About the Episode
When Sara set out to self-publish, she applied her years of marketing experience to the release of her books. Today, she’s sharing her top marketing strategies that led to book sales. Be sure to listen as Sara’s sharing the secrets to help supercharge your fiction marketing endeavors!
Topics covered in this episode:
- Self-publishing novels
- Using BookFunnel
- Email Marketing – Is it still a good idea?
- Pros & Cons of Pen Names
- Creating Lead/Reader Magnets
- Generosity as a Marketing Strategy
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About My Guest
Sara R. Ward is passionate about helping authors and creatives grow their audience and learn to craft marketing messages that are consistent and clear. She gives you the confidence to market your book and teaches you simple steps that make the most impact. She also is a five-figure author writing sweet romantic comedies under the pen name Grace Worthington.
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Click for Transcript
Sara Ward: [00:00:00] It’s kind of like being an entrepreneur, that you are in charge of all the pieces of the puzzle, and so you’re kind of like your own boss, which is good and bad. Like there’s this new, there’s pressure with that, and there’s also freedom with that. And so you have to know what’s best for your personality type.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Well welcome back to the business of Christian Fiction podcast. I’m here with my friend Sarah Ward, and today Sarah’s gonna be talking about her experience of writing fiction novels, getting to five figures in doing this thing as a fiction writer, and then also, just some strategy and marketing, tips she has for us.
And I’m really excited because it’s, you know, it’s exciting to talk to somebody who’s doing it, doing the thing that we all wanna do. We wanna, you know, kind of make a career out of this, make some money from it, and so that we can have an impact, but also have an income so we can continue to have an impact.
So I’m excited to have you here, Sarah. Thank you for joining me.
Sara Ward: Thanks Rachel. I’m excited to be here. Love to share and serve others and help [00:01:00] answer their questions. So I’m an open book. Let’s jump right in.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Awesome. All right. Let’s start with just sharing a little bit about you and how you got to this point where you’re publishing fiction.
Sara Ward: I actually started out, a long time ago and I didn’t mention this. We were talking before, beforehand. I started out in the theater, was very involved in the theater and I was writing plays. Which were fiction, a form of fiction. But there’s like no money in theater. So it was something I did for fun, before I had kids.
And when I had that free time and I loved it, but at some point I realized, okay, this can’t be like anything I do for money because I’ll never make any money at this.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Mm-hmm.
Sara Ward: And so I kind of like set it aside. We adopted several children after that and really put my writing on the back burner. But, then one of the children we adopted, he passed away in 2012 and I started writing again after that.
And I actually wrote a lot about grief, and loss. And then [00:02:00] was speaking a lot about it and decided that I really wanted a resource to pass along to women who were going through that same kind of loss. And so I wrote my first book and it was actually non-fiction, and loved that. But then the pandemic hit.
And I felt such a heaviness, not just because of the pandemic, but also I’d been speaking to so many women about their grief and really wanted to get back to my fiction roots. And so I started playing around writing, a fiction novella that was very much like a Hallmark Christmas movie, that everyone seems to love when the Christmas times come around.
And I was like, after I was done, I did some editing on it and thought this. It would be really fun. I could keep writing this. Like it made me so happy cuz we all needed something happy back then. Right?
Rachel Fahrenbach: Right.
Sara Ward: Actually, I didn’t publish that novella on Amazon. I just gave it away as a free book if people signed up for my newsletter and then went on to write my first book. It’s considered what we call Sweet [00:03:00] Romance, which is kind of like a hallmark, very clean, love story around three sisters and one brother. So a group of siblings and the series follows each sibling in that family. And so that’s how I got started writing fiction.
It was kind of going back to my playwriting roots. I love writing dialogue and I love exploring relationships, and that’s been great as well as being able to bring my faith into it. Although they’re not like overtly Christian. There’s elements of faith kind of woven through the characters and their stories with forgiveness and grace, mercy, those kinds of things.
So it’s been a really fun journey so far. I have, my sixth fiction book, my seventh overall book is coming out this month.
Rachel Fahrenbach: So it’ll be out when this episode airs. And so you guys will, what’s the title of that one?
Sara Ward: It’s called the Neighbor Renovation, and it’s actually a new series and it’s a romantic comedy, so there’s little more funny stuff in it than my last series. Not that there weren’t lighthearted moments in it, but this has leans a little more into the comedy. And it’s [00:04:00] been so fun. I was like a little nervous.
When I had my ARC readers, the early readers read it and they’ve really enjoyed it. So I’m excited to see what the rest of my readers think.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Well, just like the things you’re teasing on your Instagram and stuff, just like you’re describing the characters and I’m like, oh my gosh, that sounds hysterical.
Like I would, I’m excited for when it comes out cuz I’m like, I wanna read this. That sounds good.
Sara Ward: Oh good, thanks. Yeah. Yeah. It combines my love of home renovation, like HGTV that everyone seems like I love and a lot of people I know love. It combines that with like this funny romance story. So I, I was able to combine kind of two things that I love into a book form.
