It’s not so much a rule as a repeated observation. While the plural of anecdote isn’t data, there comes a point where something happens often enough that one has to believe there’s something other than divine intervention at work.
The observation is that many authors don’t begin to get traction until they’ve published five novels. More specifically, they’ve published five novels in the same recognizable niche—ideally, in a series.
There are two reasons why this observation is important.
First, the goal is to gain an audience for your work. Having an audience means people like to read the stories you like to tell. Everything else comes from that basic premise. Fame, fortune, or just seeing your name on the cover of the book a stranger is reading, you can’t get very far in publishing without an audience.
To gain that audience, you need to be putting books in the places they look. For the average indie author, that means in a sub-sub-cat on Amazon. This creates a problem if your five novels are all in different categories. Sure, go wide if you want. Kobo and Nook and iBook, oh my, but the same observation holds across vendors and even formats. (Can you say "audiobooks?" Of course you can.)
For an example:
In the old days, science fiction was on the Science Fiction shelf. Today it might be on the Space Opera shelf or the First Contact shelf or the Colonization Shelf or the Military SF shelf. If I want to gain an audience, I need to know who that audience is with a much greater degree of specificity than I might have had to in the past—and what kinds of stories each of those shelves hold. I write science fiction, but if I want traction, I need to pick one of those shelves to focus on because that’s where the most likely readers will look.
Which is not to say I need to run up the demographics on those people who have bought my books. I already know their most salient characteristic: they read space opera. Sure, they might read other niches as well, but in order to get their attention I need to have a big enough footprint in one niche to show up on their radar.
Second, amortization of your promotional investment becomes easier when you have more properties. As I wrote last September, backlist is your lever. The five-novel rule provides a rule of thumb for how long that backlist might need to be to effectively amortize your promotional investment in time, money, and focus across your catalog. When you can realistically expect buy-through on your catalog—because the books are in a series or at least all in the same niche—then justifying giving one book away for free becomes a lot more palatable.
This second bit is why I generally don’t recommend that new authors spend time, money, and attention on paid promotion. A Bookbub is great when you’ve got five books, but not so great when you spend $500 to give away a few hundred copies of your only title.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t work on gaining some early fans, but more like maybe focus on what matters most—having your five novels in play—and work on building relationships with the other authors in your chosen niche.
The career path for indie authors involves a different kind of dues. We don’t have to ride the query-go-round, but we have to look past the sales levels of our earliest works and grit through to at least five novels in order to find traction. While it’s true that some people capture lightning in a bottle on their first time in the rain, the odds of winning the lottery are still pretty small.
When my latest book come out last month, I booked a romance blog tour. My promoter did a great job and got my book featured on about 40 blogs. About halfway into the tour, as I was thanking hosts and seeing no other comments—none—I realized I was wasting my money. The blogs were all focused on romance, but not the sort of books I write. They all seemed to feature contemporary and paranormal romance. I write historical romance, and this book is medieval, which is an even more specialized sub-genre. I was getting a lot of exposure, but very little with the people who actually read books like mine.
And yet, I know they are out there. I know a number of authors who write medieval romance and who are doing moderately well. It’s just that getting those readers to even know your book exists is a huge challenge. I realized I had to change my marketing strategy. I had to find a way to connect with those readers.
I contacted some authors I know and got suggestions. They all said you have to gradually build a following. Advertise on romance sites that feature historical romance, join Facebook groups, try Facebook ads, do giveaways, and build a newsletter list.
There are services that help you build a newsletter list. Others that help you get reviews by offering your book for free to interested readers. I did some of these things with my last book (which was Regency romance, a much more popular era), but it looks like I need to step up my game and do even more and spend even more money.
My publishing career, which was once a source of extra income, is turning into an "expensive hobby." But I have no choice. I’ve planned two more books in this series, and if there’s going to be any hope that my publisher will publish them, or that anyone will read them, I’m going to have to invest significant time and money into promotion.
I’m fortunate I’m at a point in my life where I can afford to do this. But there is a part of me that remains uncomfortable. I feel like I am being self-indulgent, trying to "buy" something that should just happen—that is, if my books were good enough. But then I think of my characters and realize that I’m doing it for them. I want to share their stories, and if spending money on promotion is the only way to get their stories out there, then I’m going to do it.
