Tag Archives: marketing

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.

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, MARKETING, PROMOTION

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.

 

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, MARKETING

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!

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, MARKETING, PROMOTION

I Quit!

I. Quit.

No, no, not MGC.

But I’m taking a hiatus from my big series and trying some new things this summer.

Now, why would I do a silly thing like that? Well, it’s pretty simple. I’m a (nearly) complete unknown and as such my sales numbers are low. And since I’m in this for the money–yeah, I’ve got an husband bringing home the bacon, but he’s teetering on the brink of retirement, and I’d really like to bump up the projected (post retirement) household income. That means I need to do a number of things. Marketing . . . I’m also working on. But another (and much more fun!) thing I can do is broaden my fan base by publishing in other genres.

But how is a writer of a huge series to break the bad news to her fans?

Well it depends. If the series is at a natural stopping point, it’s easy. This is one of the advantages of an overarching Mega Problem. Once it’s solved, you can give your readers a brief glimpse into the Happily Ever After and then quit.

Hahahahaha! As if!

And the more popular, the more fans will want you notice that there’s a problem behind the problem and keep going.

In my case most of the stories are stand alones . . . but it’s one big saga with a fair amount of background that builds up. But there’s no clear cut end point. It’s just a Cross-dimensional Multiverse full of potential. It has been mentioned that it would make a great SF soap opera.

So again, why quit?

There’s a dozen reasons.

I need to broaden my reader base, so getting out of this specific sub- genre and into Time Travel, Space Opera, and Urban Fantasy sounds like a good idea. I mean, Regency Romance may sell better, but I seriously doubt I could tempt any of those readers to try my older work . . . where SO and UF have plenty of overlapping interests with my old series.

And then there’s the challenge. Something that will stretch my knowledge base and send my research in a new direction. Time Travel hurts my head, BTW. And I have zero knowledge of how Law Enforcement actually works. Which is really necessary when you’ve got a thin blue line standing up against demonically engendered werewolves. Space Opera will be the easiest, what with me being a space fanatic. All I have to do is check that what I know really is so. Ouch! Our knowledge of reality changes so fast it’s easy to fall behind.

I recommend this to all writers. It’s too easy to get into a rut, to coast. “Oh, I know everything about this Universe, after all, I created it. I don’t need to research anything!” Too easy to depend on the character building you did in the previous books and leave your character flat and uninteresting. Or viciously attack and maul him, to give some space for Mr. Perfect to (re)grow. Kill her, because you’ve come to hate her.

It’ll be a good separation, a refreshing vacation. I’ll come back to the Wine of the Gods with a new perspective, new enthusiasm.

I’m breaking the news to my fans gently. Umm, because, being an addict of my own series, I seem to have, umm, let me count. Oh bloody . . . eight stories in the pipeline. Not counting the novella that’s out with the Beta Readers. That will be published next month. So while I’m going to write other stuff this summer, I’ll also get out at least one more big Wine of the Gods book sometime this fall, and the rest at reasonable intervals. So it’s just a slow down, not really quitting.

I can get over this addiction. I can stop any time.

Can you? Tell me how that works, eh?

And, being unfortunately well acquainted with my subconscious, as soon as I post this, it will pop a story into the frontal lobes, crack the whip and make me write it . . . What’s that? Xen teams up with Ebsa, Ra’d . . . and Eldon! To defeat the Cyborg Empire!

Oh, just kill me now!
But first, buy a 99¢ short story. I promise I won’t leave [spoiler] in [spoiler] for too long.

36 Comments

Filed under BY THE MAD GENII, PAM UPHOFF, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

Why not let a little reality into the room?

Let me start by saying I have not successfully carried out a coup here at MGC and taken over. Nor did I draw the short straw and get stuck with filling in for everyone. Brad did me a favor last week by switching days with me. That left me posting Sunday, his usual day, and yesterday, mine. This morning, knowing Sarah is on the homestretch of her novel, I offered to fill in for her. I blame the fact that I am in the last third of my final edits and that gives me brain mush. But, in a way, I’m glad because it lets me continue talking about about the DBW conference and some of the information coming out of it.

