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Posts tagged ‘marketing’

Trying too hard: How to lose the reader before she opens your book

I am not sure whether this is a rant about one of my personal bêtes noires or good advice about what not to put in a blurb. I guess that will depend on how many people share my jaundiced reactions to the examples.

The particular style of “trying too hard” I’m thinking of today is the supposedly humorous novel whose author beats you over the head with how funny! it all is before you even have a chance to open the book. I assume we’ve all encountered the sort of sad-sack fiction in which the author makes sure you know that a character’s dialogue is hysterically funny by having all the other characters fall over themselves laughing every time Mr. Funny says, “Good morning.” Excellent way to get a book walled before the end of the first chapter.

The recent discussion of Bob Honey reminded me of the many ways in which a writer can make sure I don’t open his book at all. And no, I’m not going to take examples from that book; it’s needlessly cruel, like nuking fish in a barrel. I trawled through Amazon’s blurbs and reviews for Fiction – Humor and found plenty of material.

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The 80/20 Rule

I think most of us are familiar with the eponymous rule, so often cited in business. My take on it is something along the lines of 80 percent of the effort makes 20 percent of the work get done… anyway, I saw it cited in a Goodreads article that drew me in with the title, and their take on it reminded me that it’s been a while since I talked straight-up marketing. “The rule of thumb for online marketing recommends spending 20% of your online time talking about yourself and 80% of it talking about other things”

Now, the article was purportedly about what readers want from Authors, which is why I clicked through to read it. What it was, though, was an article about how Goodreads would like authors to act on their site (i.e. A lot more interaction with that site) rather than what readers are really looking for from authors. That’s pretty simple: more books. Read more

Innovation

Innovation

Telling stories around the campfire. Plays and puppet shows. Scrolls. Books. Movies . . .

The only thing that changes is the technology. A the bottom is still an enjoyable story. Or not. Some things do fizzle, after all.

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Guest Post: Selling myself in different venues

Everyone welcome fellow Indie Author Christopher Woods! He’s had a rough week, but as you’ll see, it was in a good cause. I am also disappointed I didn’t get to hang out with him and sell books, but there will be other times (We must chat about cons, soon). He’s been, as you’ll see, exploring non-traditional outlets for sales. Although I still say that selling yourself has a funny connotation, Chris! 

soulguardWhere can a person set up and successfully sell their books? This is a question a lot of self-published authors must ask. The answer is complicated. There are the Sci-Fi conventions which are the regular spots a self-published author will find fans of their work, provided they write Science Fiction or Fantasy. For those who write in other genres there are conventions for them as well, but I write Sci-Fi/Fantasy so that’s all I can speak about at the moment.

I’ve done a few different things over the last couple of years since publishing my first novel, Soulguard, in September of 2014. I set up in a Home Depot where I used to work, which sounds odd but I sold about fifteen books. I’ve done a couple of rallies at libraries with varied success. And I’ve done a few conventions, including HonorCon, LibertyCon, and Fanboy Expo. HonorCon had the best results in physical sales, thirty books.

The newest venue I decided to try was the Tennessee Valley Fair in Knoxville, TN. I rented booth space there and offered to share the booth with local authors, including Cedar Sanderson, who wanted me to post about the results of using the fair as a venue for book selling. Unfortunately, Cedar had an accident on her way down to join me and was unable to participate. Thank God she and her First Reader were unharmed. I was a little disappointed that they couldn’t make it, as I was looking forward to meeting Sanford, and having a little time in the booth to talk to both of them. Something for another day, I suppose.

Now to the fair. I’m sure most of you have been to a fair at some point. It’s loud, it’s crowded, and it’s hard for an introvert to cope with honestly. But the Tennessee Valley Fair was a place where over a hundred thousand people go thru a ten day span. With that many people coming through, there would have to be some readers. There were. Over the ten days, I sold about fifty books, both hardback and paperback.

Most of us know that physical sales are just a small part of our reasons to set up in the conventions. We have cards, bookmarks, and gifts. All of these are ways we put our names in front of many people. Along with my fifty book sales, I gave out close to eight hundred bookmarks to interested parties, as well as five hundred business cards. Whether these pan out over the next few months is still to be discovered.

