Buzz, Buzz, Buzz: Interview with Therese Pope
Hi Therese! Thank you so much for joining us today! You have a couple of different titles under your belt. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?
Thanks Leigh—it’s my pleasure!
Yes, I definitely wear a few hats and then some. I’m a copywriter and an Internet marketer—I call myself a buzz-icist because I help my clients build a positive online “buzz” around their brand. My professional background includes promoting authors and writers (I worked for Barnes & Noble and a small indie press in the Sacramento, Calif. area). I help authors and small businesses create full scale “buzz” marketing campaigns. I also write and develop content for the hospitality and restaurant industry, and partner with marketing & design agency as their copywriter. I’m a die-hard foodie so I love writing for this industry.
I have a BA degree in journalism with an emphasis in public relations. My career took an interesting turn after college as I was a special events director/fundraiser for public health non-profits for nine years. However, I’ve always had my hands in marketing, writing, and promotions—I had to basically market my own events and campaigns. You have to be a good sales person and marketer to persuade donors to donate large sums of money and get volunteers on board to help raise money, so I have plenty of real-world experience hitting the pavement– walking the marketing walk and talking the talk.
As a copywriter, I write sales and marketing-focused copy for websites, researched articles, white papers, reports, ads, etc. — a little bit of everything. Copywriting and content development goes beyond just the scope of writing. Actually, the writing aspect is really the easiest part of my job. As a copywriter, I have to think like a marketer and salesperson. I need to understand and get inside the “heads” of my target markets, what they like, don’t like, how can I make their lives easier, etc. So my work as both copywriter/marketer is a perfect fit.
What is the number one piece of advice that you give to self-publishing clients? Does the same advice apply for clients that publish traditionally?
My number one piece of “tough love” advice that I give to self-published writers/authors is that you aren’t going to get rich self-publishing–that’s just the reality of the self-publishing world. It’s a very competitive market out there, especially fiction. Also, it’s important to be proactive with your marketing and publicity–what you put into your marketing is what you’re going to get out of it. Marketing takes time and energy and a book doesn’t magically sell itself.
When I worked for Barnes & Noble with authors and planned in-store book signings, I always told the authors, “You are the best marketer of your book since you wrote the book and know it inside and out.” You could have the best story/plot/characters in the world, but your readers won’t ever know that if you aren’t proactively marketing and promoting the book.
Yes, the same holds true for traditionally published authors, especially with the budget cuts in traditional publishing (unless you are world-renowned author J.K. Rowling who wrote the “Harry Potter” series). Despite the fact that authors who are picked up by a traditional press/publisher get a little more support, the publishers are also marketing/promoting multiple books besides said author. I have clients who were picked up by small indie presses and were told point blank, we will only do this and that for you but the rest of your marketing is up to you—good luck! Whether you are self-published or traditionally published, you still need to roll up your sleeves and be willing and ready to market your book.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about marketing?
I think the biggest misconceptions are that you need to have a huge budget, marketing takes up too much time, and it’s SCARY. The number one reason people don’t market is all of the above. That’s the great thing about social media. You don’t need to a huge budget and you can set aside time each day to market on your social media channels. There are fantastic free social media managements tools that can save you both time and money when it comes to your online marketing.
Authors tend to be really scared and hesitant to jump on board with marketing. They don’t want to come across as egotistical and they don’t like to talk about themselves. Marketing doesn’t have to be scary, and sometimes I think writers get overwhelmed because they think they have to do everything RIGHT NOW!
My practical advice is to take baby steps with your marketing and set realistic goals. I think that’s why people just give up on marketing. They’ll try it out for a few weeks or a few months and don’t see instant results and give up. I’m not saying that you don’t have to put in time, money, and energy with your marketing. That’s a given but you don’t have to do ALL your marketing at once – that’s the reason I help my clients create strategic campaigns with specific, incremental goals. It sets them up on the right path from the very beginning which gives them a sense of relief. They actually feel like they can accomplish their marketing goals.
Everyone knows that writers can be divas- how do you handle the drama?
