“Selling My Books”: The New Guest Slot for Self-publishing Authors

My favourite book promotion tip of the moment is to write guest posts on other authors’ blogs, especially when a specific theme is called for.

Writing posts on other people’s blogs may not immediately help indie authors sell more books, but it will:

  • raise your profile as an author
  • build name recognition
  • open up valuable new networking opportunities

Guest posts also give you the opportunity to place more inbound links back to your own website, encouraging search engines to give your site higher priority.

But it’s not just the guest who benefits:

  • Blog hosts gain new, fresh copy to supplement their own posts
  • They also gain new followers and friends that the guest blogger brings with them to the site via social media sharing of their guest post.

Here are three examples of themed guest post strands on very different websites. All are beautifully presented and branded, each readily identifiable at a glance.

Lindsay Stanberry Flynn’s “Why I Write” Series

Cover of The Piano Player's Son by Linsday Stanberry-FlynnNovelist Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn has just completed an eight-part series of guest posts under the banner “Why I Write”, spanning the first two months of 2014.

Lindsay is a gifted writer and writing coach whom I met online some time ago. A friendship formed across the ether in which we shared advice, moral support and humour, and we also often hook up via the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), to which we both belong, and whose blog of self-publishing advice I edit.  Our online connection leapt off the screen and into real life when last autumn Lindsay kindly invited me to the official launch of her second novel, The Piano Player’s Son, published by Cinnamon Press (Lindsay won her contract as a prize in their novel-writing competition!)

Lindsay specialises in novels about families in turmoil, following familial disharmony. Given my propensity to favour Pollyanna scenarios with happy endings, they’re not the kind of book I’d normally plump for, but I found both this book and her debut novel, Unravelling, gripping and fulfilling reading.

And her book launch was a joy, interspersing readings with live music and performance poetry, in a striking old hall in the centre of Worcester. On this memorable night, a cabaret of entertainment played to a packed house, whose audience snapped up copies of both of Lindsay’s books from the sales table as they left. I’ve reviewed both of Lindsay’s books on Amazon and Goodreads, where you’ll find them for sale as ebooks and paperbacks.

When novelist Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn invited me to be a guest on her blog in her new series called “Why I Write”, I jumped at the chance. You can read my guest post here:

“Why I Write”~7 – Debbie Young

The Alliterative Allomorph with Jessica Bell

Cover of String Bridge by Jessica Bell

One of Jessica’s many published works

Another  regular guest blog feature that I enjoy is Jessica Bell’s, gloriously titled! I met Jessica via the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), to which we both belong, and we’ve become good friends, though not yet met in person. I’m excited to be joining her Homeric Writers’ Retreat on the idyllic Greek island of Ithaca in August –  find out more about that here: www.homericwriters.com.

I’ve now featured twice on The Alliterative Allomorph, in which Jessica encourages her guests to sound off about whatever aspect of the writing life is currently on their mind.

Disparate authors follow each other, week after week, often with not much in common other than their passion for what they do, and the mix works well. You never quite know what’s coming next – just that it’ll be a stimulating read. Here’s an example of one of my guest posts on Jessica’s blog:

Why I Used To Feel Sorry for Tolstoy – and Why I’m Over It Now

The Undercover Soundtrack with Roz Morris

Cover of Roz Morris's novelOne of the great benefits of having a regular guest post series on your blog is that readers who stop by to read one may find themselves hooked and make a regular date with your blog to see who writes what next. This certainly happens for Roz Morris (another ALLi chum) with her now legendary blog slot, The Undercover Soundtrack.

The Undercover Soundtrack is the author’s answer to that long-running BBC radio series, Desert Island Discs (which I adore). This blog slot gives authors the opportunity to share thoughts about the music that inspires and informs their work. I’m sure it must encourage readers to discover and explore new writers, as well as to read Roz’s own novel on a musical theme, My Memories of a Future Life.

Strange – and pleasingly neat – how all three of the authors’ novels shown here share a musical connection! Jessica’s isn’t clear from the cover, so I should point out that String Bridge is about a guitarist and comes with its own soundtrack, written and performed by the author, who is also a talented musician. Wow!

