Shari Stauch

Shari Stauch is the creator of Where Writers Win, which sounds like but is definitely not an off track betting branch for authors. No, Where Writers Win is a company that provides expertise in marketing, websites, training, and tools for emerging authors, and Shari is the prize-winning thoroughbred behind it all. As if being a savvy veteran of the publishing, marketing, and PR trades for some 30 years isn’t enough, Shari is also a Hall of Fame member of the Women’s Professional Billiard Association. And lastly, as you’re about to see, she’s a spectacular get for an interview.

1. You would think an author would be great at marketing their book because it involves writing about something they know. But that’s not always the case, huh?

True enough, seldom the case. Hey, ask any author and they’d rather write an entire novel than the synopsis or the blurb or the dreaded query letter. The transition­­ from artist to marketer is tougher than many realize until they’re actually thrown into the deep end of that pool. That said, today’s social marketing allows an author to do what they do best – communicate in writing. And by engaging in that social conversation, the result becomes book sales.

2. Writers can sometimes be lonely hermits who’ve only ever known the warmth of a glowing LCD screen. How do you help them “widen their circle of influence”?

Well first off, we hermits aren’t necessarily lonely. And art – whether writing or drawing or music or theatre – is communication, isn’t it? And it’s the deepest, truest form of communication really because the point of art is to communicate and elicit emotion. So let’s agree that writers write words so they’ll be read!

Widening the circle these days luckily begins with that glowing screen, first with an author website, today’s calling card, followed by pushing that blog out into the social sphere via SM outlets (FB, Twitter, LI, Google+) and reader-centric spaces like Shelfari, Goodreads or Redroom. Then we help them push content into specific areas where their books will resonate, i.e. a golf book gets exposure in golf social networks, a dog book among pet lovers, etc. We also work with authors on media training, so when they are forced to leave the cave and appear in public they’re on point and on message (and wearing shoes).

Typically it takes a few sessions before that “Ah-Ha!” moment happens – and that’s usually in the form of someone connecting with them from a foreign country, or an organization that wants to make the author’s books available to all their members. The realization that YES, there are folks out there besides family and friends who DO want to read their words – that’s heady stuff!

3. Are authors more prone to being ‘backseat drivers’ when it comes to marketing efforts because they’re writers themselves?

On the contrary – our approach is that readers want to hear what the author has to say; their content marketing MUST be in their words. Authors are the drivers; consumers don’t want slick messaging; today’s social marketing requires transparency. You’ve no doubt heard the nightmare stories about supposed CEO blogs that turned out to be written by marketing ghostwriters. You can’t expect consumers to want to connect with you unless they know it’s YOU they’re connecting with. Readers don’t go to author book signings to see the author’s ghost-speaker; ditto with online communication.

More often authors are uncomfortable tooting their own horns; we work with them to understand that it’s about sharing information and building up “street cred,” becoming the credible expert in the area in which you’re writing. And yes, that goes for fiction, too. Historical fiction authors can key in on historical periods and places; literary fiction authors always have an issue/theme around which they can market, etc.

4. Do you tailor an author’s website to their book or to the author’s personality/web-managing skills?

Great question! We use a WordPress backend for all our author sites because it’s SEO friendly and user-friendly; we know we can train a computer novice in less than an hour to operate their own site.

It’s a primary reason we launched Where Writers Win; the prices authors were being quoted to create custom sites were outrageous, and then they had to pay someone to “manage” their site every time they got a book signing or wanted to announce a new release. We put the control in their hands because we know the industry; we know the margins. I joke that it’s a lousy business model on our part because our whole job is to make an author marketing savvy and self-sufficient so they don’t have to be sharing their hard-earned profits. Of course we’re always around if they need a question answered, but our goal is to kick ‘em out of the nest… and rejoice in their flight!

As far as each custom design goes, that depends on the needs of the author and their potential audience. An author may be an urban edgy sort of individual but if they’re writing children’s books, then duh, the site needs to appeal to those readers. If an author has a single book and wants to only promote that book, then we may key in on that. But most plan to write more or have more than one book; we align those sites more towards identifying the author as the brand.

5. How do author marketing techniques differ from traditional marketing techniques?

Well for one thing, once an author does get it, they’re in a better position than anyone to market their work. Today’s social, inbound marketing is all about connecting with clever words in word-filled spaces. Websites, blogs, micro-blogs; whatever the vehicle, it’s incumbent upon us authors to raise the bar on well-written content. There are so many spaces too that cater to authors – book sites, review blogs, etc. Traditional or outbound marketing (the expensive kind) is more about shouting a message from the nearest rooftop – a good book can whisper that message and it’ll carry for miles.

