Novel Marketing And Christian Publishing With Thomas Umstattd Jr. |

Novel Marketing And Christian Publishing With Thomas Umstattd Jr. |

What are some of the most effective ways to market your book? What strategies have remained the same despite the rise of new tactics?

What are the best ways to reach a Christian audience? Thomas Umstattd Jr. gives plenty of tips in this interview.

In the intro, Freedom, fame, or fortune — what do you want as an author?; Built to Move: The Ten Essential Habits to Help You Move Freely and Live Fully by Kelly and Juliet Starrett; and my AI for authors webinars, plus Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting, and Voice Technologies, and money books.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors. 

Thomas Umstattd Jr. is the CEO of AuthorMedia.com, an award-winning professional speaker, nonfiction author, and host of the Novel Marketing Podcast and the Christian Publishing Show.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • The fundamentals of marketing fiction
  • Content marketing for fiction
  • Utilizing the nonfiction themes beneath your fiction for marketing
  • The hallmarks and history of Christian publishing
  • Why readers choose certain genres
  • Tips for pitching a podcast

You can find Thomas at AuthorMedia.com and listen to his podcasts at NovelMarketing.com and ChristianPublishingShow.com

Transcript of Interview with Thomas Umstattd Jr.

Joanna: Thomas Umstattd Jr. is the CEO of authormedia.com, an award-winning professional speaker, nonfiction author, and host of the Novel Marketing Podcast and the Christian Publishing Show. So welcome to the show, Thomas.

Thomas: Thanks, Joanna. It’s great to be here.

Joanna: Oh, yes. It’s exciting to talk to you. But first up—

Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing and podcasting, and now running a business for writers.

Thomas: So back when I was in college, I started writing a book, as many college students do. I went to a writers’ conference to sell my book, and I was in the marketing session, and the lady speaking was like, “You’ve got to start a blog. You’ve got to have a website.” All of the authors were terrified, like, how do I do that? I’ve been building websites since I was a kid.

I met a real author there at this conference, and I was like, ‘well, I’ll build your website for free, no problem.’ So I built her website and she told all of her friends, and I started charging them. and pretty soon I was going to conferences and selling websites because everybody was interested in my websites. None of the agents were particularly interested in my book at the time.

So by the time I graduated from college, I had started a website business. At our peak, we had 12 people building websites for authors all over the world. We built the MyBookTable plugin to help make our websites better. We eventually allowed and sold that to people who weren’t buying websites from us, anybody could use that plugin to add books to their website.

So my way into the publishing space was actually from the technical side. I was the nerd at the conference who would give the tech talks, rather than on teaching on craft or something like that.

Joanna: But you have got books, right? Tell us about those.

Thomas: I do. So I wrote a blog post about dating and relationships that went viral. It got a million views in around a month.

A lot of the people reading that article wanted me to write a book about it. I was like, I don’t know if I want to write a book. I’ve been working with authors for years at this point, and I knew how much work it was. So I thought I got out of it by calling everyone’s bluff, and I said, alright, if you raise $10,000 on Kickstarter, then I’ll write the book.

So I put the book on Kickstarter, and they raised $10,000. So I was like, well, I guess I have to become an author now. So I wrote the book, and it ended up having a big impact. I’m glad I did it, but yeah, writing a book is a lot of work. I have a lot of respect for authors who are willing to walk that journey.

Joanna: Well, it’s so interesting that you say that because you and I are also podcasters.

You have two shows, I have had two shows, but I’ve cut back on my second show. But you’ve been podcasting on Novel Marketing since 2013, so a decade now. You said that it’s a lot of work to write a book, but a decade of podcasting is a lot of work. So I guess—

Why did you decide to get into podcasting?

Thomas: It’s interesting because the reason I got into it was to help sell websites, but it turned out, I really enjoyed podcasting.

So I don’t build websites anymore. I’ve spun off that business and sold the plugin business. Now podcasting is the business. I just do the podcast and courses.

I always loved listening to talk radio as a kid and being able to talk into a microphone and to teach online, either through courses or through podcast is really enjoyable for me. I love that ‘aha’ experience that people have.

So yes, podcasting is a lot of work, and it’s become even more work. You know, as you raise the production values of your podcast, you have a bigger team, and there’s more cost and more labor that goes into it, but it’s worth it in the end. The end product I feel like is worth all of the work.

