At the beginning of 2019, I became so enamored at the idea of entrepreneurs choosing a single word for their intensions in their businesses for the year, I chose one of my own. Elevate.
Over the past three years, I went from writing one book a year to writing five, which in and of itself was pretty remarkable to me, but given that I’m a classic Type 3 Achiever, I chose to push myself even farther in nearly every aspect of my business. I chose to “elevate.” I wanted to see how much harder I could challenge myself, how much faster I could reach my goals, and if any of it would make a difference in strengthening my brand.
So I’m showing you exactly how I integrated my power word for the year, and diving into the results that came from my efforts in this year’s business review.
This was the big one, the big cahoona. There are a lot of #bossbabes out there telling entrepreneurs the more you post, the more engagement you’ll have, and that’s true to some degree, but there’s also a point where your audience will just get sick of seeing your posts all. the. time. I mean, I unfollow people for the same reason, so why wouldn’t that apply to a romantic suspense author?
Then there’s the kind of posts you’re publishing, which have way too many variables to consider for me to list here. But know that I considered the ratio of selling vs. serving, plain graphics vs. photos of myself, time of day to post, etc. All of this came into play when I wanted to elevate engagement, but I’m not a social media coach. I just run my own business, and yours will look different to your audience.
Through narrowing down the data and studying my own personal audience, I found my readers like to hang out on Facebook. That’s where I have the most amount of “likes” on my author page, so I chose to eliminate all other platforms from my business plan other than Facebook and Instagram at the start of 2019 (I kept Instagram because my social media manager automatically posts to Instagram and Facebook).
I’d never given too much stock into social media over the years because 1.) I didn’t have consistent releases or felt I had anything to say or announce 2.) I was told over and over social media doesn’t sell books, that word of mouth was where it was at.
Both of these weren’t doing me a damn bit of good, so I sat down, printed a plain calendar, and started planning. With the help of one of my favorite female entrepreneurs, I was able to narrow down exactly what kinds of topics to post about, what kinds of questions to ask my audience, and essentially come across as more human than some inaccessible author figure on a device.
I will note, I reevaluate my social media strategy every quarter to see what posts are getting more engagement and which ones I needed to trash, and I’ll adjust accordingly. What I was doing during Q1 of 2019 ended up not working for me during Q2, and so on. The algorithm and my audience preferences change all the time, and it’s my job to keep up. Okay, onto how I incorporated “elevate” into my social media strategy for the year.
My “elevate” strategy:
• Go from posting once a day to twice a day
• Share Instagram Stories of my real life alternating with published posts
• Promote and share other romantic suspense authors in Stories
• Grow readership through consistency, brand recognition, and engagement on reader and reviewer accounts.
The results: For some reason Instagram doesn’t let you view insights for more than 7 days at a time, but at the beginning of the year I had about 230 followers and over the course of the last 12 months that number has grown to over 300 (at the time of this post). Again, I have to keep in mind my audience prefers Facebook, whereas a romantic comedy author might do really well on Instagram. So I take more than 70 organic followers as a good sign in this space.
My overall engagement for Instagram came in at 99.9% (% of posts with engagement), with about a 52% engagement score (likes or comments per follower). A massive uptick in engagement compared to the beginning of the year. However, in October 2019, I experimented with three posts a day, and it backfired in my face. Hard. Less engagement, lots of unfollows, and even a few posts that didn’t garner engagement at all.
As for Facebook, I started the year with 398 followers that I’d been trying to grow for over five years (without much luck), and ended the year with over 550 organic followers. I was honestly hoping for more, but my engagement rates are up from where they’d been, and I’ll take that as a win.
For December I’ll be experimenting with yet another strategy to see if it makes a difference in my social media growth: posting mostly photos of my face compared to graphics and writing captions with detailed intent rather than hoping to garner a quick like or comment.
Takeaway: Posting consistently and twice a day seemed to be the most rewarding strategy to grow my audience in 2019.
This is where I focus probably 85% of my marketing and strategy now, but I’ve had a hell of a time recruiting newsletter subscribers over the past few years or giving my list much attention at all. With inconsistent releases, there was never a reason to send a newsletter every month, and I sure didn’t want to annoy people with meaningless emails from me.
But I quickly learned your newsletter and the direct access to your audience it provides is the marketing tool that’s worth investing into and developing. Your Facebook and Instagram audiences are there, but with algorithms changing all the time and servers going down, they might never see your posts, or at least the ones that provide the value they want from you.
So over the course of the last twelve months, I’ve put a good amount of money and learning into developing my list and the hard work has definitely paid off. I’ll be 100% honest, I’m still under the 1500 mark on subscribers, but I’ve had a 400% increase in growth this year alone.