Rachel Fahrenbach: I think that’s like the best, like that’s the best way to go, is to just lean heavily into the things that you enjoy. Especially in something like a romantic comedy, you know, especially when it’s supposed to be lighthearted and fun. You wanna have enjoyment when you’re writing it, otherwise it’s not gonna translate when you publish it.
I wanna ask you about your [00:05:00] first, your nonfiction as well as these novels that you’ve published. You’ve self-published all of that, right?
Sara Ward: I have.
Rachel Fahrenbach: I was just gonna ask you, what led you to do that with both the non-fiction and the fiction?
Was there ever a like consideration to go traditional or were you like, nah, I’m good. I’m gonna still publish?
Sara Ward: I have considered that, and it’s not that I think that one is better than the other. I actually think it depends on you as the writer. So let me say that first because I think that’s so important.
I’ve known so many authors take totally different routes, and had totally different experiences. So I’ve realized it really is up to you like what’s the best experience for you. And sometimes you just don’t know until you try. But before I published my non-fiction book, the one about losing our son, I actually went to a writer’s conference.
I pitched the book. I already knew that because of the topics it focused in on and because we were telling kind of our family story that it wasn’t likely to get picked up just because
Rachel Fahrenbach: It’s more in that memoir category
Sara Ward: Exactly.
Which those are [00:06:00] just hard selves to agents.
And so I pitched the book and they, everybody was very encouraging about it, but they just were like, these, this is hard to sell. And. I was at that time speaking at a lot of churches, sharing with grief groups, and I always felt bad that at the end of my presentation, my talk, I never had resources to like offer to people if they wanted something to go deeper, help them process their grief.
And I was like, You know what? I can produce this book on my own, and then I have the resource that I can sell at events. And at that point in time, I wasn’t even thinking about making money. I just wanted something to be able to minister to others, really. And so that’s what led me to self-publishing.
I didn’t wanna wait for the contract. Now I know there’s some people that they’re okay waiting. And I’m like, that’s great. Like if you feel like that’s how you’re being lead that God’s leading you down that path, then waiting is the right choice for you. But I felt like in that stage of my life, I really wanted to offer something more than a [00:07:00] one hour talk that I would give at groups, and then I, I couldn’t continue to minister to those people. And so I wrote the book and I started using it at a book table the end of the night if people wanted it. And you know what, aot of people bought it as gifts for friends who were grieving, and I’m so glad that I went that route. It’s very different than traditional publishing.
It’s kind of like being an entrepreneur, that you are in charge of all the pieces of the puzzle, and so you’re kind of like your own boss, which is good and bad. Like there’s this new, there’s pressure with that, and there’s also freedom with that. And so you have to know what’s best for your personality type.
If you are a person that you don’t, you don’t wanna be in charge of your own business, then traditional publishing is probably a better route because that’s more like, I’m going to work for a company where they offer you a contract and they tell you, this is what we’ll do for you and this is what you do for us.
So it’s different. And you know, after I published that first book, I thought about traditional publishing. Again. I loved self-publishing experience [00:08:00] and I actually started to shop around a fiction book to, to some places. And I had some interest in it, but they were only small publishers. They weren’t gonna be able to give me a lot of help in terms of marketing or anything.
And they weren’t gonna be able to give me a big contract, and I thought, Well, I did this before, I can do this again. So I already had like people I knew that I wanted to hire for cover design and that sort of thing, so it was an easy decision for me. That’s not to say if I didn’t get a great offer from a traditional publishing house, would I go that route?
I don’t know. Like it’s such a personal decision and it’s been right for me. It’s been fun. I like being my own boss. I like having a say in the cover design, and all those elements, and maybe that means I like to be in control, which I probably do and that’s probably a weakness. And a strength.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Yeah.
Sara Ward: But at the same time, it fits well with self-publishing. So if you’re not a person who likes to make a lot of decisions, you don’t wanna be in charge, then traditional publishing can be a very good [00:09:00] route, even if there’s a weight involved with that.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Yes, and I agree with you. I think that, I think we sometimes misunderstand that where traditional publishing fits into the whole production process of like creating this product that needs to get to reader. We, we think that they’re more involved than they really are. They’re more like the manufacturing and distribution side of everything. And so you have to decide, okay, how much control do you wanna have over the manufacturing and distribution of your novel?
You can figure out that then you can decide whether to self-publish hybrid publisher, go with a traditional publisher because you’re like, okay, this is what I wanna do, or how much control I wanna have over that piece of it. But you still kind of still have to be a business, right?
Like you still have to be an entrepreneur regardless of which route you go. You kind of have to make that good business decision for you, your book and your readers, right? You just have to make the , best business decision for yourself.
In that mindset of making business decisions, you actually chose to write [00:10:00] underneath a pen name.
Sara Ward: I did.
Rachel Fahrenbach: And so can you talk through what kind of led to that decision for you?
