The Pages & Platforms Podcast - Episode 1: Step One to Launching Your Book
with Sue Campbell
We’ve launched a podcast! We’ll talking book launches and editing (heavy on the book launches) as we do a real-time case study of the launch of my middle grade novel The Cat, the Cash, the Leap, and the List. Along the way, we’ll be talking to a variety of writers and be joined by the Pages and Platforms editors to talk about how to write a compelling story and what it takes to get it an audience.
Read the transcript:
Sue Campbell: Yeah, I really didn't think there was going to be this much nausea involved in launching my book.
Sue Campbell: Hello and welcome to the Pages & Platforms podcast. I'm Sue Campbell, a book launch coach and writer. I'm about to launch my own novel, an adventure story for middle grade readers, and I'm inviting you behind the scenes. There'll be highlights and low lights, strikes and gutters. I'll share what I know and what I learned along the way in the hope that writers everywhere will benefit.
Since this is season one, episode one, I think a little background is in order. Pages & Platforms is the name of my company, that I co-founded with Rachelle Ramirez and Anne Hawley who are both Story Grid certified editors and I, again, am a book launch coach. So what we were hoping to do is send the message to writers that if you want to have a successful career, you have to make sure you're working with a team of professionals to put out a professional product.
So you have to write a story that works, whether it's fiction or nonfiction. So that is the "pages "part of what we do. We have two very skilled Story Grid certified editors who work with you to make sure you have a story that works, and then we also wanted to convey the message that you need to think about your marketing because no one's going to do it for you these days. Unless you're an author who's gotten a big fat book advance, your publisher is very unlikely to give you a whole lot of marketing resources. It's going to be up to you to launch your book and continue to market your book. You're the one who cares the most and you're the one who can do the most good for your book.
One thing that's really important to us at Pages & Platforms is that we're using methods that work. We're using proven systems and methodologies both for editing stories and for launching books and helping authors build their author platforms. So Anne and Rachelle are both Story Grid certified editors. They trained under a man named Shawn Coyne who wrote the The Story Grid book and runs The Story Grid website and podcast. And trained a small cadre of professional editors. And I trained under a guy named Tim Grahl of booklaunch.com who has run launches for over 10 years and now sells courses based on his methods and, again, Trained a small cadre of book marketers. So it was really important to us if we were going to go all in and try to help writers that we were using methods that truly had a track record of working.
The last thing that we want to do is just give writers false hope and take their money. We're writers ourselves and we get it. That's the whole reason we kind of got into the line of work that we're in right now, becoming editors and becoming book marketers is because we have a love of books and a love of stories.
So whether you're a traditionally published author or you're indie publishing, we want to help you create the very best story possible and then give that story the very best chance to find its audience.
So that's what we're going to do on this podcast. We're going to give you tips and tools and resources to write the very best book you can and then get it out into the world. And I will be using myself as a case study this first season, which means you need to know some things about my book.
So the book is called The Cat, the Cash, the Leap, and the List. And it is for middle grade readers, approximately six years old to eleven years old-ish. On the lower end of that, they're going to be reading with their parents probably. And on the upper end of that in three months they're going to be reading YA. So it's fun book. I started writing it back in 2013. I'd been a writer of nonfiction for years, never tried fiction before with any real success. And when my younger daughter started getting into middle grade territory, we started reading books together and I absolutely fell in love with middle grade books and I decided I wanted to write one on a summer vacation where I had 10 days off.
So that's what I did. I wrote an awful, awful first draft in about 10 days with my little six year old project manager. I would read her a little section from the book and then she'd say, that's great mommy, go write some more. And so I would go and write some more. And I did have a very shitty first draft at the end of it, but I was still so excited and I didn't want to give up. And I knew that shitty first drafts are just part of the program. So I got to work on editing and started looking for information on how to make it the best book possible. And that's when I started talking about books and writing with Anne Hawley. Found her through a completely separate channel and we both found out that we were writers and I got to read Anne's book, which was magnificent and it's called Restraint. You should pick it up. And she helped me start to mold my book. We were both looking for tools along the way that would help us write better stories. In Anne's case, she had to trim quite a bit of content from her manuscript. In my case, I had to add quite a bit to mine and just make it make sense and be good.
