Singing the Book Promotion Blues

With a new book coming out in June, I have had the pleasure—and the pain—of deciding what I need to do to get the word out. My decisions are similar to the ones anyone launching a book makes. Being realistic, there is only so much time and money, and never enough. There is also a limited payoff to the some of the choices, so where do you get the biggest bang for your buck. I figured I would share the marketing plan for my upcoming release, RED SKY, in the hopes that it might help some of you.

Timing is everything

There are a lot of things you can do to promote your book, and some of them must be done months in advance. Early in the year, my publisher sent me a marketing plan with the dates of actions to be taken and the name of the person responsible for taking those actions--one advantage of having a traditional publisher, and still the tasks are the same. I added to it things like signings, travel, promotional items. The time frame goes something like this:

6 months ahead of pub date

                               RED SKY Advance Reader's Copy    

Pitch the book for print reviews, guest articles and to local media. This includes sending galleys and later finished books to reviewers. My publisher's PR department took responsibility for this, and it resulted in some nice reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist, as well as guest blog assignments and local media interviews.

Give away galleys and books to help create buzz. There is a community of booksellers, librarians, media professionals and book lovers interested in reading e-versions of pre-published books. My publisher puts my book up on NetGallery, and later does Giveaways to boost reviews on sites like Amazon, B&N and Goodreads.  I've added to it by doing Giveaways of the book once I receive my author copies--but those are limited. Sometimes you have to buy more, and that can get expensive.

Set up signings at the local bookstores. Some stores have longer lead times than others, and if you want a time close to your launch it doesn't pay to wait. Once you know your pub date, have your publicist call (r you call) the bookstores where you want to appear. My advice is to choose wisely. Venues differ. Upside, at Tattered Cover you'll be asked to speak and then sign books. Downside, if you don't have a traditional publisher willing to pay the fee, it will cost you $150 to set a date and you may have to consign your books. At a Barnes & Noble, you'll find yourself at a table in the front of the store hawking your book to their customers. Mark Stevens is the king of hawking, and he enjoys this type of venue. I don't, so I avoid this type of signing like the plague.

Promotional Poster for Hearthfire Books

OF NOTE: A publicist once told me not to set up too many signings in one locale. The theory being, you can only ask your friends, family and fans to show up so many times. With Red Sky, which launches in June, I've only set up two signings—one at the Tattered Cover-Colfax store; the other at Hearthfire Books, in my hometown of Evergreen.

Two months ahead of publication

Order promotional materials and swag. Most authors do bookmarks or postcards. Some give out chocolate. Some do tchotchke items. For example, Suzanne Proulx, who wrote a series of books featuring a hospital risk manager, ordered pens that looked like hypodermic needles to promote her novel, Bad Blood. Robin Owens printed the cover of her book on the back of a pocket calendar. Brilliant! I carried that card around for a year, flashing it numerous times in front of numerous people. The key is to be creative. Put something into the hands of bookstore owners, librarians and fans that will make them want to order and buy your book. Make sure you have a good design, and research your printer. There are a number of companies that offer discounted printing, but quality differs—and quality matters.

OF NOTE: One of the best promotional values around is Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blue Mailer. If you’re a PAL or iPAL member, for a modest fee you can place a blurb about your book in three consecutive bi-monthly mailers sent out to regional booksellers and librarians. For an additional charge you can include an insert. NOTE: there are specs for mailings and inserts, so be sure you meet expectations.

One month before publication

New Ebook cover for down-priced version

Take advantage of other opportunities

Library talks are fun, and a great way to get your book in front of readers. So are local book club talks. I've been lucky and my books have sold to the national book clubs, including Harlequin Book Club for my upcoming RED SKY. The entry on my publisher's marketing plans reads, "Cross promotion between all clubs. Coming soon email, new arrivals email and comparable titles email." I have no idea what that means, but I'm thrilled the publisher is handling things.

Agree to speak or teach, or sometimes you can simply show up.  Just make sure it fits with your goals. Last weekend Mario Acevedo, Nathan Lowell and I attended "Books and Brews" in Greeley. What can beat twelve authors, and a room full of readers playing trivia, and specialty beer? In June, I'll present a workshop at the Parker Writers Group monthly meeting, and in September I'll teach a workshop at the Colorado Gold Conference along with WOTY Nominee Shannon Baker.

Donate to auctions. I am constantly being asked to donate signed books to auctions. I usually do, but I always try for added value. I want not only the winning bidder to remember the book, but the lookie-loos, too. For example, my fellow Rogue Women Writers and I donate baskets to mystery and thriller convention auctions. We each contribute a signed book, and then we add interesting things from the Spy Museum in Washington D.C. in keeping with our international espionage themes. Things like: Campbell soup can concealers, "rear view" mirror sunglasses," truth detector" devices, top secret bags, mugs and hats.

Segueing to conventions, every genre has one. In the mystery field, it's Bouchercon. The regional equivalent is Left Coast Crime (LCC). For cozies it's Malice Domestic. For thrillers it's ThrillerFest. And, trust me, they can cost you an arm and a leg. Mike Befeler and I once calculated that it cost a minimum of $1,000 to attend an out-of-state conference. Double that for ThrillerFest. We were taking into account airfare, hotel costs, meals, promotional items, and registration fees--yes, unless you're a star, you're expected to pay your own way--so there may be some additional hidden costs. The message is not to not go, but to figure out which cons are important for you to attend. For instance, at ThrillerFest I can meet with my editor and agent, as well as rub elbows with the big hitters in my genre—many of whom I can later ask for book blurbs. Colorado Gold is near to my heart, and I would go just to see all my friends.