There were a few things I discovered as I sat in the booth and watched people. First the placement of my booth was not bad. The air conditioned building I was set up in has two places where the bathrooms are located. One end has the ladies downstairs and the gents upstairs, directly above. The other end is just the opposite. Now, that made things inconvenient for my trips to the bathroom since my booth was right in front of the ladies room and I had to climb the stairs every time I had to go. But I realized about two days in that almost every woman who attends that Fair comes into the air conditioned building and uses that bathroom. Every man who accompanies them waits just outside and right in front of my booth. So most of the folks who attend would see my banner. This generated some of the sales I made.

You have to learn to read which people to talk to, as well. Some are just looking as they pass and all of them have been dodging carnival barkers throughout the whole event. If you speak up, many will run away in fear of being harangued into buying something. You have to watch for that spark of interest, sometimes hard to catch. This means you have to watch the crowd instead of playing with your tablet or phone. Most Cons are full of people who enjoy the genre you are working in but this place had people from every walk of life. After a while, you begin seeing the same responses from people, that stop and double take when they see books. Those are readers, perhaps not readers of your genre, but readers. Those are the people you can talk to.

Surprisingly, the question, “Did you write these?” came from almost all of them. The more I thought about it, I realized this was another difference from a Con. Authors set up at Cons to sell their books. People at the Fair set up to sell anything. Many of the folks who wouldn’t have bought the books only did so after learning that I wrote the books. But I’m happy to sell my books to anyone willing to buy them.

The biggest detriment to my days at the Tennessee Valley Fair was the noise. There was a group who rented thirteen booths and set up a laser tag arena. Unfortunately, it was just through the curtain behind me. My eye was twitching by the time I had done ten days with that. The long hours wouldn’t have bothered me quite so much if not for that.

This is not really something you want to do alone. The hours alone are rough and if you plan to do something like this, you want it to be local. Ten days of hotel rooms alone would be more than a person could afford. My family lives close to Knoxville so it made things much cheaper when I got to stay with them.

Ideally, there would be several authors who would work shifts with all the participants’ books out to be seen and bought by the crowds. At the end of it the tally could be made and the money dispersed to the authors. It would take some time to establish something like that as a yearly thing but I think it could be made to work.

As for me, I’m exhausted, more mentally than physically. Even with the noise, my opinion is that the trip was a success. Sure, it could have been better, but it could have been much worse. Now I’m going to go lay some tile and give my mind a rest while working my back. In a day or so I can get back to the keyboard to write more on the next novel.

Breaking into New Markets

This last week I did something I have meant to do for a while, but haven’t had the time to contemplate doing: I paid for advertising, and coordinated a big promotional push for one of my books.

Most of my marketing is near-passive. I have my blog, and my social media presence, but I don’t use them to push my books in people’s faces. I’m a big fan of content marketing, and I prefer to have people want my books without me jumping up and down shouting “I write books! You must buy!” because that will turn them off and I’ll lose readers rather than gain them in the long term. It’s the project of years, not days or months. Peter Grant and I sat down shortly after we first met, along with our respective spouses (and I’m going to interject a big veering-off-track here and say that both of us are blessed in our spouses. You all know Dorothy as a marketing guru and a writer in her own right, but those years ago she wasn’t yet writing, she always has been brilliant about marketing, though. My own husband is the Evil Muse. I don’t think I need to say more!). During the course of that conversation he told me his own strategy for marketing, and it was a long-term one – spend five years, give or take – blogging regularly, then release his first book. It worked beautifully, and I have been following in his footsteps to some extent (I had already been blogging, but on his advice took it up to a daily blog and much more regular than it had been. Which was a huge challenge during college).

Above and beyond the slow audience growth a blog affords, I had decided a few months ago that I wanted to do some aggressive market growth and actually shell out money for marketing. Before I started, I had to figure out some things: What form of promotion I wanted to do, what audiences I wanted to reach, and what my budget was going to be.

The first thing I want to make clear is: I was not spending money for an immediate ROI. This is, like my blog, a long game. I could – and still may at some point – buy ads. Targeting an ad is a tricky business. You can buy ads on Facebook, on Amazon, on Project Wonderful… heck, you could buy ads in your local newspaper or TV channel, if you’re willing to really shell out the dough. I opted not to buy ads, not having the time nor the inclination to sit down and design one, research where would be best to buy eyeball time… and most important, because I don’t think they work. Advertising slots are the opposite of permission marketing. There is a reason I use adblockers and FBPurity, and I do not doubt that my readers use those, too. Which means buying an ad is nearly akin to making confetti out of my money and throwing it off a bridge. So….