Once again, I want to thank The Passive Voice for pointing me in the direction of the post that is today’s inspiration. For those of you who are not currently following TPV, why not? All kidding aside, I highly recommend the site.

Ron Vitale attended the DBW conference and has blogged about the experience. I will admit up front that I don’t agree with everything Vitale has to say. That doesn’t mean he is wrong, just that my experience as an indie shows me different aspects or approaches to the subject. His comments are italicized.

The biggest take home message from Digital Book World Indie is so simple that I almost missed it while preparing for the next talk. When we as indie authors unite, we have strength. We are the sum of our individual skills.

I totally agree with this. There are very few of us who have all the skills necessary to put out a quality project. Sure, we are writers. Some better than others. Some of us are excellent self-editors and others, to be honest, suck at it. Some of us are also awesome artist or can do a beautiful job lettering a cover. However, those who can do it all are few and far between. So what are the rest of us to do? If you are like me and most of us here at MGC, you find other authors or artists who will trade services. Or you hire someone to do it for you. This is not a new idea. There are any number of loose, informal co-ops for indies out there. We do not have to work in a vacuum.

The second most important lesson I learned at DBW Indie is that traditional publishers, to quote Jane Friedman, “are kicking ass in marketing.”

Now, this is where the OP began to lose me. What? How are trad publishers “kicking ass” in marketing? The only real advantage I see with going the traditional route is that it can get you into bookstores — for a limited period of time. But, as we’ve discussed before, how much of an advantage is that really when more and more readers are going to online sites to buy their print books?

But, I’ll give the OP the benefit of the doubt and see why he believes this to be the case.

Not only are publishers creating apps such as Crave, but they are performing A/B tests with their advertising, targeting the appropriate readers with the ads as well as sending out thousands of ARCs in advance to build reviews online.

Wait, what? Publishers are creating apps and testing their marketing targeting and sending out ARCs?

First of all, as PG noted in his comments about the piece, just about anyone who wants to can create an app. So what is Crave and can it really help you, the reader?

I remembered vaguely reading something about Crave, but I didn’t remember the details. So I followed the link and, omg, all I could do was shake my head. In case you haven’t looked it up, Crave came out in 2015, iirc, and was built to keep the Twitter and Snapchat generation interested in a book. Here is a description of what Crave was meant to do:

As you scroll through an ebook on Crave, the app periodically breaks into the narrative to show you a text message conversation between two characters, a video of an actor portraying one of the characters doing an interview about the book’s events, a filmed moment (like the hero first looking up at the heroine) or even a reaction GIF.

But after around 1,000 words, you’re cut off. Crave slices each book into mini-chapters intended to take only three or four minutes to read, including multimedia. You can tune back in the next day for another bite-sized installment, generously salted with supplementary videos and text exchanges.

Now, I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want is for some idiotic text message to pop up in the middle of a scene I am reading — or a video or pretty much anything else. I sure as hell don’t want to be forced to stop after 1,000 words. Can you imagine how long it would take you to read a book that way? A 100k word book would take almost 1/3 of a year. Would you remember the beginning? Would you even care about finishing it? And yet this is supposedly one of the ways traditional publishing is winning the marketing war against indies.

The mind boggles.

As for the testing of advertising to see if it hits the right target market, hell’s bells, that is what advertising agencies have been doing since their inception. It is not new.

The sending of ARCs? Again, not new. Also not limited to traditional publishers. Indies do this as well. Indies also utilize social media, email, mailing lists, etc., to get the word out.

I’m not convinced traditional publishing wins the marketing war in any way except for getting books into bookstores and that is no longer nearly as important as it used to. Do you agree?

There is more and I’ll let you read it. The one thing the OP brings up that I will admit I have been thinking about again is diversifying my catalog beyond Amazon. For a long time, I had my books in every major online outlet. I followed the adage of not putting all my “eggs” in one basket. It made sense to make my work available on all platforms.

