The internal focus that’s required in the authorship of a book often stands in stark contrast to the subsequent (or even concurrent) efforts to publish and market that book. Yet, author Prajna Ana seems to have come to terms with this conflict.
As a web designer, copywriter, and marketer, the building of an author marketing platform has come naturally to her. But Prajna is also a spiritual healer and a teacher whose new book, Dying Into This, says that the drive to make money and to participate in the frenetic pace of modern life is impermanent and damaging to our spirit. She says that her audience is “people who are drawn to ask really deep questions about life. They really are curious about if there is more to it than just what we experience in our day-to-day.”
But now that she’s completed her book and ventured into self-publishing as a means of attracting interest from a traditional publisher, she has to switch gears and become a business owner with all of the marketing and sales duties that demands.
I was intrigued by Prajna’s situation because I regularly hear quite a bit of underlying resentment from authors who feel that book marketing should only be their publishers’ responsibility, that the solitary act of writing runs counter to the expectation that authors build a following online and elsewhere. Prajna doesn’t seem to harbor any of this resentment. Instead, she has found a way to build accord between the spiritual message of her book and the ongoing demands of selling it.
I can’t believe in the rat race, but I have to play in the rat race, and it’s very difficult to bring those two back into alignment. I can’t believe that it’s going to mean anything ultimately, but I have to play. And I guess that gives you more freedom to not take everything so seriously, to have a little faith and trust in the process.
I sat down with Prajna over a cup of coffee and discussed her book and her plan for marketing it. What she had to say will be helpful to other writers who are cringing at the thought of entering the book-marketing “rat race.”
I have to admit that maintaining focus is a daily challenge when I’m constantly bombarded by the distractions that hit any of us who sit in front of a computer for a living. So I asked Prajna, as someone who’s spiritual journey has led her to find an inner source of peace and stillness, how she centers herself in this world of email alerts, Tweets, and Skype sessions.
“All of those things can pull you off so fast,” she says. “Before you know it, you’re out of balance and you’re not serving anyone. Be very clear and establish some discipline and boundaries.” Prajna meditates in the morning, sets strict business hours, and turns off email when working on projects.
Technology isn’t for everyone, and though many publishers now have high expectations for their authors’ online marketing prowess, Prajna feels that her early attempts to connect with readers this way on a global scale were falling flat. She let go of a Chicago-based radio show and a webinar she was conducting via a webcam in her home office because she felt as if she was “talking to [herself] in a box.” Instead, she realized that “technology has to be in balance with actual human contact.” So Prajna refocused her marketing on a local audience despite the potential global appeal and message of her book.
As a new resident of Asheville, NC, she has a strong representation of her typical readership within this city’s highly art-focused community. Described as the Paris of the South, Asheville is teeming with artists, writers, and spiritual leaders. A trip to this town and an afternoon spent sipping a beverage at a local street cafe will quickly reveal that the character of this small mountain community is almost antithetical to the Big City rat race. So it’s a perfect place for Prajna to make face-to-face connections with a demographic that can give her feedback on her book as well as help spread the word to a larger market.
“It’s about holding a space,” says Prajna when I asked her about her strategy for finding that balance between technology and real human interaction in her marketing efforts. If you host a meeting (perhaps through an online service like Meetup.com), she advises that you be consistent about the time and place so participants come to expect that it will be there for them the same time every month.
Prajna also sends out a monthly e-newsletter via MailChimp that keeps her audience apprised of private meetings, provides links to downloadable audio from readings or talks, and shares news related to the promotion of her book. She also mentioned that she needs to do a better job of marketing the newsletter at the end of talks or readings.
Facebook is Prajna’s main medium for reaching people, and I was surprised to learn that she created a personal account for her author persona rather than go the “Fan Page” route. The difference is that people who want to follow her status updates must be accepted as friends to the page rather than simply liking it. It also lends a more human aspect to her presence on the site. She’s careful to draw a strong distinction between the posts she offers up as an author versus what she supplies to friends and family on her true personal page. Her approach seems to be working for her: the author account has more than 1,100 fans.
She uses Facebook to invite people to book events, to offer discounts, and to ask fans for opinions. She says she’s careful about overloading people with info and warns that Facebook is a vehicle for engagement, not book sales.
Self-publishing is “an enormous undertaking,” she says. “It almost has to become a full-time thing with no guarantee that it will pay off.”
But based on advice she receive from a mentor, Prajna realized that if she wanted to attract the attention of a traditional publisher, she needed to demonstrate a following for her book first. She acknowledges that it’s the classic chicken-and-egg question:
How do you get a following without a book? So that’s why I decided to self-publish and let the book kind of marinate for a year or two.
And it’s also about being patient. You plant your seed and then
you have to wait for it to grow. You don’t just jump ship because you didn’t get a thousand copies of your book sold the first time you released it.
Using CreateSpace, which she found to be “extremely user-friendly and straightforward,”
Prajna downloaded a template for the book and hired an artist to do the cover design. She acknowledges that having an attractive, professsional-looking cover is absolutely essential for the success of a self-published book. “Being in journalism school, and marketing and PR, I really value graphic design work and how it can give your book an edge. Rather than looking homemade, it can look really professional. Pay the little extra money to get a nice cover.”
Advice to Writers
Finally, I asked Prajna to share the most important lesson she’s learned during her quest for publication.
Find really supportive people who have already published their book and can give you direction and keep you from giving up. You can’t do it by yourself. If you’re going to self-publish, you’re either going to need a team of really supportive people, or friends who can help you edit it. And be prepared to not have people clapping after you give people your first draft. Don’t resist feedback.
You can visit Prajna’s website and purchase Dying Into This at www.lampoftheheart.org. Thank you, Prajna, for the conversation and for sharing your valuable marketing insights!