Joanna: That’s so funny because it’s just me right now. Then I use some AI tools, and then I have one VA who does the blog post, the show notes. I’ve actually reduced to that I don’t really have a team anymore. I’ve gone the other way. It’s so interesting you say that. So I mean, we all use the tools we want to use.

But I do want to come to the topics on the Novel Marketing Podcast. Although, I feel like you do cover things for fiction and nonfiction authors, a lot of marketing crosses both. 

What are some of the fundamentals of marketing fiction that have remained important over the decade?

Thomas: It’s interesting because you and I have both been doing this long enough to see fads come and go and often come back. Like launch bonuses, we’ve seen that come into fashion, go out of fashion, come back into fashion. So it’s interesting, like what has stayed effective for this whole time? I would say —

The most important thing is writing books that readers want to read.

A lot of authors see marketing as this thing that you add to a book at the last minute so that it can find its audience. It’s like sugar that you sprinkle on the top of a cookie. If you really want people to eat the cookie, if you really want people to read the book, you need to bake the sugar into the cookie. The cookie itself has to taste good.

You need to write a book that resonates with readers, which means knowing who your readers are and crafting the book to be the kind of book that they not only want to read, but want to share with their friends.

If you don’t do that, none of the other things matter because you can’t fix a bad book with good marketing.

There’s no amount of money that you can spend to make people want a book that they don’t want.

You can’t change other people. This is useful knowledge for marriage, but it’s also useful knowledge for marketing.

That’s not our job. Our job is not to change people into the kind of people who liked the book we wrote. Our job as a writer is to write the kind of book that people already like. It’s much easier to change your book than it is to change another human being or tens of thousands of human beings.

Probably the most powerful technique back when I first got started was having an email list, and

The most powerful technique now is having an email list. That has not changed.

I was a marketing director for a publishing company for a time. In the midst of the podcast, I was still doing the podcast, but a publishing company brought me in. That was a really great experience because I had access to all of their marketing data. So I’m approaching it as a marketer, and I’m doing all of these experiments, and I learned some things that kind of blew my mind.

One was that Facebook did not move the numbers. Facebook activity didn’t sell books at all. and this was back in 2015/2016 when Facebook was still like people thought it worked. I was like, I’m not seeing these Facebook promos moving the sales needles at all. The other thing that we saw was that email really did. An author with an email list sold so many more books than an author without an email list, especially at launch, which then gives them that momentum to carry through often for months ahead of time. 

I would say probably the next most important thing, again, that hasn’t changed, is owning your own platform.

So if you’re a chicken, the food is free at the chicken coop, but the reason the food is free at the chicken coop is because you are the product being sold. So if you’re unhappy with Facebook, there’s no one to talk to because you’re not the customer of Facebook, you are the product that Facebook is selling to somebody else. They’re selling your attention, they’re selling your time to advertisers. If you want to have effective marketing, you need to be willing to be the customer, to pay.

Facebook will talk to you, if you spend enough money on advertising on Facebook, suddenly you get a contact person, a customer success manager or an advertising consultant, and the whole game changes. So I’m not saying that Facebook advertising should be the tactic for you, but —

If you want to be effective in your marketing, you need to see it as something you spend money on, rather than just time.

The idea that, oh, I can create funny memes and share them on social media and that will make me famous, I just have not seen anyone show numbers that that is the case.

Joanna: That’s so interesting, because again, you and I are podcasters. and this is content that takes time, doesn’t cost that much money, you know, time is money, but it is a very different form of marketing to Facebook ads.

I’ve been hot and cold on Facebook ads for a long time, and I’ve recently gone back into it because now I have my own store, creativepennbooks.com. Conversion ads with Shopify and Meta, Facebook, actually is like something entirely new because we were never able to do conversion ads with Amazon or any other place.

So you really talked there about if you’re going to do the marketing you need to pay, but you and I are both using content marketing for, I guess, nonfiction-based businesses. What are your thoughts on content marketing? I mean, I agree with you in terms of the don’t bother posting memes on Facebook or whatever, in terms of selling books, but—

Is there still a case for content marketing for fiction?

Thomas: There can be.

