Rachel Thompson from Bad Redhead Media talks Book Marketing
In the podcast Rachel talks about the secrets of creating best selling books for herself and her clients.
Rachel Thompson is a writer and social media/branding expert. The author of the award winning Broken Places & Broken Pieces, Rachel is also the founder of BadRedhead Media – where she provides book marketing services backed up with 2 decades of sales and marketing experience.
a brave, moving piece of writing–for all those who want to better understand the world we live in, and ourselves. – Kamy Wicoff (on Broken Places)
Check out Rachel’s writers blog Rachel in The OC
In episode 25 of the eBook Revolution we talk to Rachel Thompson about book marketing. Listen to the episode to discover:
- Why you should brand the author not the book
- Why blogging is critical for writers
- Why fake people don’t buy real books
- How Pinterest is great for writers
- Why you should always work with a professional designer
- Why you should guest post to build your platform
- How the mechanics of book marketing are the same for fiction or non-fiction
- The techniques she’s used to make all of her books (and her clients) best sellers.
Today’s show is sponsored by Amazon Success Toolkit. Self-publishing expert Tracy Atkins has created an amazing set of tools and methods you can use to publish and optimize your book on Amazon—the right way. Updated for 2019.
Rachel Thompson owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, Feminine Collective, IndieReader.com, The Verbs on Medium, Vocal Media, Mogul.com, and several other publications. Connect with Rachel at RachelintheOC.com or BadRedheadMedia.com.
You can connect with Rachel on Twitter here
Transcript of Interview
What’s the background of Rachel Thompson?
You know, basically, I kind of run the gamut of being an independent author. Then I worked for booktrope, which was a hybrid publisher. And then I was signed by an agent and a small publishing company and now I’m back to self publishing. So I’ve kind of done all of it and then my business is helping authors with establishing their author platform. I work with all kinds of different authors doing that more of the social media side of it and the visibility as opposed to doing PR – I don’t really do that.
So tell me a bit more about BadRedhead Media. How did that all come about?
Well, I basically took what I learned, having worked in Big Pharma marketing, sales and training and when I left that world, I focused on my family and then I was just itching to get into writing, because I just had suppressed my creative side for so long and so I started blogging and self publishing was just really becoming super popular. This was about 10 years ago about and so I just really kind of got involved in Twitter, and this was about 2009 – Facebook – and I was starting to write my own books and it just sort of came together. And so I was sort of pulled into helping other people as well as understanding myself how to utilize blogging and websites and social media as a way to get the word out for our own books, as well as helping each other in a sort of online, word of mouth, because that is really, even to this day, what sells books is word of mouth. It’s just that we’re not in front of each other. We now we now have the internet.
So how can we utilize that? It was just more me just putting together what I enjoyed out of working in Big Pharma and what I didn’t enjoy and learning how to utilize that and eventually, so many people were asking me to help them because I guess I was good at it and I really love Twitter – that still to me is is my most enjoyable social media channel. I thought, you know, okay, I might as well get paid for my time. So I hung my shingle out in 2011 and that’s, you know, the rest is history. I started out busy and now I’m 100 miles an hour, I’ve got an assistant, I’ve got 10 full time clients, I try to do no more than 10 because most clients need me managing all of their social media. I don’t do straight blogs, but I do optimise their blogs for SEO, (Search Engine Optimization). Many writers, including myself when I first started out, had no idea what that meant. So I wrote a little book that people can download it off of Amazon, it’s just a 99 cents, how to optimize your blog posts for SEO because it’s a whole language that Google needs to find your posts, and then get them ranked. So a lot of people are writing blog posts every day, but if they’re not optimising them correctly, they’ll never get, you know, higher ranking with Google, so that’s one of the things that I do help with, you know, help my clients do. And I also do promotional stuff for them and you know, just a lot of things that writers don’t have the time to do or really don’t have the knowledge about how to get their books out there. That’s really what I’m focused on for them.
Your core areas are around author branding, book marketing and social media for authors. Talking about author branding. Why do you think author branding is so important ?
