Welcome back! I hope you had a lovely summer. Taking regular breaks from content creation (not just creating extra content ahead of time and scheduling to post) is something I find alleviates burnout.
I’ve created and uploaded content for client content calendars for all kinds of projects in my freelance career. But creating and doing them for my own projects this past summer was a revelation.
I had two large projects (each with multiple moving parts) that went live this summer, and I learned a lot about what I, as an individual artist who is also a small business, needs from a content calendar. I’m sharing what I learned, in the hopes that it will help you.
The two big projects I had were the re-released of updated editions of The Topic Workbooks and the launch of my mystery/fantasy/comedy serial LEGERDEMAIN. Both intersected at the end of July into August, and need steady promotion for as long as I can imagine.
The Topic Workbooks consist of seven workbooks, built around writing classes I’ve taught/continue to teach, both in person and online. Six of the workbooks were updated editions, integrating new technology, information, and changes in the industry. Those were: THE SERIES BIBLE, SETTING UP YOUR SUBMISSION SYSTEM, THE GRAVEYARD OF ABANDONED PROJECTS, THE COMPLEX ANTAGONIST, ORGANIZE YOUR WRITING LIFE, and CREATIVE STIMULUS. The seventh workbook was for the class I taught at the beginning of August for the Cape Cod Writers Center Conference, and that was DEVELOPING THE SERIES (for novels, not screen). The workbooks initially re-released over three weeks, and then the promotion continued.
The serial, LEGERDEMAIN, started on Kindle Vella as of July 28, with episodes dropping every Tuesday and Thursday for as long as it’s viable. The initial vision contains three large story arcs. The first story arc is uploaded and scheduled, and runs 41 episodes. The next two will run between 30-40 episodes each. I know it takes several months to gain traction on Vella, unless one comes in with an already huge audience, so those ads had to be geared toward both short and long-term visions. The first three episodes are (and remain) free. The other episodes are read via the purchase of tokens.
The Topic Workbooks are non-fiction, geared toward writers and artists. They’re geared toward writers, but artists in other disciplines have also found them useful. The serial is fiction, geared to a genre audience who loves serials (most important), mystery, fantasy, and likes some odd humor sprinkled in.
Both campaigns had to launch, and then run, simultaneously.
I spent some time in the summer, while off from writing this blog, playing with online scheduling tools. I mixed, matched, and did comparisons of several. None of them fulfilled my needs, integrated the way I need them to, or could handle the fact that, as a freelance juggling multiple projects, things change ALL THE TIME.
So I went back to trusty old paper.
The first thing I had to do was to have a vision for the way I wanted to promote each project. The Topic Workbooks are pretty straightforward. They are consistent. These editions are updated and published, with fresh covers. I keep them priced low, so that they’re budget-friendly, and they’ve always made up in volume what they lack in high prices for individual workbooks. Distinctive ads in a similar style with blurbs and buy links would do the trick. Consistent promotion, albeit changing up the type of promotion, makes the most sense. The Topic Workbooks have their own page on the flagship DevonEllingtonWork site, so links can take interested viewers back to that page on the site, and then the individual buy links for the buyer’s device is readily available, including library sites.
The serial is a little more complicated. Two episodes drop per week. That means each episode needs an individual ad that’s a hook for that specific episode. It also needs more general ads as a draw to the series in general. Also, the hooks can’t give too much away, or someone could just follow the episode ads and feel like they don’t need to read the series. While there’s mention of the serial on the main DevonEllingtonWork site, there’s enough material, and enough tertiary material to build its own subdomain site for Legerdemain. (Note: this site has some content up, but is still under construction at the time of this posting, and has not been widely promoted).
Because of Amazon’s strict rule that content can’t be anywhere other than on their site (and they won’t even let me link the website to the serial), I had to figure out a workaround of additional fun content that didn’t break the Kindle Vella laws, gave readers who follow the serial some fun additional content, and gave potential readers a taste of tone to drive them to start reading.
The Topic Workbook content is fairly static, and will be changed as individual workbooks are updated every few years, and as new workbooks are added (because you didn’t think I was done, did you? I mean, this is me we’re talking about). There’s also a Media Kit in progress, which will go up on both the Workbook page, and in the site’s Media Room.
LEGERDEMAIN’s content will grow as long as the serial grows.
Someday, LEGERDEMAIN will stop being a serial, have to take a breath when it comes off Kindle Vella (I’m thinking at least 3-5 years down the road), and then become something else. The website will be able to support whatever it turns into. Again, that content is created with a vision toward both short and long term.
How often to post?
At the launch of each Topic Workbook, I decided to do an intense 13-day campaign of one to two ads per day across social media. After the initial 13-days, I would run one ad per workbook per week. That took me through the end of September. Now that it is September, I am looking at the workbooks and deciding what the vision is for promotion October – December.
With LEGERDEMAIN, each pair of episodes gets an intense campaign during their week, until the next week’s episodes drop. For August and September, I then run day-long weekend campaigns with all episodes to date. On top of that, I pop some general ads in there. Again, in October, I’m changing it up a little, for the overall series, while keeping the intense focus on the ads for episodes as they go live.
I vary the hours for both the workbooks and the serial ads, because I want to take a look at the metrics and then see what works well where.
When I created content for a clothing designer, I scheduled the daily content to post at noon each day, because people were looking at social media during their lunch hour or just before/after, and that got the highest response.
