Perhaps you think that an email newsletter is a rather outdated form of communication for authors. I mean, we Tweet, we Facebook, we text. Isn’t email going away?

Not for everyone.

Even though incoming college freshman at many colleges don’t even receive email addresses ending in .edu and are getting iPads to store their textbooks on, email still is very much in vogue with other audiences. The Boomers for instance have fully embraced email, Gen X still uses email, as does Gen Y. Because email is now so prevalent in business, email newsletters are seen as a vital marketing tool in order to sell a known commodity.

And books are known commodities.

1. If you write any sort of book, think about how your readers find information, not how you do. Authors typically know each other, so they’re not all that keen on reading an email newsletter. But are other authors your audience? If not, you should think twice before refusing to send an email newsletter to your fans.

2. Think short. Email newsletters often need be only one or two paragraphs announcing a new book, pointing people to a recent article you wrote or a discussion on a blog somewhere that you think is applicable to your readers. Book authors often consider writing short to be impossible, but practice. Write one paragraph to your audience once a week. Even if you don’t send it out quite yet, it conditions your brain to find interesting tidbits that can be delivered short and often.

3. Consider current SPAM laws. A lot of authors I know refuse to do an email newsletter, but send an email out to a list of people every time they publish an article or appear at a bookstore. To the FTC, this is considered spamming your audience. Any time you do not ask permission before you send unsolicited, REGULARLY SCHEDULED emails to even one person, you are spamming. Be a decent person. Be a respectable author. Stop spamming. Find an email subscription service (MailChimp, ConstantContact, or Aweber) and get permission to send emails.

Emails do matter. Done right, they will help you. Done wrong, they will harm you.

How are you using email?

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(via Jaythebooknerd)

I love this picture! When people read, they really read.

This picture makes me hopeful for authors. Keep writing! People do read!

When developing your positioning as an author of a book, it’s always good to think about why people even buy and read books. I’ve included several reasons below. See if you can’t see yourself or your readers in some of the examples and use those examples to create quality content unmarketing that makes your readers feel cared for and understood.

So, what makes us buy books anyway? Because we’ll sound smart? Because it’s a literary tradition?

1. Books make us feel safe and secure. Really. If you don’t think so, ignore this and go on to #2. But if you’re like me (and somewhat like Jay in the picture above), you read to feel safe and secure. How? Books are very comforting to a lot of people. Introverts who do not get energy from hanging out with large groups of friends may feel safer with their books.

People like to read books to know they are not alone. They are safe within a book’s front and back, because they are not the character being hunted or working through a painful breakup. We read to realize that everyone feels like we do or others have been afraid of the dark at one time in their lives. We read to understand where other people are coming from. We read to be more tolerant with people we don’t understand.

2. We read books for approval. Yes, we do. When this friend tells about a book she’s reading, this other friend goes out to read it. Or entire book clubs read a book together. Entire neighborhoods pass books around. Bibliophiles read just to outread each other. We were conditioned for this back in first grade when we had reading contests. I still remember that I lost in first grade. Yeah, we read for approval.

3. Books make us feel we are in control. How many times do you read a book that ends satisfactorily, and you close the cover with a sigh and feel that all is well in the world. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy married. Charles Darnay lived a long and happy life. Lisbeth Salander survived and is finally free. It makes us feel good.

4. Books set us apart. Yes, we’re able to individuate when we read books. We can differentiate ourselves from other readers by the books we choose. It’s another form of control, but slightly different in that reading more, reading bigger, thicker books, reading books about certain subjects sets a reader apart. We like the feeling too.

So, what audience do you write for? Who buys your books? A reader who likes to feel individuated from his fellow man? A reader who feels safe and secure when reading your books? A reader who likes to be in control? Or a reader who desperately wants approval?

All those may be different audiences within your core audience. Or you may have a mixture of reader personalities in your audience. The key is finding out which is the majority and which will respond to you and continue to buy your books.

Disclaimer: This is very powerful content creation thinking. You will begin to brainstorm who your audience is and find that you may have been producing the wrong blog posts or Tweeting more about a different reason listed above than you thought. This is where you can truly set up a powerful platform by thinking through your reasoning on Twitter and on your blog and everywhere you interact with your readers.