OF NOTE: Always accept a panel assignment, and try not to be that difficult writer who can only speak at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday alongside Lee Child. Word gets around.

There are other cons, too. The Independent Booksellers across the country hold conventions, and a number of states sponsor book festivals. Many of the writers groups will have a presence at these events, and it's worth it to volunteer to man the booth for an hour and meet the booksellers. This year, I'm going to Chicago for the American Library Association convention in June. I'm paying my airfare, but my publisher has agreed to donate 100 books for me to sign and giveaway.

Be sure and budget!

Rogue Women Writers promo poster at ThrillerFest

Only you know what you can afford to spend. My advice, make a plan and stick with it! Don't be me. I'll admit, there have been times when I've transferred attending a con into the "personal fun" category rather than assess the expense to my book promotion budget. Don't tell!

Seriously, if you're not careful you'll spend every dollar you make writing books, twice.

This year my goal is to expand my readership, so I'm going to ThrillerFest and Bouchercon for some face time with my editor and agent, and to connect with East Coast and Canadian readers. I'm sending out mailings, creating a display poster for the ThrillerFest hall, making donations, guest blogging, speaking at several events. Just to give you a sense of the cost, my total in expenditures to promote RED SKY so far are—wait for it—a whopping $5,660. Not as bad as you might think. I budgeted $5,000.

OF NOTE: For what it's worth, Diane Mott Davidson second-mortgaged her house to fund a tour of the west coast with four prominent cozy writers. She also gave away scads of cookies, sometimes with the help of friends. Ask Chris Jorgensen about how she and I sat in the back seat of Carol Caverly's car and stuffed chocolate chip cookies into small giveaway bags enroute to the Omaha Bouchercon. In addition to writing good books, Diane's marketing efforts eventually landed her a gig on "Good Morning America" and a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list.

Now, I'm not advocating you refinance your home, or that you sell your first born. But give some thought to how much you can afford to put into promotion, and make a plan. Allocate wisely and it just might pay off!

Covers Matter…A Lot

All day long at my job at the library I watch people pick out books. Step one: the cover or the author’s name (if they’ve read them previously or heard something about them) catches their eye. Step two: they pick up the book and read the cover blurb to find out what the book is about.

The cover blurb process is for another blog or even a workshop, but I have a few observations about book covers. With the exception of literary fiction, which always seems to have very bland covers, covers can absolutely make or break a book. And I’m observing people choosing print books, where they can pick up the book and examine it closely. When you’re talking about the thumbnail-sized e-book cover, the science/art of book covers becomes even more crucial.

The first thing a good cover does is catch the eye. It shouldn’t have too many elements because that makes it look cluttered. Colors are important, as some colors are more striking/appealing than others. Also, certain colors subconsciously signal certain moods, and having the mood match the mood of the book is essential.

We have several shelves of paperbacks that are organized by narrower genre classifications than our general fiction collection. A lot of the time I’ll order a book that could fit into any number of these genres. For example, we have thriller-type books shelved in suspense, in romance, in mystery, in adventure and in general fiction. So, how do I decide?

If I’m familiar with the author and what they usually write, that makes it easy. Otherwise I start with the blurb: Is the focus on the romance? Is there a lot of action? Is there a clear puzzle/mystery at the core? Is the focus on nail-biting suspense, but not necessarily a lot of action? Is the book about an apocalyptic battle/struggle to save the world, or a more sedate courtroom drama?

When I can’t decide for sure where a book belongs, or it could fit into two or more categories, I often go by the cover. Is it dark and moody? Probably fits better in suspense. Does it show a couple? It will probably check out better in romance. Does it show a hot, half-naked, tattooed man on the cover? We’ll call it paranormal romance and put it on the romance rack. Does it show a hot, half-naked, tattooed woman on the cover? That signals urban fantasy, so I'll put it in the sci fi/fantasy section.

Colors are almost as important as the cover content. You don’t want dark/muddy colors on a romance, unless it’s a edgy romantic suspense. You don’t want pastels on an action-oriented book, a western or even a legal thriller. For mysteries, the covers should clearly signal whether they are cozies (with lighter, brighter colors like green, yellow and pastel blue), while darker stories use dark blues, blacks, grays and maybe a touch of red.

I said earlier that the cover shouldn’t be cluttered, and one of the most common mistakes I see is that the author will try to have the cover accurately reflect the plot, and hence include a lot of elements. They want to show it’s a romance and a time travel and so they show the couple and the elements that make the setting in the past clear. Or they show too many characters and images. Sometimes it works, but usually not. Simpler and subtler is almost always better.

Ultimately, you should rely on the experts. Which is the art department of your publisher, or your cover artist, if you are indie-publishing. And most important, remember that your vision of the book cover may be all wrong. I loved the cover of my first book designed by my current small publisher. It had all the elements I thought should be in my story: handsome, bare-chested barbarian type hero with a modern skyline in the background, perfectly capturing the time travel/fantasy romance plot.

But the book sold dismally, and I’m sure a lot of it was because of the cover. It didn’t reduce down well to a thumbnail, and it was too dark, much darker than mood of the story. And the bare-chested guy who I thought captured the look of the dark-age Irish prince didn’t seem to do anything for readers. He looked more scary than hot, and that’s the opposite of his persona in the book. There were other things wrong with the book and they way it was marketed, but I’m still pretty certain the cover was in large share to blame for the poor sales.

The final thing is the cover should not look amateurish. Which is to say that the art isn’t interesting, or of good quality and/or the elements don’t flow well together. I meet a lot of indie-published authors who want me to add their book to the library's collection. (And we’re talking free here, not books I’m spending library funds on.) If the cover looks amateurish, I’m probably going to say no right away. Because even if I put that book on the new book shelf, which gets a lot of traffic, no one’s going to pick it up. It might be a great novel, but it’s never going to have a chance with a bad cover.

