Alex Brown is passionate about the eqestrian world. His career has taken him from training race horses to creating a beautiful book about the famous Barbaro. In an exclusive interview Alex Brown takes us into his world, behind the race track, where he tells us what it’s like to write a first novel and how he’s leveraging digital marketing to promote Missionville.
About Alex Brown By Alex Brown: I have had a career in horse racing, as well as one in academia. Some of my time now, I dedicate to writing.
Diva Marketing: For those who may not know you, your passion has been long centered in the equestrian world. Please tell us a bit of your back-story. Who inspired your love of horses and riding and why?
Alex Brown, Missionville: I rode ponies as a kid, so I have always been involved with horses. I spent nearly 28 years in the United States; for a lot of that time, I worked in the horse racing industry. My role would generally be galloping horses in the mornings, racehorses that are getting ready for their races. I really enjoyed it.
Diva Marketing: This is not the first book you’ve authored. You also wrote the beautiful book Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro And His Legacy. However, I believe Missionville is your first fiction book. Why did you want to go down the fiction road?
Alex Brown, Missionville: I thought it would be an interesting challenge. All my writing, prior to Missionville, has been non-fiction, including the Barbaro book, as you mentioned; as well as covering horse racing for media, including the Cecil Whig and New York Times. I took a creative writing course at a local college, to learn the mechanics of writing fiction. I also joined a writers group, to learn more, and share ideas. The prospect of creating my own world, Missionville, and all the characters that inhabit that world, fascinated me. Finally, I wanted to use fiction to continue to highlight horse welfare issues that I have tried to champion over the past few years.
Diva Marketing: In Missionville you take the reader into the world of horse race through the experiences of several characters including the protagonist, a likeable chap named Pete. Of course I have to ask, how much of Alex found his way into the character of Pete?
Alex Brown, Missionville: Some. Mostly his character arc. I spent a lot of time in horse racing, only worried about horses that were immediately in my care, and not concerned with what happened when I no longer had anything to do with them. The Barbaro episode brought many things to light for me, and set me on a different path. At the beginning of the story, Pete appears to be pretty oblivious to what happens to horses after he and his owner, Ray, lose them through the claiming system. That changes.
From time to time, over the years, I’ve had one or two horses in my direct care, so I understand the training of a small stable. That helped inform Pete’s character. I would say there are a few friends of mine who might see a little of themselves in Pete, if they read the book.
Diva Marketing: Was it a challenge to write for several audiences — those who understand the world of horse racing and others who may be “Kentucky Derby” viewers? How did you make the book interesting to both groups?
Alex Brown, Missionville: Yes! And both audiences are super important, if the book is going to be a success. The most fundamental thing I did was create a resource section, at the end of the book. For those less familiar with the jargon of horse racing, the workings of the backside, the resource section should help open the book up.
That said, I didn’t want to bog the reader down, through the story, with unnecessary explanation, but some things did need explaining. I hope I got the balance right. One review on Amazon UK, by a lady who knows horses, but not horse racing in America, was very positive about the accessibility of the book.
Diva Marketing: From a review on Amazon – “It’s hard-hitting, controversial, and makes one think.” Without giving away too much away, why is Missionville hard-hitting, controversial and makes one thing?
Alex Brown, Missionville: The book takes a hard look at the flow of horses from the racetracks to the slaughter houses. Nothing gory, but this is something that does happen, and I take it on.
Missionville is the fictional racetrack; Owenscreek is the fictional kill auction. I won’t go into detail, but I’m hoping the racing industry embraces the book, but it might get dismissed. It’s hard to write about this stuff, while also wanting to write a book that people will want to read, that’s the biggest challenge. Early feedback has been pretty positive, so I’m very excited about that.
Diva Marketing: In addition to your talent in the riding ring, you also were a pioneer in digital and social media marketing. Let’s talk about how you’re promoting Missionville. What digital and social channels are you using and which works best?
Alex Brown, Missionville: Amazon is obviously my biggest channel for sales. Book shops can order it, via Ingram, but Amazon is where most of the sales will likely come from. The key with Amazon, I think, is to have the book appear on the right lists (i.e. horse racing in this case) and try to sustain sales enough to make sure the book appears on those lists in the top 20, or at least in the top 100, for a good period of time.