Where to find readers who want to read a book?

Book promotion sites and emails, of course. BookBub is the big one, but when I looked at the cost for the genre I wanted to promote in, I decided that although it might be interesting to experiment with another time, it was out of my budget for this particular push. So I started looking at the smaller ones, the ones I’d used before, like Fussy Librarian and EbookHounds. There are a lot of them. Dorothy Grant was good enough to send me a link to a list of them, and between ones I’ve used before and that list, I picked out a total of six I wanted to try, and they fit into my budget.

Which brings me to that. I set a very modest budget for this promotion. I wanted to spend no more than $100. I spent $89, placing my book in eight different places. One was a freebie. One was a freebie, but didn’t run my book, which is what happens when you’re doing promo sometimes, so I didn’t sweat it.

Choose what book you want to promote wisely. If you only have one or two books published, do not do this. I did this knowing that I had a complete trilogy to sell, by giving away the first book in the series. In addition, I had a new release in the same genre (although not the same sub-genre) which I thought might attract the readers who liked my promo book well enough to read the whole trilogy and start looking for my other books. So I picked Pixie Noir to giveaway through Amazon, offering it for free for a total of five days. I chose to schedule the promo over a weekend, although interestingly the highest day was Friday.

Pixie Noir Giveaway
August 3 August 4 August 5 August 6 August 7 Promo cost
Fussy Librarian x $6.00
Ebook hounds x $45.00
MHI Promo post x $0.00
Awesomegang newsletter x $10.00
FreeDiscountedBooks.com x $8.00
The Kindle Book Review x X X x x $10.00
AccordingtoHoyt promo post
      x   $0.00
Daily Bookworm x $10.00
total cost $89.00

This ranking would climb, but there is the first stage…

 

It would peak at #2 in Paranormal and Urban, but I couldn’t get a screenshot at the time. Still!

Over the five days, I gave away a total of 4394 books. For me, this is four times the total of any previous free book drive I’ve done. On Friday there was a huge spike of 2637 books given away, which I attribute to the book having been pushed up the charts at Amazon the day before, and the momentum continuing into Friday and pushing it up the charts even more, which meant more eyeballs on it at Amazon… and so on. It was sort of exciting to watch! Saturday I left on a four-day trip, so I wasn’t able to watch as closely, but books given away did taper off and finally come to a stop. So… over four thousand new readers, right? Wrong.

The peril of giving a book away, rather than offering it at a steep discount, is that people will scoop up free books, not read them initially, and then forget they own them. Personally I have about 780 ebooks on my Kindle, and that’s not my full ebook library. I know there are books in there I got free, forgot, and will likely never read. Amazon has really fallen off the ball on offering readers a way to curate and organize their own libraries, but I digress. Even if I could create a collection of ‘books I got free’ it would be a lower to-read priority than the books of Siberian and Alaskan folktales and mythology I’ve been reading for research. So my point is that giving away free books is not a direct one-to-one correlation of a book and a set of eyeballs on that book. Still, some will read PN, and like it, and I know this because…

That’s the graph of Kindle Unlimited reads across all my titles. You’ll note that it was doing ok, not great, up until the giveaway was a couple of days old. Now, this is not what I’d call a peak. Sales are up, for the other titles in the series, but not dramatically so. I was surprised by the KU increase, I was not at all surprised that the sales weren’t – yet – up. This is probably going to take another week to see it play out (and I’ll do a small follow-up next week as well, along with another topic).

If – when – I do this again, I won’t buy the highest level promotion from Ebookhounds. It wasn’t worth that much more money than the others. I’d also start working on this further out – I wanted to do this over the first weekend in August after releasing Snow in Her Eyes during the first week of August, but I didn’t plan ahead very far. It can be done, but it would be better to start researching and planning a month out. The Fussy Librarian and Kindle Book Review between them accounted for 730 freebies on that first day, so they were well worth the fees and planning in tandem, as I think that pushed the ranks up enough to create momentum at Amazon itself.