There are lots of blogs and articles on the internet regarding the "science" of book covers. It’s probably worth your time to do some research. Maybe a lot of research. After all, this is your baby, and if nobody notices it, your baby is never going to get the love it deserves.

“Cataloging” Your Book

It’s been over twenty years since I started ordering fiction for the public library where I work. We divide adult fiction into four basic collections: mystery, western, sci-fi/fantasy and fiction (which encompasses everything that doesn’t fit into the first three). In the past, cataloging, or deciding where to shelve a book, was pretty simple. Occasionally there were questions about whether a book was suspense, which we shelve in fiction, or a mystery. Traditionally a mystery is a book that features a private detective or amateur sleuth, or a police procedural, but gradually we started adding crime fiction to the mystery section. Then the thriller category exploded, and some of our patrons thought John Grisham and James Patterson books should be mysteries. (We resisted and kept them in Fiction.)

But that was only the beginning. Charlene Harrison started the True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse series, and we cataloged the books as mystery because that’s the genre she’d been writing in previously. But they weren’t mysteries, really. They had vampires in them. And where do you catalog vampire books? Anne Rice’s vampire books were in fiction. But other authors, like Laurell Hamilton, wrote vampire books that had a lot of supernatural elements and those books seemed to fit better in sci-fi/fantasy. And then Jim Butcher started a fantasy series featuring a detective, and where do you put those?

Dystopian fiction has traditionally been cataloged as fiction, probably because classic dystopian novels like 1984 and The Handmaiden’s Tale are considered literature, which meant they’re shelved in fiction. But if a dystopian novel has zombies, does it really belong in fiction? Wouldn’t it check out better in sci fi/fantasy?

In the end, that’s what usually drives my decision: Where will the book check out best? Where will the readers searching for that kind of book most likely look for it? That’s why the question of what genre your book fits into is so important to you as a writer. Readers have to find your book. If the people who would love your story don’t find it in the area of the library—or more importantly, the section of the bookstore, digital or otherwise—they usually browse in, they’re never going to discover your book.

You can’t control where your book is shelved in libraries or bookstores, but you do have some control over how it is marketed. And that process starts even before you the sell the book to a publisher. It may even affect how you write the book, as in which genre rules you decide to follow or which ones you decide to break. When you make a pitch to an editor or agent, you should be telling them things about your book that help them categorize it so they can see how it fits into their company’s marketing plan.

If you’re indie-publishing your book, you have total control over the cover, the blurb and the category/genre it’s listed in. Which means you really can fine-tune where it’s going to be “shelved”, in either a digital bookstore or physical building. So think a lot about where your book fits in the market. What are some popular books that are like yours? What categories are they listed in on-line? What do their covers look like? How are they described, both in blurbs and by readers?

It can be overwhelming, but ultimately this is your baby. You want to make sure your book ends up in the right place so people can find it and fall in love.

THOUGHTS ON MARKETING

I'm in the dreaded days between turning the last revision into the editor and waiting for the acceptance so I can get paid. How do I fill my time? By working on the next book, of course, and, no, I don't do NaNo. I find it stressful, and a way to focus more on how many words I'm writing than the quality of the work on the pages. But I also catch up on my correspondence and turn to marketing. A dreaded word, but something that's necessary if you want to sell books.

"What, you want specifics?"

Rogue Women Writers blog

Take Social Media, please.
We all know what we're supposed to do—Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. In my case, I Facebook some; I Tweet some; and I write on two group blogs: RMFW and the Rogue Women Writers. Sharing the blogging breaks up the workload (which I appreciate), and I think it keeps the blog pages interesting.

But here's the truth. I hate Goodreads. Okay, okay, I dislike Goodreads.

I know, I know, it's a problem. Goodreads is where a lot of readers hang out. Unfortunately, because of the set up I must have two separate pages for my two separate series, and that means twice the work. I was just out there today—first time since August—and I had invites to accept and comments to respond to, on both pages. In order to look active, I have to sign in on both pages, post something, post up books I'm reading, books I've read, rate books.... It's not fun. It's work. Facebook is fun. Twitter is fun. I like writing the blogs. But I may just stop doing Goodreads altogether, except...it's where readers hang out.

Tip: Focus on what you like and have a venue that doesn't appeal to you send notices when someone posts a comment, asks a question, etc. That way you're not ignoring someone by default. It's saved my bacon a time or two.

At the Tattered Cover with Susan Spann (2015 WOTY), Mark Stevens, me, Carol Berg, Lisa Manifold, Nathan Lowell and Sue Duff.

Factor in Signings
If you think just because the book is out and has been out for a while that you won't do any more signings and/or events, think again. This week alone I've gotten calls to sign at a bookstore for Indies First (a movement to support our Independent Bookstores) and to appear at the Boulder County Audubon's Annual Holiday Sale. I said yes to both, but sometimes I don't. Sometimes I strategically say no.

"Why?" you ask.

Because you want exposure, but you don't want to be overexposed. I run that risk. I get around. (Get your minds out of the gutter.) It's a good problem to have, but it can also be a negative. In the past year, I've had two books out. Since mid-April, that's meant nine Front Range signings—three of them at the Tattered Cover and two at the Denver Book Bar. Granted, three were because I was fortunate enough to be nominated for several awards and the WOTY, but that means I had to make six others worthwhile for both myself and the bookseller.