The question again: Why do YOUR readers buy YOUR books? Are you rewarding them for doing so? How?

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(via Crux Roads)

I’m trying so hard to not use the m——– word too much on this blog, especially for you authors with sensitive dispositions. We’re going to ease you in. Have no fear.

Writing to your loyal tribe is not playing hardball m——–, right? And I have experienced hardball tactics this past five days. My husband and I are replacing our life insurance policies (we’re young; hubby’s going to turn 40) because the rates are going up.

Now, I’m a loyal State Farm Insurance customer. I worked as a State Farm marketing assistant for my long-time agent and when I got married, my husband moved from another company over to State Farm, because I love State Farm. We got a new agent up here by Seattle who we also loved and then he retired and a new, very hungry and motivated agent took over a few years ago.

She’s cool. She’s a lot like me . . . when I was a marketing assistant 18 years ago. I used to sell hard. I pushed and prodded and was a bloody nuisance to all of our State Farm loyal customers. I was 18 years old! I had no idea what I was doing. So then, when I see this new agent, who is older than me and experienced as an agent using the same tactics that I have outgrown, well, I call it m——– hardball. I flat out told her so on the phone the other day. I hate being hardballed.

So I don’t want to be this way on this blog and especially, do NOT want to train any authors to do it either!

The answer to hardball m——– is content marketing. But we’ll call it content unmarketing to differentiate in your author minds. Because with content, you’re giving your readers information that they need or want. And since you’ve written a book, you’re their expert.

Instead of pushing them to buy more and more, you’re going to reward them for buying your book and for listening to you and for being interested in you. Promotion shouldn’t be happening with an author’s loyal tribe every second. Even if you write a book a year, that’s just once a year. Even if you find 12 other authors to help promote, that’s once a month. So your audience is a bit different than say, a State Farm insurance audience or a business audience.

Your newsletter is going to be content-rich. Here’s how:

1. Condition them to click on links. Tis the way of the Internet! You give them links to recent posts on your blog, recent guest spots you’ve done on other blogs, and links to interesting things you’ve found on the Web that you know they would like to check out for themselves.

2. Your newsletter is like a short article (400-500 words max). You write short pieces about this book you read the other day that relates to the book you wrote, or about someone you talked with about this part of your novel, or that story in the New York Times about that person who just got back from . . . well, you know the drill.

3. Consider how your newsletter platform or theme works with your book(s). Does it fit together or is it diametrically opposed? Either way is fine, but you need to know why you’re doing that. The answer can be as simple as “I like it. It’s something I’m trying out.” Good. At least you have a reason. If you’re only doing it because someone told you to, I’d be a bit more worried.

Above all, the content of an email newsletter is like your blog, only hyperfocused. People who give you their email addresses deserve extra tidbits (remember to give coconuts!).

Next up, talking about why people buy books and how you can use those behaviors to create powerful content.

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(via Empire Movies)

The secret?

Find your loyal fans.

Now, I’m sure you’re already got quite a few. These are the people who you already email, always want to know what you’re working on right now, you go to lunch with them, you always hear from them (or they are always glad to hear from you!).

Those are your loyal fans. It does NOT take millions of loyal fans (although we’d love it, wouldn’t we?), but it just doesn’t. It just takes a rabid tribe of about 150 to start and perhaps 1,000 total.

I’m sure those numbers surprise you. But really, can you pay much more attention to more than 150 people you really, truly like on Facebook or Twitter? And trust me, once you get above 1,000 friends, the list just become unmanageable.

So lower the bar. Think L-O-Y-A-L fans, not every single person in Walmart on a Tuesday night. Think about people who are truly interested in what you have to say and what you are writing, not every person at the Seahawks game. Think people who will be so interested that they will in turn share you with their 150- to 1,000-person circle. Think compound friending, not having to meet and greet every single individual who couldn’t care less about you at a social event. Think strategy.

Think about a list.

How do you reach those 150 to 1,000 loyal fans? How do you interact with them? How do they keep up with you? A blog is great, but it’s a launch pad to better things. Trust me.