Podcasting is interesting because it’s a very deep medium of communication. Your listeners have your voice in their head more most weeks than they have their own mother’s voice in their head. Like that’s a really powerful place of influence. and you’re listening right now, you’re like, is that true? Like, when was last time you called your mom? How long did you talk to her? How much time do you spend listening to Joanna Penn?

That’s an incredibly deep source of connection, but it’s not super wide. Podcasting is the least viral of all of the mediums. It’s hard to share. You have some great quote and I want to share it with a friend, there’s not really a good, easy way to do it. Sure, there’s some tools. If someone’s really tech savvy, they can clip the audio and send it, but it’s way too much hassle.

So when somebody starts listening to a podcast, they tend to keep listening, but it doesn’t spread very much. Whereas the blog version of your podcast is much more shareable. You send an email, you can copy that link and send it to a friend. So podcasting is for deepening the relationship. It’s an engagement tool. It’s not a very good attraction tool.

So if you think of marketing, you have kind of three phases. You have attracting, engaging, and converting. Getting people to know who you are, like you, and trust you. Those are the three steps.

When I’m kind of troubleshooting an author’s marketing, often the first thing we’re trying to figure out is where is it breaking down. 

For most authors, their challenge is in that first step, the attraction step. People don’t know who they are. If they did, they liked them. Like, wow, you have a great podcast or wow, you have a great book, but getting the word out in the first place is the challenge. That tends to be the most cash-expensive mechanism.

There are free ways to do it. I’m not paying you to come on your podcast, and some people are hearing my name for the first time. So guesting on podcasts can be effective, writing guest blog posts can be effective. and it can be effective for a novelist.

There’s more podcasts focused on specific genres now, which is what the superfans listen to. The kind of fans taking risks on new authors and new books are listening to a podcast about military science fiction or Amish fiction or whatever that micro-genre is.

If you can be a guest on that podcast, it can help introduce you to a new vibrant audience of potential superfans.

Joanna: It’s interesting, you mentioned military sci-fi, and my husband listens to a lot of podcasts, as do I, and he now is now listening to Jack Carr’s podcast.

He’s a military thriller author, actually ex-military, and he’s interviewing other people who are military writing books, fiction and nonfiction. I thought it was really interesting because this guy is a really big-name thriller author in the niche, and yet he’s doing a podcast that is around his author brand as such, that also relates to his fiction, which I thought was really interesting.

It’s what I kind of tried to do with Books and Travel, which is interview people who use places in their novels and their nonfiction, but it morphed into more of a travel thing for travel people. So I kind of got that wrong.

When I was thinking about this idea of podcasting for fiction, I was thinking around, is it best to go after the nonfiction themes that lie beneath your novels? So for me, it’s religion, history, European culture, that kind of thing. I heard Jack Carr’s gone after military, and that could have been military sci fi, but it’s actually, for him, military thriller, not military romance, or anything like that. So what do you think about that idea?

Thomas: It can work. and the question determining whether it will work for you and for your genre is: does my genre have an otaku? So this is a Japanese term for like somebody who’s obsessed with something, it’s like fan, but like stronger than fan. So the classic example that Seth Godin shares, and I forget which book, but he talks about how hot sauce in America has an otaku. There’s hot sauce magazines, there are hot sauce TV shows and YouTube channels, and people are really into hot sauce.

There is no ketchup otaku. Ketchup is very popular. In fact, arguably, ketchup is more popular than hot sauce on a per ounce or per kilogram basis, except everybody just eats Heinz ketchup. Like everybody’s got the same ketchup. So if you wanted to do something around ketchup, people are like, oh, that’s boring. But if you’re gonna be like, I’m gonna have a podcast about the spiciest hot sauces in the world, and if you can eat them while answering interview questions, right, you’ll get millions of views.

Joanna: On YouTube, for sure.

Thomas: Oh, it exists. It’s called The Hot Ones. He gets celebrities on, and he tortures them with hot spicy wings, and then ask them hot questions, and you’ll get to watch famous people cry. It’s quite fun. But that show wouldn’t work if they were eating ketchup. The same is true with certain genres.

So some genres, they just don’t have that kind of fan base. People buy them and read them, but they do it quietly. They don’t talk to each other about that genre. and also, does that genre connect well with a nonfiction topic? So an area where it does work well is Christian books, Christian nonfiction, Christian fiction.