Don't believe for a minute that a signing is about selling books. That has little to do with it. You can't sell enough books at a signing to make it worthwhile financially. What you can achieve is meeting booksellers and creating rapport so they hand-sell your book and want you to back again. It's also about introducing yourself to a few people who might not otherwise have heard about your book.

Tip: Set up signings in different venues that reach different groups of people. Go for one or two bookstores, book clubs and group events. For instance, my book that came out in May has a birdwatching theme, so I'm signing at the Boulder County Audubon's Holiday Event coming up November 22nd. Find creative places to find new readers who would be interested in your work.

Eyes on the Future—Conferences and Workshops

This is where it gets harder. What's coming? There are a myriad of conferences and events that seem worthwhile and tug at you, but what's to your best advantage? This is where you have to get serious, look at your income, look at your costs, weigh the benefits and be brutal with choices. Look at when your books are coming out, so you can plan based on what give you the biggest bang for the buck.

At ThrillerFest with Lee Child, Gayle Lynds, Francine Mathews, K.J. Howe and S. Lee Manning

I live in the mystery/thriller world. My next book is coming out June 13, 2017, so what are a few of my considerations, ThrillerFest (July in NYC, 2017), Bouchercon (October in Toronto, 2017) and Left Coast Crime (March in Reno, 2018). These are the ones that I should do, if possible. This year I'm skipping LCC. It's in Hawaii, and I will have just married off a daughter on Kauai the month before. Two trips to Hawaii in two months seems excessive. But these are all "FAN" conventions. They draw more readers than writers, and play to building readership. They fit with my genre and connect me with people who are the most interested in reading what I write.

Of course, this list multiplies if you add in Killer Nashville, Magna Cum Murder, Malice Domestic, etc., etc. The thing to remember is—you have to approximate spending $1K for every con you attend out-of-state—$2K for NYC. Pick the winning combination.

And what about Colorado Gold, Pikes Peak Writers, SleuthFest and any number of other conferences held across the country? RMFW is a must for me because I see my old friends, it's my hometown conference and I have only missed two (maybe) in the past 30+ years. The rest are teaching conferences, so if I'm not teaching, I'm not going. It's just that simple.

Tip: Look at your publishing schedule, then at the coming year. Figure out what you can afford to spend on travel to promote your books, and then choose accordingly. Maybe it's better to go to the Southwest Book Festival, or Tucson Festival of Books or on a book tour vs. a convention. Maybe you can combine a tour with a convention—for example, ThrillerFest comes closer to my pub date than Bouchercon, and with added benefit of face time with my agent and editor.

Once you've made a schedule, commit to it and move on to promoting it via Social Media.

Most importantly, write. Everyday! Write on that new book. All the marketing in the world won't do you any good if you don't have something to sell.

The Lourey/Baker Double Booked Tour … by Shannon Baker and Jess Lourey

2016_Shannon BakerHi Guys! (waving from sunny Tucson)

Being here today feels so much like coming home. I’ve been a member of RMFW for over 20 years and if I’ve gained any knowledge of business and craft (and let’s hope some of it stuck) I owe it all to RMFW. So even if I’m soaking up the desert instead of the Rockies (and you don’t know how much I miss them) I always feel like RMFW is my writer home.

So imagine how excited I am to bring Jess Lourey home with me. She’s not a stranger to a lot of you. Jess is the author of the Murder by the Month series from Midnight Ink. If you haven’t read them, you must. They are a ton o’ fun. She taught at RMFW’s one-day May workshop in 2013 and if you were there, you know how lucky we were to have her. Today, she’s here to talk about her upcoming thriller, Salem’s Cipher, featuring agoraphobic cryptanalyst Salem Wiley, who finds herself both target and detective in a modern day witch hunt. This is one smart book, full of twists and turns, and such cool stuff you will hold your breath the whole time. (Not literally, ‘cause then, you know, you’d die.)

2016_Baker_Stripped BareAnd I’m here to talk about my new book, Stripped Bare. It’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife and is about a woman sheriff in the Nebraska Sandhills. Both books release on September 6 and are available for pre-order. Salem’s Cipher. Stripped Bare. This is our first stop on the month-long, pre-launch—cue angelic chorus—Lourey/Baker Double Booked Tour, and I got to pick the topic so I decided both of us will give a tip about marketing and promotion.

I don’t know about you, but for me, marketing is hard. Planning, researching, angsting, peopleing. (Writing books is hard, too, with much of the same hardness topics, but stick with us on the—angels singingLourey/Baker Double Booked Tour, and we’ll give tips and clues on dealing with much of it.) Most of us have a hard time saying, “Read my book. Read my book,” but in the sea full of books, we have to do something to alert the fishermen hungering for ours where to cast their line. Good marketing is a service to readers, really. And those who do it correctly are saints—a little more angels’ song.

Didn’t your mother ever tell you that many hands make light the work? No? Well, mine didn’t either, but she should have. And, a road trip is ever-more fun with a buddy. Jess and I discovered we both have books launching on the same day. Jess is one of my favorite people to hang out with. She always makes me laugh or think deeply about life (which makes me squirm but is good for my personal character development).

But even more important than my good time, if we want to perform the selfless service of informing people about our books, we should do it with some humor, something interesting, and add some value for readers. So, ta da, welcome to the—you knowLourey/Baker Double Booked Tour.

My marketing tip of the day is have fun, or as much as you can, because if it’s fun for you, hopefully, your efforts will be less like “Buy my book” and more like a public service announcement with some value added.

Jess, when I got my contract with Midnight Ink, you were one of the first people I contacted about how to market. You told me a lot of methods you’d tried. Now, after 13 books, can you tell us what you’ve learned? (Not everything you’ve learned obviously, because you’re really smart and know a lot.)