Okay, I'm writing this on Launch Week, so my mind is focused on trying to juggle normal life, extra life events (which are part of normal life) and the launch of my second thriller, RED SKY.
The book officially came out on June 13th, so most of the "heavy lifting" for launch was done in the weeks and months prior. My blog "Singing the Book Promotion Blues" detailed how and when things were done, which were the responsibility of my publisher, and which were on me. So what didn't I tell you? Note: I did factor these costs into my overall budget, so I'm not going to break them down here, except to demonstrate the payoff (or lack thereof).
Weeks ahead of the launch.
The likely response and attendance rate to event invitations varies widely depending on the event, the target audience and the relationship of the sender to the sendee. You can expect an 83% RSVP and attendance rate from most wedding invitations, according to RSVPify—a stat borne out by my daughter's wedding in February. Even though she was married in Hawaii (or maybe because of it?) approximately 80% of the invitees attended, regardless of whether they lived on island or on the mainland. That said RSVP and attendance rate for direct mail is more like 2%, according to McCarthy & King. That's two for every 100 mailed.
Just to set the stage, the Tattered Cover-Colfax launch had about 40 or 50 in attendance (depending on who was counting). A great turnout for me, and I was thrilled to learn that I had sold the bookstore out of all but five books. I couldn't have asked for better. To be fair, there was a mixture of family and friends, but there were also a number of people I didn't know that showed up. So what helped the most?
Who knows? Maybe it was the TC promotion (the ad in the paper they always take out, and/or the in-store promotion they do prior to launch), or maybe it had something to do with my efforts. To up the hope that I would have good attendance at TC, I did a couple of things:
1. I sent snail mail postcards to 180 people—friends, family, grade school classmates (I grew up in Evergreen, so we're talking locals)—inviting them to come to one of two signings: TC on June 15th or Hearthfire Books in Evergreen on June 22nd, and adding a personal note. The list can effectively be divided in half for who would come where. Out of 90 postcards sent, at least 10 of the people attending the signing would have received the postcard. That's 11% on a direct mail campaign. Better than the norm for attendance. The cost of that mailing (90 pieces, postage, etc.), meant it cost me $7.16 per person. I needed to sell 26 books to break even. Was it worth it?
2. I did an email campaign. My email list has over 3,000 names on it, so I sent an e-blast about the release and included my signing dates. I have no idea how many people that were in attendance received that, but that comes out to something like .02%, so much lower than the estimate for attendance. Still, how many of those folks bought the book? Who knows? The cost of getting that info in front of that many people totaled about $40, and as a traditionally published person I need to sell 110 books from that mailing to break even. Was it worth it?
3. I posted events on Facebook and to the various writers' list serves I belong to, put notices in the writers' organizations newsletters, etc. Of the group in attendance, there was only one person who would have heard about the signing from ONLY that venue. Of the rest, there were seven or eight others who received at least one of the other type mailings—snail or email. Big plus—this notice was free to send. No reason to question whether or not this was worth it. The answer is yes.
Spreading the Word
That is how one has to think about this. A basic marketing tenant says that someone needs to see or hear about something three times. With some folks, they've seen RED SKY or my name at least three times. With others, you hope they mention it to a friend, who then reads about my signing in TC ad, who then sees the book on the shelf at the Barnes & Noble, and buys it.
What about the people who I didn't know from anywhere? Were they TC patrons? Had they read about the book in a Publishers Weekly, Kirkus or Booklist review? Were they fans of Lee Child or Catherin Coulter, and found me because of the blurb on the cover of my book? (FYI, I've received several emails saying that someone read my book because, "If Lee Child liked this, I knew I would, too.") Were they waiting for the release because they'd read DARK WATERS?
I have no clue. A signing where so many who showed up and wanted books signed, was not the place for a survey. One person, I learned, was an old classmate of my daughter's who hoped to run into her there. He bought a book, so...
The Bottom Line
For me, the promotion is worth it. Locally, it's easier to have a profile. I do a lot of volunteering for my writers' groups—I present workshops, judge contests, participate. The more you give or give back, the more you receive in return.
National recognition comes harder. But I know I'm increasing my profile, if only because more people are offering to buy me drinks at the bar. More agents, editors and "big namers" recognize me. Does it mean I'm ever going to reach "star" status? Who knows? Would I love to have someone make a movie of one of my books so I can complain like every other author I know who has had a movie made from one of their books? Hell, yes!
