If there is one piece of advice that is drilled into the heads of aspiring authors—traditional as well as self-published—it’s to build a platform. But what does that mean?
For Ashleigh Renard, author-publisher of the forthcoming Swing, “a memoir of doing it all” (May 25, 2021), it meant starting early and networking.
Two other launch plans got my interest during our consulting session. One is Ashleigh’s commitment to supporting brick-and-mortar bookstores—specifically her local Doylestown Bookshop in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
The second was how she was incentivizing pre-orders.
A few things you’ll learn from Ashleigh:
- How she interacts with her fans, and the advantages of being responsive and available
- The benefits of comparable author research, and how Ashleigh turned her research into lasting and mutually beneficial relationships
- How to plan a successful prelaunch utilizing pre-orders
- Tips for including an indie bookstore in your launch plan
One idea I’m going to swipe: using Publishers Marketplace as a research tool to identify comparable-author networking opportunities, and then figuring out how I can help them.
David Wogahn: Since this interview is pre-release, it’s hard to know which book marketing tactics will be most effective. But if you had to pick three, what would they be?
Ashleigh Renard: Thank you for having me, David. I have been excited for the pre-order period since I was writing the first draft of my book. I am glad to finally be in this stage.
By far, I would say direct contact with my audience. I have invested my time answering every direct message [a private message via social media] for years, and my audience knows they can rely on me.
Very often when they message for advice, I answer with voice memos and ask more questions to gain an understanding of their situation. When I was first writing, my best friend read an early draft, and she said what excited her the most was that so many people were going to be able to experience what it is like to be my friend.
And that is what my audience feels; like I am there for them. I have educated them on the importance of pre-orders, and even new followers message me regularly to ask if pre-orders are open. So, when all the links were finally live and I asked my audience to pre-order, they did, and now they are leaving early reviews.
Second, I think my beta-reader strategy is helping me now. I recruited 425 early readers and they were some of the first to pre-order, share about it in their Instagram stories, and leave early ratings on Goodreads. I gained another 300 subscribers interested in early reads through the email sign-up in my Linktree on Instagram and TikTok. I sent all of them the first chapter of my audiobook as a thank you.
Third, building a platform around providing advice and support in a multitude of areas––keeping monogamy hot, marriage, parenting, self-care, politics––has given me a diverse audience made up of readers who trust me to do the right thing even when it’s hard, and to say the hard thing even when there is possible backlash. They feel comfortable recommending me to their likeminded friends and family, because there isn’t a topic I haven’t touched in my commentary through my platforms.
How have you used social media to grow your platform?
Instagram is definitely my favorite platform. I find it intimate and fun, and it’s easy to customize my feed to see content that is educating and uplifting.
I built my audience through consistent presence in my Instagram stories. When Instagram came out with Reels, I already knew what content people loved. I started a How to Keep Monogamy Hot series based on advice I had given to my audience through my stories.
After the videos started getting high views, my eleven-year-old showed me how to cross-post them to TikTok. I got 55,000 new followers in 45 days. Since then, I’ve grown my audience by another 80,000.
I am going back and resharing old mini-essays that directly relate to my forthcoming memoir, and new followers, who came for the funny and relatable marriage content, are falling in love with my writing. My longtime followers don’t mind the reposts. If they liked a piece two years ago, they enjoy reading it when I share it again.
These mini-essays are cross-posted to Facebook, on both my personal page and my author page. All videos are cross-posted to TikTok and recently, Twitter. I had my assistant go back and save all my TikTok videos since September and schedule them to post on Twitter, a couple a day, until my pub day.
On Instagram I have a curated-looking page, with photos or videos down the sides and quote cards down the middle. During the pre-order period, behind every quote card is a screenshot of an early review from Goodreads. My reviewers have been very enthusiastic, and each time I post a new review, I get direct messages—DMs—from audience members telling me they “finally” pre-ordered my book.
You’ve had a lot of success with networking. Please share how you went about it.
I came to publishing after more than two decades as an expert in the field of synchronized skating. I felt like a fish out of (frozen) water.
The first things I did were to get a subscription to Publishers Marketplace, read the acknowledgments of every book I could get my hands on—sometimes spending hours in bookstores just picking books up and flipping to the back—and follow ten to twenty writers represented by each of my top twenty agents.
I turned notifications on for their accounts and committed to figuring out the social circles within publishing. I found a handful of writers who I really resonated with. They didn’t have big followings, but they had great books and publication records.
When they had new releases, I promoted the hell out of their books, buying from my local indie bookshop and posting about it, tagging the writer, their editor, agent, publicist, and imprint. Most often, the writer and imprint reshared my post.