2016_Jess LoureyCripes, Shannon (Jess here), everything I’ve learned fits on a one-sheet handout. Seriously. Especially when it comes to marketing, where there is only one surefire method: make a sex tape. But for those of us from Minnesota (where the women are pale, the men quiet, and the sex is done rarely and in the dark), we must look to riskier routes. Obviously, you begin by writing the best book you can, and then…forget the book trailers, for sure forget the swag (postcards, bookmarks, and pens do not a book sell), and give yourself a time budget for marketing.

For example, I spend 5 hours a week on marketing in the three months leading up to a book release. That doubles to 10 hours a week the month of release. I treat marketing like a job during those allotted hours, and I do my best not to think about it outside of that time. There’s always one more thing I could do, and I refuse to make myself crazy by chasing that.

2016_Lourey_Salem'sMy favorite marketing avenues during my allotted marketing time: guest blogging (because it’s like having grandkids in that you get all the fun and don’t have to change any diapers); reaching out to reviewers to offer the NetGalley link to my latest; setting up signings at bookstores that handsell; posting to Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest following the social media rule of thirds: a third are personal posts, a third are blatant self-promotion, and a third are useful posts (writing tips, for example); and setting up writing workshops.

I choose those routes because I enjoy them (more or less), which brings us full circle to Shannon’s advice, with which I’m about to craft an open-faced advice sandwich with my advice as the single slice of bread: choose marketing efforts that sound fun to you, and put yourself on a strict time budget because if you don’t, you’ll always feel there was one more thing you could have done. Then, get back to the writing, because after all, isn’t that why we’re here?

Jess is giving away a Salem’s Cipher and I’m giving away a Stripped Bare. Tell us your marketing advice or leave a comment for a chance to win. Comment before midnight MT, Saturday, August 6th.

But wait, there’s more!

If you order Salem's Cipher before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to salemscipher@gmail.com to receive a Salem short story and to be automatically entered in a drawing to win a 50-book gift basket mailed to the winner's home!

If you order Stripped Bare before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to katefoxstrippedbare@gmail.com to receive a Kate Fox short story and be entered for a book gift basket mailed to your home.

Pop on over to Pat Stoltey’s Blog tomorrow as we continue the—angels singingLourey/Baker Double Booked Tour. We’re going to sit back with a glass of wine and talk about all kinds of stuff.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing "a splendid mix of humor and suspense." She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft's 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship, and leads interactive writing workshops all over the world. Salem’s Cipher, the first in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016. Visit Jess at http://jessicalourey.com/

Shannon Baker is the author of the Nora Abbott mystery series from Midnight Ink, a fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder set in western landscapes of Flagstaff, AZ, Boulder, CO, and Moab, UT. Seconds before quitting writing forever and taking up competitive drinking, Shannon was nominated for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 Writer of the Year. Buoyed with that confidence, she acquired an agent who secured a multi-book contract with Tor/Forge. The first in the Kate Fox Mystery Series, Stripped Bare is set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, it’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com.

Rethinking Book Promotion…Again

Recently, the woman who was promoting my books through social media announced she is quitting the “virtual assistant” business. She just can’t make a go of it anymore. And no wonder. The results I get from her promotional efforts have dwindled each month, and I’m sure other authors who use her services have seen the same trend. We can no longer justify paying for promotion that doesn’t increase our sales, which means our promoter is out of a job.

I signed up for her virtual assistant services nearly a year ago, as a means of reducing my guilt over my own pathetic promotional efforts. In our arrangement, I would pick a couple of my books each month, and she would tweet about them and feature them in her e-newsletter. At first, I could see results. My sales for the books featured would increase. I also credit her for helping my most recently published book hover in the top 50 list in its sub-genre for several weeks last fall. But now, unless I do a 99 cent sale (which reduces my income on the books to a depressing level), I can’t see a difference between the books she’s promoting and sales of my other titles.

I’ve tried several other promotional services. I’ve spent relatively small amounts: $40 here, $20 there, and once, $99 for a promotion that was supposed to get me twenty-five reviews. (I ended up with about fifteen.) Most of the services were busts. Recently, I paid a company $40 to feature my 99 cent book in their newsletter for a week, and had zero sales of the book for the week.

Other authors I know are becoming similarly frustrated. Oh, there are promotions that work, like Bookbub, but they cost hundreds of dollars and they are very picky about the books they feature, especially those from indie-authors. Also, you have to make the featured book free or 99 cents, which means unless you sell thousands and thousands of books, and/or you have several books out and the promotion significantly increases sales of your other titles, it isn’t possible to earn back what you spent.

The most troubling aspect of recent developments is that a year ago a lot of these promotional tools/techniques worked. When I first indie-published my backlist four years ago, there were proven ways to promote your book and increase sales. Every year since then, fewer and fewer things seem to succeed. The industry and the promotional dynamics keep changing, always in a negative way.

In her letter to her clients, my virtual assistant pointed out that part of the problem, besides there being so many books available, is that there are now so many competing companies doing the same thing. Book promotion has become a whole industry in itself, attracting large numbers of social media savvy people looking for a way to make a living or to at least supplement their income.

Not every author is in my situation. Several authors I know have cracked bestseller lists and done very well. And done it without spending a fortune either. But in most cases, they write series and have been slowly building up their following to get to that “break-out” book. And/or they write in a genre that is particularly popular right now.

Those are the only proven things that seem to help sales:  writing a series and writing in a popular sub-genre. There is one other secret, and that is having a new book out every few months, the more often the better. Neither of my series have really caught on, and I refuse to write books in a particular genre simply because it’s popular. (My muse would mutiny, and I’d never get anything done.) So all I can do is keep plugging away and writing steadily, hoping that if I keep publishing I will eventually gain ground. Maybe if I completely give up dabbling in promotion, the time and energy I save will help me write a little faster and gets books out more often. It’s worth a shot.