Great question! Yes, there are definitely diva writers out there and the divas usually don’t make it. It’s all about humble pie! I have learned that it’s important to stand my professional ground from the very beginning. There is a reason that people hire professional marketers, but some don’t always like the ‘reality check’ of what self-publishing really entails. Self-publishing is a business and you have to think like a business person—whether you like it or not. Even if you hire a professional marketer to handle your book, you (the author) will have to talk about and pitch your book at some point (even in casual conversation). The reality is that success doesn’t happen overnight, a book doesn’t sell itself, and you aren’t going to make millions as a self-published author.
I am very selective and I have turned down self-published books that were poorly edited. From an ethical standpoint, there is no way I will market a poorly written/developed book because the average reader won’t buy or want to read a book riddled with typos with a poor plot and character development. I highly recommend that new writers work with a professional editor–and not just a copyeditor–but a developmental book editor. There are fantastic professional developmental editors out there who can assist with manuscript editing.
I’ve been lucky to work with wonderful writers. I am really pleased because one of my former clients (a self-published author), thanks to his hard work and dedication, was picked up by an indie press. He now has a three book contract. He is an excellent example of a self-published author who devoted a lot of time and effort to his book marketing which paid off huge for him!
I love the name of your company, Zenful Communications. How did that name come about?
My company name goes back to my business tagline: Building Positive Buzz Around Brands. I want my clients to feel a sense of ease and “peace” when we work together. It’s my goal to help them feel less nervous about the big scary M (marketing) word. The “Zen” part of my name comes from my love of yoga. I have been a student of yoga for 12 years and it’s a huge part of my life. A few years ago I worked with a personal development coach and we created my “purpose statement” that sums up perfectly both my business and personal philosophy: my purpose is to live each day with an authentic sense of self while using my creative talents and passions to build and nurture positive, harmonious relationships with my clients and business partners.
Do you have one successful goal or strategy that you can use with any client across the board, or do you cater your work to every client individually?
Each client is completely different based on their marketing needs and goals and I develop specific campaigns based on these needs and goals—no two plans are alike. However, organization and strategic planning are the key to success when it comes to any marketing plan. You can’t get from Point A to Point B if you don’t have specific, strategic goals and objectives (and deadlines!) in place BEFORE you start marketing. Vague, unrealistic generalities in marketing won’t work. For example, “sell 10 million copies of my book to an international market” is not a realistic goal (especially for a first time self-published author). However, “sell 100 copies at my five book signings in XYZ cities” is a more reasonable, realistic and attainable goal. It’s all about taking baby steps. Remember “Rome wasn’t built in a day!” The same holds true for marketing a book.
On top of all of this, you’re also a fantastic writer. What was your greatest writing ‘success’?
Thanks for the kudos, Leigh. My biggest writing success is through my agency I partner with in Texas. Our creative team won a W3 Award, which is an international web design competition hosted by the International Academy of the Visual Arts. It was a team effort and I wrote the copy for their client’s award-winning website. Our agency was named a Silver Winner in the Restaurant Category. It’s fun to be part of an exceptional creative team and love the energy and dynamic of working with a marketing and design agency. It was an honor to be recognized and it was nice that our hard work, as creatives, paid off for our team.
How do you think social media has changed the face of marketing for the better? How do you think it has changed it for the worst?
Social media has opened up a world of endless marketing possibilities, especially for self-published authors on a limited budget. However, social media can get you into a lot of hot water! I tell my clients if you wouldn’t say that to your mother, don’t post it on your social media. Social media is just one tool that enhances your marketing, but it shouldn’t replace good customer service and face-to-face communication. Yes, social media makes it easier and faster to communicate with others, but it shouldn’t replace one-on-one contact either—you still need that human touch when interacting with people. Sometimes you just need to pick up the phone!
While I think social media is an excellent marketing tool, I have seen the nasty side of social media, especially in groups such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Social media can sometimes be a breeding ground for trolls, rudeness, and unnecessary drama that is a waste of time and can damage reputations and hurt people. Common courtesy and professional etiquette still need to be practiced on social media, and sometimes people tend to forget their manners when they hide anonymously behind a screen.
