I get a lot of fodder for this blog from mistakes I see—author errors, newbie blunders, whatever—and believe me, I’m not immune to my own criticism. If you’ve read much at all here, you know I have several “do as I say, not as I do” and “learn from my mistakes, kids!” posts.
Well, sit back and relax folks, because I’m about to reveal the blunder of all blunders, the king of all kooky ideas, the superlative what was I thinking?! of all thoughtless mistakes in the publishing business. Read and learn.
If you’re published now and starting the promotions end of this business, you’ll recognize the idea of newsletters and self-promotion. I have trouble with my newsletter. More often than not, I don’t know what to write about, but aside from that, a newsletter is useless without subscribers. Building my list has proven challenging.
Then one day, an experienced author spoke to our group and told us how giveaways increased her circulation, readership, and sales, so I started focusing on giveaways. That helped some, but not as much as when I joined in a Ryan Zee campaign. My first campaign, a giveaway of sweet and mild romance, tripled my subscription list and gave me a wonderful bump in sales.
Ryan has several categories, and for an amazingly reasonable fee, you can join a giveaway along with other writers in your genre. Ryan and crew develop the ads/memes, Twitter and Facebook post language, and even a template for your newsletter. You and the others in the campaign post what Ryan provides as often as possible, then sit back and wait. Soon, you’ll receive a list of folks who want your newsletter because you write a genre they enjoy reading. They voluntarily sign up for it.
Of all the ones who signed up for my newsletter in my first RZ campaign (339), only four have unsubscribed, and the average open rate is 49.5%. Not too shabby.
So when I got notice that Ryan was at it again, I zipped over to his site to see what was up. My first campaign was Small Town Contemporary Romance, sweet to mild, but this time I didn’t see anything for October that really fit. Then—picture me scratching my chin as I’m deep in thought—I saw the category for Sports Romance.
Bull riding is a sport, says I. My book would fit right in, and I can pick up new readers!
So, I paid my fee, got my promo packet, and whipped out my newsletter, complete with the ad:
The larger ad I used in my newsletter showed the other writers’ covers featuring men with wonderful, washboard bellies and bulging muscles. Just the kind of things most romance readers are looking for.
But not my readers. As one person put it: “I don’t read smut about half-naked men!”
I lost five long-term subscribers almost immediately. When I looked at the ad the way the reader above did, I literally slapped my forehead. My daughter is seeing this. My Sunday school class! What was I thinking?!
Here’s the thing: I write Christian romance. By joining my book with these others, I violated my brand, and by violating my brand, I violated my readers’ trust.
I feel fortunate that I’ve lost only five readers—so far, anyway. I have three groups of subscribers: folks I know personally or have met through my speeches and events, folks who signed up through the first RZ campaign, and folks who signed up for a similar campaign designed by a fellow Christian Romance author. I scheduled the newsletter for three different times and, fortunately, cancelled the one addressed to the Christian readers. That would’ve been another 300+ cancellations!
This isn’t a discussion of how there’s nothing wrong with the male body, nor is it an opportunity to bash people whose sensitivities are different from others’. This is a discussion of image and how easily you can blow your own.
This is me, making my stumble part of the dance by hoping you learn from my mistakes.
As authors, we work to develop our brand, our image. One need only a glance at Paula Deen to see how quickly it can crumble. One word—substantiated or not—can crash an empire.
I’m not as famous as Paula was. Not many of us are. This will all blow over soon. At the worst, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. At best, my lesson also teaches you. Lesson learned. Move on . . .