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Online Marketing for independent authors with Nicholas Furnal (MrWriteNow)

Tell my readers about yourself. My name is Nicholas, and I've been deeply interested in writing since high school both as a hobby and professionally. I received a BA in Modern Literary Studies from UCSC. I put writing on the backburner to gain more professional experience, and I soon began working in affiliate marketing. I worked at an affiliate marketing company for about 6 years, and during the time, my wife and I decided to become foster parents.

The variety of experiences, and unique backgrounds of the kids that we interacted with, inspired me to begin writing again more seriously. I left my job and became a freelance content creator to get my feet wet. I found that it actually blended my online marketing experience with my writing skills, and I soon found I had a strong interest in growing my writing career. I was somewhat intimidated by full novels, and the market felt so saturated. Knowing I had a unique understanding of younger audiences from my fostering experiences, I wanted to capture my experiences with illustrations as well. I had already worked with an illustrator on some other projects, so I decided to publish my first illustrated book!

First off, can I just give you a giant virtual hug? I have such a heart for foster parents. My husband and I fostered a nine year old boy for about a year, with plans to adopt, but as you know nothing in the foster care world goes as planned. I love how you utilized these experiences in your writing. You actually covered the next two questions I generally ask, so I’ll move on. Tell us about working as a freelance content creator.

That's amazing that you also fostered!

Doing freelance was slow at first, it's a big world and the market can feel intimidating sometimes. I first started doing ghostwriting for a blog just to get a feel for the process. It turned out I loved it! It was exciting hearing someone's vision, and being able to turn it into a finished product while using my skills as a writer. I found it sort of difficult to not apply to every freelance position available, so I decided to narrow my field of expertise a little. I did extensive research on content creators, and content writing and found that it was a good fit for my skill set.

In order to gain a stronger presence, I created my website and freelancer persona. My primary purpose was to create a portfolio to give a stronger backing to my applications when reaching out to people who needed freelancers. It helped a lot! I quickly landed more "long term" freelance positions with some tech blog websites where I wrote probably 20-25 articles. The connections and networking I made through these positions helped me understand what to look for regarding future freelance positions.

The more I was able to narrow my search, the more my expertise and familiarity with the field increased. Once I realized I could actually make a living of freelancing, it really became a passion. The writing experience alone that you get from working with dynamic tech companies was pretty amazing. Once my freelance career started becoming more stable I wanted to go back to my writing roots, and work on books which brings us back to present day!

Amazing. I do want to talk a little more about freelancing before we move on to books. How did you go about searching for freelance jobs?

Oops, sorry! forgot to mention that. The coffee is still kicking in.

I feel you, bro. I began by creating a profile on Upwork and doing a lot of my preliminary searches there after I got a few jobs and positive feedback under my belt, I felt the need to expand my expertise. Also, the more research I did, the more I realized I was being underpaid for my skills. Eventually, I was referred to "problogger" which also has listings for freelance positions, with a focus on longer term positions. I found that I was able to get more stable and more "professional" positions through those listings as well. The more experience I got, the better gigs I was able to land.

Honestly though, it was quite a lot of research in the beginning phases before I was able to find a stride and consistent jobs. Doing freelance/remote work also gave me the ability to be more involved with fostering as well which was a huge benefit

Lots of research? Isn’t that how life goes? Wouldn’t it be great if we could just snap our fingers and get our way? What advice would you give a newbie like me a go if they wanted to try to get into freelance writing?

I think a pitfall that a lot of new freelancers experience is undervaluing themselves. It's true that you have to start somewhere, but I think people get intimidated by the market thinking "I'll take whatever I can get to make a living". But the beauty of freelancing is it only takes a couple of consistent gigs to become sustainable, and it's a quantitative process. The more gigs you get, the better gigs you get and so on

Also, I would recommend finding a niche and sticking to it. I've also worked with freelancers, and the I've been the most successful with the ones who have a clear set of skills and expertise they can offer to a project. When people are hiring freelancers, they can get lost in the sea of applications. So if you focus on a specific niche, it's typically easier to market yourself. You can also be more decisive with the jobs you apply to if that's the case.

Another thing is that you really have to sell yourself. People tend to shy away from "selling themselves" for fear of selling out or cheapening the trade. At the end of the day, it's a job though. doing menial gigs now doesn't mean you will be doing them forever. I love freelancing, because I improve both my portfolio and my skills with each job.

Another tip I found is doing "cold call" emails. I often go to sites that I would typically frequent, and if they have a blog section that's lacking, I'll reach out to them and say "Hey, I noticed you have an up and coming blog, here's how I can help if you're interested..." You really have nothing to lose from networking, especially in this digital age

Wow. Great tips. You definitely seem to be putting your marketing experience to work for you. You mentioned previously creating a professional persona. What does that look like and how does some create their own when they have no relevant experience ?