It is a topic that tends to confuse a lot of new writers in particular, because they want to just talk about their book, ‘my book, my book, my book’, and a lot of times I see people who will buy a domain, for example, with the title of their book and actually, that’s not a bad idea, I actually tell people go ahead and do that. However, really what we want to do overall, because hopefully, you’re making this a career and you’re going to write more than one book, is brand yourself
That sounds really funny, but I’ll explain that in a minute. For example, you want to have a you know, Geoff Hughes dot com or you know, Rachel Thompson dot com and the reason for that is, you know, you’ll write another book, and then another book or a series of books. So we want people to identify our name as opposed to you know, ‘what was that book called what was that series?’ and the other thing too is we may be very excited about this one particular book but what happens two years from now, when we’re working on something entirely new, then all of those, you know, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages and Pinterest boards and everything will get shoved to the side to be lost forever. So it’s really important that we focus on who we are as writers, because we’re three dimensional people. And people are very interested in in who we are, and not just why we write and what we write, but the experiences we’ve had and what drives us and what we’re passionate about and, you know, just authentically, what makes us interesting, and sure, they want to know about your books, of course, that we’re writers and we write books that’s part of our branding. We don’t ignore it. And we want people to know where they can purchase our books and and we want to build those groups of super fans but you know, it’s all just a big soup is how I refer to it, but it’s very strategically cooked.
A lot of writers get told they should go out and develop their writer’s platform and that’s basically what you’re talking about and that can be pretty daunting to get started. What’s your advice to self published writers who want to get started with building a platform? How should they go about it?
I do a weekly book marketing chat every Wednesday at six o’clock pacific time, not sure what that would be for you Australia time. But it’s every week and that happens to be our topic tonight is ‘what is an author platform’. So it’s really timely that we’re actually talking about this. And basically what I just said is I always start with branding, whether I’m working with a client or writing a blog post, pretty much, you have to know what your branding is. So always start with your name, right? We brand the author, not the book. That will apply in 99% of the cases.
Now, once in a while, you might have something that takes off like, Harry Potter, for example, but for the most part, you start with your brand and you start with your name. Then you want to make sure that you, you basically build out from there. I use the analogy of cooking a soup. Some people say planks of a platform, because it’s easy to remember that if you’re building a deck, you can’t stand on a deck if there’s only one plank, you want to have all of the different planks in place. So people can think of that visually. You want to put the different points in place. So one plank is you, you need a website, you want to have a home that people can come to. And it’s something that you own, which is why I always recommend a self hosted website like WordPress, I prefer WordPress. Other people use some you know, Squarespace or Wix. I have found working with so many different website administrators and what they’ve told me is that WordPress tends to rank higher in Google because of all the various plugins and things. Again, I’m not an expert, but that’s what I use and I’m very happy with it.
So get your website, buy your domain, make sure you own it, make sure you own your name. There’s no downside to purchasing more than one domain name, they’re like five or 10 bucks. If you have ideas for future books, go ahead and purchase those names. That way you have them. Even if you don’t do anything with them. Then I absolutely recommend having a blog because you need a static website, but you need fresh content.
So the next thing is yes, you have to blog. I get that a lot from writers – ‘do I have to blog?’, Okay, you’re not a child! This is your business and you will make money at it. If you are serious about it being a business, you do have to market your books. Yes, you do. So, blogging is critical, because from an SEO perspective, you do need to bring fresh eyes and the little spiders that crawl through Google are going to look for fresh content so you do need to bring fresh content to your site and the best way to do that is through a blog. But it can’t just be you ‘Hey, this is my new blog, come visit me’, you know, you have to put in valuable content that’s keyworded and optimized. And that’s why I recommend that you either pay someone to do it or learn how to do it. And like I said, I have a book, that’s a buck that you can purchase to learn obviously, I’m not trying to get rich here. I really am just trying to help people understand how to set up throughout their platform.
