Authors of the month Karen Cumming and Pat Milne share book marketing advice that helped sell thousands of copies
Our authors of the month share insights on which marketing efforts led to the best results of their guide on navigating Ontario’s long-term care system
Karen Cumming and Patricia Milne are sisters who guided their 98-year-old mother, Verna, through Ontario’s long-term care system. They found themselves lost in a confusing maze of paperwork, equipment rentals, health care workers and medication. It was scary and unfamiliar territory where they felt alone. After navigating Ontario’s long-term care system, they wrote and published The Indispensable Survival Guide to Ontario’s Long-Term Care System.
Cumming and Milne have been featured on the CBC, Global News Radio and in the Hamilton Spectator. They have been interviewed on multiple podcasts as well as by influencers and bloggers on various social media platforms. In addition to online retailers, their book is available to purchase at various brick and mortar bookstores and over 100 copies of the book are available in libraries across Ontario. The sisters’ marketing efforts are paying off. Their book has sold thousands of copies this year alone and they are just getting started. Read the rest of the article to hear which marketing efforts yielded the best results as well as their advice to authors.
1. Tell us about yourselves.
Karen: I’m a freelance journalist, health promoter and teacher with a long career in radio and TV news.
Pat: I am a retired teacher living in southern Ontario with my husband.
2. What inspired you to write your book?
Karen: The lack of guidance available to families whose elderly loved ones are heading into long-term care. It’s crazy! Someone had to do something.
Pat: The frustration of navigating the long-term care (LTC) system with inadequate help.
3. Describe your book in a sentence.
Karen: It’s the survival guide we never had, providing practical tips to help you and your family be proactive and prepared for the decisions that may lie ahead.
Pat: Our book is a tool to simplify the process of investigating long-term care in Ontario.
4. What are you most proud of about your book?
Karen: The lessons we’ve been able to pass on to other families so that they might never feel the stress and frustration that we did.
Pat: Our intent was to help people. The testimonials we continue to receive are proof of our success.
5. Your book has been selling really well. You’ve been featured in major media outlets across Canada and have your book stocked in numerous bookstores and libraries. Tell us about how well your book has been doing.
Karen: When we first started putting the book together, a friend of mine who is an editor told us that it had to be “Wow!” and that everyone who read it had to tell their friends about it. I think it’s fair to say we’ve hit both of those nails on the head.
In addition to being available online, our book is now on shelves in twelve Indigo and Chapters locations in southern Ontario. At last count, it was available in the library systems of more than 25 cities in the province and three colleges. It has now inspired a weekly newsletter called “The Long-Term Care Report”.
Pat: The success and number of these placements is the direct result of the neverending efforts of my sister, Karen, toward that end.
6. Which marketing activities have proven most effective in selling your book?
Without a doubt, radio, TV, and print interviews have been the most effective means of raising our book’s profile since its release in December. The tragic impact of COVID-19 on the long-term care system in Ontario has been an ongoing news story throughout the pandemic. As a result, our book really has become a topic of conversation for many families.
Social media has had a major influence as well. An interview posted on Facebook with a friend of mine who is an influencer with more than 9,000 followers was a great first step. In addition, we post regular updates on our book’s Facebook page, and on Twitter and LinkedIn.
7. Tell us about the process of getting your book into libraries.
We knew nothing about how to get a book into libraries, so we just cold-called every local library we could and asked if they’d like to order copies directly from us. We had something really powerful on our side: our subject matter. This book is incredibly timely.
Our first victories came with public library systems in Hamilton, Burlington and Niagara. They ordered anywhere from a single “local author” copy to as many as thirteen copies for their branches. Eventually, I connected with a Canadian library wholesaler in the Toronto area. This was instrumental in getting us into the Toronto Public Library system, which bought 84 copies! That was a very good day. Our book is also now on library shelves in Ottawa, London, Sudbury, North Bay, Thunder Bay, Oshawa, Kitchener, Brantford, Mississauga, Newmarket, Pickering, Uxbridge, Haldimand, Norfolk County, Huntsville, Chatham-Kent, and more.
