“Branding” with best selling author Steena Holmes


Steen Holmes is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who has sold over 2 million copies of her books. She is a sought after speaker on the subject of indie publishing and branding.  We are very pleased to have Steena Holmes, B.R.A.G .Medallion Honoree author of Finding Emma, join us here to share her thoughts and expertise.

First of all, let me congratulate you, Steena, on all your success–selling books is not easy!

For all self-published authors out there, I am taking a big step beyond giving advice on writing.  By the time a book gets to us at indieBRAG, learning how to write and asking advice about publishing a book is in the past.  We assume that when an author submits their book to us they are confident it is well written, edited, formatted and has an appealing cover.  If not, it probably will not make it to our library.

So Steena, let’s talk about what you are an expert on–marketing and selling books.

How important is finding your audience and how do you do that?

For me, knowing my audience, finding those readers – that’s more important than anything else after the book. If we don’t have our readers, why are we publishing? If our goal is to publish our book and get it into the hands of readers…then it’s just as important to spend time discovering who our readers are as it is learning the steps in how to format, upload and promote our books.
I have three tips on how to find your audience:

  1. Know your genre. What kind of readers gravitate toward the types of books you write? While there are readers who read everything…every genre has a different level of audience which means, each audience reacts differently. Romance readers are very different than fantasy readers.
  2. You are NOT your reader. I know this sounds odd but take a moment to let that sink in. While we are all readers and have that passion to lose ourselves in books, we are also writers, so we look at everything with different lenses. We look at our newsletters, our reviews, our websites, our interactions on social media different than a reader does. When we see something another author does – what’s your first reaction? It’s either – why didn’t I think of that or wow, that’s really working? But a reader is voracious. They want that interaction with their favorite author, they’ll try that recipe you mentioned or read that book you just finished. They try a different tea or coffee because you said it was your favorite, they’ll write you positive notes wanting to encourage you…
    My point with this is…when we look at marketing and how we interact with our readers on social media, you need to step back and think about how it affects your reader instead of doing something you don’t think is really important or necessary. Think about the things that seem to work in your genre – things that your readers are attracted to and then make it personal to you and your brand.
  3. This is probably the most important point: narrow down your audience to ONE reader. Create an interview sheet that you would use for your characters but build one for your reader – again, thinking about your genre. Who are they? What do they do? What are their interests? Now go find them. Post things you think they might enjoy. Join groups that will fit within your brand and be personable – don’t sell…please don’t sell…just interact and readers will notice you, look you up…it’ll snowball from there, I promise.

How much effort do you put into asking for reviews and going to book bloggers to promote your books?

In the beginning, I placed a lot of effort into that. Reviews are important for so many reasons. Now, I don’t focus on it as much as I used to, not because it’s not worth my time or because I’ve built up a readership but because I prefer the personal touch. When a reader says they’ve read my book and loved it, I thank them and then ask if they could leave a review. When I ask for book recommendations and notice someone mentions my book to another reader, I thank them and ask if they could leave a review. I think the personal approach means more than all the graphics I see authors sharing.

Many authors seem to spend an awful lot of time asking for reviews. Are they that important beyond the first few?  Do you think it is suspicious when a book has scores of 5* reviews?

Reviews are very important. You need so many reviews for Amazon’s algo’s to really notice you. When a book has all 5* reviews – I tend to look at the date the reviews were left. If they are all at once, close to the release date or similar, then I figure it’s a review team that has left those. Which is great for the author. It’s the reviews after that, the ones that are left by readers who noticed the book on their own that I pay more attention to.

I know a lot of authors spend a great deal of money attending conferences and author events. Do you personally do that and is it helpful in selling your books?

I have never attended a conference or author event with the intent to sell books. My focus is on the readers and the authors. I go for encouragement, support, to learn new things, to enhance my craft and to create relationships. With everything I do, my focus is not on sales, but on readers – especially when it comes to author events.

This is something I am particularly curious about because I have attended a number of these genre conferences and have seen authors interacting with other authors–which is fun socially–but I am not sure how this helps selling your book.

