I love my dog. I recognize that I probably shouldn’t start my blog post with that because, well, if you have yet to read something by me, you might think I’m one of the million writers who believes they’ll make it big by writing about their beloved pet while the rest of the world rolls their eyes. While I wouldn’t necessarily lump myself into that group, I’m not above admitting that I think a children’s book series titled The Adventures of Sully, the Mexican Streetdog has a certain epic ring to it. But, I have many other stories I’d like to write and promote first, like Unsealed. This book is a great example of what I enjoy writing – a raw, emotional exploration of an incredibly human relationship. I love writing about emotions so deep that I sob at my computer as the words spill out. Sadness or anger makes the words flow so much more easily and with a certain eloquence I don’t achieve as easily when I’m in the mood to dance around. I can see why so many of the Greats drank – it can bring your mind to a place of understanding some very powerful and relatable emotions. I need to work on my “happy” writing skills before I write Sully’s book because, while I could definitely write a dark and painful story about his life prior to moving in with me and contrast that with his very happy ending in Toronto, I think he’d be best represented in an illustrated children’s book without any darkness in it. And that’s just not in me right now. So, until the day that I need a break from writing for adults, I’ll be focusing on writing new human inspiration and promoting Unsealed. Unfortunately, my dog is so much more Instagram-popular than I am and promoting his book would be so much easier.
As a new author, I’m now working to create a personal brand and the process is a little bit daunting. I’m not naturally a share-y person. I love people, but I struggle to open up to new people. I’m an introvert with extrovert tendencies. So, as much as I absolutely love my life, I’m not a show-y person. I’ve never been comfortable with showing off. But then I wrote a book and I need/want people to know me and want to read what I’ve worked so hard to publish. So, I’m putting my life out there. I’m getting creative. My boyfriend is becoming a pro insta-boyfriend and a camera whiz. My brother too. My friends totally get it when I bust out my camera when we’re all out having a good time and, if I forget to, they’re good about reminding me. But, it’s hard. It’s hard to change your habits and it’s hard to stand out from the millions of other people who are also sharing their lives online. That has made my Instagram growth slow. Some weeks, really slow. And I’ve spent a lot of time strategizing how to make it better.
Near the beginning of this venture onto social media, I decided to start an account for Sully, my dog. I know, I never thought I’d make one of those and be that person either, but I did and I am. I needed a place to practice writing posts without overthinking, to practice timing, and to figure out how hashtags can help build an audience. It’s something I’d read about but it’s not something I’d paid much attention to prior to life as an author. Plus, I just have so many adorable photos of Sully that no one ever sees because they’re buried in the album on my cell phone and, if I pull out a picture at a party, people generally don’t want to see more than one or two at a time. This Sully-focused account was a perfect excuse to share all of my pictures of Sully with an audience who would love them or, at the very least, not mind.
Cutting a long story short, my dog’s Instagram account surged each day in popularity. Unlike my own account which had some of my personal friends following it to start, Sully’s account started from zero followers. And, each day, it’d go up by five or ten, or sometimes more. He’d receive comments and likes from complete strangers. In short, he was an inspiration to me.
I tried to replicate what I learned about timing and hashtagging on my own account but with little luck. My followers count remained on it’s steady, tortoise-paced climb.
Then someone (who was also working to grow their personal brand) pointed out to me, “Hey, have you noticed that you always post pictures of Sully’s face but almost never of your own? I get very few likes unless I put my face out there. Maybe people just like a personal touch?”
So, I tried that next. And it was true! People do seem to like a personal touch. So thank you, Sully (and random person), for that lesson. My followers increased a little as I learned to include myself in my photos, but growth was still slower than I’d like. Then, I posted a photo with Sully and I, together, packing up a box of my books to send to my alma mater to sell. I posted it on a Saturday afternoon, which I’d learned was generally the worst time to post for me, but I got more than double the amount of likes I had been getting! That’s when I figured it out – Sully is the key. Instagram loves a cute dog. From that point on, I watched my likes climb higher. I started getting more new followers. I wasn’t always posting with Sully (I recognize that there is sometimes too much of a good thing), but I mixed in shots of Sully with shots of my horse (another handsome animal) to the broader mix of my lifestyle photos and book quotes… And that’s made all the difference. It’s still not a big Instagram account, not in the least, and I’m not as dedicated as I should be to growing it on a consistent basis, but I’ve learned the most important lesson – Sully is the key.
Now that I know that, I think I’ve come up with a kick-ass marketing plan. It’s hard to make your book stand out. There are approximately 1,000,000 new books published every year in the USA alone, and about half of those are self-published. On average, these books are supposed to sell a mere 250 copies each. Well, a big thank you to my fabulous readers because I've already surpassed the average, but that is still a lot of competition. It is absolutely critical to do be seen, be interesting, and be unique if I want to make it in this business. So, I’d like to hire my dog to promote my book. I’d like Sully to go to all the readings, to all the interviews, and do all the photo shoots. Now, who knows how I can make that happen?