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Hosting an author webinar is a powerful tool for connecting with your readers and growing your email list. About half of all my new email subscribers have joined my list through a webinar. After they’ve spent an hour hearing my voice, seeing my face, and interacting with me live, they know who I am, open my emails, and stay subscribed for a long time.
Webinars are also a great way to listen to your audience. A typical Novel Marketing podcast episode will generate a few comments per episode. My typical webinar brings in a few comments per minute. That’s more than 100 comments during a 60-minute webinar. The comments, questions, and polls make hosting a webinar a great opportunity to get to know my audience better.
Webinars are also great for calling people to action, be that donating to a nonprofit, buying your book, signing up for your course, or backing your Kickstarter campaign. Most of my course sales come from people who first attended a live webinar.
Hosting a webinar can be a powerful tool, but it requires proper preparation. If you don’t prepare, you may end up talking to an empty room and wasting your valuable time.
How to Host an Author Webinar
How do you prepare the kind of webinar readers want to attend?
This is the second episode in my ongoing series about author webinars. The first is How to Look and Sound Professional on Zoom, Webinars, and Podcasts.
It’s important to understand that webinars tend to work best for nonfiction authors. Some novelists can make webinars work, but fiction readers usually prefer livestreams.
Webinars vs. Livestreams
Livestreams are live videos typically viewed through “free” platforms like Facebook or YouTube. They are open to the public and don’t require registration to attend. Live events are low-attendance events where people come and go throughout the event. A well-executed livestream can gain viewers as the video progresses if the algorithms pick it up. Novelists often host their launch parties through livestreams.
However, most livestreams, especially on Facebook, get very few viewers. I host an annual livestream for a nonprofit that has 150,000 Facebook followers. The maximum number of viewers we’ve had at one time tops out around 100, regardless of when we host the livestream. Even though I have a much smaller total audience, I can get far more viewers on one of my Author Media webinars.
Fewer people watch Facebook livestreams because Facebook has de-prioritized livestreams in the algorithm ever since the Christchurch shooting was livestreamed.
It’s also important for authors to remember that Facebook shares data with Amazon, and Amazon sometimes deletes book reviews from readers who gathered on a Facebook livestream and then left reviews for a particular book. I don’t recommend Facebook livestreams if you want a high review count.
That said, we have an old episode about Facebook Live, but keep in mind that it was recorded before the data sharing between Facebook and Amazon was widely understood.
By contrast, webinars, require attendees to sign up with their email addresses, which is why they are so good for email list growth. Webinars are hosted on a separate website or app and are not streamed to YouTube or Facebook. Furthermore, webinars are “appointment” events with high attendance that trends downward over time as people leave the webinar. Unlike livestreams, people don’t tend to come and go from a webinar.
While livestreams are always free to attend, webinars can be either paid or free. A virtual summit is often a collection of webinars, one right after another. One author I follow recently hosted an author webinar that cost $750 to attend. And no, that is not overpriced for his topic and audience. He writes about geopolitics, and if you want to know how the war in Ukraine will impact your factory, he is your go-to guy.
Livestreams are background events people listen to while doing something else, while webinars are foreground events, where you have the attendee’s full attention.
While livestreams come with the assumption that Facebook or YouTube will bring you viewers, webinars offer no such illusion. The only way to get people to attend your webinar is to invite them yourself.
How to Get People to Attend Your Author Webinar
The first challenge you must overcome is getting people to want to attend your webinar. Your webinar needs to be so appealing that people
- want to sign up for it
- add it to their calendar
- actually show up live
A simple webinar announcement will not accomplish those three things. However, the following four steps will help you get people to attend.
Step 1: Pick a Timothy
When you know exactly who will benefit from your webinar and who you want to help, the rest of these steps will be much easier.
Choose a targeted attendee, an actual human, to represent everyone you want to attend. This is a practice I call “picking a Timothy.”