Good question! [As for creating my own professional persona] The initial driving factor was that I'm super shy. I wanted to remain more anonymous while still having a professional portfolio. Although with many similar sites I found people just used their actual faces/names etc. Since the freelance market tends to be so saturated, most clients and employers tend to shift their focus more heavily on your work and how it makes you unique from your competitors

A friendly presence goes a long way [and a good website]. Fortunately, I've dabbled in webdesign so I'm familiar with it, but honestly I use fiverr for a lot of things. Even if you know very little or nothing about creating websites, you could have it professionally done for like $20.

I also tell people there there's always going to be costs involved when starting any sort of company, even if it's independent freelancing. Some people pay hundreds for online classes and workshops, but I find that you can learn so much doing it yourself and even working with other freelancers And it's not impossible to do it all for free, but it will be much more complicated and you would be amazed by the low quality sites out there. With a little love and attention, I think most people can create something eye catching. Realistically, it all comes down to how you want to market yourself.

But how do you sell yourself if you’ve had no previous work?

Something that helped me on my site before I had a more extensive portfolio was focusing on the services you offer page. That allowed me to effectively have a resume I could copy and send to any interested parties, even before I had previous work to show. it was a way of letting employers know who I was and what I could offer, even though I didn't have a portfolio to back it up.

Additionally, I created two blog articles on my own that I could show potential employers just to have something, but honestly, what really helped me get started was having a services offered page on my site. Employers get so many generic applications, a website really helped me stand out among the competition even though I didn't have much of a portfolio starting out.

Those are really great tips! I peeked at your website and I think it’s a really great! If any of the readers are interested, they should pop over there and see your examples. Now, tell us more about your novels. Thanks!

I actually began writing a science fiction novel to hone my skills, but the more I wrote, I felt myself sort of losing interest. My strength and interest in writing always revolved around short stories. I thought of a way to still write and publish something that I felt passionate about. I love writing short, uplifting/humorous works. And I felt my background as a foster parent might help give me a unique perspective for writing illustrated books accessible for wider audiences. When I was working on my first book "Dog Hacks to Train Your Human" it felt like all my experiences were coming together: freelancing, marketing, fostering background.

Especially after publishing it, I realized marketing is arguably more work than producing a book! I really loved the process and the level of control I had being self published. I considered querying agents or publishers, but I felt that my goal and vision was strong enough to stand on its own, so I wanted to try it myself. I enjoyed it so much, I actually started my 2nd illustrated book yesterday! I also REALLY enjoy the marketing aspect of it.

That’s amazing. I really want to talk to you about marketing the self-published book, because I feel that a lot of indie authors struggle with this. But first tell us more about “Dog Hacks to train your human”.

Sure. My family got a chocolate lab puppy a few months ago, and she is an endless source of entertainment. She has such a fun personality, but also has a lot of shall we say, less than desirable puppy habits. I call them "things I prefer she wouldn't do". Instead of getting discouraged by her behaviors, I thought it would be humorous to make it like her behaviors are actually helping the family. So its written from her perspective, giving tips for other dogs on how to help your humans. Like she always tries to burst into the shower when it's occupied, so I wrote it as a tip for conserving water. That is awesome! I’m laughing so hard right now!

I worked with a freelance illustrator on previous projects, and I love her style, so I knew it would be a great match. [link here] I also just really wanted to capture my lab's personality and immortalize it in a book that I could share with my daughter and my family.

I love that. What’s it like to work with an illustrator ?

For me personally, it's like finding a doctor or a mechanic. If you're uncomfortable with them, it is NOT worth it to continue your relationship. Both parties will suffer. I was really fortunate to find an illustrator who consistently goes above and beyond expectations. She's also really organized, so we have a lot of communication throughout the entire project. It was essential for me, because I have a clear vision, but I don't have a background in illustration. She's able to take my ideas and translate them into illustrations that we're both happy with.

As for the book you just started, can you tell me anything about that or is it too early?

Sure! I can tell you a little about the new book. My daughter was asking questions about the pandemic, and masks, etc. So I was trying to find books for kids to explain it in an accessible way. I was unable to find any, so I decided to write one myself! It's about a father and child making a homemade mask together and talking about why it's important, how the virus works, etc

That sounds extremely necessary in today's world. Now let’s talk business. You say you love the marketing aspect of indie publishing, but that’s one of the aspects that most concerns me about publishing. Tell me EVERYTHING.

It's really a matter of getting the word out there and finding ways to make your work stand out among the competition. There's countless helpful resources online. I was fortunate enough to have a professional background in affiliate/online marketing, but if you start your process with the focus being "how can I stand out", your goals become more and more clear throughout the process.

For example, how can I get my book seen by more people on amazon? Knowing this would be an issue, I researched other keywords that children's authors used in the work to gain a stronger visual presence from organic search results. There's even sites that use algorithms to find the most commonly search keywords regarding whatever your topic is.