A list is not an RSS subscription. That is a list, but you don’t actually send anything. Google reader does. I’m talking about another kind of list. An email eZine list. This is a separate signup from RSS. This is different than just a RSS feed of all your blog posts. This is a “loyal tribe” list.

If you didn’t have email, but were marooned on a deserted Pacific Ocean Island, would you try to get everyone on that island to be in your tribe? Of course! (It’s a lot smaller than the world at large.) But you would fail. Not everyone will want to be on your team, or in your tribe. Some will want to join another tribe. That’s fine and dandy. I mean, you can’t force people to like you. Instead of getting those who actually do like you and want to be in your tribe to give you their email addresses, they would simply camp close by. Your email list is like your camp. You care about these people and you give them special favor. (You’ll be a popular tribal leader if you gave everyone coconuts, I promise!)

Then think of your email newsletter as a chance to give your loyal tribe coconuts. (Of course, substitute something you’ve written or produced or created for the coconuts; we’re writers, not crazy Johny Depp as Jack Sparrow.)

What can you give them?

We’ll talk about that next time.

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All this marketing, positioning, platform talk may seem narcissistic to you as a writer. What does this have to do with writing?

A lot.

I watch the most literary writers begin to write a novel or a nonfiction book. They “appear” to not be paying attention to what’s going on around them, when in fact, they listen almost constantly to NPR. They read Huffington Post and the New York Times, the Sun, Creative Nonfiction, and Publisher’s Weekly. They are siphoning trends into their work via these publications.

This is smart. I love it. I am impressed and inspired. Kudos to writers who pay attention to what’s going on around them. Now I want to give you one more tool as you gather trending information. This tool helps you to make a bigger bang, helps readers throng to you, helps your book stay in print longer, helps bookstores order more copies, gets you bigger reviews, better post-publication coverage on NPR and Huffington Post and the New  York Times.

Ready?

It’s an ugly word. Marketing.

You’re already doing it, did you know? You’re 85 percent there. You’re using what you know and what you see to create something amazing. But now you’ve got to take into account the last little 5 percent that will ultimately break or bust wide open your book sales.

Your marketing position.

Sure, it’s literary fiction or it’s a literary memoir, but the need remains the same: people must buy it and talk about you and want to listen to you for it to do well.

Thus, you must build your book (just as you do already) with a bit of a marketing positioning exercise that I call stickiness.These are three simple, simple questions.

SOTS (State of the Sticky)

1. What do you know and how can it be pegged to current events or current trends? You’re already doing this via my example above.

2. Who do you know that wants to read about this and know about this and would be your most loyal fans? You’re almost already doing this by the example above. You just have to think about the reader that is also reading what you’re reading in the NYT, HuffPo, Creative Nonfiction, the Sun, and NPR. What else do they want to know that you could provide for them?

3. Create a simple, clear, concrete, story-based positioning statement. This is who you are writing to, what you are writing about, how you will position the product, how you will position yourself as a writer, how you will market the book, market yourself, etc. Most writers forget about this 5 percent step and then wind up selling meager copies of their book, can’t generate a following to keep up the demand for their writing, and have a hard time figuring out what to talk about to an audience that has no idea who they are or what they are about.

This positioning statement is your working theme. It may change rapidly, or it may change slowly. It may morph on its own or you may massage it into something else. This statement is from where you start to blog, to write guest posts, to talk and you can adjust your message for all those opportunities as you know more and more about how you fit into society at large and the reading/writing/arts world.

I know marketing, promotion, positioning, and platform are anathema to writers. I know it seems like us marketers only want you to write for an audience. Yes. I do. That’s how you sell books. But the best part of this anathema is that you get to choose the audience. This is all completely in your control. It just takes smart positioning.

Next up, how to use positioning to start collecting names for your mailing list.

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Your author blog should be a destination for your readers.

How do you have a great blog to sell more books (or to get a book deal in the first place)?

You’re smart with your author blog.

1. You use your blog as a content hub. Sure, a website is great, but a blog is more current. A website is static. When you want to know what’s going on with your favorite author right now, don’t you always check the blog first? I do. Talk about what you’re reading, what you’re writing, what you’re doing, where you’re going, and what’s happening with your career. Don’t be shy! People are dying to know. YA novelist Laura Dessen is really good at this, as is YA author Ally Carter and Maggie Steifvater and Libba Bray. (See a trend? Yep, I love and also write YA!)

