Monday, February 24, 2014

In Case You Missed It: Sonia Marsh at El Toro Library

Event: "How to Write, Publish, and Market the Gutsy Way" by Sonia Marsh
Where: El Toro Library

When: Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sonia Marsh is the award-winning author of a travel memoir, who now offers "gutsy" book marketing and coaching to indie authors.

Books: Freeways to Flip-Flops: A Family's Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island (Travel/ Memoir); My Gutsy Story Anthology: True Stories of Love, Courage, and Adventure from Around the World (Nonfiction/Anthology)
* * * Sonia will be appearing at the Costco in Tustin on March 15 th from 11am-2pm. On Friday she will be hosting her first webinar.* * *
My friends and I are the first guests to enter the white-walled conference room of the El Toro Library.  We’re greeted by the library's event coordinator and a slim woman in a bright blue dress.  This is indie publisher Sonia Marsh, and the color of her dress will turn out to be subtly significant later on.  Speaking with a slight accent, Sonia asks us how we found her event, then hands us slips of paper for a raffle of her books after the event.  (We don’t win.) 
Her books sit upon the central table alongside laminated newspaper articles.  Another table holds business cards, book marks, and gold and silver chocolates. I take a can of cranberry juice from the snack counter.  More and more people arrive until the room is full.  Between greeting guests, Sonia set up a camera on a tripod.  She says she’ll post her lecture on YouTube later on.
Well, that makes my notes superfluous, I think, but take them anyway.
The event coordinator formally introduces Sonia.  She begins to speak.
(Please note: I scribbled the presentation on plain old notebook paper—no recording devices.  The quotes should contain the essence of what was said, but they’re not exact.)
"I'm a writer, marketer, publisher, and public relations specialist," Sonia tells us.  “I have to do it all, but I don’t have the 6-figure budget of a major publisher.  I’m just like any of you.  So how do you publish and market with the integrity of a 6-figure budget, when you don't have one?"
The slides go up.
6 Steps to Gutsy Indie Publishing
  • Writing
  • Pre-publishing
  • Publishing
  • Marketing
  • Promoting
  • What Next?
* * *

Step 1: Writing


"On average, it takes 6 years to write a book. When I heard that, I thought, 'What's wrong with these people?  I can do it in a year.' "  Beat.  "It took me 7."

  • Classes
  • Conferences
  • Critique Groups
  • Professionals
  • Volunteering

Sonia's first book, called Freeways to Flip-Flops, is a memoir of the time she uprooted her family to live and reconnect in Belize.  It begins as a series of journal entries.  In order to convert them into a memoir, Sonia had to take classes, go to conferences, and enlist the help of editors.  As a bonus, meeting new people and maintaining those connections also helped her gain endorsements. 
Sonia doesn’t always find critique groups helpful, because sometimes they include writers of different genres who don’t understand her writing.  She likes to use professional help.  Her team includes a developmental editor, a copy editor, and a proof reader.  When an audience member asks how she got them, she replies that she connected with them in conferences.

* * *
Step 2: Pre-Publishing

"It's quite unlikely, in this day and age, we'll get published by a traditional publisher without a platform...."  (A member of the audience asks what a platform is.)  "A platform is a way to make yourself visible, whether online or offline.  You do this by developing expertise, connecting with other people...  A platform is visibility."
  • Blogging
  • Branding
  • Building a Platform
  • Quality Relationships
  • Networking

Constant blogging, Sonia tells us, is a great resource for a writer seeking exposure. 

“But what is constant?” an audience member asks. 

“At least twice a week.” 

After a year, you should start receiving results.  Sonia cites Seth Godin who recommends starting a blog three years before your book comes out.  The audience heaves a breath at that.

She advised us to find a theme that goes with your brand.  (This is easier for Non-Fiction writers.)  Sonia’s theme is "Gutsy living."  Her tagline: "Life's Too Short to Play It Safe."  When you blog, it shouldn’t be for yourself, but for your audience.  Ask yourself, What is it I can give them?  Picture your audience almost in pain, that they need you to help them through something.

You need to establish yourself as an expert.  What do you know better than anyone else?  One of the problems Sonia encountered when she first began trying to write was that she was all over the place.  Narrow the topic down.

“But how do you get noticed?” asks a man in the audience.  Sonia’s reply is simple: Fresh content.  “Google loves that.” The more you write, the more your blog will rise to the top of the search engine.  It also helps to tag your themes.  (Hers include the words “adventure and Belize.”) 

Contests and giveaways also work to generate excitement. Every Monday, she posts a gutsy story written by her readers, about 1000 words.  The article links back to the reader’s blog.  Good publicity all around.  You can use the same idea—or go to her blog and submit your own story.
If you’re hoping to turn blog entries into a book, she recommends, "How to Blog a Book" by Nina Amir.
In this day and age, you have to be on Facebook and Twitter,” Sonia says.
She suggests starting a Facebook group.  She founded Gutsy Indie Writers—again pushing her “Gutsy” brand.  Rather than just trying to sell their books, they help each other with information and form quality relationships. 

A member of the audience has a question about Twitter.  “How do you come up with new tweets all the time?” Answer: You don’t.  “80% should be re-tweets as well as articles from other sources that are of interest to your followers,” Sonia says. “20% is your own.