Then came the day when I realized I was actually losing money doing so. I wasn’t bringing in enough from the other sites to justify the time needed to put together different upload files, the time necessary to upload the files and build the product page on the different sites, the time necessary to check to make sure the other sites had the correct information on their sites, to check the sales pages, make sure I got paid on time, etc. Then Amazon started Kindle Unlimited and the monies for “borrows” went up dramatically.

There was also a change in technology. More and more people were reading their e-books on tablets and smartphones. That meant they were not tied to a single store like they were with dedicated e-book readers. Folks who had been buying solely from BN could not buy their books through Amazon and read them using the Kindle app. That was another thing that saw my sales on Amazon increasing. No longer was I getting folks asking when my books were going to come out on BN?

Now, however, more and more indies are taking part in the KU program. That is great in some ways but when you look at the bottom line, there is an impact. Just as there was after about a year of the old Kindle Lending Library. The monies being brought in are decreasing. I know this isn’t what is happening for some indies but a number of others I have spoken with are experiencing the same thing. So it is time to sit down and determine whether to remain solely with Amazon or to give up the monies coming in from Kindle Unlimited and expand my marketplace once again.

Any way, read the OP and let me know what you think. The one thing I agree with completely is the best way for indies to not only survive but to flourish is to share ideas and information. That is what we try to do here at MGC and each of you are a big part of that.

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Filed under AMANDA, MARKETING, PROMOTION, WRITING: PUBLISHING

The Art of Design, Part II

I started this last week as a way of passing on the material I’d recently learned in a design class. Although much of this is quite broadly applicable, we indie authors can take it and use it for book covers, promotional materials, ads, and more. Even if we’re not doing the design work, the principles here will help us better understand how to ask someone else to make magic happen.

The Rule of Thirds is usually applied to photography, but it works with any visual image. If you want to add interest to your layout, don’t center the main focal point. By offsetting the focus, you draw the attention more naturally to the main object of the picture. “Two distinct, equal lights, should never appear in the same picture : One should be principal, and the rest sub-ordinate, both in dimension and degree : Unequal parts and gradations lead the attention easily from part to part, while parts of equal appearance hold it awkwardly suspended, as if unable to determine which of those parts is to be considered as the subordinate.” John Thomas Smith, writing in 1797 to first enunciate the concept. It’s been around for a while.

One of important rule of composition in photography is 'Third Rule'.

One of important rule of composition in photography is ‘Third Rule’.

The Gutenberg Diagram does a similar thing, but with text. The concept is to describe the pattern a reader’s eyes take when presented with evenly distributed information. If you divide your page into four imaginary quarters, the eye will begin at the top left, drift across the page, diagonally back to the left, and finally to the bottom corner. If you’re laying out, say, the back cover of a book, or a postcard, this can be very useful in telling you where to put the vital pieces of information, and which areas are less likely to be noted by the reader. gutenbergdiagram

When you’re putting text elements on a cover, in addition to the rule of thirds and Gutenberg diagram, you want to keep Proximity in mind. It seems obvious – the closer two things are spatially, the more they are related – but it makes a difference. If I’m going to have a title, my name, and ‘author of Pixie Noir’ on a cover, where do I put that last element? What about “Five Space Opera Tales”? If I reversed those and put the ‘author of Pixie Noir’ next to the title instead of my name, it could be confusing. warp resonance cover

This handsome cover (Ok, OK, I’m biased. But it’s a handy prop) also shows propositional density. Propositional density is the amount of data a design is conveying. Designs which have more density are more interesting than designs which are very simple. There’s a fine line here, you don’t want it to become cluttered. But you can say a lot with iconic representation – I have a space ship, so that’s science fiction, and the red white and blue seems obvious (although it’s not actually part of the stories in an implicit way). The art doesn’t have to be highly detailed, relatively simple elements can be rich with meaning on a subconscious level.