2. Offer different ways for a reader to keep track of what’s new. Give them RSS/email subscription options to keep up via email or Google Reader. Film yourself talking to your reader and post it on YouTube, record a podcast of you reading your favorite part of your book! Record an interview you taped just for your readers. The sky is the limit!

3. Offer an extra treat to those who sign up to be in your “tribe.” This is a standalone email newsletter that you offer from your blog that gives even more over-the-top content and goodies to your loyal fans. (hey, if they trust you with their email address, don’t abuse the privilege!) Spoil your followers and give them a free report (an extra chapter of your last book), sneak peeks of your new work in progress, first glimpse of the new cover, extra YouTube videos or podcasts and a lot of information they want to know—your favorite junk food when you’re writing, a picture of your cat, etc.

4. Add a Flickr account to your blog. Post pictures of your travels, your writing room, your book collection, your ukelele (if you’ve got one!) Talk about your life and your interests. Give your books some flavor. You’re the best salesperson they’ve got, so get out there. Better than having to sing and dance on a stage, truly!

5. Link to bookstores (independents or chains; your choice). Remind your readers that you’re there to sell books so that you can keep on creating those stories for them to read. Ask for the sale. If you don’t, who else will?

Your task of the weekend: Go find five of your favorite authors and see if they have blogs. Do they have a mailing list? Sign up! Do they do anything super cool that you’re interested in doing as well? Share that in the comments if you want.

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Start a list.

But don’t just take it from me.

Agent Simon Lipskar of Writers House spoke at Digital Book World 2011 in New York City last week and Publisher’s Lunch reported on the event.

But Lipskar said that in days ahead, “publishers are going to have to prove they are better at marketing and publicity than authors themselves. That will mean dynamically moving towards customer-direct models rather than marketing to retailers and reviewers. That is something agents will pay attention to.” He also noted that one of his goals for the coming year was to help his authors develop lists of their readers and fans.

So don’t take it from me. Take it from a top New York City agent! I wrote to a long list of agents in February 2010 telling them this exact thing (call me ahead of the curve). I am thrilled to find out that agents are picking up on this and instructing their authors to build a list.

Yes, this is the one thing authors must do in 2011.

Build a list.

Why? What’s the point?

Becuase authors are now going to be on an even playing field (thanks to Amazon.com, Indie bookstores, the Kindle, the iPad, the Nook, Kindle Singles, etc.) with publishers and it’s a known fact that the smaller you are, the easier you can outmanuever the big guys.

And I don’t mean any disrespect to publishers. We will still need them (as well as agents) in the days ahead. But the needs will ultimately change. Publishers will produce what authors can’t do already through Amazon.com and the Kindle. Publishers will learn to market their strengths and to position themselves as providers of services that authors can’t do themselves. What exactly will that be?

We just don’t know. As ebooks continue to grow, more and more authors are figuring out there is no reason to wait around for a publishing decision that is usually against them. They’re trying other things. I’m trying other things. But publishers are always needed, whether or not they actually edit anything. They may just become POD services or distribution services. Who says publishers have the sole brain trust that is required to understand what a buying public wants? They haven’t exactly hit every book they acquired out of the ballpark.

On the other hand, authors are too uneasy about marketing/branding/position. It is high time authors get on the horse. Become the brain trust. When you ignore VITAL skills that help you sell what you produce, you will always end up selling used cars. It’s an analogy I’ve used many times on this blog. Authors that REFUSE to learn will ultimately fail. Authors who are willing to learn new skills and to venture out and try new things will succeed.

Which do you want to be?

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1. How I . . .
2. How You Can . . .
3. 10 Tips to . . .
4. 5 Ways Your . . .
5. How to . . .
6. The (Strong Descriptive Noun)’s Guide to . . .
7. Scared to . . . ?
8. Finding . . .
9. This Is Not  . . .
10. Don’t . . .

Strong, strong words. Don’t dilly-dally with anything weaker. Don’t waste your reader’s time or the bandwidth. If you’ve got the space, use it. Power it up. Make people look twice (if that’s your personality), make people curious (my personality), offer sound advice and solutions (also my personality), and above all, be confident, be the expert, talk about what is in your book or what you’ve learned from that book. It’s all about perception.

