Marketing Your Book – A Primer – Part Eight

A Quill Ladder is almost ready for release, as is the next installment in my environmental thriller, The Complicated Weight of Air. Both will be out in the next four weeks. Review copies of A Quill Ladder are available for a short period of time so if you are interested, please sign up for my email list.

I wanted to finish my series on marketing your book, which I started in the spring and never quite completed—in part because I put the strongest strategies near the front and some of the ones at the bottom of the list are hardly worth talking about because they don’t really work. However, I’ve been meaning to write a post on cross-sales and participating in an anthology, which were on my original list. The two are related as of course—one would hope that participating in an anthology, if the anthology does well, will lead to sales of one’s own books. Normally when I prep these posts, I do as much research on the issue as possible. However in the case of cross-sales of books I really could not find any other data. So this post is based on my own experiences.

Photo by:  Anita Hart  / flikr/  Creative Commons

Photo by: Anita Hart / flikr/ Creative Commons

I was lucky enough to be invited to be part of Synchronic: 13 Tales of Time Travel this spring. I was extremely excited to be in the company of all of the other amazing writers in the group, and most of them are better established in the indie and traditional publishing world than I am. Synchronic has sold well—very well. During a sale, and with the help of a Bookbub ad and a number of other promotions, it reached #16 overall in the Kindle store. More recently, as a result of being a Kindle Daily Deal, it again crossed over into the Top 100 in the Kindle store. These were very exciting days, but it has also sold consistently well between promotions and is continuing to sell well.

In addition, as a result of the Bookbub promotion and sale, and the Kindle Daily Deal, I had the wild experience of being in the top twenty science fiction authors on Amazon—twice. There’s my smiling face there in the screen shot to prove it.

So, what have I learned about cross-sales as a result of being in the top twenty science fiction authors on Amazon and participating in the Synchronic adventure?

1)   Cross-sales are not do not appear to happen on the day or week of release or promotion of the bigger selling item.

When Synchronic was scheduled to come out, I still did not have my adult novel, In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation out. I knew that Synchronic would likely do well on release, so I moved up my production schedule slightly thinking that I would be able to take advantage of cross-sales. There was no need to do so. Synchronic sold well on its first day out of the gates, but it did not contribute to any sales of my own books until about three weeks post-release. People had to first buy Synchronic and read it, and then decide that they liked my story enough out of the 13 to check out some of my other work. Many people did and sent me nice messages indicating that they had found me through Synchronic, and I will be forever grateful, but these cross-sales did not happen on the release day (or any of the promo days). I have found this to be similarly true for my own work. I hurried to get A Quill Ladder up for pre-orders to coincide with a promotion I did on A Pair of Docks. Again there was no need. Pre-orders have occurred, but not in the same week as the promotion.

2)   Cross-sales are probably more likely to occur on books that are in precisely the same genre as the big seller.

Synchronic is a time travel anthology generally geared toward adults. I write time travel fiction for children (although many adults like it) and environmental action-adventures for adults. These are not as aligned with Synchronic as might be useful. People who like time travel fiction in particular tend to be very genre specific and are not necessarily going to be interested in something slightly different. I certainly did not have time to write a novel on time travel for adults to release around the same time as Synchronic, but if I had been able to, it certainly would have been a good strategy.

3)   Being in the top twenty science fiction authors on Amazon does not seem to influence sales at all.

It’s fun though! My sales are usually pretty steady (which is a good thing), but I haven’t seen any spikes at all associated with being in the top twenty. Amazon’s algorithms and inclination to suggest books to people seem to be book associated not author associated.

4)   Appearing in the also-boughts may or may not influence cross-sales.

Everyone gets all excited about the need to appear in also-boughts in order to drive sales. I no longer appear in the also-boughts for Synchronic and in fact, neither do most of the Synchronic authors, with the exception of Michael Bunker and Jason Gurley and two of the others who have had very recent releases. We all appeared in the also-boughts for the first several months post-release. I do believe that appearing in the also-boughts helped my sales through July and August, and although I have noticed a slight drop off since I am no longer there, it is not significant.

Overall, cross-sales are important, but are just another contributing factor in building an author reputation and brand. Synchronic certainly has helped get my name and work onto more people’s radar, and I believe it has positively influenced my sales. However it has not done so in a dramatic way. Nevertheless, I would not hesitate to participate in an anthology again. There were many additional benefits associated with participating in an anthology. It allowed me to build connections with other writers, many of whom I hope to work with again in the future. A writer’s work can be well… a bit solitary, and the camaraderie associated with a joint project is something that writers don’t always get to experience. Writing a ‘long’ short, or novelette, was also a new story arc length for me. And I also got to learn from some masters of marketing, Susan Kaye Quinn, who organized the super fun release day party, and Michael Bunker, who arranged the Bookbub promotion blitz. Observing their approaches to social media has also been very enlightening.

What have your experiences been with cross-sales? Since I'm about to launch A Quill Ladder, the sequel to A Pair of Docks, I will be able to report on buy-through sales on the series soon. I will also be updating my earlier 'Marketing Your Book' posts with more information regarding which promo sites work, and which ones have had limited effect.

If you find my blog posts useful, please consider signing up for my mailing list. You can find it on the right hand side of my home page here.

Developing an Author Business Plan

I just finished my final edits to A Quill Ladder and it is ready to go to the editor. Yay! ARC copies will be available October 3rd(ish), so if anyone wants to take a sneak peek sign up for my email list (existing subscribers can just send me an email at jlelliswriting@gmail.com).

It is now exactly one year since I decided to go indie, and as a result, it is probably time to be more explicit about my business plan. I have always kind of had an implicit plan - six books in three years at a reasonable budget, then reassess.

I did some research on business plans for authors and found them to be really lengthy and detailed. I am a big believer that for the most part the best business plan for authors is simply "write and repeat," and I am not at a point in my business where I need a thirty page plan. Most of my plan is in the form of post-it notes on my desk and a general schedule and budget in my head. But I thought I would run some numbers, just for fun. So, in the spirit of sharing, here is my business plan for year two of my indie author business. As you can see, I am going for the slow build, but results from year one have been promising.

Apologies for the somewhat wonky looking tables. They are images from my word document. My website editor does not support tables.

Four Year Goal:

Make $30,000/year profit.

Implications: With estimated production costs of $10,000/year (for 2.5 books a year), this will require selling the following number of books at the following price points.

Plan: Work up to this number of sales with continual production, high quality products, and building of fan base.

Year by Year Goals:

Initial Strategy: Selling first 1000 books was first-year strategy based on Tim Grahl's Your First 1000 Copies. (I am thrilled that it took less than 8 months to do so.)

Overall Strategy: Slow build, recognizing that many overnight successes actually took a few years to become overnight successes. If sales exceed targets earlier, great. If not, stay the course.

Products:

  • One middle grade book, one adult book and three short stories/year.
  • Move adult books to slightly more steamy romances for featuring smart women.
  • Reassess products on a biannual basis based on sales and competitors.

Production Schedule:

Words to write and edit in years two and three:

*Note Adult novels for years two and three already half written.

Based on total intended production, the number of words/day required is as follows:

*50,000 words must be added in to editing days for adult novels already written.

Budget:

*FL = full length.

If budget reductions are required, cut proofreading first, then print formatting, and ebook formatting as these are all activities that can technically be done in-house.

