We first started working with Jacqueline in January 2019 for a release date of December 2019. Right there, that ought to tell you something: Jacqueline is not one to rush her book to market.
The reason I asked Jacqueline to answer a few questions is because she continues to actively market her book, a common characteristic of a professional self-publisher.
Now, more than eighteen months after her book’s release, Destination Wedding has won a major award, has been featured in a Barnes & Noble bookstore (and two independent stores), and on June 25 it is being released as an audiobook by the largest independent producer of audiobooks in the world.
In this interview, you’ll learn how Jacqueline has used—and continues to use—her networking skills and contacts to keep Destination Wedding in the public eye, how she got her book accepted into local bookstores, and the path she traveled before finally deciding to self-publish.
It’s also a story of perseverance, faith, and confidence.
PS: Don’t miss my summary of marketing-lesson takeaways at the end. If you read between the lines, many of her marketing tactics are as applicable to nonfiction books as they are to fiction books.
David: I know this is your second book. What did you learn from publishing your first book that you applied to your planning and marketing for Destination Wedding?
Jacqueline: I’m a planner in all areas of my life, even if I don’t always, regrettably, follow through with the plan! My first book, nonfiction, was published by a small company here in Georgia.
I knew that the company would have limited input in marketing and promoting my book; however, there is one critical thing that the owner of the company did for me that helped me with the trajectory of Destination Wedding. I will share more about that later in this interview.
Still, I had read that even with large publishing companies, authors were expected to do much of their own marketing and promotion, so I didn’t feel like I was being shortchanged. I created a marketing and promotion plan with the resources that I had available to me at that time, and I executed it to the best of my ability.
And how did that work out?
With my nonfiction book, I was able to garner a television interview with a local NBC affiliate and a mixture of national and local magazine and newspaper coverage. I must add that since I am a working journalist, I do have contacts in the media world that have helped when it comes to marketing and promoting. Through the efforts of a publicist that I hired, I was also interviewed on several radio stations. Additionally, I sold that book at a launch party and several in-person book events within Georgia and out of state.
This time around, I was interviewed on some of the radio stations where I had been interviewed before. I was also interviewed by another popular radio station in town that wasn’t part of my campaign with my first book. And I secured a thorough book review with a local newspaper that wasn’t part of my campaign with my first book.
With the increasing popularity of podcasts, I made sure to schedule several podcasts interviews as well. Some of these opportunities came through contacts I already had, but some of these podcast interviews came because I pitched my book to the hosts. Through my blog, After the Altar Call, I got contacted by the producer of a very popular YouTube show, The Jesse Lee Peterson Show, before the launch of my book. Prior to this interview, I was ignorant about the vast audience of YouTube!
Also before the launch, I got an endorsement from Candace Bushnell, the writer whose life inspired the hit HBO series Sex and the City. That series, in turn, inspired Destination Wedding, which one Amazon reviewer described as “similar in style to Sex in the City but with an Atlanta chocolate twist.” I was thrilled to also get the endorsement of my favorite childhood author, an author who is a Georgia Writers Hall of Fame nominee. Both of these endorsements, along with other author endorsements I received, truly boosted in my confidence as I continued to execute my marketing and promotion plan.
At your suggestion, David, I placed my book on NetGalley, which enabled me to get reviews. One reviewer, who is quite popular among authors I’ve come to know, gave me a very positive review. Another reviewer gave me a more lengthy negative review, but I was grateful for it because it validated the mostly positive reviews I have received.
By reading your book The Book Review Companion: An Author's Guide to Getting and Using Book Reviews, I realized the importance of reviews in general, which I was not aware of with my first book. As a result, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time seeking Amazon and Goodreads reviews, and they have had a positive effect on my marketing and promotion campaign.
For my second book, I formed a launch team of women who read advance copies. We met online for several weeks via a Facebook group as they read the book. In that group, I posted articles, videos, etc., that inspired my characters and story, which I hoped helped them to see behind the curtain, so to speak, about how someone writes a novel.
This launch team helped me to promote Destination Wedding on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Some of them attended my launch party, which I held at a prominent and historical library in downtown Atlanta in December 2019.
