Marketing is not for wimps or the lazy.

I’m a bit of both. I’m so screwed.

The Almighty Mailing List

I’ve read (and, admittedly, skimmed and half-read—lazy, remember?) a few books and several articles on marketing. They all agree that a mailing list is vital. That’s how you reach your customers. An author’s best marketing tool (other than a dynamite book) is her/his mailing list. Period.

mailing-list-iconBut how do you build that list? One book recommends pop-up ads on your website that can’t be ignored. Actually, more than one recommends that although they describe the process differently: generate giveaways, great incentives, videos, etc., so that people will want more and will join your mailing list–which pretty much implies the pop-up.

But there are a few steps before having and sending to a mailing list.

The first step is, of course, to create your mailing list on a service like MailChimp. MailChimp is free, up to 2,000 subscribers. So start that account and put your mother and best friend and your gmail address on it. You’ve got 1,997 spaces left before you have to pay, yippee!

What’s the second step?

Where do all those other names come from?

Remember, anyone who gets an email from you through MailChimp (or another service) can opt out. They can unsubscribe and will do so if you waste their time, so entering a bunch of names at random is probably not worth the effort.

How do you pack that list with people who actually want what you’re offering—i.e., your audience?miracle

That’s the fuzzy part. Like this cartoon.

Why don’t these marketing gurus tell you that part?

Well, there are a few reasons.

Everyone’s audience is different and will be found in different places.

The person who wrote a marketing book for authors has found his/her audience–you–but unless you’re also writing a marketing book for authors, your audience is hiding somewhere else.

And if you are writing a marketing book for authors, why are you reading this?

What did you write? A memoir or a zombie romance? Readers of those books are all over the place. Your job to figure out how to lure them to your website and make them want to sign up for more of what you’ve got to give, and only you can do that.

You must figure out where to reach your potential readers. It’s not obvious or easy. For example, when I managed to get the Historical Novel Society to review my book, I thought I had it made! Where else would readers of historical novels go, but to there?  The review was wonderful, exceeding my fondest hopes. But when it appeared, sales did not jump–not even a little.

trapWhat to do? Well, one idea is to take to social media. And that’s a suggestion, not a guarantee of anything. However, many of your readers will be on Twitter and Facebook, so it makes sense to connect with them there.

Think of social media–Facebook, your blog, Tweets, Pinterest, the works—as play. Fill your accounts with posts and pictures of fun things that your target audience would love. 1970s trivia for the memoir, for example. Photographs. Mini-reviews of books in the same genre. Share and Link to clever articles or merchandise on the topic. Follow everyone who follows you, and follow everyone posting on anything peripheral to your topic.

downloadYour website is your keystone. Use the other media accounts to entice readers there on occasion, so they can enjoy your blog post about mood rings or mid-century zombie films and be willing to sign up for more via the pop-up.

Why else don’t those marketing books tell you how to find your audience?

I’m gonna throw out two guesses here.

First, because the panorama of social media sites is constantly changing–just like the self-publishing industry—advice is going to be old by the time it’s tested. The tech-savvy (Hugh Howey comes to mind) have an enormous advantage, but luck plays a part too. Rather than rely on what worked a couple of years ago, you may be better off to poke around on your own. Try Googling “book marketing tips for Indies” to start with, just to get ideas.

The second guess is this: You will learn a lot—about yourself, your audience and about marketing–when you figure it out yourself.

character-buildingYou can’t have everything handed to you. You have to do some of the work, because it builds character.

Did I really write that? Even my Irish grandmother could not say such a phrase without sputtering with laughter.

Look, the marketing books tell you what the end product should be: a mailing list that you can use to reach your fans. They tell you how to use it. They tell you how important it is.

But where those addresses on the list come from is up to you. That’s the part you have to figure out, for the big reason above: each book is different and finding the audience is going to be different.

But in finding that audience, painstaking though it may be, you will connect with what works for you, and there is a lot of value in that.

Advertising sign on wooden postThe trouble with reading a good book about using Amazon (or Twitter or Facebook) is that by the time you’ve finished the book the platform has changed.

Amazon now has something called Themes or Browse Categories. They show up on the left whenever you start looking for fiction books. Go ahead, try it. Go to Amazon and type in “Thrillers” or “Historical Romance.” By the time I post this they may be appearing next to non-fiction books as well.

I’m told these categories on the left reflect what people are searching for in books. So the savvy marketer will use some of those phrases as Keywords for their books.

That bit of advice–and much more–came from Penny Sansivieri, the Author Marketing Expert. She appeared on a panel one night and  I went.