The Content Itself
I create batches of content. I created each workbook ad as soon as the workbook was ready to publish. As soon as the buy links went live, I added them to the ads and to the various websites on which they can be found.
Same with LEGERDEMAIN. I uploaded/scheduled the polished episodes in batches of 10 (although I had most of the first arc written and revised before I uploaded anything, in case I needed to plan something early on for the end). As soon as I uploaded the episode and noted the release date, I create the episode log lines, and then I can create the individual episode ads. Then, I go back through that batch of episodes to see what general ads I can create from the content about other businesses, themes, or jokes that are in those episodes, and where I can expand on information for the website that would drag down the pace and the narrative drive of the serial itself.
Uploading the Content
I block off several hours, and I upload and schedule at least a month of content, preferably two or three, in that time period. If you use a scheduling tool like Buffer or Hootsuite, you can schedule across multiple platforms (provided your subscription allows it). It’s worth it, because then you don’t have to think about it for two or three months.
For the Topic Workbooks, as soon as I got the buy link, I started uploading and scheduling the content I planned through the end of September. When I decide on October – December’s content and frequency, I will block off a few hours and upload/schedule all of that in one go, too.
Because I have the content ready to go (it’s created before I upload), the upload/scheduling time goes relatively quickly. It takes about 2 hours to upload 2-3 months’ worth of daily content.
I also use the weekly calendar sheets broken down into hours by General Blue and write in what ads run where. I can see how the content flows, and where I have room to plug in other projects (because releasing ads for different projects at the same time is often counterproductive). They can run close together, even just a few minutes apart, but not releasing at the same moment.
For the serial, as soon as the episodes are scheduled and I’ve created the episode loglines and episode-specific ads, I block off time and upload that next block of episodes. This is where having the hourly paper calendar comes in handy, because I can see what episodes have promotions scheduled when, and build on themes and images. When the general ads are created, I slot those in around the episode ads. Again, it usually takes a couple of hours to schedule a month or more of content. It’s worth it, because then I don’t have to think about it; I just have to look at metrics later on.
The social media promotions I do are on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Ello, Counter Social, and Tumblr. Then, there are other ads or direct mail pieces, depending on the project and budget. Don’t forget the budget! The content calendar integrates all of it.
I look at the traffic that’s driven to the various sites by the ads, and then, of course, the sales that result. It’s harder to do with the serial, because Amazon holds their information close to the vest, and doesn’t allow links to individual episodes, or metrics on individual episodes, just to the general page. And I couldn’t build momentum ahead of the launch, because the page on the Vella site for the serial didn’t go live until the serial went live. On top of that, one cannot gift tokens or use Amazon gift cards for tokens for the serial, which affects things like promotional giveaways.
I expect it will be 4-6 months before I get a real sense of how the ads are doing in the bigger picture.
In the smaller picture, I see regular sales reports, and I can also see who and how often colleagues on social media are liking or boosting my work. That figures into my personal metrics. I boost the heck out of the work of friends and colleagues. If I don’t get that in return, or if I suspect they’ve muted the ads or the project, it’s not become a non-reciprocal relationship.
Yes, I know, all that “you have the right to curate your timeline” and “you do you” and all the other palliatives. You DO have the right to curate your timeline for your own purposes and pleasures.
So do I.
Writing is my business, not my hobby. It is how I keep a roof over my head, and the bills paid. I mix and match a wide variety of writing in my profession. But it is my profession, and that means I have to promote my work.
That doesn’t mean I DM people asking them to buy. That’s tacky and unprofessional. And someone who DMs me immediately after a mutual follow to sell me something, anything, is guaranteed to be blocked, and put on the list of “never buy anything from this person ever.”
If I’m promoting the heck of someone’s work and they never promote mine, then they’ve become a drain on my resources and my energy, and I want them off my timeline. I clear out my timeline once or twice a year. It gets out the deadweight, and then I can go back to having actual conversations and interactions. How someone supports or does not support my work affects the place they have (or don’t have) in my life. While I may mute some threads that get overly tangled, I tend not to mute people. I’m either in or out. Either I accept all of someone’s facets, or I’d rather steer clear. And if someone is “muting” me because I promote that which keeps a roof over my head or for any other reason, that means they aren’t accepting all of my different facets, and the further I get away right quick, the better for my life and work.
But hey, “you do you.”
Planning content ahead of time makes a huge difference. A content calendar helps you track what happens where, where there are holes you can turn into opportunities, where content gets crowded and needs a little breathing room.
By making the time to plot out your content, by making the time to create the content, and then batch uploading/scheduling, you take the immediate pressure off the day to day, and that allows you to create more (which you will then have to promote).
The content calendar supports both the plan and the execution. It will help you when you analyze your metrics, and find the best times/days to schedule your content. It will help you see where you need more, and where you can cut back.
It has also taught me how to adjust my rates, should I go back to offering this type of service for clients again in the future. As a solopreneur, I am the creator and the content manager. However, when I take on clients, I am the content WRITER, NOT the graphic designer OR the social media manager. Too often companies are hiring one person to do all three jobs when they are three separate jobs and require different skills, time frames, and headspaces. Not only that, most companies want to pay a single person to do three jobs only a portion of what one job is worth. Don’t sell yourself short. If you CHOOSE to accept a position where you are creating, doing graphics, and managing the content calendar/uploading/metrics, make sure you charge enough to encompass all three sets of skills.
But the calendar is THE tool that eases pressure AND promotes positive engagement, which is good all around! And batch creating and batch uploading/scheduling makes the next few months much calmer.