Additionally, social media has been helpful for spreading the word, but engagement is not always guaranteed. I also discovered that it's very hard to sell books without reviews which is similar to strengthening your online presence. so i found some databases that list bloggers who review books. You can check out their sites, see their services, what books they review, etc. I basically emailed a description of my book with a pitch and the cover to many reviewers. I only heard from a handful so far, but once you get a few reviews, it really bumps up your book.

Additionally, some sites offer forums where you can pay a flat fee and have reviewers check out your book. You pay to host your book there, not for reviews. I'm fairly certain it's frowned upon, or even outright not allowed to pay in exchange for reviews, so I looked for ways to get honest reviews in exchange for a copy of the book. Starting out with no fan base, one doesn't really have that much to lose. I was confident enough in the quality of the work to ask for people's honest opinions. Plus, I was legitimately curious of people's feedback.

Twitter has been especially helpful for getting the word out too. Like doing author highlights, author showcases, etc When you say using keywords in your work, where do you put it? In the description ?Oh and tell me about author highlights and author showcases? I’ve seen #writerslifts and etc, but haven’t heard of that.

You can add keywords when you're uploading your book in KDP (amazon) under "edit ebook details". I found this to be really helpful. Regarding the author showcases, let me see if I can find a few quick examples. Like here's one. As you can see on the site, on June 21, they'll do an author showcase on my work. And I found them purely because I follow them on Twitter. I've also contacted people who are doing things like story collections for fundraisers. I've also contacted people who are doing things like story collections for fundraisers.

And these are all just potential solutions to that initial question "how can I get my book seen". I try to say yes to as many experiences starting out. It helps you be able to filter through what does and doesn't work. It would be way to difficult to just wake up one day and say "Marketing! GO!" I've tried things that work really well, but I've also tried solutions that don't work, but I get better each time, which is something I love about freelancing and self publishing. And all the experiences build on one another, so nothing is "wasted time".

My published book is now published! Maybe it isn't the perfect book, but perfection is the enemy of progress. I think people make the mistake of looking for the perfect solution, as many interesting opportunities pass them by. I have for sure been guilty of that.

What would you say to an indie author who is struggling with marketing ?

I would say to not be intimidated by the information out there. Much of it is trial and error, and you can't be discouraged when a certain method proves to be ineffective. Each time a method doesn't work for me, I gain valuable insight and information for my next attempt. The shotgun approach is really effective in marketing. If you pigeonhole yourself and your vision, the process will take much longer. That's not to say it's impossible that way. It really only takes a single blog or youtube channel you resonate with to get yourself started and motivated. Typically if you remain true to that single goal, the steps begin to fall in place.

Try to have your end goal be a single question you try to answer through the whole process.

The question would definitely vary author to author.

Do you want your book to make you money? Do you want to have a published book? Do you want to gain a following? etc...

My goal was "I want to sell my book".

Okay. What are your thoughts on paid online ads? I think they're a very powerful marketing tool. However, they aren't usually viable for individuals just starting out. They're really great for larger companies that have cash flow to funnel into marketing. They have a great draw to them, "Only pay for the clicks and impressions you get!" However, impressions are calculated for every time the ad is displayed by whatever interface you're using, (twitter, amazon, etc.). And these can ad up VERY quickly. So even if you have a daily budget of say, $50, that will be gone in a matter of hours as you rack up impressions. And impressions do not equal conversions, or views on your site/blog/book. For ads to be effective, they typically require a heft amount of money dedicated to it. Your $50 could go much further in more targeted forms of advertisement and marketing.

Such as?

Doing things like the book review platforms, finding promotion gigs on fiverr, buying yourself a bottle of wine, etc. Maybe not so much that last part. It's kind of like gambling at a casino. you could sit at the high roller black jack table and lose $20 in a single hand. Maybe you'll win big, but if you only budget $20, it's not a very good investment. If you go to the penny slots to start out, you wont win as much initially, but you can play the game a lot longer. Also like gambling, if you do it for the sole purpose of trying to make money, you will most likely struggle.

So remembering other things that you are achieving is also important. Like getting your writing into the world or having even a few people enjoy and love your book.

Exactly! Is there anything that I didn’t ask about online marketing that I should have?

Hm. Honestly, nothing comes to mind! Those were really great questions. Definitely, enough to get started. Perfect. We are down to the last two questions I ask every writer. What is one random fact about you? The sillier the better. Oooh. I was in a band in high school that performed a few shows! I ended up marrying the lead singer :)

Jackpot!!! And lastly, if you could give one piece of advice to another writer, what would it be? I would say don't edit yourself and lose focus trying to achieve perfection. You'll end up missing out on amazing opportunities and invaluable insight into your craft.

I'm going to second that don't edit yourself thing. Thank you so much for your time. You've given us so much helpful information.


Wow! My head is spinning from all the good information about online marketing that I learned.

Resources mentioned:

More about Nicholas


As always, chase your dreams. Be kind. And keep writing fearlessly.

Bye, darlings.

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