“Last chance! Secrets from Media Guru!”
“Sell Hundreds of Books Now!”
“Optimize social ads!”
Like cheap paper fliers of yore, these headlines fill your email inbox.
We all want publishing success, hoards of fans and yes! More than moderate fame. Some of us have been published traditionally and not found that hoped-for, instant success. Others have either refused the traditional route, or have kinked our necks on the gatekeeper ceiling and answered the Indie Call. All of us want to sell more books.
Somehow, in the big bubble gum baby maker in the sky (thank you, Garrison Keillor), most of us got rolled out lacking good marketing instincts. Some people just figure it out, but not me. I took marketing 101. I did! Still, I can’t wrap my brain around all the choices to figure out the best combination that works. It’s not for lack of passion or purpose that I remain confused and uncertain. I’ve talked about this with many fellow writers, compared notes on what kind of investments they’ve made and what produced the most sales. I know writers—everyday folks like you and me—who have spent upwards of sixteen thousand dollars trying to boost their sales over some magical threshold that will start the income flowing dependably.
This is no secret to the industry’s service providers. Some are legit, some not.
The Good Guys. These are talented people who offer their graphic services for fabulous book covers, Facebook ads, banners and promotional material. Also copy editors and proofreaders, who help to ensure that we emerge from the publishing process with no pie on our face, only clean copy that makes our ideas shine. Also publicists, virtual assistants and the like who may offer a more clear, calm path through the marketing jungle.
The Bad Guys. This group includes anyone who waves a magic flag to attract authors and get rich off our dreams, even while knowing full well that their product won’t deliver as promised without considerable luck or additional investments.
Our jobs, ladies and gents, is to tell one from the other.
Good Investments. Before rolling the dice to determine the next move on the game board, we must first be sure we have an excellent product. Good doesn’t cut it. It needs to be excellent. The investment here is time and yes, toil over the words until they shine and provide a reward to the reader for spending their precious time reading our words. Concept. Is it intriguing, or like hundreds of others? Plot. Is it dynamic, surprising, refreshing, or safe, just following the genre formula? Characters. Do they develop naturally through the novel, or does the author merely force actions that suggest growth?
Oh, heck, I’ve seen worse. We all know of less than stellar authors who have achieved success. They slide into home base on a magic carpet of luck. As Clint Eastwood said, “Do you feel lucky?” If you do, this route is available. Beware of Bad Guys, and proceed.
Crazy Luck, Magic Formulas, or Good Ol’ Sweat Equity? Who’s to say which will bring success? No one, but you’re in this game and if you want to play you have to pay. Find the right combination for you.
To start you on your information quest, I consulted several of RMFW’s published authors to learn their thoughts on effective advertising and promotion. I offered anonymity, which some preferred, but most were willing to share.
Here, then, are some thoughts on sharks and winners.
The Question. What advertising/promotion has brought you the most book sales?
No Idea. This was Jax Bubis (Jax Hunter), multi-indie-pubbed military and paranormal romance author’s first response. I sensed her smile through the email and read on. She suggests that you build your email list.
Been There, Spent That. An author who wished to remain anonymous shared the s/he had spent a substantial budget on ads this past year, including Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, giveaways and more, but still received a poor return on investment. Another author, also remaining anonymous, spent over $16,000.00 on Facebook ads. S/he could accomplish no more than to break even. (At least s/he broke even.)
Skip the Swag. Several authors commented on swag—candy, bookmarks, tea bags, pens, scratch pads and the like. Most felt it’s best to skip all of it except for business cards, and write more books.
It’s All About Genre. Mary Gilgannon has been busy testing the ad waters. She’s tried blog posts, small romance book sites, a promo service, tweets, newsletter lists and reviews, all with mixed and less-than-stellar results. “My sense is that what worked even six months or a year ago, might not work as well now. The market is ever changing and it seems to become more difficult every year to get your books noticed.” Her final answer: write in a best-selling genre, and get your books out quickly.
Reviews, Baby! Terry Wright, former contest chair for RMFW, is an indie pioneer and prolific writer. He entered the field early with his sci fi and action thrillers. He also writes screenplays, founded TBW Press, and conquered production of book trailers. He described advertising as a crapshoot, but believes strongly in Kindle reviews. He has little regard for Twitter due to the excessive tweet traffic, which buries any tweets within minutes.
