Writing Tips: Sharing is Caring

BookBaby is a self-publishing website that I use for promotion tips. It’s totally free and helpful. Recently, I shared a link for a free download they were offering to Bookbaby members (a $10 value). One of my Facebook friends thanked me for doing so, claiming she’d seen the
“crab-in-a-barrel” mentality among authors.

I could understand why I wouldn’t want to share an inside tip on YA/sci-fi because that’s what I write. Still, unless there’s a case of direct competition, I don’t see the point of keeping away valuable information. I do charge a consultation fee, as do most people who mentor inexperienced writers. Most people offer free tips if their blog content isn’t totally self-centered. Have you run into this?

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Here’s an idea: HOW you can get to 100 Beta Readers

Last time, we talked about Beta Readers (a test audience for a book) and their importance.

Boy, are they important.

Too often, you get the “do-this-and-it-will-work-for-you” and not the how. Like, “Get 100 Beta Readers.” You know 100 people, but they may not want to sit down, read your book, and rate your chapters, right?

My friend Lisa said she needed to start from the ground up. Here’s what I did and I guarantee it’ll work for you.

I have a friend, Adrienne, who is totally on my team. No matter how long you’ve been writing, there’s one person you can count on to be on your side. If not, e-mail me. I’ll be your person or help you find one!

Adrienne’s bought all four of my books and she works for a high school (my target market — score!). Identify your target market (the people you’ve written your book for) and find someone well-connected in it.

By chance, she hands my book to a student we’ll call “Tee” and says, “Read it, and if you like it, rate it on Amazon.”

“Tee” read Reject High in one day, loved it, and immediately wanted to read more. She became a Beta Reader. I asked her to recruit some other Beta Readers for me, and she’s uncovered six in one week.

Recap: Start with one person in your target market who’s enthusiastic about your work. Leverage their connections to help you get other people involved. They have to be excited about what you’re doing. Be aggressive and persistent, but friendly as you go. Hope this helps!

 

Digital Books: The Price Is Wrong

I went to the store and almost bought the second season of Superman: The Animated Series. Not for my five-year-old, for me.

Don’t judge me — I have a bigger point to make about it.

The reason why I didn’t buy it is because I saw the price, paused, and thought about it. You never  want a consumer to do that. Logically, you want their interest plus access to the money for purchase to equal an actual purchase.

If they have to think about it, chances are you’ve lost the sale. In a former life, I used to sell men’s suits. The “I’ll-be-back-to-buy-it” folks are looking for something — a lower price, a cheaper product — but whatever it is, you don’t have it.

Recently, I read a blog where the author advised against pricing your e-books at .99 cents. Yes, it worked for Amanda Hocking, Darcy Chan, and a number of other authors. But he said it devalues your work to price it that low, and he’s right. I’ve seen a bunch of books priced .99 cents and they looked like they shouldn’t have cost any more than .99 cents.

This is a group I do not want to belong to, and neither should you.

Instead, experiment with your pricing and watch your sales numbers. Find a price point where your buyers don’t pause and think about it, and your numbers stay the same. Stick with what works.

Hope this helps!

Paying for reviews: Worth it or not?

With my most recent novel, Reject HighI sunk a sizable chunk of my advertising budget to pay for a Kirkus indie review.

Before you skeptically look at your screen, let me tell you: I have tried a lot of different marketing ideas. For my first novel, The Lost Testament, I hired a PR person, held a book release party, and did a few TV and Blogtalk radio interviews. With The Revelation Gate, I paid for a blog tour and sent out paperback ARC’s. Last year, I mailed out t-shirts and used Pinterest to publicize The Anarchists in conjunction with electronic ARC’s.

With all of those, I spent considerably more than the $425 I paid Kirkus to review my book.

The results of my previous efforts were mixed. A good ROI (Return OF Investment) is to see a considerable bump in sales due to my efforts. Of course, there’s no concrete way to correlate the two. Book marketing is a formula: effective efforts + timing + God’s favor (you might call it luck or the universe) = MASSIVE SALES.