C.S. Lewis, one of the most famous Christian authors, he writes a book Mere Christianity, and he makes the case that Jesus is either Lord, he’s a liar, or he’s a lunatic. Then he writes Narnia, where Lucy comes back from Narnia and tells everyone about Narnia. and the professor says, well, Lucy’s either lying, she’s crazy, or she’s telling the truth about Narnia.

He’s taking that same nonfiction argument straight from his nonfiction book and embedding it into his fiction book, and they both support each other, both in a marketing way and in a messaging way.

Joanna: That’s great. Well, let’s come to Christian publishing because you also host the Christian Publishing Show.

Some people might be Christians listening, but might not publish Christian books. Then there’s people like me, I’m not a Christian, but I have a Master’s in Theology and pretty much all my fiction as J.F. Penn has religious elements, a lot of religious history, Christian in particular, as well as my recent memoir, which is called Pilgrimage. So one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you was about this Christian publishing niche.

What are the hallmarks of Christian publishing? What are the kinds of genres that sit within that for fiction and nonfiction?

Thomas: So Christian publishing and Christian books are different from other genres in a very interesting way.

Back in the 1950s, the big publishers stopped publishing Christian books, and a lot of the bookstores stopped carrying Christian books. So the reaction of Christians, particularly evangelical Christians and conservative Christians in the United States, was to create their own bookstores and their own publishing companies, and even their own distribution companies.

So Christian books, while they look like a book, like any other book in terms of like size, and printing and technology, they’re in almost this like parallel universe of distribution channels, retailers, all the way up to the publishers.

In that way, they’re more like comic books, which are the same. Comic books have their own printers, they have their own stores. I don’t know how it is in the UK, but here in the States, you go to a comic book store, and it doesn’t have any normal books. It might sell Magic The Gathering, or it might sell Warhammer figurines, and there’s tables to play board games, and there’s all these comic books to buy. It’s its own subculture, right? Somebody might spend $50 a month at a comic bookstore, and no money at a Barnes and Noble or on Amazon on traditional books.

Christian publishing, when we say Christian publishing, what we’re referring to is that kind of conservative evangelical side of publishing that got kicked out in the 50s and 60s. Now, what’s interesting is that with the Left Behind books in the 90s they were brought back in. So the Left Behind books sold a billion dollars worth of books.

Joanna: I was one of those readers. Absolutely.

Thomas: and not only were bookstores happy to carry Left Behind and give them prominent feature, but even Walmart would sell Left Behind books. They’d have a big bin of Left Behind books in the 90s. So then Christian books got kind of invited back into the mainstream a little bit.

There are actually fewer Christian bookstores now than there were back in the 90s because there’s no way for an independent bookstore to be able to compete with Walmart if Walmart’s cherry-picking the most popular books. That just doesn’t work that way.

The subculture, the readership, is still separate.

So if you want to write for that “Christian market,” you’re not actually writing for Christians in the sense of people who assent to Christian views, what you’re really writing to are those conservative, kind of holiness-minded Christians that are a little bit separate.

They tend to be—and again, these are marketing generalizations, not universal observation—but they tend to be more rural, more small town, maybe some in the suburbs, but kind of the farther away from the city centers, a little bit less sophisticated with technology, a little bit less online.

So if you’re really trying to target them, they’re not as online, they’re not super online all the time.

The biggest force in Christian publishing right now, in terms of book sales, are homeschool book fairs

— which are these kind of rolling book fairs that will move from town to town. Authors will go to these book fairs once they’ve established a reputation, and it’s not uncommon for an author to sell $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 worth of books over a weekend, cash on the barrel since it’s not tracked by BookScan. You know, the NPD Group doesn’t know these numbers. It’s just handing cash for a book or swiping a square credit card. 

It’s not just books for kids, it’s this whole community of conservative homeschoolers who are creating books for each other and buying those books in very large numbers.

The authors who are big in that world, often people don’t even know who they are, but they’re making, in some cases, millions of dollars a year, reaching this very different, very separated target market.

Joanna: It’s so interesting to hear that and, as I said, I did read those Left Behind series. I think the spiritual warfare books were what kind of brought me into writing the types of books I do now and why I think about angels and demons and all of that, because that’s what I, as a teenager, that’s what I was reading about.

