Launching with a Community: An Interview with an Author Coaching Network Student
I’ve recently been thinking about the power of community for authors. It’s such a common woe I hear in the book world: that authors are lonely, that writing is isolating, that they feel misunderstood and alone in trying to navigate the publishing world.
The need for author community was one of the driving factors in my starting Author Coaching Network last year. It’s my 6-month program designed to teach authors all the essentials of book marketing, but I chose to call it a “network,” rather than a “course” or “class,” because it truly centers around relationships–relationships that support, refine, and educate.
I recently chatted with Leeana Tankersley, one of the participants in my first Author Coaching Network (ACN). Leeana is a brilliant author and a lover of people. Her enthusiasm for relationships within the publishing world is really strong (and she recently had a killer book launch!), so I asked her to come share some thoughts about writing communities and her time in ACN.
Leeana’s story–in a few sentences:
Leeana came to us with a couple books in the marketplace, and another, Brazen, coming down the pipeline and in the works with a publisher. Her first books had a hard time finding success in the marketplace. She felt a little isolated and overwhelmed, stuck with neither confidence nor knowledge of how to market the books well.
Fast forward six months, and Brazen hits big. Leeana has support from new author friends and the knowledge to create a strategic marketing plan which she puts into action. Within a month, Brazen has sold more copies than her first two books combined sold over their whole lifetime thus far.
So, let’s jump to my conversation with Leeana!
Tell us about the recent book launch of Brazen.
My latest book, Brazen, released in April this year, and it’s actually my third book, but I’ve been at this–at writing–for about a decade. But I’ve been waiting to have that special book that really came into the market and did well, and I really found more of my audience. The people that wanted to have the same conversation that I wanted to have, we all really found each other, and I feel like that has happened through the launch of Brazen.
It’s a vulnerable process to work behind closed doors on something–my writing is very personal, it’s very narrative–for a year and a half, and then to send it out into the world, hoping that people get it and that people respond to it.
What were some marketing things that were crucial to this launch and new for this book?
One was being part of Author Coaching Network. Getting a better education on what it looks like to release a book (pre-launch, launch, and post-launch), how to break it down into stages and have a better understanding of the tasks I need to complete and focus on during those stages of the release.
Also, we added in a launch team this release, which I felt like was huge. Not only does it develop energy for you as an author–you have these people coming around you, reading the book, so excited, wanting to talk about it, creating buzz–but it also really does make an impact in the market.
My experience in Author Coaching Network, in general, made me better prepared for this launch. I knew what questions to ask, I knew where to be proactive, so I wasn’t waiting for the publishing team to do certain things.
How were relationships key in the launch?
I feel like I have been able (through ACN and through being in the industry for a decent period of time), to gain relationships all over the country. I can send people the book and say, “Hey, if this resonates with you, I’d love for you to share it with people.” And that is a really powerful tool to have.
When you’re operating isolated and without a team of people, you don’t really have that opportunity. People picked it up and thought the cover was pretty (that hot pink cover!) and were glad to post it in on Facebook and Twitter, and that really makes a huge difference.
And then you have this tribe of people who know what it’s like to put their baby out into the world, and they’re cheering you on. They’re saying, “Hey, great job! We know how much work goes into this! I’m so excited for you! I’m so proud of you!” and that gives you energy and momentum.
Something I wanted to share, too, is that writing is such an isolating thing. I’m an extrovert, and I grew up as an athlete, and I love being on teams. That’s the one part of writing that’s hard for me. I get energy from people and the synergy of being around people, and I’ve missed that. If I don’t create that for myself with writing, I miss that energy. A network of friends makes all the difference.
How do you avoid feeling isolated in the writing period?
Writing is a long haul. Some of your best work is happening in total isolation. You’ll have a great night, you’ll nail something, you’ll finish a chapter… and there’s nobody there! There’s no one there to clap, to notice, to say, “Oh my gosh!” Not only do I have a community of author friends all over the country, but I have my agent and my editor who are both huge cheerleaders, and whom I feel I can always reach out to. And my publishing team.
But what has been the foundation is my team here is San Diego. Some are writers, some are aspiring writers. They’re all really smart, they read a lot, and they’re willing to come along beside me and read my writing.
Part of the process of finishing Brazen here in San Diego is I did a writing group meet-up once a month. I started it because I needed it. You can wait around for someone else to do things for you, but they might never happen. I knew I needed support, so once a month, we’d all come together and bring our work. We’d exchange our work and do peer review. We’d spend some time talking about what was working in our process and what wasn’t working. That has been an invaluable source of support because you feel like you’re not doing your best work in the dark.