6. Can good marketing sell a crappy book? I mean, what could you do for “Salmonella: Recipes in the Raw”?

Well, we’d likely want to give it a great tagline, like, “10 Days to Lose Those Pesky Last 10 Pounds,” but on a more serious note, the answer is yes and no.

Obviously good marketing can sell lousy art – look at some of the fifty shades of drivel on the shelves (or your TV screens) today and you’ll agree that a lot of it is anything but “good.” In such cases, yes, good marketing keeps it out there and gullible consumers keep wolfing it down, indigestion be damned.

But a great book will get talked about and savvy marketing can help spread that buzz, too. Water for Elephants is a great example – a small press run book out of Algonquin that got the attention of some book clubs – they gabbed about it and those people spread it to more book clubs, and so on and so on. Ditto for Heidi Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell From the Sky. Heidi busted butt to market that book (and it was good – the winner of Barbara Kingsolver’s coveted Bellwether prize). She worked five initial book signings offered by the publisher into over 100 over the course of a year; the paperback then released on the NYT bestseller list. That’s good marketing combined with good writing.

Then there’s the third scenario and it’s tragic when a great book has no marketing and dies on the vine before it can be shared. Those are the projects we love to find and market because if the author had the passion to write a great book, that’s a passion they can share and it becomes infectious (but not like salmonella).

Salmonella: ready for its closeup.

7. Are there different strategies for promoting a book/author through social media than with other businesses?

Again, yes and no. Good product/service marketing elicits emotional response, as does good book marketing. And a book is a product. We read a LOT of small business blogs and attend small business marketing conferences to keep up with the latest buzz and techniques out there, and then we filter what’s applicable. But of course there are key differences in terms of a book typically being a small, one time purchase; it’s seldom going to be about location marketing (unless it’s a travel or local history book) or membership loyalty programs or BOGO sales.

8. Are there are a certain number of ‘OMG’s and ‘SMH’s a newcomer to social media must work in so as not to appear like a novice?

IDK. LMAO. See how annoying that is? That’s something we don’t encourage except in texts (and not when driving, dammit!)

9. You help prepare your clients for public speaking engagements, supposedly one of the biggest fears around.  How do you it?

If we told you we’d have to… well, you know. But in a nutshell, it’s about being prepared and staying on point. We rehearse, we have them give the talks, we listen, we offer input, and we videotape their talks if they want to review them. We all get nervous because we’re afraid we’ll freeze or screw up or be judged – but if we know our material cold and are prepared to talk about it, that eliminates a lot of the fear. Ditto readings – no one goes to a book reading to hear it read out loud in monotone. Authors need to read and reread their selected passages to ensure they can connect with the audience, interject an anecdote, etc.   

10. We always hear that when facing a public speaking event, you should picture the audience in their underwear. But no one ever says what kind of undies! Can you help us with that?

Probably not as I’ve never been able to visualize that myself, but I vaguely recall from my childhood that it was an amusing episode on “The Brady Bunch.” Wild guess: probably more important is the underlying message that the audience are just people, flawed and fabulous, just like you and me, hoping to take away some new information or inspiration.

I used to be TERRIFIED of speaking. So I’d start talking too fast and then I’d stumble over my words and then my voice would start to shake, which reinforced the fear. Then I was asked to speak to a group of authors about a subject I was passionate about. I knew the subject cold already; I didn’t bring a single note card. The talk went great, I never felt the least bit nervous and that’s when the light bulb went off – I wasn’t nervous because I wasn’t “performing” for an audience, I was just up there having a conversation with a bunch of people that shared the same passion for writing.

And I thought back to every great vs. lousy speech I’d heard over the years and the great ones all had the same thing in common – the speaker was speaking TO the audience, not AT them. I still took advantage of media training to learn how to build a hierarchy in talk points, deal with negative questions and so on, but it really all does begin with taking ourselves a bit less seriously and putting the focus on the audience, where it belongs. The project, the book, may be very serious, but each of us, we’re just silly humans, after all.

Shari Stauch is a certified executive coach, an award-winning essayist and fiction writer, and author of four non-fiction books. She is working on completion of a novel set in her hometown of Chicago, IL. She’s also the co-creator of Pool & Billiard Magazine,  the sport’s oldest monthly magazine. Much more of her awesomeness can be found at Where Writers Win.