The next principle I’m going to talk about is somewhat tricky. It’s related to branding, which you should be doing for yourself and your books, and it’s called the Exposure effect. The idea here is that a concept people are neutral on, or even lightly negative toward – will through repeated exposure become more likeable. The reason it’s tricky for Indie Authors is that we all know that one person who never does anything except blare ‘buy my book!’ on social media. Instead, this is about making people familiar with you in positive ways. The strongest effects are seen with pictures, meaningful words (buy my book would not seem to be the right ones here), names (you! and not Author Jane Doe, no, make YOUR name the one people recognize), and logos. How many of us can instantly recognize a Baen Rocket on a shelf full of spines and gravitate toward that book? However, be aware that the exposure effect can be overdone and it will bore people and weaken if it is repeated too often. Which means you need fresh material to put in front of the readers, whether it’s new promo, ads, books, or just blog posts.

While you are exposing yourself (heh! No, not like that!) you should keep the performance load in mind. “The greater the effort to accomplish a task, the less likely the task will be accomplished successfully.” (Universal Principles of Design) In other words, people are seeing your stuff and they like it. How easy is it for them to actually give you money? Do you have a clickable link that takes them to a buy button? Are there clear places on your blog where folks can select and purchase your work? If they look for you on Amazon, is all your work in one place with a clearly recognizable you in the Author Page? You wouldn’t believe how difficult it can be to make sure you’re tracking down the right person, with the right books, from people who really ought to know better. Keep in mind that humans, like water and electricity, follow the path of least resistance. Make it easy, or leave money on the table.

Oh, and don’t forget that the picture really is worth a thousand words. I know it sounds trite. But the Picture Superiority Effect is well documented, and it makes a big difference when people are looking for you. People remember that logo, or photo, or book cover, when the words that accompanied it have long faded from memory.

And finally, since I promised, homework.

I’ve been debating what to give you all that isn’t too terribly hard, doesn’t require website design (not for the faint of heart) and will be immediately useful.

Postcards!

So here’s what I want you to do. In the program you’re most comfortable with, be it GIMP, Photoshop, or what-have-you, lay out a 4×6″ postcard. You should use book covers for the graphics, a logo if you have one, and just enough words to ease the performance load. Keep the visual principles, and the Gutenberg diagram, in mind. Also, you want to keep your legibility of any text high, and the signal-to-noise ratio low. I’m going to suggest you create and add a QR code to the postcard as well. It’s your choice if you want to do front and back, or just front. Save it as a jpg or png file, and if you want to send it to me, I’ll put them up next week for open critique (and not coincidentally, promote you as well). If you don’t feel like public critique, don’t send them! But do follow along to learn how to make yours better.

The last postcard I did, a quick piece to promote my best selling series. There's nothing on the back of this one, it was only intended to be handed out at cons.

The last postcard I did, a quick piece to promote my best selling series. There’s nothing on the back of this one, it was only intended to be handed out at cons.

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, PROMOTION

Adding the Sizzle

Grilled lamb with medjara rice

My job as a publisher is to make your mouth water over that book even before you’ve opened the cover. As a writer, it’s my job to make it taste as good as it looks.

There was an advertising saying somewhen, I don’t recall where I first heard it, that you aren’t selling the steak, you’re selling the sizzle. Needless to say, making books smoke and sizzle isn’t the way to sell them, but adding some polish is.

To return to the metaphor I started exploring last week, of books being marketed not in a monolithic marketplace, but in a bazaar, a fair full of fantastic wares full of shoppers who are on visual overload – how do you make your book stand out? One of the first things I can tell you is that it’s not all about the writing.

Don’t get me wrong: I am NOT saying the story doesn’t matter. It does. It’s vital. If that steak comes out of the kitchen sizzling merrily and smelling great, the reader’s eater’s mouth starts to water. But the plate is plunked in front of him by a surly server who grunts something about gender inequality and then disappears for the rest of the meal (or worse, hovers and critiques the eater’s taste in food, apparent privilege, neo-nazism, and so on). On the plate is a paper-thin cut of meat, cooked until it’s grey all over, maybe a hunk of charcoal on one corner, and it tastes like cardboard. You can bet that eater isn’t coming back unless there are no other choices.

Fortunately for readers, there are other choices. There are books that have been edited with care, wrapped into professional-looking covers, with proper layout and design throughout. It’s the equivalent of walking through that marketplace and being offered a really great taco from a street vendor. It smells wonderful, it tastes great, and you don’t have to pay for the expensive meal with the disgusting steak.

