Walking the Tightrope: Where Do Authors Draw the Line in Expressing Political Views?

small house balanced on the edge of a buildingI’ve always recommended that authors refrain from discussing religion and politics in their social media and branding. In today’s fiercely competitive book market, aligning ourselves one way or another on political or religious issues can lead to lower sales, mainly because if a percentage of the reading population disagrees with our views, they most likely won’t follow us on social media or purchase our products.

 But the election of President Trump last November has changed the political landscape in drastic ways. Where before, stating political views could negatively impact sales, we now find ourselves with a growing majority who are outraged at the current administration’s policies and its handling of diplomacy. That outrage has sparked ongoing protests worldwide, where millions of people have risen up to declare their dissent and willingness to resist the current political climate in Washington.

 Also new is the growing power the resistance movement has found in ignoring Trump’s brand. When major retail leaders dropped Ivanka Trump’s clothing and shoe lines from their stores this week, those who do not support Trump stepped up their support of the retailers, and sales soared.

 Where before the Trump presidency it was judicious to maintain distance and equanimity concerning politics, the climate has changed to such a degree that we’re now finding that taking actions some view as political (as with the retailers who dumped Ivanka’s brand) can benefit sales. Those retailers who dropped the line claimed they did so because the line wasn’t selling. It was risky to drop a contentious and outspoken president’s daughter’s brand–these retailers must have known that the president, who seems to have little control over his responses to adverse situations, would react publicly (which he did by tweeting his dismay at what he considered to be unfair treatment of his daughter). But the stance by these retailers paid off in ways that many did not expect–sales lowered initially and then skyrocketed when anti-Trump Americans decided to show the retailers support for their decision by buying at those stores.

 So, given that being political can now influence sales, what does this mean for authors? And how do we in the publicity business advise our clients now that there’s a new normal for how consumers react when sellers share their views? How do those who feel strongly about the current administration express their views without driving off potential customers? And is it even a problem to lose those customers who don’t agree with our politics?

 These questions have surfaced strongly on social media, where friends, family, colleagues, and customers converge, and the new politics have created increasing divides among them. Many of us have watched as followers on social media threaten to unfollow us if we state our views, whatever they may be, too loudly or frequently. Many have drawn hard lines to followers regarding opinions–agree or be gone, they seem to say.

 As authors, when we lose followers, we lose business. Those who choose to follow our blogs and support our brand do so because we offer them something–information, entertainment, connectedness, or all three. If readers no longer follow us on social media, will they still buy our books? My sense is no–as this administration continues to divide America with its policies, I believe that we’ll see a corresponding division in sales. Those who agree with us and our views will support us and buy our books; those who don’t will boycott our offers and ignore future releases.

 For some authors, this tradeoff is worth it. Those who feel strongly about expressing their political views may feel that protecting our country and its democracy from what they see as an attempt to upend our basic freedoms is more important than offending those potential or current readers who don’t agree that the new administration is a threat to those rights.

 For me, it’s a difficult situation–supporting others who share my views is important, but so is maintaining distance from political rhetoric. There is also a professionalism component to all of this– if I indulge myself in rants about my political leanings, how am I serving those who read my blog posts and buy my books? Do they come there to hear my politics? Yes and no. For some, finding out that we’re on the same page politically is a good thing–my sense is that they will become stronger supporters of me and my work because we think alike. For others, the insertion of politics (and this goes for religion, too) into my branding as an author and publicist could be seen as self-serving or offensive–and those who disagree with me will not follow or buy.

 Given this new political paradigm where politics have become such an overwhelming factor in our lives, I would suggest that it’s up to individual authors whether to be political in their branding. As retailers like Nordstrom and TJ Maxx discovered, political action can have benefits. But there is also the reality that once you’ve identified your brand as leaning one way or another, you can never go back–existing and new customers will see which way you lean, and they will subsequently decide whether to support or shun you and your products based on those leanings.