1. Don’t start out with “My Favorite Things About . . . “ It’s overused and unless you can spice it up by saying: “How I Was Scared to Death by . . . ” or something like that, you’re not being perceived as interesting. You’re a bit boring.

2. Don’t overly promote. If all people read on your blog is “Buy my book! Buy my book!” they won’t come back. They have patience around a launch, but shut up about it and talk about the book themes and be interesting now. Give them a reason to want to buy the book. Put a link on the sidebar to an Indie bookstore or Amazon. They’ll find it.

3. Put your picture on the blog as well as your book cover. People want to see you too.

4. Set up an RSS feed so you can have people subscribe by email or Google reader. Seriously, don’t you want people to follow what you write? Give them an opportunity to do so.

5. Start an email list (this is separate from an email RSS subscription). You run this away from your blog, using Aweber or Madmimi or Constant Contact. (I use Aweber.) Do it NOW. Every agent I know is talking about how their authors are going to start a mailing list this year. Jump in; the water’s fine.

Got some ideas? Good!

This is the end of the month. Tomorrow, we’ll be talking list-building tactics (see #5 above) for the entire month of February! If my blog posts don’t convince you, perhaps you’ll buy my book coming out in March on the subject. Stay tuned!

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In part one of this series, I discussed the point of writing pre-launch content and in part two, I gave an outline and tips on creating pre-launch content, and in this post, I want to discuss how to make time for and how to organize the creating of pre-launch content.

First of all, one quick question: How do you eat an elephant?

And as usual, the answer is: One bite at a time.

It’s the same with creating content for your blog and running a full-blown promotional schedule at one of the busiest times of an author’s life.

The standard MO (mode of operation) for everything we do in life is to divide it up into doable tasks. This is nothing different.

1. Make a list of everything you need to do to create your pre-launch content. This is a master list. Sometimes the best way to keep track of your master list is a paper/pen list (in a notebook or a sheet of paper). Other times, writing your master list on a white board works better. Other times, having an electronic list that can be emailed and saved to multiple computers/mobile devices. Whatever works best for you, just make the list.

2. Organize the items on the master list into categories: writing, admin (emailing, pitching, getting in touch with), research on content, research on promotional opps. Those are just to start. Make up your own if you need them! If you’re more tactile, create specialty folders and keep them near your computer. If you can handle al electronic list, start a new sub document for each category. If you’re writing all this on a white board, organize the columns by category.

3. Set aside at least an hour a day divided into 15-minute increments (get at timer!) to get started. As things heat up and your book launch gets closer, you’ll need to devote more and more time to this, but if you give yourself at least 5-10 hours a week three months before to work on this, you’ll be so thankful that you did. It helps a LOT to do the leg work as far out as possible from your actual book publication. There’s enough going on around that.

When you set that timer for 15 minutes:

Ignore the phone.

Ignore the email.

Ignore the television.

Wire in. (From The Social Network, talking about programmers in the zone writing code.) You have got to wire in and get in the zone. Anyone can do this for 15 minutes, no matter who you are. The thing I’ve seen is that once people get started, they don’t stop. The 15 minutes turns into an hour or two. Suddenly, you’re writing pre-launch content. You’re on your way.

It’s true. Even though it sounds a bit pie in the sky, it’s simple and straightforward. And keeping it simple and straightforward is the best way to approach this. As writers, we find enough anxiety around our writing to complicate it by making it too hard.

Next up, some blog post title samples you can steal (best suited for an author’s pre-launch content) from me (I don’t mind at all!!) that will hopefully help in your pre-launch content creation.

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So we’ve already talked about the most important reason to write pre-launch content around (before and after) your book is published (see Part One of this series). Now we’ll tackle how to organize the content and how you’ll be dribbling it out.

Yes, I like the world dribble.

Say you have a book coming out in three months. When do you start talking specifically about your launch, and what are you going to say without becoming one of those slick used car sales people? (Not that there is ANYTHING wrong with a used car salesperson; some very honest and good people have sold me cars and I have nothing against them.) But we authors want to be dignified with our selling message. We don’t want to appear too spammy or overly promotional. We don’t want to be THAT person. (The used car analogy is easy to use.)