(Digression:  I love living in Los Angeles where every week I can find a free-or nearly-free talk that improves me as an author and marketer!  And I don’t keep these events to myself; you can find them all on the WritersCalendarLA.com. )

Moving on:

Book_JeffWalkerBeth and I are now using Launch: An Internet Millionaire’s Secret Formula To Sell Almost Anything Online, Build A Business You Love, And Live The Life Of Your Dreamsby Jeff Walker as our playbook.

It’s all about the preparation. Launch tells you how to build up a mailing list, send out enticing emails with offers that make people WANT to be on your mailing list, how to engage with potential customers–basically how to structure a product launch. The work is all in the buildup, and the launch itself (along with wildly successful sales, right?) comes at the very end.

If that interests you, we strongly suggest you get the print book so you can flip back and forth and stick post it papers all over. Beth says the videos are great and round out the information; I’m a week or two behind her so I haven’t viewed them yet.

Christmas Coffee and Book.1200.1618However, I have managed to get one of my books into a gift basket, sold with coffee by a wonderful Amazon store, Aloha Island Coffee.

And that was a lot easier than trying to read about Amazon algorithms or follow the steps for a product launch. How did I do it?

I go to a couple of writers’ group meetings regularly. One of the managers of Aloha Island Coffee also goes. She’s a very nice person, and we got to talking. That’s all.

Reminds me of the time writer John Vorhaus talked to another group, a few years ago, and mentioned that he once found himself talking to a previously unknown in-law at a family party. Turns out the in-law had recording equipment and wanted to get into recording and selling books.

John pursued the idea with this newfound relative, and now many of his mysteries (The Albuquerque Turkey) and nonfiction books (Decide to Play Great Poker: A Strategy Guide to No-limit Texas Hold Em) are audiobooks–which would not have happened otherwise.

The Lesson: For all our studying, sometimes the best marketing ideas just show up. All we have to do is talk to someone and make a connection.

My novel has a book trailer! You can see it at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzxJSbRx94Q

I’m not quite sure what to do with it–besides telling all my friends to check it out on YouTube, of course–but Death Speaker now has a beautiful video to advertize it, and I am very proud.

Death Speaker Cover, blog sizeI shouldn’t be too proud because I didn’t put it together or compose the music. That was done by Dan Wheeler of Horizon Productions. But I did provide most (not all) of the pictures and script, so I guess I can take some credit.

We decided not to do a voice over, because the music was lovely by itself. My voice would have been intrusive–all you need to know is there on the screen.

Why did I wait a year before getting a book trailer? That’s easy: money. Los Angeles–my home town–is host to many budding film producers, directors, musicians, screenwriters, actors, and all manner of technicians involved in film and the creative arts. They are all struggling to make a living. Like me! So much as I wanted to, I couldn’t really throw any work their way because I didn’t have the spare cash for that particular endeavor. But I’m glad I waited because the end product is beautiful, don’t you think?

DSVidPic If you’d like to contact Horizon Productions for a book trailer or music of your own, you can go to their website or send a message to info@Horizpro.com .

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m just beginning to learn to promote my book. That’s not so great, since it came out last summer. In spite of reading blogs, columns,  and books of advice and attending lectures and panel discussions by experts, I had no idea of the immensity of what I didn’t know.

That’s why this post is called Remedial Marketing. I lacked the skills for Marketing 101.

For example–here’s something I learned last week from author Donna M. Thomas, who is getting the word out about her first book From Pebbles to Pathways, and who also knows something about marketing:
17279750Encode your pictures–your author picture and book cover photos, etc.–with your name, the book’s name, and any keywords you want (for example, “Iron Age” and “Druids” are on my photos . . . now). You can do this on a Mac by pressing the Apple key and I; on a PC, right-click on the photo, drag to Properties, then select the Details tab. 
Now, when your pictures are uploaded to anyone’s blog, they carry your name. When Google searches for you, those pictures will be found.

Great, very basic information, but I didn’t know that. Did you?

BTW, if you’d like to win a free copy of Donna’s book, a spiritual memoir of healing, click here. Or just  buy it here.

Another tip from Donna: If you blog–and if you have a book out, you probably do–make sure your name and your book name are tags on each post.

I have been blogging for years. My blog of Los Angeles history started in 2007, I think, but I never knew that my name could be a tag.

Here’s the overall point: we’re all told to build our platform and use social media. We get ourselves up on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and try to figure it all out.  We set up websites and blogs. But there are lots of little things we don’t know until some kind person tells us.