On Amazon, though, talking about the online bookstores, there are categories of things like Christian fantasy. I don’t where Left Behind sits — is that Christian fantasy? Or is it post-apocalyptic Christian fantasy because the rapture hasn’t happened and that’s what the books are based on? But just coming back to the genres—

What genres sit within that Christian category on Amazon and can people sell well online?

Thomas: Yeah, so that’s what’s interesting now because it used to be Christian bookstores would screen, and they would make a decision what is and is not a Christian book. You could call yourself a Christian book, but if the bookstores don’t stock you, then you’re not a Christian book. It gave companies like Lifeway a lot of influence. But on Amazon, anybody can put their book into a Christian category.

Actually Alex Newton, with K-lytics, I was working with him to add a report for Christian books, and he had to go a whole level deeper in his analytics because a lot of the Christian categories on Amazon are five subcategories down. There’s Religion and Spirituality: Christian: Fiction, and then there’s dozens or hundreds of subcategories underneath that. Many of them are genres that exist in the general market, right. So there’s Christian fantasy, but there’s also regular fantasy. 

There is one genre that’s uniquely Christian genre, and that’s Amish, which is a very big genre in the United States.

Millions of copies are sold every year, and that is a uniquely Christian genre. There may be some secular authors who started writing in Amish. and what’s interesting is that these are not books by the Amish or for the Amish.

Joanna: Yeah, I was gonna say, because they’re not very technological.

Thomas: So I can explain real quick why Amish is really popular. I think this helps you understand how to write books that people want to read, because if you understand the pain that somebody has that your book is addressing, your book will be far more resonant.

So there was this concept that was developed in the 1970s called future shock, which is like culture shock, but in your own culture, where everything’s changing so quick around you that it’s disorienting, and everything is really different. We’ve been experiencing future shock, right. The old people are constantly complaining about, you know, “back when I was a kid, things were different.” But that’s a real psychological pain.

If somebody is experiencing that pain of change, an Amish book, which takes place in a world where nothing ever changes, is a kind of beautiful respite.

It’s a break from the frenetic pace of technological and cultural change, and that’s why that genre isn’t a fad. It’s been around for 10-20 years at this point, and it’s because it’s touching that point of pain, that future shock pain.

So once you understand, oh, there are psychological pains that cause people to want to read, once you can identify that for your reader, and in your genre, suddenly, going back to what we talked about the beginning, you’ve written a book that people want to read and won’t shut up about. They’re like, oh, my goodness, I was in pain in this way—and they may not articulate it consciously—but now I read this book and it made me feel better. I was depressed and this book made me feel encouraged. I was hopeless and the book gave me hope. Right, whatever it is that your book touches on, once you can put your finger on the pain, suddenly your book becomes alive for that reader.

Joanna: It’s interesting. I really started reading thrillers when I was really miserable in my corporate job, and I just wanted to escape.

I wanted something fast-moving that I could escape into, and I really love explosion movies and all that kind of thing. So I don’t know— Is that the same thing as what you’re saying, the psychological pain? Or could you give some more examples, because I think people will be interested.

Thomas: Yeah, that’s exactly it. So somebody who’s bored may look to thrillers for some adventure.

Fantasy is often really popular with people who are struggling with mental illness. Not that everyone who reads fantasy has mental illness, but particularly for depression and anxiety, it’s really encouraging to read stories of people who have hope, who are making a difference, who are acting, and who are doing scary things.

What are the quintessential elements of fantasy? It’s big monsters, big bad guys that get defeated in the end.

You don’t read an epic fantasy to find out how it ends, you know that the bad guy is gonna get defeated in the end, but you read it because you want to spend time in that world.

You want to spend time escaping from the world that you’re in, the mundane or the boring or the stressful, and spend time in Middle Earth or spend time in Hogwarts or whatever that world is. The different worlds will resonate with different people differently.

I actually have a whole episode kind of breaking down different genres and why people read that genre, and like the social triggers, psychologically, that caused them to want to read that genre. I just barely scratched the surface because every genre has a reason why people want to read that kind of book.

Some genres go in and out of fashion, which is really fascinating. Like Westerns aren’t nearly as popular now as they were 50 years ago, 70 years ago. So that’s fascinating for me as a marketer, and also as a reader, to watch those trends.

