Award-winning, Self-published Author Gisela Hausmann on Book Marketing

Authors, it’s time to get our book marketing in check, with advice courtesy of email expert and self-published author Gisela Hausmann.

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Gisela has written a branded series of “naked” (no-fluff) books for indie authors under her own publishing imprint, Educ-Easy Books. These are short, straightforward books—many of which I’ve read—that are designed to help authors with promotion, such as Naked News for Indie Authors: How NOT to Invest Your Marketing $$$NAKED TRUTHS About Getting Book Reviews, NAKED WORDS 2.0: The Effective 157-Word Email, and Naked News for Indie Authors: How to Get on TV.

Marketing doesn’t come naturally to most of us authors, but it’s a learnable skill. With a little guidance, it’s amazing what we’re capable of. With advice from Gisela’s books, I have managed to score quite a few more reviews for my travel memoir. She has also changed the way I write emails (tip: never start with “I”).

In the interview below, I asked Gisela Hausmann how to approach book reviewers and influencers, and of course, how feasible it really is to get a spot on the local news.

Here’s what she had to say:

What inspired you to start writing books?

That’s a great question. Sometimes I feel as if I have lived through the entire history of publishing, aside from the invention of the Gutenberg Press. I really started out designing and publishing two coffee-table books, in 1988 and 1992. Then, there was no print-on-demand, so I learned everything that needs to be learned about printing off-set and publishing hard-cover books.

When my son entered the public school system I began to publish educational books for preschoolers. Some of the easy teaching concepts that my own (European) teachers used were unknown in the US. I published four books; everything went well, and I loved what I did.

Then, in September 2000 my husband died unexpectedly. Suddenly being the only breadwinner, I had to look for “safe” employment.

This was a really tough time for me. Not only was I the only parent, who had to handle “everything,” on top of that the Great Recession struck, too. I had to change jobs often and needed to learn a lot.

The one talent that helped me the most during these immensely difficult years was my communication skills. So, I worked on perfecting them, analyzed 100,000+ emails for effectiveness and personal appeal, and became an expert in email communication.

When, finally, the Recession ended and my children graduated, I decided to publish the knowledge that had helped me so much, so I could help others to get ahead.

The other thing I had learned during my “desperate years” was that our most valuable commodity is time. When we are looking for information we don’t want to read through 300 pages; we are looking for essential knowledge we can apply immediately. That prompted me to publish my series of “naked (no-fluff) books.” All of them can be read in under two hours and readers can apply what they have learned instantly. Each of my books features “action steps”: what to do, step-by-step.

  • You’re a multi-award winning author. What advice do you have for authors who want to enter themselves in writing competitions?

Awards? Haha… Winning one is not as easy as it once was. Today, so many books are getting published. Authors need to know that, typically, about 1,500 to 2,000 books get entered in most awards, though, of course, there are more popular and less popular genres.

Still, entering a book in an award is an interesting learning experience because whether you win, or you don’t, you are going to learn a lot about your book, your book’s genre and the industry as a whole. We begin to think in terms of “How do we stack up against the competition?”

I would advise every author to enter at least one competition. However, authors should check really check out the award before they enter. How many categories are there? Which books did the judges appreciate in the past? You can find that out easily, by pulling the winners of the last few years, then go to Amazon and read the blurbs and maybe even a sample. Once authors engage in that kind of research, the experience will help them grow as writers.

  • I like that you start your books off with a story. In How NOT to Invest Your Marketing $$$, you discuss how you wasted effort pursuing someone who wasn’t interested, and provide information on how other authors can avoid doing the same. In How to Get on TV you describe a (very creative) way that you pitched Oprah. Though she never reached out, you’ve been featured on other networks many times. How feasible is it for unknown, indie authors to score a TV interview?

In the US, getting on local TV is relatively easy, even for an unknown author; you just have to pitch the station’s anchor correctly.  The important thing is that authors don’t just aim for “getting on TV” but make it a part of a planned media campaign.

Today, pretty much every station puts their news clips on the Internet. Therefore, authors should ask the anchor to give them the link. Then, the authors can pull off a screen-print and put it on their website. This works well, whether the author had a good show or not. Seeing that an author has been on TV impresses readers and they are more likely to buy this author’s book.