The Power of Communal Marketing … by Mari Christie

2015_Mariana GabrielleA year ago, I released my first Regency romance as an indie author, Royal Regard, under the pen name Mariana Gabrielle. Two days ago, one of my books was mentioned in USA Today, a box set that has been on the Amazon Hot New Release and Bestsellers lists for three months, and today, my newest book, a perma-free novella, hit the Amazon lists for the first time.

So, does this mean I am “successful”?

At the risk of breaking the secret author code, let me jump into the numbers a bit. I have increased my income this month—from $1/day to $6/day—though one never knows when such a drastic change will occur or how long it will hold true. As of August, I had been pretty consistently selling an average of half a book a day for months, with occasional rises for new releases and sales. For the past three months, I am averaging three hundred downloads a day (though the royalties do not accrue to me), and I have momentum, which, to me, feels meteoric. I don’t have an agent or publisher or virtual assistant, but somehow, I have managed to claw my way onto the very first rung of the ladder to becoming a HistRom lower-mid-lister. A milestone, by the by, that doesn’t even remotely come with a paycheck yet.

At this rate, after all the promo copies and contests and swag, and box set royalties to charity, I won’t break even financially for another 100 years—1000 years, if you think I should be paid for my time, too.

Bluestocking Belles logo-02But still, ‘tis the season for gratitude and celebration! So, I decided to reflect on how I got here in a year. There are a couple of primary factors, foremost the holiday box set featured in the USA Today column, which was predicated on the best marketing decision I have made thus far—creating the Bluestocking Belles.

To be clear, I have been a marketing and promotions professional since pre-Internet days, but the “E-Book Marketing Milieu” is really a whole new world for me, often highly uncomfortable. But the more things change, the more they stay the same, and I have been a co- and cross-promotion proponent for years. When I saw Mark Coker’s general advice, about a year ago, in a spectacular Smashwords blog post on the future of the industry, a few things really resonated: “Take the long view. Network with fellow indies. Take risks, experiment, and fail often. Publish multi-author box set collaborations. Dream big dreams. Celebrate your fellow authors’ success.”

As members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, of course, we believe in the power of writers banding together to advance ourselves and our industry, but this article made me wonder, as a long-time co-promoter, whether it might it work in a more targeted, individualized, sales-focused way, even in the Amazonian jungle of a marketplace? These ideas coalesced into a general online call to other historical romance authors interested in long-term co- and cross-promotion. After talking to a couple dozen writers over the space of a couple of months, eight of us finally committed to a long-term group plan and officially launched The Bluestocking Belles in March 2015. I have no compunction in suggesting that we are the hardest working Regency writers online, busting our tails to entertain our readers.

And it has paid off nine months later, to the tune of 300+ $0.99 downloads per day of our box set (guesstimating about 9,000 total by the time this blog posts), with the 35% royalty going to the Malala Fund. With another three months left in this sales cycle, we have already raised more than $3,500 for charity via royalties and direct fundraising, far more than I could have raised alone. And as far as sales of my income-generating books, my perpetual half-a-book-a-day is currently three books a day. (Meteoric, I say!)

To be sure, the success of the box set was also predicated on many hours of work the Belles have put in on other projects, establishing ourselves as a brand in the historical romance marketplace.

On top of our own individual marketing efforts—blogs, websites, social media pages, etc. —common to all of the Bluestocking Belles, managed by various individuals and committees, we have a website; an excerpt book; a twice-weekly Regency “gossip rag,” the Teatime Tattler; Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages; a monthly book discussion group; a quarterly newsletter; constant online events, an impromptu storytelling group on Facebook, the Bluestocking Bookshop; and a very active street team with its own, secret web page.

2015_Gabrielle_booksThis “communal marketing” concept is not a game for the faint of heart, but it has, in the main, been working.

  •  Our first box set, Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem, has spent three months in multiple Top 20 Amazon Hot New Releases and Bestseller lists, in Regency Romance and Holiday Fiction, earning thousands for the Malala Fund and many new readers for the Belles’ books.
  •  Our excerpt book, The Bluestocking Belles’ Guide to a Good Time, which we use as both promo tool, street team gift, and prize, features more than fifty pages of games, puzzles, riddles, and historical romance excerpts, available as a free PDF download or bound as a fundraiser for the Malala Fund.
  •  All of the Belles (even “Bluestocking Belles,” with its own Author Central page) have, at some point or another, now seen an author ranking in the Top 100 of Amazon Historical Romance writers.
  •  All of us are seeing increased sales to varying degrees.
  •  Our monthly book discussion group and guest spots on the Teatime Tattler have attracted appearances by multiple USA Today and New York Times Bestselling HistRom authors, like Grace Burrowes, Ava Stone, and Lucinda Brant.
  •  Our street team members are recommending and sharing Belles’ books and posts regularly and automatically, and are steadily reading their way through our 34 (and counting) books and writing reviews.
  •  Our books appear next to each other regularly in “Also Bought” and “You Might be Interested in” on retailer sites.
  •  We have a central “swag depot,” where one Belle acts as “swag queen” and postmistress general, making sure our contest winners get everyone’s materials.
  •  We all now have a physical presence at personal events and appearances we couldn’t otherwise attend. My coupons will be at a table at the Wairarapa Book Fair in New Zealand next week, and our Belle in Dubai can give out signed excerpt books at the RWA convention without lifting a finger.
  •  We have a communal marketing budget, an attitude of sharing when it comes to ideas and opportunities, and an inherent circle of support when it is needed.