 In the end, we are in a strange new world where politics and consumerism are colliding more than ever. As an author, being political may serve your social activism, but it most likely will also have an effect on your book sales. Still, many authors maintain that their brand is a reflection of who they are as individuals and being true to that sense of self is crucial given what’s at stake in our country’s politics. In today’s political climate, being true to ourselves and our political beliefs may be worth more to us than growing our book sales and, for now, that just might be okay.

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Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her by email at paula@paulamargulies.com, view her website at www.paulamargulies.com, contact her on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or say hello on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications.

 Photo credit: unsplash.com/photo=ob-hsLNxYPc 

Rising Above the Noise: What Authors Can Do to Make Themselves and Their Work Stand Out

Girl on snowy field jumping in the airIt’s a tough world for most authors. With so many books out there for readers to choose from, how can authors make themselves and their books stand out?

If you’re an author who feels stymied by a lack of exposure, here are a few suggestions to get you thinking about ways to rise above the crowd.

Share Your Enthusiasm

Passion is infectious–when someone deeply cares about something and is openly passionate about it, others can’t help but notice. In all your communications, whether it be a press release, a blog post, a Facebook post, a tweet, a comment on Goodreads to thank a reader, a panel appearance, or an individual speaking engagement–don’t be afraid to let your enthusiasm and passion for your book and its contents shine through. Let your energy channel through your voice–use strong verbs and bold adjectives in your writing, so that your readers feel the passion when they read your words. If you’re speaking, be excited, honest, and authentic–engage your audience by asking questions and answering with as much enthusiasm as you can muster. Your audience will feel your passion and respond in kind by buying your books, writing reviews, and acting as brand ambassadors for you when they help spread those all-important word-of-mouth endorsements of you and your book.

Jump on Opportunities

A former client called me this morning excited about a glowing review she recently received in the Los Angeles Times book section. She asked me how we could keep the momentum going, so we noodled on some possibilities together. The point is that getting good press isn’t the be-all and end-all for an author. You can and should use any media exposure you receive to your advantage: contact booksellers who may have passed before you got the coverage and ask them to shelve and promote your book, schedule a book tour with those bookstores, secure keynote and panel opportunities at conferences, contact other media who might be more interested in you now that there is some buzz about your book. The possibilities are endless– what’s important is that you use your current success to engender more of it.

Be Open

Vulnerability sells, especially in the blogosphere. Those authors wanting to connect with readers will find the most success if they’re willing to be honest about themselves, their flaws, and their failures. It’s not our natural inclination to present ourselves as weak or as having made mistakes–these types of admissions make us feel vulnerable, and we worry that we won’t be respected or liked, because of our peccadillos. But the most popular bloggers out there are so because they’re willing to bare all. We see their flaws and realize that we’re the same way. It’s almost like looking into a mirror–most of us feel safe when we see ourselves in others. We identify with the author’s pain, and when that happens, the connection is powerful.

Leave No Stone Unturned

The more exposure you have to readers out there, the more it’s likely that they will know you. If you sit at home in your office and pile up reasons why you can’t (or won’t) do certain marketing activities for your book, then the opportunities for exposure will be fewer. Marketing follows the law of averages–the more you do to tell others about your book, the more likely it is that you’ll get responses. For that reason, I urge authors to do everything they can to get the word out about their books. This includes activities such as participating in blog tours, scheduling book signings, meet-and-greets, and speaking engagements, writing a blog and posting regularly, writing articles for print and online publications, offering to guest post on others’ blogs, becoming a featured member of a blog, being active on social media, keeping books on hand in their cars, at work, or anywhere they may need them, handing out bookmarks to friends and business acquaintances, soliciting reviews from online reviewers, friends, colleagues, joining writing groups and meetups, attending and speaking at conferences, etc. The possibilities are endless and varied, and authors should take advantage of all of them to maximize exposure.