So we started poking around together and found a variety of editing tools. I really like Larry Brooks of storyfix.com and his four act structure. And I kind of dove headlong into that. And then shortly thereafter found Story Grid through Steven Pressfield who wrote the wonderful cult classic book, The War of Art. He had a guest appearance on his blog from his editor, Shawn Coyne. And so I started exploring Story Grid, signed up for Sean's mailing list and the rest is history. I told Anne about it. Anne dove headlong in and when the opportunity came up to become a Story Grid certified editors, she jumped on it.
Anne is responsible for editing my book. So God bless her. Thank you so much. And I started looking for an agent after about, I think it was after the second year, so I had it edited to a certain point. I felt like it was done and I started sending out query letters and then I went to William at Writers' Conference and plopped down 25 bucks to talk to some agents for five minutes, which I actually highly recommend doing if you want to go the traditional route and you want to ... Sit down face to face with an editor is so powerful. Or not an editor, an agent, is so powerful and helpful because you get instant feedback and you're so much more likely to get someone to request your full manuscript or at least additional materials. And then you have a way to sort of slip past that gatekeeping when you send in a query letter because you are able to put in the subject line "Requested materials from WWC", which is Willamette Writer's Conference.
So anyway, out of that conference I met with two or three agents I think, and then ended up getting requests for full manuscripts. I got one or two rejections and then the third agent wanted to see more and wanted to talk on the phone. So she read the manuscript and then she wanted to have a phone call, which is that first step when an agent is thinking of considering taking someone on. So that was extremely exciting. She said if I'd be willing to do more revisions on the book, she'd be willing to represent me. And so that's what we did. However, unfortunately, a little further down the line, she decided not to be an agent anymore. And after that news I had some waiting to do because if I found a publisher on my own after that, she would still get a cut because of the way our contract was drawn up, I had to let a certain amount of time elapse.
So in that time I looked at the manuscript again and I'm like, you know what, I can make this even better. So Anne and I worked together and we had a lot more tools at that point. Having both read the Story Grid and diving deeper into the materials. So we worked on revising it even further. So at that point I was really left with a decision, am I going to try to get another agent or am I going to try to do this myself? And I have been back and forth on this issue so many times. So where I ultimately landed is I revised the book again and then thought, okay, I'm going to give one more push through the traditional methods. So sent out another slew of queries and went to Willamette Writer's Conference again. This was actually last August of 2018. I met with four agents, three of them requested more materials. Of those three requests, I got two rejections and one person who didn't answer at all.
And so from that point I'm like, five years into this and I want to put the book out and I know that I've done my due diligence and making it the best book that I can and I decided to just go for it and try the indie publishing route. So started listening to programs like Joanna Penn's podcast, looked at the work of Mark Dawson, wanted to really do the whole indie publishing thing right. If I was going to do it, I didn't want anybody who didn't know any better to be able to tell that it was a quote unquote "self published" book.
So that is the path that I am on right now. And as we go through the podcast and the episodes, I will talk about a lot of the various steps I took to get to this end product that I'm really, really proud of.
So I just want to read you the blurb, the description of my book so you can get a little bit of a sense. And also in another episode we'll talk about jacket copy and blurbs and what makes a great description. But I just want to give you a little bit of the flavor of the book to give you some context as we go forward.