If an author’s guest appearance was a good one, they should link to the actual video and also “reuse” the appearance on social media platforms. Readers like to see authors on TV. It makes them feel as if they know the author better because they can see the author’s passion for their work. That implies that friends and fans can forward the video to their friends which helps to sell books.

Also, in general, statistics show that people who see an author on TV are more likely to buy paperback copies, which make more money for the author and also improve the book’s Nielsen BookScan rating. That’s very important because bookstores as well as libraries consult the Nielsen BookScan rating when making the decision to buy or stack up on books.

Getting featured on TV and in magazines has another very important effect. It is imperative that authors get their work noticed. Of course, everybody tries their luck on various social media platforms but wherever they go, they have to share the space with thousands of other authors.

In contrast, though not everybody in your hometown watches TV every day. Once you are on, many viewers will see you and watch you and what you have to say, specifically. Obviously, being on TV can be much more effective than posting 100 tweets.

Equally, if an author’s book is featured in a magazine, there won’t be more than half a dozen other books, so each book will receive more attention.

Lastly, speaking in public and pitching the media are useful skills for any author, but they have to be practiced. It is for this reason that every author should seek publicity.

  • You’re listed among Amazon’s top reviewers and you’ve also written a book to help authors land more reviews. Why should authors seek reviews from Amazon reviewers as well as book bloggers?

Firstly, Amazon top reviewers do not write negative reviews too often. To keep their rankings they have to read many books. If they don’t like a book they will simply put it away and take the next one.

Since I read a lot of nonfiction books, I do write negative reviews if I can see problems. The reason is obvious—I don’t want other readers to buy a book which may have serious flaws. However, like most other top reviewers, I put novels I don’t like aside and carry on.

Therefore, if an author seeks top reviewers’ reviews early, they can weaken the effect of a potential negative review which might get posted in the future.

Secondly, it is no secret that Amazon deletes reviews which Amazon’s algorithm identifies as “friends’ reviews.” For instance, there are all kinds of “reviewer clubs” on Facebook. Though the authors who join these clubs don’t do review exchanges per se, the way how they go about getting reviews leads to many of these reviews getting identified as “reviews from friends.” That hardly ever happens with an Amazon top reviewer’s review. Amazon top reviewers’ rankings depend on the number of great reviews they write; consequently, they will make sure that they do everything perfect, so Amazon won’t delete their reviews.

Thirdly, authors whose books receive too many too short reviews are often looking for better/more elaborate/more in-depth reviews. Since Amazon top reviewers’ reviews have to be found “helpful” to score, they write very good and passionate reviews.

Lastly, getting a great review from a reviewer with a badge (Hall-of-Fame, Top-50, Top-100, etc.)  is considered to be a badge for the author, too.

  • You’re an email expert and you’ve written a book called the The Effective 157-Word Email. As writers, we’re always emailing strangers, whether they’re magazine editors, reviewers, or TV networks. Are there any email faux pas that authors should avoid when contacting influencers?

The #1 problem which I see over and again is emails that are really “me-mails.” Especially authors, who are “masters of the pen,” (not handymen who don’t write for a living) need to avoid using the words “I,” “my,” and “me.”

For instance, I receive many emails which include the following sentences: “I am looking for quality reviews on Amazon to get feedback from readers,” or “I would really value your opinion!” Of course, that’s true, but since most reviewers receive anywhere from a dozen to two hundred requests per month, reviewers can’t be concerned with what the authors are looking for or would value. There isn’t enough time in the day to read all books and help all authors, who all want the same thing.

In contrast, an author who focuses on the “you,” the reviewer, and writes something like “You won’t find a funnier book than my book …xyz…, because …” is bound to get the reviewer’s attention, because every reviewer is looking forward to reading the books they enjoy reading.

Obviously, that’s not all. Writing a really effective email is an art. Still, just focusing on “what will YOU (the recipient) be interested in” will help to improve any email, remarkably.

  • Why did you decide to publish under your own imprint, Educ-Easy Books? And do you recommend that other authors publish books under their own imprint, or look for a traditional publisher?