Overall I’m pleased, and will do this again – but not soon. If I do another promo, it will be a discounted book. But I don’t have a series to do that with, so I’ll wait until I have either the rest of the Tanager series complete, or perhaps the next of the Children of Myth series. Both of those will take me a while! In the meantime, I’ll be watching my sales and reviews to see what the long-term payout on this modest investment is. For one thing, in this last week I have seen three new reviews pop up for Pixie Noir, all of them from new readers. On a book that has been out for four years, that’s pretty good.

Writing to Market

This is a perennial author concern. Will what I am writing sell? Will lots of people want it? How do I know what the market wants?

One of the fantastic things about writing Indie is that you are freed from strictly writing to Market. In theory, there are readers for everything out there. It’s just… Can you find them?  As an independent, you have the freedom to publish and look. To test the market. Traditionally published? Not so much. There you are at the mercy of what the marketing gurus hired by a massive company are telling that company. Or, from a small-press publisher, no research, just riding coat-tails. I’m unkind – there are small presses that set up niche markets. And there is Baen, who carved out a market from the ashes of science fiction after message fiction burned it down.

We here at the Mad Genius Club tend to be a bit insulated from the traditional writing world. Other than the Passive Voice and Kathryn Kristine Rusch’s business blog, I rarely look at other writing advice outlets. For good reason.

Their view of writing is, well…

Pessimistic.

The author of this article describes what the interior of a magazine written by writers, for writers, looks like. I think the readers here will find it a stark contrast to the general good humor and helpfulness of the MGC. “Whyman said, “I had a lot of questions in my mind about what would happen to fiction and how we would go on working. Does it really matter now?” Luckily we don’t have to wait to find out. Seltzer informs us that Whyman launched a new international online journal “intended to foster artistic expression in the face of political repression and fear.”

Which brings me to the other problem I have with so many writing advice outlets. Their view of writing is:

Expensive

In the article I linked above, a flood of writing workshops, conferences, retreats, contests (pay to play, natch), and MFA programs are offered. Boy and girls, ladies and gentlemen, ants and squirrels… These are little more than elaborate marketing ploys (autocorrect, ploy is SO a word!). But not to help you market your work – unless of course you intend to sell your work to other writers who are desperately trying to be the next big thing – no, in this case to market TO you, the writer. And can you blame them? Their too-precious lit-fic doesn’t sell, so they have to afford their lattes and avocado toast somehow. But you do not have to buy into their world of desperation.

Here in this blog we bring you daily articles about writing, marketing, nitty-gritty how-to articles about formatting and covers and more. Rather than the magazine he references at 9.95 a year (such a bargain, darling! Oops, let me wipe up that sarcasm I dripped) we’re always free. And we answer comments, we write posts in response to specific questions… Heck, we ask you all what you want help with, we don’t assume you’re angsting over some political polemic and needing encouraging to keep writing. Real writers don’t need coddling. You can’t help writing: it oozes out from every pore. Except on the days you get blocked. We’re not perfect, we Mad Geniuses. In fact, you might say we are insanely optimistic.

I can live with that. My market doesn’t consist of the literary darlings who buy writing magazines anxious for reassurance that the Resistance will go on. Resisting against what, I’m not sure. Lack of sales? Because my market is real people who read real books. So I can afford to take an hour a week writing a free blog post helping other writers out, and more time answering comments.

Write to your market: readers. Don’t abuse them, and they will come back for more. Amuse them, delight them, make them connect with your characters and cry. Arrest their attention with your cover, hook them into opening the book with your blurb, and they will read. Further, they will tell friends and family and even strangers about your book… That’s marketing of the finest kind.

 

Vainglorious

 

Vain-glo-ri-ous

Adjective; literary

excessively proud of oneself or one’s achievements; overly vain.

“this vainglorious boast of personal infallibility”

Synonyms: assured, biggety (or biggity) [Southern & Midland], bigheaded, complacent, consequential, egoistic (also egoistical), egotistic (or egotistical), important, overweening, pompous, prideful, proud, self-conceited, self-important, self-opinionated, self-satisfied, smug, stuck-up, swellheaded, vain, conceited

The most difficult part of this business, for most of us, is promoting ourselves and our books. It’s also the most important, if we want to be read and paidfor our work. This applies to both the traditionally published, and the independent. The book is published, but how are readers to know about it?