Face Time. Terry also believes it pays to get personal. He has sold more print books face to face at conferences, panels, fairs, etc., than with other methods, and encourages his writers to do the same.
Good, and Free. Twice named RMFW's Writer of the Year, Robin Owens has enjoyed much success with her fantasy and paranormal ghost series. Also RMFW's former president, Robin stresses two ways to succeed: write a very good book, and develop a following. She has found good results with a multi-author ad featuring a Kindle giveway.
Carry a Big Gun. 2014 RMFW Writer of the Year and current Treasurer, Shannon Baker, is the author of the Nora Abbott and Kate Fox mystery series. She's also a tireless promoter. With her recent release of Stripped Bare, she participated in an intensive blog and book signing tour. What she’s especially pleased with is her decision to hire a publicist. She has found it well worth the investment.
Goodreads Ads. Our 2015 Writer of the Year, PubLaw friend and Twitter guru, Susan Spann, writes Shinobi mysteries set in sixteenth century Japan. She shares that she has had great success with blog tours and Goodreads ads.
Let’s Go Surfing Now! 2016 Indie Writer of the Year nominee Corinne O’Flynn is RMFW’s Conference Chair and a multi-published author of murder mysteries. She shared this link: http://www.paidauthor.com/best-ebook-promotion-sites , a helpful overview of some of the many options available.
King Amazon. Anne Randolph’s memoir, Stories Gathered at the Kitchen Table, recently made the Amazon Best-selling list in Memoirs. “I have found the Amazon Hot New Release and 30 Day Book Launch with Amazon Select to be quite effective. We sold over 1200 books in a two day period and more by the end of the campaign.” Anne has a webinar and podcast about her campaign at www.AuthorU.org
Podcasts. Nathan Lowell, nominated for RMFW’s first Indie Writer of the Year, is an inspiration to many. In his January RMFW blog, Nathan mentions the large part his early podcasts played in his publishing success. Nathan sustains high output with his writing progress charts.
Audio Books. Along that line, Richard Rieman guest blogged on the January 18th RMFW blog about how audio books can resurrect a “mostly dead” book and increase your fan base.
Expensive Webinars. While I focused on RMFW authors, I’ll add that several other friends and acquaintances have taken webinar courses on book marketing. UK indie author Mark Dawson, and one of Dawson’s webinar graduates, Nick Stephenson, are the main players in this field. It’s pricey -- $700 to $800, and focuses on advertising with Facebook. I have not been willing to put all my dollars in one place like that, so I can only recommend that you research all such webinars. Things to consider are:
* In their sales efforts, do the student testimonials include success stories for authors who write in your genre?
* Is there any kind of guarantee, and if so, does it cover a long enough period for you to determine if it’s a sound investment?
* Does it require yet more investment on your part to discover if it can work for you? If so, how much? As I mentioned earlier, I know of authors who have invested in the course and then spent additional thousands to test the course strategy. I’ve heard from some authors that it helped their sales, and I’ve heard from others that the best they’ve achieved is a break-even. I’ve heard from yet others that it’s such a complicated ad strategy that they haven’t had time to try it out, and it’s now only gathering dust in their hard drives.
* Rumor has it that Nick Stephenson has stopped writing his thriller novels to concentrate on his teaching business because it pays better. Hmm.
* Can you “test” the webinar concept yourself for less money than the course costs?
* Is the information updated often? The market changes practically daily, so old information is quickly rendered useless.
Details Are Tools. RMFW’s first Indie Writer of the Year, Lisa Scott Manifold, recommends that you write more books. Readers are impatient and don’t like to wait a year or two for book 2, 3, etc. in the series. She believes readers want series even more these days and if you can’t manage multiple books a year, you can consider writing shorts to keep visible to your fans. “You need to figure out, among all the noise out there right now, what kind of promotion works for you.” That includes limited free days, advertising on promo websites, working on a newsletter or blog. Above all, track your efforts. “How much you spent, what sales you got (check them daily!) and did you see buy-through into your other works? That kind of data lets you know whether or not this new method is worth keeping in your marketing tool box.”
My thanks to all authors who were generous enough to share with us. Have you found this information helpful? You can pay it forward by responding to this blog, and sharing which promotion/s have worked best/worst for you.
Together, we’re stronger.
I hope to hear from you.