So, was it worth it? Kind of, sort of.

After your review is complete, Kirkus offers you a chance to “publicize” your review in online and print media. Of course, there’s a cost (somewhere north of $1,000) for it. That might be worth it and it might not, but I’m not doing it.

Also, if you want to use a part of their review on your book, you have to publish it, good, bad, or ugly, on their website first. What if your review was lukewarm or they trashed it? You excerpt what they said (they don’t allow you to add words) and pray nobody goes looking for the full critique.

My advice? If you’re going to pay for a review, you can’t put all of your eggs in just that basket. Supplement it by aggressively soliciting Amazon reviews from your faithful readers, book bloggers and reviewers, like Cyrus Webb of Conversations Radio, and book clubs. I’d also go grassroots and advertise on high traffic sites too.

Hope this helps!

 

KDP Success: No rhyme or reason

I’m a fan of Ecclesiastes 9:11:  “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”

It reminds me that no matter how many marketing books I read, courses I take, people I hire, or things I do — to a fair degree — timing and opportunity play into success as much as all of those aforementioned things. I believe God orchestrates that timing and opportunity.

You however, may not. But, you have to agree that if you hopped on Apple stock when it first went public (timing and opportunity), you’d be a lot better off than you are now.

For example: I have enrolled my first novel, The Lost Testament, in Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program several times since its 2010 release. Each time, my sales haven’t gone above 1,000 on the free download days.

However, on its most recent day, it sold almost 6,000 copies. I didn’t do anything different this time — no marketing collateral, extra scheduled tweets, or promotion on my social networking sites. I set the date and let it ride.

What does this tell you? Should I write a book on how I didn’t do anything special and ended up with the biggest free download date in the history of Great Nation Publishing? Unfortunately — and any experienced publisher will tell you this (if they’re honest) there’s no magic bullet. You can always position yourself well to win the battle or the race, but in the end, aren’t you at the mercy of timing and opportunity?

Self-publishing. . .a bit easy?

While sifting through comments on this blog, I came across someone who said “self-publishing is a bit easy” these days.

Argh.

Well, I admit — anyone can write a novel, upload it to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, or Pub It for the Nook, set a ..99 cent price tag and call themselves “self-published.” As a matter of fact, of the hundreds of thousands of books published last year, I’m willing to bet quite a few of them did just that.

We all want the dream: to write books for a living. It sounds so glamorous — you get that one hit, which sells your backlist, and the next thing you know, you’re rolling in the dough. Very few self-publishers can do that, but it’s more than it used to be.

Anyone can self-publish, just like anyone can dribble a basketball, sing a song, or program a computer. But, not everyone is Amanda Hocking, Kobe Bryant, Christian Aguilera, or Bill Gates.

To me, saying “anyone can do that” is a cop out. Tell me about someone who does self-publishing well, and how they worked their tail off to be recognized — not just write anything by anyone and press “upload.”

You market yourself. . .how? (Part 2)

My literary friends and I debate over whether or not Kindle Direct Publishing’s Select Program is “worth it.” Actually, they think I’m a little cray cray for considering anything besides Select, but I’ve been called worse.

Amazon’s Select program allows you to set 5 days (per book) where your book can be downloaded for free and Amazon promotes for you. In addition, if your book is “borrowed” by Kindle Prime account holders (they’ll get it free, too), you get a small cut of an unspecified pool of money per borrow. All of this is in exchange for a 90-day period of exclusivity.

Is it worth it?

As my accountant adviser loves to say, “it depends.”

If you are writing or publishing to make money, the answer is a resounding “yes” from my perspective.

Of course, Barnes and Noble has its Pub It platform, which essentially does the same thing as KDP Select, except its not as user-friendly for reviews, doesn’t demand exclusivity, and doesn’t have the book lending/profit sharing mechanism that KDP Select has.