As mentioned before, I really started out writing educational books for preschoolers. My books were very popular with teachers. Of course, I guessed that when I set up my publishing company and therefore picked a name that would make clear, “I am writing books that will help others to teach/learn easily.” This is why I recommend that every author who wants to set up their own publishing company thinks about a company name that conveys a message.

I would never deter anybody from trying to publish with a traditional publisher. However, authors need to consider that it might take years until they find one who wants to publish their book. Even JK Rowling and Stephen King got rejected over and over again. Since there is lots of information how to publish books and everybody can hire experts like editors, cover designers, and formatters, in essence, the question boils down to, “How much time do I have?”

Also, an author who self-publishes their first book has an opportunity to gain a following and fans, and might have it easier to attract a great publisher for their second or third book, because any author with a following looks more attractive than an author who has only a manuscript.


Thanks Gisela Hausmann! For more on Gisela, you can check out her Amazon page, follow her on Twitter, or read her posts over at Gisela’s Straightforward Blog.

PS – I’ve also featured Gisela, as well as a couple of bestselling self-published authors, in this Entrepreneur article about how successful authors market their books.

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Happy New Year!

Vanity Presses: Avoid These Publishing Rip-Offs

Publishing is a risky business.

Whether you opt for self-publishing or score a deal with a Big Five publisher, there is no guarantee that you will win lots of sales in the end. In an industry where going it all alone can be overwhelming and yet finding a publisher can be complicated, many unsuspecting first-time authors are easy prey for duplicitous companies.

Cue the rise of the vanity press.

Why Vanity Presses Are Publishing Industry Sharks

Vanity presses are “self-publishing” companies that charge for their services, such as editing and book design, but also take a portion of your book’s profits, and are the registered owner of your book’s ISBN.

Whereas traditional publishers invest in the book, ask for no money upfront, and consider their readers to be their customers, the customers of self-publishing companies are authors; their interest is in selling you services, not helping you sell books. On the other hand, when you self-publish a book without using a third party company, the business model is restored and the customer is once again the reader.

Because they charge exorbitant upfront fees for the book’s production, tie up authors in messy contracts, and also give out low royalty payments, it is virtually impossible for authors to turn a profit. Still, first-time authors fall for these tricks for the novelty of seeing their books in print and the hope of getting picked up by a traditional publisher someday.

Killer Contracts: The Vanity Press Undertow

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Although you’ve paid through the nose, a vanity’s lengthy, messy contracts put little onus on their responsibilities.

In his invaluable e-book Writing Tips, author E. Van Johnson dissected a vanity contract he received (and smartly rejected). Below are a couple of its many clauses that were exceedingly unfair to the writer:

  • SPECIFICATIONS PRINTING/BINDING

The PUBLISHER shall cause the WORK to be set out in clear modern type and shall have absolute discretion as to the format, typeface, style, binding and printing of the work and the number of copies from time to time to be printed and bound.

(This clause is problematic because the publisher does not need to consult the author on design and print run.)

  • REVIEW COPIES

The PUBLISHER reserves the right to distribute copies of the paperback and digital copies of said WORK, free of charge, to [media outlets]. …All matters concerning promotion and publicity in respect of the WORK shall be at the discretion of the PUBLISHER.

(All matters concerning promotion, etc. should be clear. Otherwise, this clause allows them to do absolutely nothing and keep your money.)

Johnson’s contract isn’t a one-off. Below, I’ve included some troubling clauses from my own contract with a vanity publisher.

  • TIMING OF SERVICES

We will use commercially reasonable efforts to deliver Services in a timely manner; however, We cannot guarantee that We can provide any Service by any desired deadline, as there may be circumstances beyond Our control.

(This permits the publisher to work without a deadline—a clause that can and will be abused. I waited months with no work at all done on my manuscript before I terminated the agreement.)

  • IF FOR ANY REASON A CLAIM PROCEEDS IN COURT, RATHER THAN IN ARBITRATION, YOU AND WE EACH WAIVE ANY RIGHT TO A JURY TRIAL. YOU OR WE MAY BRING SUIT IN COURT ON AN INDIVIDUAL BASIS ONLY, AND NOT IN A CLASS, CONSOLIDATED OR REPRESENTATIVE ACTION, TO APPLY FOR INJUNCTIVE REMEDIES.