Promotional Activities:

Tasks for Year Two

  • Write one blog post every two weeks.
  • Participate in anthologies.
  • Participate in Facebook author groups.
  • Write 4-6 book reviews for Underground Reviews.
  • Tweet (more effectively).
  • Network with other writers.

Education:

Tasks for Year Two

  • Attend one international conference.
  • Take copyediting course.

Budget: $1200

Business Development Activities:

Tasks for Year Two

  • Explore other platforms:
    • Go perma-free with first installment of The Complicated Weight of Air once second installment is complete.
    • Put In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation on other platforms when current KDP enrollment period expires.
  • Explore other review sites including Books Cartel and Library Thing.
  • Continue to experiment with price pulsing.

 So that is it from my perspective. What do you think? What have i missed?

 

Advantages of Using Google+ for Writers

This week while I am taking short breaks from editing A Quill Ladder, which is now available here for pre-order, I am wrestling with the pros and cons of spending more time posting my content on Google+. And wrestle I have, let me tell you. I have now read so many almost incomprehensible articles on the advantages of Google+ that my head is spinning. Editing was far more relaxing.

Photo Credit:  Yuko Honda  via flickr  Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Yuko Honda via flickr Creative Commons

Why care about Google+?

I already have a Facebook account, and posted here about the pros and cons of setting up a Facebook author page versus just having a personal profile. I decided to go the route of keeping my personal profile and have added a lot of writer friends, and have done some very successful promotion on Facebook. I also have a Twitter account and have a not too shabby 885 followers.

But I keep hearing that Google+ is better than Facebook and Twitter, and certainly, even with my limited use of Google+, I can see that I have had 2,456 views with almost no effort at all. I find Facebook a bit awkward for book promotion and talking about writing because my non-writing related friends do not always want to hear about my writing, and my writing friends are not necessarily interested in my trip to Oregon, or my son’s habit of wearing filthy clothes. Twitter just seems like a scrolling newscast in which there is too much noise for most people to catch much. I definitely tweet, have a list of tweeters that I watch, and try to engage with some of my writer friends there, but in my mind Twitter is not ideal.

So I decided to explore what Google+ can do for me. You will have to be patient with me as I review the material and formulate my opinion—and this is just a layperson’s view. I am not a super techie or social media expert. But perhaps that will help me to consider some of these things in plain language—or explore where Google+ and its cadre of experts are just not making themselves clear. This week I am going to look at why people think Google+ is the best social media platform for authors. In subsequent weeks, I will talk about my experiences using the tools Google+ provides.

Main advantages of Google+ for writers

1) You can more easily direct your content via circles

Google+ easily allows you to direct your content to the people you want it to go to by allowing you to classify all of your connections via circles. So you can establish a circle for friends, family, writers, agents, and so on. When you share content, you can easily decide who it should go to, and you don’t have to worry about continually spamming your friends with news about your writing. You can also share content publicly or to specific communities. Technically, Facebook allows for the same option via lists, but circles are built in to Google+ and much easier to use.

One downside though is that it doesn't seem like you can share something publicly and to communities at the same time. I like to post to communities such as the Indie Readers and Writers community as I feel that is more targeted than posting publicly, but does that mean that the post does not appear on my Google+ page?

2) You can write longer posts and format them

This, I suppose, allows for somewhat more versatility than Twitter’s short posts and Facebook’s lack of formatting options. But how big an advantage is this? Sure, formatting can increase readability, and you can make it look exactly how you would like it. But is that really going to cause engagement with your post to spike? Isn’t it more about what you say?

One of the posts indicates that you could share an entire chapter of a novel. This would allow you to send it to a single person in one of your circles a chapter to review. Great, but why wouldn’t I just use email for that? The post also suggests you could use Google+ to send a chapter to multiple agents at once. I’ve never heard of agents accepting chapters via Google+. They usually have lengthy formatting and submission requirements, and Google+ is not one of them. If I posted a chapter publicly, would people read it? Maybe. I guess I would have to try.

3) Posting your content on Google+ increases the Google ranking of your post and therefore your visibility

Apparently Google (you know that search engine that so many people use, that google has become a verb), favours posts made on Google+. This is a big one, and honestly might be the most compelling reason to use Google+.

4) You at one point in time could claim Google Authorship for your posts

Google Authorship meant that you ended up with a headshot and byline next to your content in Google searches—which supposedly increased your credibility and click-through rates. And if people stayed on your website for more than two minutes, Google would suggest more of your content to them when they hit the back button. This Copyblogger article contains a lot of reasons why Google Authorship was supposedly great.  

However, Google seems to have announced that it will no longer be doing Google Authorship, as the information did not prove as useful to its readers as it had hoped. Read an article about the announcement here. Maybe this explains why I could not get it to work as it was supposed to, as I described below.

I went through the confusing process of trying to set up Google Authorship up for myself, which involved repeated messages like this from the Google+ team when I tried to click verify in the verification email address they sent: “There's something wrong with the link you clicked to verify your email address. Try pasting the entire link into your browser.” I found a different way to do it, but that did not work either - probably because the whole thing had been cancelled. Either way Google, I love you, but please if you are going to do something like Google Authorship make it easier for people to use.

5) Google+ does not use algorithms to decide what people see

We all know this is one of the major complaints regarding Facebook. People can like a page, but then never see the posts by the author of that page if they have not engaged with the page enough. I have many pages that I have liked that I don’t ever see a post from. Apparently, Google+ does not do this. If people put you in a circle, they will see what you post. Although this does not affect me as much, because I use Facebook mostly to interact with my friends and only occasionally post information regarding my books, it is still confusing to know what Facebook is sharing with whom.

6) According to some of the experts, Google+ is the best place to extend your reach and draw in new potential fans and customers

According to these same people, Facebook is for engaging with the people you already know, and Google+, because of its better reach and searchability, is where you meet new people and create new relationships. Perhaps this is a relevant point. Obviously my profile has been viewed 2,456 times—presumably by new people. I am not sure what impact that has had on my book sales though.

7) Google+ provides automatic hashtagging

I think this may help increase the visibility of posts. However, to be honest I am not really sure how big an advantage it is.

Google+ also offers features such as hangouts and a tool that works much like Google Alerts. I am not going to cover those here, as they are not as relevant to what I do on social media. However they may be worth considering.

Conclusions

So there you have it. My take is that Google+ may be a better platform in some ways, and the fact that it potentially increases your blog page rank means that it is definitely worth pushing your content to your Google+ page, but as a place to spend a lot of time on, I’m not sure. It certainly has its strong proponents, but Google+ still has fewer users than Facebook or Twitter and the people who do use it apparently spend less time there. I am going to start posting more to Google+ and will let you know what I learn.

This article about which is social media platform (Facebook or Google+) is going to emerge as the winner offers a lot of good commentary on the future of Google+, as well as some of the key ways to get the most out of it, which I will consider in the coming weeks.

So what is your take? What have I missed? Which platform do you favour?

Find me on Google+

 

Marketing Your Book – A Primer – Part Seven

The paperback of In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation is about to go live, Synchronic will be available on May 22nd and we are having a launch party on Facebook for which there will be lots of great prizes - you have to attend.  I have updated my Marketing Your Book – A Primer – Part Four on advertising with my very positive Book Bub experience. I have also added some thoughts to the choosing categories and keywords post. Check out the updated materials. I'm nearing the end of my marketing series and will be focusing back on writing techniques in subsequent weeks.