But, by not enrolling in the Select part of the program (and just having your book available on Kindle), you can publish to B&N, Smashwords, the Apple iBookstore, Kobo, etc. That’s five different streams of income in comparison to one.

KDP Select, however, is easier to manage and maintain if you’re starting out and building your audience. Marketing yourself is hard enough without having to do it for five different places on a rapidly multiplying, infinite bookshelf.

Even if you hire someone to manage your marketing for you, would you want them laser focused on one channel guaranteed to make you money, or five that MIGHT make you more money in the long run?

Here’s my advice: with one title, stick with KDP Select. With two or more in your backlist, mix it up (I’m actually doing this now). Spend 90 days with Select, and during that time, try to establish a way to maintain those other publishing sites. Then, shift from Select to those and see what happens. Let me know how it works out for you!

You market yourself. . .how? (Part 1)

Recently, a friend asked me, “How do you market yourself [as an indie/self-publisher]?”

Aye, there’s the rub.

Indie and self-pubbed authors want to sell books, but don’t necessarily know how. Witness almost any self-publishing outfit that will offer you bookmarks, business cards, placards, postcards, and the like as marketing collateral (don’t fall for it — do it at Vistaprint for less). To date, I’ve never bought a book because I received one of those things alone. Have you?

So then, we go to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and other free forums to promote ourselves. I’ve unfriended/unfollowed quite a few people, due to the “Check out my book/buy my book/like my status/watch my trailer” flurry of automated tweets.

I can’t speak for you, but ad nauseum sales pitching turns me off. Be doubly-concerned with your consumers and what they want, not always just what your bottom line demands. It’s my belief that investing in the former will take care of the latter.

So, how do you market yourself? Honestly, without investing time or money, you can’t do it effectively. Trust me, I’ve tried. Pumping out a book a year is a lot more difficult to do when you’re learning how to market, actively marketing, and putting it into practice. Either your sales or your writing will suffer.

Here are two tried and true tips that worked for me.

  1. Come up with a marketing plan (with achievable goals) and follow it. You don’t have a marketing plan? Why not? I found a template online and then asked Stacey Shearer (here’s a link to her Facebook) over at Shearer Message  to help me polish it. Convince yourself that you don’t need a marketing plan. Then, try to get your books into Barnes and Noble, or Lifeway, or just your average, run-of-the-mill bookstore. They’ll all want to know how you plan to sell books before they shelve you. A plan on how to sell books sounds awfully like a marketing plan to me.
  2. Run a contest. Fine, you have a “limited budget.” Do what I did for The Anarchists. Run a “Name a Character Contest,” where you receive entries via your Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, however you want to do it. Promote it on your social networks. Use a randomizer to select the winners and promise them a free book and a mention in your book as long as they sign over the rights to the character (a.k.a. they promise not to sue you if it’s the next Hunger Games). In the end, you have created people who will promote your brand. They have a connection to you and your work. So, they got a free copy. You don’t think they’ll tell other people about their character in your book? That’s word-of-mouth advertising, and anybody in marketing worth their salt will tell you that’s worth its weight in gold — if you can generate it.

Hope this helps! Stay tuned for my take on Kindle Direct Publishing and whether it’s worth it (or not).

Barnes and Noble: The inside details (or lack thereof) of a rejection letter

When I talk about publishing, I use quirky comparisons for effect. For example, my “ketchup and cheese” rule:  just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean it’s good.

Have you ever bought generic ketchup or cheese? Off-brand ketchup and Heinz have one thing in common — they’re both red. Cheap cheese melts like hot glue, and while I’ve never tried eating Elmer’s, it can’t taste much worse than budget cheese.

For me, rejection letters are like asking out a pretty high school girl and being told “no.” She’ll never tell the real reason why she rejected you. It could be your personality, or your wardrobe, among other things. It’s an unsolvable mystery with no closure.

