How to Sell More Self-Published Books by Creating Online Events

I’ve blogged before about how running author events can help you sell your books (and how attending other people’s events can give you ideas for your own), but this week I’m focusing on events based online. One of the great things about online events is that people can join in from all over the world – and if you make them sufficiently inspiring, they will!

The author Satya Robyn, Fiona

The writer formerly known as Fiona (as Prince might say)

A great example of an online author event is Satya Robyn‘s recent “What I Live For” online event. She staged it to draw attention to the change in her author name. Formerly known as Fiona Robyn , she changed her first name to Satya when she became a Buddhist priest.

In these days of search engines, changing your name is a brave decision, because by doing so you discard the visibility you’ve built up from searches on your previous name. In her blog, Satya referred to her name change as “the worst commercial decision I ever made” – yet she needed to adopt her new name for writing in order to feel true to herself. My respect for Fiona’s decision was one of the many reasons that I decided to take part in Satya’s online event – and I’m very glad I did. For me, as a writer, it was an enriching, heartwarming experience. For Satya – well, it made me (and many others) buy her book and take notice of her full back catalogue. I also helped her spread the word by telling other friends about her event and linking to it from a “What I Live For” post on my personal blog. I also read, reviewed and recommended her book Thaw (at the heart of the event) to friends.

I’m therefore very pleased that Satya has agreed to join me at Off The Shelf today to answer my questions about her event. I’m sure it will inspire you to create your own.

Debbie: Welcome to Off The Shelf, Satya! To set the scene for our conversation, can you please describe exactly what your What I Live For event was?

Satya: I invited people to write about what they lived for on a specific date (May 10, 2013) on their blogs, or on Facebook or on Twitter or wherever they wanted to. I compiled a list of links to participants on my blog, but many more people took part than I had a record of.

Debbie: What I Live For was the first of your online events that I’ve taken part in, but was it the first you’ve ever done?

Satya: I’ve done plenty! I did my first blogsplash in 2009 when hundreds of bloggers published the first page of Ruth’s diary (from my novel Thaw) on the same day. I also organised an online event for Small Kindnesses and The Most Beautiful Thing. With my husband Kaspa we’ve also curated three ‘Mindful Writing Challenges’ where people have written a small stone (a short observational piece) every day for the month of January.

Cover of Thaw by Satya RobynDebbie: Why did you choose Thaw as the focus of the event rather than any of your other books?

Satya: I thought that, of the books in my back catalogue, Thaw was the most likely to stick in people’s minds – to be the one that readers were most likely to recommend to someone else.

Debbie: How many people took part, and, of those, how many were writers?

Satya: I think around 40 people took part – maybe a quarter to a half were writers.

Debbie: How many countries did your campaign reach?

Satya: Mostly the US, UK and Canada, and a sprinkling from Europe and elsewhere.

Debbie: How much time went into preparing for the event and running it on the day?

Satya: Maybe 30 hours.

Debbie: That sounds like an extremely effective investment of time. I suspect the effect was much more long-lasting than the day itself – do you agree?

Satya: It’s hard to know. On the internet these days, things seem to be ‘now or never’. When we post a blog, we’ll get a lot of clicks in that moment, but then that dramatically goes down. But I’m also sure that the event will live on in people’s minds too.

Debbie: Although the event was created to promote your name change rather than to sell books, any author is going to welcome extra sales! How did the event affect your sales of Thaw? Did the effect radiate to your other books?

Satya: I did see an increase in sales, but not dramatic – maybe sold 100 extra copies. There was a negligible effect on my other books.

Cover of Small Kindnesses by Satya RobynDebbie: I suspect there will continue to be positive ripples from the event for a long time to come (e.g. this interview!)  What mechanism was the main driver of the event – your website, Facebook, Twitter, any other social media, or was it a mixture of all of these?

Satya: A mixture of Facebook and Twitter as usual – combined with our newsletter.

Debbie: Did the event achieve all that you hoped for?

Satya: The results felt mixed. There was some beautiful writing on the day which moved me greatly, and people got a lot out of it. This was a success. The event had less effect on my sales than I hoped for, and I think this is because I didn’t tie in the event closely enough with the book.

Debbie: I really enjoyed writing my response to What I Live For and I had many lovely comments about my post from readers. I was also very affected by some of other participants’ posts. It seemed a shame that the event was over so quickly and we all went our separate ways again. Did you consider compiling the many contributions into something more lasting e.g. an e-book, or would that have broken the spell? (And I think spell is the right word, because it was a very magical event.)

Satya: Thank you, Debbie. It would have been a nice idea to do an e-book – but my time is very tight and I need to make sure I get my current novel finished…

Debbie: The event impressed me as a wonderfully innovative and generous way of promoting your new name, because it spread so much warmth and allowed  others to share your stage and the glory. Is that approach a product of your Buddhist faith and way of life?

Satya: I think my Buddhist faith helps to point me in the direction of this kind of offering-to-the-world. I’ve also been influenced by many teachers and writers over my lifetime. Spreading warmth always feels good!

Debbie: Dropping into my inbox just the other day was an invitation to another of your events – a 31 Days of Joy email campaign. Is this kind of collaborative programme the way forward for your writing now, or will you continue to write conventional(ish!) books and publish them as before?

Satya: I have two (well, at least three!) separate lines of work – as a writer (writing novels and non-fiction), as co-owner of the Mindful Writing company Writing Our Way Home (which runs mindful writing courses, including the new one on Joy) and as a psychotherapist in private practice.

Debbie: Writing on your blog before the event, you referred to changing your name as “making a terrible commercial decision (and being glad)”. I have an inkling that actually it’s been a great opportunity for you to raise awareness of a book whose launch had already come and gone. It also made people examine who you are – and admire your courage and commitment, both as a writer and a buddhist. So – are you still glad, or has it proven to be a terrible commercial decision?

Cover of The Most Beautiful Thing by Satya Robyn Satya: Thanks Debbie! I don’t think the decision has meant that I’ve lost out financially – my best selling novel The Most Beautiful Thing is still selling just as many as it was. We just uploaded a new cover onto the current slot on Amazon. Most people who knew me as Fiona now know me as Satya, and new readers don’t need to know!

Debbie: Apart from your 31 Days of Joy programme, what else is coming up in your writing life this year that we should look out for?

Satya: I’ll finish my new novel at some point this year – yet to be named. We run two e-courses every month, details here. And we’ll have another Mindful Writing Day on November 11th this year.

Debbie: Thank you, Satya, for that fascinating insight into the process of setting up a promotional online event – and I look forward to reading your new novel when it’s ready!

Further Reading


2 thoughts on “How to Sell More Self-Published Books by Creating Online Events

  1. Thank you for this interesting interview. I’ve been following Fiona, and more recently Satya, for a while and it’s nice to find out more and learn about her philosophy.

    I’m also standing back in admiration of the gorgeous book covers – they have such a lovely gentle look, drawing the viewer in and enticing them to want to read on (and they firmly establish a Satya Robin ‘brand’ with their consistency – instantly recognisable!).

    • Thanks, Helen. I was really pleased to have the excuse to quiz Satya! I agree with you about the beautiful book covers (designed by her husband, apparently – what a team!) Although I read “Thaw” on my Kindle, I really want to collect all the paperbacks now, as they will look fabulous on my bookshelves! I’m acquiring an impressive collection of self-published books with beautiful covers, not least many books that your company SilverWood has published!

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