Tacos

If you’re ever near Mason OH I can tell you where to find the place…

Don’t like tacos? Or steaks? You have choices as a reader in the new marketplace. As a writer, you’ve got the readers headed toward you hungry and looking. What are you going to do?

  • Either learn how to be, or hire, a professional cover artist. No, wait, let me explain. You don’t want an artist (well, you do, but I digress) you want a designer. Beautiful design will make up for lacking art.
  • Have your book edited. Structural edits if needed, proof edits for sure, and as I mentioned last week, you can either hire someone, or you can barter for services. The book might look beautiful but if it leaves the reader with mental indigestion they won’t be coming back.
  • Learn how to make keywords work for you. Readers don’t just browse the marketplace, they search out what they want. If your wares are with, say, the taco vendors when the readers are looking at silk scarves, you’ll be left wondering why your sales are so dismal.
  • Spend time on crafting your blurb, or find someone to hire/help you with that. The MGC commenting community has been helpful to folks with this in the past, so today if you have a blurb, put it in the comments for critique.
  • Don’t make your book look too different. Readers use certain cues, often unconsciously, to assess the worth of the product in front of them. Take the time to look at the top sellers in your specific sub-genre and break apart the components which are similar, dissimilar, and then look at your book to see how you can both signal “this is a zombie romance” and still look new, different, and you.
  • Chicken Satay

    Perhaps you prefer your meat on a stick for ease of eating on the go? (click on picture for recipe)

    Don’t offer just one thing. Yes, I know everyone has to start somewhere. But be ready to keep writing once you put that first book out there, and be prepared to not sell much until you have enough to make your booth look interesting to readers who prefer to know there’s more where that came from.

  • As a corollary to that last, make your series look coherent. Covers should have a common design thread (typography and similar art styles are good ways to accomplish this). Somewhere on the book, indicate that it is part of a series. Somewhere on the sales page, let the reader know which book in the series it is – most readers hate to pick up book three and feel totally lost in the story. Amazon has gotten very good at pulling series together and offering them as a bundle, but you must make it clear in your set-up or this won’t happen.
  • Do some active marketing. It need not be time-consuming or expensive. There are many different options from blogging to buying slots on promotional mailing lists, and we have talked about them here at MGC a few times!

Once you are up and running in that virtual marketplace, other options become available. You can ask your regular customers what they’d like to see you offer. I did that earlier this week on my blog, asking if there was interest in an omnibus version of my completed Pixie for Hire Trilogy. You can offer wares directly from your website for more personal touches, as I’ve started to do with signed books and original art. Now, I’ve gotten some interesting suggestions, like the requests for coffee mugs and t-shirts with my artwork on them. And I have thoughts on what may be marketplace mistakes (a coloring book?). But you don’t know what will work until you try.

You can also talk to your fellow vendors. Sure, just like in a real fair environment, some of them will be paranoid and suspicious and assume you’re trying to steal customers from them. Others will be gracious and helpful, and you’ll find yourself doing what I used to do: “Oh, yes, it is a beautiful scarf, isn’t it? And so warm! You’ll find them at the book an aisle over and four booths down. Enjoy!” Only now I acquire, read, and review books I think my readers will like. I know I can’t possibly write fast enough to keep even the slowest of my fans amused all the time. So I make sure they are happy by sending them to other authors too. I’m also doing this quirky thing called Eat This While you Read That, where I highlight an author’s food suggestion along with a book to read while the meal is prepared/eaten. It’s been fun!

Your fellow marketers can also help with finessing your set-up and delivery. That’s part of our mission here at the Mad Genius Club. I can’t speak for the others, but for me, I do this to pay back, or forward (longitudinal diffusion – it goes in every which direction!) the help that has been given to me over the years. I like being helpful. Plus, in the principle of ‘see one, do one, teach one’ I am in the teaching stage, and learning as I go. It’s all good, and the new authors who come comment here make it a joyful and fulfilling experience.

Huh. I wandered a bit off track there. Ah, well! See you in the comments.

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, MARKETING