The process of uniting into a functional group was not without its growing pains (still) and it has required a stalwart bunch, with reliable senses of humor, broad and complementary skill sets, and a lot of communal wisdom, but if I had to start over as an indie tomorrow, and I could only choose to bring one of my marketing tools with me, there is no doubt, it would be my Belles.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mariana Gabrielle is a pen name for Mari Christie, who is not romantic—at all. Therefore, her starry-eyed alter ego lives vicariously through characters who believe in their own happy-ever-afters. And believe they must, as Mariana loves her heroes and heroines, but truly dotes on her villains, and all bring hearts bruised, broken, and scarred long before they reach the pages of her books.

She is a professional writer, editor, and designer with almost twenty-five years’ experience, and a member of the Bluestocking Belles, the Writing Wenches, and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She has released four Regency romances, Royal Regard, Shipmate, ’Tis Her Season, and La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess, and will soon release a mainstream historical, Blind Tribute.

You can learn more about Mari and her books at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, on her Amazon Author Page, and Goodreads.

About the Belles

The Bluestocking Belles' books carry you into the past for your happy-ever-after. When you have turned the last page of our novels and novellas, keep up with us (and other historical romance authors) in the Teatime Tattler, a Regency scandal sheet, and join in with the characters you love for impromptu storytelling in the Bluestocking Bookshop on Facebook. Also, look for online games and contests and monthly book chats, and find us at BellesInBlue on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Come visit Amy Rose Bennett, Susana Ellis, Sherry Ewing, Mariana Gabrielle, Jude Knight, Vanessa Riley, Caroline Warfield, and Nicole Zoltack at www.BluestockingBelles.com and kick up your bluestockinged heels!

You will find the Bluestocking Belles’ fundraising campaign for the Malala Fund at www.classy.org/BluestockingBelles.

Guest Post – Cindi Myers: Setting Fire to Dollar Bills

By Cindi Myers

Julie Kazimer’s article about her experience paying for a blog tour prompted a lot of great comments, including mine that I could write a long list of promotional efforts I’ve wasted money on over the years. This led Julie to ask me to elaborate in a blog post, so here I am.

My list of promo efforts that turned out to be money wasted – for me. YMMV.

1. Paid blog tour. Julie pretty much covered this when she shared her experience.

2. Hired a publicist. The publicist I hired worked really hard trying to get media coverage for the book she was promoting (Learning Curves). The book got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and was featured on the cover of PW so I figured that would help generate a little buzz, right? She sent out a boatload of press releases and managed to get the book mentioned in In Style magazine. So yes, she did her job. The problem? I spent a lot of money on these services and the book totally flopped in sales. In fact, it never earned back its modest advance.

3. Paid for giveaways at conferences. I had really adorable hot pink tape measures made to promote Learning Curves. People loved them. Did they sell more books? No. Were they expensive? Yes. Since then, I’ve done my share of postcards, magnets, pens, bookmarks, etc. When I moved last year I threw out tons of this stuff –everything from tote bags to drink Koozies that authors had spent money to have imprinted with their book info. While it’s nice to have a bookmark or business card to give someone who asks about your book, I’ve never bought a book because of a giveaway tchotchke. You can waste a ton of money on this stuff and most of it will end up in the trash soon after it is received.

4. Print ads. I’ve done ads in RT Magazine and other romance-oriented magazines, both group ads and single ads. They’re usually very pricey and as far as I could tell they had absolutely zero impact on sales.

5. Book trailers. Unless you have something really unique and share-worthy (I still remember Mario’s Lego book trailer from years ago) your average book trailer is not going to get you much attention from anyone but your friends and relatives.

So that’s my short-list of things that I feel were wastes of money and time – for me. I’d love to hear if you’ve had better results from these kinds of things. Next blog, I’ll share some promo efforts that yielded better results.

 

Cindi Myers sold her first book in 1997 and since then has had “somewhere north of 60” books published. Currently, she writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue, women’s fiction for Kensington Books, and self-publishes historical romance under the pen name Cynthia Sterling.

Launching Your Book—What Works and What Doesn’t?

I’m about six months out from the launch of my next book and am working on plans for the launch. Call it a publicity plan or a marketing plan or a launch plan…it pretty much boils down to the same thing. The tough part is that I don’t have any true data indicating what works and what doesn’t.

With that in mind, I thought I’d explore strategies today. I’d love to generate some conversation about your experiences. It might not be hard data but maybe someone will come up with new ideas or even new takes on old ones!

Booksigning Events. They are at the heart of every launch but I see wide variation in how authors use them. Some go for a single, big event at a well-known venue which may come with an advertising fee. Others book events at multiple locals, concentrating on chain retailers. Some prefer to schedule with small, independent bookstores.  Authors also vary on how long the launch season lasts. Personally, I’ve done all of the above and have generally seen more response from a single big event I can blast about. With hard-cover books, I rarely sell a lot unless there is a personal connection or the timing matches a gift-giving holiday.

Online Events. More and more authors are doing blog tours or online interviews. I’ve not done much in this area…some isolated interviews but no big blog tours. Yet, I know other authors use this technique heavily. I routinely receive e-blasts about blog tours and often wonder how successful they are.

Advertising. This can be expensive and complicated. Some authors work with on-line advertising services that send information about their new release to thousands of subscribers. Others may purchase ads in local media to generate interest in signing events. I’ve tried this route in the past and seen no direct correlation to sales. On the other hand, I have received some very nice reviews in connection with ads. I’ve become selective, however, in my expenditures here.

