Making your book stand out in a crowd is not easy. Given that I an information sorter for my day job, I found it helpful for my own purposes to organize and analyze the marketing options available to writers. Below are the broad categories of marketing as I see them. Note that I am using the term marketing very loosely. Some of these categories are not ‘true’ marketing, but all contribute to your overall likelihood of book sales.
- The quality of your book itself
- Your next books
- Your book category and key word choices
- Your book genre choice
- Writing a series
- Sticking to one genre
- Your blog
- Your platform/social media presence
- Your email list
- Tweeting/Facebooking/Google+ing about your book
- Blog Tours
- Participating in social media groups with other writers
- Participating in social media groups with other readers
- Interviewing/Reviewing the work of other writers
- Entering book competitions
- Price Pulsing
- Independent booksellers
- Your friends
- Sharing stories/parts of your book for free
- Participating in an Anthology
- Book Tours
- Book Events
- Book Fairs
- Individual blog promos
- Book Release Parties
- Podcasting your books
Whew…that is a lot of options, and there are sub-categories within each of those categories. No wonder most of us writers run around from marketing option to marketing option like crazed lunatics. Here are my thoughts on what works, and what doesn’t. I will focus on the first six today, and the remaining strategies over the next few months. I will add to these as my sales increase (I hope) and I learn more about what works and what doesn’t.
The Quality of Your Book Itself
This relates to how well-written your book is, the quality and appropriateness of your cover design, and the professionalism of your editing, proofreading, formatting and blurb. This is one of the most important components of marketing and the one where you should be spending the most money. It is also vital for your long-term writing career. It is possible to hit it lucky with sales of one less than professional book, but I doubt readers would continue to come back for more.
Bottom line: Ensuring you have a good quality product is a must and you should budget at least $2500 and a heck of a lot of your own time for this.
Your Next Books
It is common wisdom that the best marketing for your current book is your next book: that writers should spend 30 percent of their time marketing their current book and 70 percent of their time writing their next book. I have also heard many times that few writers start to develop momentum until they have three books out. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has the following to say about this:
Don’t even bother to try to be “discovered” until you have a body of work. Not one novel. Not even two novels. Maybe not three or four or five. Worry about being discovered after you’ve published a good handful of novels or short stories or plays or nonfiction books.
This is apparently particularly true for trilogies or series, where some writers will write all three or five books before publishing the next one, so that if readers like one, they are not waiting too long for the next one, thereby killing the momentum the writer had been able to develop. Hugh Howey suggests that if he ran Harper Collins, he would hold the first book back until the second book was in the can and the third book was scheduled.
It seems that gone are the days where writers put out a book every two to three, or seven years. In this digital world, people expect more instant gratification. On the other hand, there can be overkill on this front. There are certain writers who have put out a book a month for several years. I can’t see how they can maintain the quality with that kind of schedule. Moreover, I like to read a diversity of writers. I have no interest in reading twelve books from a single writer in one year. But if you spend all your time marketing your one book, you aren’t likely to go very far.
Bottom line: You must write. You are a writer. You must get your next book out, but don’t rush it.
Your Book Category and Keyword Choices
This seems like an obscure little topic but the categories and keywords you select for your book in Createspace and Kindle Direct matter for a couple of reasons. First, you want to pick categories and keywords that people search for frequently on Amazon – that are still relevant to your book of course – because then your book is more likely to come up in searches. There are entire books and databases devoted to the best and most frequently searched keywords. For example, check out Michael Alvear’s How to Sell Fiction. Of course if you want to do your own research, you can simply start typing in key words to Amazon and Amazon’s helpful prompts that show up in the search window once you have typed a single letter or word will give you some insight into what others are entering. The higher the prompt in the list, the more frequently other people type it in. Do your own research on categories by spending some time checking out the detailed categories of other books that are like yours.
The categories you choose also matter for a second reason. When people buy your book if you manage to hit the top one hundred in your category, which is not actually that hard to do with a few sales, you then get this nice looking little ranking at the bottom of your Amazon page which I had for A Pair of Docks last night:
If your ranking in your category is high enough, and your book has been released in the last month, you will hit the hot new releases for your category and potentially show up in the sidebar hot new releases (see image below), which means everyone searching in that category can see your book, which will hopefully generate more sales.