I recently applied for all three of my books to be shelved at B&N. Shelving is one of the nine streams of income you need as an author. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that this is a discussion you can only have if you are listed as the author of your book(s), and not a self-publishing company.

And yes, I got rejected. I won’t be dating that particular pretty girl anytime soon.

The buyer responsible for religious fiction decided not to stock my books, The Lost Testament, The Revelation Gate, and The Anarchists because: a.) the jackets (covers) weren’t compelling, b.) they did not have good advance reviews in trade magazines, c.) they did not have quotes from other writers working in the genre, d.) they did not have articles/reviews in the “usual consumer media,” or e.) my marketing and promotion plan wasn’t good enough.

How do you determine the poison pill(s) from five, very different reasons? 

What makes a jacket or cover “compelling”? Good art design and engaging back cover copy that will sell the book. But what’s “good”?

To a degree, book selling is science, but it’s also a crap shoot. When a legacy publisher picks up a novel, it’s thinking the book is good enough to sell at least two years in the future (it takes that long to edit, produce and market it). That’s a HUGE risk.

For indie/self-pub authors (some places consider you self-pub if you’re indie), advance reviews in places like ForeWord, and Kirkus (the ones you don’t pay almost $500 for) are hard to come by, as are quotes from authors in the genre. The Lost Testament and The Revelation Gate were endorsed by Christian fiction authors Stephanie Perry-Moore  and Michelle Sutton, respectively. My marketing plan for both was involved.

So, that at least narrows the field to three possible reasons for rejection, right?

The moral of the story is this: these details are not really details — it’s a form letter. The key is to do all of the things they request to the best of your ability anyway, and if you’re not good enough to “date,” there are other shelves in the world. Try becoming a Follett vendor (giving you the ability to be shelved in 800 college bookstores across North America). Also, solicit your local small bookstores. They usually love indie authors.

Hope this helps!

What’s the toughest part about self-publishing?

Author Fair 2007

Self-Publishing or indie publishing? Choose what’s best for you.

Last month, me and Kemya Scott of Phisco Marketing held a Social Media and Self-Publishing Facebook Chat. There, a chatter asked me, “What’s the toughest part about self-publishing?”

That was a few weeks ago, and I still don’t have a better answer than, “it depends.”

Where do you want to go as an author? If it’s “just to get your name out there,” most of the well-publicized self-pub places specialize in that. The aim of those places is to get 100,000 authors selling hundreds of books, not hundreds of authors selling 100,000 books. That’s not a secret, but it’s also not the toughest part — deciding how to go.

Say your plans are bigger than a couple hundred copies. In that case, go indie with your own company.

Indie authors are automatically anonymous, and there are lots of us, good and bad, out there. Changing that — getting shelved, notoriety in media and social media circle, etc — is an uphill battle. You need trade reviews (which are hard to get unless you pay for them), an attractive cover, snappy back cover copy, and engaging writing in order to even be considered.

Still, in my opinion, not the toughest part.

When you succeed, the bookseller will shelve you and take between 45%-55% of your retail on each sale. You get what’s left, minus your Cost Of Goods, 90 days after the sale occurred (60 for digital on Amazon after your total owed reaches above $10).

That part is pretty tough to swallow.

I spent a few thousand dollars promoting The Lost Testament. We had a book launch party and invited 50 guests (about 20 showed) and the media (none). I hired a publicist for a few months, flew to Philadelphia for two book signings, and did the virtual book tour rounds.

I don’t know what I expected my sales to be after all of that, but I wanted it to be more than what I got.

For my second and third books, I did more of it myself. Part of that was necessity because my advertising budget had shrunken considerably. The other side of the coin is that I wanted more bang for my buck, and either you spend time learning a new craft, or pay someone who knows that craft. In my case, the knowledge was valuable enough to sacrifice the time to learn.

THAT’S the toughest part, to me — all of the D-I-Y. If you’re an author, what was yours?

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