Then you have to be present on social media. You don’t have to be on every channel. I hear from a lot of authors who say that they don’t want to do social media, it’s waste of time, and it is if you’re spreading yourself too thin. You need to go where your demographic is. Where are your readers? If your readers are on Facebook, then that’s where you need to be if your readers maybe trend older, then Facebook is probably the best place for you. If they tend to trend younger then Instagram or Pinterest might be a better place for you. So you know, do your research, find out, put your feelers out, see where the most activity comes from. You can look at research to see what trends are, what demographic is on which channel, that’s a good place to start, and then see where the most activity comes from.
I can give you a concrete example. I have one gal that I’m working with. We started probably in the fall of last year and her book is being published by Source Books in April and she wanted to start early which I absolutely recommend, you know, getting out there talking to people, sharing teasers of your work. Your book does not have to be published, and I recommend it not be published before you start with your social media, you know, just follow people who might be interested in a book similar to yours. Follow those people who are, you know, invested in, like her book is similar to Gillian Flynn’s. So we started following those people. And so anyway, we found that the majority of people in her demographic or on Facebook, we had no idea that literally within a few months, she had 5000 people liking her page. This is all organic. I don’t believe in doing any of the fake stuff. because fake people don’t buy real books.
So she thought that maybe Instagram would be something like younger women would be reading that book but far and away Facebook is huge for her and she’s very comfortable with Facebook, she wants nothing to do with Twitter, or LinkedIn or she’s on Instagram a little bit. But you know, Facebook, she’s a little bit more comfortable she really doesn’t like any of it. So that’s why I’m doing it for her. But it’s interesting that this is what we found out.
So you really don’t know where your readers are until you are on the channels yourself and you start interacting with them. So I tell authors, you know, it’s not so much about your level of comfort as it is where your readers are. So you need to put yourself out there and I read this from, I think it was Jane Friedman or Joanna Penn, who said you do need to open accounts pretty much everywhere on every platform you can find, save all your username and passwords, put them in a Google spreadsheet, (which I love those and have them) but that doesn’t mean you have to be active everywhere. Just, you know, claim your land, basically so you have them so nobody else can take them. And then at the very least have a Facebook author page. You know, get your Twitter handle. I think Instagram or Pinterest are awesome, and very visual and super important. People look at me, kind of sideways when I say Pinterest is important. But it is the third most popular search engine in the world right now behind Google and YouTube.
That’s that’s quite interesting to me. I wouldn’t have thought Pinterest was a good channel for writers How does that work?.
Well It’s it’s really wonderful. I love it that it started out as kind of like this place where, you know, young women would go to talk about weddings, right? And it has really changed. I mean, over the past probably five years to become this huge search engine. It’s very user friendly. You just sort of start pinning things. That’s why it’s called Pinterest and it’s a wonderful way if somebody is really stuck as to what their branding is. I tell them, what are basically five or so of your key interests in life. So let’s say Geoff, that you are interested in cooking, dogs, running, obviously writing and reading. Okay, that was your five main passions or topics of interest. So you would go and you create those five boards, okay? Yeah, and you name it and those things, okay cooking and running and all those things and so those are the things that you are then going to put pictures of those things into those boards, and then you share them on your social media, okay, on Twitter and on Facebook, and wherever else. Those things are what I call your your five main keywords or key phrases as well. It goes back to branding, which is what we were talking about at the beginning, which is one of your main branding planks of your platform. So this is how it all sort of ties together.