There's only one thing I know for sure is I am thankful every day for the support of such a wonderful writers' community—thankful for all the pushes, for all the tips, for all the critiques, but mostly for all the friends that I've made. You guys, rock!
Now, however you decide to do this, go forth and tell us your stories!
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
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.
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
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!
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!
Promotional plans, and lessons learned along the way.
I hate promotion. I’m sure I’m not alone. In fact, I’m not sure I know any fellow writers who tell me they love promoting themselves and their work. For me, it’s not even so much that I don’t like talking about myself and my work. It’s just a big workload piled on top of an already big workload, and most of the time it feels like it’s not really getting me anywhere.
I know it’s necessary, though, so I do what I can. I don’t think I do it particularly well, but sometimes I manage to find something that’s actually fun, and that helps.
In any case, when it comes to my current Kindle Scout project, it’s blatantly obvious I need to promote. So, while I’m finalizing my edits and figuring out what system I want to use for my final formatting, I’m brainstorming on some promotional ideas. Here are some things I think I’ll try for online promotion:
Thunderclap. I’m not sure this kind of “tweetstorming” approach works consistently, but I know people who’ve seen some decent results. I think it’s far better to have numerous other people tweet for you than to tweet the hell out of your own audience. Also? It’s easy. And free.
Blog tours. Also free, unless I decide to pay to have someone set it up for me, which I don’t think I’ll do.
Facebook boosted posts. I’ve done this a couple of times but not enough yet to have made any conclusions about the results. I think it’s worth a shot.
Facebook ads. I had some good success with these on a past project, so I think I’ll give it another go.
I’m also going to switch out my autoresponders on my newsletter signup site to send out a sample of the book I’ll be Scouting. I’ve been sending a romance short story to new subscribers, but I think it’s time to switch it up a bit. I’ll also send this sample to my current subscribers. I’ve found that I get very high open rates when I send out freebies. This so far hasn’t really translated into sales, but at least I get people’s attention.
I’d like to hear from anyone who’s tried these promotional techniques, or who’s had a particularly good response from any other on-line promotion approaches, so feel free to hit the comments. The promotional landscape is changing at least as fast as the publishing industry itself, so reports from the “front lines” are always useful and welcome.
I also have an in-person opportunity coming up this weekend with Colorado Gold. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, so I took an informal poll. (This was while I was at my BFF’s house for brisket on Labor Day weekend. I said, “I gotta figure out what to make to take to the conference.” She said, “Chocolate. Everybody likes chocolate. Add a prize. Willy Wonka that shit up.” My daughter said yeah, do that. And that was my poll.) That seemed like a good idea, and it was a lot simpler than some of the things I’d been brainstorming. There are some lessons here: 1. Simple is good. 2. When it seems appropriate, have somebody help with your brainstorming. 3. Willy Wonka is applicable to numerous life situations. Also, listen to your BFF.
I was freaking out about the lack of time because I left it to the last minute, like I do, so my daughter agreed to step in and design a bookmark for my packages. She did a great job, and we printed them up (after much printer hijinks) and put them together with some chocolate for that Willy Wonka-ing. In addition, there’s a Golden Ticket—one person who subscribes to my newsletter over this weekend will win a $25 Amazon gift card. Lessons here: 1. Don’t leave things until the last minute (I will never learn that one). 2. Outsource whenever possible, especially when you have talented people living in your house. 3. Printers will always decide to stop working properly when you’re in a hurry.
If you’re at Colorado Gold, hit me up or look for my cards at the main table. Also, if you can’t make the conference and are reading this blog, you can enter the contest by signing up for my newsletter at katrienaknights.com. You’ll get a pdf of the first chapter of Call Me Zhenya, the book I’ve been working on preparing for Kindle Scout. You can see this either as a thank you for sticking with me through all these posts, or as an act of blatant self-promotion. Either way, I hope to see some of you at Colorado Gold!