(This ominous clause prevents authors from filing class action suits against the vanity, likely instated in wake of Author Solutions’ previous lawsuit.)

Escaping the Jaws of a Vanity Press

Once I had signed with a vanity press, while I did hear from them quite often, it was never about the status of my book. It was about selling me more and more services. At my wit’s end, I went on Google and typed “vanity press name” + “scam” and spent an entire evening reading horror stories about the press I had signed with, and others.

I knew I had to get out, and here are the steps I took to do it:

  • Email the vanity and tell them you wish to cancel your agreement. Many vanity press contracts require that if you terminate, you have to do so in writing.
  • When your email is ignored, phone the vanity to get their response. Credit card companies prefer to intervene only after you have failed to resolve the issue on your own, so try your best to get some sort of reply.
  • When the vanity refuses to honour your request, call your credit card company right away and file a complaint on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website.
  • Although your card company may issue you a temporary credit while the dispute is in process, know that vanity press contracts may have clauses that prevent you from seeking third-party help until a set number of days. The credit card company may have to wait before formally disputing charges.

Two months after I sent my initial termination email, I received a response through BBB, wherein the vanity shark denied my complaints but implied it wasn’t going to pursue me further. I was free.

What to do if you’ve already signed a contract and your book is post-production? While you retain ownership of the copyright, self-publishing contracts are messy. You do not own your ISBN, cover design, or typesetting, and upon termination, you’ll have to start from scratch with nothing but your manuscript. Still, it may be worth it for the greater royalty rate and control over your book down the road.

Once your book makes a splash and publishers begin approaching you, there are measures you can take to determine their legitimacy.

Is My Publisher Legitimate?

  • Make a hard-and-fast rule to never choose a publisher who demands both fees for publishing services and a percentage of royalties.
  • Be wary of any publisher that asks you to sign on the spot to qualify for a “special.”
  • Back out immediately if the publisher asks you how many of your own books you want to order. The reader is the customer. Not you.
  • Never use the services of any publisher addressed at Liberty Drive, Bloomington, Indiana. This is Author Solutions’ address (a vanity giant once owned by Penguin), and is used by all of their imprints.

For more information on self-publishing and assessing publishing contracts, you can pick up my free e-book. But in a nutshell, writers just need to remember Yog’s Law: “Money should flow toward the author.”

If you feel you’ve got a book in you, but the publishing process seems overwhelming, don’t be alarmed. Writers do not need the “help” of a vanity press; true self-publishing is done through owning your own ISBN under your name or your publisher’s imprint, contracting out much-needed services, such as design and editing, and uploading directly to bookseller websites such as Amazon and iTunes. This is the best way for self-published authors to maintain maximum creative control.

It may take longer than expected, but it will all be worth it in the end. It certainly was for me.

5 Things All Authors Must Know About Book Publishing in the Digital Age

I always knew that the book world was a tough one, but it is one that I’ve immersed myself in since I was a girl. I loved escaping into a good book. I always knew that I was going to be a writer. I didn’t know what kind of writer, but I knew that this was the industry I belonged in. I couldn’t even fathom doing anything else.

But when you’re a writer, you’re not just a writer. You’re a marketer. You’re an accountant. You’re an administrative assistant. You’re a web developer. And with the rise of new technology, what these jobs entail changes almost every year. The kicker is that you cannot take courses about these subjects. At least, not courses that will fully prepare you for the workforce. Businesses are advancing so rapidly that you need to stay with the times, take risks, and learn on the job, or you will risk becoming outdated and irrelevant.

I already kind of knew this about the book industry, and the new economy in general—the one that didn’t so much recover from the recession, as it did completely transform and reinvent itself. But it didn’t fully hit home until I stood side-by-side with an author friend while he looked for a publisher for his first novel, then looked into ways to market it, and then searched for a distributor. Getting your book out there into the world and into the hands of readers is a long (and exciting!) process. It definitely isn’t the same process it was ten years ago. Or five. Or one.

Here’s what his experience has taught me so far:

1) Whether you find a publishing company or decide to be your own publisher, the same rules apply.