Julia_Child_at_KUHTRemember the movie Julie & Julia, when Julie pats the meat dry before searing it to make Boeuf Bourguignon? If you were cooking and didn’t know that simple step, your finished entree would not be quite as good. But who thinks to tell you little things like that? Besides, Julia Child, of course.

We need a Julia Child for book marketing.

I wasn’t trained as a chef or a marketer, so I love to hear advice from experts that will make my efforts yield a richer taste. The more basic the better.

Since I’m entering the edit/design phase with my second book, I’m beginning to market it. Got the new website and blog up–Boomer Book of Christmas. The new book is nonfiction: Baby Boomer trivia, so the target market is easy to pinpoint and locate: people my age.  I’ve already got lists of places to go check so I can build relationships based on shared interests.

Death Speaker Cover, blog sizeNot so when my first book, Death Speaker, was published last year. I knew nothing about marketing, about putting the pieces of a web presence together, or about finding my audience. The learning curve was steep.

A non-serialized historical novel about the Iron Age–even if it features a couple of walk-ons by Julius Caesar–would probably be a challenge for any PR person. No matter how much I read, I seemed to know nothing (just call me John Snow).

Fortunately, things are finally starting to click. There is a community of readers who like historical fiction, and I’m learning to make connections. The good part of selling through the internet is that it doesn’t matter that my book came out last summer. No one needs to pull it off the shelves to make room for newer books.

I haven’t become an expert, but the pieces are starting to fit together. I can tell you that marketing a second book is easier, and that nonfiction is easier than fiction. But you probably knew that.

amazonAfter two and a half months on the Kindle Select program, I will venture an opinion.

It does increase sales and visibility. Not by a “holy cow I’ve written a bestseller” amount, though.

Kindle Select, for those who haven’t heard, is a program offered by Amazon for ebook authors. You agree to give Amazon and Kindle the exclusive rights to your ebook for three months, and they promote your book and include it in the Kindle Prime.

Some of you are probably saying “Huh?” so I’ll explain further:

  1. If you as an author choose to enroll your ebook in Amazon’s Kindle Select program, you give Amazon an exclusive right to that ebook for 3 months. That means you must “unpublish” it on Smashwords or any other site. You may not sell an iPad or Nook version. If Barnes & Noble continues to sell your ebook, you must email them a request to remove said ebook (I did, and they quickly took it down).prime-header-aiv-kindle-ship._V401238115_
  2. In return, Amazon makes your ebook available to borrowers in Kindle Prime. Kindle Prime is a borrower’s program, like having an ecard at a huge internet library. For around $80 a year, Kindle Prime subscribers can borrow what books they like for their Kindles.  And every time a borrower selects your book, you get a small royalty. How small/large it is depends on the pool of Kindle Prime users.
  3. To help you promote your book, Kindle Select gives you five “free” days per each 90-day enrollment. You select your free day(s) and promote them however you like. Amazon also does some promoting. There are Facebook pages, apps, and blogs dedicated to announcing the multitude of free downloads available on any given day.
    How does that help you sell books? Well, first, let me state that the people who gobble up free downloads would not be buying your book otherwise, so you lose nothing in terms of money or sales. You hope that some of those people will actually read your ebook, post a review, tell their friends about your wonderful writing, and spread the buzz. You hope; no one can be sure that actually happens.

Why-I-Prefer-Kindle-Over-Paper-Books-and-the-Computer-Monitor-1Now, with respect to item 3, I tried an experiment. I put Death Speaker up for free for two days running and promoted it on my Facebook pages (book, author,  writing groups and even my high school reunion page). I blogged and tweeted about it. I even asked the Celtic Myth podcast group in the UK to announce it on their page. They already had a review copy and so were gracious enough to mention the free download. I replaced my book’s Goodreads ad with one giving the free download days.

The result? Much better than I’d hoped. A total of 1,115 Kindle users downloaded Death Speaker, 96 of them in the UK. That was a month ago.

To compare results, I scheduled another free download three weeks later. This one got no publicity from me. It lasted one day, while the previous promotion was for two days. This time, 225 users downloaded it.

Now, I have to mention that in the month since the first free day, only one new review has appeared. And while there have been a few sales, nothing in the tens of thousands, nor even the tens of dozens, shows up on my Amazon Kindle Select Report.

But to those boys and girls still thinking they should keep looking for an agent and not do this at home, I have to mention this: I know within a couple of weeks what my Kindle sales are. I also know what the print sales are. The few people I know who’ve gone with agented, traditional publishers do not know this. They do not learn what sales they’ve made, print or ebooks, for at least six months after any event. Even then, they get a total for the previous six months, but no breakdown.