But also to ask that question of like, what is it about this book that makes people want to read it? Because it’s really easy to be like, oh, people who read that kind of fiction, they’re crazy. Like, that’s really intellectually lazy. They’re not crazy, they’re just different. If we can understand how they’re different, we can understand the world a little bit better.

Joanna: Absolutely. Well, then an interesting question with book marketing in the last six months, what we’ve seen is the removal—coming back to Meta, Facebook, and some of the other ads—the removal of things like religious preference, or religious orientation, sexual orientation, gender, a whole lot of things have been removed from our targeting in various advertising mediums because of Apple’s privacy changes, which is kind of interesting in many ways.

In some ways, it’s really great because it means more privacy, and in other ways, as marketers, it’s difficult because I thought, well, Christians like pilgrimage, I met loads of Christians, I’ll see if any Christians like my memoir Pilgrimage, and I wasn’t able to use that as a preference in my ads.

What are your thoughts on other ways of marketing if we want our books to reach people who are Christian?

Is it a case of specific Amazon keywords or other keywords? Or what are your recommendations there?

Thomas: Yeah, they’re kicking us out again. Christians are specifically discriminated against on Facebook. If you write a romance, you can target similar romances to your book, but if you write a Christian romance, you can’t.

Joanna: To be fair, it’s not just Christians, it’s all religion. All different religions.

Thomas: That’s true, but the other religions don’t have a genre attached to them. You can have, say, Muslim elements in your romance, and you can target other romances that have Muslim elements because they’re not published by a Muslim publisher. and so there it is, in a sense, kind of uniquely targeting Christians. You can’t target like Muslims as a category, but you could target books, potentially, that have Muslim elements in it.

What’s interesting is it’s constantly changing because there are certain keywords or certain brands that a lot of Christians will like that some authors will target.

So like Hobby Lobby is really hot right now. So Hobby Lobby is a craft store in the United States. It’s the one that’s very popular with Christians, and so Christian authors will target fans of Hobby Lobby. But you’re also grabbing people who are in fan of quilting, and maybe they’re not a Christian, they just like Hobby Lobby on Facebook. So you have to start thinking outside of social media. 

I will say, starting in 2016, Christians often started pivoting off of social media, and especially starting in 2020. It was very clear we weren’t very welcomed, especially to have conversations about Christian topics.

So a lot of the online conversation has moved to invite-only smaller Telegram, Signal, and to a lesser extent, Discord channels. So it’s not that Christians aren’t on Facebook, they’re still there, but a lot of the conversation and a lot of the time has moved off of Facebook. So it’s not as effective of a tool, even if you could target them

You can still use Amazon ads. So Amazon will let you target Christian keywords, and be related product on Christian books. So it’s not like all of the tools are turned off. But Facebook, particularly, has become pretty hostile to any kind of Christian marketing. I have to kind of be really clever and trick it into placing your ads in front of your audience.

Joanna: Yes, I must say with my book title, pilgrimage is a pretty keyword-specific book. So it’s going to be very interesting who has been finding it.

But our titles can have different words. I mean, some of my book titles are the same as the Left Behind titles because there are some really good words that tap into some religious themes and stuff like that.

We mentioned email before, what about the big email lists for marketing?

I mean, things like BookBub and other email lists sort of marketing things.

Are paid email services something that you think is still worth doing?

Thomas: Yes, and it still works for Christians.

BookBub has at least one, if not multiple Christian categories. I think has a Christian nonfiction category and at least one Christian fiction category, and that responds really well.

Christian podcasting is actually really vibrant.

There are more Christian podcasts than any other kind of podcast by a large margin.

If you look at the chart of podcasts per category, Religion and Spirituality: Christianity has, last I’ve looked at the numbers, like twice as many podcasts as the next most popular category. and you’re like, why is that? It’s like, well, every church puts their sermons as a podcast so that the childcare workers can listen to the sermon later on during the week.

There’s thousands or millions of churches that have a small podcast feed in addition to a lot of standalone Christian podcasts. So it’s actually a really powerful mechanism that is completely outside of social media control because nobody controls podcasting. It’s a technology, not a company.