Sara Ward: Sure. Now, there are lots of reasons why authors might write under a pen name, and the one that people always think of first is that I wanted it to be a secret.
And I always tell people absolutely not. Cause I’m not good at lying now. There are a lot of people that don’t know, the connection between me cuz they don’t know it personally. But I didn’t want to have this secret that I felt like I couldn’t tell my family and friends. The reason I did it was specifically for Amazon’s algorithm.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Mm.
Sara Ward: And this is something that, We can’t control. It’s just the way it is right now. But right when you publish a book, certain genre of book, Amazon wants to match that book to the right readers. Rachel, you probably know this already, having published a book. So if you write, let’s say you write a children’s book for example, then it’s gonna start to show that book to parents who have children in that age group that you’ve written for, and it’s gonna [00:11:00] memorize that as the algorithm for your book.
So then when you come up with another book and publish that, it’s gonna start showing that same book to the same audience. But what if that book is a business book? Well, all of a sudden, your business book’s gonna be shown to parents of with like small children, which might not be the right fit. It could be in some cases, but not always, right?
Rachel Fahrenbach: Mm-hmm.
Sara Ward: There’s gonna be a mismatch. So it’s hard if you’re gonna switch around genres for Amazon to know who to show your book to. And so I knew when I was switching from Christian nonfiction, that was about grief to something that was like happy and light, that would fall more into Christian fiction or clean and wholesome romance.
Those aren’t necessarily the same readers? Some, yes, there’s some that crossover, but not everyone, because some people only like non-fiction. Some people only like fiction, so I knew I would either have to retrain the algorithm, which could take some time. It can be done. It’s not impossible, but it would take time.
And I just decided it’d be easier to use a [00:12:00] pen name to do that because then I was starting from scratch and really on Amazon it’s super simple to do that. When you put in the information for your book you just put in a different name. And it connects it to your account. It’s so easy.
Now, other authors another way around this, if you wanna keep your real name, is to just use a different version of your name. So I used Sarah R. Ward as my publishing non-fiction name. I could have used. Sarah Ward with no middle initial as my fiction name, and it would’ve been okay. They would’ve counted that as a different name.
So if you put in an initial, leave out an initial, that actually counts as a different name. So I could have done that.
Rachel Fahrenbach: I didn’t know that. That’s good information.
Sara Ward: Yeah. Or you can use your initials. I could have said SR. Ward instead, I’ve seen authors do that. So there are ways around it. You can keep using your own name, but do different genres, which is really nice.
I just decided to go the pen name route. I thought it’d be fun and an easy way to keep the algorithm aligned with [00:13:00] the type of story it was and it’s been fun. I didn’t know I’d get so many questions about it and usually whenever I talk to authors, that’s the first thing they wanna know. Cause they wanna know if it’s a secret.
I’m like, it’s not a secret. Like I don’t go around announcing it all the time, but all my family friends know.
Rachel Fahrenbach: I think you brought up a really important distinction there, to have a pen name because the audience is completely different.
Sara Ward: Yeah.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Like it’s not that you’re like, oh, this is because the genre is different.
It’s because you want the audience that would appreciate that genre or who wants to be reading that to be able to find that book. And so I think it’s important that as we’re making these business decisions for ourselves to be thinking future forward and like what would make it easiest for my reader to find this book. And for you, your current readership, your current audience, at the time when you made this, the decision weren’t the ones who were gonna be looking for it anyway so it made more sense to make this separate [00:14:00] pen name. Do you find it hard to navigate two separate platforms or have you kind of figured out a rhythm for yourself?
Sara Ward: Well, since I’m currently not working on a non-fiction book, I just do my marketing business for writers and then I do my fiction writing. It is hard to keep up in terms of social media, so I mainly focus on social media on very few platforms, and I do that intentionally to keep it manageable, basically-
Rachel Fahrenbach: -like keep you from losing your mind over everything? Yes.
Sara Ward: So with my pen name, Grace Worthington, I mainly only do Instagram. I’ve dabbled in TikTok. I have not found my audience on TikTok and I’m not surprised by that. I did it more as an exploration, just as a marketer. I just focus on Instagram. I don’t even focus on Facebook.
Like I’m on Facebook as my pen name, but I don’t really post much there and it’s just to keep things manageable and to really focus in on what I need to be doing, which is writing the next book and, um, staying, building my email list and things [00:15:00] like that.
Rachel Fahrenbach: That makes sense. I have noticed that quite a few romance authors use pen names, romance and fantasy.
Whereas like other genres, like just contemporary fiction or historical novels, I don’t see that as often, but people do use pen names frequently. But I do feel like there is something about, well, especially as indie authors using a certain name, and now that you’ve explained the amazon algorithm aspect to it. I’m like, I get it now. This makes more sense.
Sara Ward: Yeah.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Cause I’m like, why would people want more work for themselves?