My single goal for this year was to provide value to my list. Not sell my books, which I’d been trying to do for years to no avail. However, when I switched my mindset to serving my subscribers rather than trying to dig into their wallets, I saw a huge increase in replies, reviews, and yes, sales.
Here’s how I served my audience in 2019 to garner more growth (compared to very little on my part in the past).
The “elevate” strategy:
• Hosted a yearly reading challenge (free book with daily self-care challenges)
• Made all chapter reveals exclusive to subscribers before release dates
• Wrote three bonus epilogues and made them only available to subscribers
• Created a “Who’s Your Ideal Hero” quiz to match the perfect read to each subscriber
• Made three different books available for free to my list throughout the year (one when they hand over their email address, then two more later on for different promotions)
• Emailed them once a month every month, even if I didn’t have a release to talk about
• Let them vote on which couple I would write the next happily ever after in my Search and Rescue series
• Asked for their direction of the cover redesign of the Blackhawk Security: Search and Rescue series
• …and more.
No matter what release I had coming out, or if a sale had come up, I made sure the entire focus of my newsletter every month in 2019 served my audience rather than asked something of them.
The results: As mentioned above, I reached a 400% increase in subscribers in 2019 alone. Through the use of Facebook ads, Booksweeps, and consistent social media posts, my list grew to the largest it’s ever been, but I’ve been able to keep unsubscribes low with consistent content and value
Takeaway: Consistency and value is all my newsletter subscribers want from me, and I’ll keep this strategy until they tell me otherwise. If you’re looking for a resource as an author to grow your subscriber list, check out Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labreque.
The last area I focused on elevating my business was, of course, where I make my primary source of income. My books. At the beginning of 2019, I realized I’d become really comfortable in writing Intrigues, which I love, and will never give up unless my editor makes me. But I also felt like I wasn’t being challenged in the sense my writing was feeling stagnant and I hadn’t tried something new in a couple years. I’d been so focused for so long on landing an Intrigue contract, I let myself stop there and enjoy it for a couple years. I’m not ashamed of that. In fact, signing that first contract changed my life (no sarcasm), and I will always be grateful for that opportunity, but the reason I landed that contract was because I kept pushing myself to get there. Now that I’d reached it, I needed a new goal.
Being challenged is one of the key elements for growth, and while several category authors are perfectly happy writing category romance for the rest of their careers, I had my sights on bigger contracts and bigger books. Namely, I want to write standalone romantic suspense. The big books. The ones you see in bookstores for longer than 6 weeks, and I had the perfect idea.
But that wasn’t the only project I’d test my discipline and mental strength on during 2019. Around March of that year, my agent called with an offer from my Intrigue editor. They wanted me to help create and launch the line’s first continuity series. Four authors, one series, each book showcasing a different couple. Of course, I immediately accepted because I’d been considered for this special project and knew I’d kick myself if I said ‘no.’ I understood going into the project it would be just the kind of challenge I’d been looking for. I’ve never worked with other authors on a project before, and I was told who the main characters were and how the story would play out. Challenge accepted.
My “elevate” strategy:
• Write my first standalone, 90,000-word romantic suspense and send it out on submission
• Write the third book in a continuity series launching in the Intrigue line
The results: These two projects were undoubtedly the hardest the stories I’d taken on in my career and definitely hit my expectation of “elevate” for the year. Hands down, no competition.
I’m sincerely envious of authors who bang out 90,000 words like its nothing, because that book took me an entire five months to draft, revise, and send out on submission. It was tedious, slow progress, and eventually I hit the end my secluding myself at the library. However, the inspiration I got for that manuscript surprised the hell out of even me. I don’t plot very far ahead when I write, and this book wasn’t any different, but the in-the-moment twists I wrote really pulled the rug right out from under me. I felt like I’d leveled up with that book and proven to myself I could take on anything.
And then I got to writing the continuity. Looking back, writing my first 90,000-word standalone was ten times easier than writing a book where I’d been told who the characters were and how the plot should be laid out. While I’m used to sticking to category guidelines, this 55,000-word book was a different monster altogether. The first three chapters I’d written had to be scraped, and every word I wrote felt like pulling teeth. I cringed thinking about sitting down to get my word count in for the day, but like with the standalone I’d written, I eventually hit the end. Turned out, through all this turmoil, the continuity ended up being one of the most emotionally romantic stories I’d written. For the first time since starting to write for Intrigue, I didn’t have to rewrite the romance arc!
Takeaway: Eventually, no matter the project, you’ll hit the end with consistent, disciplined word counts. Oh, and 90,000 words is a crap ton of words.
Did you have a theme word for this year or plan to use one? Did it keep you on track to meet your goals? Please share!