If there was one thing you would change about the way that people view self-publishing, what would it be?
Great question! There are many excellent self-published writers out there who do really well for themselves, but a lot of “old school” book readers/consumers still have it stuck in their heads that ALL self-published writers are hacks and aren’t good writers. I know some incredible indie authors who have achieved great success by self-publishing their books. Not only are they excellent writers, but they know how to market their books. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but it can be done.
Do you think the reputation of self-published authors has improved due to ebook sales?
Yes and no. See my answer above. It’s really easy to self-publish an ebook these days and you don’t have to have a big budget to do it either. Amazon makes it fairly easy to sell an ebook. Many writers are so eager to write and publish an ebook that they hastily self-publish without editing their books. This is the kiss of marketing death and gives self-publishing a bad name (as I mentioned above).
The ebook market is saturated which makes it highly competitive. Also, traditional publishers offer an ebook version of books which makes it challenging for self-published authors to compete against an author backed by a traditional publishing house.
I think one of the pluses that helps self-published authors are chapter previews/sample chapters (i.e. Amazon and review websites, etc.). People can pick and choose, read a sample chapter and get a feel for the book before they buy. That definitely helps! Also, positive online reviews are extremely important when it comes to marketing, but steer clear of paying people to write “fake” reviews about your book on Amazon, etc.
It also depends on your genre. For example, fiction is a tough market to break into for a self-published writer so you need to be an excellent fiction writer AND you need to get out there and market your book. Nonfiction is a different world but sometimes (depending on your niche topic/industry) it can be a bit easier to market. A lot of professionals already have established clients and connections within their industry which makes it easier for them to promote their book. It also helps businesses, especially small businesses, to market their services and products and improve their reputation within their industry thanks to their ebooks. In this case, a self-published book would definitely improve their reputation but other genres can be hit and miss since there’s a lot of competition out there and you really have to stand out. There are always going to be good writers and not-so-great writers, but if you take the necessary steps (including hiring a professional editor and proactive marketing), you can stand above the “online noise” and be recognized.
Speaking of ebooks: Are you an ebook reader or a hard copy kind of gal?
That’s a tough question for me because I love the feel of a book in my hands when I read, but I find myself reading ebooks more and more, especially marketing and business books. I also take online classes and the reading materials are digital which is fantastic because it makes studying and learning a lot easier. I am a voracious reader, and I must confess I still have a huge collection of books on my book shelf that I can’t bear to part with, especially my classics.
There’s a saying that goes ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Having worked in marketing for quite some time, do you find that statement to be true or false? Why or why not?
Definitely false! Bad publicity does exist. I had an amazing public relations professor and mentor in college who drilled into her our brains that bad publicity can AND will ruin careers, and that has always stuck with me. As I mentioned earlier, social media is a double-edged sword. It only takes one nasty review or comment on your Facebook page to ruin your reputation in one fell swoop. The same can be said about what YOU tweet and post on your social media. Think before you post—always! If you’ve had a bad day, walk away from the computer and take a few deep breaths. Don’t post anything you’ll regret later and don’t engage in combative online battles with people. Just end the conversation.
That’s why I highly recommend that my clients consistently monitor their online reputation. Monitoring can be as simple as running a Google search (type in your name, name of your book, etc.) and see what pops up in the search engines. You can also set up Google Alerts (same criteria: name, book name, etc.) to see if your name or book shows up in Google search—you are emailed updates based on the criteria you enter.
You only have to look at the celebrities and the backlash they get when they tweet out a negative comment, especially from devoted fans that go from raving fans to haters in mere seconds. Word of mouth spreads like wildfire on social media—much faster than traditional media and news outlets. It’s much easier, and less stressful, to be proactive and monitor what people say about you online. You set yourself up for a lot of heartache if you wait to repair your rep and do damage control after the fact.
To learn more about self publishing and marketing, you can visit Therese’s blog, or check out any of these articles she has written about the topics.
Thank you Therese!