As promised, today I’m going to talk about some promotional efforts I’ve made over the years that I felt were worth the time and money involved. Again, your mileage may vary. And one caution: the promotional landscape is changing rapidly. What worked for one author quickly becomes overdone and blasé and doesn’t work for another, so keep that in mind as you read on:
1. Media training. In my last blog I mentioned the publicist I hired to promote one of my books, Learning Curves. Another service she offered was media training. She filmed me and recorded me doing a mock interview, then told me everything I did wrong, told me how to correct my errors, then filmed and recorded again two more times until I was more comfortable with the process. This was worth the money. I learned a lot and I still remember those lessons. Plus, publishers love it when you tell them you’ve had media training. It’s also a good thing to put in press releases when you contact the media.
2. My market newsletter. This started out as a yahoogroup newsletter and is now a blog. http://www.cindimyersmarketnews.wordpress.com I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years now. It’s given me lots of name recognition. People don’t care about my political or social opinions, or anything else I might blog about, but if they are writers who are trying to sell their work (and writers are big readers) I give them useful information. The cost is pretty much zero. (When I promo my self-pubbed titles on the blog, I always see a slight uptick in purchases for a couple of days.)
3. Facebook ‘pushes.’ If you have an author page, you can pay Facebook to promote a post. I’ve spent anywhere from $5 to $20 to promote a post when I have a new book release and I always see an uptick in the ebook sales, and more page likes. And it’s cheap, which I like.
4. Bookbub. Not so cheap, but every author I’ve spoken with says Bookbub is worth it. So far, I only have experience with Bookbub placement that my publisher has paid for, but it’s resulted in huge increases in sales (for instance, going from a 70,000 + ranking on Amazon to double digits in the space of a day.) This was for $2.99 books, not free ones. I’m still trying to get them to accept me for a free promo. Friends who have done this said they easily made back their money and more with every Bookbub promo they’ve done. (I’m giving a workshop All About Bookbub at Colorado Gold this year.)
5. Making the first book in an ebook series free. Even without Bookbub, doing this led to a big uptick in sales for the other two books in the series, and a much more modest increase in sales of my other self-pubbed historical titles.
6. Web ads on targeted sites. I had a book a few years ago called A Soldier Comes Home. I paid for inexpensive ads on blogs and message boards that catered to military wives. I think I spent about $75 total for four or five ads. I got good click-throughs on the ads, the book was the top-selling SuperRomance for the month of its release, and I got great fan mail from military wives who read the book. The key for me with this kind of thing is targeted and cheap.
7. Printed excerpts. For the last few years, instead of paying for giveaways for conferences, I’ve printed up excerpts of the first chapter of a book. I print them in booklet form on my computer then make copies at the local copy shop. I either staple them into cover flats my publisher sends me, or run off color copies of my cover on cardstock and use that as the cover for the excerpts. I include information about my website, where to buy the book, other related books, Facebook, Twitter – whatever I can think of. People love these. And I’ve had people tell me after they read the first chapter they buy the book to find out what happens next. Not everyone who gets an excerpt will buy a book, but enough do that I think the expense is worthwhile.
So, those are promotional efforts that have worked for me. I’d love to hear what you have done to promote your books that has worked for you.
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.
So the delightful Delilah S. Dawson blogged about the perils of book promotion, how to do it wrong, and how to do it right. So really, I’m not covering any new ground, and you should probably watch the Star Wars Episode VI trailer again. Right?
Shortest. Blog post. Ever.
You can do a quick search for the Star Wars Episode VI trailer, or Ms. Dawson’s blog posts. Or, you can read about me and what happened to me when I was in high school, because in high school, I had to do some dirty, shameful things to further my writing career.
And I hated every minute of it.
What did I have to do in high school?
Let me paint a picture for you. It was in a dusty old classroom, it was about ten of us literary geeks, working on the Regis Jesuit High School literary magazine, Impressions. The magazine ran a short story contest, and we all voted on first, second, and third place. Pat Engelking always won first place. That rat bastard.
And I always submitted a story. And I always voted for my own story, and I HATED having to vote for my own story, but what were my options? Let Pat Engelking walk away with first place again? Never!
My own vote was critical. There were only ten of us. I never came in first, but I always placed.
In my fantasy, I would walk into the room, people would bow their heads, the voting would start, no one would raise their hand until my story was called, and then every single hand in the room would go up. Unanimous! I had won! I would then vote for Pat Engelking’s story, and he would win second place and all would be right in the world.
Didn’t work that way. However, I did learn that if I didn't have a story, I couldn't enter the contest. I had to write and edit to get my story ready. And once ready, I learned that I had to believe in the work. I had to vote for my own stuff.