This week I will cover:

·      Sharing stories or parts of books for free

·      Book tours

·      Book events

Sharing stories or parts of books for free

Unlike Wattpad, where you share your stories, chapters or novels on Wattpad’s platform and in Wattpad’s culture, many writers share parts of their work on their website, either just as a straight up download, or as an incentive for signing up for their mailing list. David Gaughran at one point did the former, and Jason Gurley does the latter, offering a free copy of his short story The Last Rail-Rider if you sign up for his newsletter. Some people will offer first chapters for free, but I don’t think this differs enough from Amazon’s Look inside or sample features enough to make much of an impact.

I don’t know how successful this strategy is in terms of moving the books that you have for sale, but both Gaughran and Gurley seem to be achieving success in the indie book world. Potential readers get to sample your work (although they theoretically could through the sample chapters on Amazon anyway) and in the case of Gurley’s approach, you get to add to your all-important mailing list. The upside of doing it yourself instead of going with Wattpad is that you get access to the names of the people interested in your work, and you don’t have to get votes and spend time participating in the Wattpad culture. The downside is that people still have to find your website, and as a result, there are probably fewer eyes on your work than there might be on Wattpad.

Bottom Line: Definitely something to try out once you have enough material to both have things for free, and to have things for sale. I’m not there yet, but am working on it.

Book Tours

Book tours, as opposed to blog tours, were a big deal in the past and were considered essential to the launch of any book. But the emerging consensus is that they no longer move sufficient books or generate sufficient buzz to justify the very high cost. But even traditional publishers are not doing it anymore due to the cost benefit ratio. Anne R. Allen wrote a blog about the death of the book tour.

The bottom line is that unless the author is very famous, local, or has a friend with a lot of pull in the community, people do not really come to book events (an exception is the book event that I will talk about below En Vino Novella which was a great success). Many of my writer friends have talked about showing up to their book tour events to see three chairs filled out of a cavernous room, or just as bad, to find themselves posted at a table at the back of the bookstore near the washrooms. Adam Mansbach’s Hell is my own book tour is a humourous take on book tours, but it is not far off the mark from what I have observed.

Although he received backlash for this article, Jeff Bercovici found that industry insiders generally agreed:

“He has identified a problem, and it’s one we’ve been talking about for years,” says Bookreporter.com president Carol Fitzgerald. “For most authors, the book tour is dead. It’s really, really hard to get it to work.”

However they also noted that there are other reasons to hold a book tour, related to being able to pitch the book to local media and have them review and discuss the book, attracting attention even if nobody comes to the reading.

A friend of mine recently completed a local four or five city tour, reading at various bookstores. I believe she may have sold five books at each stop. The revenues could not possibly have covered her expenses, and without a publicist, I don’t know how much media coverage she received. There are exceptions of course. In Canada, some writers get grants to go on tour to cover their expenses. If you can get a grant, feel like seeing some sites, and are okay with a mixed reception at your tour stops, then book tours are a great idea. Also if you are going to do a book tour, book tours in which you partner with another author, and you are both standing there together in the front of an empty or full room, seem like a very good idea.

Bottom Line: Does not appear to move enough books to be worth the cost.

Book Events

I differentiate single one off book events from a book tour. I was recently invited to participate in En Vino Novellus in Canmore. It is a different kind of event because it features six books, and therefore attracts more people, and it pairs FREE wine with each book. So attendees get six free samples of wine. It was also held in a pub and was well advertised in a smallish community.

Needless to say it was packed, and a marvelous experience, and I am very grateful to have been involved.

I did have to pay my own expenses, but I got to go someplace I had never been before and turned it into a ski trip for my family. And I got to see a long time writer friend, which made for a fantastic evening. I also got to practice my public reading skills, which for a writer are necessary to keep polished. Did I sell a bunch of books you ask? I think I sold twelve, and a few of the attendees tweeted that they loved my book and my reading. The cost of the trip definitely exceeded the book sale revenues, but in this case, I think the event was worth it. A similar local event would be equally worth it.

Bottom Line: Each event has to be evaluated for its own merits. Events in which multiple books are featured, your travel costs are limited, and even better, there is free wine, are definitely ones to consider.

Marketing Your Book – A Primer – Part Six

This week I am covering the following aspects of marketing:

1)   Independent booksellers

2)   Your friends

3)   Wattpad

I have also added a few more topics to the "marketing your book" list – book events, participating in an anthology, and Lendle. I will cover those in part eight of this series and will continue to add new ideas as opportunities arise. I have also made sure to update earlier posts with new data as I have added to my marketing experience so be sure to check back on earlier posts for new information.

Independent Booksellers

Photo Credit:  bass_nroll  / flickr /  Creative Common s

Photo Credit: bass_nroll / flickr / Creative Commons

Getting your book on the shelves of local independent bookstores is an important part of your marketing platform. This is especially true of bookstores in your local community if you live in a small town, as many of your friends will want to buy your book and they will also want to support their local bookseller. One of the sales people at our local store took an interest in my book and talked it up to many customers. As a result, I sold almost forty books from my local bookstore alone.

But it is also important to try to get your books into bookstores in the surrounding area. Because you are "local" you will still have some appeal for buyers and independent booksellers will often help you out by putting your book out in displays with other local authors (I also saw advice that you can buy foil stickers that say "local author" on-line and just slap them on your book. I have not done this yet but it seems like a good idea).

In order to get into independent bookstores, you generally have to be willing to take returns – that is your books is basically on consignment at the store and if it doesn’t sell, you don’t get paid and you have to go retrieve your book. As a result, I kept the bookstores I approached within driving distance and on routes that I often travel for work or holidays - otherwise you have to pay the postage to get your book to the store and get your returns back, which will probably decimate any profit you may have made. Booksellers will also want a reasonable margin. Some say 40% is the standard, but I found that booksellers in my local area were willing to take a little less once I explained my costs.

In order to interest them, I did up a sell sheet with some of my best reviews, contact information, book blurb and a general outline of what I was hoping for from them. I found this to be an effective way to approach them. I emailed out the sell sheet and told them I would drop by with a copy of my book for them to look at. That way they could think about it without me standing there and I didn’t have to walk in and introduce myself totally cold as they had some idea who I was. So far, I don't think I have sold a HUGE number of copies, but I have sold copies and five local booksellers have taken my book.

Some experts would say that it is not worth the effort of trying to get your book on bookstore shelves, but if you keep your effort limited I think it is worth it. Being in your local bookstore just gives you some street cred as a writer, and it is certainly nice to see your book on a shelf somewhere other than in your own office (it is also nice to see an empty spot where your books once were because they sold out). It also helps to support local booksellers which I would argue is very important.

Some other tips that I have not tried in this regard but might in the future include: 1) Signing up with a regional book distributor so that booksellers can order from them instead of you. This might work if your book is already established and there is a demand for it, but at this point if you are an unknown, the bookseller still has to hear about your book, and that means you have to go into the store. 2) Listing your book with Nielsen or Books in Print. This may help again if your book is in demand, and it may help with your credibility when you go into stores. But again, the reality is that you need to be discovered by these booksellers and the main way you are going to accomplish that is by standing in their store wearing your best and most sincere smile. 3) Ensuring your promotional material, including your website, do not just list your book as being available on Amazon. After all, Amazon is one of their main competitors. Why would they want to take a book that heavily promotes their competitor? 