My New Weekly Guest Slot

For the reasons I’ve outlined above, I’m pleased now to be launching a regular guest slot here on Off The Shelf. It will be called “Selling My Books: (Author’s Name)’s Top Tip for Book Promotion” and it will appear every Wednesday. Kicking it off next Wednesday (19th March 20014) will be the Canadian author Francis Guenette, whose two novels Disappearing in Plain Sight and Finding the Light just blew me away. I first came across Fran via Twitter and was really pleased when she joined ALLi, opening up more opportunities for us to network to our mutual benefit.

After Fran’s post, I’ve got a substantial list of guests lined up. If you’re a self-published author and would like to share YOUR top tip for book promotion, please message me via the contact form with a summary of the tip that you’d like to write about, and we’ll take it from there.

And if you run a regular guest slot on YOUR blog with a specific theme, please feel free to post a link in the comments section so we can all hop over to have a look at it!

If you’re a writer and you’re not yet a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), the nonprofit organisation for professional self-published authors, check it out – the ease it offers of making great author friends is just one of many benefits of membership. Aspiring authors are welcome to join, as well as those who have already self-published books! To find out more, please use this handy link to the ALLi website so they’ll know I’ve sent you!

How to Use Guest Posts to Sell More Books – A Practical Demonstration

Image used for Jessica Bell's guest blog spot

Image from the guest spot on Jessica Bell’s blog

I’ve blogged before about how guest blog posts can help you raise your visibility and so sell more of your books, whether you’re host or guest.  I’m pleased to share with you now a practical example of how I’ve just been featured as a guest blogger on author and writing coach Jessica Bell’s Alliterative Allomorph treasure trove of a blog.

A Great Example of Hosting Guest Bloggers

Jessica hosts a different guest blogger every Wednesday, under the subtitle “The Artist Unleashed”. Her brief to her guests is simply to produce copy that will inspire and inform other writers. The result: a wide range of posts on different aspects of writing.

The regularity and diversity of these guest posts, and the professionalism with which Jess runs it (specific guidelines re deadlines, word count, comment policy, etc), makes hers an excellent example of how guest blogging benefits host and guest:

  • Her regular readers, many of whom have never heard of me, now have
  • I’m sending Jessica’s way regular readers from my Off The Shelf Book Promotions blog, and from my personal YoungByName blog too, exposing them not only to my guest post but to news of Jessica’s poetry, novels and writing guides too

How I Wrote My Guest Post

When I realised how many accomplished writers Jess had already hosted on her site, I thought “This will be a hard act to follow.”  And that thought was my jumping off point for my post – a bit of fun in which I consider Victorian literary greats and wonder how they coped without the modern writer’s high-tech tools. My conclusions may surprise you. Here’s my opening line:

“Sorry for Tolstoy?” I hear you cry. Why should a little-known writer with zero published novels to her name pity the author of one of the world’s longest and greatest works of fiction?

Find out Why I Used to Feel Sorry for Tolstoy (and Why I’m Over It Now) by clicking here to hop over to The Alliterative Allomorph.

Jessica Bell As A Guest on My Blog

You might also like to read the interview I hosted here on Off The Shelf  with Jessica a little while ago.

Some of My Other Posts About Writing

If you’re interested in reading more of my posts about writing, as a writer rather than a book promoter, try these for size, all published on my personal YoungByName blog:

The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

Writing on the Run

Flash Fiction for Summer Lightning


How to Sell More Books: Diversify – with Guest Author Jessica Bell

Juggling balls

It takes balls to juggle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One way to raise your profile as a writer is to diversify, especially if you are self-publishing your work or being published by a small independent press. As I’ve said in a previous post, the best way to sell more books is to write more books – but that doesn’t mean you should focus solely on writing those books. It’s also worth seeking other ways in which to get your name before readers. This is especially true for self-published and independently published writers, who do not have the presence or klout of a big name publishing house behind them.

I’ve often heard writers dismiss certain networking opportunities such as Twitter by saying “But I don’t want to network only with writers, I want to reach only readers”. This irks me:

  • firstly because any writer who is not also a reader is not worthy of the title of writer
  • secondly, networking with writers not only refines your writing skills but also enables you to share best practice for reaching readers

If that’s how networkophobes want to play it, that’s their loss, but personally, I practise what I preach. I juggle all kinds of writing-related activities, not only writing short fiction (my first love) and blogging (a close second), but also creating WordPress websites for authors, writing about book promotion (see my handbook for the self-published author, Sell Your Books!, and reviewing every indie author’s book that I read.