There are many paths to a reader. The best is the same in any business, because it is also the strongest. I did it myself, yesterday. I tried to use my First Reader’s 30+ year old Kirby vacuum, and to my great frustration, it left as much on the carpet as had been there to begin with. I hopped on Amazon, looking at the top rated vacuums, reading reviews, and still hadn’t made up my mind. It wasn’t until I made a wisecrack on facebook about vacuums being pushed as Father’s Day gifts, and perceptive friends started recommending vacuums that they had used and loved, that I made up my mind about the purchase. Word of mouth is king, when it comes to marketing and promotion.

Word of mouth can come in many ways. It can come from the mouths of happy consumers. In this case, readers who review, or just rave about their latest read to anyone who will listen, whether in person or on social media are ideal. Those are the readers who sell books. They aren’t trying. They just really enjoyed that book, it stuck out in their mind, so when someone asks for the latest space opera, they say, Oh! You just have to read…

There’s also the word of those who are being helpful. Whether it’s readers who know that if they share their favorite author’s promo post, it helps that author out and therefore they write more books to be read later, or readers who are big fans and see themselves as unofficial street team-members assisting an author. Sometimes it can be fellow authors helping one another out – like the Indie Author sales we host here at MGC. This can be really beneficial when an author with a large fanbase shares the work of a new author. The down side of this can be two-fold: one, the “Name” author is likely to then be hit up with exuberant newbs (see the title of the post) asking him to do the same for them. And secondly, the reputation of the Name can actually be harmed by recommending sub-par works. I’ve gotten very cautious about the work I share and promote (in my Eat This While You Read That posts, for instance. I’ll be rebooting that series in about a week, by the by) because I want to keep the trust of my readers. It might be someone who is young and just doesn’t realize they NEED editing. Or it could be work that’s just not like mine, and my fans would shy away from. I have to use some judicious thought in who I promote, and what I say when I promote them.

Finally, the last mouth that can be talking is… the author themselves. This can be effective, or harmful. Look, we all need to talk about our work. Get excited about it. That’s a great and wonderful thing, because the onlookers will pick up on your enthusiasm for your work, and they will react positively to it. If, on the other hand, you project ‘just another book for another buck’ and you’re not talking about what’s in the book, just how many copies you’re hoping to sell… well, no one likes to be sold a bill of goods.

Excitement is one thing. But keep in mind that no-one wants to see constant self-promotion. If you nominate your own work in every thread where someone is asking for book recommendations, there might be a problem. If you are posting links to your work in every group, forum, and you aren’t paying any attention to the rules about self-promotion… not only are you going to get a bad name as ‘that guy’ and get banned from groups as fast as you join them, you’re going to give other indie authors a bad name, too.

Not that it matters to you. If you’re the vainglorious one, nothing at all matters to you except making a quick buck. You’re not interested in spending any money on your books: need a cover? Grab a quick image online. Doesn’t matter who created it, it’s yours now. Need an editor? Ignore the pros and readers who plead with you to find at least a copy-editor, and publish it anyhow, because rent is due and you don’t care about return readers. Banned from groups for over-promotion? Tell everyone how unfair it is, and then join ten more groups to use for free promotion. Buying ads? Ain’t nobody got cash for that, man! Promoting yourself in another author’s fan group? Well, heck, my book is sorta like that guy’s book…

You all know someone like that. The one that makes you cringe, and wonder if you are overdoing it with your own book. The one that when you admit you’re an Indie Author, people wonder if you’re driving around with a trunk full of copies, flogging them at flea markets or begging people to take a copy just so your garage might eventually empty out.

It is possible to self-promote without being That Guy. Making an ass of yourself only happens if you ignore the feedback from others. Ideally? You’ll grow a group of readers who will turn into fans and they’ll be the ones bringing up your book when a call is put out for a good read. Also, there are paid promotional opportunities to pitch your book, in email lists and ads that are targeted. Dorothy Grant put together a great list of these, and there are more out there if you look.

But first, stop and think. Where did you find the last books you read? Who told you about them? Why did you decide to pick them up?

It’s a tough balance, between blowing our own horns and picking up a damn vuvuzuela. Pay attention to rules, don’t choose to be That Guy, and do share your own links from time to time on your own wall/page/tweet-whatever. I found out today that I have cousins – admittedly, not close ones, but still – that had no idea I was an author. Which amused me highly since I was being approached to write some free content. Um. Thanks?

Remember, guys. Exposure will kill you. And being the one running around flashing your junk will get you attention, all right. It just might not be the attention you think it is!