And I still have to vote for my own stuff. Promoting my book is raising my hand and saying, “Yes, I wrote something good, that you should read, that is worthy of your time. Here are the details on how to buy it. Thank you for your support.”
Ideally, the entire marketing team at Simon and Schuster would be voting on my stuff, but they haven’t yet. Someday, though, someday. But as it stands, even if I got a big contract with a big publishing house, guess what? Most likely, I’d still have to raise my hand and vote on my own stuff. Because unless you hit it big and are chosen by whatever fickle gods look down upon us authors, the money will flow to the sales, and if you don’t have sales, you don’t get the marketing dollars, and as newbie authors, it’s up to you to get sales.
Now, there are a variety of ways to promote your books without making yourself look like an asshat. I try and use the 30/30/30 rule. On social media, I spend 30% of my time promoting my stuff, 30% promoting other people’s stuff, and 30% posting pictures of kittens, or commenting on the Star Wars Episode VI trailer, or sharing interesting links.
In the end, though, my job isn’t to sell you my book. No. My job is to listen to what you are looking for, look for a need, and, as readers, we all have needs, and then point you to a book that will fill that need. If you are looking for an adult romance, I wouldn’t offer you my book. I’d point you to RMFW’s own Andrea Stein, or Joan Johnston, or Cassie Miles (a.k.a. Kay Bergstrom).
In the end, like it or not, part of my job as an author is to vote on my own books, talk about books, offer readers information on how to buy my books.
I didn’t sign up for that, but it’s part of the deal. *sigh*. Until I become rich and famous. Which is going to happen any day now. Any day.
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.
It’s not easy being female and a writer. As a woman, you’re less likely to be taken seriously or to gain the respect of the public and your peers. If you write romance, as I do, the trials are even greater. The implication is always there that anyone can write “one of those trashy little books.”
I’m used to that kind of attitude and mostly shrug it off. But I’ve recently become aware of another burden of being a woman who writes fiction. Females are trained from early childhood to be empathetic, social and “helper bees.” We learn to support other people, to encourage and commiserate and be there for them. In many, many ways this is a very good thing. Civilization and probably humanity itself would not have survived without female social skills. But sometimes we take things too far, to our own detriment.
Last spring, I signed a contract with a small press. In my welcome letter, I was told I needed to join the loop for the publishing house’s authors and also a loop where those authors share promotional ideas. Dutifully, I did so.
The number of emails I get daily has been creeping up for years. It includes advertising emails as well as the RMFW loops and an on-line loop for writers of Celtic romance. Sometimes things get pretty active on these loops. I’m used to getting up to 100 emails a day.
But suddenly, with the new loops, my emails doubled. My publisher’s writers are a very enthusiastic, active bunch. Many of them have regular blogs, run contests and other promotions and on-line activities. And they like to celebrate anything good and, occasionally, commiserate over bad things. New covers, new releases, contest wins, great reviews, terrible reviews, all those things result in a flurry of emails expressing congratulations and support. It gets almost ridiculous sometimes, with people thanking people for posting a comment thanking them for a blog post, etc.
But even though they sometimes take it overboard, I will admit the loop members are truly wonderful about promoting their fellow authors. They tweet and share on Facebook. They offer blog opportunities and sign up to take part in on-line parties and special promotional events. With a new book coming out at the end of the year, I need to do some of these things. And I can hardly ask the members of these loops to promote my release or my blog or whatever, if I don’t do some of the same things for them.
But all of this patting each other on the back and even the genuine promotion of reciprocal tweets and shares, comes at a price. Time.
I used to be able to get through my emails in half an hour or so each morning. Delete the ads, except for those I want to check out later (I have a bad shopping addiction.), respond to those celebrating a special event or success, and keep in touch with friends and family (mostly done on weekends, when I have more time). But recently I realized I was spending over an hour each morning dealing with email. And another hour or more if I take time to post on Facebook, write for my sadly-neglected blog, or do other writing business.
And I can’t afford to lose that time, because mornings are my best writing time. Every extra minute I spend on email is a minute I’m not writing. Which leads me to the second thing addressed in this blog: My decision to make writing my book the first thing I do when I sit down at the computer each morning.