Tap the Media When Newsworthy

If you find that something in your book or your own life is a popular topic in the current news cycle, jump on the opportunity to introduce yourself to local and national media. Consider how your book or your platform would fit with a current news topic and create a press release and a Q&A around it. Share your idea with producers and editors and be ready to send them back up material–your press release, a headshot, the book cover art, and your Q&A. Timeliness is the key–the news cycles can be short, so be diligent in reading and listening to news outlets so you can take advantage of any opportunities that may appear.

Explore Ideas with Others

Don’t try to go it alone. There are lots of writers out there, and while having so many other authors vying for readership sounds like competition, it can actually be a good thing. Most other authors face the same issues you do, and for that reason, many are a fertile gold mine of resources. Time to plum that mother lode! Read blogs and articles by the experts and those authors whose stars are on the rise. Set up meetings with fellow authors to discuss marketing ideas and share opportunities. Work together on joint events. Or create your own events. Again, the possibilities are limitless, and the more you exchange ideas with others, the more you’ll discover some golden nuggets worth exploring.

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Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her by email at paula@paulamargulies.com, view her website at www.paulamargulies.com, contact her on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or say hello on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications.

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/Eax7a3sVHAw

Not For Everyone: How to Identify Your Specific Target Audience

B&W Photo Old Cars in ParadeI once had a potential client tell me that his book–a coffee-table nonfiction guide focused on an obscure group of collectible items–was a book that would be read by everyone.

I asked him, “Why would anyone who isn’t interested in collecting these items pick it up?”

He had no answer for that, and for good reason: not everyone is interested in collectibles.

Likewise, not everyone will be interested in one author’s romantic historical, or another author’s YA fantasy, or another author’s memoir about growing up in Italy during WWII, or another author’s nonfiction book on leadership skills. Yes, there will be readers of each of those genres, but not all readers are interested in all books.

Most authors are passionate about their work, which is probably the reason that so many believe that their books are going to be sought-after and read by a lot of people. But this just isn’t the case. There is usually a very specific (and very narrow) group of people who will actually want to read the book you’ve written. And, believe it or not, this is a good thing. Why? Because having a specific target–a niche market, if you will–for your work allows you to zero in on those readers. The more specific the group is, the more it becomes definable, and the more easily authors can begin to target and reach their readers.

So How Do You Identify Your Target Audience?

One of the best ways to identify potential readers who would specifically like your book is to take a look in the mirror. Are you a reader of the type of book you’ve written? If so, especially if you’re passionate about and/or an expert on the topic, chances are your own personal description is a good reflection of the type of person who would buy and/or read your book.

But what if you’ve written a book for someone who isn’t like you? Then it’s up to you to identify your readers according to their personal makeup (demographics) and their interests and activities (psychographics).

In either case, the best way to identify your audience is to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are the readers of my book most likely to be male or female? Or would both genders like it?
  • How old are they?
  • How educated are they?
  • What are they approximately willing to pay for a book?
  • If they’re children who can’t buy books themselves, who would be buying books for them?
  • Are they likely to be a regional audience or worldwide?
  • What are their hobbies and interests?
  • What television shows do they watch?
  • What radio stations do they listen to?
  • What internet sites do they visit?
  • Are they library readers or book buyers?
  • And so on. The more you can define your readers, the more likely you’ll know where to find them, and where to spend your time and money promoting your work.

Even after you’ve identified your target audience, that doesn’t mean that all of those within your target group will buy. Some readers only read books by certain authors, while others only buy books in a series. Some buy from only one source, while others will look for certain specific types of books in the genre you’ve written. So, managing your expectations realistically becomes an important part of selling to your target audience. Most likely, you will be able to reach a certain percentage of your audience, and a certain percentage within that group will actually buy the book.

Even so, knowing who your audience is will help you decide where to promote the book. If your target audience is young and active online, then having an interactive website, an active blog, and promoting on social media sites may be the focus of your publicity efforts. A blog tour or articles and posts on targeted online sites may be the best way to reach this particular group.

If you write genre fiction, you’re lucky—there are often specific blog sites, library reading groups, conferences, etc., where your genre readers cluster. Seek out those venues, both online and in person, to introduce yourself to readers and let them know about your books.