I also offered advice as I would to a friend. One writer was suffering from persistent symptoms from a concussion, and I mailed her homeopathic remedies to try. Another was looking for a reputable Bernedoodle breeder. For another, I made a tutorial video demonstrating how she could color her hair at home during lockdown.
These writers were the ones I turned to for support when I was not satisfied with my relationship with my agent, and these are the writers who are currently offering blurbs for my book.
I also have a brand partnership that I really value. In late 2020, when my How to Keep Monogamy Hot videos were going viral on TikTok, I was approached by Coconu, an organic, coconut-oil-based personal lubricant and body oil company. Their mission is to help couples have better intimacy while using safe products, and these priorities fully align with the natural living and intimacy advice I offer.
They reached out to me at the end of 2020, and within three months, I was making enough money off my commissions to pay my assistant’s salary. They are excited for me and about the book. For the month preceding my pub date, they will include a postcard with every shipment: on one side will be my book cover and ordering information, on the other will be an exclusive Coconu x Ashleigh Renard Keeping Monogamy Hot tip sheet.
Can you share some of the ways you are encouraging pre-orders?
First off, I tell my audience the why. I have been sharing about the importance of pre-orders in my Instagram stories since I was working on my first draft.
More recently, I have made about five videos for Instagram and TikTok that explain how pre-orders work and how they count for first-week sales, give the author their best chance for making a best seller list, and encourage bookstores to stock the book.
For the last couple of years, I have been training them to pre-order from any writer they love. Most of them had never heard of it before, but now they’re in the habit of ordering as soon as their favorite authors announce a new book.
Second, I am offering the full-length audiobook free to anyone who pre-orders. My audience loves my writing, but they go positively nuts over my video content, so narrating the audiobook myself and offering it as my pre-order incentive was an easy decision.
How do you know someone pre-ordered the book? Or does it not matter?
This one has been a little frustrating! I thought I would be able to access a regular pre-order sales report through my IngramSpark dashboard, but so far there are no numbers. So, I have to go by the number of readers requesting the audiobook, weekly check-ins with my local indie bookstore, and the rate of my Goodreads reviews.
I coach writers on building their social media and I teach them how to check their analytics and then tell them to ignore them.
The real way to measure our impact is to keep track of how many meaningful conversations we are having a day with our audience. Usually, I have about eighty conversations going in my DMs per day (I really do respond to all messages!). Many of them are people pouring their souls out and sharing how my book touched them.
So, I don’t have numbers, but I do have confirmation that my book is helping people.
What is the right balance of time spent growing a mailing list vs growing a social media following?
I think it depends on strengths and style. Instagram stories are where I get the most engagement. Five to six thousand people watch each of my stories on a good day.
If I poll my audience to get a new ingredient for chili, I will get hundreds of replies. Also, the majority of them are pretty young––two thirds are under thirty-five.
If I recommend a new pair of jeans or, golly gracious, a good blanket to toss on the bed before getting intimate, sometimes as many as 1600 will click on the link.
When I partnered with the personal lubricant brand, my audience bought $4000 worth of product in twenty-four hours. The only place I mentioned the coupon code was in one video I shared to Instagram and TikTok.
You have an enviable online platform. So why bother hiring a marketing company?
I am good with numbers and learning tech, but I realized after promoting a few Instagram posts that if there are numbers to obsess over, I quickly become good for nothing else. I will check the analytics or rankings in every place I can find them instead of connecting with my audience or creating any new content.
I hired a marketing company to help me strategize my book trailer and manage my ads. About eight weeks out from pub day, we will start an ad campaign on Facebook, Instagram, and Amazon. I am grateful they will be responsible for watching the numbers, the cost per click, and adjusting our plans accordingly. I would rather answer DMs from people telling me which chapter of the audiobook is their favorite.
Resources and links for further information
Connect with Ashleigh in several ways:
- Website: www.ashleighrenard.com/
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/ashleighrenard/
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/ashleigh.renard/
- TikTok: www.tiktok.com/@ashleighrenard
Links to the book:
Learn more about setting up pre-order for self-published books:
- The 2021 Guide to Amazon Fees and Royalties for Kindle eBooks and KDP Print
- How Much to Charge When Pricing a Self-Published Book to Sell on Amazon
- Kindle eBook Royalties: 70% vs. 35% and 6 Essential Things You Need to Know
- Amazon Book Review Policy Demystified for Authors
- Should You Use Amazon KDP Select or Distribute Your Book Wide?