Sara Ward: It’s good you identify the work that comes along with choosing a new name. Because I, when I got into it, I don’t know that I fully, I did think about it, like I knew I would have like two social medias going, but I think a lot of authors don’t fully think through that and then all of a sudden they’re like, oh wait, I have to start another email list?
Rachel Fahrenbach: Yes.
Sara Ward: Oh, that’s extra work. And they’re not thinking in those terms. And so you either have to decide where am I gonna put my focus? I need to do less things in, [00:16:00] on all these platforms, or I’m only gonna focus on this name. Like, I honestly don’t know how people do it. They have like four or five Penn names and there are authors that have four or five Penn names.
Rachel Fahrenbach: I don’t know how they do that either.
Sara Ward: And some of them do hire help to help them. A va, a pa, whatever, assistant type person. I don’t have that yet, maybe someday. So I have to do it myself and I have to keep it manageable. So I just lean into the things that fit my personality, fit my goals, and just really bring me joy, basically.
Rachel Fahrenbach: That’s a very good filter to decide what you’re gonna do. I think that’s a really wise way to approach it. So you are a marketing and business coach, right?
Sara Ward: Marketing for authors. I, I did come outta our marketing agency. I did that work for about five years then ironically, I was not planning on going into our author marketing at all.
That was not part of the plan. I thought I would actually move into a full-time position at this marketing agency, but then I started having authors asking me for help, hiring me for [00:17:00] projects. That I ended up getting so much work from authors that I was like, I have to make a decision. I can’t work both of these jobs.
I decided to go totally the freelance route. I am more marketing than just business, overall business.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Okay. So as far as marketing as from a marketing coach’s perspective also as an author who has walked through this already, what’s one of the biggest marketing mistakes a fiction writer does? That you’ve seen.
Sara Ward: Well, let me preface this by saying, I, I think any mistake an author makes, it can be fixed.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Yes.
Sara Ward: So lemme say that first to reassure anyone that when I say this next thing about what I think one of the biggest mistakes is, if you are, if you’ve made this mistake, you can totally fix it.
There’s no mistake that you can’t overcome. I think one of the big things that authors miss is just working on building their email list. Which feels like such a basic thing because email’s been around like very long time.
Rachel Fahrenbach: How [00:18:00] many business coaches have we heard say this over and over for the last decade?
Sara Ward: I feel like anytime I say this, people are almost like. Oh, I get so much email. Oh, I don’t wanna build my email list, but email still shows. I was in conferences this year with six and seven figure authors and they are still saying these very successful authors are still saying, my email list is my number one asset because you own it, it can’t be taken from you.
And there are a lot of really big authors that have problems, like their Facebook account gets shut down, or their Instagram disappears, right? Or, Even things having problems with on Amazon where someone pirates their book and then Amazon shuts their account down temporarily and they lose all this money.
So there’s, there’s all kinds of issues, but when you have an email list, that’s something you own. So that is also something you can grow before you even publish your first book, so that you can have an audience to publish to, that you can show your book when it comes out. I work with a lot of [00:19:00] authors who come to me and they have either no list or a very low list. And it’s fine to have a low list. Everybody starts at zero. And they’re like, well I just haven’t had time to focus on this cuz I’ve been writing. And I get that cuz writing takes a lot of time. There’s no shortcuts to writing.
Not even for me. I am not the fastest writer. I just work persistently and honestly, that’s a lot of writers. They come to me and they’re like, well, I just haven’t grown that my list. And that’s fine. So we start where they’re at. But then sometimes their, their book launch is very soon, and they just don’t have a big list to launch to.
And so if writers can start working on that email list a little earlier, that can be a huge help. I can give you what I did and it’s not new to me. I got it from another author, many other authors who’ve done this. If you’re fiction, write either a short story or novella in your genre, whatever genre you hope to publish in.
If you’re unsure which genre, if you can narrow it down to the top two and just pick one, novella, one of those [00:20:00] genres to write a novella in, knowing you could write a different story for that genre later.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Define a short story. Like how long?
Sara Ward: I think of short, I don’t know if this is like anywhere, like in a book.
Think of short stories under 10,000 words. If it’s 5,000 words, I think of that as a short story. I always think of novella as over 10,000 up to about 40. Once we get to about 40 or 45, you’re really almost the length at that point.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Yes, yes. I’ve seen authors do this where they’re like, okay, I’m gonna write a short story or a novella and I’m gonna, I think what you’re about to suggest give it.
Use it as like a lead magnet and, but they’re like telling me how long the short story is, and I’m like, oh my gosh. Do you realize that’s not a short story. I’m like, that’s almost a novel. You should just keep going and finish that story out. Do not give that away because that’s a lot of work that just went into that.
Sara Ward: It is, and that, that’s one of the hard things I think at the beginning is the fact that you’re giving it away free. Most of my novelas have been around 20,000 words, and it is like half, it could [00:21:00] be almost half the length of a novel. My novels are a little longer than that, around 50,000, that’s around the novel length, and I’m thinking, oh, I could just publish this.