Bottom Line: All of the bookstores I approached took a few copies of my book and while I have not made scads of money this way, it has helped to get my name out there and some people (understandably) just love buying their books from a local bookstore.

Your Friends

Who really are your biggest fans? Well, okay more accurately who are your first fans? Your friends. And hopefully if you are a good enough writer, they will continue to be your fans. I don’t market to my friends a lot, because really they like me for reasons other than my writing. But when A Pair of Docks first came out, I did post it on Facebook, which thanks to my lovely friends, did create a small Facebook frenzy – probably because I rarely mention my writing on Facebook, so many of them had no idea I even write, never mind that I had a book coming out. Of course now a few of them actually think I’m rich, but that is another story.

My friends were super useful in giving A Pair of Docks an initial boost, especially on Amazon.ca and pushed it into the number one spot on the Hot New Releases in my category within 24 hours of releasing it. In addition, when it was doing really well as a result of a promotion that I did in February, I asked my friends to buy it at that point in time – but only if they had been planning to buy it anyway. It is possible that their additional purchases were enough to push me into the number one slot in my category. It might have hit number one anyway without the help of my friends, but I’m still very grateful for their support.

Bottom Line: Your friends count as customers and make sure you do not ignore them. They can help get your book off the ground and be those extra few purchases in times of need. It’s also just nice to have people say to you in person “I loved your book.” Make sure though that you are respectful and only market to them on occasion. Endless reminders to “buy my book” will not go down well with your friends – and nor should it.

Wattpad

Okay so I’m tainted. I’m not watty material. I have never been able to quite find my way in these social marketing networks that require a lot of interaction and friending and reading of other people’s material on the part of the writer in order to sell a few books. I would rather just write and read the stuff I want to read. I also find it easier (for me) to spend the time I would spend cultivating relationships in these social networking sites working for pay, so that I can afford more effective (in my mind) advertising for my novels. I know that writing these days is all about building relationships and a fan base and I am not adverse to interacting with people, but I am just not sure if the amount of time and types of interactions facilitated by Wattpad lead to that result. It is, it seems, mostly a community of writers, and while it is great to have writer friends, you need to have a community of readers.

That is like the longest disclaimer ever. For some people Wattpad works. Some people have gotten traditional publishing contracts as a result of their huge popularity on Wattpad. But does Wattpad actually sell books? I am not so sure. Most people are on Wattpad in order to access free writing, and in order to promote their own writing. Once you have read something for free, are you actually going to go out and buy it? Some people try to get around this by posting first drafts or the first half of their novel on Wattpad and then telling people to go to Amazon for the final copy. However this is not considered to be cool Wattpad behaviour. For the most part, to be successful, you need to regularly post new chapters and be willing to share an entire novel for free.

I know a writer who has been hugely successful on Wattpad with over 400,000 reads on her novel, but when I checked her sales rankings on Amazon, it did not seem that her Wattpad success has translated into sales. Maybe it will translate into sales on future books though.

Wattpad is also a community of, for the most part, younger females. Thus the books that tend to be most successful on it are YA, fan-fiction, paranormal, fantasy and romance. This creates a different set of social norms than curmudgeonly old people like me are used to (okay I'm not that old). While most people of course were respectful, some of the dramas that unfolded there during my brief testing period, in which writers would publicly post rants that people were asking for their next chapter and they were busy and nobody understood, were a bit wild. My life is dramatic enough. I am not sure if I need to partake in that kind of on-line drama.

On the other hand, if you have a novel in your drawer that is in reasonably good shape and you don't have aspirations to publish it right away, you can throw it up one chapter at a time as a serial on Wattpad. This could be a low interaction way to potentially attract readers and purchasers for your other work. It still requires work though. You want to ensure that it is error free and you still have to check back in and respond to comments from readers. CJ Archer offers some great thoughts on how Wattpad can work for writers and how she used it to promote her YA novel The Medium. Also scroll down and read the comment from Charlotte with regard to using Wattpad promotions. This may be a useful strategy to consider. Again though, it is all about having an entire novel you are willing to share for free, and while I might get there some day, I don't quite have enough material yet.

Bottom Line: As with any social networking writing site, you get what you put into Wattpad out of Wattpad. If you are willing to take the time and comment on other people’s work, you will probably get reads for your work. Some people seem able to get a lot of reads without putting in that networking time, but not many. Certain genres that appeal to younger people seem to do better on this front than others. It is unclear, though, whether Wattpad popularity translates into sales, unless you have an entire novel (potentially the first in a series) you can share for free.

 

Marketing Your Book – A Primer – Part Five

I am deep in final editing land for In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation (so many comma choices) and first draft land for the sequel to A Pair of Docks, so I will keep this brief. I also happened upon a few more marketing options in the last few weeks so I will add those to my list and do a seventh blog post in my marketing series. There may be a brief blog hiatus as I have to make some critical comma decisions in the next few weeks, and will have some other exciting writing news to share soon.

The marketing approaches I am going to address this week include:

·      Freebies

·      Sales

·      Price Pulsing

Price pulsing, freebies and sales are considered to be central to the marketing of indie books. Indie authors have far more control over their pricing than traditionally published authors and this gives them the freedom to use pricing as a marketing technique, often to great effect. In general, the indie strategy of keeping one’s e-book price low, relative to traditionally priced books, at times is a critical marketing ploy.

Freebies

Free used to be a key marketing strategy when Amazon counted free downloads as equivalent to sales in terms of Amazon rankings. Authors used free periods (usually through the one per three month five day free periods allowed on Kindle Direct Publishing Select – but there are other ways) to launch their rankings into the stratosphere, build their fan base and get reviews, and then hoped to translate their rankings and reviews into steady sales. However Amazon no longer counts free downloads as equivalent to sales, so this is no longer as effective a strategy. Nevertheless many writers still use free periods, or permanently free status (particularly for the first book in a series), as a key marketing approach. There are also a huge number of advertising sites specifically geared to advertising free books.

Some authors swear by free, including Lizzy Ford, who made all of her books free for 12 months, and Lindsay Buroker, who has had the first book of her Emperor’s Edge series available for free for a long time.

Joe Konrath also makes a very good case that free still works, and points out that free even worked for one of his books that is written under a pen name that he has not copped to owning yet – to make the point that free works also for relative unknowns.

Having observed it in action, free definitely works, especially if you have two books (two books in a series is even better), and you use your free period on your first book to drive sales on the second. Be warned though, you are going to give away a lot of free books, and for some people, particularly if you only have one book, it might not translate into continued sales once you start charging again. I am definitely going to try free as soon as book two of the Derivatives of Displacement is finished. If you are not part of KDP Select, you can make your book free by lowering the price on other platforms and then ensuring Amazon knows about it. Amazon will price match and your book will end up free. This seems to work but can be risky as it is not clear how quickly you can move the price of your book back up.

Bottom Line: Free still works. However it seems more effective when you have more than one book out and free downloads on one book result in additional sales on the other book.