I am fortunate to have a large network on Facebook (5k friends) and have set up a Facebook page for Missionville. I have a decent following on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Whenever I get a review on Amazon, I’ll post the review to all these social channels. Sometimes I’ll post a copy of the review, with an image, sometimes I’ll post the copy of the review with a direct link back to Amazon. Trying to experiment with which method works best. I try to post about the book, in the various channels, about once a day, during this early stage of the launch (it has now been out for nearly a month).
But here is where things are tricky. Facebook seems to have a sixth sense, in terms of when it knows you are marketing something. Facebook wants you to advertise, which I understand. So my feed is clearly less visible to my friends on Facebook, than it was prior to the book launch (I think anyway).
The number of followers that see the updates on the book’s Facebook page has dropped off significantly since the book started selling. Prior to sales, I used the book’s Facebook page as a means to build audience for the book, and get feedback on cover designs and so forth. (I do love the book cover!) The engaged audience was larger then.
Anyway, my plan has been, and remains, to start advertising on Facebook, as we get closer to the holiday season. While I have not explored the platform for advertising too much yet, I’m assuming I can really target to my audience. I didn’t want to begin the advertising campaign too soon, and I wanted to make sure there were sales and feedback on the book, before I started advertising, hence the timing of the launch of the book. It’s all a delicate balance, but in this age of instant feedback and data, it’s also very interesting.
Diva Marketing: What challenges are you facing in using digital to get the word out for Missionville that you might not have for Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro And His Legacy?
Alex Brown, Missionville: Back to Facebook, It is more challenging to use that channel for promotion, without buying their advertising. I was promoting my Barbaro book in 2011, things were a little easier then I think. It’s also more challenging promoting something without a clear definition.
With the Barbaro book, people pretty much knew what they were getting; a biography on a horse they loved, or at least had heard of. With Missionville, driving primary demand is much more of a challenge. And frankly, writing fiction, you are competing with the very best, for your audience. I’ll never profess to be a great writer, but I hope the writing is good enough to move people through the story.
Diva Marketing: How important are the review sites like amazon.com?
Alex Brown, Missionville: Amazon reviews are critical I think, and it’s why I wanted to get reviews before the holiday season, and before I started paying to promote the book. I was very nervous, before the first reviews started coming in.
As I write this, I have 13 5 star reviews for the book: seven on amazon.com
https://www.amazon.com/Missionville-Alex-Brown/dp/1999796306/, 3 on amazon.co.uk https://www.amazon.co.uk/Missionville-Alex-Brown/dp/1999796306/ and 2 on amazon.ca https://www.amazon.ca/Missionville-Alex-Brown/dp/1999796306/
It’s a shame that Amazon doesn’t combine all the reviews to one list, nevertheless, I am very happy with the early reviews.
The reviews do two things: they obviously make the book look good on Amazon, and possibly help with the Amazon algorithm when people search for topics, but also they give me content to push out to my social channels, as explained above.
Diva Marketing: You’ve used video in the past to promote projects. Any plans for video for Missionville –why or why not?
Alex Brown, Missionville: I might. I haven’t really thought about how to use video for Missionville yet, but it’s another channel, and another piece of content I can then push out to the other channels. Maybe as we get closer to the holidays I’ll do some kind of q and a, over video. Have people ask questions on Facebook, then answer the questions via video. I know video works on social, so I should be doing something.
Diva Marketing: You are a master at building an online community. How does that base help in getting the word out?
Alex Brown, Missionville: It’s just so important. I am lucky to have a decent sized set of networks, across different channels. I would not have embarked on the Missionville project, otherwise.
Diva Marketing: Please share your top 2 or 3 tips on how to use digital and social media to promote a new book.
Alex Brown, Missionville :
Be persistent, so I try to get content out there on a daily basis.
Keep experimenting, so I try to figure out if links, photos, links and photos, works best, in terms of gaining numbers of views, comments, shares and so forth.
Tailor your content to each channel. Don’t post the same content from Facebook to Twitter, it’s lazy and less effective.
Don’t get political, you’ll lose some of your audience.
Diva Marketing: As is our tradition at Diva Marketing, we’re tossing the virtual mic to you. Wrap it any way you’d like Alex!
Alex Brown, Missionville: Thank you so much for continuing to support my work. You have been so helpful over the years!!
Diva Marketing: My pleasure Alex!
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