But, when I came out with that Christmas story and put it up, I had like a thousand new people on my email list in a month.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Wow.
Sara Ward: And at that point then, and it kept growing from there. I was like, wow, I’m gonna have a bunch of people to launch my book too when that comes out.
And I wasn’t ready to publish my first book yet. So it was nice to have somebody to launch that first book too.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Right.
Sara Ward: Painful as it’s to get a 20,000 word book up and think, oh man, could have just finished this and had my first novel. It’s actually very motivating because you’ve finished it, you’ve finished this first project, now you’re like, hey, I can write another one.
So I do think there’s something mentally if you’re, if you’ve used the momentum from that and you see how many people signed up for that. Then you’re like, hey, I can use that to launch my next book. And it’s, it’s very empowering. I really [00:22:00] encourage people to do that.
If you don’t wanna do 20,000, you know, do a 5,000 word short story. You could have that done in a week probably. At least written, maybe you need to edit. It depends how fast you write, obviously. But, It’s done in a really short time.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Did you use BookFunnel to deliver it?
Sara Ward: I use BookFunnel to deliver it, and they have tons of group promos divided by genre that you can join once you’re a member of Book Funnel. And it’s reasonable, I mean, I know when you’re starting out, everything seems expensive, but you can even subscribe by the month.
So you could try it out just for a few months if you don’t have a lot of money. I think it’s around a hundred dollars a year. And so I don’t know what the monthly breakdown is.\
Rachel Fahrenbach: There’s different plans too, depending on what you wanna participate, because I just looked into it. But I, I agree with you. Like just, I think with any tool that gets recommended on like interviews like this, or, you know, when you’re hearing people suggest tools to you, other writers just take it in stride. Like, try it, is it benefiting you or not? I know sometimes so many times it can be like, oh, is it worth it?
Tell me what you think? Do you [00:23:00] think it’s worth it? Well, it might be worth it for one author and not worth it for you. So just try things and evaluate, is it giving me a return on my investment or not? And then move forward with it.
Sara Ward: I feel like for me it was huge, especially starting out the group promos don’t cost any extra once you’re a member. They’re there. And so you can look ’em up by genre. You can join a promo with your lead magnet. And what happens is all these other authors are promoting that same promo, and they’re themed different things. So I joined some different promos.
Once you get in there, you’ll understand. And so really what’s happening is it’s collaborating with other authors. And some of these authors have thousands of people on their email list and they’re participating. Participating in that promo, showing it to their audience, and then their audience signs up for your lead magnet.
And that’s how you get people so fast. And that’s why it’s a fast way to get people on your list. I mean, you can do ads, run Facebook ads too, but the thing about it, I felt like this was a lot for the money I spent on it, [00:24:00] I got a lot of return. Compared to Facebook ads, which can be hit or miss.
You can get a lot of return or you can get no return, then they spend all your money. So you, you have to just decide what works for you. Other than BookFunnel Story Origin is very similar. I prefer book funnel, but I don’t get any kickback from any of these companies. They don’t even know who I am. I’m just saying I like it.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Yeah. So you put the novella out there, you got people on your list, and then you had people that sell to. So what about the author who is like, okay, well I missed the boat for that because my novel’s coming out really soon. They’re like, I can’t mentally go write something new when I’m trying to like do revisions trying to get things ready to go.
What would you suggest they do for a lead magnet? That author who maybe doesn’t have the capacity to write something else right now?
Sara Ward: Okay. That’s a great question and I have a simpler solution to that even. And that’s, when you get your book, when you get some breathing space, like a week of time in this process, [00:25:00] you can even do this after it’s published.
You could write a bonus epilogue to that book that’s like, a chapter long. So it could be like 1200 words, 2000 words, not very long. That tells maybe what these characters are doing in a year. Or two years or down the road. What you pick based on what your book is, you want something that fits and then you advertise it as a bonus chapter.
And what I do is I usually put it at the back of my book that’s published, like get the bonus epilogue. So for my book that’s coming out, Neighbor Renovation, we see them after they’re married in the book. And so we get to see the happily ever after when there’s some things that need to be resolved at that point.
But I actually don’t show the wedding in this book. I do in some of my other books, but I didn’t. In this book, I wrote it as a bonus epilogue. And so then at the end of my chapter, I say, if you wanna see this couple’s wedding day and I have all these disasters [00:26:00] happening that are funny you can go download this fun wedding epilogue and totally free.
And I have book funnel deliver it. And you know what? It’s not that long. It’s maybe a little over 2000 words. Didn’t take me long to write. I sat down I think one afternoon and wrote it out. So I would encourage people to do that cuz it’s like the easiest of all. And then you can just add it to the back matter of your book,, or whoever does the interior of your book just add like a little section in telling people where they can download that and telling them what they can get. And you’ll start to get people signing up for it.
Rachel Fahrenbach: I love that suggestion because one of the things that authors sometimes forget is that when people are buying their books off of Amazon or other places, there’s no way for you to know who’s buying your book.