Photo Credit:  EnjoyTheFresh  / deviantART /  Creative Commons

Photo Credit: EnjoyTheFresh / deviantART / Creative Commons

Sales

Sales are other price related marketing strategies, especially since Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select now has the Kindle Countdown opportunity that allows you to keep your 70% royalty for an up to seven day ‘sale’ in which you can reduce the price of your book (within limits based on the original price) and then have it step up in price over the course of your sale until it reaches the original price. You can also just have it at one single sale price over the course of your countdown. Amazon puts a helpful Countdown meter of some sort on the side to help potential buyers feel the pressure. You must not have changed your price for thirty days before you start a Countdown.

You can also simply put your book on sale at any time on KDP and lower the price to 99 cents. But in the absence of a Countdown sale, you are only getting 35% royalty.

I have done both a straight 99 cent sale and a Countdown 99 cent sale. I kind of sullied my numbers though by advertising my Countdown sale so I can’t compare it directly to my straight 99 cent sale. I chose advertisers that did not cost more than $22 per day and used a different advertiser for all but one day of my six-day Countdown.

Based on my sales numbers, running a 99 cent sale of any sort without advertising is not really worth it. You might move a few books, but not a lot (keeping your book at 99 cents permanently is discussed below). Coupling advertising with the Countdown sale moved books, enough in one day for me to get bestseller status in my category and the glorious orange flag that accompanies it. That was a very exciting day.

It is important to note that on the days I did not have any advertising running, and I just had the Countdown sale on, I did not move any books. However most of my sales during the Countdown occurred during the last two days of the Countdown, which is also when I had my best advertising lined up. So did I sell a bunch of books those days because it was approaching the end of my Countdown (and the counter was ticking away) or because of the advertising? I don’t know. It is also critical to note that Countdowns can only be seen by US and UK customers (if you have a high enough original price to run a Countdown in the UK – I didn’t). So it is a bit more exclusive.

Despite the glory of being number one in my category for almost 48 hours, I did not quite cover my advertising costs with my sales returns, so don’t plan a trip to Hawaii before your Countdown. I managed to continue selling a few books a day after my Countdown ended, but within a week had returned to my usual sales patterns.

Darren Patrick and M. Louisa Locke offer very good analyses of their Kindle Countdown experiences (note that in the same post Locke also analyzes her experience with KDP Select free days and found them to be superior).

Bottom Line: Sales, and in particular Kindle Countdown sales, can boost your ranking and sales and result in a post sale bounce, but generally only if you do a promotion/advertising at the same time.

Price Pulsing

Everyone views price pulsing a little bit differently. For some people it is just simply a sale in which you drop your price and then raise it again while you are still cresting in the rankings, hoping to hold onto that ranking once your book has returned to the regular price as described by (and invented by?) David Gaughran.

Another approach to price pulsing is just to try a range of different price points for your book for a period of time each and finding the so-called sweet spot for your particular book. For some people, this is maintaining their price at 99 cents. You have to move a lot of books at 99 cents though to earn the same as what you would earn at $2.99, which is why $2.99 is one of the most common book prices out there for indie books. Others find they sell more books at a slightly higher price point of $3.99 and $4.99. As always, Lindsay Buroker offers some great thoughts on the topic. The point is to try a range of different prices and finding out what works in terms of the intersection between sales and returns from those sales. However, it is important to note that if you are planning a Countdown sale you can’t do any price pulsing in advance.

However price pulsing is not without its critics and some folks in forums suggest that if you consistently price pulse, some readers will simply wait for sales on your books (however they have to be watching your book pretty closely to know that you price pulse).

Bottom Line: I have not tried much in the way of price changes – I have just shifted between 99 cents and $2.99, but some further exploration might be worthwhile.

I would love to hear about your experiences with pricing. What worked, what didn't?

Marketing Your Book – A Primer – Part Three

My apologies for the brief blogging hiatus. I spent the last several weeks working, watching my children’s ski competitions and finishing the final major edits to my next novel In the Shadows of the Mosquito Constellation.

Given that these blog posts were getting rather long, I am going to start focusing on three marketing techniques a week instead of six and spread this series of posts over a few more weeks.

So this week we are focusing on:

  • Participating in social media groups with other writers;
  • Participating in social media groups with other readers; and
  • Interviewing/Reviewing the work of other writers.

These are all the networking type approaches. In the traditional world, knowing the right other writers and reviewers can certainly help a writer’s career, and it certainly makes those book-related parties a lot more comfortable, but do these kinds of networking approaches work in the Indie world?

Participating in social media groups with other writers

There are many social media groups for writers in a variety of places – Facebook, LinkedIn, World Literary Café and so on. Many writers, keen to commiserate on the challenges of writing and hoping for the benefits of reciprocal promotion, participate in them. I belong to a few myself (some of which I love, some of which I am not as excited about). Some of the groups require you to be an actual member, while others allow you to drift in and out reading posts.

There are pluses to these kinds of groups. Often other writers share useful links or insights. It is occasionally interesting to hear about the days of other writers (but sometimes other writers can seem pretty whingy). In addition, when these groups are willing to engage in reciprocal promotion, such as writing reviews for each other, posting each other’s links on their own websites, liking each other’s Facebook page and buying each other’s books (the list goes on an on), they have the capacity to push a book into the top 100 in its category and get a whole bunch of other eyes on the book, which can then generate ongoing sales. Some groups also exchange services such as proofreading, beta reading and cover design. In addition, meeting the right writer (although less likely perhaps than in the traditional world, but still possible) can open the door to a whole new set of opportunities if they decide to mention your name to their own fans, introduce you to someone, or even better (and I have seen this happen many times), co-write a book with you, publish anthology with you, or release a box set with you. These can be very positive outcomes.

On the other hand, these groups can be a huge time sink – they are a virtual water cooler in which you can end up spending a lot of time hearing about people’s navel gazing about their writing as well as their stapler obsessions – and in many groups you end up hanging out with writers who may or may not be producing quality work. Moreover if you accept promotion from people within your writing group, you also have to be willing to promote their work even if you do not think it is of high quality, and this can be very uncomfortable, not to mention a little bit ethically questionable from my perspective. I understand the need for indie writers to help each other out, but there is also a line and it is important to know where your own line is.

Bottom Line: Participating in groups of writers and engaging in reciprocal promotion can move books and get you a bunch of positive reviews. But you have to be prepared to do the same for others even if you don’t appreciate their writing, and you then to some degree become linked publicly with writers you don’t necessarily want to be linked with. If you find a group of like-minded and like-quality writers to hang out with virtually that you are excited about promoting then by all means take advantage of this opportunity. Groups that just exchange ideas are also really useful. You may not sell books directly from groups like this, but you might learn how to sell books in other ways, and some stapler stories are interesting.

Participating in social media groups with other readers

If you are a writer you are probably reader, and if you are not, you should be, and chances are, as a reader, you are already on Goodreads. Goodreads is one of the best sites for making friends with other readers, and in doing so gaining more reads for your own novel. Of course you should set up an author page on Goodreads and get your book listed. You can also link your blog to your author page. These are things you should automatically do as part of your author platform (see last week’s post). But after that you should move on to actual interaction. Goodreads allows you to join various groups of readers (and groups of readers/writers) who engage in Read 4 Reviews, Book of the Month, Author of the Week, and other types of promotional activities. You can search for and join groups relevant to your book and then find the threads that allow you to sign up for a variety of promotional activities. You can also take advantage of the opportunity to write short reviews of the books you have read and build a fan base for your reviews – some of your fans may decide to check out your novel. You can add your books to lists in Listopia on Goodreads and then vote for them. The general wisdom here is that you should not put your book on any "best of" lists and focus only on a few lists that fit the genre of your book. You can also do giveaways, but that will be discussed next week.