Book related swag. This would include post cards, book marks, magnets, pens, and any other cute little item with the author’s name and a book title. The expenses in this area can also climb quickly. I can’t say that I’ve ever been able to correlate sales with swag. That said, I have found an inexpensive supplier and do like having bookmarks in my purse. I use them like business cards. It’s highly possible that someone has purchased a book as a result but there really isn’t a way to measure this.

Book Trailers. This was huge a few years ago but seems to have quieted down. Lacking necessary skills, I haven’t explored this area, though my publisher did a great trailer for me on the last book.

Reviews. I like reviews but I have never paid for them. I’m fortunate that my publisher sends ARCs to national reviewers and gets good response. I’ve sent out some of my own, locally, with mixed responses. I’ve also sent to some online reviewers. Since my last book, there is increased conversation about Goodreads reviews being important but I’m not sure I’ve heard anything quantitative. For me, good reviews from recognized reviewers are priceless. I have no sales data but they greatly enhance my credibility as an author—something that it valuable to me.

Direct announcements. I sent announcement letters to everyone I knew with the launch of my first book. I think it generated a lot of interest for the launch signings and, yes, some sales. Since then, I haven’t seen as much of an impact and my list has been trimmed. I also rely much more on social media announcements.

Press releases. These seem to work much better when sent to smaller media. My hometown paper almost always runs something when I send out a release. Metro papers don’t.

Library packets. I’m not sure if these work or not. Since my publisher markets to libraries, I do try to make contact with the libraries in Colorado as well as the state in which my story is set. I don’t know if the contact is effective but it’s a route I always follow.

Book clubs. Over the years, I’ve made contact with local book clubs and enjoy interacting with them. I usually let them know. So far, Oprah hasn’t considered any of my titles.

Radio and Television. Here, too, I’ve done little. A couple radio interviews but no big appearances. No guest spots on national morning news shows. Hmmmm….

So, readers, what’s been your experience? What do you do for your launches? Can you connect what you do with sales? What feels right?

Paying for it

By Mary Gillgannon

In the month since my latest book came out, I’ve dutifully attempted to promote it. I updated my website, guest-posted on nearly a dozen blogs, tweeted and Facebooked (in my own pathetic way), had a Goodreads giveaway, and engaged the help of the other authors on my publisher’s promotion loop to get the word out. But two weeks after the book’s release, it became clear that my efforts weren’t working. My book wasn’t gaining traction, it was standing still. If a bestseller is the pinnacle of a high mountain, this book was only a few yards up one of the foothills. I decided it was time to heed the old adage, “You have to spend money to make money.”

I’ve spent money on promoting my books in the past. I've purchased ads, had postcards and bookmarks printed and paid for mailings, the only promotion options available in the days before the internet. But there was one crucial difference: Back then, I was spending money I’d already made. When you’re earning several thousand dollars on an advance, it’s a lot easier to part ways with a few hundred here and there.

But even back then, I was pretty cautious about investing a lot of money in promotion. Mostly because I wasn’t convinced it worked. I’d known authors who spent nearly every dime of their advances on promotion and their sales weren’t that much better than mine. Instead, I took to heart the advice most editors and agents gave back then: “Put your time and energy into writing the next book.”

That really was the conventional wisdom in those days. Now publishers expect you to promote. Some even demand it. I’ve submitted to publishers who put as much emphasis on the author’s platform and social media presence as they do on the quality of the manuscript. A lot of it is because the market has shifted to ebooks, which are marketed so much differently. In the old days, if your publisher got your book in the stores and it had a reasonably good cover, you could expect to sell thousands of books without doing much of anything. The important “promotion” took place between the publisher’s sales staff and the bookstore buyers and wholesale distributors. The main hurdle was getting your books out there, and you had no control over that.

Now, “distribution” is the easy part. Anyone with a little tech savvy can get their book published. The ease of that part of the process clearly shows, as the number of ebooks available increases exponentially each year. The gatekeepers are gone and we now have a flood.

So, in an effort to try to get a tiny bit of notice for my book, I decided to spend some money on promotion. But it’s not easy to decide where to throw those bucks. The best sites for promoting ebooks are picky. They want you to have x number of positive reviews, and even if you have those, they may still reject you. They also want you to offer it free or at a discounted price. Since my book was published by a small press, I don’t have any control over the price.

But to test things, I went to a less well-known site and paid a small fee to promote one of my indie-published books, for which I’d dropped the price to $.99. In terms of sheer numbers, the approach was successful. On the day my book was listed, I sold 150 copies. Considerably more than the half dozen or so I usually sell in a month. In terms of money earned for money invested, I’ve come out a little ahead, but just barely. With the regular price of $2.99, I make nearly $2.00 per book sold. On a $.99 book I make about 35 cents. So I have to sell nearly six times as many books to make the same money. Plus, I have to earn back the $45 fee I paid to have my book promoted. If the bump in sales continues for a while, or it helps increase the sales of my other books, it will be a good investment.

But that doesn’t help my newest book. For it, I bought an ad on a romance ebook site. It was on sale for $99 and runs for a month. It’s a site that has been sending me newsletter emails for years and I always delete them without opening them. So, we’ll see if it makes any difference. And I’m still looking around, trying to find other avenues for ads. But there’s a limit to how much money it makes sense to spend.

I suspect the slow sales on my latest book may be related to the book itself. I’ve always written historical romances, but this book (a time travel/reincarnation story) takes place primarily in the present. While some readers bounce back and forth between historical and contemporary romances, a lot have a preference for one or the other. In some ways I’m marketing this book to a brand new audience. So, maybe I should do what I’d really like to be doing (instead of agonizing over these things) and finish the next book in the series. Maybe the second book will help me get a few more feet up the mountain.