There’s no way for you to capture that lead, to then sell them your next book. And so doing something like this at the end of a book can capture that lead for them and get yes them on your list so that you can say, hey, I have another book available. You know, buy it [00:27:00] please.
And as you’re talking, you know, the movie Tangled?
Sara Ward: Yeah.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Okay.
Sara Ward: I just watched that this weekend again for like, I don’t know how many times.
Rachel Fahrenbach: They have like little shorts that they’ve released over the years that are like the wedding. Like, what happened the day of the wedding?
And I was like, oh, that’s so funny. Like, that’s essentially what they did. When you’re talking like that makes sense. Like give the story and then give a little sneak, a little extra bonus thing. And that could even be a bonus for your launch team too. You could give them that as like an added, thank you for being on your launch team.
Sara Ward: There’s so much you can do with that. I know one author who had a group of friends in her book. She actually wrote like a bonus, a blog that was like them when they were old and they were like getting together as friends and looking back as things.
It was really fun, like a fun idea. There’s so many directions you could go with that.
Rachel Fahrenbach: So many. So what were some of the strategies that you did for, you mentioned the, the lead magnet, doing the novella. What were some [00:28:00] other marketing strategies you used over the last couple years of releasing your books?
Because you said the first one you released in 2020?
Sara Ward: 2021.
It was, I wrote it during the pandemic and then released it 2021. I wrote the Christmas one during 2020, and that’s when I released that one, that Christmas. ,So other marketing strategies? Well, I would say some of the most important ones are continuing to write the next book.
We’ll always be working on the next book or the next writing project because fiction readers tend to be much more voracious readers. They tend, especially some of the ones, like in the genre, I write for some of ’em, like read a book every day or two.
Rachel Fahrenbach: I know. I dunno how they, how they do it either. I’m like, how are you finding the time?
Sara Ward: I know, I know. I agree. Like, I would love to, but I don’t. I don’t, at this point in my life, I don’t. They’re what’s known as whale readers because they’re consuming so many books. And so for you to at least start talking about your next book, [00:29:00] start working on that next book.
That really helps give momentum to your career. And I know that’s hard because that means you’re always trying to, you know, write the next book. But that’s been one of the best things I’ve done. Writing in a series has also been hugely helpful, because once you have something that people are buying, then they’re gonna keep buying.
If you write fiction and you’re willing to like, stretch it out into a series and it can be just three books. It doesn’t have to be super, super long. My first series was five books, but I know people who go like nine or ten when it’s working now. I don’t know how I would stretch mine out to nine or ten.
I think at that point you start doing like, cousins and relatives, this person’s story.
So you can kind of decide what the path is for you. But I think it’s important too, think in terms of if this book sells, what could I do as my next book?
And then just kind of watch what happens. And if you start to see, okay, this book is starting to sell, then try the next one on a series, because [00:30:00] series work really well. And even if you’re not a fan of series, what readers seem to love is series. So that’s another way to build momentum in your career.
I would also say sticking in the same genre can be super, super helpful, and I know that’s hard for creatives. I mean, I’m a creative person and I have written in other genres. But I have gotten the most momentum. The reason I’ve built up to five figures now is because of sticking in one particular genre and writing five books now on my sixth in that genre.
And if you do that, then you grow and you continue to market your back list, which is another marketing thing that you’ll want to take advantage of. And it’s hard at the beginning when you have no back list. That’s where the hardest just getting started when you have no back list. You’re not gonna see like usually huge sales right then.
It’s a growth pattern. It’s kind of like if you were to start a little store on the corner of your town and then you grow that store into something bigger and bigger and bigger, that’s where you start to get [00:31:00] momentum. And it’s the same thing with books. And so one way to think of this is to think of your books, every book you publish as an asset that you can continue to market over time.
And so you don’t stop marketing those older books. You find new ways to market them. So for example, in February, I got a Book Bub featured Deal Now book bub. If you’re not familiar with it, if they send out free emails that feature whatever genre you sign up for, the free books or discounted books.
So if you sign up for Christian fiction, they’ll send you an email with Christian fiction deals every day. And they’re one of the biggest, they’re tons of services that do this, but they’re one of the biggest and you have to apply to try to be part of their deals. Well, being part of their deals means you either discount your book like to nothing or to 99 cents.
You have to really put it really low. So I told them I would put this book, the first one in my series, I would make it free.
Rachel Fahrenbach: You applied quite a number of times. You didn’t give up, [00:32:00] right?
Sara Ward: Yes, I didn’t give up. And that’s also key with BookBub and it does cost money. Not only make you apply and only pick so many people every month, they also make you pay. Now, I would never recommend this for your first book with no other books cuz you won’t make back your money. Cuz obviously a free book makes no money. But once you have other books to sell, then you make back your money because people start reading through your series and that’s exactly what happened to me. So I made the book free, had like, 20,000 downloads of my book, over the course of a few days from that Book Bub featured deal, and then people have gone on to read the whole series and that’s where you make up your money. And I’ve not only made up what it costs, I’ve made up like a lot more.