It’s difficult to measure success in the writing phase. How do you define success at launch and a little bit after?
Of course, you want to see that Amazon number plummeting, and that feels so good; it’s like patting yourself on the back. But unless you’re Elizabeth Gilbert or Ann Voskamp, that number’s not going to stay low forever. And it’s something I’ve had to learn.
So other means to define success in that phase? Book sales is not the only measure of success, but we want to make a living, right? To act like it’s no measure is wrong. I have enjoyed seeing sales! Brazen in the first month outsold the life of my other two books combined. For me, I could check a success box. We have to define success for ourselves. As we often talked about in ACN, we have to set goals and then celebrate when we hit those goals.
How has the journey with the publisher been different this time around?
The publisher is a huge relationship that you want to be synergistic. This is your team. These are the people who are caring about the success of this book with you. This time around, I felt so much better prepared for that relationship, especially pre-launch. I knew where we wanted to see the book go and how exactly we were going to see it do better. Through ACN and through the experience of launching books and learning–the hard way sometimes–I realized what we needed to talk about in pre-launch and nail down who does what. I have an extraordinary agent and publishing team at Revell. They have gone the extra mile and more for me, and they want to see this do well. And I feel that.
There’s a lot expected of authors these days. Not just to put out a great book, but also to be really informed and involved around all aspects of selling that book. It’s a tall task. And so when we come to the table as educated as possible and as energized as possible about what we are going to do, it completes the life of this book. It gets everyone excited. That is the important part. When we come to the table and we’re like “Well, I don’t really know what to do. I just wrote the book, and I want you guys to make it go,” it’s tough. I’ve been there, and I just wasn’t that educated, and this time around I could come to the table with some ideas, some goals, with focus, and that got everyone on the phone calls excited.
How has ACN been a direct advantage to the launch of Brazen?
Actually, I was on a call with my publishing team and my agent and someone on the call said, “Oh my gosh, Leeana, it sounds like you have a Masters degree in marketing!” That’s to ACN’s credit, but it was great. They felt I was coming to the table like, “Whoa, we all better up our game here.” It affected everyone.
That education and those relationships give you confidence instead of fear. There was a time when I went into these phone calls with fear. I felt out of my league, I felt I didn’t really know how to contribute, and I felt like, “I don’t really know what’s going to make any difference.”
We also spent a lot of time through ACN really thinking about our message, and that’s all a part of the process. Thinking about our particular message, our particular audience, our specific goals. And all that thinking and processing helped me come to the table when it was time to get the book into the right hands. And I’m more informed and educated, even on my own book.
How did you benefit from strong author relationships from your time in ACN?
The first few months of ACN were calls/teaching on video. You’re getting to know people a little bit, getting to know their stories, but what was incredibly powerful was our face-to-face time in Nashville earlier this year. Getting together and having time to really get to know each other solidified those relationships. We had great teaching time, but also social time. And it was in those long conversations where I got to hear what they’re doing, and what’s working for them, and what’s not working for them… that was gold.
When Brazen came out a couple months later, they all had a personal connection with me and I had a personal connection with them, and we’re standing together as a team, and we’re going to support each other. When they have products that hit the market, I’ll support them. Because I know they’re the real deal and I’ve had a chance to interact with them.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Two things. One. For me–and I don’t presume that everyone is like me and spends a decade in the trenches–but it’s been an unexpectedly long haul. Writing a book is just a long haul. If you go into it thinking anything else, I think it’s a little bit misguided. Spend some time establishing that this is what you’re called to do.
Two. If you believe this is where you’re meant to be, do everything you can to get informed on all aspects of the process. This is where ACN gave me a huge leg up this time around. I have worked so hard at my craft. I have really developed as a writer, but I haven’t developed as a marketer or as a publicist. That’s the second branch of it: you need to work so hard at your craft, but also inform yourself about your industry.
Your story can be Leeana’s story–a story of strong author relationships and true education of the publishing industry. The next Author Coaching Network begins in August, and I’d be honored to tell you about more about it.
Leeana Tankersley is a writer, mom of three, and Navy wife. She is the author of Brazen, Breathing Room, and Found Art. Leeana and her husband, Steve, live in San Diego with their three kids: Luke (7), Lane (7), and Elle (4). You can learn more about Leeana’s work at www.LeeanaTankersley.com.