I have had some success in the Read 4 Review threads, and a few people who I have sent copies of my book to have given me positive reviews. I have also met other writers working in the same genre and exchanged useful ideas, and I have had some interesting conversations with both readers and writers regarding books in my genre in general. I did add A Pair of Docks to a time travel list on Goodreads, but am feeling a little leery about going too far on that front. I will probably add it to a few more lists as time goes on. I still have more to explore on Goodreads. Thomas Umstattd offers some additional ideas and I am taking a Goodreads Power User course in March from the Author Learning Centre. However overall, my experiences on Goodreads have been very positive and I believe I have at least sold a few books as a result.

Bottom Line: As with anything, you can spend a lot of time on Goodreads, but an investment of some time is worth it as it does seem to result in a few sales, and it is kind of fun to hang out with people who are so excited about reading.

Interviewing/Reviewing the work of other writers

It is possible that I am now doing semi-periodic reviews of other indie books for Underground Book Reviews (well more accurately, I have done one and have been scheduled for two more). I don’t know if this will result in book sales for me (my first review did not seem to), but it is another opportunity for exposure, and even through just the one review, which also involved an interview, I got to meet a pretty cool author, Tony Perez-Giese, and talk about writerly things and become Goodreads friends with him. He also subsequently tweeted and posted the review and interview on his sites. Doing reviews does give you a legitimate reason to approach other writers that you probably would not normally have the guts to contact (or perhaps that is just me) and learn from their approaches. Martin Crosbie swears by simply approaching other successful indie writers and interviewing them about their methods. He has found most indie writers to be totally receptive to sharing their experiences. He doesn’t generally blog about the interviews, but he shares them in his workshops, and believes he has gained many valuable insights from them. Being a genuinely friendly guy, he also seems to have made a lot of good writer friends, which has served him well. Since I am not that great at the cold call (or cold email), contacting other writers under the banner of conducting reviews for a legitimate review site allows me to potentially learn from and network with other writers (which allows for the range of benefits outlined in the section on participating in social media with the right writer). In addition, reviewing other books requires you to read more deeply and consider what works and what does not work in other people’s writing, which will help make you a better writer and reader.

Bottom line: Reviewing other people’s work will probably not sell books in the short-term, but it can help increase your exposure, improve your writing, and allow you to meet cool writers, who can help your career. In the long-term if you establish yourself as a reviewer of quality, it may help move books.

As always I am happy to hear about your experiences. I am still learning and will add to this post on an ongoing basis.

Marketing Your Book – A Primer – Part Two

Okay, so this week I will focus on the next six items in my long list of potential ways to market your book that I provided last week. The next six approaches on the list included:

  • Your blog
  • Your platform/social media presence
  • Your email list
  • Tweeting/Facebooking/Google+ing about your book
  • Reviews
  • Blog Tours

Your Blog

Okay so we all know the importance of having a blog, right? And I just to be clear here, I am differentiating a blog from a more static website, or a website where you occasionally provide announcements or talk about your book. A blog is a place where you talk relatively regularly about issues, generally related to writing, beyond just your book. There are some amazing writing blogs out there. These include David Gaughran, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Catherine Caffeinated, The Book Designer, Hugh Howey and Chuck Wendig. I read them regularly, both for the insight these writers provide into writing, self-publishing and traditional publishing, and because their comments are a virtual hangout place for writers. Got a problem? Chances are one of these bloggers will have addressed it. But, here’s the catch, except for a couple of them, I have not purchased any of their books. And I have only purchased their non-fiction, except for Wool. But did I buy Wool because I read Hugh Howey’s blog, or because everyone is buying Wool? Probably the latter.

Overall, unless your blog becomes a book (and generally speaking this only happens if you are writing non-fiction), blogging does not seem to sell books. Nevertheless Holly Robinson and Mike Duran argue that it is still worth it. Not only does it help hone your writing skills, but it’s free marketing (aside from your time of course, but as a writer you get used to working for free), and each blog post adds to your discoverability and on-line persona. If you are like me, it is far easier to convey your personality in a thoughtful (or reasonably thoughtful) blog post than a 140-character tweet that I generally bollix. Robinson and Duran claim that blogging add to your snowflake effect – each blog is a snowflake that will hopefully add up to 40 cennies of fresh pow…okay that last bit was my addition. I do live in a ski town after all.

Bottom line: Blog regularly and thoughtfully. It will raise your profile, but don’t expect it to result in direct sales and don’t let it take away from your fiction writing.

Your Platform/Social Media Presence

Photo Credit:  .aditya.  via  Compfight

Photo Credit: .aditya. via Compfight

Okay, so this section covers more static websites, your Facebook Posts, Tweets, Google+ posts and comments on other people’s blogs and in on-line discussion forums. This does not include posting and tweeting about your book. That is covered in the next section. This is more about sharing the general glowing wonderfulness of your personality, both by building relationships and being funny or quirky in your posts, or just somehow being interesting. Here’s my take: most people just are not that wonderful or interesting and you could sink a lot of time into trying to be an on-line personality. How many real relationships can you realistically build on-line? You can build some, and I have, and I really like my on-line friends. But I doubt they have bought my book, and if they have, that is only a handful of purchases, because I only have the capacity to engage with twenty to thirty people on an ongoing basis on-line, whereby we really and truly have a relationship. If you have hundreds of on-line buddies, and hang out in chat rooms all the time, you may not be spending enough time writing. And yes, your on-line buddies might buy your book, but if you have not taken the time to write a good book, nobody else will. The same goes for posting an endless stream of tweets and Facebook posts. Yes, you might be entertaining a few people, but you are not writing your book. (Note: that these comments do not apply to people who have no children, pets, spouses, jobs or other interests and therefore have their entire day to devote to writing and building on-line relationships – you are lucky and you should absolutely make use of the opportunity you have.)

Bottom line: Yes, you should have a Facebook account and a Twitter account, and maybe a Google+ account. By all means make comments on your favourite blog posts. You must have an on-line personality – and you should endeavor to make it as interesting and wonderful a personality as possible, but be judicious in the amount of time you spend on this (you can only be so interesting and wonderful) and do not expect it to sell books, unless you are one of the very lucky few.

Your Email List

People who sign up to receive emails of your blog posts and book updates are generally more committed fans than those who follow you on twitter or stumble across your blog from time to time. David Gaughran swears by the power of an email list – he should probably know, as he likely has a long one. The thing about an email list, is that it does ensure that fans who like your writing (or your blog) enough to sign up for the list, do not miss the boat when you have a new book out. It also ensures that they will likely become more regular readers of your blog because they will always know when you have a new post. Will it convert the regular blog readers into book buyers? Maybe a few. An email list, does give you the opportunity to be a bit more aggressive with your marketing materials as you are sending them out to people who have at least some interest in you (rather than tweeting ad nauseum about it to people who don’t – see below). This could convert a few tire kickers into buyers. But too much and you will seem spammy and they might unsubscribe.

Bottom line: Set up an email list by all means. It is an easy and passive way to stay connected with people who at least at one time were vaguely interested in what you have to say. Don’t spam people though.