It’s censorship-resistant, as we like to say in podcasting. Not only that, but a lot of Christians learn how to subscribe to a podcast to get their church’s sermon podcast. They’re sick or they can’t go to church on Sundays, so they download the episode on a podcast. So both guesting on Christian podcast, but also advertising on Christian podcasts can be very effective.

Email is still very effective. It’s very forwardable. Christians live in communities, so if you can get one person in a church to like your book, there’s a chance they’ll tell all their friends at their church about your book.

So there’s still virality, especially if you bake it into the book itself.

If you put elements into the book worth talking about, people will talk about the book. So you still can do it, but you kind of have to set aside the sort of techniques that work for genres that target very online people, at least to a certain degree.

Joanna: I love that. In fact, I was just thinking there about Christians who go to a church that does sermons every week, which is, I guess, most churches. People are used to listening to someone talking about a theme for a certain amount of time, which really suits the podcast format.

So I can see why people would want to go and listen either, obviously to their own pastor, but also to other people’s churches. I mean, they might want to go listen to a sermon on a particular topic or Bible verse or something. So I can see actually why this is so good.

I did want to ask you, therefore, if there are Christians, or other people listening, who would like to pitch Christian podcasts or any podcasts, in fact—you and I both get tons of pitches.

What are your tips for pitching a podcast, especially for fiction authors?

Thomas: The most important tip is to listen to the podcast before sending your pitch. I know it’s time-consuming, but Joanna, you probably get 99 pitches for every one that you say yes to. Maybe more than that.

Joanna: Oh yeah, it’s a ridiculous number.

Thomas: and the key to fishing is that the bait needs to fit the fish. If you’re trying to catch a catfish, you’re gonna use different bait than if you’re trying to catch a salmon.

The only way that you can adapt your pitch to the podcast is to have listened to that podcast first. It’s very obvious getting a pitch that they have no idea what the podcast is about. Whoever did this just got a list of podcasts on publishing or whatever, and then they’re sending the same pitch to all the podcasts and just swapping out the name, or sometimes not even swapping out.

Somebody sent me a pitch just the last week, and they’re like, I really like your podcast, and it had some other podcast’s name. It’s like a copy-and-paste fail right here.

There’s this idea of like, well, if I just do it enough, some of the podcasts will say yes. What you’ll end up doing that way, is getting kind of the most obscure, the smallest podcasts that maybe no one’s ever pitched before. Those might actually say yes to you.

There is some advantage to going on a very new or very small podcast because it gives you a chance to practice on a new audience, but it’s not going to be effective in reaching a large audience because the podcast is new and has a small audience.

So listen to the episode first and then listen for how that podcast host is trying to thrill their audience.

When you craft your pitch, craft it in such a way where you demonstrate, ‘hey, I know who you are, I know who your audience is, I know what your audience wants, and I can help you give them that.’

If you craft your pitch that way, suddenly people are like, “Oh, thank you, I needed a guest for Thursday, and you would be a good fit.”

You have to actually do the work to demonstrate that you’re a good fit. They’re not going to spend 30 minutes researching you to see if you’re a good fit. You’ve got to do that work yourself.

Joanna Penn with Audio for Authors

Joanna: The value to the audience is always so important.

and as you say, we both get pitched for ridiculous things. Like a credit card thing, I’m like, really? Why are you doing that? Or someone who says, “Oh, I watched your podcast of this interview and I watched the video of it, and it was amazing.”

and I’m like, yeah, there was no video, so you just blatantly lied. I mean, that’s the thing, the scattergun approach doesn’t work. But let’s say someone listening does a pitch, they get an interview—

What is the best way to deliver value to the host and the audience?

Thomas: The first thing I’d recommend is to buy a good microphone because you as the guest, you are half, maybe more depending on the format of the show, of the audio quality. So if you come to that podcast with bad audio, you are lowering the overall audio quality of the podcast significantly.

It’s no longer expensive to get a good microphone, it used to be. Back when we were starting, Joanna, there were not a lot of microphones available, and the ones that were available weren’t very good.

Back 10 years ago, the Blue Yeti was considered a good microphone. It’s not a good microphone. But back in 2012, it was pretty good. It was maybe the second or third best microphone. Now there’s probably 30 microphones better, and in some cases, cheaper.

Joanna: Can I ask you what microphone you use?