And so having sailed on your book, or books, is really critical. Having them throughout the year and then buying promos for ’em in different newsletters, not just Book Bub because that’s the hardest to get into. But there’s all kinds of different book newsletters you can get into. I have a [00:33:00] huge list that I will share with my clients of different ones, you can research it too. You can find them, they’re all on the internet out there. But there’s ones for specific genres. There’s ones for fantasy and ones for thrillers and mystery. There’s some, and you pay for ’em, but you put your book in these, it gets you lots of visibility.
I’m talking about like tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of readers. The great thing is you don’t even have to have a big platform to use these. Like they, they wanna see a professional cover and sometimes they want you to have some reviews on that book, but usually you don’t need to have a lot of reviews to get in any of those newsletters.
It’s a really reasonable amount. So it’s a really great way. Sales are a great way to grow your readership once you have books out and you make your money back with them reading through the series. So it does take a while to get some momentum going. But once you have like two or three books, that’s all it takes to start marketing those back lists, that back list of [00:34:00] books.
And to be honest, social media has not been a big part of my platform or my growth. It’s been mainly email list growth. Number one, I continue to write new novellas and new bonus Epilogues for my books on every single book. I try to, if I can, to write a bonus epilogue. I haven’t for everyone, but, and then also doing sales and promos and special things throughout the year.
I collaborate with a lot of authors and we do a big promo together. Or I go through book funnel like I mentioned before. And so those two things alone have really grown both my audience and just my sales, and it’s not been anything like, there’s like I had like a big influencer promote my book.
Nope, nope. Like we dream of that happening, but you don’t have to have that happen to make money. It’s really about taking those baby steps, the slow growth that you need with every book, and getting it into new reader’s hands and [00:35:00] remembering that.
Even when you feel like, wow, I don’t know who else to market my book to. There are thousands, if not tens of thousands of people out there who’ve never heard of your book. And so that book that I had, a book bub feature deal was a year and a half. It’ll be two years old in June. And yet I sold more copies in February than I have.
Like, that was my biggest month ever for that book.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Wow. That’s amazing. And I, I love what you shared there for a couple reasons. One, I like the fact that you kind of talked a little bit about imagining it almost like a small store, right? The more products you have in that store, obviously the more chances for sales, right?
You know, the person picks up the lotion and they’re like, oh, I like the candle right next to it. Let me grab that too. Right? That’s how our minds think. So I like the fact that you kinda likened it to that because I think sometimes as authors, we get so caught up in this one book that we’re creating and we’re like, we love our book baby, and we want this book baby to do well.
And we’re like, we’re all in on that. And we forget it’s a [00:36:00] long game. That if we’re wanting to just have a career in this, we wanna make money off that first book, but to really see in that growth, it’s gonna be with the next product that we add to it, whether it’s a book or if it’s something different, it’s the next thing down the line that we have to be looking forward thinking.
But we also have to continue to market that back list because if you just make one product and then when you forget to market about it, then it’s like a missed opportunity. You know, you’re just leaving money on the table if you’re not continually talking about it and continually putting it out there.
I know I’m the worst about this. I always forget to talk about my guided journal. Like, always forget to talk about it. I think what it is as, as authors, we feel like we’ve said it a million times, but the people we forget, there’s always new people coming to our platforms and most of people don’t see every post that we post or don’t read every email we send out or don’t hear every interview we do. We have to remember, it’s a long game. We have to remember we have to keep talking about things and giving them opportunities to buy. And so I appreciate [00:37:00] everything you shared there.
As we begin to wrap up, what I would love to hear from you is for that, that author who is just trying to navigate this whole world of writing their book, but also trying to get, you know, readers to read it and all the things, the marketing, the business of it all. What advice would you give to that author?
Sara Ward: I think there are two parts to this. I think the first one is don’t be afraid to invest either your time or your money in an area of weakness for you. And I wouldn’t pick all the things because when you try to kick five soccer balls across the field, it’s gonna take you a long time.
But if you only try to kick one soccer ball across the field, you get across the field a lot quicker. So if you know that you need more work with the craft of your book, or you need a lot of help with the editing of your book, don’t be afraid to invest their time or money in that area or pulling in someone who can help you. [00:38:00] Obviously hiring someone. Maybe it’s the marketing, but there’s one specific area, like email. Maybe you just didn’t set up that email and you’re like, well, what? What do I say to people? What should I put in my welcome sequence? What do I need?
Maybe either invest time or money. There’s so many conferences you can go to, workshops, you can attend, some very reasonably priced too. It doesn’t mean having to spend a lot of money, but pick one area of weakness and focus on that. I heard I go to lots of conferences and I get help myself. I get coaching from people who are way ahead of me because I wanna continue to learn.
And I heard one guy who coaches like seven figure authors and has runs their Facebook ads and stuff, and he was saying like the biggest thing he recommended, and I’ve seen this for myself and I recommend this for my clients too, is to double down on one thing for the year. And you know what? I have done that and it works.