This is what I think: If authors do not learn basic salesmanship, we will always be “that person.” You cannot promote yourself without knowing at least something about how people tick and what makes them buy. When you refuse to learn, you will BE “that person.” The more you learn, the less you will be irritating, because you’ll know what your audience wants, what you want them to do, and you’ll make sure you’re providing content to get them from point A to point B.

This is basic salesmanship anyway, isn’t it? The customer wants to buy a car; you want to sell them a particular car. You use selling techniques to get them there. But we’re going to do this with content marketing, not Craigslist. Your ideal customer wants to buy a book that interests them (a book just like yours) and you want to sell them your book because it interests them. Point A to point B. Here’s how.

1. List quickly what you would tell someone if they were buying say, a car from you. Color, make, model, price, mileage, repairs, scratches, tire life, MPG, size of the trunk, etc. At any time, that buyer could drop off, because there is one element of your “car” that doesn’t interest them. Same thing with your book. That’s okay! This is good. This is filtering out the people that are NOT your audience. The best way to get a sale is not to tell everyone that is NOT interested in your book, but to tell people that ARE interested. So what about your book would interest some and not interest others? What is your angle? What is your passion? (Hint: It should be those topics present in the book that you are trying to sell.)

2. Pick your top five elements and write a blog post about each. If you’re writing a novel about Africa, you would write about the country your novel is set in, a story about someone you met or know from that country (find a story on the Internet newspapers if you don’t have one to share), and anything that pertains to the novel story. If readers are interested in this, they will be ready to read your book. If they are not interested, your novel is not for them. For novels specifically, it would be similar stories to yours or if you’re writing nonfiction, actually interviewing people that appear in your book without giving away your book. DON’T ever post published book content on your blog. It’s not yours to post.

Now, stop. The danger here is that many of you will be thinking “But I don’t want to scare away potential readers by being too specific!” That’s not true. You’re not scaring away potential readers by being too specific, you’re attracting your right readers (loyal, for-life readers) by being as specific as possible. There’s no way to sell your book to everyone in the world (unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer; even they have not sold to everyone in the world). You’re trying to find your core readership that will in turn spread your book to their friends and on and on and on. That’s how a writing career is born. This is how a thirteenth book can be bigger than your first twelve. This is how a midlist author can suddenly gain a lot of traction and be bigger than life online.

3. Don’t dump all your blog posts into a one-week span. In fact, don’t just make one blog post. If you can, make two or three blog posts about each element. In fact, better yet, write a blog post each week with one of these elements included. And do this for months before and after your book comes out. This is slow and steady platform building. This builds interest in your topic. People will be conditioned to want to know more. As your book continues to sell, more and more people will visit your blog. As your blog continues to be about your book, more and more people will want your book. It works together quite nicely.

So, anyone ready for a schedule? Your mileage may vary. Tweak it for your unique situation and don’t be afraid to break the rules! I’m not your mother.

Three months out: Sit down with your final, accepted book and sift out the top themes. Find your passion, find what you still think about, want to write more about, can’t stop reading and researching about. Cull the top five themes or elements. This is your working blog content.

Two months out: Begin to thinly slice these themes into as many blog posts as you can get! And I mean thin slices. No macro views here. Micro views. Nano views. Make the content work for you. Brainstorm blog titles and three main points (you may find this is a great way to thinly slice that content) and write a few that you most want to write. Post ’em. One or two a week. Condition your readers to read about what your book is about.

One month out: You’re in full pre-launch mode now. Blog content should be 80% working blog content and 20% promotional.

Launch: Hold that 80/20 ratio and keep at it, even when you’re so busy from promotional events and blog tours and think you’ll die from writing blog posts in your sleep.

One month later: Don’t stop! 80/20 works. Keep at it!

Two months later: You can begin to wind down if you want. I have seen authors prepare for pre-launch and get so excited about the response that they keep on with those core themes and elements for years afterward. Whatever works for you!

And that’s how it’s done.

Part Three covers time management with blogging and organizational tips on keeping it all straight during one of the most STRESSFUL times in a writer’s life.

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