Once you have picked your Timothy, you need to ask him the following questions:
- What does he want?
- What pain does he have?
- How can you start to alleviate his pain with a webinar?
Authors who struggle to get attendees have often skipped this step. Instead, they make the mistake of targeting a general, generic audience of “women between ages 20 and 55 who like to read my genre.”
Step 2: Write a Painkilling Title
Your webinar’s title must make a clear promise. When your promise is directly connected to your Timothy’s pain point, more people will sign up. You can present your webinar as a vitamin or a painkiller. You will curate a targeted email list of the right kind of readers much faster if you present your webinar as a painkiller.
If your books help people with finances, you could title your webinar “How to Create a Budget.” Everyone knows they need a budget, just like everyone knows they need to take vitamins. But most people forget to take vitamins. Have you taken your vitamins today?
To create a painkilling title, you must return to the first step.
- Who is your target attendee?
- What pain is he in?
- How can your webinar start to relieve his pain?
If your Timothy is drowning in debt and considering bankruptcy, he probably needs a budget to regain control of his finances. However, he may not know or believe a budget will help.
A painkilling title would be “How to Create a Debt-Shrinking Budget” or “How to Avoid Bankruptcy.”
Webinars for Novelists
If you write fiction, create an entertaining webinar title. Let your target reader know how the webinar will be exciting, thrilling, or hilarious.
Your fiction webinar could also be a time to react to something in popular media.
For example, I once helped Kathy Tyers host an author webinar where we speculated about the plot of the next Star Wars film. Kathy had written a few Star Wars books back in the day, so we speculated about what might go into the sequel trilogy. The webinar was well attended and grew Kathy’s email list. Unfortunately, the folks at Disney did not attend and took the franchise in a completely different direction.
Step 3: Write a Compelling Description
Most webinar landing pages have three elements:
Your description is a paragraph or two that offers details about the webinar. However, the description is not where you describe what attendees will learn. A compelling description is where you promise a transformation your attendees will experience.
Think of this as a menu item. Don’t talk about the recipe. Talk about how great it will taste. Only mention the ingredients if they make the dish sound delicious.
Step 4: Spread the Word
Now that your signup page is ready, it is time to spread the word.
Promote to Your Own Email List
When I host a webinar for my email subscribers, I get 500-800 people registered and add around 100 new email addresses to my list each time. I gain those new subscribers even if I only promote it to people who are already subscribed.
My list grows because my subscribers forward the webinar invite to their friends and colleagues. Several literary agents have even told me they require their clients to attend my webinars.
Find a Partner
One way to get more people to attend your webinar is to partner with someone else who has a following that would be interested in the information you present. When I partner with someone on a webinar, I typically share the proceeds of course sales with the other host through my affiliate program. If you want to learn more about this approach, check out my episode on affiliate marketing.
You could also trade webinars with a similar author. In a webinar swap, the other author hosts a webinar where you talk to their audience. Then you host a webinar where they talk to yours. You could also host a joint webinar for both of your audiences together.
When I host with a partner, we typically both answer questions at the end, which can be its own draw for the attendees.
Webinar Partnership for Novelists
If you are a novelist, you could team up with another fiction author and react to a TV show after each episode comes out.
Webinar gurus often talk about advertising to get webinar attendees. If you’re selling a mid- to large-ticket product or course, offering a free initial webinar is a great way to introduce strangers to your product.
During your free webinar, you can blow their socks off with your expertise and helpfulness and then sell them your product. This strategy takes a potential customer through the attract, engage, and convert process in a short period of time.
Unfortunately, this approach is too expensive to work for most authors when the book is the product.
If it costs you $100 to get 100 strangers to sign up for your webinar, and 3% of them go on to buy your book, you will spend around $35 per person to sell a copy of your book. Those numbers don’t make financial sense when you’re selling a $20 book.
On the other hand, if you’re selling a $1,000 course, you would happily pay $35 to acquire a new student.