Tweeting/Facebooking/Google+ing about your book

Buy my book, Buy my book, Buy my book, New 5-star review, people can’t put it down, rave reviews are pouring in… and so on. We all know these tweets. We all get them all day. We all have probably posted a few. Do they sell books? I don’t know. Do you buy books from people who tweet about their books all day? I will follow their links sometimes and check out their Amazon ranking, and admittedly, some of them are clearly selling books. But are they selling as a result of the tweets? I’m not sure. If they are the determined sorts that they come across as in twitter, I can’t help but wonder what else they are doing to sell their book. I’ve bought the ebooks of a couple of the most egregious tweeters, especially when they are free (so not really a purchase then), just to see what why they’ve managed to get themselves so excited about their own writing. The two I downloaded were not bad (at least the first few pages weren’t), but I suspect a lot of books out there are not bad, and I won’t be returning to those authors to make a paid purchase. The Militant Writer says tweeting and Facebooking about your book it is a total waste of time – people do not go on Twitter or Facebook to find books to read. This Goodreads discussion by other authors seems support that conclusion – although there is a good suggestion to embed your Amazon Affiliate link in your tweet links and then if they buy something else while they are on Amazon, you get credit.

I did a $40 paid twenty-four hour twitter campaign just to see what would happen (I am into doing things for fun now). I don’t think I had a single sale from the campaign, and I spent the day writhing that I was spamming every last person that I knew. Because I was! Chuck Wendig said it best – Your book is not pepper spray that you must fountain into my eyes.

Bottom Line: $40 for a tweet campaign won’t break the bank if you want to give it a try. You can watch your sales figures for yourself. The general wisdom is that tweeting and Facebooking relentlessly about your book does not sell books. Yet, for some reason, it does seem to be working for a handful of people. But is that really the way you want to sell books? Of course, I still follow people who relentlessly tweet about their books because it is kind of like watching bad reality TV – I kind of want to see how far they are actually going to go.

NB: Somehow the tweet service that I signed up for spent another 24 hours tweeting about my novel a month later. I didn't pay for it, so not sure how that happened. Anyway, it did not move a single book. Just saying.

Reviews

Finally, today we are getting to something that might actually work. Reviews. Good reviews and recommendations from other readers might actually sell your book. You also need a certain number of four or five star reviews to be able to advertise on certain sites such as Book Bub and EReader News Today (generally 7 to 10). And realize I am talking about Amazon or Goodreads reviews mostly here. Indie books will be ignored by the traditional review community. It takes time to get reviews though, because people have to find your book, read it, and like it enough to post a review.

There are two types of reviews. Unpaid and paid. Most people in the book business, especially in the indie book world say that you should only go for unpaid reviews (in fact many people get downright vitriolic about the topic – but more about that in a few minutes), which means a time consuming task of submitting your book to appropriate unpaid reviewers, doing Goodreads Giveaways hoping that one of the winners will review the book, trying Read for Review groups on Goodreads or Library Thing (David Estes has a great article about this) and praying to anyone relevant that one of your book purchasers will also review. I like these kind of reviews because they seem sincere and well…real. A thoughtful and positive review on an influential website, such as this review of A PAIR OF DOCKS by Jemima Pett, can definitely help sales. I did notice a small jump in sales just after Jemima posted her review.

You can pay a service a small administrative fee to submit your books to reviewers for you for honest reviews, and the reviewers do not get paid. On-line writing groups will also sometimes do reviews for each other. You could go this path, but honestly, having watched it, I don’t recommend it. Other writers, especially indie writers, are hoping to sell their own book, and they may hope that if they write a review for you, that you will return the favour, and worse that you will feel obligated to do a good review. I have watched writers do this, and it is a bit uncomfortable. Reviews should be absolutely honest, and I do not believe that some of these are - and it is part of what gives indie writers a bad name. I get it. It is so challenging for indie writers to get reviews that doing each other review favours becomes very tempting. It is okay for writers to write reviews, but only when they have limited to no connection to the other writer, are willing to be absolutely honest, and/or do not expect any sort of review in return.

So that brings us to paid reviews, which is a very sticky subject. They are not cheap. A paid review at Indie Reader costs $150 and a paid review at Kirkus can run you over $500. You can also get three reviews at Readers' Favorite for $129 (note that Readers' Favorite also does free reviews, but you have to wait a long time, and I do not believe they post these reviews on Amazon). Some people argue that reviewers who are paid are influenced by that pay and will be inclined to give a better review. There is a very interesting discussion regarding this on Indies Unlimited. Let's just say it is not looked upon kindly by many other indie authors, and Amazon does not let you include these so-called honest paid reviews in your review section. You can include them in your editorial section on Amazon. I used to think they are honest reviews (I could not see why someone would fake a review even for pay), but having explored this a little further I'm no longer completely convinced. I don't have a problem with paid honest reviews. But I don't think you can guarantee paid reviews are (of course you can't guarantee unpaid reviews are either), and I just can’t see how a single review, even from an influential source, is going to produce the return on investment needed.

Then there is the very different issue of paying for ‘good’ reviews that are 'legally' posted on Amazon by people claiming that they received a copy in exchange for an honest review, and unfortunately some indie authors have gone down this path. Also unfortunately, this approach has proven successful in making these authors best sellers, which casts a dim light on all indie writers, undermines the value of all reviews, and makes it very tempting for others to follow that path. Don’t, or we will all end up just reading donkey poop.

Reviews are such a big component of marketing that they could be their own post and I have only covered the basics of some aspects of reviews here. There are also services like Net Galley and Bookvetter. Some writers also put a note at the end of their books requesting readers to post a review. I will have to do a post solely devoted to reviews sometime soon.

Bottom-line: Reviews may not sell books directly because so many people have found ways to ‘get’ good reviews without necessarily writing a good book, and therefore people distrust good reviews more than they once did. A critical mass of good reviews will help though, and a lack of good reviews, or bad reviews, will hurt your sales (unless you are Veronica Roth).

Blog Tours

Okay, so word on the street is that blog tours do not work. But not being one to just take the word on the street, I have decided to try one myself and I will add to this post once I have. There are really no hard numbers. Lynne Cantwell at Indies Unlimited observed that her Blog Tour did help to get reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and went generally towards building her brand. Did it result in sales…perhaps not so much and Cantwell notes that you really have to check the Alexa ranking of the blog you are touring on (The Alexa ranking gives you some idea with regard to the popularity of the blog, but it is not completely reliable). Lev Raphael echoes this and claims that he saw no increase in sales whatsoever. Nevertheless, every little bit of exposure helps, and there are other reasons for doing a blog tour beyond just sales. You might make some positive connections and get some good reviews, and the idea sure feels better than spamming people.

Okay so having just completed a blog tour, I can say with a bit more conviction that they do not appear to sell books. But I did, as Cantwell noted above, get a couple of reviews on Amazon as a result of my tour. I probably should have investigated my tour organizers a bit more thoroughly - they were lovely and organized, but they do not specialize in middle-grade fiction or fantasy. In fact, they seem to specialize more in erotic fiction. So despite the hosts seeming like very nice people and being very supportive, my little squeaky clean fantasy looked a little out of place on their sites and I doubt there is much cross-over in readership among those who prefer erotic fiction and middle-grade fantasy. My bad.

Bottom Line: If you have the time and money, you might as well try a blog tour, but if you don’t, don’t sweat it.

What do you think of all of these approaches? Have you had a different experience from the ones described here? If so, I would love to hear from you.