I was only able to take part in three more in-person events before the pandemic shut down the rest. One was hosting a book signing at a local independent bookstore where I frequently buy books and other products.
Another was my very first book club meeting. Since the book club read my book, they invited me to meet with them as they discussed it. Based on the response of this book club to Destination Wedding, I continued to pitch Destination Wedding to other book clubs.
With Zoom, I was still able to meet with book clubs once pandemic restrictions were in place. So far, eleven book clubs—that I know of!—have read Destination Wedding.
With my first book, I hired a publicist, but this time around, I enrolled in a paid membership program hosted by Tim Grahl, an author who has helped many other authors launch their work. I had access to articles, interviews, and training videos about marketing and promotion.
There were a few other things that I did to market and promote Destination Wedding as well, but this is a good overview. With all of my efforts, I was able to recoup all of my book production and marketing and promotion costs and more, which made all of the work worth it.
Early in 2021, you shared the news about your book being included in the prestigious African American Booklist. How did you find out about this opportunity?
Periodically, I Google my name along with the title of my novel. A few months ago, through a search, I discovered that the Detroit Public Library, which has produced its annual African American Booklist for more than 50 years, included Destination Wedding in its Best of Fiction category for 2020!
A committee of librarians from the Detroit Public Library selects all of the books included in the African American Booklist, which is included in a publication disseminated to “book lovers all across the nation.”
I have no idea how these librarians heard about my book, but I’m grateful they did, particularly since I’m the only completely self-published novelist included in the Best of Fiction category. I used this designation to promote Destination Wedding on social media and to subscribers to my blog, After the Altar Call. I noticed a bump in my sales when I did this.
In that same update you told me that your book was accepted into a local Barnes & Noble as well as two independent bookstores. Every author I know wants to see their book in a bookstore. How did you make this happen?
I’m a longtime customer at both of the independent bookstores, so I know that my relationships with the owners helped me to earn a space in in each of those. However, one of the bookstores had a review process that my book had to go through before Destination Wedding was placed on its shelves. Thankfully, my book was approved.
As for B&N, in December I was in my neighborhood B&N to get a book that my niece asked me to get her for Christmas. I mentioned the book to a nice woman at the information desk.
We started talking about the author of that popular youth novel. I noticed that she seemed very knowledgeable about this author as well as other authors. As we continued to talk, she told me she was the manager of the store, and I told her I was a local author. After a few more conversations, she agreed to feature Destination Wedding in the bookstore.
I guess my best advice is to develop relationships with bookstore owners before you need them, if possible. I would visit these bookstores even if I hadn’t written any books, so relationships do matter.
And while all this was going on, you got an agent. Why look for an agent for a self-published book that was more than a year beyond its release date?
In the Tim Grahl Launch a Bestseller membership program, I learned about a self-published author who sold 10,000 copies of his book. I emailed him through his website, and he told me that most of his sales came from his audiobook, which he produced. He had a background in this type of production, so he was able to control his costs. However, since I don’t have experience in this field, I did not want to invest more money to have an audiobook produced, as I spent a good amount of money to publish my print book and eBook.
But while listening to a podcast, I learned that self-published authors can secure literary agents to sell their secondary rights—audiobook rights, foreign rights, TV and film rights, etc.—to audiobook publishers. That appealed to me because that meant I wouldn’t have to pay for another book to be produced!
So I met a literary agent through an online conference that I attended courtesy of the pandemic. The literary agent worked with an agency who helps self-published authors sell secondary rights.
And so, the result was an audiobook deal. A traditional deal, as I understand it (advance against royalties).
It wasn’t linear like your question is suggesting. While that literary agent did try to sell my audiobook rights, my traditional deal came through a contact I already had with my first book!
The owner of the publishing company that published my first book sold subsidiary rights to Black Expressions Book Club, the largest African American subscription-book club in the nation at that time. Black Expressions Book Club published a hardcover edition of my first book for its readers. Although that book club was eventually discontinued, the editor of the book club and I kept in touch through social media.