Finding a publisher makes some things easier on the author. You don’t have to layout your book. You don’t have to design the cover. You don’t have to get an ISBN and worry about getting into online stores like Amazon. Most publishers will take care of these things for you. Basically, aside from writing the content, you don’t have to stress over the compilation of the book. In exchange, you relinquish a greater percentage of the profits than you would if you had self-published.

Weigh the pros and cons before deciding which publishing method is right for you. Do not feel set on going through a publisher just to avoid any “self-publishing stigma.” Self-publishing is swiftly gaining popularity, and many self-published books go on to become bestsellers. Frankly, I think self-publishing is the way of the future, as even more and more traditional publishing companies are starting to offer different packages for authors depending on how involved they want the publishing company to be. With the onus to make the book succeed less on the publisher and more on the author, it’s just a different playing field altogether than it was a generation ago.

That being said, whether you go through a publishing company or publish your own book, you will still have to consider how to market the book and whether you want to sell in-store, online, or both.

2) You are your own marketing team.

According to 111Publishing’s Savvy Book Writers blog (which is an absolutely amazing resource for writers), 95% of authors have to do their own marketing, even if they secure a deal with a major publisher.

The exception to this rule? Celebrities.

Basically, if you aren’t already famous, you have a choice between doing your own marketing or hiring a marketing company. Some publishers know of book promoters that they can recommend to you, but it’s up to you whether or not you want to use their services. Either way, you’d better get comfortable with social media and building an online presence.

3) Bookstores won’t touch print-on-demand books.

Getting a physical copy of your book on a shelf at Indigo should be no problem, right? You can just pre-order 50 copies and ask the manager if they wouldn’t mind stocking a couple for you.

Wrong. If you’ve published a book on a print-on-demand (POD) basis, it’s unlikely that any bookstore will go near it, particularly big chains. Stores don’t want to risk stocking books that won’t sell. This is because bookstores demand all the authors they carry to be secured with the Booksellers Return Program, so that the books the store buys can be refunded (and destroyed) if they do not sell—kind of an archaic procedure. The Booksellers Return Program is acquired through your distributor, or your publisher who has distribution connections.

Even with the Booksellers Return Program, individual bookstores (including chain locations) may turn your book away, or at least ask you to sign a consignment agreement entailing that the store does not have to pay for the books unless and until they are sold. Author Stephanie Chandler offers a free consignment agreement for authors interested in approaching bookstores, which in her experience can be successful at indie bookstores, even without a distributor.

4) Finding a distributor will be your biggest challenge.

This is something you probably haven’t even thought about. If your book is POD, you can try to make your own distribution contacts, although generally speaking distributors want books that have already sold well online (books that gross $500,000 to $1,000,000 in sales per year). If you’ve got a new book and you aren’t yet a millionaire, you can try distribution groups that specialize in distributing books from smaller publishers, but you’ll still need a high sales number. Once you’ve sold thousands of copies of your book online, don’t be afraid to phone up a distributor and ask them if they’re interested in your book. This brings me to my final point.

5) You can’t be afraid to make a pitch.

All authors need to get used to making pitches. You will have to pitch to publishers, then reviewers, bookstore owners, and finally, even after your book has sold incredibly well, you will have to pitch to distributors. Who knows? You may even have to pitch to film agents. You will need to get comfortable talking about your book.

I spoke on the phone with a distributor the other day and he told me that there are exceptions to every rule. Want to get into major retailers without a distributor? Pitch to the Director of Vendor Relations, and they may take a risk on you if your book seems compelling.

It’s a tough industry, but it’s also a kind one.

Bethany Chase on Finding Her Writing Style, Her Agent, and the Authors Who Inspire Her

cover1.1I had the pleasure of coming across Bethany Chase’s debut women’s fiction, The One that Got Away, a couple of months ago when I was looking for a de-stresser. I saw her book on the shelf with an Emily Giffin blurb, and I was sold.

Easy-to-read and well-written with a captivating first line that will draw you in, once I finished it, I was left wanting to know more about the talented woman behind the pen…so I decided to interview her!

Read on to find out how this bestselling author developed her craft, found an agent, and connected with Emily Giffin—as well as how her writing has changed between her first and newly released second book.

  • One of my favourite things about your first book is that it used very unique descriptions and similes. (I still remember that you wrote that Noah’s eyes were like “oxidized copper”—loved that!) How did you develop your writing style?

