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.


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.