I think a lot of authors feel out of their element when we’re not being our computer screens. We forget that the reason we’re at these events is not to interact with the authors but rather with the readers who are there to see us. If you don’t focus on the readers in front of you, if you show them that they aren’t important…they’ll notice and not buy your book. It’s not worth it. My advice to authors attending reader events – have your drinks with your friends before and after the event but during it – focus on the readers since they are the stars of the event (I know, you thought you were the star of the show didn’t you…lol)

How effective do you think ads are and where do you advertise? Do you use paid advertising on FB, Twitter, and Goodreads?

I think they can be very effective if you keep an eye on them and use them wisely. I do paid advertising on BookBub, a little on Facebook (but not much) and never on Twitter. For Goodreads, I find the best promotion to be a book giveaway – when someone clicks on your book to enter, it’s added to their bookshelf. If there is a sale on your book from Amazon, they’ll often get an email from Goodreads letting them know.

Do you try to find creative promotions and if so, are there any you might share with us? We had a recent author do a book signing in a fragrance shop and the owner created and named a fragrance for her character! Very cool.

I love thinking outside the box when it comes to creative promotion! How about at a chocolate shop if there’s chocolate in your book? Or in a bakery? Or work with a local beautician to create a lip gloss or nail polish?

Have you joined any writers’ groups or organizations? Are they helpful?

Writing groups can be very helpful – much like this group! I am a part of NINC (Novelists Inc). I don’t have a local writer’s group that I’m involved with but I’m in many online and there is a group of authors that get together quite often for weekend writing retreats that I enjoy. I find when I’m with others who share my passion, my creativity flourishes!

How much promotion is too much? Some authors are constantly pitching their books on social media and talk about little else.  Does sharing a bit of your personal life and letting readers get to know you through your blog and social media help? 

Authors panic and they think that they have to always be pitching their books for sales. What if…and this might be a new idea to some, but what if we stopped focusing on the sales and instead focused on our readers? I can guarantee if an author can wrap their head around that idea they’ll soon discover their sales haven’t been hit and in fact probably have gone up.
Readers want to have a personable relationship with us – that’s the benefit of social media. They want to feel like they’re getting an up close glimpse into our lives. If they know you care enough to get to know them…they will become those loyal readers who not only buy every single book you publish but will also tell their friends about you.

Do you recommend professional promotions or PR?  It can get costly.

It really can. Ask yourself what your goal would be for that PR. You’ll be spending 000’s of dollars – if you want more of a name recognition, then this will definitely help. If you’re looking for sales – then you’re throwing money away.

Now here’s the hard question!  What do you think you did that helped get the word out about your books – besides writing fantastic books of course!

This isn’t a hard question at all! My readers! They are the ones who bought my books, told others to read my books, left their reviews and continually support me. I probably sound like a broken record by now. I don’t have a magical formula, no one trick-does-all unless you consider making my readers a priority. Will ads help? For sure. Will getting picked up by Amazon help? Absolutely. But how many books do well for a short period of time and then fall into oblivion? If my books only sell when I put them on sale or make them free…do I really have loyal readers?

You offer a course on “Branding” which I think our authors will find interesting.  Would you tell us a bit about this?

I love the idea of branding. When it’s used correctly our brand can become a powerful tool when promoting our books. I see so many authors struggle with not only understanding how to create a brand but also how to use it. “Branding with Intent” is my way of helping authors navigate creating a brand that connects with readers. I offer a free 5 day Branding course if anyone is interested in signing up.

To learn more about Steena Holmes and her fantastic books, visit her at her website : Steena Holmes

Lots of great info on branding can be found at:  Branding with Intent


The comments, advice and opinions expressed here are those of authors whose books have been honored with a B.R.A.G. Medallion. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the owners, management, or employees of indieBRAG, LLC.

2 responses to ““Branding” with best selling author Steena Holmes”

  1. Florence Osmund says:

    Such excellent advice! Finding the right readers is the toughest part of marketing for me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

  2. Carrie Beckort says:

    Great interview! I love how you tie everything back to the reader. I think it’s great advice to look at everything we do in our writer lives through the lens of what it means to our readers.

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