Nonfiction authors will often find that there are specific outlets for their work depending on the topic they’ve written about. Self-help authors will often find readers in workshops, college classes, therapy groups, meetups, and other places where readers go to learn about the topics. Those venues provide good opportunities to meet with readers based on their interests. Sometimes, nonfiction topics lend themselves to presentations at professional organizations or conferences on the topic. There are also online opportunities to write articles and posts for online publications and blogs that allow guest posts. And an author’s own blog is a powerful tool to both develop a platform and market to readers who seek information on a particular nonfiction topic.

Photo Credit: nos.twnsnd.co/image/149750899946

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Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her by email at paula@paulamargulies.com, at her website at www.paulamargulies.com, on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications

Book Promotion – Make It a Labor of Love

butterfly-june2

When I told my husband I wanted to put a butterfly garden in our backyard last summer, he looked at me with his typical patient expression and said, “Sure, why not?”

Please realize that, at the time, neither of us knew jack about butterflies or what to plant in this type of garden. But when we finally removed a large strip of overgrown mock orange shrubs in our yard last year, we knew it was time to do our part for the planet and provide a safe space where threatened insects like monarch butterflies and bees could roam free of pesticides and predators.

We tilled the soil, read up on nectaring and host plants that butterflies like, listened to the experts at a local butterfly farm, planted, and then waited and watched as our first group of caterpillars emerged.

We learned a few things during that first summer: that monarch caterpillars will eat our milkweed plants to the ground, that most caterpillars don’t make it to the chrysalis stage, that even those that do make it are sometimes attacked by predators like tachinid flies, wasps, and lizards, and that when a single caterpillar makes it to the chrysalis stage, it’s something of a miracle.

Our first summer, we had a few butterflies visit our garden. None of our caterpillars survived.

But we didn’t give up. Instead, we lovingly tended our garden through the winter, nurturing the existing plants, replacing those that were too damaged or thinned out, getting additional advice from the experts at the butterfly farm, and adding new plants to make the garden more inviting to butterflies.

This summer, in our second year of butterfly gardening, we’ve had multiple butterflies visit the garden daily. Caterpillars have appeared on a regular basis, eating their way through our milkweed and fennel plants, and a few of them have already successfully transformed into beautiful butterflies.

If I’ve learned anything while putting this garden together, it’s that it doesn’t take a lot of initial knowledge to try something new. And with a little research, effort, patience, guidance, and love, we can be successful in our endeavors.

I like to remind my publicity clients, especially those who lament that they know nothing about promotion, that these same gardening values – research, effort, patience, guidance,  and, yes, love – can help them to be successful in their book marketing efforts. Initially, the first attempt at promoting may include a learning curve, where the response may not be great, readers may not come in droves, reviews may be thin or grudging, and sales may be slow to non-existent.

But the next time you promote a book, you’ve learned some things about yourself, your writing, and what works and what doesn’t when you promote. You make adjustments, adding new material, asking experts (like publicists!) for advice, considering new avenues for marketing, and learning more about the process.

And then, the next time you do it, everything changes – that first group of readers and reviewers remembers you and buys your new book, reviews start to come in a little quicker, speaking appearances are easier to book, bloggers offer you spots on their pages, opportunities for marketing begin to broaden, and promotion and publicity gets easier. If you are dedicated and take what you’ve learned to heart, the results can be astonishing.

Like creating a butterfly garden, promoting a book is a labor of love. The first time around may be disappointing. But when authors are willing to put in the hard work and be open to learning, to making adjustments, and to loving the process, the groundwork set during the first effort pays off.  With research, energy, patience, good guidance and a whole lot of love, your book publicity efforts will thrive.

double-trouble

Photo credit: Paula Margulies

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Paula Margulies is a book publicity and promotions expert in San Diego, California. You can reach her by email at paula@paulamargulies.com, at her website at www.paulamargulies.com, on Twitter at @PaulaMargulies, or on Facebook at Paula Margulies Communications