Thomas: So well, I use the Shure SM7B, it’s a very expensive microphone. This isn’t the microphone I recommend for an author getting started. For somebody getting started, I recommend the Samsung Q2U, which is a $20 microphone, it looks like a stage mic, or for $100, you can get the Q9U, which looks like a podcast microphone. It’s a dynamic microphone, it’s blind to room noise and road noise, unlike the Yeti, which is very sensitive to room noise and road noise. You don’t have to treat your room if you’re using a Q9U or really any dynamic microphone. 

What’s nice about the Q9U is that not only is it a dynamic microphone, but it’s a dynamic microphone with USB, so you can plug it directly into your computer, and it also has XLR. So if down the road, you want to get a mixer or a board and get a fancy setup, you don’t have to throw away your microphone, it can scale with you. Let’s say someday you do want to get the SM7B, which is the $400 microphone that all the big podcasters use. Well, you can then put that Q9U as your backup microphone for your guest, you can still use it. So it’s a purchase that scales really well.

Joanna: I’m still using a Blue Yeti for both this podcast and my audiobooks. [Click here for my sound booth setup.]

Humbleworks stand up desk topperThis is my podcasting setup

So I would say that you can make the most of any equipment, but as we established earlier, you do have a higher quality production than I do.

Thomas: To be fair, I didn’t know you were still using a Yeti! I’m not trying to single you out.

Joanna: It’s really funny. Like, it’s actually really funny. For people listening, I think you can make the best of whatever you’ve got.

Use a separate microphone and earbuds.

But the main tip is having a microphone is better than nothing because, you know, how many people come on and don’t even have a separate mic, they just talking to the computer. The other thing I would say is earbuds, so you can separate the input and the output because that is the worst kind of annoyance, I find.

Thomas: Absolutely. and it also reduces echoes, having headphones or earbuds is critical. This actually really illustrates a good point, you don’t care which microphone that Joanna is using, you care that what she has to say is useful and helpful, right? She’s useful and helpful every week, and so you keep listening. That really is the most important thing.

Yes, a different microphone, less room noise or whatever might help a little bit, but if you’re not useful and helpful, it doesn’t help at all.

You have to thrill the audience. That’s the first most important thing, both as a host and as a guest. So if you can convince somebody that you’ve got the information or the story that will really thrill their audience, they may put up with you not having a good microphone. But have something, don’t talk into your laptop. Your laptop microphone is really bad.

Joanna: Exactly. The other thing that I’ve sometimes found is that people will be hesitant about sharing aspects of their book. Obviously, if you’re talking about a novel, you don’t want to do any spoilers, but I always have the attitude—

You have to give as much away as possible in order to give value.

and then if people are interested, they will go buy the book, right?

Thomas: Yeah, there’s this view that if you blog your book ahead of time, people won’t want to buy the book. and that’s like saying, oh, if you release the story of the movie as a book first, people won’t want to go watch the movie because they already know how it ends. and you’re like, that’s crazy.

The people in line at midnight for the movie are the people who already read the book for the movie. I was at the midnight showing for Lord of the Rings, not because I wanted to know how the movie ended, but because I knew how the movie ended and I wanted to be there for the movie.

So yes, giving people a sample, the experience of reading something on a screen or listening to something on a podcast and then reading it in a paper book is very different. Brandon Sanderson’s first Kickstarter campaign, the one that raised $6 million or $7 million, was for a book everyone had already read. It was a 10th anniversary edition for $250.

No one was backing that Kickstarter campaign to find out how The Way of Kings ended. They were backing it because they already own The Way of Kings, they bought the cheap paperback, it was split in the middle several times because they’d read it two or three times, and the idea of having a nice leatherback copy was appealing. and yes, I’m willing to spend $250 for a nice copy of a book I already own. So if you thrill people with your story, they’ll want to buy it in multiple formats.

Joanna: For sure. I think we could talk forever, but we’re out of time.

Where can people find you, Author Media, and your podcasts, and everything you do online?

Thomas: So you can search in your podcast app, the one you’re using right now, for Novel Marketing, and then the Novel Marketing Podcast will come up.

Then if you want to listen to my podcast, Christian Publishing Show, just do a search for Christian Publishing Show. You can also find them at NovelMarketing.com and ChristianPublishingShow.com.

Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Thomas. That was great.

Thomas: Thanks for having me.

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