Thank you for the compliment! I think my style is a combination of my personal voicewhen people close to me in real life read my books, they say it’s like hearing my voice in their headand a lot of work and practice. I particularly love description and metaphor, so that is an area where I always work hard to push for a fresh idea or an unexpected turn of phrase.
  • What advice do you have for others who want to write and publish a novel?

Develop a thick skin, and never give up. From a technical point of view, I’d say to work hard to hone your craft, but also develop a filter for writing craft advice. This is something that just takes time and experience to learn to do, but there is a balance that has to be struck. If all writers followed all writing craft advice, we’d all sound exactly the same. There are basic rules of grammar and structure that must be obeyed for the sake of clarity, and there are a lot of well-worn guidelines that are well-worn for good reason (“Kill your darlings,” etc). But some of the advice you’ll see is purely about style, and that can and should be accepted or rejected individually.
  • You mentioned on your website that you’re represented by Meredith Kaffel of DeFiore & Co. How did you find your agent, and what advice do you have for other writers who are looking for agents?

I’m a perfect example in proof of the fact that you don’t need connections to get an agent. I actually had a connection when I was queryinga close friend of mine was a Big Five editor for a long time, and she knew several agents I was interested inbut while dropping my friend’s name in my query letter got my work requested quickly, it did not get me an agent. I wrote to Meredith cold, because I saw her interests listed women’s fiction and also non-fiction related to art and design. I told her I had a women’s fic novel set in the design/architecture industry, and indeed she was interested! I can’t underscore enough how essential the right fit of personality and work style is, when taking on an agent. It is in many, many ways comparable to finding the right romantic partner. From day one, Meredith has understood and supported not just the book I queried her with, but who I am as a writer, what position I want to find in the marketplace, and how I want to grow my career. I’m incredibly grateful every day to have her on my team, and I can’t imagine doing this without her.
  • I enjoyed the character development and pacing of The One that Got Away (for example, how what’s really going on with Sarina’s wonderful stepfather John is hinted at throughout, but not revealed until close to the end). Once you had your story idea, how did you get your manuscript ready? Do you have any “methods” that you use, such as creating character analyses or plot diagrams?

The One That Got Away was odd in that, when I started it, I had no specific intention of writing a book. I was just writing a scene sketch that amused me. And then I kept adding to it and adding to it, and when I eventually realized that what I’d written amounted to about a quarter of a full-length novel, I decided to finish it and see what happened! Now that I’m farther along as a writer, I am much more methodicalI outline the whole story (although obviously it can change along the way), and I do in-depth character sketches beforehand as well. I also always write a few sentences along the lines of the “meat” part of a query letter, or the back jacket copyI find it’s a very helpful exercise to force myself to identify the most interesting aspects of the story in a micro format.
  • What was the most challenging part of writing your first book, The One that Got Away?

Editing! And that’s been true for every book since.
  • Which author most inspires your writing?

I am drawn to writers with extremely strong voices. Joshilyn Jackson is basically my idol, and another discovery over the last year or so has been Deb Caletti. Deb is one of the most gifted writers I’ve ever read. I’ve also been evangelizing for Melissa DeCarlo since reading her debut, The Art of Crash Landing, earlier this year. She is incredible.
  • On the cover of The One that Got Away, bestselling women’s fiction author Emily Giffin wrote you a great testimonial! How did you connect with her?

Emily has been incredibly generous with her time and support of my work. She’s been one of my favorite writers since The One That Got Away was just a glimmer in my eyein fact reading Emily’s debut, Something Borrowed, on my way to Virginia to say goodbye to my beloved grandmother helped inspire me to write TOTGAand so I wrote her to tell her how much she’d influenced and inspired me.
  • Your second book, Results May Vary, was just released. How has your writing changed between your first and second book?

I like to think I’ve gotten better! As I mentioned, I’ve definitely become more deliberate in my plotting and decisions with my subsequent books, and I’ve continued working hard to elevate my language, as well. I will always keep learning and growing and practicing.
Thanks for your time, Bethany! I can’t wait to read your next book.
Results May Vary
Click here to check out Bethany’s latest novel, Results May Vary.