"10 year old Martha has leadership skills. At least that's what her parents say. Her cousins, Sanjay and Anand say she's bossy. When Martha secretly adopts a very pregnant cat right before her cousins come for a long visit, it puts a serious kink in her carefully laid plans for summer. That kink grows even bigger when the cat runs away. Still, Martha's determined to give her cousins 42 days of fun, Portland, Oregon style. But 10 year old Sanjay and eight year old Anand faced troubles of their own. Anand must get strong enough to conquer the Tarzan rope that booms across the neighborhood swimming pool. And Sanjay has a big secret stashed in Martha's attic. They've got to work together to find Martha's cat and newborn kittens before the urban coyotes do. The Cat, the Cash, the Leap, and the List is a new take on the classic summer adventure story for middle grade readers. If you like books with humor, heart and action like The Penderwicks, let Sue Campbell take you a delightful romp through Portland in the summertime."
So now that my launch is getting so close, I'm finalizing my publication date and trying to figure out how this whole strategy is going to come together. I am sick to my stomach and it's funny because I've worked with writers in launching their books and putting themselves out there and marketing themselves and I always try to coach them through with empathy and understanding. And I am not someone who has a lot of anxiety typically and even around social situations because I've had a lot of practice in public speaking and talking to all kinds of people in all kinds of venues. But the thought of putting out your very own book and it not succeeding, it's terrifying.
So I'm very glad that I'm pushing through this process and I now have a greater understanding and empathy for writers who are in this situation. And if you are in this situation right now, I really recommend checking out a book like The War of Art or Big Magic to kind of help get you through and remember your purpose and remember your vocation. And I really believe that marketing can become a part of your creative process if done right. But yeah, there are going to be some uncomfortable moments and you're going to just have to do it anyway.
So now that you have all of that background, I want to talk for the rest of the episode about the number one thing. The very first thing that you need to think about, whether you're launching a book in a few months or a few years, you really want to start looking at building your author platform. So what's an author platform? An author platform is basically the following that you're going to have that's going to sell the book. So it's the people you're going to sell the book to. What's your platform? So for someone who is a nonfiction author, maybe they have a platform because they are going around doing speaking on business topics in the business world. So they're already well known on the speaker circuit for example. Or maybe you already have a very popular podcast and so you can reach people who would buy your book because you have a big listenership on your podcast. So it can be any variety of things. That's your author platform.
However, what I recommend and what Tim recommends and Tim has launched numerous bestselling books, is your author platform, the foundation of it, should really be an email list. So you need to have a group of subscribers that you can reach any time via e-mail and you're going to build relationships and keep in contact with those folks over the course of your whole career. So you're not just thinking about selling this next book, you're thinking about selling all of your future books. So then when you look at the types of platforms we just talked about where maybe you're on the speaking circuit or maybe you have a popular podcast, you need to work on converting that platform that you already have into an e-mail list. And it doesn't mean you stop doing the podcast or stop doing speaking events, but you're always trying to grow your e-mail list. That is your number one goal when you're thinking about marketing yourself and your books.
So that my friends is the key takeaway from today. If you do not have a mailing list right now, I want you to get one set up this week. So if you have a website, great. So go to someplace like MailChimp or ConvertKit and start getting set up so that you can create a mailing list and we'll talk about all the pieces of that as we go forward and what's involved. If you don't have a website, you're going to need one for that purpose so that you have kind of a place for people to land and a chance to convert them to your e-mail list. So you can get started on that if you don't already have one. And if you want to check out my website for my middle grade novel, you can go to suecampbellbooks.com and poke around.
I also have another website which is a mommy blog that I started years and years ago that has a not great following but decent enough that I want to keep maintaining it and all of those folks who follow that website know that I'm a writer and are following my career. So I kind of have two lists happening that are all serving to promote my book that's going to be coming out. So that's mommyspen.com. So you can check out those two things and I will be back next week to talk more about mailing lists, how to get it set up, what to do with it once you have it.
So that's all for this week. If you want to learn more about Pages & Platforms and read some helpful articles, you can go to pagesandplatforms.com and actually if you sign up for the mailing list of pagesandplatforms.com you can get a free 45-minute consultation with a developmental editor and with me to talk about your marketing. So you can do either or you can do both calls, but go over there and sign up today. Pagesandplatforms.com.
See you next week.