If you want to be successful, eventually you'll have to go out and speak.  An audience member mentions Toastmasters, not only for improving public speaking skills, but for networking and promoting your work
* * *
Step 3: Publication

"There's only 1 or 5 % of writers who can actually make a living at it.... But I'm foraging ahead to do everything I can to make it a full time career."
  • Professional Design
  • Publishing Company (dba)
  • ISBN (International Standard Book Number, aka the barcode) ; PCIP (Publishers Cataloguing In Publication), ARCs (Advance Reader’s Copy)
  • Endorsements/ Reviews
  • Virtual Blog Tour
  • Book Launch Party

Midway through a discussion on book cover, I finally learn the significance of her dress.

Sonia’s talking about the elements that make for a professional cover, citing information from Joel Friedlander. "When you have a book cover, you have to be able to read the title from 10 feet away. The author's name should not be at the top unless you're well-known. You don't want to clutter it with too many pictures. You have to consider the font, the colors.”

She tells us she uses island colors.  In fact, turquoise is part of her brand.  Whenever she goes out on promotional events, she wears a turquoise dress.  I sit up.
Going back to Joel Friedlander, Sonia says that although he offers cheap templates ($34) for book covers, she doesn’t use them, opting instead for 1106 Design’s more specialized—and expensive—designs.  A single cover costs $400.  For around $800-$900 you get three concept covers and can choose the one you want. She went with three. 

How did she choose the best?  First she went to Barnes and Noble and asked the manager which cover would sell.  Then she went to her indie bookstore in Laguna Beach and asked the manager the same question. Then she showed the pictures to people at her gym.  90% of those people chose the same picture—the one that now graces her cover.

Being professional is important to her.  Sonia wants indie publishers to be taken seriously.  To that extent, she created her own publishing company.  Name your company, but don't do make it your own name,” she advises.  She chose “Gusty.”  Of course.

Shes about to move on, but I have a question.  Whats DBA mean?

Im still blank.

A member of the audience tries to explain.  For less than $25 you can register your own business.  The license lasts for 5 years and is useful for opening bank accounts.

Sonia wants to move on to ISBNs.  Shes trying to tell us why its better to purchase them on your own rather than accept the free one Create Space gives you, but a discussion breaks out amongst the audience.  Why bother to create your own company at all?  Why not simply publish your book on Create Space and be done with it?

The problem, Sonia explains, is that not all bookstores will carry a book published by Create Space.  Barnes and Noble won’t.  Costco won’t.  Bookstores expect a 55% discount.  Although Create Space does not disclose their discounts, many people believe it's only 25%.  Aside from that, having Create Space as a publisher seems to mark authors as amateurish.  You want to seem professional.

In the midst of this back and forth, information starts to fly:

At last, we move onto ARCs (Advance Reader’s Copy), which are basically your final book with a thin strip of red saying, “Not For Sale.”  These go out to reviewers before the books are released, so that they’ll give you an endorsement.  Of course, printing an ARC costs more money than, say, sending someone a PDF.  But best-selling authors will take you more seriously with a print copy.
Speaking of best-selling authors, one of the things Sonia does to solicit a review, is to first review one of their books by video—for some reason people tend to like it more and it gets more visibility than a written review, which are more common. 
A month after the book is released, you can start a virtual blog tour.  Some people actually pay to go from blog to blog to publicize their book.  Sonia says if you have the connections, you shouldn’t have to pay.
Last on the list is a launch party.  "Think of it like a wedding,” Sonia advises.  “It takes several months to plan." 
When she launched her book at her Laguna bookstore, she looked around the local community for sponsors.  First she went to stores and asked them to donate gifts.  They said yes.  Then she went to a bistro and asked them to donate appetizers.  They said yes.  Then she found a Jamaican restaurant that made a delicious rum punch and got them to serve it to her guests.

"The audience was real happy," Sonia adds.
With all the numbers flying around, someone is bound to ask how much the total cost of producing a book actually is.  (I’m thinking of asking it myself.)  Sonia heard from a publicist at a conference that the average cost is $10,000, including editing, design, and cover.

* * *
Step 4: Marketing
On book signings: "You sell more books if you have a presentation.  People don't like it when you're just sitting there."
  • Book Signings
  • Indie Bookstores
  • Local Libraries
  • Presentations
  • Different Locations (Shops, Gyms)
  • Costco

The last few sections have gone long.  Now we start to zip through.

For indie bookstores, Sonia advises to make sure you get a contract.  When they sell the books (which you provide), it should be at a 60/ 40 split, with the larger half going to the writer.

It’s hard to get your book into Costco, though sometimes they will show interest in a local author.  Make friends with the manager.  You fill out a form and if you don't hear back in 6 weeks, they aren't interested.  Do not call them.

She'll do a webinar about how to get your book into Costco.

* * *
Step 5: Promotion
"Developing a relationship and asking."
  • Radio
  • TV
  • Create an Event Sponsors
  • Give Back a %  (to charities, for example)
  • Get a Keynote Speaker
  • Hire local Publicist

* * *
Step 6: What Next?
  • Keep Marketing
  • Keep Writing
  • Crowdfunding

Pubslush is crowdfunding especially for writers.  Usually, they help in the production of a book, but Sonia got them to fund her event.  The trick is to make it entertaining.  She produced a video with her (seemingly) standing on her head and riding a bicycle.

* * *

Sonia plans to produce free webinars, so be sure to check out her website at for more info.


  1. Superb, Becky! It was like being there again.

  2. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. Very informative!

  3. You really took some excellent notes and I thank you for your wonderful summary. I am taking about how to get your book into Costco tomorrow and already have 22 people signed up. It's FREE tomorrow and I have 3 seats left. Here is the link to register: