Whether you are self-publishing or publishing traditionally, you still need to market your book. And lead time matters.
Leslie Lehr began marketing her traditionally published book A Boob’s Life: How America's Obsession Shaped Me—and You (Pegasus Books) in June 2020, nine months before the release date of March 2, 2021.
This is Leslie’s seventh book, so she understands the need for pre-release marketing, and like many of us, she has the same struggles with how, when, and what to email or post on social media, and how to manage an author mailing list.
In this eight-question Q&A, I ask Leslie about how she went about using her email list to build early interest in A Boob’s Life. She shares lots of practical advice that anyone can put to work for their book.
The emails themselves are instructive: humorous, the right balance of visuals and text, not too long, and always telling her readers how they can help.
In fact, I’ve bundled all eight of her emails together into a single PDF download available at the end of this Q&A.
By the way, Leslie is also self-published. After the rights to two of her novels were reverted, AuthorImprints helped Leslie establish her own imprint (Good Press Books) to republish the novels.
Learn more about Leslie via the links at the bottom of this article.
David: You’ve been actively sending out emails about your new book launch. Is this something you did for prior books or is it a new strategy?
Leslie: This is an absolutely new strategy for me. I used to send out lots of invitations to bookstore events, but the pandemic shut that down. Oddly, this feels more personal. I can do a real ask to buy the book rather than hope someone will fight traffic to show up. I can also include media images for them to share with their friends.
I’m starting with pre-orders; later I’ll go back and ask for reviews. I create media on Canva and attach options to the letter to make it easy for them to simply post. I updated the media when I got a TV deal and I will change the text when it’s available.
I’ve really enjoyed reading your emails promoting the launch of your new book. Where do you get your inspiration for the email’s content?
I took a lot of social media webinars and read Fauzia Burke’s book, Online Marketing for Busy Writers (part of our recommended reading library). I worked most weekends with my writing consulting business to invest in hiring marketing consultants. Fauzia gave me a template for a bulk letter, so I had a guideline. I rewrote it to sound like me, and I’m personalizing each one.
I also keep an eye on the real world to keep it relevant to the day I send it out. For example, A Boob’s Life is a pop culture memoir about breasts. Recently, some pranksters changed the iconic Hollywood sign to read Hollyboobs. So, in every email I sent out that day and the next, I mentioned that and joked that it wasn’t me.
Comparing your marketing efforts via email vs. social media, do you have a feel for which is engaging your fans more?
I get more immediate response to the emails. Images are easy to post, but also easy to click. I’m not sure if they are resulting in sales. I’ve heard it takes buyers many viewings of a book cover to actually click the Buy button.
I’m now running some giveaways, but I view them as attention-getters more than I’m counting on people to enter. During this time with no bookstore events, I’m offering personalized bookplates by mail, so they have to send an address—that allows for engagement.
Related to engagement, you mention that you try to personalize the emails. What do you mean? In what way?
For my friends and family—about 65 people—I send one email to each person, instead of sending groups of bcc’s. I know groups would be more efficient, but I don’t like being part of a crowd asked to spend money, so why would anyone else? We can see at the top of the email if we are part of a blind list. If I were addressing hundreds, sure, I’d group them. But I’m asking fewer than a hundred people to preorder my book right now as a personal favor; that’s hard enough.
Social media serves as my blanket ask. I do make a point of being generous to other writers, so when it’s my turn, they seem happy to help.
In an email, I write the first few sentences specifically to that person, referencing the last time I saw them, or whatever I’ve seen them post on Facebook, or offering to help them when it’s their turn. It’s mail!
Then I paste the rest of the letter in, but I read through to add parentheticals in the body, making asides with their name, so they know I am thinking of them personally. Then I suggest if they want a copy for friends, I can sign bookplates for them, too—and giving them that idea. And I sign off differently, depending on how well I know them, with hugs to a husband or a note of looking forward to seeing them, or just a truly warm thank you.
At the end, I give them something: I invite them to my Zoom book party. I don’t give out the link yet. Some will email back to ask for it, but most will appreciate feeling like they are part of my inner circle. I hope!