So Pinterest is a really great way for you to help establish your branding. So what you can do from there then, is you fill up your boards and it gives you ideas. Let’s say you have an idea for your book. And you want to create a vision board for your book. So you want to, for example, create your characters. So you have a character board, and you put on, you know, some guys that you want to play the main character and some women that you want to play the main character, the female character, and you can invite people, you can create group boards, and then they can start giving you feedback and you know, you publicise your board, ‘hey, I’m really struggling with a cover. Here’s some things I’m thinking images I’m thinking of’, or, ‘hey, what do you think of this guy to play this character? Here are some of the characteristics that I’m thinking of for him. What do you think of this guy’, that kind of stuff, and you share that stuff, say in Facebook or on Twitter or wherever you’re most active. Then you can invite other people who are on Pinterest who are also readers or other writers who participate and join in the thought process. And then they invite you to do the same on theirs, and you build and you grow and how this ends up affecting your SEO is that every time you post a new blog post, you want to pin it to various different boards, not only your own boards, but also you want to join what’s called group boards. So for example, I’m part of some of these ginormous group boards, some have a couple hundred thousand pins, and maybe 10 or 20,000 members. So every time I share my pins, they see them. And every time they share their blog posts or whatever I see them. And so again, I get huge amounts of traffic to my website because of Pinterest, for example my last blog post, I think got 150 year 200 shares just from Pinterest.
That’s fabulous. I was using Pinterest in the past, but obviously I’ve been doing it wrong. I’ll go and review.
Yeah, you can now incorporate it into Hootsuite and Buffer and a lot of the scheduling platforms. So it’s not like you have to physically manually go in and do it. I mean, you still have to do it. But you don’t have to do it live, you can schedule things in which is really nice.
So then we’ve been talking about what authors should be doing right about social media, what do you think, is the one thing they do wrong? When they start using social media?
They spam a lot. You know, ‘read my book!?’. You know, I always say that social media is a wonderful listening platform and I get a lot of people say, ‘what, what? Listening? Why would I listen, I want to be a megaphone, and I want people to buy my stuff!’. I get a lot of people who say, oh, you’re crazy you don’t know what you’re talking about and I laugh because I’ve been teaching Twitter webinars for going on 10 years now, so the people who don’t get it, that’s fine. They won’t get it and maybe they’ll never learn. Maybe some people are successful at that. I doubt it. The overall conversion rate of a tweet a ‘buy my book’ tweet is less than 1%.
Yeah, I often wondered
I think if you do it once in a while, if you’ve built up a very interactive platform. I have two accounts, actually Bad Redhead Media is my business account. And then my author account is separate, which is Rachel in the OC, I used to live in Orange County, California, don’t live there anymore, but that’s how I started it. Because Rachel Thompson was already taken. Then I think if you have a very interactive platform, and you provide a lot of value to people, and you’re not constantly saying ‘buy my book’, and then if you do run a sale once in a while, or your book is free, you know, once every three months or something, and you say, ‘hey, my book is free for a couple days. Here’s the link’, I think then it’s okay. Because people are like, ‘Wow, this is great, thank you for letting me know.’ But if every tweet is ‘buy my book’, or you’re tagging strangers, or you’re DMing then, which Oh, my goodness, I hate that, which is a direct message upon meeting them or someone following you, then it actually is considered spam by Twitter, and you risk suspension. So I say avoid anything that can be completely self serving. Listen to what people want, or need.
The other mistake that I see authors do, especially when they first start on Twitter is they only follow other authors. And they’re trying to sell their book to other authors. And if your book demographic is other authors, like mine is great. However, most people are selling a book of some sort of genre, right? You know, literary fiction and horror, YA, romance. We need to connect with readers, not other authors. Now, other authors are great, because for the most part, I think we’re very supportive community and we’re willing to share some kind of promotion that you have. But don’t fall into the trap of only following other authors and then complaining that all you’re getting is book spam, because that’s on you. It always sort of shocks me. The thing about Twitter, Facebook, all of them is they give you a really good amount of real estate. Like, for example, if we take Twitter, you have your bio, you have a pin tweet, you have a nice size header. And that’s three different places where you can show the header, you can show that you’re a writer, the pin, tweet in the bio allow you to give links, hyperlinks, where you can say who you are, what you you do, and provide links. And so it’s really unnecessary for you to constantly stab people in the eye. Right? I mean, it really is unnecessary and you know, savvy users of social media platforms, already know this, it really just shows that you are new and and my book goes into this, you know, here, go buy my book, but just FYI, my best selling book is a 30 day Book Marketing Challenge. And it’s on my pin tweet, it’s in my header, and it’s on my bio. And it goes very specifically into how you can make the most of your Twitter, you know, real estate, as well as Facebook, and you know, everything else. And so really what the point is, take advantage of these tools so that you don’t end up looking like a tool basically.