Dynamic Content Insertion
If you have a podcast with Buzzsprout, you can dynamically insert audio at the beginning and end of your podcast episodes. You could record a 30-second pitch for your webinar and insert it before each of your past episodes. When the webinar is over, you can remove the pitch. I recently tried this approach on my other podcast, the Christian Publishing Show, and saw a record number of signups.
Dynamic content insertion is a great way to convert podcast listeners into email list subscribers.
Some Novel Marketing listeners don’t know that I regularly host webinars because they aren’t yet email subscribers. I haven’t added dynamic content to Novel Marketing because Blubrry hasn’t offered dynamic content insertion until recently. Now that it’s an option, you may start hearing dynamic content soon.
Now that you know how to get attendees, how do you prepare a stellar presentation?
How to Prep Attention Retaining Slides
One challenge of hosting an author webinar is that the world wide web is just one tab away. If you don’t prepare engaging visuals to accompany your presentation, you may have your audience’s ears but not their eyes. When this happens, your presentation moves from foreground listening to background noise, and at that point, it might as well be a livestream. Attendees won’t buy your book if they only listen to you as background noise.
To make my webinars visually interesting, I use lots and lots of slides.
My two most popular webinars are 40 minutes long and have 142 and 91 slides. That means I advance to a new slide every 20 to 30 seconds.
If that seems fast, realize that TV shows cut to a new camera angle every 3 to 7 seconds.
If you show the same slide for a whole minute, people will get bored and click on a different tab. I have decent audience retention on my webinars due in large part to my slide frequency.
To increase your slide count, use only one idea per slide.
One Idea Per Slide
If you have a PowerPoint slide listing three bullet points, you’d typically show that slide for 60 seconds or more. However, if you gave each bullet point its own slide, you’d have three slides, and you could advance through them every 20 seconds.
With one idea per slide, you’ll find it much easier to find a relevant image that will explain or illustrate the idea on your slide. Using more slides and images means you’ll need to spend some money on stock photos, but good stock photos are well worth the investment.
Almost all of my stock photos are from DepositPhotos.com (Affiliate Link) and NounProject.com. I would rather pay money to find a good stock photo quickly than spend hours trying to find a free stock photo. That said, if you want free stock photos, I recommend Unsplash.com.
To learn how to design incredible slides, check out the books Beyond Bullet Points and Presentation Zen (Affiliate Links). Both books have given my talks a competitive advantage over other conference presentations. That competitive edge allowed me to travel the world in my twenties to teach authors twice my age.
Use Images for Your Metaphors
If you have difficulty figuring out what image to use, lean on your metaphors. For example, if one bullet point says that life without a budget is like digging a hole, use a photo of a man digging a hole while you speak about that point.
If you don’t have any good metaphors, add them! They will spice up your talk and make it more memorable.
When designing slides for in-person events, you must keep them simple so people in the back of the room can still understand them.
But on a webinar, everyone is in the front row, so you can use a more complex slide. Normally, showing a chart or graph is a big presentation no-no. Presentation Zen warns against it, and Beyond Bullet Points has clear guidelines for doing it right.
On a webinar, you might be able to get away with it, but don’t go crazy with charts. Remember, every slide must be interesting. I still avoid using charts and graphs, even when my presentations are online.
Embrace Presenter View
Your presentation notes are like your underwear; they are for your personal use and not for the public to see.
Don’t put your speaking text on the slide. You’d be better off using no slides than reading your presentation from a slide. Your face is far more interesting than your notes.
Keynote and PowerPoint have Presenter view, which allows you alone to view the notes attached to each slide. Presenter view allows me to pare down my word count on each slide to a single word or phrase. Sometimes I show a photo slide with no words at all. All my notes are in Presenter view, where only I can see them.
To use Presenter view for a webinar, you will need two monitors. One screen to “share” and one to view. Purchasing a second monitor is one of the cheapest ways to dramatically increase your productivity and the effectiveness of your webinar.