Like most authors, I also have a day-job (part-time, in my case), working for a fabulous children’s reading charity, Readathon. Even better if you can engineer your day-job to feed into your writing. I’m lucky: in my world, all roads lead to books.

Meet a Master of Multi-Tasking, Jessica Bell

Head and shoulders of the author Jessica Bell

The ultimate multi-tasking writer, Jessica Bell

When I encountered the versatile and multi-tasking Jessica Bell on the fab Facebook forum of the Alliance of Independent Authors, I felt as if I’d met a kindred spirit. I was also hugely envious of her location: Greece, where she alternates between her base in Athens and her writing retreat workshops on the Ionian island of Ithaca. As well as writing fiction and non-fiction, poetry and songs, she pens articles for literary magazines, is co-editor of Vine Leaves, and writes and edits for English Language Training companies all over the world.  Jessica’s most recent publication is the latest in her Nutshell series of mini writing guides for authors.

With all that going on in her life (when does she ever sleep?!) she is an object lesson in how diversifying writing-related activities enables an author to reach a wider readership than if she focused solely on her novels and poetry. I was delighted that she could find time to join me here to talk about her lifestyle.

Q) Jessica, I thought Sell Your Books! was slim, but the books in your Nutshell series are positively snack size, resembling a partwork magazine. Personally, I find this a really practical format for authors who want to improve their craft but have no time or energy to read a big tome about it. (What author doesn’t comfort-buy bigger style guides that never get opened or acted upon? Just like recipe books and diet guides!) But why did you take this approach rather than combining all the tips into a single book?

A) You know how in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, she says that in order not to be overwhelmed, a writer needs to focus on short assignments? She refers to the one-inch picture frame on her desk and how that little picture frame reminds her to focus on bite-sized pieces of the whole story. Basically, if you focus on one small thing at a time, the story will eventually come together to create a whole. I believe the same applies to learning the craft of writing. If writers focus on one aspect of the craft at a time, the process will seem less daunting and piece by piece it will come together.

Cover image of Adverbs & Cliches in a Nutshell by Jessica BellQ) Will you combine them into a single volume once you’re done, or will this be an ongoing series ad infinitum?

A) The plan is to release one book every six months, and I’m hoping to write at least six, so it will be a while yet before there is a single volume. But once they’re all written and released, yes, a box set is definitely an option I’ll be exploring. But that could be another two years away. We’ll see.

Q) I was slightly surprised that you’d grouped adverbs and clichés together. Like all careful writers, I avoid clichés like the plague (ho ho) but hadn’t considered adverbs to be necessarily (oops!) undesirable. Are they really equal crimes of laziness?

A) Before I answer this, writers need to understand that they aren’t always going to be a problem. You don’t need to go overboard trying to eliminate every single adverb in your manuscript. Because sometimes, they just work. Same with clichés. They serve a purpose. Especially in dialogue. Of course, it also depends a lot on your character’s voice. Because they come naturally, we frequently utilize them in everyday speech (see?). But in fiction, too many adverbs weaken prose. It’s considered “lazy writing,” because it means we don’t have to show what’s happening.

If your manuscript has too many adverbs, it most likely means that the emotion you felt while writing it is not going to translate to the reader in the same way. Because the way in which one experiences things isn’t always the same as the next person. As writers, it’s your duty to make readers experience your story from a unique point of view. Your point of view. Adverbs stunt this.

Q) I loved the hands-on format of the book, prescribing set exercises for the reader, each sample to be read and considered four times, in four different ways. Is this the sort of activity you include in your writing retreats? If so, did the books evolve from your experience of running the retreats? If not, where did you get the idea for this format?

A) No, this idea didn’t come from the retreats. I make a living as an editor/writer of English Language Teaching materials for various publishers worldwide, so I guess “breaking down” the language is a technique I’m used to incorporating in ELT lessons. It’s effective there, so I thought, surely it’s going to be effective with fiction too.

Q) Can you tell me the themes of the next books you have planned in this series?

A) I haven’t finalized all my topics yet, because I need to start writing to see which ones lend themselves well to this format. But my list of possible topics include: superfluous words, crafting natural dialogue, subtext and conflict, weaving in relevant back-story, chapter endings, characterization, avoiding stereotypes, making setting count, using the six senses.