We are also on the library shelves at Niagara College in Welland (home to a Personal Support Worker [PSW] training course), as well as Mohawk College in Hamilton and Sheridan College in Oakville. Getting into colleges has taken time and persistence. We hope to see college PSW programs make our book required reading.
8. Karen, you have a journalism background. For other self-published authors looking for a little media love, what advice do you have for them?
I come from traditional media; that’s my wheelhouse. That being said, I also understand that social media is the language of the world in 2020. Why not become skilled at both?
If your book is nonfiction, pitch yourself as a guest to as many radio and TV talk show producers as you possibly can. Craft a solid email that introduces you and your book and outlines your reasons for wanting to appear on their show. Position yourself as an expert on your subject matter and make yourself available for interviews, offering reaction to controversial stories in the news – you don’t have to make the news, you just have to react to it. This gives you an opportunity to promote your book and remind the audience where they can buy it at the end of the conversation.
If your book is fiction, connect with weekly and daily newspapers and pitch yourself as a local author interested in a review or a human interest story. What makes your story unique? Let them know. On a slow news day, you just might get a call.
On the social media side of things, connect with bloggers and podcasters and pitch yourself as a guest. So far, I’ve done four podcasts promoting our book, which is great! Connect with influencers who will do Facebook Live interviews or Instagram TV as a means of getting your message out into the world, too. What can you offer them in return?
If you’re launching your print, digital or audiobook, connect with these influencers on social media and pitch the idea of doing a “virtual book launch”. Offer complimentary copies of your book as giveaways. You are offering the influencer an interview with you as content for their channel or platform.
9. What has been the hardest part of marketing your book? The most rewarding?
The most rewarding part is seeing the book gain traction in the marketplace, and knowing that more and more people are becoming familiar with the title and are telling their friends about it.
The hardest part is waiting for the quarterly sales numbers to see the results of our efforts!
10. You are a very successful marketer. What advice do you have for others looking to build their following and author brand?
Thank you for the compliment! You have to believe in what you’re marketing. We were able to get our book onto store shelves and into libraries and colleges because we believe with all our hearts that it belongs there. If you can say that too, then you’re on your way to building your author brand. You are your book, and your book is you. Stay true to that and your following will come.
11. Writing a book is one project. Selling it is an entirely different beast. What have you learned most during the book publishing process and now in marketing your book?
The biggest thing we’ve learned in the publishing process is that things always take longer than you think they will. Be patient. It will all come together.
The biggest thing I’ve learned when it comes to marketing is that you must be flexible.
If Plan A gets blown out of the water by something as unthinkable as a global pandemic, you need to pivot as quickly as you can and come up with Plan B.
Before COVID-19, we were doing presentations in person. Now everything has to be done online. I’ve created a weekly newsletter designed to update our readers on the very latest developments in the world of long-term care. It’s called “The Long-Term Care Report”. People seem to be enjoying it. Anything that can help them cut through the confusion during this uncertain time must be a good thing, right?
I’ve also put together a three-part webinar designed to walk people through our book as well as everything they should know about the navigating LTC process. I promote the webinar and the book in the weekly newsletter.
12. How does it feel to have completed this book project?
Karen: It feels so satisfying. We took an idea whose time had come and turned it into reality.
Pat: It is gratifying and exciting to see our book in libraries and on bookstore shelves.
13. What do you think your mother’s reaction would be to the book?
I know that our mother is with us every day in spirit. She gave us the strength to take on this huge project; we felt her presence in everything that we did. At the end of the day, we wrote this book for her. We know without a shadow of a doubt that she is very proud of all of our efforts, and delighted by the knowledge that our book is helping other families… people who don’t know what they don’t know.
14. What’s next for you?
I think we both need a spa vacation. Do they still exist?
15. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We wrote this book for you and your family. We can’t wait for you to read it.