Two other writers and I recently did a six-week writing program at the library where I work. When we got to the class on promotion, each of us mentioned the axiom we’ve heard for years: “The best thing you can do for your career is write the best book you can.”
Whether that’s true or not, I do know that one of the best things you can do for your career is have another book published. Because the way it works is that sales lead to more sales, especially in a series. And I’m not going to have another book in this series I just started unless I make writing it a priority.
At the same time, I worry that I’m being a bad “loop-member.” That I’m being selfish and unfair if I don’t show support to my fellow authors but expect them to help me when my book comes out. The guilt, oh, the guilt! But I guess I’ll just have to live with it. The reality is, writers write. And all the rest of it has to be lower priority.
Julie Luek asked me over here to discuss blog interaction. First, let me say, I'm honored. I entered the Colorado Gold contest early in my career and the changes suggested definitely got me a contract. This is a terrific group.
I do my homework. I've scrolled through some recent blogs on your site. Good stuff. So, where are the comments? One here, two there. And, the same responders showing up. What gives?
Then I found Aaron Michel Ritchey's “Why I Have Failed To Write a Word In 2014.” I don't know this guy, why should I care? But, the title has grabbed me. His first line: “I am the problem.” No writer admits to that. They blame writers block or a full-time job.
I have to keep reading. His clipped style and use of the word “suck” amuses me. I have no idea what “Lama sabachthani” means. I don't care. He's hooked me with the first sentence. Isn't that what we're told to do in our novels?
His piece got 21 comments. I read all of those as well. I want to find out more about this man and, if his books are as good as this post, I want to buy them. I'll even become the stalker he craves.
Aaron started with a headline that stood out. I'm from the school of journalism; it all starts with the headline. Next, he made it personal. He's not lecturing me, he's opening up. With loose language and a bit of irreverence, I know I'm in for a good time with this guy.
I use the same tactics as Aaron, but I go a bit further. I created a Posse, a group of aspiring writers. I send them interesting posts and train them to reply. It's a chance for them to expand their contacts in the writing world, to find out who's who. It also allows them to give an opinion and perhaps mention their own WIP. They're trained to announce posts they've written. Blogging doesn't do a bit of good if nobody is aware of its existence. .
Everyone should have a Posse. It starts with friends and contacts in your circle. All that networking you've been taught to do? This is where it comes in handy. Get out the business cards you've collected and include them in your group. Don't be shy, but don't SPAM everyone you know. Figure out who will enjoy the experience you are about to give them.
Please don't waste their time. If you're only blogging to fill up space or fulfill a commitment, remember all of us are busy people. Every time I write a blog, I ask myself “Would I stop and read this?” Be sure the reader comes away a bit more aware or given a different slant on the topic.
Don't make a blog all about selling. It's promotion, yes, but readers are trained to smell the hard-sell from a mile away. You have to be slicker than that. Let your word usage do the selling for you. A blog should be an audition for your novel. If readers love the way you write, they expect more of the same in a book.
To pull people to your blog don't say, “I wrote a nice blog. Please stop by and read it if you have a moment.” Here's the announcement I posted today titled “Yes, I Dipped My Toes In Those Muddy Waters.” My email said “Literary fiction vs genre--sounds boring, right? Do we REALLY need to hash out this one again? Those of you who know me know I'm going to have the last word, and you can count on it being irreverent.”
My followers know I'm again thumbing my nose at the status quo and we're cyber-nudging each other, snickering to see if I can get away with it. Toes will be stepped on but I get invited back because I do something all site owners are looking for: I attract readers. The numbers go up. People are plugging into their websites and will hopefully sign on for more.
Finally, my last tip to create fans: I personally contact people who reply to my posts to thank them. Not just in the reply space. Nope, I'm going to Google you to see who you are, what you've written and let you know I appreciate the time you took to read my words. I will even Facebook you with a request for friendship. And, I will notify you the next time you want to have some fun with me over at another blog. You're important. You make this all work.
Sunny Frazier trained as a journalist and wrote for a city newspaper, military and law enforcement publications. After working 17 years with the Fresno Sheriff's Department, 11 spent as Girl Friday with an undercover narcotics team, it dawned on her that mystery writing was her real calling. Both Fools Rush In and Where Angels Fear are based on real cases as well as astrology, a habit Frazier has developed over the past 42 years. To see her in her WAVE uniform and learn more, go to her website.