Now, she is an acquisitions editor at Recorded Books, the largest independent producer of audiobooks in the world. Social media has been a big part of my marketing and promotion campaign. As Destination Wedding continued to be highlighted on various platforms such as the African American Booklist, for example, I shared the news on social media. And one day, hours after I posted a link to an Instagram interview that I had done with a prominent publicist, the former editor of Black Expressions Book Club emailed me and asked to read a PDF of Destination Wedding. And it went from there.
Of course, having that contact went a long way, but I believe that all of the marketing and promotion work that I had been doing prior to her reaching out had piqued her interest.
[Click here to listen to a sample of Destination Wedding. Or click the image below.]
Do you plan to keep two book covers?
The cover conversation is still in flux. Right now, there is one cover for the print and eBook versions and another cover for the audiobook version. (I truly love both of them!) And from what I’ve observed, that seems to be the case with most authors who have audiobooks with Recorded Books as well as print and eBook versions. I’m not sure of Recorded Books’s policy regarding covers, so I really can’t say more until I know more.
Last question: What is the most important non-publishing advice you can offer to other independent authors?
Great question! I think perseverance and confidence enabled me to continue on this long journey which began when I was first inspired in 2012 to write Destination Wedding.
When I began this journey, I did not intend to self-publish my novel. As a result, I hired a developmental editor who had worked with traditionally published authors. Additionally, I pitched my novel to many literary agents and editors. This went on for a long time—from 2014 to 2018.
Based on the feedback that I received, which included signing with a New York-based literary agent who shopped my book to several traditional publishers in 2016, I gained confidence in the story. And even though I was eventually told that while I had a good book, the timing wasn’t right, something would happen after each “No” I received that inspired me to keep at it anyway.
At the end of 2018, I did decide that I was tired of hearing “No.” So I decided to self-publish. I wasn’t sure if I had all of the resources to put together a quality book, but I was confident that the story itself was good. Thankfully, through the guidance of AuthorImprints, I put together the book that I had in mind from the beginning. I’m so glad that that sophisticated self-publishing is now available for authors, and we don’t have to settle for “No.”
The book deal that I received from Recorded Books is evidence of all my hard work from 2012 until now! To persevere on this journey wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
Jacqueline’s story may be unique, but many of her tactics are not new. Here are my six takeaways.
- Invest in your book, especially the writing. Without a good story, well written, Destination Wedding would never have achieved the success it has.
- Work your network. Who do you know? Remember, everyone is a potential gateway to someone else. There is a common thread connecting her first publisher to the Black Expressions Book Club and to the acquisitions editor of her now-audiobook publisher. Stay in touch!
- Be friendly and kind while also being on the lookout for marketing opportunities. Jacqueline’s story about her conversation with the B&N manager is a good example.
- Speaking of opportunities, no one likes an opportunist. Said another way, people are often willing to help others when relationships are genuine. I’m referring to the fact that Jacqueline was shopping at those indie bookstores well before she approached them about stocking her book. You need to put in the time and the work with bookstore relationships just like you do with your writing and book production.
- Don’t be afraid to “reach up” to a successful author for help. It was an earnest, cold email to the author who sold 10,000 copies of his book that inspired Jacqueline to consider an audiobook edition.
- Have an active presence online and monitor it. Interestingly, the Detroit Public Library never contacted Jacqueline about including her book in its 2020 African American Booklist. I can think of three specific lessons here:
- The quality of your book precedes you. Destination Wedding had all the characteristics of a professionally published book.
- Be findable. Someone was scouting for quality books, and Jacqueline’s online presence made finding her book easy.
- Monitor your online reputation. Maybe you received an award and didn’t know it!
Here are two more interviews you might enjoy reading:
Book Launch Marketing Case Study—The Other Magic by Derrick Smythe. Derrick was a debut author with no platform. Less than two years later, his fiction novel has more than 300 reviews and he too got a audiobook publishing deal.
Leslie Lehr spent more than a year building up her network in anticipation of the book launch. Read this Book Launch Marketing Case Study about her book, A Boob’s Life.