Q) Are you promoting each book in the series in the same way or, if not, what have you learned from the earlier launch that has made you launch this one in a different way?

A) Yes, I think I’ll stick to my current marketing plan. Seems to be working well. The only different thing I’m doing this time around is encouraging virtual tour participants to interview me in real time on Facebook and Twitter. I think it’s fun to follow a conversation as it gives people an opportunity to actually engage and interact, rather than just leave a comment on a blog and not really know if I’ll respond. Though I do try my best to respond to everyone!

Q) Turning now to questions about your career, I’m impressed by the diversity of your writing activities and by your energy. Just reading the list of the links in the footer of your email is exhausting! Did you set out to formulate this “portfolio career” approach, or has it just evolved? In what order did they accumulate?

A)  Haha, no I did not set out for the long list. I just had some ideas and wanted to bring them into fruition. My mother always said, if there’s a will there’s a way. (Hey, look, cliché!) If I want something enough, I do it. Full stop. There’s no such thing as failure in my vocabulary. There’s try. And try again. I can’t really remember in what order they happened. I think all my ideas started to come together at once!

Q) How do these activities feed off each other or cross-fertilise?

A) Well, they’re all writing related, so I do try to link them together on occasion. One recent example is the vignette contest my literary journal ran for the chance to win a scholarship to the writing retreat I run. Nice smooth connection there. And both organizations benefit.

Q) I envy you your locations—Athens & Ithaca. How do those settings affect and influence your work? Do you speak Greek and, if so, do you find yourself using more words that originate from Greek? (I once did evening classes in Greek and used to holiday there before I had my daughter, sailing round the Ionian, often mooring on Ithaca, and I loved discovering the Greek roots of English words.)

 A) There is a lot about Greece in my debut novel, String Bridge, but I have to say that Greece had already started to influence me when I was a kid. I must have been about eleven. I remember sitting on a rock by the sea in a little place called Monemvasia. I was so inspired by my surroundings that I needed a way to express it. This is when I started writing poetry. In the end (well, beginning), Greece is what sparked my passion for words.

Also, I would never have got my first job as an editor if I hadn’t moved here. As I said above, I make a living as an editor/writer of English Language Teaching materials. There is no need for this sort of thing in an English speaking country. So I guess, I have Greece to thank for giving me the opportunity to pursue this career path. If I had have remained in Australia, I probably would have focused more on my music.

Yes, I do speak Greek. But it can get a bit rusty at times. Mainly because I work all day with English that I hardly have the chance to use it. Regarding Greek words, um … I don’t think so. Unless I’m hungry. 🙂

Q) Your poems and fiction are gaining more readership and recognition. To what extent has this been fuelled by your other writing-related activities? (I’m trying not to use the clichés “author platform” and “greater than the sum of the parts” here!)

A) I believe that all these writing-related activities mean that I need to be online quite a lot. As a result, I’ve become visible, to quite some extent, through social media. And to be honest, I couldn’t live without it. I’m quite isolated being an English writer in a non-English speaking country, and I need to promote my work to the English-speaking world.

The key to social networking, though, is to engage in conversations, interact with your audience. Saying, “buy my book, it’s great” all the time, isn’t going to sell it. But saying “hey, what do you think about blah blah blah?” and actually eliciting opinions from others, means you are saying something that people are interested in. And if they’re interested in what you’re saying online, then it’s likely they are going to investigate you further. It’s a long process, and hard work. But it certainly pays off.

How’s this for statistics? I’ve been blogging and engaging in social media, pretty much every single day, since March 2010. And only this year, three years later, have I started to see true results. It takes effort, persistence, stamina, but most of all love and passion. Because this ‘being visible’, (and let’s sign off with a good old cliché, hey?) doesn’t happen overnight!

Juggling balls

No caption required 😉 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks again, Jessica, for sharing so many inspirational tips and lessons, and best of luck not only with your latest Nutshell book but with all your many literary undertakings!

To find out more about Jessica Bell, including her latest Nutshell book, please visit her website: www.jessicabellauthor.com

To read my review of Adverbs and Clichés in a Nutshell, please click here.

To network with other writers via the Alliance of Independent Authors, click the yellow and gold rosette in the sidebar on the right of this page.