Talking about tools and marketing tools. I mean, we both have a marketing background. And you know, as I the importance of building a mailing list. Is that something you think an author website should be targeting as well to try to build out a list of potential buys the book in the future?
I think the mailing list is probably the most underutilized and misunderstood tool that we have and it really was something that I didn’t fully understand when I first started either. And I think that it’s something that we all sort of get into as we unless you come from that kind of background where you understand subscriber lists, and newsletters, it’s not something that you probably do on on the regular anyway. So I think it’s worth either, you know, going with something free, I think all of them Constant Contact, and MailChimp, you go to their website and just learn about newsletters and what they are, and why subscriber lists are important. Then, you know, add the plugin to your website, or have your website admin, so that it’s not just a matter of sign up for my newsletter, and then just let it sit there. It means actually really, actively creating newsletters. And if you don’t know what to do, like I said, just go to the website of MailChimp which has a wonderful blog. And they’re great about helping people figure out what to do. I think that if you really want somebody to do it for you, it’s worth hiring a newsletter specialist. It’s not something I do, because I’m just too busy. I’ve hired somebody to do it for me. Because again, like anything else, there are conversion rates and open rates. And I mean, even this is something that I think is really cool. One of the things I love using for my headlines in my blog post is offered by CoSchedule. They have a free headline analyzer. And you want to get like a score of 70 or above.
I’ve seen that.
Yeah, it’s wonderful. I use it all the time. And they have the same thing now for email, headlines. And if you get a 70 or above, you’d get a higher open rate. So it might be worth you know, people at least starting there, I CoSchedule has the most fantastic blog, and I’d had them on as guests on my weekly book marketing chat as well. They’re just wonderful. They have a great scheduling tool, they have a plugin. So you can actually plug in a WordPress plugin. I don’t know about the other. Yeah, Squarespace or anything. But you can actually use their plugin. So then you’re typing your headline in your blog post, and they’ll give you a score right then in there. So you don’t have to leave your site, which is really nice.
It’s a bit of a black art, email marketing. You’ve had three number one bestsellers? This interests me does the marketing process get more difficult with each release? Or does it get easier? Or are they different animals each time?
I think it’s different each time, depending on really which hat I’m wearing. Because if I’m wearing my author hat, my ‘broken’ books, I’ve written Broken Pieces and Broken Places, and I’m in edits now for Broken People. And those books are about their memoir and poetry and prose about surviving childhood sexual abuse. And so that’s a very different audience, then, obviously, writing for authors about very sort of mechanical kinds of things – you know, here’s how you set up a Twitter account. It’s completely different and they’re both nonfiction and that’s really that all they have in common, but the mechanics of what you do to market your books are pretty much the same whether you writing fiction or nonfiction no matter what genre you’re writing. So that’s why I feel when people tell me that it’s easier to market fiction than it is nonfiction or vice versa. I’ve worked with all kinds of authors, one of my authors, right now is a 22 time New York Times bestselling author of women’s fiction, another author has sold 10 books, USA Today bestseller list for romance, and another one sells business books that are, you know, in the stratosphere, and some of them are all self published, all kinds of different genres. To me, it, it doesn’t really matter. I think what goes into it is the drive and the ambition to want to get your book in front of people. And so it takes time. And I think a lot of people want overnight success, and it takes preparation. If you’re starting after your book has already come out, you’re already behind the eight ball. You need to start three to six months prior to release. That doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. How can I market a book that doesn’t exist yet?
Well, it gets back to needing to develop a platform immediately, doesn’t it? Like, even if you you’re only thinking of writing a book, but you’ve determined to get your platform together?