 

Marketing Your Book – A Primer – Part One

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
  • Reviews
  • 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
  • Giveaways
  • Advertising
  • Freebies
  • Sales
  • Price Pulsing
  • Independent booksellers
  • Your friends
  • Wattpad
  • Sharing stories/parts of your book for free
  • Cross-sales
  • 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:

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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.

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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!

Thumbnail Photo Credit: Don McCullough via Compfight http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

 

Setting up a Facebook Author Page

I've been trying to decide whether to set up a Facebook Author page for my writing. I have a website, a personal Facebook account, a LinkedIn account and a Twitter account. I also dabble in Google+, but I really haven’t figured out how to use it yet so my apologies if I have inadvertently not added you to my circles yet (or done anything else that is egregiously against Google+ etiquette).

To date, I have kept most of my writing information and updates confined to my website and Twitter account with some erratic and unskilled use of Google+ on the side. I have kept my Facebook account mostly for personal use, although I follow a lot of writing organizations and am friends with quite a few writers. I use LinkedIn for my consulting work only.

This divided approach has worked for a while and has allowed me to avoid pestering my friends and family with information about my writing efforts – because really, do they want to know? And it has prevented some of my Facebook friends (ex-boyfriends, certain family members, friends who might laugh at me) from knowing too much about how seriously I take my writing “hobby”.

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The Power of Facebook

However there are times when I think it would be valuable to use Facebook to talk about my writing and promote my books a little bit. Facebook is a platform that offers significant reach and has significant SEO (Google yourself and you will find that your Facebook account is probably in the top results). It also allows for longer updates than Twitter, but more informal ones than my website – to talk about my writing (and more importantly, unlike Google+, I get how it works).  In addition, although Jane Friedman correctly argues that a Facebook author presence does not replace your personal author website, there are some things that you can do on Facebook – such as give aways or other contests, through things such as Fan Appz and RSS Graffiti that you often cannot do on your personal website (see the article by Emlyn Chand on how to do this). This functionality might be useful. At this point in time, my website won’t even let me have more than three font sizes on a page. I could also add a “like me” button to the sidebar of my website giving people an opportunity to stay connected.

Which Facebook Approach is Best?

As a result, I have debated setting up a Facebook Author page that people can “like” that will allow me to post more about my writing and continue to avoid bugging my friends. Some of my writer friends have done this, while others use their personal Facebook account to talk about their writing. I decided to look into the pros and cons of each approach.

Using Your Personal Facebook Account

Jane Friedman at Writer Unboxed recommends using your personal Facebook account to connect with potential readers and talk about your writing. Nathan Bransford and Ann Hill agree. Friedman suggests using Facebook lists to group your friends and manage who sees what. Bransford and Hill note that you can turn on subscriptions on your personal Facebook page, thereby allowing people to follow your public posts, without you having to accept friend requests from people you do not know. You can set each post to either be public, which means it will go to everyone, or to just go to your friends. This is an option that I was not aware of. Not that there is a line up of people I don’t know waiting to friend me (yet). Hugh Howey uses this approach, as does Bransford himself.

So what are the pros and cons of using a personal Facebook account for writerly communication?

Pros

  1. Your personal Facebook account is probably already set up, and you already have friends on it – you won’t have to suffer the ignominy of having only two likes on your “fan” page, and having to beg for more, or invite your existing friends to “like” you. (As one writer noted, asking people to “like” your page isn’t his idea of an enjoyable way to relate to others… of course I spend so much time alone with my cat I am not sure if I am totally up on enjoyable ways to relate to others).
  2. As Bransford observes, you only have to maintain one profile, which for me, given my more sporadic posting record, might be the best approach. (After all they say to only post interesting things, and I’m afraid it takes me a while to think of interesting things).
  3. As Friedman observes, not using your personal Facebook page is essentially ignoring your first potential circle of fans – friends, family, colleagues, and others who probably (hopefully) want you succeed and support your work.
  4. I can potentially connect more with other writers with whom I am friends on Facebook. I enjoy reading their posts and shares on writing, so why wouldn’t they enjoy mine? (But I’m Twitter friends with most of these writers anyway so we already connect with regard to writing on Twitter – is there a value-add associated with Facebook? Most of my writer friends do both, so I conclude there must be some value-add.)

Cons

  1. My Facebook friends may not be interested in writing at all – or if they are, may not be interested in me as a writer.
  2. Many of my Facebook friends might think it is strange if I post about writing.
  3. If I use the subscription approach suggested by Bransford, then I will have a big Follow button on my personal page, which might look a bit obnoxious to my friends.
  4. I may have to become more interesting, which for me appears to be a lifelong endeavor. This means I may have to stop posting so many photos of my cat.
  5. Apparently - and this is a biggie - using Facebook to promote or "sell" your books is against the Facebook Terms of Service. I'm not sure where the line between legitimately "talking" about your writing and books with Facebook friends and "selling" your writing and books is. A lot of writers do use their personal Facebook pages for their writing, but beware of tripping over the line into selling.

Creating a Facebook Author Page

Hill argues that a Facebook Author page is the best approach for veteran writers with multitudes of fans and many books, who want to keep their personal life and writing life completely separate. That doesn’t exactly apply to me, but there are still some pros associated with a Facebook Author page that should be considered.

Pros

  1. I don’t have to worry about pissing off/boring my friends (any more than I already may do in person) by spamming them about my books and/or writing.
  2. I could set my cover photo to include my book covers or some personal branding splash and update my personal information to reflect my writing information.
  3. I would have access to analytics with an Author page that I would not with my personal profile.
  4. A Like button seems a bit more benign than a Follow button.
  5. People who want to check out your Facebook Author page do not have to be Facebook users to do so, and there is not the commitment of following. 
  6. You can have more than 5,000 fans, whereas on your personal account you can only have 5,000 friends. However the subscriptions approach on your personal account gets around this as you can have unlimited followers.

Cons

  1. Although I am trying to be more consistent with my blog posts, I don’t have a clear schedule for using Twitter and I am not a big poster on my personal Facebook account. So if I did not update my Facebook Author page regularly, that may reflect badly on me. This is a con for both approaches though. See number four above.
  2. The dreaded lack of likes. Melissa Foster has 12,659. Many of my writer friends have a respectable over 100 likes. What if I only end up with four?
  3. Hill observes that Facebook has changed its algorithms such that Author Pages, or Fan Pages more generally are showing up in the news feeds of only a small fraction of the people who "Liked" their page, unless they pay to "Promote" their posts to ensure that they showed up in more followers' news feeds. 

Once you have made a decision which way to go, there are many posts with regard to how to set up a Facebook Author page, or manage subscriptions and lists on your personal Facebook account. There are also many posts with tips on how to use your Facebook account or page for your writing information. Friedman of course reminds us not to misuse it as a marketing bullhorn. Probably good advice. Bransford also notes that you can set up a Facebook page for your book, so that when and if people search out the title they can easily find it. Then you have to maintain two, and perhaps three, Facebook pages though and that seems (for me anyway) onerous.

That is all I could find on the pros and cons of a personal Facebook account versus a Facebook Author page. I would love to hear any additional thoughts. I am still undecided, although now I’m leaning towards using my personal Facebook account, or nothing at all (I’m still working on becoming more of an extravert, and besides I’m sure my cat understands me).

Photo Credit: mkhmarketing http://mkhmarketing.wordpress.com/