So even if those agented authors blitz radio shows and pay for lots of publicity, they can’t find out if it’s doing them any good at all—if it’s worth the investment, iow. I think that’s a shame, and I’m very glad to be an Indie publisher.

You think that title is a joke and not a terribly funny one. I can tell.

The point is that we make mistakes that bite us, and I recently made a biggie. In fact, it was bad enough to get me branded as an author of questionable ethics on sites where my book (Death Speaker) was sold–obscure little places like Amazon and Goodreads.

This post tells how it happened and how it can happen. It’s a post reminding you to be cautious, but also to assure you that we’re human and we can recover from our mistakes.

As Indie authors trying to promote our own books, we enter a whole new world. Some of us have sales experience; most don’t. I don’t. It can be a confusing transition.

We learn to Tweet and RT and track RTs. We make our way through 1001 Ways to Market Your Book (guerilla-style, if you like). We join networks and social media sites and try to compose comments that don’t sound too obviously self-serving. We go to blogs and groups and hopefully pick up tons o’ tips.

It was one of those tips that tripped me up, on a LinkedIn group. I saw a post a couple of paragraphs long that included these lines (near as I can remember them; I haven’t gone back to check): “You do know you can review your own books, right? And why wouldn’t you? After all, who knows your book better than you?”

Yeah, I thought. After all, I’ve read that book . . . heck, I’ve read it 14 or 15 times, at least! So, hey, I can do that!

First lesson: don’t ever decide that You Can Do That around midnight, on your second glass of Two Buck Chuck.

So I reviewed my own book. It was brief and to the point, and had five stars. I put it up on Amazon.

Amazon does not allow authors to review their own books. But worse—and this is where it got ugly and unethical—my login name for Amazon, established many years ago, is not my pen name. So the review was deceptive; no one could tell it came from the author.

I never thought about that, and in fact, didn’t think about the review again. And no, I’m not gonna blame the wine—I was not drunk, though I was probably tired.

Being tired does not mean that your conscience can stop working. I screwed up.

About four days later, I learned that a reviewer who had gotten a free copy of my book months earlier had finally put a review up. Yay! Oops, not yay. The title and content of the review made serious accusations about my ethics.

The reviewer had seen my own review and realized what it was. After contacting Amazon (my review was deleted by the time I read about it), she changed her review, lowering the stars and explaining why. I had done something not just wrong, but disgusting to her.

I was mortified. I couldn’t believe I’d done such a thing. I apologized, both to her privately and on Amazon. She replied to the public apology by telling me again that I was scum, basically.

The review also appeared on Goodreads, on the reviewer’s own site, and was tweeted and Facebook’d.

Since my blog ties into my author page on Goodreads, I blogged a longer apology. Here’s a link, if you’re interested.

But while I put out the apology, I did not have the nerve to tell my friends about the incident for days. I was too ashamed. The only way I could think about the incident was to imagine that I would find another pen name for the next book and that no one would ever hear of Vickey Kall again. Ever. She was too awful.

Marketing Tip #75: Realize Wound is Not Mortal: Grab Bandages

Within a few days, I got emails through Goodreads telling me that not everyone agreed with the harsh line taken by the reviewer. In fact, these angels told me they would buy my book and judge it on its merits. In response, I set up a couple of Kindle Select free days so they could download it for free (more about that on a future post).

I found the nerve to tell my best friend, face to face, about my transgression. I was convinced she would click her tongue at me and shake her head. Instead, she said, “Vickey, what goes around comes around. Someday that awful woman will make a mistake and get a taste of her own medicine.”

I felt tons better. I told other friends. All were supportive.

Stephen Smoke happened to join Goodreads about that time, saw the review and my apology, and urged me to blog about it for the Independent Book Marketing Group. He said that we all make mistakes and other writers need to learn that. Also, he wrote that he had more respect for me because I had owned up to the mess.

All that makes me believe that changing my name may not be necessary.

We can’t plan our mistakes, and we sure can’t plan their consequences. Here’s the bottom line—that embarrassing review resulted in my book getting more attention, and it wasn’t all bad. I will never make that error again, though I may make others.

I remember working in an office 15 years ago. One day, I took a phone message and wrote down the number wrong. Barbara—my co-worker and the person who got the message—told me the number didn’t work.

“I’m so sorry!” I felt bad and dumb.

I must have sounded just a little too wounded, because after a few seconds she grinned at me and said, “You think you’re too good to make a mistake? Welcome to the human race.”

Well, yeah. I didn’t think I would make dumb mistakes. And I realized then how arrogant that particular mindset was.

So, fellow authors, welcome to the human race. We make mistakes, all of us, and we have to admit that and move on.