Yeah, and you can tease out something that you’ve written. For example, I write a column on femininecollective.com and they’ve shared several of my pieces from Broken People, which, you know, I’ve been teasing that out for a few years now, because my business got so busy, that I just have had to put my own writing on the back burner. You can guest post, right? I definitely recommend freelancing articles, on you know, some big sites, get your name out there. People will be more inclined to read your work if they know that you’ve been published on some big sites. So, it’s definitely worth the effort to start sharing your work. Have somebody look at it, obviously, have it professionally edited before you put it out there. But I think there’s more to it than just opening up a Twitter account saying, ‘Okay, I have a platform’.
Yeah, it needs to be quite strategic.
Knowing what you now know, about book marketing, what’s the one thing you would change when you launched your first book, if you could pop into a time machine?
Well, I did end up changing a couple things. When I signed with the hybrid publisher, I changed the covers of my first two books because they were so busy. I wanted to tell this story on the covers and that’s that’s such a newbie mistake, right? You can’t do that. It’s just not possible. And to me, I didn’t know. I was working with a cover designer who was lovely. In fact, she came up with the original concept for Bad Redhead. That’s what we called her. And if you look at my Bad Redhead logo, you’ll see she’s she’s much more streamlined now. But the original Bad Redhead design came from her. But she was not a book designer. So she basically did whatever I told her, and I was not a book, designer. The original concept was so busy.
For my first it was a humor book called A Walk in the Snark. And it was just so so busy. So when I ended up redoing the book with the hybrid book publisher, they said, ‘we really need to redo this cover’, and I was like, ‘oh, hallelujah, yes!’, because I was almost embarrassed now that I had become much more savvy, so we took out a lot of the elements and made it just a lot cleaner. So I would definitely say work with a professional book designer who understands so much more about color theory. The colors were good, but it was just way too busy. I’ve actually pulled the humour books now down. I mean, there’s still paperbacks floating around, but I don’t have them for sale anymore. Because my author branding now is so radically different than when I first started, that I am not branding myself anymore as a humorist. The snarkiness still comes out though. My tagline for Bad Redhead Media is ‘Helping you help your damn self since 2011’. So, you know, it’s still there. But you know, I’m really I’ve written six books I’m actively marketing for. And I have one right now on my desktop that I’m actively editing. So, you know, I will have eight books out. But I think understanding and knowing your branding, is really, really important. And I think that that’s a really helpful factor in understanding and knowing that can change and that’s okay and being open to that it can be fluid. And that’s all right too.
It’s been great talking to you, Rachel, and probably a good time to wrap it up but before we wrap it up, I just wanted to talk a bit about your Twitter hashtag you started up #BookMarketingChat. How does that work?
Well I’ve started several hashtags. And #bookmarketing chat is a weekly chat. It’s every Wednesday, so I’m going to be starting that just coming up here in about an hour. And it’s not an actual chat like you and I are chatting, Twitter chats are are on Twitter, you type in the hashtag at the designated hour each week, and you participate by just using that hashtag. And so the way I do it is I either have a guest that, at that time every week or myself donate the hour, to whatever topic seems to be popular, I asked my stream, what seems to be most confusing or most confounding. And then I set up my topics for the month or the next three months. This week, people said let’s talk about author platform, because it just seems like such a nebulous topic for people. So that’s what we’ll be talking about tonight. And then I have a Facebook public page as well and that’s where I post all of the summaries. So if you go there, you’ll see literally hundreds of summaries. And that way, if people aren’t on Twitter or can’t make it, you know, it’s two in the morning for people over in Europe, then they can at least click on the summary and take a look at all of the tweets as well.
Yeah, a lot of people forget the hashtag. And so then other people can’t see what you’re posting. So just remember to type in that hashtag, I recommend posting it, going into search typing and book marketing chat, and then click on once that comes out, click on latest. And then the newest tweets will just keep coming up. I also created Monday blogs. If you want to share your blog posts on Mondays, obviously it’s Monday blogs, and as long as they’re non promotional, so not ‘buy my book tweets’, then feel free to participate in that any blog post is fine. It’s a great way to get traffic over to your website.
Thank you, Rachel.
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