Instead of trying to say, I’m gonna [00:39:00] grow my Instagram and I’m gonna be on TikTok and I’m gonna grow my email list, and I’m gonna write five novels and I’m gonna like, when you try to do all of it and none of it happens. So where are you getting stuck? And that really takes some reflection.
Because maybe it’s the writing you’re getting stuck in, maybe it’s the marketing. Sometimes it’s hard to do both. So pick one and make momentum happened in that one area. So that’s the first thing. The other thing I would say is to not give up. It’s so easy to get discouraged in this business because there’s, there’s a lot of competition.
We can pour our hearts out, right? And then people like can criticize our work. It’s very defeating. And so I just wanna encourage all the people out there, all the writers to not give up. If you need to take a break, that’s fine. Come back to it. Writing is something you can always return to.
When I was writing plays and sketch comedy a long time ago, and then we started to have kids and we adopted this boy with major medical needs. I thought I would never write again. And I [00:40:00] remember thinking, well, I’m just gonna give it up. And I felt so sad about that. I loved caring for my son, but I felt sad because I was like, why did you give me this desire to write God?
And what God already knew is that I was gonna come back to it down the road. I just couldn’t see that. And so if you’re in a place where you can’t, write, or you’re in a place where you’re stuck, or you’re in a place where you just have a lot on your plate, it’s okay. Take these things you’re learning, keep getting better, keep working on your writing when you have time, but it will be there when you’re ready, when you have more time or more money to invest in whatever you need.
And so that’s my advice. Just don’t give up.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Oh, I loved, I love all that. That’s such good, such good advice. Thank you for saying that. Don’t give up, it’s like we said, it’s the long game. Don’t give up.
Sara Ward: I do think by you emphasizing the long game, that’s super important because a lot of authors think with their first book, it’s gonna change their life.
And the truth is, for most writers, it doesn’t change your life that much. We all wish [00:41:00] that. But it doesn’t. Just slow growth. You’ll see slow growth over time. That first book will push your career ahead a little bit more. Second book, a little more third book a little more.
It’s all of the combined experiences that change your life, not one.
Yeah. I love that.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Thank you. Thank you for just being here and being such an encouraging voice for us. Thank you for sharing so generously with us, just different things that are working, different thoughts that we need to go through in our heads as far as business decisions and marketing decisions.
I know that you have a couple of good resources for authors and so would you mind sharing those with us now?
Sara Ward: Absolutely. So I do have a free resource for authors who need help with their marketing, and I just created this like a few months ago.
I decided to put together a three part marketing series for writers, to kickstart their author marketing.
If you really feel like you need kind of a little push to get you going, you know, if your marketing feels dry, if you feel like it’s sucking your soul dry, and you need to find a more joy-filled way to [00:42:00] market something that fits more with your personality. I really emphasize with my clients finding marketing that works for their personalities, not just schooling with whatever’s the cool thing or what they’re being told to do. Or what so-and-so’s doing, but finding marketing that works for them. And so this three part series you can sign up for on my website at sarahrward.com. And even if you just want the three part series and don’t wanna stay on my list, that’s totally fine. I give this to authors cause I have a lot of authors come to me and say I don’t have money to hire you one to one, but can you give me advice? And I always hand them this because it’s got a lot of great stuff in it.
You can head to my website and see how else I help authors working with them through coaching and one to one services.
If you’re gonna be launching a book. Would love to help you, but if not, take advantage of those free resources too.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Sarah r ward.com. Make sure you go check out those resources and I’ll link to everything in the show notes as well and we can, where can we hang out with you on the internet?
Sara Ward: Yeah, [00:43:00] just look up Sarah R. Ward. That’s my handle. Mainly I do, Instagram stories, so come over there.
I often will just leave tips that, especially if I’m working with an author and I think, oh my goodness, more authors need to hear this. Because I work with so many authors, I usually leave like helpful stories all the time. So you can follow me there.
Rachel Fahrenbach: And then if we wanna follow your fiction account, what’s that handle?
Sara Ward: That is Grace Worthington author. And you can just look it up on Amazon. Grace Worthington. I’m the only one there. And Grace Worthington author on. Instagram. All right. That’s mainly where I hang out.
Rachel Fahrenbach: Awesome. All right. Well thank you so much Sarah, for being here with us and sharing those tips. And if you, the listener have found this beneficial and you know of another writer friend that could learn so much from this episode, would you please share it with them?
Join us next week as we continue this conversation on the business of Christian Fiction. Bye bye.
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Hey! I'm Rachel and I'm so glad you're here today!
I help Christian fiction writers figure out how they can make an impact and an income from their storytelling while keeping rest a priority.
You can learn more about how I’m in your corner here.
And you can learn more about my personal journey here.
One last thing, if you’re looking for a bit more rest in your life, be sure to check out the Rest & Reflect guided journal.