about the author
When the author’s next book releases
What other books the author has published
The correct order of a series
And a website is where agents, publishers and editors will look to see if you have that magical author platform. It’s where publicists and bloggers will look to find information about you.
You also need a way for readers to subscribe to your email list—your list provider will probably have a way to integrate this with your website. I’ll talk more about email lists and why they’re important next week.
Your website one of the foundation elements of your platform and of your passive marketing. While it’s a lot of work to build a website, the ongoing maintenance isn’t as difficult, as long as you set it up properly (and remember to keep all your themes and plugins updated, especially security plugins. I’ve learned that the hard way).
What does my website have to have?
Not a lot. You need:
To bring people into the site and introduce your brand.
To introduce you as the author, in order to engage with readers and begin to developing a relationship.
(Only once you actually have one, of course!)
Your Books page should include all your books. The general guide is to feature your newest books at the top of the page, but a series should always be presented in reading order.
To allow people to communicate with you.
This isn’t a page, but a form. Ideally, this should appear on every page, and should be a central feature of your Home page. We’ll talk more about email lists next week.
Other pages, such as a blog, media kit, reviews, and writing advice are all optional. Which makes it a lot easier to set up a professional author website, and a lot harder to find excuses as to why you can’t!
Many authors procrastinate about building an author website.
It’s too hard. It’s expensive. They don’t have time. I can relate—but I still managed to build an author site in a week using the fabulous 5-Day Challenge from Shannon Mattern at WP-BFF.com. (Click here to find out more.)
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