In every public webinar I host, I create polls because I want to adapt my presentation to the audience. I want to know whether the audience is made up of beginners or more advanced writers. I don’t want to bore attendees with things they already know, but I also don’t want to talk over their heads and use terms they don’t understand.
As you prepare your presentation, think about what you need to know about your audience to make the presentation more applicable to them.
Which is the Best Platform for Hosting an Author Webinar
Zoom – The Classic Mistake
- You know how to use Zoom
- Your audience knows how to use Zoom
- Zoom is cheap
- Doesn’t have good call-to-action support
- Doesn’t have a good registration flow
- Doesn’t feel like a special event
- No email reminders
- No question voting
- Zoom fatigue
- Adequate for short events of up to about 25 people.
Zoom Webinars – The Expensive Option No One Uses
- You know how to use Zoom
- Your audience knows how to use Zoom
- Expensive at $690/year
- Doesn’t have good call-to-action button support
- Doesn’t feel like a special event
- Zoom fatigue
- No question voting
- There are better solutions for less money.
Crowdcast – What I Use
- Best audience interaction controls (chat, polls, questions, voting on questions)
- Easy to bring audience members “on stage”
- Scales to 1,000 attendees very well
- Great stage control
- Patreon integration
- Paid events supported
- Event links turn into replay links
- Expensive. Starts at $49/month
- I use Crowdcast because the pros are worth the expense. If you’d like to use Crowdcast, please consider signing up with my affiliate link for Crowdcast.
Streamyard – Best Audio Quality for Podcasters
- More special than Zoom
- Double-ended recordings for the best recording quality
- Giveaway tool
- Geared toward simultaneous livestreaming to YouTube and Facebook rather than hosting a webinar.
- No question interface
- No question voting
- Perhaps the best choice if recording quality is important to you.
Webinar Platforms I’ve Heard Good Things About
- Webinar Ninja: Very expensive, but all the features are there.
- WebinarJam: This used to be the budget option, but now it’s comparable to Crowdcast.
Webinar Platforms I Hate for Hosting Author Webinars
- GoToWebinar: Expensive and dated software that is buggy.
- Webex: Dated, buggy software
If you want to see one of my webinars, view my most recent free webinar about launching a book.
Speaking of book launches, registration is now open for the Book Launch Blueprint! Registration closes on April 14, 2023, so don’t delay.
If you Google “How to Launch a Book,” you’ll get over 500 million results. That’s a problem.
Why? Because it’s hard to know which sites offer sage advice and which ones are wannabes.
You can’t afford to spend your time (or money) on programs that are little more than wishful thinking. You need proven strategies to successfully launch your book into the stratosphere, and that’s precisely why we created the Book Launch Blueprint.
The Book Launch Blueprint is a 28-day, interactive course developed by Novel Marketing host Thomas Umstattd Jr. (that’s me!) and Christy Hall of Fame author James L. Rubart.
You will learn exactly how to make your book launch a resounding triumph.
Learn more at BookLaunch.fun.
Jennifer Lamont Leo, author of The Rose Keeper
During the Great Depression, a spoiled socialite must suddenly find a way to support herself and her child. Can she turn a homemade recipe for skin tonic into a livelihood?
You can become a Novel Marketing Patron here.
Jack, our baby, is now walking! Toddling around the house saying “go-go” is his favorite thing to do. He loves going places and doing whatever his big brother and sister are doing, especially if whatever they are doing is something he is not big enough to do. Jack is a very busy toddler.
In completely unrelated news, if any of you could recommend a good house cleaning service, do let me know.
Thanks Thomas Umstattd! The article’s positive and encouraging tone instills confidence and motivates authors to take the leap into hosting their first webinar. Overall, this article serves as a comprehensive guide, empowering authors to navigate the world of webinars with ease and make a lasting impact on their audience.