Do you share the same content and use the same “voice” for social media as you do in email marketing?
I try to. I have helpers—a college girl helps with Instagram, and today she said “Attention!” and I wish she’d just said, “Hey what do you think?” So, it’s a constant battle between taking the time to do it all yourself versus getting people who know your voice. That said, I am a bit more formal on Twitter and more writerly on my author page. So my voice, but to fit the platform.
What if anything have you been doing to grow the size of your mailing list?
My formal mailing list has stayed pretty consistent because I switched gears from doing a newsletter about consulting to doing it strictly for this book.
I had 300 writers on my list. Now my list is close to 400, but many writers dropped out and readers replaced them. It doesn’t sound like many, so I’ve considered not doing it at all. But then I remember that the newsletter gives me the opportunity to post on social media about when the newsletter will be going out, and that social media post reaches the thousands of followers I have on other platforms. And each person who sees it—with my book cover—is the conduit to other readers.
So I think of the 400 as an exponential base. I’ve tried gifts and giveaways and haven’t seen any difference. When I offer incentives in terms of my time as a consultant, I do get bites. On the other hand, I get business from other newsletters when people mention me, so I try to be generous in re-posting about theirs.
Can you give our readers an idea about outreach frequency and what seems to work best?
In terms of frequency, I post daily now but started with Monday/Wednesday/Friday, not every day, on Twitter or LinkedIn. I alternate on Facebook between my personal page and my author page. Newsletters are once per month, using Mailchimp.
As for marketing, I started marketing A Boob’s Life when I was writing it. I sprinkled related topics in my social media for several years and expanded my followers in an attempt to help it sell to a traditional publisher. I don’t know if that made a difference, but it didn’t hurt.
Once I sold the book and I had a pub date, I changed my website to focus on the book. Then I had a hardcore nine months of building up, like birthing a book.
I’ve gradually increased the balance of my newsletters and social media, so at six months I focused mostly about topics in the book, and personal stuff that related. At three months, I started talking about the book more often. Now, in the final month before release, people expect this from me.
With that said, I would have loved to have had a really solid calendar and pre-posted everything on a strategic schedule, but it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do in today’s world. So I had to take the time every day or so to be more organic and more responsive to current events and other writers’ projects as they came up.
I know I should have engaged more with other people’s posts, but it’s a learning curve in terms of both comfort and the time it takes. I’m not one of the cool kids online, but I work really hard to be present and to write things worth reading.
And last, I know some of us feel like we are annoying our list when we send out lots of emails. How do you feel about this and have you noticed many unsubscribes?
I only send out one per month unless I have something exciting to announce, like the TV deal for A Boob’s Life. So, I posted a special banner.
I used to offer all kinds of free information and links to interesting things, but I’ve learned to simplify. I want one thing from my readers: a desire to read more of my writing. And ultimately to buy my book.
Personally, I unsubscribe to emails all the time, so I want each one of mine to be an event, but from a familiar face. And frankly, I’m a perfectionist, so it takes more time than it should each month.
I still also write a blog each month to keep my name high on the SEOs when people are Googling, but I don’t expect them to draw in lots more buyers. The blog posts are a sample of my skill and focus. Even more, they are an excuse to post on social media platforms that I have new content, which gets my name and book cover out. Unsubscribes hurt! I get a few each month, but I usually gain a few as well.
I wish I had a magic bullet, but marketing is very hard for me. I really just want to write. So, I rely on experts like David to help.
- Buy the book: includes links to all the stores carrying A Boob's Life
- Good Press Books, Leslie's self-publishing imprint
- Leslie's Amazon Author Central page
- Check out Leslie's article on AuthorImprints: Is Your Book Ready to Self-Publish?
- The 2021 Guide to Amazon Fees and Royalties for Kindle eBooks and KDP Print
- Kindle eBook Royalties: 70% vs. 35% and 6 Essential Things You Need to Know
- How Much to Charge When Pricing a Self-Published Book to Sell on Amazon
- Kindle Pre-Order Basics: 3 Important Things to Understand to Maximize the Benefits
- Amazon Book Review Policy Demystified for Authors