The key here is that sometimes if you pick a more obscure category (not totally obscure, but less popular) for your book you are more likely to hit number three in the hot new releases and appear in the magic sidebar. Martin Crosbie has some great insight into categories in his book How I Sold 30,000 ebooks on Amazon’s Kindle.
That said, while I spent a lot of time agonizing over categories, Amazon seems to have made some of its own choices with regard to my book category, but since I made the magic sidebar with A Pair of Docks at least a couple of times, I’m not complaining.
Update: I have since listened to the Self-Publishing Roundtable's podcast on categories and keywords. It is definitely worth a listen, and realized that I was successful in getting into the categories that I wanted (beyond the limited ones that Amazon allows) because I made specific, and good, key word choices that reflected the additional categories that I wanted to be in. If your key words match categories exactly, then Amazon will often put you in to those categories. The podcast is definitely worth a listen (as really are most of the episodes of the podcast). Some also suggest changing your categories and key words frequently to try to get traction in other categories.
Bottom line: Do your research on categories and key words, make some good choices, don’t agonize over them because Amazon seems to help you, and remember you can change them.
Your Book Genre Choice
Certain genres of books sell better on Amazon than others, and certain genres of books sell better on Kindle than others. In general, YA, New Adult, Romance, Fantasy, Erotic Romance, and Thrillers seem to do well on Kindle. Middle-grade fiction, like A Pair of Docks, not so much, as kids in general still prefer paper books. But I would argue that A Pair of Docks is actually a middle-grade novel for adults, kind of like Harry Potter (so you should check it out :-) ). C.S. Lakin did a fascinating experiment. She observed that most very successful self-published authors were writing to a specific genre, while she tended to write more literary fiction and less easily categorized work. As an experiment, she picked a subgenre in which she was told book ‘sell themselves’ wrote a novel under a different name and found, to her surprise, that the book literally did sell itself. You can read about her experience at The Book Designer.
Jessica Bell also makes a compelling case for writing non-fiction as a means of selling fiction, especially if you write literary fiction. These can include guides to writing, public speaking, or marketing your book. Or if you have an expertise in another area altogether, it is worth considering whether you can produce some niche non-fiction that will draw attention to your fiction.
Bottom Line: Your genre choice counts. Some genres simply sell better than others, especially in self-published and/or ebook form. Non-fiction books can draw attention to your fiction.
Writing a Series
This is similar to your book genre choice. Trilogies and series tend do better and develop bigger fan bases than stand alone books. If readers like one book, they are more likely to buy the next one in a series, rather than your next totally different novel. A series also allows you to experiment with hooking readers by making the first book, or first two books, in your series permanently free as Lindsay Buroker has done with her Emperor’s Edge novels.
It is also possible to break a much longer novel into a series of shorter ones or novellas and then compile them into an omnibus as Hugh Howey did with Wool. The shorter novel – less than 60,000 words is in now and this approach allows you to publish frequently, which allows for new publicity and announcements – you have something new to announce rather than just pounding people with buy my book tweets (see next week’s blog) – and keeps up your opportunity to be in Amazon’s hot new releases. The larger novel needs to have logical break points though, allowing for the individual novels with real story arcs. But if you do go with a series, you had better darn well make sure that your second and third books in a series are at least as good, if not better than your first book or readers will be very disappointed, as we’ve seen from reader responses to Veronica Roth’s conclusion to her Divergent Series. The low ratings do not seem to be hurting sales though.
Bottom Line: Consider a series but only if you can maintain quality.
Sticking to one Genre
Apparently readers like it if you are predictable and they know what they are going to get when they buy your new book. Many successful self-published writers, such as Kristine Katherine Rusch will write under different names for each genre they write in. Rusch has a great overview of the different genres and different branding for each genre. At the very least, Rusch observes, you need different branding for the different genres you write in. Lindsay Buroker suggests a slightly different approach of branding yourself and finding the common thread among the books you write if you want to genre hop. She does note though that pen names might be desirable if you are writing both children’s books and erotic romance.
Bottom Line: If you are a prolific writer with many ideas, it might be hard to limit yourself to one genre, and Rusch, and other writers such as Nora Roberts, have proven that it is doable. However it is very important to consider issues of branding when genre hopping.
Yikes. That’s a lot of words for only the first six. Stay tuned next week for: your blog, your platform/social media presence, your email list, tweeting/ Facebooking/ Google+ing about your book, reviews and blog tours.
Please, as always, feel free to comment and share your own experiences!